Bringing to Life the Magic of Steely Dan

An evening with The Royal Scam at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, N.J.

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To people who know me and readers of the blog, it won’t come as a big surprise that Steely Dan is one of my all-time favorite bands. The amazing writing and craftsmanship of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker created timeless music that is simply in a league of its own. While unfortunately I never got a chance to catch one of their shows, I probably came as closely to it as possible last night at the Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, N.J. with The Royal Scam. It was actually the second time I saw this outstanding Steely Dan tribute band.

Named after Steely Dan’s fifth studio album from 1976, The Royal Scam have been faithfully playing the music of Fagen and Becker for 25 years. Lead vocalist Michael Caputo, who does a beautiful job of capturing Fagen’s smooth voice, told the audience they spent the first year with rehearsals before going on the road. This careful prep and the band’s long-time live experience clearly showed. Their attention to the details of the music was incredible, a true labor of love. Another Steely Dan fan who was sitting close to me and has actually seen them put it this way: “They are spot on.” I couldn’t have said it better!

The Royal Scam

The intimate setting of the Trumpets Jazz Club was a perfect venue to enjoy the music of Steely Dan up close, and there was plenty of it. Between two sets, each lasting more than 90 minutes, The Royal Scam played a great mix of Steely Dan classics like Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Reelin’ In the Years, Hey Nineteen and Deacon Blues, and some deeper cuts I wasn’t as familiar with.

Since smartphone videos oftentimes have mediocre sound quality, I didn’t try to take any footage last night. Fortunately, there are some nice clips of the band on YouTube. Following is a selection.

First up: A cool medley of My Old School and Reelin’ In the Years, from Steely Dan’s second and first studio albums Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) and Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972), respectively. Watching this makes me want to see these guys again right away!

Hey Nineteen, from 1978’s Gaucho album. It appears this clip was captured during the same gig a few months ago in Linden, N.J., where I saw The Royal Scam of the first time.

Here’s another tune from the same concert: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from Pretzel Logic (1974), which became Steely Dan’s biggest hit climbing all the way to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1974.

Kid Charlemagne, which is from Steely Dan’s fifth studio album from 1976, after which the tribute band is named. The guys do a beautiful job capturing the tune’s cool blend of funk, jazz and rock.

Dr. Wu from Katy Lied, the fourth study album Steely Dan released in 1975. It was the first record after Becker and Fagen had dissolved their standing touring band. In the studio, they already had started to increasingly rely on session musicians, a concept they would now also embrace for live performances.

This list would not be complete without Deacon Blues, which is perhaps the ultimate Steely Dan tune from Aja, their fantastic studio album from 1977. It was evident The Royal Scam dig that record just as much as I do. They played it in its entirety, sprinkling the tunes throughout the show.

In addition to Caputo, the band’s current line-up consists of Gino Amato (keyboards and synth programming), Don Regan (guitar),  Keith Droz (drums), Larry Chavana (bass), Joe Montini (saxophone) and vocalists Carla Culkin and Wendi Gordy. The Royal Scam will be back at Trumpets on March 10, 2018. Their schedule of upcoming shows is here on the band’s website, along with news and other info.

After they had played their final song of the night, Do It Again, Caputo thanked folks for coming out and supporting live music. He rightly pointed out that nowadays there are fewer and fewer places like Trumpets where people can enjoy great music up close. While I’ve been to many music events, typically, they haven’t been in an intimate setting. Last night was a great reminder that the music club experience is something that should be cherished.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Royal Scam website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers/The Final Show

The above clip captures the final show of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on September 25. It was the third of three nights at the legendary venue. This gig was also the last concert of the band’s 40th anniversary tour. It’s still hard to believe that exactly one week thereafter, Petty passed away at only 66 years of age. Not sure how long this clip is going to stay on YouTube, so enjoy while it lasts!

Following is the set list for that final show, along with the album on which each song first appeared. Notably, half of the tracks are from Petty’s first two solo albums. But there is a connection to The Heartbreakers, since both of these records included members of the band.

