Highway 61

Bob Dylan in 1965

In 1965, Bob Dylan released two albums, “ Bringing It All Back Home ” and “ Highway 61 Revisited ”, both forging a path far removed from his early folk music into a new musical hybrid that included folk, rock ‘n roll, literature and blues, everything mixed up into this irresistible whirlwind. The next year, Dylan released a double album, “ Blonde on Blonde ”, and the 34 songs from these three albums are, in my opinion, the greatest achievement by any musician at any time. The lyrics of these songs were instrumental in Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

The crossroads

The real highway 61 divides the United States and stretches 1,400 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wyoming, Minnesota. Highway 61 is also known as the Blues Highway because it runs through the Mississippi Delta, the area most associated with the development of blues music. The junction of Highway 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi is the famous crossroads where legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for his incredible talent. Blues songstress Bessie Smith also died on this stretch of highway in a car crash in 1937.

My arrangement of “ Highway 61 ” is taken straight out of Muddy Waters’ fifties versions of “ I’m A Man ” and ” Mannish Boy. ” It is played in the classic “power trio” style of a lot of 60s bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and, one of my favourites, BLT (Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan and Robin Trower), a collaboration that lasted for all of one album!

The lobby of the Capitol theatre

In 1968, both Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the magnificent Capitol Theatre in Ottawa, only a few weeks apart. I couldn’t afford to see both concerts so I went to see Clapton (Cream) and a friend of mine went to see Hendrix. My friend couldn’t believe that Hendrix set his guitar on fire! As for me, Cream played so loud that my ears are still ringing 50 years later!

A victim of the new and nearby National Arts Centre, the Capitol Theatre closed its doors in 1970. Shortly afterwards, one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in Canada was demolished and replaced by yet another ugly square office building. The Ontario provincial government, ever behind, only enacted heritage protection legislation 5 years later.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Highway 61

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Bring It On Home – the trance blues of Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson

I really started listening to blues music when The Beatles died out in 1969. Muddy Waters was my big hero but I listened to everybody, acoustic and electric. In particular, I was very fond of songs that were repetitive, hypnotic and didn’t vary from start to finish, often played in a single chord. The best proponents of this captivating genre were Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Much later, this type of blues became known as “trance blues.”

“Bring It On Home”, a great example of trance blues and a train song to boot, was written by Willie Dixon, the best and most prolific writer in the blues idiom. It was first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1963, although it was only released in 1966.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s real name is believed to be Alex Ford but he was mostly known as “Rice” Miller. The date and year of his birth are uncertain. Sonny Boy himself said he was born in 1899 but his tombstone, set up in 1977 by Lillian McMurry, owner of Trumpet Records where Sonny Boy recorded, gives 1908 as his birth year. However, his real birth year is believed to be 1912, according to census records.

There is a close bond between Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf – Wolf married Sonny Boy’s sister and Sonny Boy later married Wolf’s half-sister, Mae.

Sonny Boy Williamson on King Biscuit Time


In 1947, Sonny Boy Williamson played on the very first radio broadcast of King Biscuit Time, a 30-minute long show from Helena, Arkansas sponsored by the King Biscuit flour company, which featured live performances by African-American blues artists. King Biscuit Time is the longest running daily American radio broadcast in history. Its popularity made it one of the most important catalysts in the propagation of blues music throughout the country and helped launch many careers by some of the most significant artists in the genre.

Sonny Boy Williamson died in 1965 at the age of 52. He was very popular in the sixties and appeared on a number of television shows that followed the blues/folk revival. Luckily, some of these great live performances are still available and I urge you to have a look at “the real thing.” This is a good place to start:

 

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, electric bass, MIDI guitar (B3 organ)
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Bring It On Home

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Who’s Gonna Save My Soul

Richard and Roch

I first heard “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” playing over the end credits of a TV show. It’s by an urban soul duo known as Gnarls Barkley.The piece had enough interesting elements that reminded me of 60s soul music and Roch and I decided to record something modern for a change.

60s soul was the soundtrack of my growing up. I struggled with dancing and meeting girls, pretty well like all teenagers I knew back then, but the musc that we socialized with was the sweet earthy sounds of Memphis (Stax Records), New York City (Atlantic Records) and Alabama (Muscle Shoals Studios). Musically, it was the best of times – Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. and the M.G.s, and so many other great singers. You’ll notice that I don’t mention Detroit and Motown Records. Motown is like a disgraced uncle to me, someone you may respect but will never forgive. I never trusted Motown – it was much too slick and glittery for my tastes and I always thought nothing good would come of it. What became of Motown is disco music so, enough said.

I never thought Roch and I would record anything from the murky cesspool of contemporary music but I guess you should never really say never!

