Friday, April 13, 2012

His Book And His Drums

Joni Mitchell And John Guerin Romance

Joni Mitchell began planning her next album, Court And Spark, which would include the three veiled songs about the Jackson-centered breakdown, as well as the baleful The Same Situation.  The album's title song opened with some of the most arresting images she'd ever conceived, describing love as showing up like a scavenger on a porch, "with a sleeping roll and a madman's soul."

Joni started doing demo recordings in the summer of 1973.  Russ Kunkel was signed on as drummer, but, with these new songs, something wasn't working.  Russ said, "Joni, I can't play to this music.  I think you should get yourself a jazz drummer."  So Joni went around to jazz clubs and happened upon one of the best young jazz drummers in L.A., John Guerin.  When it was proposed that he work with Joni, Guerin thought: What am I doing backing a folksinger?  But when he listened to her songs, he was awestruck.  "She was the whole orchestra in one guitar!"
 Joni, he realized was no folksinger - or any kind of conventional singer or composer.  You didn't go whistling Joni's tunes.  They were much more complicated; not A-A-B-A form, not Gershwin.  Joni's songs didn't have the usual hook; she would form the music to her lyrical thought and sometimes go across bars and in different time signatures - she didn't care."  For Help Me and Free Man In Paris she marries her signature vocal bends to a jazzy, commercial feel.  Raised on Robbery is a boogie-woogie-bugle-boy-tinged rocker.  Car On A Hill has movie sound effects; "Make it sound like cars and traffic!" Joni had ordered.

John Guerin and Joni Mitchell began a romance during the making of Court And Spark.  Joni was only half out of her depression when they met, and John's down-to-earth (and hell-raising) quality seemed to pull her the rest of the way out.  As she later put it in Refuge Of The Roads (one of her favorite of her own songs), he was the "friend of spirit" who "mirrored me back, simplified." 
He, too, saw their fit that way; "Joan's a very complicated person and I'm a pretty straightahead guy.  I think she lightened up a lot with me" - even though, as she put it in the song, their "perfection would always be denied."  Says a close friend, "It was a turbulent, highly sexually charged relationship; they broke up six or seven times" over five years.  John Guerin would be one of the great loves of her life. He was that rare lover "who she never said anything bad about," says another friend.  "She was crazy about John."
One of their first breakups occurred just after Court And Spark was finished.  John was unfaithful, which she would document in Hejira's Blue Motel Room.  She paid him back by having a six-week liaison with session guitarist (and sometime Leon Russell bandmate) Wayne Perkins, a handsome half-Cherokee Alabaman. 

Court And Spark was released in January 1974, and the pleading, scatty Help Me was released in March, becoming Joni's first-and-only Top 10 single.  The critics were even more ecstatic than they'd been with For The Roses.  Robert Hillburn called it "a virtually flawless album that may well contain the most finely honed collection of songs and most fully realized arrangements in the singer-songwriter's distinguished career."
Court and Spark was Joni's first smash hit.  It charted at # 2 and stayed there for four weeks, then went platinum, with over a million copies sold.  It received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Record of the Year (Help Me), and Joni for Best Pop Female Vocalist.  (When Olivia Newton-John won instead, there was audible dismay from the audience). 

Joni and her boys went on a fifty-city tour, from which was produced a live album, Miles of Aisles, which, in November, also reached # 2.  This rush of mainstream success was new for Joni, and road life had been grinding.  By the end of 1974, she bought an elegant Spanish home built in 1929 atop a private Bel Air road.  Its intricate wrought-iron gates opened into a fountained courtyard, and there was a pool, of course.  John Guerin packed up his drums and jazz records and moved in with her.

Joni's next album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, was released in November 1975.  The awkward title (named for the sound of Bel Air sprinklers in the title song about a trophy wife) shouted "upper middle class."  But like a conceptual artist, Joni played with this fact.  The album's internal photo showed her submerged in her Bel Air pool, and the Joni-painted cover - a mirage-like downtown L.A. in the backdrop of a surreal pea-soup-green mega lawn on which African tribesmen are carrying a long, snakelike communal drum.

Joni was leaving behind the confessionalism that had intensely defined Blue, For The Roses, and Court and Spark.  This new album, as Stephen Holden put it, was Joni doing "social philosophy."  The intellectual substance Holden saw in Hissing (for which Guerin played drums) was small comfort to her bewildered fans, who had come to Joni to feel.
Although Hissing shot to # 4 - Court and Spark's wake was strong - the negative reviews (the Detroit News, for example, called it "sometimes so smug that it is downright irritating") upset her.  "Joni was very self-involved and thin-skinned," John recalls.  "Elliot would keep the bad reviews away from her, which I thought was really dumb - I thought it was abnormal; she should have been way past that.  But Joan remembers everything any critic said about her." 

At some point in 1975, Joni Mitchell and John Guerin became quietly engaged.  "We had wedding rings made," he said.  "Joan designed them - gold, with a kind of hieroglyphic that meant 'lasting relationship' in some Eastern language."  In November 1975, Joni flew to the East Coast to join Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, where she met a playwright, sometime musician, film actor, self-styled cowboy named Sam Shepard.  Shepard and Joni were exactly two days apart in age; they both turned thirty-two during their time on the tour.

During the tour, a song started coming to her, and she wrote pieces of it during bus rides.  Called Coyote, it would be one of the wittiest, sexiest, and most un-self-pitying songs, telling the story of a woman in a transient situation who meets a stranger from a beguiling different background: a cowboy.  A brief, humorous but avariciously erotic affair seems to ensue in funky roadhouses and hotels with lots of "keyholes and numbered doors."  For years, fans who loved the casual, devil-may-care abandon of the song have wondered who "Coyote" was.  "Coyote" was Sam Shepard.

