A short while ago, in my series “The bass it don’t lie” I posted a piece on, my old bandmate. Little did I know that some days later, the interest in Christie – the band, would resurface…….
Some songs are simply hits, others worm their way into the collective consciousness, and a few, a very few, become synonymous with an event, a memory, and to the listener, the two are inseparable. The pop classic Yellow River – an unlikely slice of British country rock – falls very firmly into the last category. It was adopted by American servicemen as their rallying tune, a celebration of the end of their tour of duty in Vietnam. “Yellow river” was in fact the name of one of the bases in the U.S. from which soldiers were initially deployed to fight in Vietnam.
The ex-servicemen have never forgotten the song, nor the memories it brings back. Here’s just a few anecdotes from America’s finest:
And now, after several years hiatus, following a resurgence of interest, Christie are back – touring Europe anew in 2009. Who knows? perhaps the impetus will carry the band over the pond for some long overdue dates in America.
Yellow River — a Vietnam War classic – ex-servicemen share their views (courtesy of Ray Chan)
Bob Sullivan, Maryland, USA, wrote:
YELLOW River came out as I was being released from active duty in the US Navy. It brings to mind exactly how I felt as I was set free,some 36 years later (plus or minus) … it remains my favorite song of all time. Thanks for the memories, Mr Christie.
Dave Wilkinson, USA, wrote:
MY name is Dave Wilkinson. I’m a Vietnam Vet and my unit, Whiskey Battery 1st Battalion 12th Marine Regiment, are in the process of putting a website together.
We hope to use Yellow River for the background music on our site. GREAT SONG !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ross Tuttle, Texas, USA, wrote:
I HAVE been a BIG fan of Jeff and the group since I first heard Yellow River in 1970. That song is still my all time favorite after all these years.
I carried Yellow River with me as I traveled in the Army and Navy for 30 years!
How can I get compilations of your songs? The music stores that I shop here in Dallas do not have anything.
This geriatric rocker is still hangin’ in…
Boondogle, Florida, USA, wrote:
YELLOW River was unlike any other . While others had strong messages, they were couched in equally grim and gritty melodies, like the anthemic , or Eric Burdon’s Skypilot.
But Yellow River was bright and bouncy and echoed the feeling of happiness we had when we knew our tour of duty was over. It remains a song that continues to bring back so many fond memories for me .. the joy of going home.
It should have been the first song featured on the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack.
Ob Bop, Nebraska, USA, wrote:
ON Christie’s first album was a song for the times. Vietnam was still going strong and a lot of vets coming back from overseas related to Yellow River.
Yellow River had a great impact on me when it hit the air in 1970.
I was drawing closer to the age when the draft would affect me personally. I saw returning vets grooving on the song .. a rockin’ song with basic drums, guitar and vocals.
A basic lead guitar riff bounces in and out but never dominates. The main power is in the words … words that affect me and others to this day.
When that plane dropped me off in San Francisco after bringing me back from southeast Asia, the kin were there with the pick-up I had left in storage.
As I left to go visit Berkeley as a civilian, looking for a pretty hippy chick to welcome me back … I threw Yellow River into the cassette deck. Sigh …
If you want to perhaps envision what the guys of that time were thinking as they returned from overseas … give Yellow River a try and, as you listen to the lyrics … visualise returning to a fond time and place you have been away from.
Yellow River is one of my personal top 25 songs of all times, even after all these years.
Larry Matthews, California, USA, wrote:
I ALWAYS really liked Yellow River, especially the guitar work.
It’s a good illustration of the rotation situation in Vietnam. Individual soldiers served for a year (or in the case of marines, 13 months) and then were rotated back to the states — unlike other wars where you were stuck in combat for the duration of the conflict.
I can guarantee the song certainly is NOT about the Yellow River in China. That is one place Americans were definetely not welcome at that time.
But it could have been either of the Yellow River areas in either Georgia or Iowa.
All I know is that it is a great song and, like Galveston, it shows that most soldiers were more than ready to do their time and go home.
