Clips & Pix: Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Albert King, B.B. King, Robert Cray et al/Blues Medley

Inspired by this recent post from Music Enthusiast, I’ve been listening to Koko Taylor and originally intended to post a clip of this amazing artist who was also known as The Queen of the Blues. Then I came across the amazing clip above, which apparently was captured at the Grammy Awards in 1987 and shows two back-to-back performances by some of the greatest blues artists on one stage.

Things kick off with Willie Dixon and Taylor singing the Dixon tune When I Make Love. The backing band includes Dr. John, Junior Wells and Ry Cooder, among others. Next up is the Louis Jordan song Let The Good Times Roll, performed by Albert King and B.B. King, together with Big Jay McNeely, Robert Cray and Etta James. The audience is on their feet and McNeely on his back by the end of the track – any doubts you may have had whether the blues is here to stay will be gone after you’ve watched this!

I’ll definitely do something on Taylor soon and also post on some of the other blues pioneers who wrote music that was made popular by others, often white artists.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

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On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 10

1966: The Rolling Stones released Got Live If You Want It!, their first full live album. The record, which only appeared in the U.S., resulted from a contractual obligation with the band’s American distributor London Records. A year earlier, an EP with the same title had been released in the U.K. Two of the tunes – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Fortune Teller – actually were recorded in the studio and overdubbed with audience background noise. The Stones didn’t like the record and later repudiated it, maintaining their first true live album was the excellent Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! Frankly, given the two fake live tracks and the mediocre sound quality, you can’t blame them! Here’s a clip of the opener Under My Thumb.

1967: Soul legend Otis Redding became another major American music artist who tragically died in a plane crash during a tour. Redding and his band were on route from Cleveland to their next scheduled gig in Madison, Wis. when his Beechcraft H18 crashed at night during bad weather into Lake Monoma near Madison. Apart from Redding, who was just 26 years old, the crash also killed four members of his touring band, guitarist Jimmy King, tenor saxophonist Phalon Jones, organist Ronnie Caldwell and drummer Carl Cunningham, along with assistant Matthew Kelly and the pilot, Richard Fraser. The only survivor was Ben Cauley, Redding’s trumpet player. The official cause of the crash was never determined. At the time of his death, Redding had been the biggest star of Memphis-based Stax Records. Here’s a great clip of Respect captured live at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in June 1967. Written by Redding, the tune was originally recorded and released in 1965.

1973: CBGB, a music club in Manhattan’s East Village that became a famous performance venue for American punk and new wave bands, opened its doors to the public. Initially, founder Hilly Kristal’s vision for the club was to feature the music styles that were represented by CBGB,  which stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues. Instead, it became a forum for acts like the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB showcased mainly hardcore punk, post punk, metal and alternative rock. The club closed in October 2006. Here’s a clip of the Ramones at CBGB in 1977.

1976: Wings released Wings Over America, the band’s only live album and the sixth record in their overall catalog. The triple LP set captured the American leg of their 1975/76 Wings Over The World Tour. In addition to major hits Paul McCartney had recorded with Wings by then, the album included five songs from his time with The Beatles: Yesterday, Lady Madonna, I’ve Just Seen A Face, Blackbird and The Long And Winding Road. The album became a huge success, especially in the U.S. where it hit no. 1 in early 1977 and ended up selling four million copies. It also holds the distinction to be the first triple set by a group to reach the top of the U.S. charts. Here’s a clip of Maybe I’m Amazed, one of my favorite tracks from the record. I actually much prefer it to the original studio version on McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney, which appeared on April 17, 1970, just seven days after the official announcement of The Beatles’ breakup.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube

Today, Gregg Allman Would Have Turned 70 Years Old

As true Allman Brothers Band connoisseur and fan Music Enthusiast posted earlier, today Gregg Allman would have turned 70 years old.

Gregg, one of the finest artists who sadly passed away this May at the age of 69, played the blues hard. He lived and partied just as hard, especially during the anything-goes 70s. While he sobered up following the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, undoubtedly, Gregg’s lifestyle was a factor in his untimely death.

