Grant Green-Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s.

Label: Resonance Records.

Nowadays, guitarist Grant Green is best known for the jazz and soul-jazz albums that he recorded for Blue Note Records during the sixties. However, that was only part of the Grant Green story, and by 1969, he had changed direction and was playing jazz-funk. 

This came as a surprise to many of his fans, but Grant Green knew that if he didn’t reinvent his music, he risked becoming musically irrelevant. This was something that Grant Green wasn’t going to risk, and when he resigned to Blue Note Records in 1969 after spending two long years battling heroin addiction, this was the start of his jazz-funk years.  

Grant Green spent the remainder of his career playing and recording albums jazz-funk with various bands. This included the quintet that accompanied him on Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s, which has just been released on CD by Resonance Records. Just like Funk In France From Paris To Antibes 1969-1970,  which has also been released by Resonance Records on CB, Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s none of the tracks have been released before and are a reminder of Grant Green’s later career.

Grant Green was born on the ‘6th’ of July 1931, in St. Louis, Missouri, and the man who would later became one of jazz’s unsung heroes and most underrated guitarists became a professional musician when he was still a teenager. For the early part of his career, Grant Green was content to play in his home town of St Louis and around East St Louis. Initially, he had no inclination to move to New York until Lionel Hampton persuaded him to make the move in 1959.

A year later, in 1960, Grant Green was introduced to Alfred Lion the cofounder of Blue Note Records, who signed the twenty-nine tear old guitarist to one of jazz’s premier labels. 

The Blue Note Records Years.

Between 1960 and 1965, Grant Green recorded a total of twenty-two albums for Blue Note Records as bandleader leading trios, quartets, quintets and sextets. Fourteen of these albums were released between 1960 and 1965, with the remainder released by Blue Note Records during the seventies and eighties. However, by 1965 Grant Green was already one of jazz music’s rising stars and had come a long way in five years.

Although Grant Green was a prolific recording artist between 1960 and 1965, he also found time to work with many of the other artists signed to Blue Note Records. This was akin to the great and good of jazz, and before long, Grant Green was the go-to-guitarist for many artists signed to Blue Note Records. However, within the space of two years Grant Green’s life had been transformed.

Detox In Detroit.

As 1967 dawned, Grant Green was in throes of heroin addiction which was threatening to derail his burgeoning career. Just like so many jazz musicians before him, Grant Green had succumbed to heroin, not knowing how addictive the drug was. By 1967, heroin had sunk its claws into Grant Green and was desperate to free himself from its grasp. That was why in 1967, Grant Green made the decision to move to Detroit where he would turn his back on  the local music scene while he tackled his heroin addiction.

Grant Green moved his family to Detroit which became his home for the next two years as he set about beating his addiction to heroin. During 1967 and 1968, Grant Green deliberately avoided the local music scene, where he knew drugs would be freely available. He wasn’t willing to put temptation in his way having come so far, and beaten his addiction to heroin. Now he was ready to return to the Big Apple, and rebuild his career.

The Return To Blue Note Records.

After two years away, Alfred Lion resigned a newly reinvigorated Grant Green to Blue Note Records in 1969. By then, Grant Green was a changed man, and although he looked older, and his hair was starting to thin, he looked much healthier than he had two years previously.

Grant Green had also put together a new band and was moving in a new direction musically. Rather than jazz, Grant Green’s new band were playing a much funkier type of music. This new music was showcased by Grant Green during a European tour.

Having re-signed to Blue Note Records, Grant Green joined Larry Ridley and Don Lamond on a European tour, where each of the three guitarists took to the stage with the band that travelled with them, and played a short set. After the three sets, the three guitarists joined forces, and played together showcasing their considerable skills. Grant Green would return to France in October 1969, but before that, had his comeback album to record.

On the ‘3rd’ of October 1969, Grant Green and his band headed to Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record his comeback album Carryin’ On. It found Grant Green leading a sextet on an album which marked a stylistic change for the thirty-eight year old guitarist. Carryin’ On was the first album of jazz-funk that Grant Green recorded and was the sound he embraced for the rest of his career.

Having recorded Carryin’ On, which was released in the spring of 1970, Grant Green started preparing to return to Paris, France, later that month. This was something of a surprise for Grant Green.

In the October 1969 edition of Jazz Magazine, an announcement that ORTF’s Guitar Night was due to take place at the headquarters of French National Radio with a ‘dream lineup’ of Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell and Tal Farlow all featuring on the ‘26th’ of October. As soon as the event was announced, French jazz fans were looking forward to three of their favourite guitarists. That was until one was forced to withdraw from the event.

This was Tal Farlow, who had been suffering from asthma attacks and was unable to make the journey to France. For the organisers this was a disaster, but by the time next edition of Jazz Magazine was published, a replacement had been found…Grant Green.

