Silver N’ Percussion and The Guess Who
“Raindance” – The Who – 1971
“The Aztec Sun God” – Horace Silver – 1977
A few weeks ago I heard an amazing piece of music from 45 years ago by one of my favorite groups. It was bumper music for around 3:00 am for the Coast-to-Coast radio show I was listening to and half dozing off as I sometimes do. There was a strong chant in the piece that woke me up. I had never heard this music before and learned it was the song Raindance from the Guess Who in 1971. The beginning of the song is a type of powerful Indian chant that I couldn’t get out of my mine
Interestingly (perhaps synchronistically?) I had been listening much to Horace Silver’s brilliant set of Silver N’ albums: a type of “suite” of various albums centering around the parts of an orchestra. The final album in the series is Silver N’ Percussion. Before this there was Silver N’Brass, Silver N’ Strings and Silver N’Wood.
I’m greatly reminded of Horace Silver’s brilliant (yet almost totally unrecognized) Silver N’ Percussion album from BlueNote 1977. The album is actual a double suite of dedicated to great historical moments for Africans and American Indians. Compositions on the album are:
“African Ascension Part 1: The Gods of Yoruba”
“African Ascension Part 2: The Sun God of the Masai”
“African Ascension Part 3: The Spirit of the Zulu”
“The Great American Indian Uprising Part 1: The Idols of the Incas”
“The Great American Indian Uprising Part 2: The Aztec Sun God”
“The Great American Indian Uprising Part 3: The Mohican and the Great Spirit”
All the music is powerful but the most powerful for me is the song The Aztec Sun God from the suit dedicated to the native American Indians titled “The Great American Indian Uprising.” The first part is a powerful chant that shows Horace Silver’s genius in orchestration and composition. One of the most powerful chant-based songs I have ever heard. Horace had always been involved with the hard-bop style but in the 1970s, religion entered his music more than ever and one of the results was a combination of the old hard bop style with spiritual concerns. The growing spiritualism of Horace Silver brought him in touch with many other jazz musicians who had turned towards spiritual concerns in jazz. One might label it the spiritual jazz genre (though no critic has seriously done this so far). The talent on this final album of his series is amazing:
Horace Silver – piano, arrangements
Tom Harrell – trumpet
Larry Schneider – tenor saxophone
Ron Carter – bass
Al Foster – drums
Babatunde Olatunji – percussion
Ladji Camara – percussion (tracks 1-3)
Omar Clay – percussion (tracks 4-6)
Fred Hardy, Lee C. Thomas, Fred Gripper, Bob Barnes, Bobby Clay, Peter Oliver Norman – vocals
Chapman Roberts – musical direction, vocals
* * *
Right after listening to Silver N’Percussion (seemingly by chance a few weeks ago) the unknown piece from The Guess Who enters my life with the force that only music has been able to do in my life. I imagine that it’s a greater force to me than for many others. And perhaps the force is not as strong as it is in others. I couldn’t get the chant-like power of the song out of my head. It followed me all over the place. On morning walks with my greyhound. Meetings or lunches during the day. Into the evenings.
It was from one of my favorite bands, The Guess Who. Yet the song had never entered my life.
Until just now.
Was there some reason for this, external to me?
Jungian synchronicity at work?
Joycean synesthesia at work?
Bringing two pieces of music together at the same moment in a life.
Rain Dance / The Guess Who
The chant-like nature of The Guess Who’s 1971 Raindance is a brilliant piece of rock-and-roll with a brilliant mixing of a power chant-like beat in the song that offers a new type of harmony in rock it seems to me. The chant is very influenced by the eastern sound of music floating around the music world at this time from albums like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and the influence of the Middle East in jazz through many: Yusef Lateef, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner.
It was in interesting time for The Guess Who when this song / chant was recorded. The early 70s. That strange little patch of time in ending the 60s and transitioning to the 70s. It was a time, it seems to me, that hadn’t yet defined it’s new self. The Canadian rock band was born in this period of time and flourished in it. Formed in Winnipeg in 1965 they band was gaining recognition in Canada and from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s international success. Producing with numerous hit singles, including No Time, American Woman, Laughing, These Eyes, Undun and Share the Land. Several former members of The Guess Who, notably Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (BachmanTurner Overdrive) have found considerable success outside the band. Formed as a garage rock band, their musical style encompassed the pop rock and psychedelic rock genres. (Burton Cummings by the way, has a great website and makes one think that he has been one of the greatest, yet underrated leaders of rock n roll. A type of rock n roll version of Horace Silver it seems to me.).
The early 70s, around the time the song Raindance, was a a type of rallying battle chant, a call to action of a certain group of people at a certain time in history. It was perhaps mostly a call to the members of The Guess Who that were beginning to go their own ways. The chant perhaps was a chant to all of them starting out on their own. The YouTube version of their Raindance is about the only place this song can be heard over the Internet for free.
* * *
The lyrics stand in a funny juxtaposition with the powerful chants that are cross harmonized and processed, one voice right after the other done beautifully. Then, the chant mixed with the funny lyrics of the singing. A beautifully realized (and believable) switching back-and-forth from chant to a powerful vocal harmony and strong driving bass against Burton Cummings composition and vocalization genius, his piano playing pulling things together. The band from Winnipeg Canada had the two successful Wheatfield Soul album in 1969 which had their hugely popular These Eyes on it. The band followed this up with Canned Wheat in September of 1969.
