Deep Dive

Unusual Musical Collaborations and Cameos, Part Two

In Part One (Issue 118) we covered Stevie Wonder and George Benson, Metallica and Lang Lang, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Adele and Paul Weller. Here we continue to look into unlikely musical collaborations and guest appearances – for better or worse!

Prince and Savion Glover – “Joint 2 Joint”

Prince’s estate has easily over ten albums’ worth of unreleased material, according to its caretakers and Warner Bros. As someone who was constantly pushing musical boundaries, this news about Prince is not a surprise. The list of people he’s collaborated with is vast: Maceo Parker, Lenny Kravitz, Cassandra Wilson, Larry Graham, Mavis Staples, Stevie Nicks, The Bangles, Sheena Easton, Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, H.E.R., Janelle Monae…

All these artists are well-known in their own right. Refusing to buckle under to conventional commercial constraints, only a genius of Prince’s caliber would think about collaborating with other artists of this level on a record. One such example is “Joint 2 Joint” from his 1996 3-CD set, Emancipation. “Joint 2 Joint” showcases Prince’s funky grooves and guitar solos, adding a guest rap from Ninety-9 and a tap dance solo from one whom Prince might truly have deemed a peer: Savion Glover.

Dance has always been an important part of Prince’s art. His live shows and videos all feature copious amounts of flashy Prince dance moves, some of it “borrowed spontaneity” from James Brown and break dancers, some of it choreographed, and all informing the infectious dance groove DNA of hits like “1999,” “Kiss,” “U Got the Look” and countless others.

A child prodigy not unlike Prince himself, Savion Glover absorbed all the techniques and history of tap dancing, which is a unique form of percussion stretching from the 1800s and its roots in Juba dance, Irish jigs, English clog dancing and vaudeville through the Bill Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines eras of popularity. Gregory Hines, whom many considered the genre’s finest tap dancer from his performances in films like White Nights, The Cotton Club, Bojangles and Tap, referenced Glover in a CBS News interview: “We’re not talking about a good tap dancer. We’ve got to establish that right away. He could arguably be the best tap dancer that ever lived. He’s a genius.”

At age 22 Glover single-handedly revived declining interest in tap dancing with his 1996 multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway show, Bring in da’ Noise, Bring in da’ Funk. Its celebration of the styles, range and breadth of expression of tap dancing, linked to African-American history, must have made an impression on Prince, who would later echo these same musical themes in his 2004 release, Musicology.

The song begins with a trip-hop groove and a repeated synth part with Prince softly singing. At 2:10 the band kicks in with a heavier attack and Ninety-9’s rap starts at 2:30.

Glover’s tap dance solo begins at 3:10. His syncopated taps and “rolls” are actually not unlike the percussion solo breaks that Prince has often featured from Sheila E. in concert. Prince’s guitar solo starts at 5:17, and his atonal distorted shredding is more akin to his later records with 3rd Eye Girl than with his Revolution-era band.

 

Postscript: 23 years later, none other than the “Godfather of Grunge,” Neil Young, had guitarist Nils Lofgren record a tap dancing solo on “Eternity” from the album Colorado (2019). Lofgren, a member of Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and a trained gymnast and dancer, has acknowledged Glover as an inspiration for studying tap.

One can only wonder as to the other musical gems locked in Prince’s vaults.

Jefferson Airplane and Stephen Stills – “Turn My Life Down”
Billy Porter and Stephen Stills – “For What It’s Worth”

Co-founder of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Stephen Stills has had a storied career, including multiple gold and platinum albums and membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the first CSN record, Stills handled the bulk of the instrumentation apart from drums. As a solo artist, he has had guest-guitarist jamming buddies Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page contribute guitar parts to his records. Stills himself also enjoyed a brief, but significant period of session work in the late 1960s, between the collapse of Buffalo Springfield and the formalization of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as a stadium rock supergroup.

