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First Watch & Vinyl Giveaway: Blanc du Blanc – “Wind Of Change”

It feels like something is going to break. However, amidst a pandemic, uprising, and degrees of revolution, Blanc Du Blanc has inspired, recorded, and remixed three versions of Scorpions’ mega world wide anthem of optimism, “Wind of Change.” They even put the whole thing on wax, ready to be shipped out to listeners worldwide. I’m not gonna lie, emotions are high. This is a powerful song. Watching the Berlin Wall get knocked down by passionate people devoted to peace decades ago, all in an attempt to cast off the divisive ism-skism of nation states really gets me in the gut. When played back-to-back, Blanc du Blanc’s version and Scorpions’ official video create a fine prism through which to view the aesthetic innards of resistance from then to now. It’s a 30 year bubble too, that can help us assess where we thought we were going, where we were coming from, and where we went. It’s actually quite confusing. Why do these images look so similar while seeming so ancient? History is always happening. We look back in chunks. While our perception is subjective, our experience is collective.

Life expectancy dropped significantly in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. An action that had promised prosperity in time spiraled quickly out of control as resources fell into the hands of various mafia oligarch types – some legal , some illegal. The optimism presented in “Wind of Change” has even been rumored to be engineered by the CIA in attempts to radicalize Soviet youths against their own regime. Could it be that this anthem of inspiration was in fact designed to be a weapon of persuasion? The Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine swears against the rumor, but it’s fair to say that the end of the Cold War was riddled with bad actors all around. Historians continue to reveal the methods in which agents were slivered into bizarre and powerful niches of global culture in places you would least expect such as pop songs and movie productions.

I found this dub version of “Wind of Change” especially interesting to listen to in the context of the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. What did this song stand for then and now? How is it still relevant today? What can we see through the lens of Chris Harford and his spiraling circles of friendships that grew into the dub project Blanc du Blanc?

“Not only do we need to put that out, but we need to put it out before the election,” Jon March and Joseph Wyman, co-operators of Soul Select Records, said to Chris when pitched the idea of “Wind of Change” from version to vinyl.

“If it comes out on the 29th it’s still pretty timely,” Chris said.

Well …I’d say so. 2021. Dub is the perfect vehicle to reflect on real world disintegration. When it all blows away, there is still time. I was grateful to catch up with Chris and hear his story about how this prescient project came together so quickly after he initially missed the song entirely for the past decades. But music exists for the listener on the listener’s time. We talked for quite a while. Chris is lovely and loved. A wealth of information effortlessly flows from him as he expresses the whimsical twists of life that have added up to form his reality. Catch up on the origins of his project Blanc Du Blanc in a previous Rootfire piece done by my brother Dave Shiffman. I’m gonna dive into my conversation with and meeting of Chris Harford, and his late encounter with this absolutely epic tune that I may or may not have absolutely willingly listened to 100 times while writing this article.

“Not a hair metal band guy” in 1991 when Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” was scorching the charts internationally, Chris Harford had just signed a solo record deal with Elektra. He was hard at work recording his album “Be Headed” at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock NY. He mixed the record at Jimi Hendrix’s studio Electric Ladyland and hurried off to get married in Ecuador. It was an explosive year for him to say the least. He was not listening to Scorpions.

30 years later, after decades of incredible musics made and friendships grown, he’s meeting up in a parking lot in his hometown of Princeton, NJ to sell a painting (Chris is as respected in fine arts as he is in music according to videographer Andrew Wilkinson) to a friend of a friend on a road trip who showed up in a car purchased from Dean Ween. In these hysterically bizarre covid musician-life spawned meetups -always beautiful and beyond coincidence – he naturally accepted as a thank you a painting painted by the buyer, his recently deceased cat’s hair embedded in the frame and all, paired with a free DVD of the movie Anvil. It was the DVD that led to collaboration on the “Wind of Change” EP created by Chris Harford and a cast of rock and roll legends, friends, and even Lee Scratch Perry – all featured on this beautiful vinyl release and video.

