Clips & Pix: George Harrison & Friends/ While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Concert for Bangladesh was the first music event of such magnitude to raise money for a cause

Great clip from the historic concert held in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st, 1971, mainly featuring George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Ringo Starr (drums), Jesse Ed Davids (guitar), Klaus Voormann (bass) and I believe Leon Russell (piano) can also briefly be seen. Billy Preston cannot be spotted, but his roaring Hammond can clearly be heard!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Holly/Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly is the second studio album of a young artist who during a short career created an incredible legacy

While working on my previous post about the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, I learned that Buddy Holly was one of the model’s early adopters and in fact became its first “hero” in the U.S. His 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with his band The Crickets helped popularize the Strat. This gave me the idea to revisit the music of Holly, an artist I’ve liked from the very first moment I listened to Peggy Sue on the radio, which is longer ago than I want to remember!

Released in February 1958, technically, Buddy Holly, was Holly’s first solo album. For contractual reasons, his previous record, The “Chirping” Crickets, was credited to The Crickets, but the same band played on both releases. The then 21-year-old artist from Lubbock, Texas, who was a prolific writer, wrote or co-wrote six of the 12 tracks – similar to the predecessor, for which he co-wrote five of 12 songs.

The album kicks off with I’m Gonna Love You Too, a nice rockabilly tune. Officially, the song is credited to Crickets bassist and rhythm guitarist Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, respectively, as well as Norman Petty, who produced the album. But Crickets drummer Jerry Allison later went on record saying it was actually Holly who primarily wrote the song.

Next up is Peggy Sue, which in my opinion is one of the greatest rock & roll tunes of all time. Credited to Holly, Allison and Petty, it was initially released as a single in July 1957. Amazingly, Peggy Sue “only” peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Top 100. Here’s a clip from the above mentioned 1957 performance on Ed Sullivan.

Everyday is another classic appearing on the album. The song was written by Holly and Petty, and initially released as the B-side to the Peggy Sue single. The tune has two unusual features. The percussion was created by drummer Allison slapping his knees. There is also a celesta played by Petty, a keyboard instrument that creates a sound similar to a glockenspiel.

As a huge fan of The Beatles, I have to call out Words Of Love, which the Fab Four covered in 1964 on their fourth UK studio album Beatles For Sales. It is the only song on Buddy Holly that is solely credited to Holly. What stands out in this tune are the beautiful guitar lines. Seemingly effortlessly, Holly blended playing chords and picking-style. It reminds me a bit of The Byrds. He also harmonized with himself by combining tape recordings of each vocal part.

Another tune I’d like to highlight is Rave On, which became the album’s fourth and final single in April 1958. The song was written by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Petty. West recorded and released it first, but it was Holly’s version that ended up becoming a hit – one of six Holly tunes that entered the charts in 1958. Here’s a great clip – don’t know from which show.

While unlike its predecessor at no. 420, Buddy Holly is not included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, four of its tracks are in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: That’ll Be the Day (No. 39), Rave On (No. 155), Peggy Sue (No. 197) and Everyday (No. 238). Altogether, five Holly tunes are on the list – the fifth being Not Fade Away (No. 108), a co-write with Petty included on The “Chirping” Crickets. And, yep, that’s the Not Fade Away The Rolling Stones recorded seven years later and issued as their first U.S. single.

Sadly, Buddy Holly was Holly’s final studio album that appeared during his life time. Not even a year later, his life was cut short at age 22 while touring the Midwest together with fellow rock & roll artists Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). To get to their next gig, Holly chartered a small plane, which crashed during bad weather in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, only minutes after takeoff from Mason City, Iowa.

Buddy Holly Plane Wreck
Photo of the plane wreck near Clear Lake, Iowa, taken by the Civil Aeronautics Board (precursor to the National Transportation Safety Board) the morning after the crash in the course of their investigation

On board and also killed were Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Valens had tossed a coin for a seat on the doomed plane with rockabilly singer Tommy Allsup, who was the guitarist of Holly’s band during the tour. Holly had parted ways with Petty and The Crickets in December 1958. Allsup passed away in January this year at the age of 85.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass that Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied on flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady on German TV music broadcast Rockpalast.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 4

This is a re-post from last year with some amendments.

