Rock in Berlin: Wolfgang Billmann       German (external link)

 

Contents

1 Wolfgang Billmann
2 The Esquires
   2.1 The US-American sector in West Berlin
3 Present or 'Mhdb' activities
   3.1 Song list 1787-2018
   3.2 Meanwhile huge spectrum of influence on bands
   3.3 Folk song revival influenced by The Beatles
   3.4 Bavarian Zwiefacher, Turkish-Bulgarian folk music and 5/4 time. "Take Five" & "Living In The Past". The "KarlMarxShuffle"
   3.5 The Mhdb repertoire & J. S. Bach
4 Photos: Wolfgang Billmann (2003); Quasimodo (1969), early jazz rock band
5 Re: Jazz rock / rock jazz in West Berlin of the Sixties
   5.1 Quote from Jazzzeitung
   5.2 Re: Grant Green's "The Selma March", APO bars and early blues rock, jazz rock and jazz gig venues
   5.3 More jazz gig venues
6 Re: Lokomotive Kreuzberg, German polit rock band, West Berlin, approx. 1971-77, and late 1970s / early 1980s
   6.1 Quotation from Last.fm
   6.2 Practice room complex Wrangelstrasse / corner of Skalitzer Strasse
   6.3 Polit rock & German narrated texts
   6.4 Late 70s / early 80s: Punk, neo-bop and reggae
   6.5 Late 70s / early 80s: Rap, Jethro Tull
7 Abbreviations. Continued, details

 

Wolfgang Billmann

 

The Esquires

Wolfgang Billmann's first semi-professional band was 'The Esquires' (2), a Berlin beat band 1964-67, with which he performed first gigs from Easter 1965, namely in the bar 'Gemuetlicher Paul' at Kottbusser Tor, or more precisely, on the corner of Reichenberger Strasse / Manteuffelstrasse, today 'Cafe Efendi' (3). During the beat era in the mid-sixties important contacts were made to other bands of the time. 'The Esquires' often shared the stage with these bands, e.g. with the

Or, for example, during December of 1966, The Esquires played an U.S. Army club at the Andrews Barracks in Berlin-Lichterfelde. On an image of that time, you can see The Esquires' band bus ('VW Bulli') parking in front of the club building (7, 1st image, club entrance); thanks to Peter Gemmrig (b, The Esquires, 1967), June 8, 2018.


Berlin-Zehlendorf, summer 1971 (8, embedded video, June 27, 2018, 14:30)


The US-American sector in West Berlin

The Esquires and Wolfgang Billmann originated mostly from Berlin Zehlendorf. In this district, the experience of the former US presence in West Berlin was omnipresent. As children, some Esquires members had attended school in that area and had US classmates & friends.

The above video dating from the summer of 1971, just four years after The Esquires, gives a good idea of that era. It shows, amongst other things, an important junction in Zehlendorf, namely Clayallee/Argentinische Allee/Saargemuender Strasse. A busy crowd can be seen hurrying to get their connections at the bus stops and metro station Oskar-Helene-Heim, where several members of The Esquires would have boarded the metro to reach their gigs in the center of West Berlin before they acquired a band bus of their own (see above, footnote 7). The video also shows many German cars as well as a conspicuous number of US street cruisers passing through the traffic lights. In 1971, the U.S. military headquarters (9) was located diagonally opposite the metro station, and a bit further down, there were more American facilities such as the shopping center, school and cinema, as well as long blocks of multi-storey, residential buildings stretching up to the edge of the nearby Grunewald (10).

The former 'Keitel Villa', which now belongs to the Waldorf School ('Brick Villa', Foehrenweg 21 (11) (12)), was located not far from the then U.S. Army cinema 'Outpost' (13), today's 'Allied Museum' (14). The overgrown and non-visible site of the Keitel Villa seemed mysterious. Camouflaged street cruisers of the U.S. Army drove in and out. The Keitel Villa was actually a 'CIA office' during the occupation of Berlin (15) (16).


May 8, 1945. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht at the Soviet headquarters in Karlshorst, Berlin. (17, embedded photo, July 19, 2018, 14:08)


Also at that street junction by the metro station Oskar-Helene-Heim, many people changed to or from the bus routes connecting with the Free University Berlin (FU) located in the vicinity. However, since the 1968 riots and Dutschke (18), the FU occupied a political position pretty much in opposition to the practically neighboring US institutions. The Esquires were confronted with the nascent demonstrations of the 1968 era around the end of 1966 already. The band tried to get gigs at the Free University but was rejected by a student representative, arguing that the students had other things to worry about, namely political problems. From 1967, the protests of the so-called '68 generation or movement erupted into open conflict when, during the anti-Shah demonstration in West Berlin, the student Benno Ohnesorg (19) (20) was shot dead.