His best known sideman appearances on lead guitar were on Al Kooper’s best-selling Super Session, which also included volatile guitarist Mike Bloomfield, and on Bill Withers’ Just as I Am album that yielded his breakout single, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Stephen Stills’ sole credited session appearance on a record by a major artist was playing organ on “Turn My Life Down” from Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers (1969). Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wrote “Turn My Life Down,” which was sung by Marty Balin. Stills comes in with a brief, but effective gospel-type Hammond organ part at 2:18, supporting and playing counterpoint to Kaukonen’s guitar solo.

 

Time, unfortunately, has not been good to Stephen Stills. He has experienced hearing loss, vocal issues and other ailments in the last few decades, resulting in a dearth of new material. While a recent duet album with former flame Judy Collins showed a partial return to form, his recent attempt to update his 1960s protest song “For What It’s Worth” with Pose actor Billy Porter met with mixed reactions from puzzled to scathing.

Love and Jimi Hendrix

Who was the first Black creative rock music genius to embrace the psychedelic 1960s and release a record hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 of all time? Most would answer “Jimi Hendrix” – and they would be wrong.

Multi-instrumentalist Arthur Lee of the band Love predated Hendrix by several years. Based in Los Angeles, Lee was taken under the wing of Elektra Records’ Jac Holzman in 1965 after already writing and producing for his own group and other artists. His flamboyant clothes and studio experimentation had already begun while Hendrix was still a jacket-and-tie-attired R&B sideman for the Isley Brothers.

In 1964 Lee wrote and produced “My Diary” for singer Rosa Lee Brooks. Seeking a guitarist who could play like Curtis Mayfield, Lee hired the Isleys’ guitar player, Jimi Hendrix, for the session. (A few years later, Hendrix’s brother Leon informed Arthur Lee that Jimi copied Lee’s psychedelic image for the Jimi Hendrix Experience.)

Lee and Hendrix maintained a friendship, which resulted in Hendrix’s guest lead guitar appearance on Love’s “The Everlasting First” from their 1970 album False Start. According to Lee’s authorized biography, Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love, Hendrix and the band were high on mescaline during the session at Olympic Studios. Hendrix’s distorted, wah-wah soloing is unmistakable – no one else could have sounded like it.

 

This session also yielded a recording of Hendrix’s “Ezy Ryder,” which later appeared on the flip side of “Loon,” an untitled jam, to which Lee added lyrics and vocals and which circulated after Lee’s death as a bootleg acetate.

 

While not a commercial success, Love was held in high regard by their peers and have become critics’ favorites and gained greater appreciation over the decades. The group’s proto-punk/folk/psychedelic sound was a decade ahead of its time and their use of orchestral instruments and electronics in a rock context influenced Prince, Ryan Adams and bands such as The Dream Academy. Drugs and a 12-year jail sentence plagued Lee after breaking up Love, and he passed away from leukemia in 2006.

Jorma Kaukonen with Jaco Pastorius and Rashied Ali

Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have been playing music together for over six decades, starting as teenagers and continuing through to rock and roll history with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. However, from 1979 to 1985, they took a hiatus from playing together, with Casady forming SVT and Kaukonen performing solo and with There Goes the Neighborhood. Based in New York during that time, Kaukonen was caring for his first wife, Margaretta, whose health was deteriorating.

There Goes the Neighborhood’s circulating roster included a pair of very unlikely highly-pedigreed jazz musicians: ex-Weather Report electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius and ex-John Coltrane Quintet drummer Rashied Ali.

In his autobiography Been So Long, Kaukonen expressed his own amazement that such celebrated jazz musicians would deign to play blues-rock with him, but they would perform regularly at Manhattan’s Lone Star café. They rarely rehearsed; Ali would approach a song differently each time but would always find a groove. The volatile and unpredictable Pastorius would sometimes miss a gig and when he did appear, could be alternately brilliant and a train wreck, sometimes within the same song.

I attended a show in which Pastorius played well for the first two songs, then did an amazing solo before ignoring the rest of the group to play themes from The Wizard of Oz for the next 20 minutes (albeit in the same key as Kaukonen).

The tragic story of the bipolar and drug-addicted Jaco Pastorius was the subject of a documentary, Jaco, produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. Downloads from bootlegged cassette recordings of some of these There Goes the Neighborhood shows still circulate.

