What’s in Store for 2017?

As we’re coming off one of the worst years in music in recent memories, following is an outlook for 2017.

With top notch artists like Glenn Frey, David Bowie and Prince having passed away, 2016 may well go down as one of the worst recent years in music. In my last musing for this year, I’m taking a look at some of the things that are coming up in 2017.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction

The 2017 inductees include Journey, Yes, Electric Light Orchestra and Pearl Jam, among others. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Steve Perry will show and possibly even reunite with Journey for a performance. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the band’s guitarist Neal Schon seemed to extend an invitation. Asked about Don’t Stop Believin’ as the jam when all inductees come on stage to perform together, he said, “You think so? [Laughs] I’m hoping that Steve Perry will get up and do something with us. We’ll have to see.” While Perry can no longer hit some of the high notes and Arnel Pineda does an amazing job keeping his legacy alive, an induction ceremony without Perry simply wouldn’t feel right. I just hope we won’t see a repeat of the Chicago snafu at this year’s festivities when Peter Cetera reportedly refused to perform with his former mates after the band had declined lowering the key for 25 or 6 to 4 from A to E – admittedly a significant drop, but still, what a shame!

Dylan Nobel Prize Lecture?

After not showing up in Stockholm to accept his Nobel prize in literature, is Bob Dylan going to give a lecture in 2017? Technically, it’s a requirement for the prize, but who knows what will happen. After all, who thought the great music poet would receive the prize in the first place? But, as he said it himself more than 50 years ago, The Times They Are a-Changin’.

Concert Tours

Fortunately, not only Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and The Who are living proof rockers don’t need to hope to die before they get old. There are some great concert tours from “old hands” in store for 2017 – thank goodness! Following are some I’d love to see.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will go on a 40th anniversary tour. Things will kick off on April 20 in Oklahoma City and conclude with two gigs in Forest Hills, Queens (NY) on July 26 and 27. Citing age and a desire to spend more time with his granddaughter, Petty noted this may be the band’s last “big tour”, to which guitarist Mike Campbell said Petty has made similar statements over the past 10 years. We’ll see!

Sting announced a big North American tour to support his fantastic new album 57th and 9th. Between February 1 (Vancouver, Canada) and March 14 (New York City), the schedule is packed with 24 gigs!

Roger Waters will conduct Us + Them, an extended North American tour, which will get underway in Kansas City on May 26 and end on October 28 in Vancouver, Canada. Waters, who announced his plans following his gig at Desert Trip, told Rolling Stone the show will combine Pink Floyd tunes with old and new songs from his solo career.

Eric Clapton has revealed seven dates for 2017, including two in New York, two in LA and three at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He repeatedly has raised retirement, except he has done so for the past 50 years. But things may be changing. During an interview with Rolling Stone in May, Clapton mentioned back issues and a “tricky” neurological problem that impacts his hands.

New Music

When I looked at Billboard’s 40 most anticipated albums for 2017, it was quite revealing that in most cases I either had not heard of the artists or, if I had, generally don’t listen to their music. Strangely and perhaps tellingly, the following were missing altogether:

Bruce Springsteen: While admittedly there isn’t much information out there, the Boss told Rolling Stone in September he had finished a new album, which he hoped to release in 2017. He explained, “It’s a solo record, more of a singer-songwriter kind of record.”

Deep Purple: Titled inFinite, this will be the band’s 20th studio album. Granted, the days of Smoke On the Water and Highway Star may be over, but it’s still amazing these guys keep rocking. Here’s a clip of one of the tunes from the new album, Time For Bedlam, which was released on YouTube a couple of weeks ago.

U2: According to NME, Bono told Spanish fan page U2 en España back in August that the band will release a new album expected to be titled Songs of Experience and tour in 2017. It would be U2’s 14th studio album.

Chuck Berry: What would rock & roll have been without this guitar pioneer? Berry who turned 90 in October celebrated his birthday by announcing Chuck, his first new album in 38 years. According to a press release on Berry’s web site, the album mostly includes new, original songs and is dedicated to Thelmetta Berry, his wife of 68 years – just amazing!

Happy New Year to all artists who keep rock & roll alive and folks who happen to come across this post!

 

Celebrating Music Giants Lost in 2016

Following are my favorite memories of five exceptional music personalities we lost in 2016.

Other than briefly acknowledging some of the big music personalities who passed away in this year, I had not planned to further cover this rather sad subject. Yesterday’s news about the untimely death of George Michael at age 53 made me change my mind. But instead of writing a traditional obituary type of post, I’d like to celebrate each personality’s life by recalling my favorite memories of them.