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, MIDI guitar (electric piano)
Roch Tassé – drums

Who’s Gonna Save My Soul

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Subterranean Homesick Blues

Richard and Roch

In early 1965, a 15-year old folk music fan put Bob Dylan’s new album on the turntable, put the needle down in the groove and, like everybody else, sat back in disbelief at what he heard. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, the first track of the album “Bringing It All Back Home” was a whirlwind of seemingly insane lyrics backed by romping electric instruments. The old Dylan, the folk hero, the saviour of a generation who wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changing”, was gone.

The odd title of the song is said to come from Jack Kerouac’s novel, “The Subterraneans” and “Taking It Easy” a song ironically written by Woodie Guthrie (Dylan’s greatest inspiration) and Pete Seeger (Dylan’s greatest denigrator). Dylan himself said it was based on the vocal delivery of Chuck Berry in his anti-establishment classic of 1956, “Too Much Monkey Business.”

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” is a perfect snapshot of the 60s, with references to drug distillation, drug busts, wire taps, civil rights riots (often broken up by high-pressure fire hoses) and a palpable atmosphere of paranoia and dread surrounding the proverbial “kid.” If there’s any of Dylan’s warnings that I took from this song it was “don’t follow leaders” – one of the doctrines of my life.
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” was used in one of the first “modern” promotional film clips, the forerunner of what was later known as the music video. The original clip was the opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker’s film Dont Look Back, a documentary on Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. The video, one of the best cultural artifacts of the 60s, can be seen by clicking this link:

Click on the X top right to remove the advertisement for Pennebakers’ documentary. The bearded bald man in the video is the poet Allen Ginsbeg (1926-1997).

Hubert Sumlin & Howlin` Wolf

Contrary to the original recording, my arrangement of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is indeed in a traditional blues format and comes from Howlin’ Wolf (real name Chester Burnett, 1910-1976), one of the greatest artists of all time, and his very influential blues piece “Smokestack Lighting.” In particular, Wolf’s guitarist Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011) came up with a timeless blues guitar riff for the song’s original 1956 recording. When I was a young man, I spent hours playing Hubert Sumlin’s riff and working out some fingerpicking variations which, more than forty years later, form the basis of this arrangement.

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars. electric bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Subterranean Homesick Blues

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The Séguin Brothers play “For No One”

Robert et Richard

Robert et Richard


Sometime around 1966, The Beatles became adults. “She Loves You” was replaced by “She’s Leaving Home.” The joy of their early pop music was nowhere to be found in pieces like “Nowhere Man” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Very much in this vein, “For No One” is about the end of a relationship, where people are discarded like worn out clothes – very shocking for the “love generation” of 1966. Unless you were there, it’s difficult to understand or explain the sense of social upheaval the The Beatles reflected in their new lyrics at that time.

But it wasn’t only lyrically that The Beatles were evolving. Their music, thanks to the contributions of producer/arranger George Martin (1926-2016), often referred to as the fifth Beatle, expanded into areas previously unknown to pop music. For example, the original recording of “For No One” is quite baroque, featuring a clavichord and a superb French horn solo, ably played here by Alrick on the upright bass.

Alrick

 

Bob Séguin – voice
Richard Séguin – mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

 

For No One

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Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6”

Richard and Roch

“From a Buck 6” was part of Bob Dylan’s phenomenal 1965 output that featured two albums, “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” I believe that the impact of the 20 songs on these albums was not and has never been equaled by any artist and contributed greatly to Dylan’s winning of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The original recording featured Mike Bloomfield of the great Paul Butterfield Blues Band on guitar, the very influential Al Kooper on organ, as well as studio veterans Harvey Brooks on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums. Steve Jobs once said that this was his favourite track of all time.

Bob Dylan

Any artist must recognize those that came before. When Dylan plugged in an electric guitar in 1965 and alienated all the folk purists, most notably Pete Seeger, he showed that many of his influences came from Rock ‘n Roll. My arrangement of the piece owes quite a lot to one of my big influences, Chuck Berry and especially his great 1959 single “Memphis Tennessee.”

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and MIDI guitar (B3 organ)
Roch Tassé – drums

From a Buick 6

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Appalachian music

Richard and Roch

In the 60s, when I was growing up, I was exposed to so much music: Dylan and the folk revival, pop music with The Beatles and a slew of hybrid rock bands, Miles Davis and the new jazz. These were all forward thinking artists and they were all agents of change. But in the middle of this mad rush, there was Doc Watson (1923-2012), an old oak tree with deep roots, and Doc was looking back.

The most important thing I learned from Doc Watson was to respect the people who came before. Doc learned much of his repertoire playing with Clarence Ashley (1895-1967), one of the most important artists in traditional Appalachian music. Likewise, Doc Watson became one of the most important musical influences in my life.

Alrick


“Appalachian” refers to an area of the eastern United States comprised of seven states, from Mississippi in the south to Pennsylvania in the north. Named “Apalachee” by the Spanish, the region has been known, stereotypically, for legends like Daniel Boone, wars between “moonshiners” and “revenuers”, very low standards of education, clan feuding and abject poverty for everyone other than loggers and coal miners, not that they fared much better.

The music of Appalachia is derived primarily from old English and Scottish ballads, Irish and Scottish fiddle music and African-American blues music. The tone of the music is very dark and dominated by stories of broken relationships full of rejection, abandonment and infidelity, often ending in murder.

Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson

Appalachian music is traditionally played only on stringed instruments, most notably the 5-string banjo which was played in a “clawhammer” style of picking with the instrument tuned in an open 4th chord, known as “sawmill” or “modal” tuning, both of these characteristics developed by Clarence Ashley. I tune and play my banjo in “The Cuckoo” and my guitar in “Little Sadie” in this fashion to honour Clarence Ashley.

I have loved Appalachian music since I was a young man and now, I finally get to record some thanks to my collaboration with Roch Tassé and newcomer Alrick Huebener, a fine upright bass player from Ottawa. And for the first time, I sing!

The Cuckoo

“The Cuckoo” is an early 19th century English folk song first recorded by Clarence Ashley in 1929. In its earliest versions, the cuckoo is likened to a roving and inconstant lover. I have added the verse about Angola prison, one of my favourites, which is taken from “Junco Partner”, a New Orleans standard popularized by Dr. John. I have also added a Cajun flavour to the piece with the addition of a triangle, called “’tit fer” (little iron) by the Louisiana Cajuns.

Richard Séguin – voice, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – triangle

The Cuckoo

Little Sadie

“Little Sadie” is a 20th century Appalachian ballad also first recorded by Clarence Ashley in 1930. Some earlier versions were entitled “Bad Lee Brown” although there are no known instances of an American killer named Lee Brown. The addition of drums, although against Appalachian tradition, brings a more modern flavour to this great song. Alrick plays the ending chords with a bow.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar, mandolin
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

Little Sadie

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The Séguin brothers – Time is on My Side

Robert et Richard

Bob and Richard

I became a teenager in the 60s, at the same time that soul music entered the lexicon of popular music. It was the time of girls, of dances at the Clarence Creek arena and of sweet soul music played by the superb bands of record companies like Atlantic, Muscle Shoals and Stax. Also, music sung by giants like Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and many others of the best singers of the time. For me, it was everything coming out of Stax, the voice of Memphis, and their very influential house band, Booker T. and the MGs.

Roch Tassé

Roch Tassé

The song « Time is on My Side” was first recporded in 1963 by jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who wanted a piece of the pop market. In 1964, there followed Irma Thomas’ R&B version et that of The Rolling Stones, considered as the benchmark recording of the piece.

Our version is a tribute to Stax, especially with the addition of horns, a first for us, played on my MIDI guitar.

Bob Séguin – voice
Richard Séguin – electric guitars, electric bass guitar, MIDI guitar (baritone sax, tenor sax, trumpet), arrangement and background voice
Roch Tassé – drums and background voice

 

Time is on My Side

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The Séguin brothers – Waiting on an Angel

Bob and Richard

Bob and Richard

 

We go back to our roots with this minimalistic interpretation, where Bob’s voice is only accompanied by a guitar and a mandolin.

 

 

 

We’ve chosen “ Waiting on an Angel ”, a song composed by Ben Harper, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose main instrument is a very rare kind of lap slide guitar called a weissenborn, made by Hermann Weissenborn in Los Angeles during the 1920s and 1930s. Harper is the winner of three Grammy Awards and “ Waiting on an Angel ” is taken from his first album, “ Welcome to the Cruel World ”, released in 1994.

Ben Harper et son weissenborn

Ben Harper and his weissenborn

 

 

 

Bob Séguin – voice
Richard Séguin – acoustic guitar, mandolin

 

 

Waiting on an Angel

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The Séguin brothers – You Better Move On

Robert et Richard

Bob and Richard

At the start of the 1960’s, popular music was in a slump. Most of Rock ‘n Roll’s heros were out of commission – Elvis was in the Army, Chuck Berry was in prison for violating the Mann Act and Little Richard quit the devil music and started preaching. Others like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran had met with untimely deaths. The 1959 “payola” scandal had shown to which point bribery in the North American music industry dictated what music we listened to. Given the racist climate in the USA at the time, most of the music was white and trite.

Roch Tassé

Roch Tassé

During this lull between the first and second waves of Rock ‘n Roll, many black R&B artists were largely ignored in their own country but their records found their way overseas where some young British artists couldn’t get enough of American R&B. Groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Manfred Mann and The Spencer Davis Group embraced the new sounds out of America and cast a spotlight on many black artists that would otherwise have remained unknown. One such artist was Arthur Alexander (1940-1993). Two of his songs, “Soldier of Love” and “Anna (Go To Him)”, were recorded by The Beatles and both The Hollies and The Rolling Stones recorded “You Better Move On.” Here is our version of “You Better Move On”, a tribute to the late great Arthur Alexander.

Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander

Bob Séguin: voice
Richard Séguin: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, electric bass
Roch Tassé: drums

 

You Better Move On

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