Posts Tagged ‘Lane Tietgen’

Lane Tietgen Revisited

July 28, 2016

LaneMy goal as a youth to make it as a singer-songwriter is a major thread in my work-in-progress, Street Song. You can’t really describe music with words, and, as I’ve worked on the book, it has occurred to me that most readers will be curious to know what I sounded like. I haven’t played seriously in over 40 years, but have never stopped entirely. I’ve decided to make a small demo-type recording of six songs which I’ll make available one way or another to readers of the book. All the songs I’m recording are referred to in the text. Three of them are songs that I wrote. One of the most vital songs in Street Song is “Highway,” by the singer-songwriter Lane Tietgen. I first heard “Highway” in 1972 on an album called Crazed Hipsters by Finnigan and Wood. Lane was not a member of that band, but had been in a band called The Serfs with Finnigan and Wood’s lead singer, Mike Finnigan. You can hear the Crazed Hipsters version here.

In the 60s and 70s, songs fulfilled the same function as poetry had in other eras. Religion, too! Certain songs changed the way people looked at the world. “Highway” did that for me. Several years ago, seeking permission to quote the lyrics in my book, I spent some time tracking down Lane Tietgen. I finally found him in nearby Sonoma, and he kindly gave me permission. When I decided to make this recording I knew “Highway” had to be one of the songs I recorded. So I sent him another email asking if it was okay for me to record it. He said I could, but he wanted to know if I was certain that I was playing the correct chords. I’d never learned it back in the days I was performing because it sounded like the type of song you needed a band to play, and I was a solo artist. Although I’d started learning the song, I hadn’t put a great deal of work into it yet, and I was unsure about a few of the chords. So Lane suggested that I come up to his place so he could teach me the correct chords. I was quite taken aback—pleased as could be. Judy and I recently drove up to Eureka in Northern California, and along the way  we stopped for my “Highway” lesson. Thank you, Lane.

Not many people know his work, which is a pity. I have a two-part piece here on my blog called “The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen” which I suggest you all read. He continues to be one of the few practitioners of the singer-songwriter genre who, in my opinion, is still really doing it. The best of that genre was about the exploration of the human heart, not neurotic complaints or political posturing. Lane has stayed with his heart.

 

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Lane Tietgen’s Wheel of Fortune

September 23, 2009
The Cover to Lane Tietgen's CD "Wheel of Fortune"

The Cover to Lane Tietgen's CD "Wheel of Fortune"

Lane Tietgen’s album Wheel of Fortune is finally available on cdbaby. I recommend it highly. What follows is the broad outline of Lane Tietgen’s story and a  review of the CD by his fellow Kansan musician, Steve Strickland. To read my own comments, click on the “Lane Tietgen” tag at the bottom of this article. Take it, Steve…

Wheel of Fortune’s 10 songs have a familiarity about them stemming from the fact that Lane Tietgen is a contemporary of the artists of whom the music is reminiscent.These songwriters who for the most part were already involved in music at the time of the British Invasion of the early-mid 60’s shared many of the same influences: from the blues to jazz to the folk archives of Harry Smith and the Lomax’s – and all American music up to that point. This is to say that Tietgen knows the way to the well and has his own bucket.

The Serfs, the preeminent Kansas bar band in 1968, scored a record deal with the Capitol label. The band formed around Tietgen (guitar and bass) and Michael Finnigan keyboards (principally Hammond B-3) in Lawrence, Kansas, but was based primarily out of Wichita. They were to be produced by Tom Wilson (Dylan’s producer of the period) who had recommended the Record Plant to Jimi Hendrix’s people as the happening new place to record. Working down the hall from each other, Hendrix recruited Finnigan and Freddy Lee Smith (sax) and Larry Faucette (congas) to play on “Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Rainin’, Still Dreamin.’” The Serf’s Early Bird Café was an adventurous album featuring Tietgen’s originals with covers ranging from Dylan to Miles Davis. Perhaps too eclectic for their own good and because perhaps Wilson couldn’t get a handle on what they were all about, the record went nowhere.