Glenn Frey

The Eagles are among my all-time favorite 70s rock band. Not only was Glenn Frey one of the founding members, but he also wrote, co-wrote and sang lead on many of their tunes. One such gem is Already Gone, the opener to the Eagles’ 1974 album On the Border. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, this rocker features Frey on lead vocals and sharing lead guitar responsibilities with Don Felder. I had the great fortune to see the Eagles as part of their History tour in Atlantic City in July 2015, six months prior to Frey’s death. Here is a nice clip of Already Gone from a Sep 2014 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which brings back memories of that unforgettable show in Atlantic City.

Prince

While I immediately liked Purple Rain when I listened to it for the first time, other Prince songs were more of an acquired taste. But one thing that impressed me from the very beginning about Prince is that he was a multi-instrumentalist. In fact, I read he played almost all instruments on his first five studio albums, including an incredible 27 instruments on his debut! Undoubtedly, his signature instrument was the guitar, and nothing illustrates his mastery better than the killer solo he played on While My Guitar Gently Weeps during his 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is a clip of this unbelievable performance, together with a pretty cool band that includes Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dhani Harrison, among others.

David Bowie

The first David Bowie song I ever heard on the radio was Space Oddity, and it continues to be one of my favorite songs. The tune is the opener of his 1969 album David Bowie, which was his second studio album. I always thought one of the song’s cool features is how Bowie is harmonizing with himself. Another aspect that immediately attracted me is the acoustic guitar part – I guess in part because I was learning to play the guitar myself at the time. Here is a clip of the song’s official video from 1972.

Maurice White

The founder of Earth, Wind & Fire was instrumental for the band’s success, especially between 1970 and his official retirement in 1994 due to Parkinson’s disease. He was the band’s main song writer and producer, and sang co-lead with Philip Bailey. In addition to their amazing voices, the thing I’ve always loved about Earth, Wind & Fire is that their music makes you want to dance. The band has recorded so many great songs, but if I would have to name one in particular, it would be September. Co-written by White, Al McKay and Allee Willis and produced by White, the tune was initially released as a single in Sep 1978. It was also included on the band’s The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which appeared in Nov that year. Here is an audio clip.

George Martin

While he was not a performing artist, what would The Beatles have been without their great producer, Sir George Henry Martin?  There is a reason why he was called the “Fifth Beatle,” including by Paul McCartney. Martin had extensive involvement in all of The Beatles 12 original albums. His musical expertise proved particularly valuable for orchestral arrangements on the band’s later albums. In addition to The Beatles, Martin produced recordings for many other artists, such as America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, Elton John and Little River Band. In my opinion, one of his greatest accomplishments with The Beatles was the stings arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. Here is a clip of this gem from the 1969 album Yellow Submarine.

 

Christmas Rocks: Ho-Ho-Ho!

Following is a list of clips of some my favorite Christmas rock & pop songs. Hope you enjoy and Merry Christmas!

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while I was growing up in Germany was to listen to my favorite radio station. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners. Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were pretty popular. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas.

Sure, Christmas is big business, including in music, so one could be forgiven to be a bit cynical about music artists sand record companies all for a sudden discovering Jesus and Santa. While I fully recognize that, I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades!

Below are clips of some of my favorite such tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas, to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run, to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis, to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas, to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall, to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, Christmas rock and pop tunes come in all styles:

Happy Xmas (War is Over) (John Lennon)

Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry)

Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)

Christmas in Hollis (Run-D.M.C.)

Mistress For Christmas (AC/DC)

Feliz Navidad (José Feliciano)

Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto (James Brown)

Wonderful Christmas Time (Paul McCartney)

(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (The Ravers)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, Tracy Chapman, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, John Popper, Run-D.M.C. & Vanessa Williams)

My Top Five Albums for 2016

Following are my five new favorite albums released this year in no particular order.

To a fan of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, most of today’s music isn’t exactly a huge turn on, so bless the “old hands” for keeping the show going with new music! Plus, every now and then, I also get excited by newer artists. Following are my five favorite new albums of 2016:

Blue & Lonesome (The Rolling Stones)

For a band like The Rolling Stones, which started out mostly playing blues covers, it’s actually quite remarkable that it took them more than 50 years to make an album like Blue & Lonesome. This collection of 12 vintage blues covers is the best music the Stones have released in many years. While the band knows these tunes in and out and reportedly has played them many times during warm-ups, it all sounds incredibly fresh. If I would have to name my most favorite release of the year, it would probably by this one. For more on this fantastic album, see my previous post.

