Who Hijacked Our Country

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Miles Davis, Tony Williams: the Supergroup that Might Have Been

Before Jimi Hendrix’ death in 1970, plans had been in the works for a recording session with Hendrix and Miles Davis.  Tony Williams would be the drummer.  The bass player would hopefully be Paul McCartney.

On October 21, 1969, Jimi Hendrix sent this telegram to Paul McCartney:

“We are recording and LP together this weekend.  How about coming in to play bass stop call Alan Douglas 212-5812212. Peace Jimi Hendrix Miles Davis Tony Williams.”

A Beatle aide replied to the telegram the next day, saying that Paul McCartney was on vacation and would not be back for two more weeks.  And that was that.  The recording was never made.

One can only imagine what this music would have sounded like.  Jimi Hendrix was getting more experimental during his last few months.  And Miles Davis was experimenting in the opposite direction.  This was around the time that his second jazz-fusion album, Bitches Brew, was released.  (“In a Silent Way” was released a year earlier.)  Both of these albums combined all the intricacies of jazz with rock and roll’s power and immediacy, electric guitars, and every electronic gizmo in the world hooked up to Miles’ trumpet.

Tony Williams was as “out there” as any jazz drummer, but like Miles Davis, he could fit into any conceivable jazz-rock-experimental setting.

And this brings us to Paul McCartney.  Meaning no disrespect, but was/is Paul McCartney really this legendary virtuoso of the bass?  Back in the day, I liked the Beatles as much as the next person.  And Paul McCartney’s first two solo albums — after the Beatles’ breakup — totally kicked ass.  Wings and everything else that came after:  two thumbs down.  (IMHO)

Anyway, as much as I liked the Beatles and the first two McCartney solo albums, I don’t remember ever thinking “Whoa!  Check out that bass solo!”

In the annual Playboy Jazz and Pop Poll — which I haven’t seen in decades; I don’t even know if it exists any more — Paul McCartney was ALWAYS voted Best Bass Player.  Seriously.  Runners up:  Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Miroslav Vitous, Ron Carter.  Number One:  Paul McCartney.

I never understood that.  The poll winners were a pretty eclectic mix of rock, pop and the major jazz categories:  mainstream, avant-garde, fusion, etc.  And yet Paul McCartney always came out ahead of these incredible jazz titans.  Am I missing something?

In any case, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Tony Williams must have known what they were doing when they invited Paul McCartney to be their bass player.

We’ll never know what we missed.  Weather Report used to call themselves “the Best Fuckin’ Band in the world, Man.”  They might have been just second best if the Hendrix-Davis-Williams-McCartney band had made that recording.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, my bass-playing ex-boyfriend always said that McCartney was a very innovative (and underrated) bass player for his time.

May 12, 2013 at 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don’t get me started on Playboy, it started as the Jazz- Pop poll as Hefner believed that Jazz was the “cool” music. Then the Rock fans started taking over, and McCartney always won best bass, Rickie Lee Jones (because she did a jazz album) would win best jazz vocalist over other legends, while Edgar Winter who was known to play a little Saxophone would beat out Sax Legends at the time.

Even in the “Guitar Player” Magazine Poll (which is supposed to have a more educated crowd) they put a 7 award limit on winning so that their readers couldn’t keep picking Paul McCartney on bass and Roy Clarke on Country Guitar, and then go out and listen and vote someone else for a change.

In a interview in Bass Player magazine, McCartney admitted he was embarrassed for all of the awards he was winning, he confessed not being that good a bass player and was embarrassed being chosen over some bass Legends. Later in that year he was interviewed again as he was doing a recording session with Bass Legend Stanley Clarke and he admitted to being intimidated to even bringing his bass out.

None of the Beatles were known as Star musicians of their day, their power was in composition and engineering that gave us stellar studio albums but it was also why they could never tour again and why they had guess stars like Eric Clapton and Billy Preston.

IMHO Opinion McCartney might have been just invited for his fame, but that would have been a real insult. I think as musically, instrumentally, and composition wise, the other guys would been over his head and from Mars based on what he knew - could the guy who composed “Let him in”! Keep up with those guys? I’m surprised Hendrix didn’t use Billy Cox who would have been a better choice.

When fusion came out it was practically untouchable as you had Jazz Guys like Weather Report, Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra playing Rock, then it deteriorated when the Rock Guys like Jeff Beck and Tommy Bolin were trying to play jazz. Then the middle of the road Spyro Gyra, and Jeff Lorber Group (starring Kenny G.) It then morphed to the elevator smooth jazz we hear today. Snooze!

At the height of the fusion era we used to think the Ultimate Dream Super trio as being Jimi Hendrix, Stanley Clarke on Bass, and Billy Cobham on drums.


May 12, 2013 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger jadedj said...

Great info from both you and Erik! Lots that I didn't about even though I am a fan of many of the guys you two talk about. Thanks.

May 13, 2013 at 4:35 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the info.

Erik: I'm glad McCartney at least acknowledged the meaninglessness of winning those polls. Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) said the same thing in an interview, that he couldn't believe he was up there in the polls alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

I loved the Mahavishnu Orchestra. That was how I first got into jazz, in 1973 when I first heard Birds of Fire. I was mesmerized. I had always thought "jazz" meant Dixieland or Glen Miller.

I went from McLaughlin to Weather Report and Miles Davis, and from there to more avant-garde players like Dave Holland and Cecil Taylor.

As much as I love Jeff Beck, he was totally over his head when he tried to imitate John McLaughlin in those fusion wannabe albums he did in the mid '70s.

jadedj: Yup, there's a lot of great music out there.

May 13, 2013 at 7:53 PM  

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