The Fourth of July is associated with many festivities, such as barbecues, picnics, festivals, carnivals and of course fireworks. America’s Independence Day has also seen some music milestones throughout rock history. Following are some of them.

1964: I Get Around by The Beach Boys hits no. 1 on the U.S. singles charts. The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love and released in May 1964, together with Don’t Worry Baby as its B-side. It became the band’s first no. 1 song in the U.S. and stayed in the top spot for two weeks. I Get Around was also the opener of the Beach Boy’s album All Summer Long, which was released in July of 1964 as well. While the Beach Boys were a hit machine, notably, I Get Around was one of only four singles that made it to the top of the U.S. charts. The others were Help Me, Rhonda (1965), Kokomo (1988) and my personal favorite, Good Vibrations (1966).

1969: The Atlanta International Pop Festival kicks off. Held at the Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Ga. from July 4-6, the festival featured more than 20 performances. Some of the acts included Blood, Sweat & TearsChicago Transit Authority (which later would become Chicago), Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Winter and Santana. About five weeks later, many of these bands and artists met again in New York’s Catskill Mountains to perform at Woodstock.

First Atlanta International Pop Festival 1969

1974: Steely Dan play in Santa Monica, Calif. what would be their last live performance until 1993. Instead, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan decided to focus on their recording work. In February of that year, they had released Pretzel Logic, their third studio and gold-certified album, which was also certified platinum in September 1993. It includes one of my favorite Steely Dan tunes, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The band’s next album, Katy Lied, was released in March 1975 and also went gold.

1986: Farm Aid II takes place in Manor, Texas. The second in the series of benefit concerts featured more than 30 music acts, including The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Willie NelsonTom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Walsh and Neil Young, among others. Farm Aid was founded by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young in 1985, with the inaugural show being held on September 22 that year in Champaign, IL. To date, 30 Farm Aid concerts have been held. Farm Aid 2017 is scheduled for September 16 in Burgettstown, Pa. In addition to the three founders, the line-up includes Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, The Avett Brothers and Sheryl Crow, among others. For more information, visit https://www.farmaid.org/concert/

2003: Barry White, one of the greatest R&B, funk and disco singers with a one of a kind voice, passed away at the age of 58. During his 40-year career, Barry scored 20 gold and ten platinum singles. Some of his most memorable tunes include You’re the First, the Last, My Everything (1974), Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe (1974) and What Am I Gonna Do With You (1975).

Hope your Fourth of July rocks – most of all be safe!

Fourth of July Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music, Farm Aid website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening to: Rory Gallagher/Blueprint

This 1973 gem started the period that brought the Irish blues rocker his biggest successes

While I enjoy exploring different types of music on the blog, somehow the journey always seems to lead back to the blues and great guitarists who contributed to the genre. Undoubtedly, one of the finest craftsmen in this context is Rory Gallagher, though I’m not sure the Irish blues rocker has always gotten the recognition he deserves.

Blueprint was Gallagher’s fourth studio album, which was released in February 1973. It was the first of five records with then-new drummer Rod de’Ath and the addition of a keyboarder, Lou Martin. Rounding out the four-piece was bassist Gerry McAvoy with whom Gallagher had played since 1970, following the breakup of Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio Gallagher had founded in 1966.

All you need to hear are the opening bars of the album’s first song Walk On Hot Coals, and you know you’re listening to one hell of a guitarist. Here is a cool clip of a live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. And, by the way, Gallagher could sing as well!

Next up is Daughter of the Everglades, which takes things down a notch. It features Gallagher on both acoustic and electric guitar. The man was a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to guitar, Gallagher also played the mandolin, harmonica and occasionally the saxophone. And, by the way this virtuoso was entirely self-taught!

Banker’s Blues is a great acoustic blues written by American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. According to SecondHandSongs, Broonzy originally recorded and released the tune in 1931. Apart from the great music, you just gotta love the lyrics: “If you got money in the bank/Don’t let your woman draw it out/Cause she’ll take all your money…and/Then she’ll kick you out.” Here’s a great clip of Gallagher performing the tune live on Rockpalast, all by himself with just an acoustic guitar – that’s all you need!