“Immediately upon hearing it I heard it as a reggae song,” Harford reflects as he recounts hearing “Winds of Change” for the first time in 2020. He and his partner Marissa had been debating for a few months whether to pop Anvil, a documentary about a Canadian metal band from the 80’s, into the DVD player.

“One night we did and we couldn’t look away. At one point they (Anvil) were on tour in Moscow and on a bill with Scorpions. Marissa mentioned something about Scorpions and I tell her ”I don’t know know who that is.”

She said “WWHHHAAT?!”, immediately paused the film and pulled up the “Wind of Change” video on YouTube.                     

The next day at a friendly outdoor BBQ, friend and tour manager of Umphrey’s McGee Bobby Haight started talking to Chris about the 8 episode podcast that investigates the rumor that the CIA in fact penned the song as a Cold War psy-op. This coincidence of the song bizarrely entering his life twice in 24 hours inspired him to make the version we are hearing today.

Six months later, Blanc du Blanc are presenting it to the world along with a powerful video montage and vinyl to boot. A congratulations is certainly in order. Rarely in the music world is there such a quick turn around.

Three versions of “Wind of Change” exist on the record. The first would be seen as the straight mix. This is the one Chris hopes Klaus hears. Reed Black runs Vinegar Hill Sound in DUMBO and engineered and mixed the song together with Chris. For Harford this was the first time that, because of COVID, his tight yet expansive network of phenomenal musicians and engineers have done all tracking remotely. The ability to create temporal illusion is no stranger to dub. Dub is often a favorite genre for musicians because it is an engineer’s music. It involves more magic than just a moment. It’s an opportunity for engineers to dig into a mix and focus or deflect the listener from the raw performance that occurred in tracking. This counts double when the mix is a cover song. Over the years, the weight in emotion and experience that “Wind of Change” has gained in the eyes of millions makes this track particularly interesting to view through alternative perspectives.

Chris shines through as a musical arranger when it comes to knowing exactly which elements to keep true to the original and what to spin interpretively throughout the length of the track. How does a song stay a song? It seems that there are important musical elements to “Wind of Change” that need to be accounted for. Beyond the lyrics and melody, this song has a wealth of iconic ear candy that identifies itself right from the beginning of the song. Immediately the melodica enters with the signature melody, originally whistled on Scorpions’ version. The melodica tricks us into a dream state of foggy recollection as we recall the feelings of past times. With the entrance of the vocal, there is no mistake. This is “Wind of Change.” Is that Klaus? No it’s not. Really though? I had to rewind. It’s Chris. But he knows how to channel Klaus Meine. This is the sign of a great talent. Chris was also vehement with Reed Black that the drum entrance be identical to the original. As a listener, I found that to be a really nice move, because we all play the air drums as the fill comes in, but no one except for Chris expects the heavy David Butler one-drop that is to come.

Get cozy because it’s not enough to listen to one version. This is a full play experience. Roll one up and pour some tea. Reed Black’s mix simply sets us up to acknowledge the true elements of the track’s emotional wizardry so that we can appreciate the dub versions to come. The Black cut clears your mind and bring you into the space. It’s a beautiful mix and I can’t say enough that as a big fan of the original Scorpions version, I really appreciate the nuances and note for note guitar solo performed incredibly by Robbie Seahag Mangano. Along with the drums, the guitar solo is one of the only elements to remain in each version. This was not discussed by the engineers or Chris, but rather a collective unconscious agreement that this solo was an imperative part of the song’s identity. Described as “a guitar genius” by Chris, he met Mangano at a Ween BBQ back when Mangano was still a teenager. Years later, Chris saw him in Switzerland playing all of the Frank Zappa parts in the band Grandmothers of Invention. “It was a three hour show and I just stood in front of him dumbfounded” Chris said of Mangano, who also plays in Sean Lennon’s Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger Band and has recently toured with Rickie Lee Jones and Mike Dillon.

Chris seems to know a lot of special people. They seem to gravitate to him.

