Saturday, October 25, 2008

Treat Her Right

When I started this, it was to post a clip of Bob Dylan playing the R&B tune, "Treat Her Right" during a rehearsal for an appearance on the Letterman show. (I'll get to that in a bit). As I dove into the topic, I realized that I did not know who wrote the song, or who first made it a hit. The answer: Roy Head and Gene Kurtz wrote it, and it was a mid-60's hit performed by Roy Head and the Traits. Kurtz is a Texas musician who has played with dozens of rock luminaries including, perhaps most notably, Edgar Winter. He still plays bass in honky-tonker Dale Watson's band. Here's a clip in which Roy Head busts some great dance moves, worthy of James Brown or Jackie Wilson:

What makes "Treat Her Right" a great tune is the R&B riff that anchors it and makes it move. Virtuouso lead guitar solos may be flashy and get all the attention, but I admire rhythm guitar players who can hold down a solid riff. Here's the Dylan clip doing that (he starts singing at about 1:00).

I like this clip, no matter that it's a cover tune played a bit sloppily, because it shows Dylan in pure garage band mode. These guys are doing what people in bands do all the time: Goofing around on a familiar riff while warming up. I would not be surprised to learn that Dylan and the band had never played the tune together before (indeed, if they had played together at all).

For another example of a great Dylan tune that totally locks into a groove, check out this clip of "Maggies Farm" from the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival with the late Mike Bloomfield on guitar. The man clearly loves a riff groove. (As a guitarist, I'm always fascinated to watch Dylan strum a guitar because his right arm is like a metronome).

Back to "Treat Her Right:" Perhaps you remember hearing the tune on the soundtrack of "The Commitments." I rank that movie at or near the top of all-time great rock and roll stories on film. The original book by the Irish author, Roddy Doyle is a delightful read. Does the guitar player who kicks things off look familiar? It’s a young Glen Hansard from the Irish band The Frames and The Swell Season (with Mark√©ta Irglov√°), who you may recall winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the movie "Once." There’s another good film on the theme of music making.

One more version, then I'll go: Tom Jones -- a singer who some may discount as a lounge-singer caricature, yet you can't deny he has a powerful voice. This clip is just plain fun.

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