Another tune I’d like to call out is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the longest track on the album. It’s an 8-minute-and-26-second blues rock tour de force with a great riff. I also love Martin’s keyboard work.

From Blueprint Gallagher went on to release eight additional studio records and two live albums. After collapsing during a show in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in January 1995, Gallagher was hospitalized in London with liver failure. Following what initially looked like a successful liver transplant, he got a bacterial infection and passed away on June 14, 1995. He was only 47 years old.

Gallagher may be long gone but his impressive legacy continues to live on. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 57 on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Being included in the same list with other guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Duane Allman, just to name a few, speaks for itself. And while the ranking perhaps matters less than being in the list, I’m still a bit surprised Gallagher didn’t come in at a higher spot. For example, I don’t quite get how John Lennon was ranked ahead of Gallagher at no. 55. And I’m saying this as a huge fan of Lennon who undoubtedly was one of the greatest songwriters. But frankly to rank him as one of the greatest guitarists is a bit of a stretch to me.

Rory Gallagher
Gallagher with his signature beaten up sunburst 1961 Fender Stratocaster

During a 1973 interview with Beetle Magazine, which is reprinted on his offical website, Gallagher commented on what Rolling Stone in the above ranking called his non-stop touring ethic: “I’d like to work six nights a week, basically because this is not just a job with me, it’s my entire life. I enjoy what I do and I like to think that others do, too. It’s really inhuman the way some bands will retreat to the countryside for years on end and leave their audiences with nothing but their latest albums.”

Sources: Wikipedia, SecondHandSongs, Rolling Stone, Rory Gallagher website, Beetle Magazine, YouTube

The Venues: Rockpalast/Rockpalast Nacht

The 6-hour German TV live program featured top music artists between 1977 and 1986

Rockpalast is a live music program broadcast on the German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). It became particularly known for Rockpalast Nacht, a six-hour live late-night show featuring concerts from top international artists.

The inaugural Rockpalast Nacht aired on July 23 and 24, 1977. The line-up included Rory Gallagher, Little Feat and Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd. Fifteen additional shows followed until the 17th and final Rockpalast Nacht on March 15 and 16, 1986. That show featured Big Country, Jackson Browne and the German rock band BAP.

The concert events were conducted at Grugahalle, a well known concert hall in the German town of Essen, and broadcast throughout Europe. The TV show was simulcast on various radio stations, so viewers could mute their TV sets and instead use their home stereos to listen to the sound for better quality.

Rockpalast Nacht mostly featured three or four rock bands. Typically, it mixed relatively unknown artists with top international acts, such as Peter Gabriel, The Police or The Who. The program helped put various music artists on the map in Europe, such as ZZ Top and Bryan Adams. Rockpalast Night gained cult status and is considered a unique program in German and European television history.

Following are clips from throughout the program’s 10-year history.

Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd/Turn! Turn! Turn!, Mr. Tambourine Man & Eight Miles High (1st Rockpalast Nacht, July 23-24, 1977)

Peter Gabriel/Solsbury Hill (3rd Rockpalast Nacht, June 15-16, 1978)

ZZ Top/Dust My Broom (6th Rockpalast Nacht, April 19-20, 1980)

The Police/Message In a Bottle (7th Rockpalast Nacht, October 18-19, 1980)

The Who/Baba O’Riley (8th Rockpalast Nacht, March 28-29, 1981)

The Kinks/Add It Up (10th Rockpalast Nacht, April 3-4, 1982)

Joe Jackson/I’m the Man (12th Rockpalast Nacht, April 16-17, 1983)

Cheap Trick/Surrender (13th Rockpalast Nacht, October 15-16, 1983)

Wolf Maahn & Die Deserteure/Der Clown Hat Den Blues (15th Rockpalast Nacht, March 30-31, 1985)

BAP/Verdamp Lang Her (17th Rockpalast Nacht, March 15-16, 1986)

With the 17th Rockpalast Nacht, the program stopped in 1986. Rockpalast resumed production in 1995 and continues to air to this day, though Rockpalast Nacht remains history.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rockpalast website/Archive, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Lumineers/Cleopatra

The folk-rock trio’s sophomore album proves staying power in the wake of gaining overnight fame

Until a few days ago, Ho Hey was the only song I had ever heard from The Lumineers. The catchy tune was the lead single from their eponymous 2012 debut album, which brought them overnight fame and two Grammy nominations. On Thursday night, they played their 13th and last gig opening for U2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the Irish rock band’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour 2017. I liked what I heard, so I decided to take a closer look at this Americana trio from Denver.