While Grant Green was one of the biggest names in American jazz, French jazz fans didn’t appreciate the talented St Louis born guitarist. When Jazz Hot ran its reader’s poll, Grant Green ended up in eighth place in the list of guitarists. As a result, the announcement of Grant Green as Tal Farlow’s replacement was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm. It was going to take a lot for Grant Green to win over the French jazz fans.

When Grant Green arrived in Paris to play at the ORTF’s Guitar Night on the ‘26th’ of October 1969, he was joined by a slightly different, and slimmed down lineup of his band. Grant Green was about to lead a trio, which didn’t feature his usual drummer Idris Muhammad, who was unable to make the trip. Instead, drummer Don Lanond, bassist Larry Ridley and Grant Green would take to the stage at Studio 104, La Maison De Le Radio. That night, Grant Green took to the stage first, and initially, the audience weren’t exactly enthusiastic. However, by the time he left the stage, Grant Green had won over the audience, who realised they had underestimated the guitarist. Forty-nine years later, Grant Green’s performance featured on Funk In France From Paris To Antibes 1969-1970.

Buoyed by the reception at Studio 104, La Maison De Le Radio, on the ‘26th’ October 1969, Grant Green headed home, and this new chapter in his career continued apace. This included recording a new album. 

Green Is Beautiful was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on January the ’30th’ 1970, and featured a very different lineup of Grant Green’s band. This time around, Grant Green led an octet that featured drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis and conga player Cándido. The expanded lineup of Grant Green’s band worked their way five cover versions as the bandleader continued his journey into jazz-funk.

In the spring of 1970, Carryin’ On was released and showcased Grant Green’s new jazz-funk sound. Carryin’ On was well received, although some of Grant Green’s older fans weren’t won over by the album. They preferred his earlier albums, although a new audience embraced Grant Green’s newly updated sound. Later, Carryin’ On proved popular amongst collectors of acid jazz and rare groove.

By July 1970, Green Is Beautiful was released and found Grant Green growing into his new sound on an album that featured a tougher, funkier, brand of R&B. This new sound Grant Green was about to showcase at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, in 1970. 

Grant Green’s appearance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes is also documented in Funk In France From Paris To Antibes 1969-1970, and documents his transition from jazz to jazz-funk. This became Grant Green’s trademark sound for the rest of his career.

Following his return from the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, his new album Visions was released by Blue Note Records in late summer of 1971 and was reasonably well received. It wasn’t regarded as a Grant Green classic, and nor was Shades Of Green, which was released by Blue Note Records to mixed reviews in late 1971. Not every critic was convinced by Grant Green’s decision to reinvent himself and move in the direction of jazz funk.

The following year, 1972, Grant Green made history when he released The Final Comedown on Blue Note Records. It was the first soundtrack album the label had released, and what was Grant Green’s first venture into the world of soundtracks was well received by critics and later, and a cult following amongst fans of Blaxploitation soundtracks.

On April the ’21st’ 1972, Grant Green arrived at the Lighthouse Café, Hermosa Beach, California, to record another live album. This became Live At The Lighthouse, which was released later in 1972 and features one of his best performances of the jazz-funk era. He rolls back the years on Live At The Lighthouse which features some virtuoso performances by the bandleader and some peerless interplay. This was fitting as Live At The Lighthouse was the last album Grant Green recorded for Blue Note Records.

When Grant Green left Blue Note Records in 1974, it marked the end of an era, as he had spent his entire career signed to the label. He had signed to the label in 1960 and left for the first time in 1967. After spending two years detoxing in Detroit, Grant Green re-signed to Blue Note Records in 1969. That was the start of his jazz-funk years, which would continue even after Grant Green left Blue Note Records.

By 1975, Grant Green’s career had stalled and he found himself at a crossroads. He was living in Detroit and found himself without a record label for the first time in his career, and record labels weren’t exactly fighting for his signature. That wasn’t a surprise, as the albums he had released for Blue Note Records during the seventies varied in quality. His albums lacked the consistency that he had enjoyed earlier in his career. This meant that some record companies may have been reluctant to sign the forty-year old guitarist. However, Grant Green was determined to get his career back on track.

The problem was that Grant Green’s music wasn’t finding a younger audience. Mostly, his music was popular amongst older jazz fans who had discovered his music during his first spell with Blue Note Records. However, even some of his long-term fans had turned their back on Grant Green during his jazz-funk years, and the audience for his music was becoming smaller. Grant Green knew that he needed to do was attract a younger audience.

This was easier said than done, and Grant Green vowed to make himself fan friendly. He wanted to be seen as approachable and connect with his fans when he played live. The last thing he wanted to do was alienate his fans, and he vowed to take care not to be seen as aloof, and was always approachable when he arrived at a venue to play live. Now that he had no record contract, playing live was putting food on the table. This included the gig that Grant Green pencilled into his diary on September the ‘5th’ at Oil Can Harry’s, in Vancouver, Canada.

Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s.