57th & 9th (Sting)

After taking a 13-year break from pop music, Sting roared back with a new album. To me, 57th & 9th sounds like it’s 1991 all over again, when the ex-Police frontman released The Soul Cages.  Of the ten tracks, I think my favorites are the three tunes that have been released as singles so far: The catchy I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, the thoughtful 50,000 and the rocker Petrol Head. Sting is going to support the album with a big tour in 2017, which is planned to kick off Feb 1 in Vancouver, Canada; include more than 20 dates in the U.S., and finish in Colmar, France on Jul 31. This is a show I’d love to see! For more on the album, see my previous post.

Broken People (Muddy Magnolias)

Muddy Magnolias are “my new discovery” for 2016 I’m most excited about. This dynamo band was founded in 2014 by Jessy Wilson, an African American singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, New York; and Kallie North, a white pianist from Beaumont, TX. According to their web site, Wilson’s influences include Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G., while North grew up listening to artists like The Carpenters, Alison Krauss, James Taylor and the Eagles. Putting these two ladies together not only resulted in one of the coolest band names, but also in a remarkable debut album. Broken People is an amazing mix of different music styles that cannot be put in a single category – blues, country, folk, rock, R&D, soul…it’s all in there! When I listened to the opener for the first time, the title song, I immediately got goose bumps and went on listening to the entire album. The ten remaining tunes are outstanding as well.

Dig In Deep (Bonnie Raitt)

You just cannot go wrong with Bonnie Raitt. This lady is the real deal – you get what you see! Plus, her slide guitar playing continues to amaze me. See this post about a show at NJPAC in Newark I saw back in August. Dig In Deep, Raitt’s 17th studio album, shines right from the get-go. The groove of the opener, Unintended Consequence of Love, reminds me a little bit of Love Letter, one of my favorite Raitt tunes from 1989’s Nick of Time. Need You Tonight is a pretty cool remake of the INXS Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single from 1987. Other stand-outs are Gypsy In Me and The Ones We Couldn’t Be, a beautiful piano ballad written by Raitt.

Santana IV (Santana)

When I listened to Anywhere You Want to Go for the first time on the radio, I really thought for a moment, ‘wow, that’s a cool early Santana song,’ wondering why I hadn’t heard it before. At the time, I had no idea that Carlos Santana had reunited with most of the original Santana band from the late 1960s/early 1970s and released a new album. Santana IV picks up right where Santana III left off 45 years ago, presenting an electrifying fusion of Afro-Cuban grooves, rock and jazz that made the band famous. In addition to the catchy Anywhere You Want to Go, another gem is Blues Magic – Gregg Rolie’s vocals and Hammond B3 organ, together’s with Carlos’s guitar truly make for a magical experience. Freedom in Your Mind, with Ronald Isley of the legendary Isley Brothers on lead vocals and its cool groove, is another standout. Fillmore East is reminiscent of the instrumentals that were also common for the classic Santana band. I had a chance to see the Santana IV line-up together with Journey in Allentown, Pa. in April, an amazing show that predates the start of the blog – hence no separate post with a review!

The Stones and The Boss Ruled Rock in 2016: A Look Back

It’s been an eventful year in rock music – from great new albums to fantastic concerts to the sad deaths of iconic artists. Once again, it was mainly the “old guard” that kept the show going, and nobody did so more than Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones.

As 2016 is drawing to its close, I’d like to take a look back through my own personal lens at some of the key events in rock music that touched me this year.

To people who know me or have glanced at the blog before it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that my thoughts mostly focus on artists who became big in the 60s, 70s and 80s. While I want to be careful not to dismiss the music that currently dominates the charts and acknowledge that some its artists are very talented, it simply doesn’t excite me much.

The Stones

When I think of rock in 2016, the first thing that comes to mind are The Rolling Stones. Between their historic concert in Cuba; the cool film documentary Olé Olé Olé! about their 2016 Latin American tour that ended with their gig in Havana; the Exhibitionism exhibit I still have to visit; and their fantastic new album of vintage blues covers Blue & Lonesome, the Stones have been everywhere. That’s not bad for any artist, and even more remarkable for septuagenarians – okay, Ronnie Wood who is 69, but it’s close enough!

While during interviews in the documentary traces of age and previous drug use are evident, especially for Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, somehow it all magically changes as soon as these guys start playing music. In one of the movie’s coolest scenes, Mick Jagger and Richards give an impromptu performance of Honky Tonk Women, with Richards doing a great job on acoustic guitar. I also find it incredible how fresh and spontaneous the Stones sound on their new album after 50-plus years! For more on the album, read here. The Stones may be aging and, yes, it’s only rock & roll, but I like it – sure as heck!

