Ono to Simone

Posted on January 2, 2017

A ramble through pop history that in February ’93 linked birthday girls Yoko Ono and Nina Simone. Written for Making Music, 1993.  YOKO ONO, an avant-garde artist who began wailing in various recording studios after marrying John Lennon in 1969, IS 60 THIS MONTH [Feb ’93]. Ono and Lennon enjoyed being outrageous. As well as beds and bags and nudity, they taped electronic sounds to make a couple of largely unlistenable Unfinished Music LPs, and as THE BEATLES were breaking apart at the end of the 60s came up with THE PLASTIC ONO BAND as a title for a variety of rather more mainstream musical activities. One version was a live rock band, which can still be seen and heard on the Live Peace In Toronto video (recorded September 1969 at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium). It boasts Lennon and ERIC CLAPTON on guitars, Ono wailing, and a fine rhythm section in drummer ALAN WHITE and bassist KLAUS VOORMAN.

Klaus Voorman was a mate of The Beatles from their pre-fame days when they worked at clubs in Hamburg – and he later designed the black-and-white collage sleeve for their Revolver LP of 1966, the music inside widely acknowledged as the group’s finest. Voorman has also played a multitude of sessions as a respected bassman. Briefly, he seemed to be first call for visiting bluesmen, playing in 1971 on both BB KING’s In London LP and HOWLIN’ WOLF’s London Sessions album, while he also studio’d in the 70s with artists such as KEITH MOON, LEON RUSSELL, CARLY SIMON, ART GARFUNKEL, PETER FRAMPTON, and LOU REED.

Despite Lou Reed’s talents for songwriting and arrangements, he’s never seemed much drawn to producing other artists (unless you count that fabulously successful 1976 LP, Wild Angel by NELSON SLATER). Reed’s own albums have seen a range of producers brought in to direct taping operations, from the well known (1972’s Transformer and its attendant single smash ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ was produced by DAVID BOWIE and MICK RONSON) to the never-heard-of (Reed’s New Sensations album from 1984 was produced by one JOHN JANSEN).

Actually, you might just have spotted John Jansen’s name as co-producer with EDDIE KRAMER on a few JIMI HENDRIX records – namely Rainbow Bridge (1971), Hendrix In The West (1972), and War Heroes (1973). Hendrix was by no means averse to covering other writers’ songs, especially on stage – that live In The West album, for example, has five covers among its eight tracks – but far fewer artists have felt capable of covering Jimi’s own work. However, ROD STEWART did well with ‘Angel’ in 1972, while Eric Clapton’s DEREK & THE DOMINOS outfit attempted ‘Little Wing’ in ’71. The same song was given a rather inauspicious work-out in 1987 by STING.

If Sting was the best artist from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the 80s, then the 70s probably belonged to LINDISFARNE (‘Fog On The Tyne’ and all that) and the 60s quite clearly to THE ANIMALS. Organist ALAN PRICE had formed his Alan Price Combo in 1960 with jazz-mad drummer JOHN STEEL and large bassman BRYAN ‘CHAS’ CHANDLER, soon adding guitarist HILTON VALENTINE and, by 1962, singer ERIC BURDON. The following year they changed their name to The Animals, were signed to Columbia by an enthusiastic MICKIE MOST, and had a number one single with their second release, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, in summer 1964.

The Animals, like many 60s beat groups in Britain, drew much inspiration from American music and often recorded covers of what at the time were obscure, exotic records. Thus ‘Rising Sun’ and its predecessor ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ had been adapted by The Animals from tracks on BOB DYLAN’s debut LP, and two of their hits in 1965 came from US originals: ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ from SAM COOKE and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ from NINA SIMONE.

Concert promoters might have complained at one time about Nina Simone’s unsociable habits – like walking off-stage mid-song, or just simple non-appearance – but she remains a formidable talent, both at the piano and the microphone. Simone (real name Eunice Waymon) has forged a blend of soul, pop, and jazz that at times has been hugely successful: witness her hit records such as ‘Ain’t Got No – I Got Life’, ‘To Love Somebody’, and ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.