Finnigan recorded two more legendary-in-musician-circle records, The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood (Columbia) and Crazed Hipsters (with Jerry Wood, on Blue Thumb), in 1970 and ’72 relying heavily on Tietgen compositions before going on to a storied career as sideman deluxe. The second track on the Finnigan & Wood album, “Highway Song,” contains the lyric “So I took a job out on the road/I was a tent-show roustabout/But when I asked to know their code/That old ringmaster threw me out.” Evidenced from his first album in 40 years, it may be that Lane Tietgen not only cracked the code, but also took over his old boss’s job.

The title track begins with some hand-jive, body slappin’ percussion and sets the blueprint for much of what follows. Lane Tietgen sings in a raspy tenor with urgency and a yearning that belie his age. He consistently employs a melisma that sounds both middle-eastern and bluesy. “Wheel of Fortune” could be a collaboration between Jerry Garcia and early Steve Miller. It features an allegorical feminine trio on a tear, like up-dated figures from a Zap comic. The percussion, programmed by Dave Westerbeke and analog played by Adam Berkowitz, grooves without being overbearing. The listener is most often not aware of which is which. Tietgen uses mandolin as a rhythm guitar as well as playing acoustic, slide, electric wah, harmonica, bass, organ, accordion, and trombone—sometimes all on one song. He also arranged the horns. Terry Anne Gillette, on loan from the Deadish The Thugz, plays violin on this and several tracks in a style that harkens to Scarlet Rivera’s work with Bob Dylan.

“Deep Waters of the Heart” expands the aquatic motif of the first song—a rollicking number worthy of The Band at their best. “Sweet Alchemy” is an unabashed love song in the mode of “Tupelo Honey.”

“Some Call It Evil,” a narcotic ska piece, protests corporate genetically altered agriculture. It features an incredibly catchy trombone riff with the mandolin carrying the offbeat. Tietgen’s voice conveys indignation without sounding whiny. If one didn’t know better, it could be mistaken for a Toots Hibbert cover.

“My Heart’s One Desire” would be the side one closer were this a vinyl release. It combines romanticism with an unspecific spirituality. Dave Westerbeke, who instigated this project, handles the backing vocals as well as lead guitar and bass. The harmonies throughout are California sunny. The melodies on all the material are whistle-friendly catchy.

Like many classic albums, side two is even better than the first. “Love and Redemption,” the record’s centerpiece, has a poignant chorus about “Margdelena lighting her candles for all the unfortunate ones.” The accompaniment features a call and response between arpeggiated acoustic guitar and Gillette’s violin. It’s a beautiful ballad with a big backbeat. It contains romance, religion, political commentary, and eroticism effortlessly.

“Raindrops on the Page” is a tour de force lyrically & instrumentally. Molly Ann is a longtime member of some traveling show replete with roustabouts, grifters, a gambler, and a thief. There’s an apocalypse goin’ on. Accordion and harmonica playing together can be a dangerous combination for pitch, but it works here, along with Tim Cain’s saxophone. It makes for a cacophonous but not discordant soundscape that supports the cinematic tale. Shades of Blonde on Blonde and Band & Street Choir era Morrison mixed with a little Ray Bradbury.

The song sequencing on Wheel of Fortune is remarkable as “Eight Ball Blues” finds Tietgen channeling Leadbelly and Robert Johnson in a nicely minimalist setting featuring Lane’s twelve-string bottleneck and Berkowitz’s brushwork with strategic bass guitar shots. A short story of Hemingway-worthy brevity and this great line “The Devil walked in wearing a pork pie hat…a little goatee and eyes just like a cat.”

“Mamma, Bring That Good Thing Over Here” continues the rootsy denouement with playful innuendo over a piedmont-style rag. Westerbeke plays his one solo of the record like Michael Bloomfield morphing into James Burton – all in 12 bars.