That’s one thing I really loved right way while speaking with him. His revolving cast of childhood friends and loved ones are continuously invited into his artistic sphere for collaboration and creation. For every player mentioned, there was a great organic story of their meeting and friendship that connected. Even just speaking to him about the finished record, he made me feel part of the process. That is who Chris is and how people know him to be.

“I just started collecting people who love music and we just started talking about stuff,” he said as he described the coming together of the project.

Enter Andrew Weiss aka Doktor White. Weiss also has a wildly impressive resume. He has been the bass player of Rollins Band, Ween, the Butthole Surfers, and more. He holds a grammy from his production and engineer roles with Café Tacuba, as well as numerous productions throughout South and Central America. The man produced just about all of the Ween records for gods sake! But of course, before all of this, he was childhood friends with Chris Harford. The two grew up in Princeton, NJ together and Weiss still lives in the house he and Chris shared together in the 80’s.

Doktor White takes us to the dub zone. Immediately we are approached by the familiar melody of whistling, perviously masqueraded as a melodica in the straight version but now syrup’d down and out through Dana Colley’s signature baritone sax swagger. Colley, who is famous for his work with Morphine has caught many reggae ears recently through his sax work in Dub Apocalypse. Before all that though? He was friends with Chris. He is a member of Blanc du Blanc, masterfully setting the tone for where the dub space is going to bring us. It will be darker. More disjointed. There will be decay – even sheer cut outs of most sound altogether. It is an unpredictable mix. I found it possibly reminiscent of the dwindling hope and waiting the Russian people felt as shock therapy failed to deliver, keeping them moving forward on a distorted track that despite its trajectory, still maintained incredible human expressions of emotion and resonance throughout the world.

This is my favorite mix of the three in fact. The vocals and the message are almost entirely stripped out. A word cries out here and there, but mostly we are letting the sounds take us away into reflection. The magic of the moment has arrived.

On all three versions, the bridge is a line in the sand. This is where things change and get funky. The climax of the song will always drop you off of a cliff; where will it land you though? Is this an astroids cliff? Or perhaps we are under the sea of a Jupiter moon. We land though. Always into the guitar solo. Always back in it with David Butler. We are forward moving again. The past is a heartfelt distance of decay and disintegration. We exit this space with Dana Colley’s blasts morphing into the tail of the extra galactic Andromeda.

We are then led to a very different room. We have passed through a few portals, and find ourselves dumped gently at the feet of the high sorcerer priest. He will lead us on our final journey through the song. He will guide us like a Shaman,  chanting relevant yet random strings of words, phrases, and sounds, letting the original lyrics ride in their most highlighted clarity yet over a moving bed of mostly drums and bass. The percussion is sparkling like alien signals, coloring the time. As we return to the bridge we engage once again in the ritual of guitar solo, while Mr Lee Perry himself closes us out with a path of prayer and fire. His saber cuts through the time space of it all, connecting decades of a moments magic into one. This is his blessing and gift to the process and it’s a good one.

With the Lee “Scratch” Perry mix, the triangular reflection of “Wind of Change” is completed. When Chris saw on facebook that Mr Perry was accepting submissions for collaborations he jumped at the opportunity. With no expectations of hearing back, a week later he received a video of Scratch recording and mixing. A few weeks later it was a done deal. Like gases, heavy metals, and gravity, the universe has a way of spinning things into place.

“Let your Belelaika sing, what my guitar wants to say!” That’s MY line. I’ve always loved it. The Belelaika is a Russian stringed musical instrument of the lute family. While checking out a Lute in Istanbul, the shop owner told me it was called a Saz, but also that Saz really just means strings in Turkish. As I looked around the shop I saw what looked like a mad scientist’s matrix of whacky stringed possibilities hanging from every corner of the walls. Huge guitar sized banjos with 10 strings. Tall one stringed violins that you banged with a bow. Guitar strings over big drums. I kept trying to adjust my eyes to understand what I was looking at. Music travels, but so do instruments. They follow the routes of traders, nomads, and romantics. Ethno music archeology is a fascinating study. Istanbul has been a famous meeting ground of the Eastern and Western continents of the world for thousands of years. Everyone has passed through. You can tell by looking at the instruments.