The Boss

Another rock icon who got a lot of well-deserved attention this year is Bruce Springsteen. Much of his omnipresence was powered by the box set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, released in Dec 2015; The River Tour 2016; and his autobiography Born to Run. I feel The Boss, who at age 67 is not exactly a youngster either, pretty much is in a league of his own. I had the pleasure to see Springsteen with The E Street Band at MetLife at the end of August. Four hours of high-energy, non-stop rock & roll made for an unbelievable experience! You can read more about that show here.

Other Great Concerts

First and foremost, there was of course Desert Trip in October, probably a once-in-lifetime rock festival in Indio, Calif., though I read there is already some talk about Desert Trip 2. Dubbed “Coachella for old people” by Jagger, the event over two weekends brought together The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. While with the exception of Young I’ve seen all of these artists on other occasions, boy, do I wish I could have been there – perhaps the event should have been called “Coachella for old and rich people!”

Anyway, I also invested a good deal of money in concert tickets and saw some excellent shows this year. Apart from Springsteen, the highlights include Santana & Journey (April), BAP (June), Paul McCartney (July), Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck (July) and Bonnie Raitt (August). For more on the last four of these concerts, read here, here, here and here, respectively. The fantastic Santana & Journey show predated the start of the blog.

New Music

In addition to the Stones, my favorite albums for this year include new releases from three other “old hands” – Bonnie Raitt (Dig In Deep), Santana (Santana IV) and Sting (57th & 9th) – and a relative newcomer: Muddy Magnolias (Broken People), a rock band from Nashville around singer-songwriters Jessy Wilson and Kallie North. Other new music I’d like to acknowledge includes Elton John (Wonderful Crazy Night), 3 Doors Down (Us And the Night), Car Seat Headrest (Teens of Denial), Eric Clapton (I Still Do), Van Morrison (Keep Me Singing), Green Day (Revolution Radio), Melissa Etheridge (Memphis Rock & Roll), The Pretenders (Alone), Bon Jovi (This House Is Not For Sale) and Neil Young (Peace Trail). I’m planning to write a separate post on my Top Five releases in 2016. Look for it over the next week or two.

Icons we lost

Sadly, 2016 was a tough year in music, serving as a reminder that rock & roll is a brutal business. The pressure to make music that sells, the physical demands of touring, and in many cases past or present drug use are taking their toll, especially on artists who are north of their fifties.

Some of the great personalities in music we lost this year include David Bowie (Jan 10; 69), Glenn Frey (Jan 19; 67, founding member of The Eagles), Maurice White (Feb 3; 74; founder of Earth, Wind & Fire), George Martin (Mar 8; 90; producer of The Beatles), Keith Emerson (Mar 10; 71; keyboarder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Prince (Apr 21; 57), Leonard Cohen (Nov 7; 82) and Leon Russell (Nov 13; 74). This is by no means a complete list.

What else?

The one other event that stood out for me this year is Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in October. While I won’t get into whether or not he deserved it, one thing is for sure: the Swedish academy’s selection has redefined the boundaries of literature.

Even more remarkable has been the aftermath of the academy’s announcement. Dylan being Dylan, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. At first, he chose to ignore the award for weeks; then he acknowledged it halfheartedly, at least initially; then he said he might attend the award ceremony, if possible; only to ultimately inform the academy he could not be there due to “pre-existing commitments.” Instead, Patti Smith accepted the award on his behalf, and Dylan wrote a speech that was read to attendees of the banquet by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. Adding to the spectacle, Smith performed A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall as a tribute, and two minutes into the song suddenly stopped, apparently overcome by nerves, asking the orchestra to start again.

Technically, to fulfill the requirements of the award, Dylan is supposed to give a lecture within the next six months or so. Stay tuned for the final chapter.

Blue Öyster Cult & Jefferson Starship Rock New Brunswick

Seeing Blue Öyster Cult and Jefferson Starship at the State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick last Thursday (Dec 8) was spontaneous, last-minute decision.

Let’s face it – there are many more rock concerts than one could possibly attend, plus tickets for most shows aren’t exactly pocket change. Therefore, I usually plan well ahead of time which acts I want to see. For Blue Öyster Cult and Jefferson Starship it was very different – an ad on Facebook I saw two days prior to the show gave me the initial idea, and when I noticed the ticket prices were reasonable, it was a done deal.