By the time Grant Green was booked to play the gig at Oil Can Harry’s, the forty-year old bandleader and guitarist in the middle of his pop-funk period, and at home, was listening to what can only be described as  an eclectic selection of music. This included everything from The Beatles, and Bobby Womack right through to the self-styled godfather of funk James Brown, Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, The Ohio Players and The O’Jays. These artists and bands would influence and inspire Grant Green when he led his band on September the ‘5th’ at Oil Can Harry’s, which was being recorded for posterity.

By the time the gig at Oil Can Harry’s arrived, Grant Green’s band featured a number of familiar faces who had worked with him when he was signed to Blue Note Records in the early seventies. The rhythm section featured drummer Greg Williams and bassist Ronnie Ware while Emmanuel Riggins on Fender Rhodes and percussionist Gerald Izzard joined guitar Grant Green.

When Grant Green took to the stage at Oil Can Harry’s, he was introduced by Vancouver based DJ Garry Barclay, who explains that the show was going to be played live a week later on CHQM-FM radio station. As soon as the applause died down, Grant Green’s jazz-tinged guitar rings out, and he plays the first few notes of a brisk cover Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time. It had a been a favourite of Grant Green when he played live during the early seventies. He’s accompanied by a walking bass, the soulful chitchat of the drums and congas while the Fender Rhodes fills out the arrangement and adds a warmth. Meanwhile, Grant Green rolls back the years playing with speed and fluidly as the track is extended to nine majestic and almost flawless minutes. However, just a couple of times, Grant Green fluffs a line, during what’s a glorious example of bop blues.

Very different is the cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s How Insensitive (Insensatez), which seems an unlikely track for Grant Green to cover. Unlike many other jazz guitarists, Grant Green hadn’t embraced samba, but with the help of his band delivers a sympathetic cover of this familiar track which allows the guitarist and bandleader to showcase his talent and versatility during this twenty-eight minute epic.

Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s closes with a medley that opens with  Stanley Clarke’s Vulcan Princess which is initially haunting and otherworldly before veering between funk and fusion, while the Ohio Players’ Skin Tight is sensual and funky. After that, a brief burst of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble segues into soul man Bobby Womack’s Woman’s Gotta Have It. Here, Grant Green rolls back the years during a musical masterclass on this uber funky track where a bluesy bridge  brings in a verse of the sunshine funk of Stevie Wonder’s Boogie On Reggae Woman. Closing the medley is a The O’Jays’ Philly Soul favourite For The Love of Money, which is reinvented and becomes funky and soulful as this thirty-two minute, five song medley draws to a close. It’s no ordinary medley and this genre-melting opus is spread across sides three and four of Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s. During this genre-melting medley that takes a  series of twists and turns, as Grant Green and his band seamlessly switch between musical genres and showcase their talent and versatility, before taking a well deserved bow.

Sadly, after concert that recently became Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s, which was recorded on September the ‘5th’ 1975, very few of Grant Green’s concerts were recorded. At the time, Grant Green and his band most likely thought that there was plenty of time to record live albums in the future. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

In 1976, Grant Green recorded The Main Attraction for Creed Taylor’s Kudu imprint, and when this album of funky soul-jazz was released critics weren’t impressed. After that, Grant Green left Kudu and didn’t record another album until 1978.

This was Easy, which  was recorded between the ‘17th’ and ‘20th’ April 1978, for the Versatile label. However, when the album which is also known as Last Session was released later in 1978, tragedy had struck.

Grant Green’s health had deteriorated during 1978, and he was forced to spend much of that year in hospital. During this period, Grant Green wasn’t earning money, and before long the guitarist’s finances were in a perilous state.

Against doctor’s advice, Grant Green headed back out on the road to try to make some much-needed money. His final gig was at his fiend George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge in New York, but sadly, Grant Green collapsed in his car of a heart attack and died on January the ’31st’ 1979 aged just forty-three. That day, jazz music lost one of its great guitarists.

His recording career belatedly began in 1960 when twenty-nine year old Grant Green signed to Blue Note Records for the first time. This was the label that Grant Green called home for the majority of his career, and where he recorded the best music of his career. This included the start of Grant Green’s jazz-funk years, which continued after he left Blue Note Records. 

By the time he left Blue Note Records in 1974, Grant Green’s best years were behind him, and neither The Main Attraction nor Easy matched the quality of albums he had released during the Blue Note Records’ years. Despite that, Grant Green and his band gave an almost flawless performance when they took to the stage at Oil Can Harry’s on the ‘5th’ of September 1975 and flitted between blues bop, funk, fusion, jazz and jazz-funk. Fortunately, the CHQM-FM radio station had the tapes running at Oil Can Harry’s, but sadly, they weren’t unearthed by Resonance Record until 2017. 

These tapes became Live At Oil Can Harry’s which Resonance Record released as a double album for Record Store Day 2018. Live At Oil Can Harry’s which is a hidden gem, is a welcome release, and a reminder of one of jazz’s unsung heroes and most underrated guitarists, as he rolled back the years one final time, during what sadly, proved to be the twilight of his career

Grant Green-Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s.


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