Rockin’ Around (With You) [Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, 1976]

Mary Jane’s Last Dance [Greatest Hits, 1993]

Don’t You Know How It Feels [Wildflowers, 1994; second Tom Petty solo album]

Forgotten Man [Hypnotic Eye, 2014]

I Won’t Back Down [Full Moon Fever, 1989; first Tom Petty solo album]

Free Fallin’ [Full Moon Fever, 1989; first Tom Petty solo album]

Breakdown [Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, 1976]

Don’t Come Around Here No More [Southern Accents, 1985]

It’s Good To Be King [Wildflowers, 1994; second Tom Petty solo album]

Crawling Back To You [Wildflowers, 1994; second Tom Petty solo album]

Wildflowers [Wildflowers, 1994; second Tom Petty solo album]

Learning To Fly [Into The Great Wide Open, 1991]

Yer So Bad [Full Moon Fever, 1989; first Tom Petty solo album]

I Should Have Known About It [Mojo, 2010]

Refugee [Damn The Torpedoes, 1979]

Runnin’ Down A Dream [Full Moon Fever, 1989; first Tom Petty solo album]

Encore:

You Wreck Me [Wildflowers, 1994; second Tom Petty solo album]

American Girl [Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, 1976]

The final word goes to the kick-ass musicians of The Heartbreakers. The line-up included Mike Campbell (guitar), Scott Thurston (guitar, harmonica), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Ron Blair (bass) and Steve Ferrone (drums). The backing singers were Charlie Webb and Hattie Webb from England, who are known as The Webb Sisters.

How fond Petty was of his musicians becomes very clear when he introduces them, which starts at approximately 52 minutes and 10 seconds into the clip. His comments also reflect a great sense of humor. If you don’t feel like watching the entire 2 hours and 4 minutes, make sure you catch Petty’s introduction of the musicians.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 7

1951: John Mellencamp, one of my longtime favorite music artists, was born in Seymour, Ind. He started his recording career in 1976 with Chestnut Street Incident, an album of mostly covers, released under Johnny Cougar. The stage name was imposed by his manager at the time, who felt the name Mellencamp was too hard to market. The record flopped anyway. But luckily Mellencamp soldiered on and has released 22 additional studio albums to date. The first record credited to his given name instead of John Cougar Mellencamp, the name he used on most of his ’80s albums, was 1991’s Whenever We Wanted. Starting with the excellent Lonesome Jubilee (1987), Mellencamp gradually moved away from straight rock to more stripped down roots-oriented rock. Here’s a clip of Cherry Bomb from the 1987 album. Happy Birthday!

1960: Elvis Presley recorded Flaming Star, the title song to the soundtrack for his 1960 motion picture. Written by Syd Wayne and Sherman Edwards, the track was also included on an EP in February 1961. It peaked at no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. While Presley starred in numerous, mostly mediocre movies, this Western film is considered to be one of his best acting performances. I used to be a huge Elvis fan in my early teens and Flaming Star was one of my favorite tunes. While I’m no longer as crazy about Elvis, I still think he had a great voice and was a terrific performer, especially in his early days.

1963: The Rolling Stones recorded I Wanna Be Your Man, which became their second single released November 1, 1963. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, this Beatles song was primarily written by McCartney. The Stones’ cover, which appeared prior to the release of The Beatles’ version, climbed to no. 12 on the British chart, giving them an early hit. The tune’s characteristic features are Brian Jones’ slide guitar and Bill Wyman’s driving bass, giving it more pep than the original.

1967: American music producer and promoter Sid Bernstein, who had first brought The Beatles to the U.S. in February 1964 and also was involved in their first Shea Stadium appearance in August 1965, tried to get them back for a third time, offering one million dollars. But The Beatles had grown tired of Beatlemania and decided to retire from touring in late August 1966, so they rejected the offer. It’s a reassuring example money can’t buy everything.

