Friday, February 3, 2012

(5th in a series of) Stepping Stones: "From Black and White to Color"

Song: She’s a Rainbow
Album: Her Satanic Majesties Request
Released: December, 1967

Franklin High School was an unusual place for a 5th grader to get an education, but that was where I found myself in 1972.  The town was growing and with an (insightful) vision of further population growth, the then recently erected high school was, for the time being, built large enough to accommodate more than grades 9 thru 12 (a new vocational technical school would soon take the pressure off a bit).  And so, with the older high school redesigned to accommodate the junior high students (grades 7 and 8), the 5th and 6th graders were corralled together from a series of smaller, even older schools around town, and into the 2 wings on the northwest corner.

The age gap was not the only unusual aspect of being a 5th grader at a high school.  The time period was a large factor as well, and 1972 USA was quite a time period.  Many 5th graders, including myself, were transplants out of a private Catholic school system; having witnessed the permanent closure of St. Mary’s School the year before.  Making the transition from that insular world to what we were now experiencing was, to me, a bit of a culture shock.  Dress code, structure, and nuns were out.  Loose, multicolored clothing, long hair, and torn jeans were in, and this was much more so down the hallway.  Treks to the gym would bring us through this strange new world, but it was in the cafeteria where we would really get a good dose of it.

The cafeteria was where we had firsthand encounters with the juniors and seniors, who happened to share the same lunch break with us.   The 5th graders were shoehorned into a few long tables near the kitchen, but it was not uncommon to wander over to the older kids tables when you felt welcomed.  That’s where the jukebox was, and the lingo, and the sense of rebellion.  That was where the occasional streaker would make his way through the crowd, chased by teachers who appeared to have little idea of what to do if they caught him.  That’s where a different form of music began seeping its way into my consciousness.  There were all sorts of things going on, and my eyes were opening to something very different from what I had taken in to that point in my life.  Not better, or worse, just different.  The variety itself was what made it feel better though. The sense that there was diversity around me:  Diversity of thought, and an apparently complete freedom of expression.

This was not my only indoctrination into that world, however.  There were other experiences closer to home, happening at the same time.

Unless I have a long-lost cousin in a commune somewhere in the desert, my extended family (on both sides) completely missed the scene of the late 60’s.  To have been there, I assume you would have to have been born between 1947 and 1952, and despite numbering over 100 people (aunts, uncles, cousins), no one fit the bill.  I realize this was also the case for the families of many friends, but with such a large extended family as mine, I see this fact as running a bit against the odds.

Of the two generations that nipped at the edges though, it was the younger one (mine) that ended up getting the closest whiff.  My five oldest cousins all happen to be ladies and having reached adolescence in the early 70’s, they were, like those 1972 FHS juniors and seniors, close enough to that psychedelic sun to feel its effects.  Several have retained that certain air about them, be it hair style, clothing, or mannerisms.  I was an interested observer. Their colorful ways are reflected in this week’s Stepping Stone, She’s a Rainbow ( ), likely the best song penned at catching the lifestyle of a young lady from that time period. 

The years 1967, 68, and 69 were watershed years for rock music, but I believe it is ’67 that stands alone in terms of being at a crossroads.  Bands came into this year with one musical sound and came out of it with another, but 1967 itself was a year where it all blended together in one big psychedelic clump.  Bands were experimenting with each other’s sounds, and were not embarrassed to do so.  There was lots of overlap.  The Rolling Stones wrote songs that sounded like The Kinks, who sounded like The Who, who sounded like Pink Floyd, who sounded like The Beatles, who sounded like The Byrds. 

The Stones “Her Satanic Majesties Request” was but a shell of an imitation of The Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, but it did have a few highlights.  She’s a Rainbow is a rare gem on this album, an album that only a small minority of fans would be able to name more than one or two songs from off the top of their head.  The best thing about She’s a Rainbow is Nicky Hopkins piano, with its 7 note intro and re-intro throughout, and with its timely pregnant pauses.  John Paul Jones plays the string arrangement.

Nicky Hopkins was one of many support musicians who performed on a second tier around the Stones.  Like electrons around a nucleus, the Stones kept many additional musicians close to the core throughout the years.  The list is extensive and includes Ian Stewart (keyboards:  The “6th Stone”), Jack Nitzche (harpsichord on Play with Fire), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Jim Price (horns), Nicky Hopkins (keyboards), Darryl Jones (bass man who replaced Bill Wyman), Billy Preston (keyboards), Ollie E. Brown (percussion), Wayne Perkins (guitar), Merry Clayton (backing vocals on Gimme Shelter), Chuck Leavell (keyboards),  Sonny Rollins (sax) and many others.  Pete Townshend and David Bowie have also contributed to Stones songs over the years.

The Rolling Stones influences and support have always been well recognized by the band.  It’s a big reason why Bob Dylan has great respect for them (noting on his xm radio show that the Stones always went out of their way to recognize southern black bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy, Bo Diddley, and Muddy Waters while on their path to fame), and it’s one reason I got more interested in the band early on, after pulling out the cover sleeve to “It’s Only Rock’n Roll” many years ago and seeing nothing but photos of the support musicians on the album, Ian Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Keith Harwood, and Andy Johns.

Have a colorful weekend everyone.  Let your hair down.

- Pete

“Have you seen her all in gold
  Like a queen in days of old
  She shoots colors all around
  Like the sunset going down
  Have you seen the lady fairer”

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