Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Stray Gators!

The Stray Gators.
This band is definitely not a household name but there is a good chance that most people reading this blog had or have at least one album that this band performed on.

Though they are not a flashy band that is full of difficult drum fills or guitar solo's they are still considered some of the best studio musicians to ever play. The ‘less is more’ attitude is what makes them so great.

Let me think of some of the greatest non flashy albums in my collection.

First would have to be Neil Young’s “Harvest”. The simplicity of this album is part of what makes it so classic. You can barely ever hear a hi-hat or cymbal on this album. Neil told the drummer to only use his right hand. This is what Neil wanted. If they had drum fills and guitar solo’s.. it would never be the album that it turned into.

Next up would be Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. No flashy drums on many of Dylan’s album. (Well Hurricane definitely has some of my favorite drumming ever.. but for the most part.. not much showy playing). Blonde on Blonde is ranked as one of Dylan’s best and rightfully so. I don’t see many vinyl fans that do not have or are at least looking for a copy of ‘Blonde on Blonde’. (Brings me back to Jack Black’s character Barry on ‘High Fidelity’. “Don't tell anyone you don't own "Blonde on Blonde". It's gonna be okay”).  

Let’s go to a more recent album. Jewel – Pieces of You (just as I typed that I looked at the back of the album and realize its 18 years old. Holy shit I feel old)! Again. Everybody my age knows this album. And nobody remembers it for the rockin’ drums or crazy bass lines. But listen to this album again and realize how great the musicianship actually is. Less is more!


These three albums: Harvest; Blonde on Blonde; and Pieces of You all have one thing in common. And the majority of people don’t even realize this. The band “The Stray Gators” is backing Harvest and Pieces of You and the drummer of the Stray Gators (Kenny Buttrey) is playing on Blonde on Blonde.  And there are many more great albums that these musicians have a part in (Some of my favourite Neil LP’s ‘Time Fades Away’… and ‘Harvest Moon’…). Is it a coincident that these musicians played on these hugely successful albums? Sure they had the resume to be chosen but I strongly feel that these albums would not be the masterpieces they are without the Stray Gators.
The Stray Gators consist of:

-          Jack Nitzsche – piano (Spooner Oldham)

-          Ben Keith – steel guitar

-          Tim Drummond – bass

-          Kenny Buttrey – drums (later replaced by Johnny Barbata)

First off for all you people trying to prove me wrong. I know on Jewel ‘Pieces of you’ that the drummer is Oscar Butterworth. But rest assured it is Kenny Buttrey. Oscar Butterworth is a pseudonym used by Kenny.

Kenny is one of my favorite drummers. Just being able to play so minimal but make such a beautiful beat. Most drummers get so caught up in fills and crazy time signatures that they have a difficult time going back to a steady basic beat like this.

Tim Drummond’s bass is so precise. Listen to Neil Young’s Old Man and just listen to the minimal notes he hits but how perfectly timed they are. Listen to Jewel’s ‘Who will save your soul’. Tim’s bass is the glue holding this song together!

Besides Jack Nitzsche being an amazing keyboard player he was also Phil Spector’s right hand man at one point and helped produce Neil Young’s debut LP. You can also here his keyboard on many albums including the Rolling Stones! Jack would later be replaced by Spooner Oldham.

Besides Ben Keith having all that great steel guitar on Neil Young’s harvest, he had moved on to produce many great albums by Neil, Patsy Cline, Jewel and more!

These are just a few examples from these musicians. Google their names and you will be surprised on how many hit albums they appeared on. Sadly Ben, Jack and Kenny have passed away but their music will live on!



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