Sidney Bernstein

1969: The Youngbloods’ version of Get Together was certified gold. Composed by American singer-songwriter Chet Powers, the Kingston Trio originally recorded the song as Let’s Get Together in 1964. Jefferson Airplane included a cover on their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in August 1966. But the best known and most successful version was recorded by The Youngbloods and first released in July 1967. Initially, it only became a minor hit for the band. Things changed when the tune was used in a radio public service announcement from the National Conference of Christians and Jews calling for brotherhood. The song was reissued in June 1969 and climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, This Day in Music, YouTube

Clips And Pix: The Church/Under The Milky Way Tonight

After raving about Under The Milky Way Tonight in my previous post, I thought I might as well put up a clip of the tune. Apparently, this live performance was captured during the induction of The Church into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2010.

Steve Kilbey, the band’s songwriter and bassist co-wrote the tune with his then domestic partner Karin Jansson, guitarist of the Swedish punk band Champagne. It was included on The Church’s fifth studio album Starfish, released in February 1988. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single.

Under The Milky Way Tonight brought The Church significant mainstream success in Australia and beyond. In the U.S., the track peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed all the way up to no. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It also charted in New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and The Netherlands. While I don’t know about the German charts, I definitely recall the song got significant radio play at the time. That’s where I first heard it.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Church Sticks To Its Religion On New Album

Aussie band continues signature sound that cemented its ’80s cult status

Readers of the blog may be surprised that I’m posting about The Church, which clearly falls outside the type of music I typically cover. While Classic Rock, Blues and British Invasion represent my main wheel house, I actually have a fairly eclectic taste. This Australian band is one example.

The Church first entered my radar screen in 1988 when they released a seductive song called Under The Milky Way Tonight, the lead single for their fifth studio album Starfish. The tune combines spacey sound and psychedelic lyrics with a catchy melody. It also features a cool bagpipes-resembling solo. I ended up buying the album at the time, which I still dig to this day.

The Church

Fast-forward almost 30 years to October 6, 2017, when The Church released their 26th studio album Man Woman Life Death Infinity – quite a heavy title! I only came across it coincidentally when browsing Apple Music earlier today. Admittedly, I never explored the band’s catalog beyond Starfish and had completely lost track of them.

The Church’s long history goes far beyond the scope of this post. In a nutshell, the band was formed in Sydney in 1980. Two of the founding members, Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass) and Peter Koppes (guitar) are still around, though Koppes left the band in 1992 and returned in 1997. The current line-up also includes Tim Powles (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), who has been with the band since 1994, and guitarist Ian Haug, who joined in 2013. While The Church didn’t have mainstream success beyond Starfish, the band retains a large international cult following, according to Wikipedia.

After listening to Man Woman Life Death Infinity a few times, the music clearly reminds me of Starfish, except I haven’t discovered any tune yet that stands out to me like Under The Milky Way Tonight or Reptile do on the 1988 album. The record’s opener Another Century pretty much sets the stage for the album’s sound. AllMusic describes it as “atmospheric space rock with a hooky pop sensibility.” I think that’s not a bad characterization of what essentially is the band’s signature sound. Here is the official video of the track.

A recurring topical theme on the record is water. Australian music site Music Feeds quotes Kilbey, who typically writes the lyrics to the band’s songs: “I guess water is my element. I’ve always marvelled at the sea and rivers and rain. It wasn’t conscious at all but on reflection, it definitely is a preoccupation on this record. What that means, I don’t know.” Well, if Kilbey doesn’t know, how would anyone else? Here’s a clip of Undersea.

I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know is another tune I like, which AllMusic describes as “moody Byrdsian.” I suppose the guitar is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds, though the track’s sound is much more layered, but let’s not over-analyze it. The song also appears to establish a pattern where Kilbey doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – on a more serious note, here is a clip of the tune.

The last song I’d like to highlight is Something Out There Is Wrong – that may well be the case, though not with this tune! Here’s a clip.