I came to this recording with only the slightest familiarity regarding Lane Tietgen, aside from the songs sung by Finnigan mentioned earlier. Driving home late at night on a rainy highway listening to the CD, the epic “MLK Riot 1968” came on. I immediately flashed to Hendrix’s “Somebody’s House is Burning.” It occurred to me that the legendary Serf’s album and Hendrix’s third album happened at the time of King’s murder. The song recalls “All Along the Watchtower” (Dylan’s original) and “Hurricane” with a very personal narrative.  Accompanied by acoustic guitar and banjo, the tale clocks in at nine minutes but doesn’t seem the least bit too long.

In the couple of months since Lane gave me this recording, I’ve done a bit of research and have cajoled my old college room-mate out of a digital copy of the Serfs’ CD. The things that strike me are the vocals: Finnigan and Tietgen’s voices haven’t changed much in 4 decades. Lane, in particular, has become a much better singer. And as a songwriter he has few peers. The songs from the past hold up as classics all, but this material shows an empathy and maturity and makes this listener hope there’s more to come. —Steve Strickland

Electric Dirt

July 13, 2009

Levon Helm's New CD

Levon Helm's New CD

From the ages 12 to 21, I was constantly buying new records. I couldn’t keep up with the explosion of new and good music. Nowadays, years can go by without my buying a single CD. This year I’ve bought three and I’ve loved two. They are: Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, which I didn’t like, Lane Tietgen’s Wheel of Fortune, which I loved and wrote about here (click on the “Lane Tietgen” tag below to read my review), and now there’s Levon Helm’s fantastic new CD Electric Dirt.

I loved his previous CD, Dirt Farmer, but figured it was too much to hope for two great CDs in a row. I was wrong. If anything, I like the new one even more. Some of it sounds absolutely joyous. There’s not a bad track on the record. Every song has something special in the arrangement or in the playing or singing. At the moment, my favorites are “Tennessee Jed,” “Golden Bird,” “When I Go Away,” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” There’s a lot of real soul here and a lot of variety.

You can buy it here:

Highly recommended, 5 stars, A+… and all that jazz.

The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part II

May 24, 2009

[Part I sits just below this post.]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a lot of talk about the singer/songwriters being the real poets of the time. They were said to be taking poetry back to its oral roots. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with this idea. I loved books and I loved songs, and I longed to be a member of the noble fraternity of poet/singer/songwriters. Much of my new book, Street Song, is about this. I don’t think the “singer/songwriter as poet” idea has held up very well. Not that it’s inherently flawed, but show business destroyed it by seducing its practitioners and turning them into rich entertainers.

But this isn’t the case with Tietgen. While currently he doesn’t make his living playing and writing music, he never quit working on his art. And it sounds to me as though he has remained true to the original idea. The music consists of the usual American blend of folk, rock, and blues with touches of jazz, reggae, Motown, and so on. I say “usual” in regard to the form, not as a comment on the quality. The quality of the music is consistently first rate and the lyrics are fresh, original, and involving. He wrote a song that, if it had been described to me, might have made me cringe. Entitled “Some Call It Evil,” it’s about GMO, and it’s fantastic.

As I say, the high point of the album for me is “Raindrops on the Page.” The first time I heard it, it sounded like a happy-go-lucky, good-time type tune. (I thought it sounded something like the Beatles doing their version of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” with Rick Danko of The Band guesting on lead vocals.) But as I grew more familiar with the song, that happy-go-lucky quality began to feel more like triumph, which was odd once I began to understand the story the song told. It’s about great loss and deep disappointment. It’s fascinating how the music affects the lyrics. I guess you could say it’s about the glory of accepting that which is bitterly difficult to accept. I won’t say too much about the song’s internal workings. There is, after all, the joy of discovery, and I hope people reading this will have the opportunity to hear the CD for themselves. (It’s not currently available in the marketplace. If there is any interest and it does become available, I’ll let you know.) What I will say is that the song is honest in the way of all true poetry. A lot of people nowadays think that honesty is just having the balls to repeat whatever bullshit pops into your head. The more outrageous, the more courageous. But that’s not deep. For depth you have to dig, and this song digs. I’ll quote one line because the point of view is higher than that of most writers today—and I mean Dylan, too.