The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), who have been writing music and playing together since 2005. Cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek joined them in 2010. During live performances the trio is supported by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Byron Isaacs (bass). Cleopatra is the band’s most recent studio album, which was released in April 2016.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059
The Lumineers (from left): Neyla Pekarek, Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz.

According to band’s website,  the record “is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock.” The band had tried to write new music while being on the road, but realized touring almost 300 days a year since 2013 made that impossible. “It was such overkill for what we needed.” Schultz told Rolling Stone last April. “What we quickly realized is it would be just as useful to have our iPhones with the voice memo on it.”

Apparently, The Lumineers had become wary about the wide popularity their debut album had brought them and wanted to prove they have staying power while remaining true to themselves. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally,” says Schultz on the band’s website. “Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”

The album opens with Sleep On the Floor, written by Schultz and Fraites who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s additional 10 tunes. The song has a nice dynamic, starting off with Schultz’s vocals and guitar and Fraites’ sparingly played drums, picking up in the middle, and slowing down again toward the end. It became the album’s fourth single in November 2016.

Next up is Ophelia, which was the record’s lead single released in February 2016. With “Oh, Ophelia” in its chorus, it is a bit reminiscent of Ho Hey. While the song received mixed reception from critics, the public evidently liked it. The tune reached the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s 2016 year-end charts for alternative songs and rock airplay songs.

The album’s title track was co-written with Simone Felice, formerly a member of the Felice Brothers, a folk-rock band that has inspired The Lumineers. He also produced Cleopatra. The tune became the record’s second single in March 2016.

Another track I’d like to call out is Angela, which is also a co-write with Felice, and the album’s third single released in April 2016. Together with Sleep On the Floor, it’s my favorite tune on the record. Here is a nice clip of a live performance.

Cleopatra is a convincing sophomore album from a band that after years of making music in obscurity quickly rose to stardom and had to prove they are more than a one-time phenomenon. Even in the absence of another anthem like Ho Hey, the record was generally well received by critics and performed strongly in the charts. In the U.S., the album reached the top of the Billboard 200, even outperforming its predecessor that peaked at no. 2. It also hit no. 1 on the UK Official Charts and the Canadian Albums Chart.

As for his reaction when U2 invited The Lumineers to open for them, Schultz told Rolling Stone last month, “We said yes quickly, and I think the reason was because we had said no to at least two bands that are all-time amazing bands, and at the time we were like, ‘We’d rather play to 200 people than 20,000 or 40,000, because those [200] people will be listening to us.’ At the time, that was our mantra, that made sense. But I look back and I would have loved to be around those bands and seen … there’s something about being around that energy, and I think that authenticity, that’s really a privilege to be around.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Lumineers website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The Old Whiste Test Logo

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)

U2/In God’s County (1987)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 1

It’s hard to believe today is July 1st and here we are in the thicket of summer – a good occasion to pause and take a look back at what happened on that day in rock & roll history.

1956: Elvis Presley appeared on NBC’s Steven Allen Show to perform Hound Dog, one of the countless great classic rock & roll tunes written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Initially recorded by Willie Mea “Big Mama” Thornton and released in 1953, Presley came out with his version in 1956, turning it into his best-selling song. But what’s memorable about his above show appearance isn’t the tune but the fact that he sang it to a visibly excited dog. While no animals were harmed during the infamous performance, Elvis’ appearance drew mixed reactions. I recall reading somewhere that he himself thought the whole thing was pretty stupid – I couldn’t agree more! Well, I suppose the good ole’ days weren’t always as good after all, whether in TV or elsewhere!