So we prepare to take Christie on the road again in 2009, and give a fresh airing to this pop classic. For now, check out this version we recorded live in Antwerp sports stadium , Belgium in 1990.
Way back in 1968, a young Gary Lee Weinrib was asked to join fledgling Canadian band Rush. To the rest of humankind, this son of Jewish/Polish refugees is known as Geddy Lee, and he can spank a plank and holler with the best of them. Known for his distinctive vocal style and percussive basslines, Lee propelled the role of bassist/singer to a new level. My personal equipment configuration for him would be the Rickenbacker 4001 bass with Ampeg amplification, it really defined his signature sound, though he’s alternated his gear frequently throughout Rush’s 18 album career. The bulk of his music is heard with the Canadian Trio, but he’s also taken a number of production jobs, and released a notable solo album, My Favourite Headache during drummer Neil Peart’s hiatus due to personal tragedy.
Always searching to expand the possibilities of a three-piece, Lee wasn’t content to just play bass and sing, and he pioneered the use of Taurus bass pedals, freeing him up to play the keyboard lines that began to creep into Rush’s studio works.
His influence on the next generation of musicians is vast, from Metallica’s Cliff Burton, to Maiden’s Steve Harris. He currently plays the Geddy Lee Signature Jazz bass, a replica of his favourite bass that he bought in a pawn shop. His strident vocals and metallic bass are instantly recognisable, and timeless, which perhaps explains his band’s longevity. Currently touring Snakes and Arrows, they show no sign of slowing down.
On a less musical note, he’s also known for a quirky sense of humour, which leads him to replace conventional backline with domestic tumble driers, or, more recently, multiple chicken rotiserries….his only explanation being that the band have to eat and do laundry.
Recommended: By-Tor and the Snow Dog; Closer to the Heart; Permanent Waves; Moving Pictures
A true superstar, who really lived the rock’n'roll lifestyle and paid for it with his life, Phil Lynott embodies the ethos of the bassist/singer. inspired by Hendrix’s example, he proved a black man could rock, and the massive cultural hurdle (in those days) of being Irish and Black fed his music and lyrics, embodying them with a wild romanticism and a “me an the boys” gang mentality, reminsicent of Bernsteins West Side Story.
His mother, Philomena, figured large in his life, and he wrote a song for her. It’s said that his last words to her were “oh ma, what have I done to ya?” – and it’s quite clear that there were two Philip Lynotts – the caring father and son, and the wild man, the romeo, forever ligging at someone’s party, glass in hand.
Bon Jovi are vocal in their appreciation, saying Phil and Lizzy were a massive influence on them. Songs about Cowboys from the Irish – Inspiring the Americans to do the same – it’s like selling sand to the arabs!! No mean feat. John Norum and Swedish band Europe were also massive lizzyphiles – Norum covering “Opium trail” on one of his solo outings. Huey Lewis also cut his teeth playing blues harp with them.
He led Thin Lizzy to produce some of the finest rock in the last forty years, employing a succession of guitarists that reads like a who’s who – Eric Bell, Gary Moore, Brian Robertson, Scott Gorham, Snowy White and John Sykes. He even employed Ultravox’s Midge Ure at one point!
But it was his driving bass, his power stance and delivery, and his completely unique voice, that really sold Lizzy. listen to the bass line on “the boys are back in town”, or the earlier “I’m a gonna creep up on ya”. He WAS rock bass, straight-ahead, no-nonsense. There are so many great Lizzy bass lines, delivered on the now iconic black Fender precision with the mirrored scratchplate – an idea he nicked from Slade’s Noddy holder when he saw how the spotlights reflected off the mirrors on Noddy’s trademark top hat!
I had the pleasure and privilege to briefly meet him in Derby, when he’d taken the new-look twin-guitar lizzy out on the road to promote “Nightlife”. he was quite, unassuming, a gentleman. But onstage, the consummate rocker. Recently, that very show I attended at Derby college has been released on CD, where they previewed the as yet untitled Cowboy Song, calling it “Derby Blues!”.
