Friday, March 23, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 23, 2007

I’m going to tell you about a pretty cool music Web site. But before I even start, here’s some advice: enjoy it while you can. The site, Wolfgang’s Vault, is the subject of a music-industry lawsuit. In most such cases, the music industry wins and cool music Web sites lose. And so do fans.

Wolfgang’s Vault is run by a businessman named Bill Sagan, who bought the lost treasures of the late rock promoter Bill Graham, whose birth name was Wolfgang Grajonca.

Sagan’s site sells vintage rock T-shirts, photos, and posters. (Nostalgia flashback: back in the late 1960s the TG&Y at Santa Fe’s Coronado Shopping Center used to sell replicas — for about $1 apiece! — of some of the classic psychedelic San Francisco posters advertising rock concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom. Many of those can be found at Wolfgang’s Vault — for far more than a buck.)

The part of the site I like best is the Concert Vault. Here you’ll find complete sets by a variety of artists from the late ’60s through the late ’80s. (Graham died in 1991.)

It’s streaming music, which means you just listen to it rather than download it. Supposedly, there’s some software you can buy to capture Internet streams, but I’ve never tried it.

There are some huge names here: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd. And there are some early MTV acts such as A Flock of Seagulls, Berlin, Big Country, Thomas Dolby, and The Alarm.

And, for some reason, there’s a bunch of cheesy Urban Cowboy-era country — Alabama, Lee Greenwood, and even Glen Campbell (a 1985 show in North Carolina with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra).

Fortunately, there are also some hipper country artists such as Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, Bobby Bare (four shows from the mid-’80s), David Allen Coe, Charlie Daniels, and John Anderson (the guy who did “Wild and Blue,” not the lead singer of Yes, who, by the way, also is represented in the Vault).

Most of these are recordings made at Graham-promoted shows. By the ’80s his company, Bill Graham Presents, had stretched far beyond its San Francisco/New York base. But last year the Vault acquired the archives of a venerated, syndicated, live-rock radio show called The King Biscuit Flower Hour, which used to air on the old KRST-FM 92.3 in Albuquerque in the ’70s when that was a rock station.

So, naturally, Wolfgang’s Vault is being sued.

Last December a group of musicians, including Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and the Doors, filed a suit claiming copyright infringement. Sagan countersued in February, claiming the action against him was “a blatant attempt by two of the largest record labels in the world — using artists as a front — to secure new income streams and destroy a legitimate business.”

Like I say, enjoy it while you can.

Here are some of the shows I’ve listened to recently on Wolfgang’s Vault:

*Stevie Wonder, Winterland, San Francisco, March 3, 1973, and Berkeley Community Theatre, March 4, 1973. These concerts show Wonder at his wondrous peak. They took place between the time I saw him open for The Rolling Stones and a few months before he played Albuquerque’s Civic Auditorium. With his backup group, Wonderlove, he goes through his own impressive songbook (heavy on his albums Music of My Mind and Talking Book) and splendid covers like Billy Paul’s adulterer’s sleaze theme “Me and Mrs. Jones” and a short take on The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

* Steppenwolf, Fillmore West, San Francisco, Aug. 27, 1968. I’ve always felt Steppenwolf is one of the most underrated groups of the ’60s. It’s too bad this recording is rather fuzzy. The concert was right before the release of the group’s second album (the one with “Magic Carpet Ride”).

*Elvis Costello, Winterland, June 7, 1978. He was young, angry and fresh. You’d never guess from this show that chamber quartets and Burt Bacharach were in his future.

*Talking Heads, CBGB’s, New York, May 31, 1977. My only complaint about this show is that it’s only four songs long, 17 minutes total. But CBGB’s in 1977 was ground zero of the New York punk explosion, which had begun to sweep the free world about the time of this recording. Even though we’ve all heard “Psycho Killer” and “Take Me to the River” a jillion times by now, these performances show a band full of fire.

*Los Lobos, Fillmore West, Dec. 31, 1985. This was right on the cusp of the group’s fame. Los Lobos dedicates “Our Last Night” to Ricky Nelson, who died in a plane crash earlier that night.

*Mother Earth, Winterland, Sept. 29 and 30, 1967: These are two 40-minute (give or take) sets from a Bay Area hippie blues-rock collective that should have been more famous. Mother Earth was the springboard for singer Tracy Nelson. A couple of songs on the latter show unfortunately are incomplete. These were recorded before the band’s first album, Livin’ With the Animals. Nelson’s “Help Me Jesus” is full of gospel glory.

*The Clash, Agora, Cleveland, Feb. 13, 1979. It’s only 33 minutes long and the recording quality is a little fuzzy, but this show from The Clash’s first American tour is nice and intense.

*Robert Cray, unspecified outdoor music festival in Austin, Texas, May 25, 1987. Back in the mid-’80s, it was very unusual to hear a young black guy playing the blues. That was part of the reason Cray was hailed as a savior of the blues at the time. But also it was because of his music. This concert, recorded a year after Cray’s classic Strong Persuader album, shows why Cray was a bona fide star.

*Patti Smith, CBGB’s, New York, Aug. 11, 1979. This two-hour-plus show starts out with a slow, 13-minute version of “Land.” This was just before Smith’s long “retirement,” and she sounds a little burnt around the edges. Her voice gets pretty hoarse after a few songs, and at one point she advises the audience to drink some hot tea in the morning. But her band rages. This set has lots of covers including John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” (with guitarist Lenny Kaye on vocals.)

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