Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Trio of Power Trios - Part One

Anything Goes on Wednesday and today is no different as we provide a trio of tunes from a trio of “power trios.” A “power trio” consisted of guitar, bass, and drums. Various bands handled the vocal chores differently. Another characteristic of the “power trio” was to play live at high volumes to compensate for the lack of a second guitar or keyboards.

When I think of “power trios,” I imagine Marshall stacks, an abundance of distortion, the creative use of feedback, and long monotonous drum solos. In the recording studio, however, other instrumentation was added for increased commercial appeal. On the road, the bands performed as is and did so very creatively with only three musicians. Today’s trio of “power trios” comes from the British Isles.

Cream: I Feel Free

Written by Pete Brown and Jack Bruce, “I Feel Free” was Cream’s first single in the US and second in the UK following the lackluster “Wrapping Paper.” In the US, “I Feel Free” was included on the American “Fresh Cream” LP in place of “Spoonful,” which was released by ATCO as a single with part 1 on the A side and part 2 on the B side. The British version, the one I own, eliminates “I Feel Free” and had a slightly different cover.

The first video of this song is a stereo mix of the song that features bassist Jack Bruce on lead vocals and guitarist Eric Clapton on harmony lead. Of course, Ginger Baker is holding down the beat. There is no truth in the rumor that the outfits worn by Cream in the following video were the inspiration for the Snuggie.

The second version is a pseudo-live version of the tune for television. The interesting aspect of this song is that Jack Bruce is playing a Fender Bass VI, which was similar to the baritone guitar that Danelectro manufactured. There was one critical difference, the baritone guitar was tuned a fourth lower than a standard 6-string electric (B-E-A-D-F#-B) while a Bass VI was tuned a full octave lower than a guitar.

The Fender Bass VI

Although the low four strings on Bass VI were tuned to the same pitch as a standard bass guitar, the scale length of 30 inches, which was shorter than the 34 inch scale of the Fender Jazz and Precision Bass, required thinner strings. In later videos, Bruce is seen playing a cherry finish Gibson EB-3.

Taste: Blister on the Moon

Virtually unknown in the US, the Irish “power trio” featured the guitar and vocals of Rory Gallagher, bass of Richard McCracken, and the drums of John Wilson. “Blister on the Moon” was the band’s first single from their self-titled first album. In 1969, the band toured North America in support of Blind Faith, which featured ex-Cream members Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton.

The Gun: Race with the Devil

The Gun (or simply Gun as they were titled on their first LP) consisted of brothers Paul and Adrian Curtis/Gurvitz (on bass and guitar respectfully) and drummer Louie Farrell. The Gurvitz brothers had performed under the pseudonym Curtis until 1970 when they returned to their birth surname.

“Race with the Devil” was a top-10 hit in the UK, but largely was ignored in the US. I bought their debut album back in the early 70s because Roger Dean had done the cover art. Dean was known for his artistic contributions for several Yes albums during that decade.

A second version is a pseudo-live version from British television, which gives you an idea of their onstage presence. The Gurvitz brothers later joined with ex-Cream/Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker to form another power trio known as the Baker-Gurvitz Army.

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