Jackie DeShannon - vocals, guitar; Ry Cooder - guitar; David Cohen - guitar
The Ash Grove will long be remembered as the West Coast epicenter of the traditional folk and blues revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As such, the Los Angeles venue was a critical component, not only in the careers of many important folk and blues artists, but as an educational environment to many younger musicians and songwriters, providing them with first hand exposure to the best of the best in an intimate setting. Also a focal point for progressive thought, The Ash Grove would have an equally strong impact on the cultural and political perspective of these young emerging artists, laying the groundwork for what would become the rock music revolution of the 1960s. The Ash Grove's high musical standards and owner Ed Pearl's vision of facilitating interaction between young and old musicians made the venue a hotbed of creativity. Many important careers were launched on the Ash Grove stage and the recording we present here is another fine example. Recorded on September 3, 1963, this remarkably high quality recording not only captures a 19 year old Jackie DeShannon, but she is accompanied by David Cohen and one of the most respected guitar players of 20th century, Ry Cooder, then a mere 16 years old!
A year before DeShannon would gain great exposure opening for The Beatles on their first American tour and even longer before Cooder's trademark slide work would grace recordings by Captain Beefheart, Taj Mahal, Randy Newman and The Rolling Stones, this recording helps illuminate what made the Ash Grove so special. It is a prime example of the torch being passed and although these teenaged musicians are performing material that is not their own, they are encouraged and taken seriously. Fans of either artist will no doubt be astounded that such a high quality recording even exists, but it is the performance itself that will delight listeners.
Jackie DeShannon began her career as a pop-rockabilly singer in the late 1950s, but she soon developed into one of Los Angeles' most successful young songwriters, scoring hits for Irma Thomas, The Fleetwoods and Brenda Lee. DeShannon's early singles, "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room," which utilized circular, jangling guitar lines, would become even bigger hits for The Searchers, further establishing her reputation. In retrospect, these songs now represent the initial approach to what would develop into folk-rock by the mid-1960s. However, first and foremost, Deshannon was a gifted singer who defied classification, equally comfortable with traditional folk and blues as she would become with pop, soul, rock or country styles. Much like her self-titled 1963 album (often referred to as her folk album), this performance reveals DeShannon's gift for choosing material. Although all the songs are covers here, several dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, Deshannon delivers each song with determination and flare, with the 16-year-old Cooder providing remarkably tasteful accompaniment throughout.
This set provides insight into DeShannon, Cohen and Cooder's roots and not surprisingly places a heavy emphasis on traditional blues, always a popular fixture at The Ash Grove. The set begins in progress with Big Bill Broonzy's "Key To The Highway" followed by a classic Mississippi John Hurt number, "Frankie And Albert." Despite being young, white musicians, their love for this music is obvious and what they lack in authenticity, they make up for with honest, intelligent intensity. This intensity level continually increases as the set progresses, first with a wonderful reading of Leadbelly's "Silver City Bound" and then by diversifying the set by adding a couple of traditional folk numbers. The first of these, "Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies," displays the delicate interplay they were capable of, while "Betty And Dupree" allows them to explore their interpretive abilities. The latter song would become the basis for many other songs, including Robert Johnson's "Four Until Late" (later covered by Cream) and The Grateful Dead's "Dupree's Diamond Blues." They stay fairly reverent to the traditional approach, but they also add their own distinctive flare.
To complete the set, these musicians return to vintage blues, with one gospel number thrown in for good measure. These last four numbers are all highly ambitious choices for young white musicians, but they make all four of them a compelling listen. This last sequence begins with homage to Ma Rainy (Queen of the blues in the 1920s), with an engaging take on "Black Eye Blues." A song they learned off the Harry Smith Anthology, "James Alley Blues", follows this. Originally recorded by Louisiana musician Richard "Rabbit" Brown in 1927, the latter song not only shines a positive light on DeShannon's interpretive abilities, but also demonstrates Cooder's abilty to grasp difficult and highly nuanced guitar techniques, even at this early stage. Next up is a strong reading of the gospel/blues "Ninety Nine And A Half Wont Do," followed by a nod to the Queen of the blues in the 1930s, Bessie Smith, and a nice gritty performance of her "Mean Old Bed Bug Blues."
Predating Cooder's recording debut with The Rising Sons by several years and long before DeShannon would score a number one hit with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic, "What The World Needs Now" and her own "Put A Little Love In Your Heart," this recording is a fascinating example of these legendary artists very early on, just beginning to feel their way toward greatness. In the case of Ry Cooder, this recording captures one of America's most influential guitarists literally at the dawn of his career.
Written by Alan Bershaw