DAVID AXELROD - SERIOUSLY DEEP
Off The Beaten Path
David Axelrod: Unknown Innovator
By Dave Tompkins
In ’62, Axelrod befriended alto sax player Cannonball Adderly. "Presley had been out for two years. I didn’t have the faintest fucking idea of what he sounded like. We were too busy listening to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Charlie Byrd." In ’66, Axelrod (an A&R at the time) initiated Capitol’s Black Music Division and produced gold hits with Lou Rawls’ Live!, David McCallum, and Adderly’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
Voice poached and ash eternal, Axe is visionary like the Diamonds and Shadows he’s influenced. Large Professor delved into Axe’s Earth Rot (1970) ecology for Common’s "Resurrection" remix. Axelrod wrote the drum flurry heart of Gang Starr’s "Place Where We Dwell." I would’ve gone to church if mass was as funky as "Holy Are You" (1969, Electric Prunes). Hip-hop exalted "Praise Be the Lord!" for its beat, and Fat Joe pitched a revival tent. Axelrod loped into a go-go cadence on "Pula Yeta" (from South African singer Lette Imbule) and turned bolero into a funky galumph on Cannonball Adderly’s "Book-Ends" (1974).
"I can’t help that there’s always R&B in my work," he shrugs. "That’s what I grew up on. I break up a melodic motif with drums and finish the phrase. That gets to hip-hop people. They said ‘breakbeats’ and I say, ‘What is a fucking breakbeat?’ Young people know more about my records than I do."
Axelrod may be hip-hop’s most coveted producer because the beat-smitten will shed cheddar for his wax until a pittance remains for sample clearance. "Since they’re sampling me so much, I know I could write a hip-hop arrangement. And they’d save money because arranging is cheaper. I would’ve taken what Dr. Dre did with ‘The Edge’ (David McCallum) and made it another trip. There’s so much that hasn’t been used in ‘Holy Thursday.’ Like any art, rap needs to take more risks. Otherwise, what good is it?"
With their subplots and breakdowns, Axe’s narratives don’t end at the beginning of (loop). The "eeeeeBS"-sounding Hammond silver at the beginning of "A Divine Image" is the desert sun’s glint to a dying man at the end of Lateef and Shadow’s "The Wreckoning." On Ras Kass’ "Soul on Ice" remix, Diamond juxtaposes two different Axe cuts ("Mental Traveler" is one) which, by their mutable nature, sound like one Axe cut. That’s the hip-hop before hip-hop.
Currently on the Mo’ Wax roster with time-lessons Divine Styler and DJ Magic Mike, Axelrod is a musical portmanteau. Here, 18th Century Aganippe (poetic method of power) translates into string stabs, horn envelopes and italicized drum breaks (late ‘60s) which are transposed into hip-hop (now). And MCs should hear each phrase before interpreting the interpretation of the interpretation. "Blake means something different at different points of my life. Maybe Blake did talk to Ezekiel. He could talk to anybody he felt like. Why not prophets? I think that’s very hip."
Though Axelrod’s strings had panorama range, they’ve yet to pierce the 40-foot screen. George Lucas considered Axe for THX-1138 and damned if Lalo Schifrin’s "Scorpio" didn’t sound like it. On Seriously Deep (1975), Axelrod dubbed a song "Ken Russell" after the director of The Devils, a blessed (and hell-bound) film score by Peter Maxwell Davies. "The Devils was made to order for Davies," says the man who loathes Kevin Bacon’s band. "Davies took medieval music and made it sound modern and satanic though the story took place in the 17th century."
Allen Ginsberg was so affected by Axelrod’s Song of Innocence exegesis that he asked him to compose for Howl. "Walking the Negro streets looking for an angry fix," Axe paraphrases. "Not all literal translations are going to fit music, so you change the wording." Axelrod’s son tragically died in ’70, so the collaboration never fleshed, now languishing in fantasy league with the Skinny Boys reunion.
Recent liners for EMI’s Axelrod Anthology insinuate that he composed while on smack though he learned how to write music in ’65 and kicked the addiction in ’53, locked in a room on a 10-day diet of chocolate milkshakes and scotch. "I’ve never written high," he snarls. "I eventually got bored with the streets – what could be hipper than my wife and I sitting here reading? I’m much bigger on streets than I am on nature. The streets are my nature. I like dawns…and I’ve seen a lot more dawns than sunsets."
This lp has never made it to a cd release - not even in Japan and nothing from it made any of the Axelrod compilations.Its on Polydor so guess it must be to do with the licensing because its one of his best albums .The tracklisting and link are in the comments.