Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Best Ever Never Was

Like any small town, Los Angeles has its best kept secrets. And those who are in the know spend an inordinate amount of time trying to give the secrets away to as many people as possible. When you are new in town, everyone and their mother wants to show you something.

Larry took me to the 101 for chow, to Runyon Canyon for hikes, and the House of Pies. Mike touted Marino's on Melrose as the best Italian food he'd ever had, and Jeff brought me to some cowboy bar on Sunset to ride the mechanical bull.

In yesterdays post I mentioned a band called The Broken Remotes, fronted by a good friend Jon Leahy. He helped produce a play I was in when I first arrived on the left coast and he was going around foaming at the mouth about something called Big Mondays at The Joint.

What do you think of when you hear the name Waddy Wachtel? If you've never heard of him then you probably aren't a guitar nerd. Guitar nerds turn into teenage girls when Waddy's name gets mentioned. Put it this way...when Keith Richards records albums, Waddy Wachtel is the guitar player, ok? He worked with EVERYBODY...Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, everybody. Master session player but also a true collaborator and creator.

So when Jon told me that Waddy played EVERY Monday night at The Joint and called it Big Mondays, I was beside myself. Little did I know that Waddy would become an afterthought for me once I went.

The Joint is tucked away on Pico down near Robertson surrounded by pharmacies and Starbucks and almost-ritzy car dealerships. But inside it feels like a road house. At least, it did until they renovated. I am not crazy about the new Joint. The old one was like a dead end street in a noir film. You came in the front door and there was nowhere to go but straight to the stage. A tunnel with a bar lining the right side and tiny booths on the left. The stage was the width of the tunnel and elevated almost eye level.

On either side of the stage, framing the action, were what seemed to be two elephant tusks. The booth side was bordered above by a huge mirror that reflected the tops of heads and almost down behind the bar.

The Big Mondays lineup is a revolving door of singers backed by Waddy, a silent bass player who plays with Neil Young, and Tom Petty's drummer when he isn't with The Heartbreakers. They know how to play every song you've ever heard.

When I started attending, the two singers were Stacy P from Tennessee, a blonde lanky bombshell who could play guitar like a mofo and sing in that country/rock mode that Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow mine so well. She later went pretty far in the Nashville Star series, the country American Idol thing and we all wished her luck from down on the floor of The Joint.

And the other singer? Oh, how do I even start? I didn't recognize him. He was a handsome English gentleman in his 60's with a pencil mustache unruly dark hair and a gray suit with white sneakers. As the band rolled through classic songs, he didn't cover the songs, he interpreted them. Authorship was unimportant as all history seemed useless in the face of his expression. He growled he roared he rasped he falsettoed he cooed he blared.

His voice seemed limitless. When they did AC/DC the rasp was cut with an R&B lilt that brought out the blues under the metal. When they did Zeppelin the whine was deeper and fuller than Plant so that even on impossibly high notes the voice was wide and hard. When they did the Beatles, the melody of McCartney and the power of Lennon were woven together in a single voice.

Then came the apex of the evening, a cover of The Kinks 'Waterloo Sunset.' How to put in words what music does? That is the question I've been trying to answer in this blog and I am always going to have to admit the impossibility of this equation. I am not a religious man in an easily definable sense, but this performance was of the ecstatic variety that can only come through faith. The audience was encouraged to sing along at one point as the band played the most minimal of vamps. We sang along with this golden voiced shaman and felt closer to the divine.

I've deliberately withheld his name up to this point because I wanted to impress upon you how deeply he affected me. I left that first night convinced that I had just seen THE GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL SINGER WHO EVER LIVED. Where the hell had he been hiding? How come I had to go to The Joint to see him? How come I could afford it?

Well, it turns out that these questions are quite common when people talk about Terry Reid.

Even typing the name gives me chills. As the details of his career were made known to me, it made his performance seem all the more otherworldy. He was Jimmy Page's original choice to front Led Zeppelin but he was already an established solo act. He'd been a teen sensation as a blues singer and was touring America opening for Cream. He SUGGESTED Robert Plant and John Bonham. He created Zeppelin by turning them down. A series of missteps left him floundering in Los Angeles in the early seventies. Rumor had it that Bob Dylan let him stay at his house for 5 years because he was broke.

I'm going to make another effort at describing his sound...imagine if Ray Charles grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, or if Robert Plant had the silkiness of Smokey Robinson ingrained into his wail. Take Frank Sinatra and feed him Scotch and cigarettes and a jukebox full of Motown and metal and you'll get a pale imitation of Terry Reid.

Here's the bottom line. Somewhere in heaven, God has Hendrix on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, Jaco Pastorius on bass, and he's waiting to book gigs until Terry Reid shows up to sing.

I felt angry at the world on his behalf. Imagine coming upon Mount Rushmore and finding it defaced with graffiti, left untended, unweeded. This man ought to be a treasured and honored icon. Instead, he carried that talent down to Pico and Robertson every Monday and let loose for pocket change. Unfortunately, Terry doesn't sing at Big Mondays anymore. Why? I am not really sure.

As usual, Terry Reid is the one that got away.

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