“She’s trying to see the whole thing through the eyes of love/and not just questions that she’s asking.”
(Lane Tietgen, Shaman Music)

I don’t hear that kind of maturity in anybody’s songs today. Sometimes this song pushes me toward the brink of tears. It’s only the song’s spirit of triumph that keeps me from having to go there.

The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part I

May 20, 2009

A few weeks ago, while I was making breakfast, Judy came into the kitchen to tell me that she had a song running around in her head that would not stop. Interestingly, I had the very same song running around in mine: “Wheel of Fortune” by Lane Tietgen.

Not many people know who Lane Tietgen is. I first saw his name in 1971 when a friend turned me on to an album by the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, an early jazz-rock fusion band. Seven of the album’s ten songs were written by Tietgen, yet he was not a member of the band, which was somewhat unusual in those days. Nearly everybody did their own songs. They were good songs, intelligent songs, and I was curious to know more about the composer. But there was nothing on him. A year later, my friend turned me onto Crazed Hipsters, an album by Finnigan and Wood. Crazed Hipsters had three more songs by this Lane Tietgen fellow, and, once again, he was not one of the band members. One of the songs, “Highway,” was extraordinary. It seemed to speak of hidden truths, secret wisdom, and it became very important to me. The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and Finnigan and Wood had one musician in common: Mike Finnigan, a singer and keyboard player. He seemed the obvious source for the Tietgen material. The lack of any hard facts about Tietgen made him seem a bit of a mystery man to me.

Jump ahead 36 years:

Working on my book, I realized that “Highway” wanted to be part of the manuscript, which meant that I needed to try to track down Tietgen and seek his permission to quote the lyrics. Last Summer, through Google, I learned that  he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only that, in just a few weeks he was going to play at a bar/restaurant in nearby Sonoma. The day of the gig, Judy and I drove up there. It was a scene I knew well: folksinger in the corner playing songs that hardly anybody was listening to. Instead of playing his own songs, he was playing songs by others—Dylan, Van Morrison, and others like that. My old favorites, actually. He sounded good, but in that situation it was impossible to make much of a judgment. Between sets, I spoke with him briefly, explained what I wanted, and gave him my contact information.

In February, I got an email from Lane. He’d just finished a self-produced CD and asked if I was interested in hearing it. I’m usually a little uncomfortable when people offer me artwork. Even if it doesn’t appeal to me, I feel obliged to say something nice, and I don’t really like doing that. But I accepted. A few days later, Wheel of Fortune arrived in the mail. I put it on and immediately felt pulled into the first track, the title track, “Wheel of Fortune.” This is not to say that I liked it. (I seldom like any song the first time I hear it—especially the ones that end up meaning the most to me. The best songs usually have a density that requires repeated listenings.) But it did grab my attention. The CD was completely different from what I’d been expecting. It wasn’t some folksinger’s simple demos of his songs; rather, it was a completed work, with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, several different types of keyboard instruments, saxophone, trombone, violin, mandolin, background vocals, and harmonica. Each song was throughly worked-out and richly textured. The lyrics were dense, smart, wise, amusing. His singing was fantastic. He tackled each song with real verve. There was nothing tentative about him. The first songs grew on me quickly, and I liked them so much that I started playing them for Judy. In no time, we were both fans and, as we discovered them, talked obsessively about the nuances of each number. I would say that there isn’t a bad song on the disk, and there are many great ones. As I got deeper in, my favorite song kept changing—that is, until I landed on the CD’s true center, a song called “Raindrops on the Page.” When I was in my teens, I was fanatical about good songs. I would force friends to sit down and listen to them. I don’t do that anymore, but if I did, I’d force everyone I know to listen to “Raindrops on the Page.” In Part II—coming in a few days—I’ll write more about this amazing song.