Jorma Kaukonen continues to play with Hot Tuna, and his Saturday night pandemic streaming concerts on YouTube have garnered high praise from critics, claiming they’ve been some of Jorma’s best work.

 

Sting and Robert Downey, Jr. – “Every Breath You Take,” “Driven to Tears”

With over $14 billion in box office grosses in films he’s starred in, actor Robert Downey Jr. is best known for his portrayal of Tony Stark, whose superhero identity of Iron Man became the linchpin for the multi-billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less publicized apart from other notable starring roles including Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chaplin, Downey is also an excellent singer. He recorded a 2004 album, The Futurist, and has sung occasionally on screen.

In 2000, Downey was cast as a love interest for the title character in the series Ally MacBeal. One of the more notable scenes is a serenade his character performs of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” which evolves into a duet with Sting himself.

 

Downey was also a surprise guest performer at Sting’s 60th birthday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater on October 1, 2011, where they performed “Driven to Tears” together.

 

Self-effacing and full of humor, Downey recalled on Howard Stern’s radio show about his early musical aspirations and how he fantasized about how giving Sting his demo tape would make him a musical star. His lack of pretension and humility make it difficult to be jealous of his abundant talents.

 

Downey’s vocal register almost matches Sting’s so he sings both songs in Sting’s key.  He credibly sings with nuance and emotion, and gives a nod to Sting with mimicry of the latter’s trademark “yo-yo-yo” wails in between verses. On the duet sections, Sting takes the harmony part, which allows Downey to own the melody. Overall, an enviably strong performance.

Martin Simpson and Wu Man – Music for the Motherless Child

I had the pleasure of interviewing Water Lily Acoustics’ founder Kavi Alexander for Copper  Issue 45 and 46. A true world music visionary, Kavi and Water Lily’s catalog consists largely of some of the most unusual and gorgeous musical “mash-ups” ever recorded. A roster sampling includes artists such as David Hidalgo, L. Subramaniam, Ry Cooder, Jerry Douglas, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Jon Hassell, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Bela Fleck, Hossein Alizadeh, and Taj Mahal.

Alexander’s modus operandi has been this: bring the musicians, who usually had never met and frequently had never even heard of one another let alone each other’s music, into an acoustically inviting space, set up the mics, roll tape, and let the magic and inspiration come. Fully embracing the aesthetic of music as a universal language, Water Lily Acoustics’ catalog is a testament to that philosophy, as many of the musicians had no common language apart from music – and the finished music often defied cultural and logistical boundaries.

One of Water Lily’s best releases is Music for the Motherless Child (1996), by British acoustic guitarist Martin Simpson and Chinese pipa enchantress Wu Man. A totally improvised record, the songs are simultaneously a dialogue and a duet between two virtuosos at the top of their games without a hint of competition or ego.

Best known for his pristine fingerpicking and slide guitar interpretations of blues and Celtic folk music, Simpson’s playing has often shown the musical links between Scottish Highlands music and Appalachian bluegrass and folk music and how they converged with Delta blues.

Perhaps China’s foremost ambassador of the 4-string pipa, Wu Man’s eclectic approach to music has exploded the boundaries of the instrument’s limitations through her work with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, Philip Glass, Emanuel Ax, The Kronos Quartet, Ravi Shankar, and others. She received international acclaim for her pipa solos in composer Tan Dun’s soundtrack from the blockbuster Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A true non-traditionalist, Wu Man even has YouTube videos of her pipa versions of heavy metal songs by Black Sabbath, and is not hesitant to use guitar effects pedals.

Although the entire CD is well worth repeated listening, here are a few samples:

“One More Day”:

 

“White Snow in Spring”:

 

“A-Minor Blues”:

 

Copper readers: I have compiled a list of musical collaborations worth noting for possible future articles. If any of you wish to submit your own suggestions, I will be happy to include the three most-mentioned that are not on my current list. Thanks, and I look forward to your picks!

Header image: Savion Glover promotional photo.