I had a fairly good idea about Blue Öyster Cult but wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Jefferson Starship. When I checked their line-up, I noticed only David Freiberg was a member of Jefferson Airplane when he replaced Marty Balin in 1972 on vocals during the band’s final concert tour until its brief reunion in 1989. Another original member of Airplane, Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals) passed away in January this year. But, to say it upfront, Jefferson Starship and Blue Öyster Cult did not disappoint.

Jefferson Starship, which was formed Balin, Freiberg and a few other Airplane members in 1974, nicely mixed their 10-song set with Airplane covers and own songs. They also threw in We Built This City, the 1985 No. 1 hit from Starship, yet another Jefferson Airplane offspring. In addition to that song, highlights included Airplane’s biggest hits Somebody to Love and White Rabbit.

At age 78, I thought Freiberg’s vocals were outstanding, as were lead singer Cathy Richardson’s. In fact, I read on Jefferson Starship’s website that Airplane’s original lead singer Grace Slick invited Richardson to sing in her place when Airplane received their Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys this year. An excellent clip of Somebody to Love from that performance is here. Jefferson Starship’s current members also include Donny Baldwin (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Chris Smith (keyboards, synthesizers, bass) and Jude Gold (lead guitar).

Blue Öyster Cult’s 14-song set list mostly focused on the band’s first six studio albums released between 1972 and 1979. Lead guitarist Buck Dharma (Donald Roeser), the only remaining founding member, also played an extended guitar solo.

The set’s best moments were Cities on Flame with Rock & Roll, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Godzilla and Burnin’ for You, which together with Harvest Moon was the only song from the band’s post 1970s song catalogue. While the song list included three tunes from Tyranny and Mutation, my favorite from that album, 7 Screaming Diz-Busters, was “missing.” They also did not play Dr. Music, my favorite from the Mirrors album and instead chose The Vigil. But overall, it was a great set that was probably also shorter than usual, given Blue Öyster Cult shared the stage with another act.

Blue Öyster Cult was established in 1967. In addition to Dharma, the band’s current line-up includes Eric Bloom (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), who has been with Blue Öyster Cult since 1969 and on all of their albums; Richie Castellano (keyboards, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jules Radino (drums, percussion) and Kasim Sulton (bass, backing vocals).

Here is a nice clip of Don’t Fear the Reaper from a Blue Öyster Cult concert in London earlier this year.

 

 

 

Rolling Stones Come Full Circle With New Blues Album

“Blue & Lonesome” feels like the Stones took a journey back to the early 1960s and made their best album in more than 20 years.

Yesterday (Dec 2, 2016), The Rolling Stones released their long anticipated blues album, Blue & Lonesome. After having listened to it for a few times, I would say it’s their best music since 1989’s Steel Wheels.

Blue & Lonesome is the band’s first studio album since 2005 when they released A Bigger Bang, and their 23rd British and 25th American studio release overall. It is also their first full-length record that includes covers only. While the Stones started out playing mostly blues covers, even their early albums had at least one song credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Produced by long-time Stones’ producer Don Was, the collection of 12 vintage blues songs was recorded in a London studio in just three days. According to a recent feature in Rolling Stone, the Stones initially went into the studio to work on an album of original songs that is still in its early stages. To warm up they did what they oftentimes do – play blues songs they have loved for many years. Since they knew the tunes so well, they played them (mostly) live and didn’t need to run through many takes. This gives the album a fresh and spontaneous feel.

To me one of the highlights is Jagger’s blues harp playing. I have to say I wasn’t aware how talented he is. Keith Richards and Ronny Wood also provide great guitar work, while drummer Charlie Watts and Darryl Jones,  who after playing bass for more than 20 years still is not an official member of the band, effectively drive the rhythm. And then there is Eric Clapton, who happened to work on an album at the same study while the Stones were doing their sessions. They invited him to play slide guitar on two songs: Everybody Knows My Good Thing, a tune by Miles Grayson and Lermon Horton, and Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby.

Other contributing musicians include Matt Clifford (keyboards);  Chuck Leavell (keyboards), who was a member of The Allman Brothers Band in the 70s and has frequently recorded and toured with the Stones since 1981; and long-time session drummer Jim Keltner who worked with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Hiatt and Ry Cooder, among others, and plays percussion on Hoo Doo Blues (Otis Hicks & Jerry West).

I think what Richards said about Jagger’s harmonica playing and the album overall in the above mentioned Rolling Stone feature sums it up perfectly. “This is the best record Mick Jagger has ever made…It was just watching the guy enjoying what he really can do better than anybody else. And also, the band ain’t too shabby.”