Listen to this track by jam-oriented power trio supergroup Oysterhead. It’s “Oz Is Ever Floating”, a cut off of their sole (to date!) album The Grand Pecking Order from 2001. The song was a highlight on their associated tour around that time, having played it on their Late Night with Conan O’Brien appearance, among other musical locales.
The band was comprised of some very heavy hitters, instrumentally speaking. On guitar and other (sometimes very bizarre) stringed instruments was Phish head boy Trey Anastasio. On bass was Primus main mover Les Claypool. On drums was Stewart Copeland, sticksman for The Police and well-known film and soundtrack composer by the beginning of the century. His film and TV work was his day job, involving very meticulous processes and meetings with directors in order to satisfy its demands. Not very rock ‘n’ roll.
It would take a brash proposal to get Copeland out of film-and-TV-score land, and to get him behind the kit again, a role he’d virtually ignored for almost a decade.
Listen to this track by progressive rock collective Traffic. It’s ” The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”, the title track to their self-same 1971 album. It would be one of their career highlights of the second phase of their career, coming back from a break-up in 1969 that turned out only to have been temporary.
This phase of the life of the band featured an expanded line up that included Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah who had previously played on Nick Drake’s “Three Hours”, former Family/Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech, and Derek & The Dominos drummer Jim Gordon. After a comeback record in John Barleycorn Must Die, scoring critical acclaim, this record that followed it up was a million seller as well as being critically praised. It reached platinum status by the middle of the decade. With those new members added to the talents of core members guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Steve Winwood, woodwind player Chris Wood, and percussionist-vocalist-lyricist Jim Capaldi, the band were able to explore the deeper territories where rock, jazz, and soul connect.
But this particular track owed something not only to those musical threads, but to another medium entirely – cinema. Read more
Here’s a clip of ex-Soft Machine honcho Kevin Ayers, along with under-exposed guitar genius Ollie Halsall, and then-current Police guitarist Andy Summers (who’s birthday it is today, BTW). It’s a 1981 performance of Ayers’ tune ‘Didn’t Feel Lonely’, a jazzy, funky R&B workout that proves to be the perfect staging ground for a guitar-duel between Halsall and Summers. You decide who wins.
Kevin Ayers and Andy Summers had been long-time friends and touring partners by 1981. Indeed, Summers had toured with the Soft Machine at the end of the 1960s as a temporary member, until it was decided that his presence off the road was no longer required. The split didn’t affect Summers’ relationship with Ayers, however. Ayers’ solo career often included Summers as a supporting player, along with many other luminaries like Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno, and John Cale, among many others.
Among these others was the almost impossibly gifted Ollie Halsall, who became a stalwart bandmate to Ayers, and something of an unofficial musical partner during Ayers solo work through the 70s and into the 80s. Like Ayers himself, Halsall flourished in the late-60s as progressive rock gained traction with rock audiences. His chops as a guitarist suited the times perfectly, working with a myriad of bands and songwriters in that vein. But, along with his work with Ayers, Halsall’s work was popularized by his contributions to Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ The Rutles, a razor-sharp Beatles parody which along with the comedy, featured excellent songs and superlative playing.
Like many extremely talented musicians, Halsall struggled with a drug problem that claimed his life in 1992. But, this clip shows him at the height of his powers, locking horns with Andy Summers and arguably besting him as the two dextrous players trade licks as Ayers oversees. Halsall would play with Ayers for sixteen years, while Summers would continue to build his reputation with the Police, and beyond with a solo career of his own.
Kevin Ayers is an active musician today, with his latest album Unfairground gaining significant critical praise.