But his music will live on, and there is so much incredible material this artist has recorded. Here is one of my all-time favorite clips showing Gregg and the band he used for his solo recordings and performing Just Another Rider, which appeared on his excellent second-to-last 2011 studio album Low Country Blues. Gregg was very proud of these musicians. When you watch this clip, you’ll understand why:

 

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Rolling Stones’ New Collection of BBC Recordings Is A Gem For Fans

“On Air” documents radio recordings from band’s formative years

Last Friday (Dec 1), The Rolling Stones released On Air, a collection of recordings made by BBC Radio between 1963 and 1965 – a great piece of early Stones performance history and a true gem for fans. According to Wikipedia, The Sunday Times first mentioned the existence of the BBC tapes in early January 1998. Why it took almost 20 years to release a compilation of these recordings isn’t clear to me. Some reviews regarded the record as a sequel to Blue & Lonesome, the band’s first all-blues cover album from last year. Given the unexpected success of that record, which topped the charts in 15 countries, perhaps there is something to it. On Air certainly makes for a great Christmas present, especially for Stones fans.

The collection is available in a standard 18-track and a deluxe 32-track version. The above picture shows the cover of the deluxe. All of the recordings were captured live in-studio, a BBC Radio requirement for any band that wanted air time on their shows in the 60s – no lip-synching allowed! Some of the performances happened in front of live audiences. The shows during which these performances aired included Saturday Club, Yeah Yeah, Blues In Rhythm, The Joe Loss Pop Show and Top Gear. Saturday Club, which was on the air from 1957 until 1969, was one of the earliest pop music radio programs in England.

Rolling Stones at BBC

On Air features blues and rock & roll covers of tunes from the likes of Chuck Berry, Bobby Troup and Willie Dixon, as well some early Stones originals, such as Satisfaction, The Spider And The Fly and The Last Time. What’s especially intriguing is that the collection includes eight songs the Stones had never recorded or released commercially before. Unfortunately, these tunes are nowhere revealed, so I suppose fans have to figure them out by themselves – not an easy task, given the Stones mostly played covers in their early years.

Only very few reviews I’ve seen pointed out the mystery around the eight songs. Instead, some reviewers were upset about the fact that the tracks are not presented chronologically. While the order in fact does appear to be arbitrary, that aspect doesn’t bother me much. For folks who don’t want to listen to say Satisfaction prior to Route 66, Little By Little or Walking The Dog, they can simply queue up the songs accordingly. Figuring out the eight previously unreleased tracks is more tricky!

Abbey Road Studios

In addition to the great music, what’s truly remarkable to me is the crisp sound of some of the tracks. That is due to audio source separation. According to a press release, the process “involved de-mixing the transcripts and allowing engineers at Abbey Road access to the original instrumentation and voices within each track, so that they could be rebuilt, re-balanced and remixed to achieve a fuller, more substantial sound.”

Time for some music clips! First up: Satisfaction. Obviously one of the original tunes penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was first released as a single in the U.S. in June 1965 and was also included on the American version of the Stones’ fourth studio album Out Of Our Heads, which appeared in September that year. The BBC version was recorded just a few days prior to the appearance of that record. I just love how this recording sounds even more guitar-focused than the original studio version, especially the roar of Richards’ signature guitar riff!

Roll Over Beethoven, one of the above noted eight tracks, is a highlight of the collection and I think my favorite on the album. It is one of various Chuck Berry covers. Berry, a huge influence on the Stones, originally released the tune in May 1956. It was also included on Chuck Berry Is On Top, one of the most amazing classic rock & roll records ever released. The BBC recording is from October 1963. I’ve always liked The Beatles’ version of the song. This one kicks it up a notch, in my opinion, and I say this as a huge Beatles fan. Similar to Satisfaction, the sound of the recording is just amazing!

Another great track on the collection is Route 66, the Bobby Troup rhythm & blues classic from 1946. The BBC recording is from 1964 and is one of the songs the Stones apparently performed in front of a live audience, though one can only hear screaming folks in the beginning and at the end.

Fannie Mae, another cover, was recorded in 1965. One can clearly hear that the Stones had become a more mature band by that time. The tune features great blues harp playing by Brian Jones. Fannie Mae was written by American blues and R&B singer Buster Brown and originally recorded in 1959.

Confessin’ The Blues, which was recorded for The Joe Loss Pop Show in 1964, is another performance in front of a live audience. Similar to Fannie Mae, it features Brian Jones doing another amazing job on blues harp. Written by Jay McShann and Walter Earl Brown, the Stones first recorded the tune for their second American studio album 12 X 5, which was released in October 1964.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Ain’t That Loving You Baby, which according to one review I read is also among the above eight mystery songs. The tune was written by Don Robey and first recorded by Bobby Bland in 1962.

While doing some research for this post, I came across a great story in the Los Angeles Times. It includes an interview with Richards discussing his recollection of the Stones’ experiences at the BBC Radio recordings. Since I found his comments fascinating, following are some excerpts.

“At the time we were doing this, we were, like, ‘Oh, my God — the BBC!’. We were just trying to disguise our actual terror. There was a lot of adrenaline…Once we started playing, we didn’t give a [damn]. They [the Stones] still don’t — bless their hearts. We just got off the road, and I wish there were a few more shows. We were just hitting a groove!”

“The BBC wanted us and we didn’t know really why or what we were doing. We were playing blues in bars, for Christ’s sake, but then we got a top 10 record and suddenly we’re the other alternative to the Beatles, bless their hearts. Yeah, I mean, they broke the doors down, especially Johnny. We always got along.”

“You think — you believe, the way you’re brought up in London — that the BBC know what they’re doing. Then you get there and find out they have no idea how to record a band like this.”

“The first thing I remember about my encounter with the BBC was there was this guy: Microphone Control Man. He had a huge mustache, like an officer in the RAF [Royal Air Force], one of them ginger jobs. He told me, ‘If you touch that microphone, I’ll decapitate you.’ I didn’t know what I would do with it anyway, but he had no more idea what to do with it than we did.”

“On those shows, you had no idea what the microphones were picking up and what was actually coming out of the radio. You just winged it and hoped for the best. Listening to it now, I think they captured the spirit of it all. I could argue about whether Brian was too loud or not, but apart from [stuff] like that, I think it’s a fascinating record as a piece.” Well said!

Sources: Wikipedia, Uncut, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, YouTube

U2 Release Songs of Experience

Companion to “Songs of Innocence” is a solid record

On Friday, U2 released their 14th studio album Songs of Experience after a one-year delay. While their first five records Boy (1980), October (1981), War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and especially The Joshua Tree (1987) will probably always remain my favorites, after listening to the album various times, I agree with NPR’s take that it is a reboot the Irish rock band needed after the botched release of its predecessor.

Bono mentioned Songs of Experience the day Songs of Innocence was released in September 2014, but he didn’t start writing until after his serious bike accident in November that year. Using a mobile studio, the band worked on the album during the 2015 Innocence + Experience Tour. Work continued in 2016 with the goal to release the album toward the end of the year. But after the outcomes of the Brexit vote and the U.S. Presidential elections, U2 decided to hold and reassess the record. Bono reportedly ended up rewriting some of the lyrics.

U2

The album opens with Love Is All We Have Left. As is common for U2, the lyrics and the music are credited to Bono and the band, respectively. The song was produced by Andy Barlow, one of multiple producers U2 used for the album, mirroring the approach for the predecessor. The tune’s opening lines Nothing to stop this being the best day ever/ Nothing to keep us from where we should be were criticized by various reviewers as out-of-touch optimism – not the first time U2’s lyrics have caused such reactions.

You’re The Best Thing About Me is the record’s lead single, which was released on September 6. The track was produced Jacknife Lee with Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Brent Kutzle, who also were involved in most of the other tunes. As Rolling Stone reported, Bono characterized the catchy tune as “defiant joy” during an interview with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show in September, adding, “It’s a love song to my Mrs., and in these difficult times it’s important to tell your loved ones how you feel.”

American Soul is one of album’s openly political tunes, produced by Lee with Joylon Thomas and Declan Gaffney. Even though it doesn’t spell out names, the spoken intro by rapper Kendrick Lamar leaves little doubt who the song refers to: Blessed are the bullies/For one day they will have to stand up to themselves/Blessed are the liars/For the truth can be awkward. The tune’s line, It’s not a place, this country is to me a sound of drum and bass, you close your eyes to look around, is taken from Lamar’s track XXX, which appeared on his most recent studio album Damn.

The Little Things That Give You Away has a touch of Joshua Tree with The Edge’s signature echo guitar sound. While it’s of course not new, to me this sound doesn’t get boring, and I actually wish he would have used it more often on the album. Thomas and Barlow are listed as the tune’s producers.

The last song I’d like to highlight is The Blackout, which U2 first presented on their Facebook page at the end of August. Produced by Lee with Tedder and Kutzle, the haunting track is characterized by a stomping bass line from Adam Clayton and The Edge’s heavily distorted guitar. In September, Bono told Rolling Stone the tune “started off its life about a more personal apocalypse, some events in my life that more than reminded me of my mortality but then segued into the political dystopia that we’re heading towards now.”

Songs of Experience, which appears on Island Records,  was recorded in Dublin, New York and Los Angeles. It is available on digital and CD as Standard and Deluxe, and as a double vinyl album. The album’s cover shows Bono’s son Eli Hewson and Sian Evans, The Edge’s daughter.

U2 will support the record with a North American tour next year, the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018. Things will kick off in Tulsa, Okla. on May 2 and conclude in Newark, NJ on June 29. I saw U2 in July this year as part of their Joshua Tree Tour 2017 to commemorate the album’s 30th anniversary – an amazing show I don’t think they can beat!

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Gladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo. Countless other major artists, such as Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

Apollo Theater Historic Image

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

Aretha Franklin at Apollo Theater

The theater reopened under new management in 1978 and before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him Mr. Dynamite and The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Mary Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, the Apollo Theater continues to be a important cultural institution, attracting an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. Music remains at the core of its offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Eagles Release Hotel California 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Collection includes original remastered studio album and 10 live tracks from 1976 show

The first Eagles tune I ever heard must have been Hotel California sometime in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. In my opinion, the song and the album count among the absolute highlights of ’70s rock. Today, the band released a 40th anniversary deluxe edition of their landmark album – almost one year after the actual anniversary.

The original album appeared on December 8, 1976. Recently asked about the timing by the Los Angeles Times, Don Henley noted, “Actually, it came out in December of 1976, but nothing really hit the charts until ’77, so we’re not really that late. We’re fudging it a little bit.”

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. The same LA Times story notes the album’s first single New Kid In Town entered the Billboard Hot 100 on December 18, 1976. But it took until Feb 28, 1977 before the song peaked at no. 1. The record’s two other singles, Hotel California and Life In The Fast Lane, were released in February and May that year, respectively. Hotel California became another no. 1 hit on the chart.

Eagles 1976
The Eagles in 1976. From left to right: Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner

Since the studio versions of the original album are well-known and not new, I’m highlighting some of the live tracks, which are released for the first time. According to an official Eagles announcement, they were recorded prior to the album’s release during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. Among others, the tracks feature one of the first live performances of Hotel California and New Kid In Town.

The live collection kicks off with Take It Easy. Written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, the song was included on the band eponymous debut album, which appeared in June 1972. It was also released separately as the record’s first single in May that year.

Good Day In Hell is a great rocker written by Frey and Henley, and my kind of tune. It is from On The Border, the Eagles’ third studio album released in March 1974. Compared to their earlier more country rock-oriented music, the song has an edgier rock sound. Asked about that during a Rolling Stone interview last year, Henley explained, “Although Glenn was fascinated by the new “country rock” movement, and though he never forgot his Motown roots, his first love was rock & roll. Possibly through the influence of his friend and mentor, Bob Seger.”

Another excellent rock tune from the live set is Funk #49. Co-written by Joe Walsh, Jim Fox and Dale Peters, the track was first recorded in 1970 by James Gang, one of the bands in which Walsh played before joining the Eagles in December 1975.

As one of my favorite ’70s rock songs, of course, I must highlight the live version of Hotel California. The song was written by Don Felder, Henley and Frey. The epic guitar part at the end is played by Felder and Walsh.

The last song I’d like to call out from the live set is the excellent closer Already Gone. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, it’s another tune from the On The Border album, which also appeared as the record’s lead single in April 1974.

According to Wikipedia, Hotel California became the Eagles second best-selling album after Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), with sales of over 32 million copies worldwide, of which the U.S. accounts for half. The album was ranked at no. 37 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. The title track was ranked at no. 49 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and best of the Top 100 Guitar Solos of All Time in a January 1998 Guitar Magazine readers poll.

Listening to the live set reminds me of a great Eagles show in Atlantic City in July 2015 – the only time I saw the band. The gig was part of the History of the Eagles Tour and one of the last concerts with Frey prior to his untimely death in January 2016 at the age of 67. On Tuesday, the Eagles announced initial dates for a 2018 North American Tour. As during their most recent performances, Vince Gill and Deacon Frey will share responsibilities for singing Glenn’s parts.

The tour is set to kick off in Chicago on March 14. The last current date is Philadelphia on July 28. On some of the dates, the Eagles will play together with Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band, James Taylor & His All-Star Band and Chris Stapelton. Philly, one of the dates where the band plays with Taylor who is another artist I admire, is only a 1.5-hour drive from my house. I went there to see John Mellencamp. I’m very tempted…

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Billboard Eagles chart history, Eagles website, Rolling Stone, Guitar Magazine, You Tube