But (as Wikipedia observes) by the beginning of the 1970s, the Guess Who had moved toward an edgier hard-rock sound with the album American Woman (January 1970), the title track for which, “American Woman” (coupled with its B-side “No Sugar Tonight”) was the group’s only No. 1 hit in the U.S. “American Woman” also earned the Guess Who the honor of being the first Canadian group to have a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Hot 100. (The Crew Cuts from Toronto had a long-running US #1 “Sh-Boom” in the summer of 1954, but that was four years before the existence of the Hot 100.) The band re-recorded “No Time” for the American Woman album, and the single became a Top Five U.S. hit, preceding “American Woman” by about three months.
The first part of the 70s brought them personnel changes yet continued success. In the spring of 1970, key member of the groupBachman was sidelined by a gall bladder attack. The group continued touring with an American guitarist from Philadelphia, Bobby Sabellico. But differences between Randy Bachman and Cummings (per Wikipedia) Bachman’s conversion to Mormonism. It was this that led Bachman to leave the group after playing one final show with them at the Fillmore East in New York City on May 16, 1970. New studio recordings (eventually released in 1976 as The Way They Were) were abandoned.
* * *
Bachman, who had already completed his first solo album, Axe, in March 1970, returned to Winnipeg and later formed Brave Belt in 1971, which evolved into the hugely successful Bachman–Turner Overdrive. Bachman was replaced by two guitarists, fellow Winnipeggers Kurt Winter, from the band Brother and Greg Leskiw from a band called Wild Rice. Winter became the main songwriting collaborator with Cummings and the Guess Who continued on scoring additional hit singles such as Hand Me Down World, Share the Land, Hang on to Your Life, Albert Flasher, and Rain Dance while the albums Share the Land (October 1970) and The Best of The Guess Who (April 1971) continued to mine gold status for them. The song Raindance is off the 71, Best of the Guess Who.
On July 17, 1970 the band was invited to perform at The White House for the Nixon family and its guests, but they were asked to eliminate American Woman from their set list as a “matter of taste.” According to Peterson, the band was fine with keeping American Woman off the set. As he recalls,
“Our attitude was, ‘Fine. We’re here to entertain people and make them feel good. We’re not here to cause problems. So if you’re hiring us and paying us and you don’t want us to play our biggest hit, that’s up to you. We’re a Canadian band. We weren’t getting on a soapbox and saying, ‘You shouldn’t be in this war!”
The group’s next releases So Long, Bannatyne (July 1971) and Rockin’ (February 1972), showed a dropping off in sales as the band began to experiment with looser and more progressive stylings.
It was in this period of time that Raindance was born.
* * *
The 1971 rock song is matched against a 1977 jazz song. The two are amazingly similar.
They come together for me at the same time.
It is the beginning of a new administration. A new, untried time, in our nation’s history. And our psychological history we could add. For so many years our nation has looked to the same parties or people for answers. Perhaps this is all going to be changed drastically.
I decided used the Raindance chant against the Koassilator Pro in recording two tracks onto the 24-track Portastudio. Song 8 I think it is without looking. The song is listed as Reverse Chant below.
* * *
What if famous music phrases were brought back to life through sampling technology? And then placed in types of looping parts of the old song, sampled and able to be played around with on the computer and made into outrageous things. In may ways, much of this is happening today.
But there are other sounds I hear in my mind that are hard to get out of it. I began composing arrangements to play against. Famous phrases I remember from my own musical past placed “front and center” once again.
Like that phrase from Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay.
I heard it so much when living in Berkeley in the 70s and 80s.
And now it comes back.
* * *
Now in the unchartered waters of a new presidency and an outsider running the ship of state. (Not that Captains have been all that great at steering this ship)
There is a new leader of the nation.
A divided nation for sure.
Might there be a new music out there?
To not be discovered in the external as much as realized in the internal world.
The music from Horace Silver and Burton Cummings and the Guess Who of mid-1971. A period where everything seemed drifting about. The new decade, quietly tip-toeing into the new decade, not wanting to rouse things up too much. But not knowing how to rouse things up in the first place. There had to be ways of maintaining that old passion of the 60s for them. But try as they did, those old years slipped out of their hand like San Francisco fog in the summer. A song like Raindance comes along and sets not a new tone for progressive rock music of the time but rather a unique, new, aggressive and powerful stance for a new type of progressive rock.
Here comes that Freddie Hubbard song Red Clay again. Popping up into my head like a record in a jukebox which plays just one song over and over.
Off to the drawing board.
Or rather the recording board.
Might there be a new music for this new period of time we all enter?
Not the worn out stuff we hear today.
Rather a Renaissance in the world perhaps centering around that universal language of music.
(Thanks Eric for your input from your Renaissance project)
The songs Raindance and Aztec Sun God symbolized powerful statements during time.
Both though, relatively forgotten songs from two great artists.
Brought together at a point in time.
Perhaps in a new music for the nation? A new genre? Why not. Hollywood creates genres all the time.
The music in the strong form of the chant of these two pieces of music from over 40 years ago.
A stance that symbolizes the way I feel. Somehow.
Everyone has been on some type of warpath during this election year. The two songs somehow represent this period of time for me.
A time where the war chant reined over everything.
Is a new music needed to truly go forward?
12/7/16 – Pearl Harbor Day