Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams kick off a run of strong shows at the Eighth Step on Saturday, with Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys next Friday and Guy Davis next Saturday.
There’s something way 1960s about Murphy & company. It’s essentially a Hudson Valley-based band with deep roots, wide wings and — in their show last summer at the Empire State Plaza — extra players as needed. They claim citizenship in a nation of their own imagining, and this Twilight Zone origin confers an alternate-reality immunity from expectations and boundaries: Coming from nowhere real, they can go anywhere. And they go anywhere they want among rock’s roots, while writing and singing with clear inspiration from Bob Dylan, early Pink Floyd and Hank Williams.
At times, they seem a large cast of characters — some showy specialists, some self-effacing pros and some transient and strange — as fluid as one of George Clinton’s P-Funk extravaganzas. At other times, they pare down to a focused and forceful quartet of leader, guitarist and bassist Joziah Longo; his wife, cellist and accordionist Tink Lloyd; guitarist Sharkey McEwen and drummer Tony Zuzulo. The Longo Twins — bassist Chen and keyboardist Orien — are the most frequent visitors. As a foursome, sextet or more, they achieve a loose, organic feel that is as much electric Kool-Aid (i.e., Grateful Dead) as crunchy granola (i.e., the Incredible String Band) and flask-in-the-pocket honky-tonk rock (the Band).
Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams perform on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Eighth Step at Proctors GE Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). Tickets are $24. Phone 434-1703 or 346-6204 or visit www.eighthstep.org or www.proctors.org.
When comparing any contemporary group to 1960s bands, the highest standard that I keep in mind — and that nobody reaches — is that of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the elastic, short-lived and volcanically soulful group whose leader, Delaney Bramlett, died Saturday at 69.
Formed in 1969 around singers Delaney and wife Bonnie by veterans of LA’s Wrecking Crew studio band, they came from gospel, soul and the blues, and they rocked in the earthiest and most exalted way. Jimi Hendrix played with them for a time and once interrupted an interviewer trying to pigeonhole the music by proclaiming, “Call it spiritual, leave it at that.”
Ultimately, and unfortunately, the band became perhaps best known when Eric Clapton decided on super group Blind Faith’s only tour that the opening act — Delaney & Bonnie and Friends — was better and more fun and joined for a few years.
How big were they? In 1970, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends were among the stars aboard a trans-Canada train full of rockers: Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Buddy Guy Blues Band, a marvelous musical caravan immortalized in the 2003 film “Festival Express.”
When Delaney & Bonnie divorced, so did the band. Keyboardist Leon Russell took many of its members into Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen band. He has built most of his road bands on the same blueprint ever since: a rocking rhythm section with quick-stab horns, rolling gospel piano, high-altitude guitars and singers who can tear off the roof.
The Delaney & Bonnie horn section of trumpeter Jim Price and saxophonist Bobby Keys played with the Rolling Stones and almost everyone else who made records in the 1970s and thereafter. Clapton hired most of the band for his debut solo album and later recruited its bassist, Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, plus Delaney’s friend Duane Allman, into Derek & the Dominoes. Clapton has said that Delaney taught him to sing, and Delaney taught George Harrison to play slide guitar; most of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends also play on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album.
Their own albums remain hot stuff: “On Tour with Eric Clapton” (1970) is their top-seller while the mostly acoustic “Motel Shot” predates “MTV Unplugged” by 20 years. To these ears, their best is “Accept No Substitute,” a rollicking, rock-soul masterpiece released in 1969. It’s bold, busy and bustling, but without a wasted note anywhere. Everything fits, everybody listens and helps everybody, and the music delivers a jolt of pure joy.
Adios, Delaney Bramlett; and adios, too, for some more mighty musicians whose deaths I overlooked in last week’s column or, in the case of Bramlett and Freddie Hubbard, who died Monday, were still living then: John Stewart (Kingston Trio folksinger) — Jan 20; Jeff Healey (Canadian blues slide guitarist) — March 2; Danny Federici (E Street Band keyboardist/accordionist) — April 17.
Also Paul Davis (soft-rock songwriter: “Cool Night”) — April 23; Robert Hazard (post-punk rocker, wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”) — Aug. 5; Jerry Wexler (immortal producer of jazz and soul classics at Atlantic Records) — Aug. 15; LeRoi Moore (Dave Matthews Band saxophonist) — Aug. 19; Jerry Reed (country guitarist and singer, movie actor) — Sept. 2; Richard Wright (Pink Floyd keyboardist) — Sept. 15.
Also Norman Whitfield (producer and songwriter: “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “War” and many more) — Sept. 16; Dee Dee Warwick (soul-singing sister of Dionne) — Oct. 18; Freddie Hubbard (jazz trumpeter who played one of his last shows at the Van Dyck) — Dec. 29.
Lustre Kings tribute
On a happier topic — and doesn’t this prove that the music lives on, somehow? — the Lustre Kings celebrate the birthday of Elvis Presley — who would have turned 74 next Monday — with three shows here, four more out of town and some special guests.
Dubbed the Elvis Birthday Bash Band, the crew includes Lustre Kings bandleader/guitarist Mark Gamsjager plus singer Johnny Rabb (who usually fronts his own rockabilly bands), guitarist Eddie Angel (Los Straitjackets), keyboardist Jeff Potter, Hi-Risers bassist Todd Bradley and Los Straitjackets/Hi-Risers drummer Jason Smay.
They play on Saturday at the Linda Norris Auditorium of the WAMC Performing Arts Studio (339 Central Ave., Albany). Admission is $20. Phone 465-5233, ext. 4 or visit www.thelinda.org.
On Sunday, they’re rippin’ it up at the Ale House (680 River St., Troy). Admission is $10. Phone 272-9740.
Then it’s off to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse (the Dinosaur BBQ) and Bayshore before coming home to play Daisy Bakers (33 Second St., Troy) next Saturday (Jan. 10). Admission is $10. Phone 266-9200 or visit www.daisybakers.com.