‘Mean Old World’ – 1968 Part II

Just eleven days after performing the number at the Middle Earth Club, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio 5 to record the track for a three-part survey of the Blues in Britain put together by Alexis Korner titled The Blues Roll On”.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Peter Green: vocal & guitar / John McVie: bass /

Mick Fleetwood: drums

(probably) BBC session, Radio 3,

“Blues in Britain”

Recorded on February 26, 1968 –

Maida Vale Studio 5 –

broadcast July 23, 1968 – BBC 3 The Blues Roll On

Mean Old World (T-Bone Walker / B. B. King) (3:14)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whUh6Rsp-Lc

Mick Fleetwood struggled mightily with this type of mid-tempo swing number (i.e. ‘Buzz Me’, ‘How Blue Can You Get’) He was fine at faster tempos in a similar style (‘Watch Out’) but asked to bring it down a notch and swing, not so much.

The engineers at the Beeb solved this problem here by bringing McVie’s toe-tapping bass line to the front of the mix.

The band seems much more comfortable with the song now, with Green’s crooning vocal carried on the fast-moving stream of McVie’s silken lines, his bursts of guitar stones and branches the water flows over and around.

Green trims a full ten seconds off the introduction used at the Middle Earth Club, this version spotlighting his vocal as much as his guitar.  He paces the lyrics with small fills to match the new meters; his jaunty, conversational delivery serving as the spoonful of sugar that helps the song’s bitter sentiments go down so easily.

After two verses Green slips into a beautifully conceived break, a powerful astringent applied to the small cuts opened by the first two stanzas.

This is followed by the self-pitying final verse of King’s take on the song, which he left off of the earlier performance.

Those last lines seem to vindicate (at least in the singer’s mind) the cynicism of the first verses, and as if newly awakened to the ways of the world, the outro has a sense of almost joyous release exclusive to this performance.

 

John Moorshead, guitarist for the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, drew from a similar well of influences as Peter Green (and possibly from Green himself) as can be heard on this live performance for French Television.

Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation

Victor Brox: vocal, organ & cornet /

John Moorshead: guitar / Alex Dmochowski: bass /

Aynsley Dunbar: drums

Recorded live on “Bouton Rouge” (French Television show)

April 13, 1968

Mean Old World (Otis Rush) (2:55)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hy5rk1D0bdc

This is one of the few versions that follows the arrangement of Rush’s take on the song, with the time change after the opening bar.  Rush used a slightly faster tempo and the “weight” of the horns provided a momentum that Brox’s organ can’t match.  Where Green’s intro skated smoothly into the opening verse, the Retaliation feels as if they have stumble out of the starting gate.

Brox’s organ dominates the mix through the first two verses, (again, from Rush’s recording) but his vocal seems at cross purposes with itself; he sings the words as a gruff declaration which feels at odds with the finger-snapping beat.  Buried in the mix, Dunbar and Dmochowski swing with ease.

Coming into the break, Moorshead is once again ham-strung by the time change (this was a feature of Rush’s arrangement, not just used twice) once past that, he has the time to build his break as he sees fit.

It is technically fine, what is missing for me is any sense of “feeling”: the anger that Brox seems to have, the sense of fun found in the music, anything.

At the end of Moorshead’s break, Brox blows a brief solo on cornet, the little trumpet adding to the playfulness of the music, but when he begins to sing (repeating the first two verses in opposite order) the tension between the vocal and the music rises once again.

Like Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac before them, the Retaliation would have another go at the song (I have been unable to find any information as to when the sessions for their second album took place) and the second time around they were, in my opinion, far more successful.

Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation

Victor Brox: vocal, organ & cornet /

John Morshead: guitar / Alex Dmochowski: bass /

Aynsley Dunbar: drums

Recording date not known

Released, “Doctor Dunbar’s Prescription” (Liberty 1968 – U.K.)

Mean Old World (Little Walter) (3:01)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfh5mfXrjdo

The number starts off the same, but the mix and the sound of the instruments is unsurprisingly far superior to the television performance.  Everything comes together here; Moorshead’s guitar bursts pleasingly from the speakers as Brox’s organ slips behind him like a hand in glove.

Dunbar’s drumming (now that it can be heard) is a master class in swing, his fills and accents empowering the other instruments and the vocal.  While Brox lacks the leavening self-awareness that B.B. King’s and Peter Green bring to their vocals, he now matches the music’s new, more upbeat sound and that takes some of the edge off.

The number is credited to Little Walter on the LP, but it has little, if anything to do with his recording.  Still built on Rush’s arrangement, Brox sings the first two verses from Rush’s version and then concludes with a new verse (written by Brox?)

The three verses are sung one after the other without a break, taking up almost exactly the first half of the song, and we are then treated to an extended instrumental outro with Moorshead’s playing bringing to mind Green’s work on numbers such as ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ and ‘Lazy Poker Blues’ (the first released as a B-side in July and the latter in September of 1968)

Moorshead is soon joined by Brox on cornet and with Dunbar and Dmochowski pushing the two to ever greater heights, the band turns in a rollicking outro that, for my money, is faded out too early.

In Part III we’ll have listen to two different versions by Chicken Shack; one done for the BBC and the other recorded for their second album “O.K. Ken?” six weeks later.  In between those two is the Climax Chicago Blues Band’s take on the number which opened their debut LP.

3 Comments

  • comment-avatar
    Chris Conklin June 21, 2018 (11:04 am)

    Awesome. This has enlightened me to another group I’ve “missed” over the years, the AB Retaliation. They’re quite good – have to wonder why they were so short-lived. The music biz was unforgiving…

  • comment-avatar
    Rich Orlando June 21, 2018 (11:13 am)

    “have to wonder why they were so short-lived” – think Dunbar was musically restless – he wasn’t going to stick to “blues” and it wasn’t really the best fit for him – Moorshead never seemed to find a place to settle either – Green liked him a lot

  • comment-avatar
    ash June 26, 2018 (2:40 am)

    Fascinating stuff as ever Rich. Moorshead, Moreshead, Morshead, John, Jon…..never got a clear answer on that !
    Moresehead (?) played with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates from August 1965 until The Pirates and Kidd split in April 1966. He plays some tasty lead guitar on the unreleased at the time This Golden Ring. He seems to have completely dropped out of the music scene a long time ago. Anyone know what happened to him ?