And this is how we share as people. I used to scream that line off of the boat into the wind on Conesus Lake in the summer of 1991. “Wind of Change” by Scorpions is actually one of my favorite songs. I was eight years old when my sister bought the cassette single at the mall and we burned it through our boat’s tape deck all summer. The whistling intro still gives me vibes. I had no idea what a Belelaika was and I for sure sang “Follow un duex trois, and down to donkey kong,” butchering the lyrics having no idea about Moskov or Gorky-Park. I just loved the way the song made me feel. I loved the guitar solo. Honestly, at the time it really felt modern in an organic way. The chord changes were hopeful but realistic. The energy felt honest to my young ears. I was just discovering the world outside of my head.

We just had an attempted insurrection in the US. It’s starting to feel like a half-ass walking dead out there half of the time. Musicians have a shitty deal because no matter what, we will create. We need to express. We need to reflect. It is a tough time to get that expression organized and out there in the world shining. But whatever you want to call it, music is magic. It’s hard to point at and the magic is impossible to depend on, but more often than not, musicians who continue to create and express are doing it through pain, pleasure, and the sheer coincidental paths life takes us down. We are not smooth shapes to run through the slots of late stage capitalism. We hardly ever know what we are doing and when.

This music lights images though. I got the chance to also speak with videographer Andrew Wilkinson. He made the video for Blanc du Blanc’s “Wind of Change” as well as “Traffic Signals” premiered by Rootfire in 2020. In 2021 music videos are half the project when releasing music. Wilkinson met Chris through the local music scene of Princeton NJ. He describes it as a welcoming community of talented locals who are simply passionate about seeing and playing live music. Until Covid, there was a rotating scene throughout small venues in the area, legendary for hosting great original bands. Him and Chris randomly worked together in the 90’s for a video, but Andrew says they were brought together recently, naturally, in a collaborative way that comes from living in an engaging community that supports the arts.

Chris and Andrew both agreed they should pay homage to the original Scorpions video – a crucial document of the times which provides a montage of powerful images of real events. After asking for submissions from photographers on the ground durning the 2020 BLM protests, Andrew was struck to get so many that looked straight out of the “Wind Of Change” video. The similarities of the photos he was receiving compared with the original shots from Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” official videos demanded that the connection of eras needed to be revealed. These are images of beauty, strength, and hope –  reminiscent of a time “when the children of tomorrow dream away in the wind of change.” Those children are probably parents now. The change we fight for is painfully slow, but is really just a testament to what we are all uniting against.

Time is moving and we need to remember. In this spirit of togetherness and solidarity, videos like these can be continuously inspiring while also preserving memories of a time when once again, everything felt like it had to break to come together. Since 1991, we have grown multiple senses to draw sight from in artists, musicians, and photographers worldwide. We can look forward by looking back. As the world and its changes continue to be more and more documented, we can hope our abilities to never forget will be strengthened as we push together toward a more just future.

Chris Harford leads with love. He answered the call to get a painting to a fan on a road trip during a pandemic. On less than even a half-whim he encountered this song “Wind of Change” well past its prime. As an artist, he was moved by the magic of the moment to create something almost forgotten. This is a resurrection for all. Let’s get it to Klaus.

If and when you encounter Blanc du Blanc live, they will be wearing masks. Brilliant head dresses for masquerade. The versions on the vinyl itself are masquerades themselves. That is what a version is. Let yourself see a new version of yourself. The world is the world. Blanc du Blanc.

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Enter below to win a “Wind Of Change” Vinyl!

Limited edition vinyl copies of the “Wind of Change” EP can be purchased at the Blanc du Blanc Bandcamp page.

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Bass player and songwriter for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, James feels, plays and lives the music. Lucky for us he also has the knack for remembering what happened and writing it down in his own voice.

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