Accidental Moments in Rock

by Mike Jefferson

There have been many fortuitous moments in rock, such as Mama Cass introducing Graham Nash to David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Among others...

Buddy Rescues the Band of Gypsys

Happy New Year! Jimi Hendrix and his new band, "The Band of Gypsys," with drummer/vocalist Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox, opened their second night at the Fillmore East with "Who Knows?" a bluesy jam written by Hendrix. But Hendrix snapped a string midway through the song - not a good omen. Recognizing "Who Knows?" was floundering, Miles began scat singing as Cox's bass rumbled in the background.

Miles kept riffing for several minutes, giving Hendrix time to restring his guitar. One of the Gypsys' best and most spontaneous cuts was captured for the band's subsequent live album. 

Emerson Tunes Up Lucky Man

On the last day of recording their self-titled debut album, Emerson, Lake and Palmer realized they were short one song. So Lake dusted off "Lucky Man," a ballad he'd written when he was twelve-years old. Lake was working on the song in one studio while Emerson was experimenting with a Moog synthesizer next door. Hearing Emerson's wailing, jabbing solos, Lake thought they'd provide an excellent and unexpected ending to his song. One of rock's earliest Moog solos, Emerson's frenzied feedback helped make "Lucky Man" ELP's signature song.

A Few Beatle Moments...

The Beatles decided to take a break from rehearsing John Lennon's "I Feel Fine," a catchy tune propelled by Ringo Starr's Latin-influenced drum pattern that Lennon nonetheless still lacked something. Lennon accidentally left his guitar on, leaning it next to his amp. The resulting feedback produced an elongated laser-like drone that immediately caught the group's attention.

The revolutionary sound was tacked onto the beginning of the song, paving the way for future guitarists like Pete Townsend, Alvin Lee and Leslie West to use feedback in their acts.

"Yer Blues" was a stripped-down Lennon tune recorded live for 1968's "White" album. The lyrics captured Lennon at his most poetic and paranoid. The bluesy jam was enhanced by Lennon's raw vocal, his grungy solo and Harrison's stinging comeback.

When his vocal mike failed prior to the third verse, Lennon continued singing, his vocal  picked up by one of the overhead mikes. As a result, Lennon sounded distant, echoed and pained, like the drowning man he was singing about. The group thought about re-recording the vocal, but were struck by its dramatic value and left it in.

Lovesick Eric

Eric Clapton wrote "Layla" about his unrequited love for Patti Boyd, George Harrison's wife. It was originally a ballad until guitarist Duane Allman heard it, adding the song's signature slide guitar riff.

A few weeks later, Clapton came into the studio while drummer Jim Gordon was playing a piano piece he intended to use for a solo track. Clapton asked Gordon if he could use it for the end of "Layla." Gordon intially refused, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock wasn't pleased about Gordon taking over his role.

Clapton overdubbed acoustic and electric guitars, Whitlock pitched in on piano with Gordon, Allman added bird-like figures on slide guitar and producer Tom Down spliced together Clapton's original and Gordon's coda to create Derek and the Dominoes' classic song.

Sad Rag Doll

Bob Gaudio, bass singer and writer for the Four Seasons, was stopped in traffic in New York City in 1964 near Hell's Kitchen. As he waited for the light to change, a young girl dressed in tatters her face and hands covered in dirt, began cleaning the car's windshield.

Gaudio reached into his wallet to tip her, but found all he had was a $20 bill. He was so moved by the girl's desperate appearance he gave her the twenty. The girl's astonished expression left an imdelible impression on Gaudio. With the help of Bob Crewe, Gaudio composed "Rag Doll" about her.

"Rag Doll" went to number one in June, 1964.

While Capaldi naps, Wood and Winwood Create a Fantasy

The members of Traffic (Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason) lived together at a country estate in Berkshire, jamming together and creating material for their debut album. One night drummer/lyricist Capaldi scribbled down some words about "Mr. Fantasy," a mythical muse, then went to bed.

Winwood and Wood read Capaldi's lyrics and began laying down music to match Capaldi's imagery. The clamor woke Capaldi, who joined Winwood and Wood to finish the song one of Traffic's most beloved anthems.

Whitfield Rankles Edwards

Producer Norman Whitfield was instrumental in stoking The Temptations hit machine following David Ruffin's departure in 1968. Whitfield and Barrett Strong composed "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," a tough tale about children questioning their mother about their delinquent father's shady past.

Ruffin's easy-going replacement, Dennis Edwards, fumed when he read the opening line: "It was the third of September, a day I'll always remember, 'cause that was the day that my daddy died." Edwards' father had died on that date and he was convinced Whitfield, who liked to push his artists, had assigned him the line in order to aggravate him. Edwards' anger toward Whitfield intensified when the producer made him repeatedly rehearse the line.

Whitfield feigned ignorance of the date, but his prodding induced Edwards to give a scalding performance. The seven-minute single version went to #1 and won three Grammy Awards in 1973.

Fate can be cruelly ironic as well. Nick Drake, who albums sold in the hundreds while he was alive, became a star 30 years after his death when his song "Pink Moon" was used in a car commercial.

But for every Nick Drake, there's also an artist like Tommy James. Needing a catchy title and a chorus for a new song, James looked out of his apartment window, spying a large sign on the Mutual of New York building across the street.  He called the song "Mony Mony".



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