Joni and John and her band embarked on the Hissing tour in mid January 1976.  Joni sang the deliciously suggestive Coyote on the tour and told audiences that it had come to her during Rolling Thunder.  Before the end of the Hissing tour, for reasons that may or may not have had to do with the source of the song, Joni and John had such a big fight that the rest of the tour (including its international leg) was canceled.  They broke up - this time (they thought) for good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

John Guerin Biography

John Payne Guerin (October 31, 1939 – January 5, 2004) worked as a drummer, percussionist, and recording artist worldwide.

Guerin was born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego. Self-taught on drums, he worked with Buddy DeFranco from 1959 to 1960. In the 1963 he moved to Los Angeles. He was with George Shearing from 1965 to 1966, and worked in the late 1960s with other jazz artists such as Thelonious Monk and Donald Byrd. His talented drum work was utilised by artists including Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, Them, Lou Rawls, Ray Conniff,  Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt, Nelson Riddle and countless others.
 He is one of the great jazz-rock drummers, and has a style that is as distinctive in its own way as that of his peers such as Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd and Harvey Mason. Emerging in the late 1960s and flourishing from the 1970s onwards, the Guerin style of that era featured tasty fills around his single-head concert tom toms, displaced accents, and the frequent playing of three-four over four-four time. A perfect example of the coming-together of all these features is on the Frank Zappa Hot Rats cut It Must Be a Camel.
 Guerin worked with Frank Zappa on two main occasions: firstly on the Lumpy Gravy album, sharing drumming duties with Shelly Manne and Frank Capp, and secondly on sessions in the latter part of 1969. The second sessions included (a) the Hot Rats sessions, comprising Willie The Pimp, Little Umbrellas, It Must Be A Camel, Twenty Small Cigars (appearing on Chunga’s Revenge), and Lil’ Clanton Shuffle (appearing on The Lost Episodes), and (b) the Jean-Luc Ponty King Kong sessions, comprising Idiot Bastard Son, Twenty Small Cigars, America Drinks And Goes Home and How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That? On the Hot Rats sessions, Guerin was partnered with his frequent musical colleague, bassist Max Bennett.

 There is an interesting interview with Guerin in the January 1999 edition of Modern Drummer magazine. He shows the interviewer an artefact hanging on his office wall which turns out to be a framed piece of music from Lumpy Gravy. He says, “He (Zappa) laid this on me in the studio … he loved to do this kind of thing to me. What I would do was interpret as much as I could, which is really what he wanted me to do … He was always very serious and intense. He had a sense of humour, but in the studio it was another thing. But he was very easy to work with.” Interviewer: “Did you have to do things a hundred times?” Guerin: “No. Actually, Frank was a genius in the editing room. For instance, on the Hot Rats album, we let the tape run most of the time. There was no music, he just directed different feelings, or we’d establish a groove and he’d cut it off. Then, a few months later, an album with actual songs would come out. That was the beauty of his editing.” Guerin’s appearance on Apostrophe’. A mystery revealed.

In the Modern Drummer interview, Guerin says, “He (Zappa) once sent me an album and  I said, ‘Wait a minute, Frank. My name is on here, but I don’t remember playing this.’ He said, ‘That’s because I took your drum track alone and wrote another song to it.’” Guerin is obviously referring to Apostrophe’, the only other Zappa album on which he has a credit. So which song does he play on? Side one of the original LP is obviously a continuation of the Overnite Sensation sessions with Ralph Humphrey. On side two, Jim Gordon plays on the cut Apostrophe’. Alex Dmochowski told me that Aynsley Dunbar plays on Uncle Remus, and the Zappa Recording Facts service states that Dunbar is also on Stink-Foot. So the Guerin track has got to be Excentrifugal Forz. Zappa probably extracted the drum track from something left over from Hot Rats and then recorded himself on vocals, guitars and bass, with George Duke on keyboards, probably in February 1974, when the finishing touches were put to the Apostrophe’ album, according to Neil Slaven in Electric Don Quixote. The drumming on Forz is typically tricky jazz-funk Guerin. It compares seamlessly to, for instance, his work on the cut LA Expression on the album Tom Scott and the LA Express (1974). The band served as Joni Mitchell's back-up on tour during the mid- to late-1970s, with whom Guerin had a brief relationship. 

The Peggy Lee album Close Enough For Love (1979) is odd, but only in the sense that it features Ian Underwood, Max Bennett and John Guerin, and so should, perhaps, be subtitled Hot Rats Meet Peggy Lee. It’s an attempt by Lee to create a more contemporary, smooth jazz-type feel, and highlights some neat jazz piano solos by Ian Underwood.

His list of studio credits is amazing and undoubtedly his session career outlasted others’ because he was so musically open-minded.

He is one of the most recorded drummers of all time. Among his many contributions to motion picture and television scores, Guerin worked on the soundtrack to the 1988 film homage to Charlie Parker, Bird by Clint Eastwood. Those are also his drums on the theme song during the opening credits for the television series Hawaii Five-O.
In later years, Guerin worked with Oscar Peterson, John Faddis, Jimmy Heath, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Justin Morell, Andreas Pettersson, David Basse, David Garfield, Gary Lemel, and Mike Melvoin. Guerin traveled worldwide co-leading the L.A. Express and working with Joni Mitchell. His compositions include "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" with Joni Mitchell, "Don't Be Blue" with Michael Franks and countless songs with other artists. Guerin produced many record projects including work for O.C. Smith, Keith Carradine ("I'm Easy"), and Terry Garthwaite. He achieved ProEmeritus status by winning the NARAS M.V.P. award for four years, and authored a drum book titled "Jazz + Rock = John Guerin".

  Guerin died on January 5, 2004 in West Hills, California due to complications from influenza. He was known for his love of horses which he continued to own and ride until his death.