In 1971 the USA again dominated the music scene with rock, soul and funk music, following on from the beat era of the mid-60's which had decisively influenced The Esquires. The US Army radio station AFN (21) played a crucial role in this development.

Meanwhile, the area around the street junction of Oskar-Helene-Heim has become city-like. Instead of the formerly flat buildings, today (November 2018) multi-storey commercial buildings line Clayallee up to Koenigin-Luise-Strasse (22) (23). Only from there to about Roseneck (junction: Hohenzollerndamm, Rheinbabenallee, ...), it is like back then: The Grunewald and the stately villas of Dahlem reach up to Clayallee.

 

Present or 'Mhdb' activities

Wolfgang Billmann has been living in Kassel since 1981 where he is active in 'Mozart hat den blues' (Mhdb) (24) (25): hence the logo (see above) and with '...blues' purposely written in German with a small letter. See also (26)


Song list 1787-2018

The current list 'More than 300 pieces: 1787-2018' (27) maintained by Mhdb contains songs from the beat and also soul era of that time, approx. 1964-67, which still influence our music today. It is easy to find the original song video on YouTube by googling the title and interpreter / band of one of the listed songs. The list includes songs by the  Beatles (28)Rolling Stones (29)Kinks (30)Pretty Things (31), by Marvin Gaye (32)Sam & Dave (33), and others, and also songs from before and after. Therefore, the song list demonstrates how the beat and soul era perhaps developed, and also what has evolved from it up to now, i.e. how that musical era has since differentiated, for instance, into metal, hip hop or jazz based songs which have particularly influenced 'Mhdb' (see above).


Meanwhile huge spectrum of influence on bands

In the meantime the spectrum of style influences on bands is enormous. A band either concentrates on just one musical style and the many different substyles subsumed under that general heading, e.g.  blues rock (34). Or, for instance in the case of Mhdb, that stylistic spectrum of influence stretches today from the 1958 modern jazz classics by Thelonious Monk (p), "Rhythm-a-ning" (35), or a hip-hop song, Young Sizzle (voc), "Grandma", 2016 (36), through to the Rock hit by Mastodon 2017,  "Show Yourself" (37). Moreover, as a result of globalization and the Internet it has become the norm for music originating from, for instance, Timbuktu / Mali, e.g. by Khaira Arby (voc, perc) (38)"AFH345", 2014 (39), to have a far-reaching influence.


Folk song revival influenced by The Beatles

In particular due to the influence of the Beatles from the mid-sixties with guitar tabs moving up and down - shifts -, their use of modal scales and church modes, e.g. in "Norwegian Wood", 1965 (40), interest in unique musical traditions such as the folk song or aria was rekindled and also led to the discovery of rhythmical variation in German songs. Pertinent comments on this topic can be found in:

In the following short work, for instance, it is evident that, in addition to the 4/4 rhythms usually cited as predominant, a variety of 3/4 and 6/8 folk song variations are also employed:

Both the folk song "In Einem Kuehlen Grunde" (41), and on the other hand also the Charles Mingus jazz hit "Pork Pie Hat" (42), are examples of the inspirational sources for the Mhdb standard "SchlaegePop" (43)


Bavarian Zwiefacher, Turkish-Bulgarian folk music and 5/4 time. "Take Five" & "Living In The Past". The "KarlMarxShuffle"

Traditional tunes such as the 'Bavarian Zwiefacher' (44), which combines 2/4 and 3/4 meters, sometimes approximating to a 5/4 meter, as well as Turkish-Bulgarian folk music, have promoted irregular meters, particularly the 5/4 meter. Significant information on the Bavarian Zwiefacher and meter change is also contained in the previously referenced work

The jazz piece "Take Five" (45) by Dave Brubeck (p), Joe Morello (d), 1959, and above all the rock song "Living In The Past" (46) by Jethro Tull, 1970, which was played regularly on AFN Berlin, had already played a pioneering role for the 5/4 meter. Today, 5/4 and other irregular meters are practically taken for granted with many rock bands, e.g. in, "Whistleblower" by Thrice, 2016 (47). Numerous Mhdb songs are also based on 5/4 time, here, for instance, the