Man Woman Life Death Infinity was produced by Ted Howard, who has frequently worked with the band since the early 2000s. While the music becomes a bit repetitive after a while, there is just something about it. I’ve always been drawn to spacey music. I suppose that’s why I’m such a huge fan of Pink Floyd, especially their ’70s albums up to Wish You Were Here. I also know no other band that sounds quite like The Church. At some point, I may start to further explore their catolog. If anyone reading this is familiar with the band, please feel free to send any recommendations you may have.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Music Feeds, YouTube

In Memoriam of Tom Petty

Music has lost another great artist way too early

I still cannot believe that Tom Petty, one of my long-time favorite music artists, is gone. At 66 years, he was even younger than Walter Becker and Gregg Allman, two other giants who recently passed away at 67 and 69 years, respectively. Sure, let’s be honest here – all of these guys did drugs at some time in their lives, but as far as I know, they all had become sober long before they died. I also believe it is not known whether drugs may have had any role in Petty’s cardiac arrest, which preceded his untimely death.

Sadly, Petty’s death also illustrates the frenzy of today’s media world. TMZ broke the news Monday afternoon that Petty was taken to UCLA Santa Monica Hospital on Sunday night after he had been found unconscious and in full cardiac arrest at his Malibu, Calif. home. CBS News prematurely reported his death Monday evening, hours before he actually passed, apparently based on wrong information from the Los Angeles Police Department. E! News, Rolling Stone and other media outlets promptly picked up the story. This triggered immediate condolences from Bob Dylan and others from the entertainment world. It also reportedly prompted a blistering Instagram post from AnnaKim Violet Petty, one of Petty’s surviving three children. Very sad.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Thomas Earl Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Fla. He had a difficult childhood with an apparently abusive father. School wasn’t his thing, but he discovered his love for music early on and got his first guitar at the age of 12. One of his first guitar teachers was then-fellow Gainesville resident Don Felder, who later became a member of the Eagles. In the mid-’60s, Petty joined his first band, the Sundowners, playing local shows in the Gainesville area.

In 1970, Petty co-founded Mudcrutch together with guitarist and vocalist Tom Leaden. Among the other members of the line-up were Mike Campbell (guitar) and starting from 1972 Benmont Tench (keyboards), who later became part of Petty’s longtime band The Heartbreakers. Originally, The Heartbreakers, which Petty formed in 1976, also included Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Petty who had played bass and was the backing vocalist in Mudcrutch switched to guitar and lead vocals.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. At first, the record received little attention in the U.S. That changed when it entered the U.K. charts in the wake of a British tour. Breakdown became a top 40 single in the U.S. The album also included American Girl, one of my favorite early Petty tunes that became a staple on rock radio. Here’s a cool clip from the Heartbreakers’ 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance. I love Petty’s Rickenbacker guitar!

The band’s third record Damn the Torpedoes, which appeared in October 1979, brought significant commercial success in the U.S., reaching Triple Platinum certification and peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Among others, it included the Petty tune Don’t Do Me Like That, as well as Refugee and Here Comes My Girl, both co-written by Petty and Campbell. All three tracks were also released separately as singles and charted in the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of Refuge from Farm Aid 1985.

In November 1982, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their fifth album Long After Dark. It featured another Petty-Campbell co-write that is one of my favorites: You Got Lucky. The song also became the album’s lead single and climbed to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip recorded in Newark, N.J. in June this year during the band’s 40th anniversary tour, which only concluded last week in Los Angeles. I saw the band twice, once in the late ’80s in Germany, and a second time in September 2014 at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. I had thought about catching them a third time during the 40th anniversary tour – now I wish I would have done it!

Another highlight in the Heartbreakers’ discography is Southern Accents, the follow-on to Long After Dark, which appeared in March 1985. The album generated three singles: Don’t Come Around Here No More, Rebels and Make It Better (Forget About Me). The first was co-written by Petty and the Eurhythmics’ Dave Stewart, while the last two were penned by Petty only. Rebels is my favorite of the three tunes. Here’s a clip of the studio version.