I’ve always felt a connection with Phil. He’s one of my strongest and earliest influences, and I had the good fortune to portray him on the UK TV Show “Stars in their Eyes”.
I met Eric Bell some time afterwards, and he told me he’d enjoyed it alot, and Phil would be looking down saying, in his inimitable Irish accent “jaysus, I tort oi was dead!” it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Happy Birthday Phil.
Recommended listening…”I’m gonna creep up on ya” “The Hero and the Madman” “The boys are back in town” “Don’t believe a word” “The Rocker”…..the list goes on!
In the early 1960′s , as popular music underwent its huge catharsis, it was not just the kids in the front rooms with their cheap guitars that would make it a force to be reckoned with. A lot of Jazz musos were crossing over, experimenting with the singles and album market that was growing almost daily. One such jazz player was a certain Jack Bruce. A jazz bassist in his teens, Bruce was playing for Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated by 1962, though on double bass. It was here he met Ginger Baker, and they went on to play with The Graham Bond Organisation, where Bruce finally succumbed to the lure of the Electric Bass. However the legendary hostility between him and Ginger soon brought proceedings to a close, and he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, where he first played with Eric Clapton. After a stint with Manfred Mann, playing on several hits, he made his career-defining move, forming the ultimate power trio with Baker and Clapton; Cream. It was in the two short years between 66 and 68 that Bruce cemented his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential bassist/vocalists of all-time, his Gibson EB-3 bass becoming almost iconic. His fluid bass lines, almost solos in their own right, and rich, timbred vocals, singing the fantastical lyrics of Pete Brown, ensure that he’s still worshiped to this day.
His fondness for the Power trio never waned, and he experimented with it in several line-ups, including West, Bruce and Laing, (featuring ex-Mountain men Corky Laing and Leslie West) and BBM (Bruce, Baker and Moore, featuring the Irish guitar legend).
Following an almost fatal liver transplant, he returned triumphantly to the stage with Cream for the Albert Hall reunion concerts in 2005.
Recommended: Sunshine of Your Love – an iconic riff, a great vocal. I Feel Free – Classic Bruce!
West, Bruce and Laing: Why Dontcha? – A forgotten classic
And a note from Newm: It is certainly worth mentioning that our good friends at Esoteric Recordings in England have just released an amazing career-spanning Jack Bruce box set called Can You Follow, and having heard it, it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s got stuff that he’s done with Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Cream, West Bruce & Laing, solo, Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse, Zappa, Manfred Mann, and more.
A Big thank you to Newms for inviting me to post my series on bassist/vocalists. I’m going for a roughly chronological theme here..by “roughly” I mean that if I get to the mid-80′s and suddenly think of a guy from ’72, i’ll just stick it in. Who else to start with but the Daddy:
When it comes to the bass guitar, there are two people whose importance cannot be overstated: Leo Fender, who pretty much got everything right with his first attempt when he invented the Precision Bass, and Paul McCartney, who elevated it to an art form, and almost single-handedly saw to it that it was recognised as a serious instrument in its own right.
McCartney wasn’t satisfied with simply underpinning the song, he wove wonderful countermelodies between the chords, demanding the listener’s ear. Take the bassline to “With a little help from my Friends” – taken alone, it is a wonderful melody, never resting on the root notes, but moving around with a great fluidity. But what also elevated McCartney into a very select group was the fact that he was a lead vocalist, and probably the first of his kind that doubled on bass. Traditionally, its a lot easier to strum along on rhythm, or intersperse your vocal with lead breaks, than to play lines that cut directly across what you’re singing. McCartney did this to perfection, unwittingly laying the blueprint for the role of the bassist/vocalist in the glut of power trios that would follow in the Beatles’ wake. This series aims to highlight the bassists who’ve taken on the mantle of singer – interestingly, in almost every case – to great success.
Suggested McCartney basslines to listen to: With a little help from my Friends; Penny Lane; Come together. Suggested McCartney vocals: Got to get you into my life; I’m Down