The Mhdb repertoire & J. S. Bach

Altogether the various song sources and rhythms referred to above have inspired countless music groups to compose complex songs, including also Mhdb in the period from 1990-2010. In this time 43 unique Mhdb compositions were created (49), such as the "KarlMarxShuffle" mentioned above. Today's Mhdb trio interprets that repertoire as 'Mhdb standards' in the Mhdb sessions (50), and continues to refine it as a crossover genre somewhere between avantgarde jazz and absurd rock:

... When J. S. Bach (1685-1750) had a musical inspiration, he would immediately sit down and compose something new, whereas Mhdb still integrate a new discovery into one of the existing 43 Mhdb songs. ... (51)

 

Photos: Wolfgang Billmann (2003); Quasimodo (1969), early jazz rock band


Wolfgang Billmann

Wolfgang Billmann (drums), 2003. Source (52)


For Rock-in-Berlin Wolfgang Billmann remembers his West-Berlin rock and jazz period below:


The Quasimodo Band

Quasimodo, August 1969, early jazz rock band:

Source: (56, photo at the bottom of the page, July 23, 2016, 17:35)

 

Re: Jazz rock / rock jazz in West Berlin of the Sixties


Quote from Jazzzeitung

27/03/2016, 12:08 p.m. (57)Letter to the editor. On the Grant Green retrospective, issue 3/03, page 16

I cannot find a single word in the article about the in my opinion most important recording by Grant Green, namely "The Selma March" (58).This piece is so crucial that even Grant Green's son continues to propagate it. A little background about this piece: it was created in the first half of the Sixties, and in the second half of the Sixties it became an important catalyst in the development of jazz rock / rock jazz. Conventional opinions may well consider Miles Davis, 'Bitches Brew' (59), 1968-69, or 'Blood, Sweat & Tears', "Spinning Wheel" (60), 1968, to be epoch-making for the emergence of jazz rock / rock jazz. However, in my opinion it was first and foremost James Brown (voc) (61) who played the decisive role in the birth of this genre. But leaving personality cults aside, I consider that further key influences were Cannonball Adderley (as) (62), as well as Jimmy Smith (org) (63) and Ramsey Lewis (p) (64). Even at the height of The Beatles era between 1963-66, they stimulated in many ways the formation of jazzy modes of play amongst the mass of young musicians of the time, the beat and rock musicians, for instance in my brother (key) and myself (d). However, the catalysts were not only certain jazz musicians who were much listened to and emulated in the beat / rock generation, but also particular jazz pieces such as above all "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (65), then "Watermelon Man" (66)"Jive Samba" (67)"Sidewinder" (68) and the above-mentioned "Selma March". In Germany, and particularly in the Berlin area, the USA (69) dominated musical culture, and jazz (70) (71) (72) in particular, in the Fifties and Sixties, in spite of the ongoing Vietnam war. This was only interrupted by Beatlemania and the Beat wave between 1963 and 1966 ('British Invasion' (73) (74) (75) (76). Specifically many musicians of the then still numerous US troups stationed in Germany played with German amateur and professional musicians in various formations (77) (78) (79). Hence, in 1969 my brother and I played in the West Berlin bar 'Quasimodo' together with a black US guitarist called Sammy who actually went to school with Jimi Hendrix! We played just these above-mentioned pieces, they were at the heart of our program and our style, above all, "The Selma March", which was considered to be practically the masterpiece. At the time, the 'Quasimodo' was on the one hand, typically for the situation back then, one of the leading 'APO bars' (1968 and anti-Vietnam-war movement, Rudi Dutschke (80), etc.). On the other hand, due to the large numbers of military and civil personnel connected with the US army still stationed in Germany, many German-American bands played more or less unknowingly at such venues which were practically opposed to the USA. This triggered a trend of development which was fundamental, not just for Germany.

Regards, Wolfgang Billmann (via E mail)


Re: Grant Green's "The Selma March", APO bars and early blues rock, jazz rock and jazz gig venues

As far as Grant Green (g, 1935-79) is concerned, it must be noted that he was the composer of "The Selma March" and his son, Grant Green Jr. (1955-), also a jazz guitarist, made a re-recording of this piece (81). APO was the abbreviation for Ausserparlamentarische Opposition (extra-parliamentary opposition) (82). At a number of jazz gig venues in West Berlin in the late 60s, early 70s pre-forms of blues rock or early blues rock / jazz rock were played. These venues were also considered to be part of the 'APO scene', e.g.:


More jazz gig venues

Including:

 

Re: Lokomotive Kreuzberg, German polit rock band, West Berlin, approx. 1971-77, and late 1970s / early 1980s


Quotation from Last.fm

27/03/2016, 12:22 Uhr (98)Biography

Lokomotive Kreuzberg (99) was a German polit rock band. They were formed early in 1972 in Berlin and by the turn of the year 1972 / 1973 the band had already turned professional. The band had close links to the trade unions and played in changing formations, touring intensively throughout Germany until they split up. They were forced to give up at the end of 1977 for financial reasons. ...