In 1988, Petty joined George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan in The Traveling Wilburys, a true “supergroup” that was initiated by Harrison. They released their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in October 1988. In December that year, Orbison passed away. The remaining four members recorded a follow-up album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, which appeared in October 1990. Here is a clip of Last Night, which was included on the first album and featured Petty and Orbison on vocals.

Petty also released three solo albums, the first which of which came out in April 1989. Recorded with members of both The Heartbreakers (Campbell, Tench and bassist Howie Epstein) and The Traveling Wilburys (Lynne, Orbison and Harrison), Full Moon Fever became Petty’s most popular record in the U.S. It reached no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was certified five times platinum. The album spawned various singles, including the hits I Won’t Back Down and Free Fallin’. Both songs were co-written by Petty and Lynne. Here’s clip of Free Fallin’.

In 2007, Petty convened his former Mudcrutch bandmates to record their belated debut album. The furthest band had gotten in the ’70s was to tape some demos. Mudcrutch was released in April 2008 and entered the Billboard 200 at no. 8. A second Mudcrutch record, Mudcrutch 2, came out in April last year. Petty supported both albums with tours. Here is a live clip of Scare Easy from the first album, which was captured during the band’s tour in Nashville last May.

Petty’s 13th and last studio album with The Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye appeared in July 2014. Here is a clip of Red River, which was written by Petty and became the record’s second single. It was released on June 10 that year, ahead of the album.

Over his 40-year-plus career, Petty was nominated for multiple award and won various of them. Among others, he won Grammy awards in 1990 (Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group; with Traveling Wilburys for Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1), 1996 (Best Rock Album; for Wildflowers solo album) and 2009 (Best Music Video, Long Form; with The Heartbreakers for Runnin’ Down a Dream). In 2002, Petty and The Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Following are some reactions from other music artists to Petty’s death. “It’s shocking, crushing news,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Separately in Rolling Stone, long-time J. Geils Band lead singer Peter Wolf wrote in an exclusive remembrance: “I first met Tom when he and the Heartbreakers were the opening act on a J. Geils tour back in 1977. It was a full circle honor for me to be his opening act on the 2017 Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour…he worked very hard at everything he did and always with a deep passion and a great sense of dignity. He certainly carved his own way and always stayed one of the good guys!”

Various artists also took to Twitter:

Bon Jovi: “I’m crushed… Praying for all those affected by Vegas last night. And now the loss of one of my great influences Tom Petty today.”

Ringo Starr: “God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you Tom.”

Peter Gabriel: “Very sad to say goodbye to Tom Petty, he was a kind and generous man, an excellent musician…”

Steven Van Zandt: “Man this cannot be happening. Not Tom Petty please. Our deepest love and condolences to his family and band. A brother and true believer.”

The last word of this post shall belong to Petty. “Music is a real magic,” he told NPR’s All Things Considered in 2014. “It affects human beings, it can heal, it can do wonderful things. I’ve had two people contact me in my life about coming out of comas to their family playing a song to them of mine, that they had liked before they were injured. They credited the song having something to do with that. I find that fascinating. A lot of people have told me, ‘This music got me through a really hard time,’ and I can relate to that.”

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone Fox News, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Breakers/Soulfire

I think it’s fair to say that soul-oriented rock isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Denmark. But this band called The Breakers did exactly that. And they sounded pretty darn well, in my opinion.

Steven Van Zandt produced some of their music on his garage rock label Wicked Cool Records and co-wrote this cool tune with the band’s guitarist Anders Bruus. On the label’s website, Van Zandt described their music as follows: “A Stax-like rhythm section, Stones-y guitars, and some of the most soulful singing I’ve ever heard, delivering songs both Smokey Robinson and Van Morrison would be proud of.” BTW, that’s the same Soulfire Van Zandt recorded as the title song of his most recent album with The Disciples of Soul.

To me singer Toke Nisted’s raspy voice sounds a bit like the early Rod Stewart. No wonder Wikipedia notes that The Faces were among the band’s influences. Sadly, it appears the band broke up in late 2012 after a 10-year run.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wicked Cool Records website, YouTube