A History of ‘Homework’ – Part 2
When Otis Rush joined the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival European tour, he had not released a record under his own name in four years.
Prior to that tour, he had only two songs released in the U.K.; ‘So Many Roads, So Many Trains’ had appeared on the Pye International Chess compilation “The Blues, Volume 2” in 1964 and a year later, the A-side of his debut single (already ten years old at the time), ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, appeared on the compilation LP “We Sing the Blues” on the Sue label.
The 1966 American Folk Blues Festival kicked off on September 28 at the Royal Albert Hall in London and closed on November 28 in Brussels, Belgium.
Rush’s appearance with the tour was bookended by the release of his then four-year-old Duke single ‘Homework’ b/w ‘I Have to Laugh’ in the U.K. (on the British Vocalion label), in February, and the inclusion of his performance of ‘All Your Love (I Miss Loving)’ on the Fontana LP “The American Folk Blues Festival ’66”.
In the U.K., John Mayall was among the first to cover Rush on record; the opening track of the seminal “Blues Breakers featuring Eric Clapton”, a cover of ‘All Your Love (I Miss Loving)’ struck like a thunderclap and established Clapton as a force to be reckoned with.
Three months later, the B-side of Peter Green’s recorded debut with the Bluebreakers was a cover of ‘So Many Roads, So Many Trains’ and the A-side of his last single with the band, released in June of 1967, was ‘Double Trouble’.
When it was Mick Taylor’s turn as the Bluesbreaker’s lead guitarist, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ became one of his signature numbers with the band. (Mike Vernon produced Savoy Brown’s Blues Band’s version of the number in 1966, releasing it on his Purdah mail-order label)
The first released cover of ‘Homework’ on either side of the Atlantic comes from what many would consider an unexpected source.
Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders had formed in 1963 and found some early success in the U.K. and by 1965 broke into the American market with ‘The Game of Love’, which reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts.
Unable to come close to replicating that success, they seemed destined to be one hit wonders, and Fontana quit the band in the middle of a show later that year.
Guitarist Eric Stewart, bassist Bob Lang and drummer Ric Rothwell decided to continue as a trio, with Stewart also taking over the lead singer slot.
They scored another hit with ‘Groovy Kind of Love’ in 1966, but again, couldn’t find a worthy follow up.
In the spring of 1967, they released the LP “With Woman in Mind”, which would be their last.
The Mindbenders – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbmFGuS3pCQ
The problem here is that The Mindbenders were a “pop” band, not a blues band or a rock band. The arrangement, playing and singing all lack any sense of urgency. Instrumentally, only drummer Ric Rothwell distinguishes himself; Stewart’s guitar work is thin and watery; rather than try and find an arrangement that would work for them, they simply cover the song as originally recorded and the unfortunate result is that they come off as sounding twee.
Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer performed the B-side of Rush’s Duke single, ‘I Have to Laugh’ at a BBC session on August 26, 1968 (the only cover of the song that I am aware of – if anyone knows of any others, please drop me a line)
The earliest recording of Peter Green performing ‘Homework’ dates from November of 1968, caught on tape during their winter Scandinavian tour of that year.
Green would perform the number with some regularity throughout 1969 and into the early months of 1970; we have 15 recordings in all. The performances were uniformly excellent, with the one at the International Essen Blues & Pop Festival on October 09, 1969, a standout, but frustratingly, most of the bootlegs are of poor sound quality.
The spontaneity heard in the live performances is captured in the studio recording of the song released on “Blues Jam in Chicago Volume Two”.
It was the last song recorded at the end of a long and productive day; according to Jeremy Spencer, all of the guest artists were gone, they too would soon have to pack up, but there was enough time for the band to have a go at another couple of numbers before they turned off the lights.
Aware that the clock is ticking, the first number, ‘Sugar Mama’* stumbles through a few false starts, but the completed take is a powerhouse and sets up the last number for the day.
John McVie has spoken of his frustration during the Chess session and of feeling slighted by the some of the other musicians. These feelings were surely exacerbated by his (and Mick Fleetwood) being asked to sit out on many of the numbers to allow the other musicians to play.
Left to their own devices, the band locks in and let’s loose; they are blowing off steam and it is a pleasure to hear. Fleetwood was seldom this animated behind the kit and McVie’s bass pounds like quickened pulse.
Green rarely played with the aggression and volume heard here in a studio setting as he soars over Kirwan’s equally muscular support. Green hadn’t played like this in the studio since the “Mr. Wonderful” sessions.
As with songs such as ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ and ‘Lazy Poker Blues’, this performance is greatly enhanced by the addition of piano, here supplied by Jeremy Spencer. The jittery repetition beautifully illustrating the protagonist’s overwhelming desire.
Fleetwood Mac – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DomRuNHbaYI
This is probably the best recorded bootleg of the band performing the number live, taken from the March 14, 1969 show at the College of Distributive Trade, St. Martin’s School of Art, London.
The tempo has been increased and the ragged sound gives the number an edge that is missing in the studio recording.
Fleetwood Mac – (Intro 0:35) / Homework (Live) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNVTFR69iKM&t=29s
Shortly after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green would play on a recording of the song by his friend and manager Clifford Davis and included the number on the 1997 debut of the Peter Green Splinter Group (we’ll look deeper into both of these recordings in a later post).
In 1967, at the age of sixteen, Tom Huissen moved from the Netherlands to London’s West End. His timing could not have been better for a music fan. Imagine begin able to see a constellation of acts including The Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Jeff Beck Group, Pink Floyd and The Who, all within days of one another, and in small clubs, not vast halls, let alone arenas.
Mayall, with Green on guitar, became Huissen’s favorite, and by carefully rationing his food and alcohol intake, he saved enough money to purchase a Sanyo reel to reel recorder, and a few spools of magnetic tape. The bulk of the recordings that he made were released on “John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live in ‘67” on Forty Below Records in 2015 and a second volume released in 2016.
Upon returning to the Netherlands, Huissen formed his own band, John the Revelator, modeled on Fleetwood Mac, with Huissen playing bass and singing lead. After winning Loosdrecht Jazz contest in 1970, the band, now seven pieces, was signed to Decca Records and given three days to record their debut LP (two days to record and one to mix).
Along with three Elmore James covers and one each by B.B. and Albert King, their debut included a cover of ‘Homework’
John the Revelator – Homework – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yys65zh04Ac
John the Revelator use an arrangement closer to Rush’s original (they had the advantage of having two horn players in the band); and they too take advantage of having a piano in the band.
The biggest variation is the fast strumming behind the vocalist during the verses. The lead guitar is reserved for the breaks (as on Rush’s original)
The weak link here for me, is the vocal; while there is plenty of energy, it nonetheless seems passionless (a mortal wound for a song like this) and to me, lacking in conviction.
Seven months later, a blues-based rock ‘n roll band out of Boston would include a cover of ‘Homework’ on their debut LP, “The J. Geils Band” – that’s where we’ll pick up the story in the next installment.
*I know of only one recorded performance by the band doing this number prior to this recording and that comes from a show at the Middle Earth Club, London, England February 15, 1968