... Wolfgang Billmann:

In 1971 Franz Powalla (bass) and a certain  Uwe Holz (drums, from Bielefeld) left a (Jazz Rock) band rehearsal after an argument. It so happened that the rehearsal room was situated in the basement of a wing of a police building which had been pulled down in 1971. This long building stretched back at right angles to the Urbanstrasse (Berlin-Kreuzberg / Neukoelln), opposite the Urban hospital, close to the corner of Kortestrasse, on a site with a sports ground. Franz and Uwe simply moved along and joined Andy Bauer (or Brauer) who until then had been practising alone in another basement (vocals, keyboard and electronically amplified violin, a complete novelty at that time) and was actually a trained opera singer. This signaled the birth of the original band Lokomotive Kreuzberg.


Practice room complex Wrangelstrasse / corner of Skalitzer Strasse

After abandoning the rehearsal rooms in the basement of a demolished police building on Urbanstrasse, until around 1974, Wolfgang Billmann was the principal tenant of two directly connected rehearsal rooms on the second floor of a practice room complex Wrangelstrasse/corner of Skalitzer Strasse (near the metro station Schlesisches Tor). This brick building complex, presumably a one-time Prussian barracks (100) surrounded a sports ground. It was standing empty and individual rooms were rented out to bands (including also to 'Karthago' (101)). One of the two rehearsal rooms was occupied by Wolfgang Billmann and his brother (Ralph Billmann, key) with session bands (102), and the other room by 'Lokomotive Kreuzberg'. This complex was completely demolished around 1975 and a technical or vocational college was built in its place which exists to this day (103).


Polit rock & German narrated texts

German polit rock, German folk songs (see above) or the composer of partly 'grotesque' German songs, Ulrich Roski (104), e.g. his life-affirming "Man darf das alles nicht so verbissen sehen" (105) (approx.: 'Take life a bit less seriously') - also Mhdb's 'favourite dictum' (106) - as well as the critical questions, which arose post-68 (107), were responsible for the fact, that around that time Wolfgang Billmann began to experiment in the rehearsal room Wrangel-/corner of Skalitzer Strasse with German spoken texts accompanied by drum grooves in rock and jazz sessions. These experiments later evolved further into the absurd German lyrics of the experimental songs created by 'Mozart hat den blues' (Mhdb, see also above) (108)


Late 70s / early 80s: Punk, neo-bop and reggae

In our recollection, on New Year's Eve 1976-77 Punk music (109) (110), t h e new rage, was played all night on the West Berlin radio stations. At one stroke classical rock (111) (112) (113) (114) (115) (etc) and also rock jazz which had in the meantime developed from jazz rock, had been ousted. With the advent of punk rock, a revival of modern jazz (116) also took place, except that this time it was amplified, e.g. in the album V.S.0.P.  The Quintet, Tony Williams (d), "Birdlike", 1977 (117). Thus the light, airy and very dynamic jazz of the 40s- 50s and early 60s as represented e.g. by Thelonious Monk (p) (118), Charlie Parker (as) (119) and John Coltrane (ts) (120) was now played through amplifying equipment. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, the rock jazz of the Seventies as exemplified in particular by Billy Cobham (d) (121), as well as the modern revival jazz, also known as real book jazz (122) (123), were combined under the heading new bop or neo-bop. The latter had a lasting influence on Wolfgang Billmann, as did reggae (124), which remained unaffected by punk or neo-bop and which was already dominant throughout the 1970s.


Late 70s / early 80s: Rap, Jethro Tull

Wolfgang Billmann was already in Kassel by the time the breakthrough of rap came about starting from 1983. Rap resurrected the 'fat' drum grooves of soul and its punctuated rhythmic spoken texts were a perfect match. By contrast, Jethro Tull (125), to this day highly popular in and around Kassel, exerted an ever more extensive musical influence on Wolfgang Billmann during the 1970s in West Berlin, for instance with their:

 

Abbreviations. Continued, details

 

 

German - Mozart has the blues - A-Z