Finding the balance between originality and creativity
By Jon Liebman
Week of April 1, 2019
It happens all the time: A band makes a record, then embarks on a tour to promote the record. As the set list is performed, night after night, the players learn more about what to expect from each other, the music gets refined, the arrangements tweaked, and the overall sound gets even more polished than it was in the studio. By the time the tour’s over, the band might even wish they could go back to the studio and re-record the album.
This thought hit me during my interview with Angeline Saris, which we published this week. Angeline just released a new recording, Tight Lips, with drummer Lex Razon, under the name Angelex. Not that she expressed any such concern – I was the one that brought it up – but I have heard comments to that effect from others who have been in that position. In fact, it was Bryan Beller who first mentioned the sentiment during one of my interviews with him.
Is there a right and a wrong way to handle creativity as it continues to evolve?
Think about all those well-established, seasoned rockers who still tour a lot, like Peter Frampton, Santana, the Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Journey, Styx… How important is it that they stick to the arrangements that people know – and expect to hear – versus taking liberties with the (road-weary?) versions from the original recordings, many of which date back four decades or more?
Have you ever seen Stanley Clarke? If so, can you ever recall him not playing “School Days” somewhere during the show? At times he’ll casually blend it in to a solo, presumably because he enjoys playing it so much. How about James Taylor? Has he ever not sung “Fire and Rain” during a concert? (In James’ case, though, he jokes about doing it because he has to!)
How closely should performers try to replicate what people have come to know as the definitive version of a song? How acceptable is it to reshape a beloved artifact of music history and transform it into something new and different?
Like everything else, it’s a matter of balance. Certain grooves and riffs are a must-do, like Bakithi Kumalo’s fretless slap break in “You Can Call Me Al,” always a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Or the bass solo in Chicago’s “Beginnings,” first recorded by Peter Cetera, then performed a jillion times by Jason Scheff and, more recently, Brett Simons. And of course those classic Beatles songs, meticulously performed by the Fab Faux, with Will Lee remaining ever faithful to Paul McCartney’s iconic bass lines.
On the other hand, there may be times when changing it up is all but totally necessary, like in Paul Simon’s “Garfunkel-less” performances. It’s also interesting to imagine what it must have been like to arrange for Kenny Loggins to perform without Jimmy Messina, and, even more so, the myriad groupings of Crosby, Still and Nash (and sometimes Young).
Allowing creativity to continue evolving over time is a good thing. The challenging part is remaining true to the original music while, at the same time, keeping it fresh. Therein lies the magic.
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
In the meantime, check out my interview with Angeline here.
Great article, Jon! I have had exactly those thoughts on the road with Vanilla Fudge. The old hits are pretty much a must to stick to Tim Bogert’s orchestrated bass lines. However, Spirit of ‘67 is my own. My recorded bass lines have definitely evolved in the years since we recorded it, and I defintely wish I could have recorded some of those evolved lines.