1963: Of course, no look-back on rock history would be complete without The Beatles! On that day in 1963, John, Paul, George and Ringo were at Abbey Road’s studio 2 to record She Loves You and I’ll Get You, the two sides of their fourth UK single. As usually credited to Lennon-McCartney, She Loves You went on to become their best-selling single and is ranked no. 64 on Rolling Stone’s April 2011 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. According to The Beatles Bible, producer Sir George Martin recalled:

“I was sitting in my usual place on a high stool in studio two when John and Paul first ran through the song on their acoustic guitars, George joining in on the choruses. I thought it was great but was intrigued by the final chord, an odd sort of major sixth, with George doing the sixth and John and Paul the third and fifths, like a Glenn Miller arrangement. They were saying, ‘It’s a great chord! Nobody’s ever heard it before!’ Of course I knew that wasn’t quite true!”

The Beatles_She Loves You_Single

1968: The Band released their debut studio record Music From Big Pink. The album’s recording followed The Band’s backing of Bob Dylan on his 1966 tour as The Hawks. The album’s cover artwork is a painting by the maestro himself. Among others, the record includes The Weight, a gem written by Robbie Robertson, and Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. While the record didn’t sell well, initial reception from the music critics was positive, which doesn’t necessarily say much; oftentimes, I feel these guys don’t get it right, but they did in this case! The album is ranked no. 34 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time from 2012.

The Band_Music From Big Pink

1975: 10cc hit no. on the UK Singles Chart with I’m Not in Love, which is perhaps one of the most epic 70s ballads. Written by band members Eric Stewart (local vocals, electric piana) and Graham Gouldman (electic guitar, bass, backing vocals), the tune was the second single from the band’s third studio record The Original Soundtrack. It was the second of the band’s three no. 1 UK singles and their international breakthrough hit. I still do vaguely recall hearing it on the radio in Germany all the time, where it peaked at no. 8 on the charts. In the U.S., it climbed all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music, The Beatles Bible, Rolling Stone, YouTube

U2 Rocks MetLife With Epic Performance

After 30 years The Joshua Tree sounds as fresh as ever

While I have listened to U2 for more than 30 years and heard more than once how terrific their live performances are, I had not been to one of their shows. The Joshua Tree is my favorite U2 album, so when I read about the band’s summer tour to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, I knew the time had come to finally see them. So I did Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. And what an amazing show it was!

Things kicked off with The Lumineers. I know next to nothing about this folk rock band hailing from Denver, but I definitely liked what I heard. I only recognized one song, Ho Hey, which became a hit for the band in 2012 and was the lead single from their eponymous album released the same year. Their set included 11 other songs – some additional tunes from their debut album and some tracks from the 2016 follow-up, Cleopatra.

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Lead vocalist and guitarist Wesley Schultz, who together with Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) writes most of the band’s songs, has a great voice. Cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek rounds out The Lumineers, adding an interesting flavor to the band’s sound. I am planning to check them out more closely.

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

After about an hour and a half into the evening, U2 finally took the stage. With Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s DayBono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton made it clear from the get-go they mean business. Both tunes are from War, their third studio album from 1983, and are among my favorite early U2 songs. Next came two tracks from the 1984 follow-up The Unforgettable Fire: Bad and the epic Pride (In the Name of Love). 

And then it was time for The Joshua Tree album, U2’s fifth studio album from 1987. They played all of its tracks and in the same order. This is a truly great record. In addition to its three big hits Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You, the album has numerous other gems. These include Bullet the Blue the Sky, Running to Stand Still, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill and especially Red Mill Mining Town. By the time you’ve listened to the aforementioned songs, you’ve listened to almost the entire album!

After performing all 15 tracks for The Joshua Tree, U2 came back for a nice encore, playing seven more songs. Highlights included Beautiful Day (All That You Can’t Leave Behind; 2000), Vertigo (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; 2004), Mysterious Way and One (both Achtung Baby; 1991).

In early June, a 30th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree album was released in several formats. In addition to the original studio record, the deluxe editions include a live recording of a 1987 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. I listened to it earlier today and have to say U2 on Thursday night sounded pretty darn close to that recording from 30 years ago.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube