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Published: 2010/05/03
by Brian Robbins

Hot Tuna, Johnny Winter, Poco
New Old Live

Hot Tuna, Live At New Orleans House – Berkeley, CA 9/69

Johnny Winter And, Live At The Fillmore East – 10/3/70

Poco, Live At Columbia Studios, Hollywood – 9/30/71

Collectors’ Choice Music

Ho-ho! Look at this, boys and girls: new old live tunes! The folks at Collectors’ Choice Music have jimmied open the door of the vault and begun to dig out some cool live stuff, much of which has never seen the light of day. Included in the first round of releases are shows from acoustic Hot Tuna, John Winter’s fierce-playing early-70s band, and a wicked hot Richie Furay-lead Poco.

Hot Tuna’s Live At New Orleans House was recorded at the same gigs that their debut album was taken from, although the half-dozen tracks that the two releases share are from different nights. (That’s right, Tunaheads – there’s no breaking beer glass during “Uncle Sam Blues”.)

As was the case on the original Hot Tuna, Will Scarlett’s harmonica is all over this thing, weaving tastefully around Jorma Kaukonen’s vocals and fingerpicking and Jack Casady’s shake-the-underpinnings bass. (Scarlett’s playing truly merits special mention, at times emulating the breathy coolness of a jazz flute – other times blowing some serious snot-a’flyin’ blues. No doubt, he’s trying to follow the single Tuna mind of Kaukonen and Cassady, but he does a great job of it.)

The set list is chock full of Hot Tuna standards, from the minor-keyed explorations of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” to the happy goofball bounce of “Keep On Truckin’” and “Never Happen No More”. Jorma and Jack take off by themselves on Kaukonen’s lovely “Sea Child”, doing that thing they do so well for over 10 minutes. With guitar and bass seamlessly passing the lead back and forth without ever losing track of the groove, this is acoustic jamming at its best.

On the other hand, there’s nothing acoustic about Johnny Winter And. (By the way, the name of the ensemble really was Johnny Winter And – great fodder for posters, but guaranteed to drive copy editors crazy.) When Winter hit the stage for the set captured on Live At The Fillmore East 10/3/70, probably the most-repeated question concerned his backup band: “The McCoys? Really? Those guys were in The McCoys? ” It was true – bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and guitarist Rick Derringer were previously members of the unit that produced the AM rock radio classic “Hang On Sloopy”. (Bobby Caldwell was on drums for the Fillmore show, having replaced another McCoy, Randy Zehringer.) There was no “Sloopy” in sight for the 10/3/70 show, however – this was one nasty-ass rocking blues band.

From rip-roaring and flat-out – the Led Zeppish “Guess I’ll Go Away” or a slide-driven cover of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” – to the 22-minute-and-24-second slow butt-sway of “It’s My Own Fault”, this is a guitarist’s album. Derringer proves to be the perfect foil for Winter, the two of them at times locking in like a young Duane and Dickey. (Fillmore hoodoo, maybe?) Sometimes they swap off, one comping and filling as the other wails and rips – and then they double up on the lead, pushing and challenging each other to take it a little further and go a little wilder.

Even “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo”, a mainstream Top 40 hit for Derringer a couple of years later, is all raunch and grease on 10/3/70. If you only know the prettied-up version, you’ll get a kick out of the swagger of Winter’s arrangement. These guys came to play.

Out of the trio of releases we’re discussing here, the pleasant surprise of the lot is Poco’s Live At Columbia Studios, Hollywood 9/30/71. At that point in time, the band was 3 years old and had already weathered the loss of two of its five original members. Former Buffalo Springfielder Richie Furay (guitar) was still at the helm, however, along with George Grantham (drums), Timothy B. Schmit (bass), Paul Cotton (guitar), and pedal steel master Rusty Young. With all members contributing vocals and a group mindset that allowed for tight arrangements interspersed with jubilant jamming, this version of Poco was powerful and inspired.

There are plenty of examples of classic early-70s country/rock throughout the set (“Bad Weather”, “Hear That Music”, and the group vocal workout of “You Are The One”), but the real fun happens when the band just draws off and lets it fly. Check out the neat interplay between Young’s pedal steel and Cotton’s six-string work on “Just For Me And You” – or, better yet, the grinning wild-ass thrash of Furay’s “C’mon”, complete with a headed-down-the-highway-yelling-into-the-wind singalong chorus. By 1:35 the basics are out of the way and Young leads the band into a jam with a slick little pedal run. The guitars get all crunchy for a bit and then things drop out as Cotton plays the guts out of his guitar against a cymbal-thrashing drum-tumble by Grantham. By the time the full band roars back for the final chorus, you can hear the grins.

There were more personnel changes and slicker sounds ahead for Poco, but Live At Columbia Studios is a great snapshot of a group that could be as sharp as they needed to be but weren’t afraid to take some chances, either.

Hats off to Collectors’ Choice Music for these initial offerings of nicely recorded and well-mixed music from the vaults. This is a series worth paying attention to, for sure.

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