Blues, Shock and Rock Rumble New Jersey

Edgar Winter Band, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple blew off roof at PNC Bank Arts Center

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What do you get when you have blues rocker Edgar Winter, Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and hard rock pioneers Deep Purple on one ticket? Three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some hearing loss!

I cannot believe it took me more than 30 years after I first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band live. Last night, that time finally came when Deep Purple played the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Also on the ticket were Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, who opened the four-hour night including breaks for stage changes.

From the very beginning, the Edgar Winter Band felt like an engine running on maximum rpm the entire time – almost as if Winter, who is the younger brother of electric blues legend Johnny Winter, wanted to bundle the energy of Alice Cooper’s and Deep Purple’s longer performances in a much shorter set. If that was indeed his goal, he succeeded!

Winter’s five-track set included the 1973 Edgar Winter Group hits Free Ride and Frankenstein, as well as covers of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tobacco Road and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. He dedicated the last two tunes to his brother. In addition to Winter’s impressive vocal dynamics, he showcased his multi-instrumental skills, playing keyboards, saxophone and percussion. Here’s a clip of Tobacco Road captured during a performance in Atlanta earlier this month.

Next up was Alice Cooper. I only knew four of the sixteen songs he performed, but fortunately, there is setlist.fm. With a discography of 27 studio albums to date, Cooper had plenty of material he could draw from. The set spanned tacks from 1971’s Love It To Death until his last album Paranormal, which was released at the end of July.

Cooper’s gig started off with Brutal Planet, the title song of his 2000 studio album. This was followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy from his best-selling 1973 record Billion Dollar Babies, which hit no. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. No More Mr. Nice Guy was the most successful of the four singles from the album, climbing to no. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip from a show in Nashville back in May.

The stand-out musician in Cooper’s band was lead guitarist Nita Strauss. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles is a quite a shredder. According to Wikipedia, one of her ancestors on her father’s side of the family is Johann Strauss II, the famous Austrian composer. Strauss, who became Cooper’s touring lead guitarist in 2014, was ranked no. 1 on Guitar World’s 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know. Here is a clip of a solo Strauss played during the show, which blends into Poison, another big hit for Cooper from his 18th studio album Trash, released in 1989.

Of course, a review of Cooper’s set wouldn’t be complete without the epic School’s Out, the title track from his fifth studio album, which appeared in June 1972. Perhaps not surprisingly, he kept it all the way until the very end as the encore. Here’s a clip from Appleton, WI from June.

And then it was finally time for Deep Purple, the main reason I was at last night’s show. The gig was part of the band’s Long Goodbye Tour, which supports their 20th and latest studio album Infinite. When Deep Purple announced the tour in December 2016, drummer Ian Paice told Heavyworlds, “It’ll be a long tour; it may be the last big tour, we don’t know…We haven’t made any plans, but it becomes obvious that you cannot tour the same way you did when you were 21.” In June 2016, Paice had a mini-stroke, which impacted his right hand and forced the band to cancel some shows in Scandinavia.

Last night, I have to say I thought Paice was in superb shape. There were no signs of any impairment. In fact, I was most impressed with him and keyboarder Don Airy. Singer Ian Gillan, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit subdued. At 72 years, he is the oldest member of the band. Plus, as a vocalist, changes are perhaps more obvious. Unlike a guitar you can tune, the voice is a natural instrument that changes over time. Gillan has been a singer for a whooping 55 years. Even though his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it was still amazing to see him perform alongside his Machine Head compatriots Paice and bassist Roger Glover. Steve Morse, who at 63 is the youngest member of Deep Purple, is a very fine guitarist.

Deep Purple opened their set with two of their greatest songs, Highway Star and Fireball from Machine Head (1972) and Fireball (1971), respectively. I’ve always loved Highway Star’s organ and guitar solos on the studio version, which were played by the amazing Jon Lord and rock guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore, respectively. Perhaps that version puts the bar impossibly high for a live performance. Here is a clip from a show earlier this month in Woodlands, Texas.

Machine Head was the best represented album in Deep Purple’s set. In addition to Highway Star, they played Lazy, Space Truckin and of course Smoke On The Water – frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had included all of the record’s tunes – each of them is great, in my opinion!

Songs from the Infinite album included Time For Bedlam and The Surprising. Deep Purple also played two tracks from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door and the title song. I always thought Perfect Strangers, the first record after the band had disbanded in 1976, was a pretty good comeback album. Here is a clip of the title track, which was also captured during the above Woodlands concert.

Another great moment in Deep Purple’s set last night was Hush, which is from their 1968 debut Shades Of Deep Purple. By the way, Paice already was part of the band’s lineup then, making him the only member who has played on all Deep Purple records to date. Written by Joe South, Hush became the band’s first hit single climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip captured a few days ago during a concert in Mansfield, Mass.

Last but not least there is what is probably the band’s signature song featuring a riff every guitarist learns: Smoke On The Water. It was the final tune of Deep Purple’s set and a great end to a terrific rock night. Here is a clip recorded in May at a show in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come

1986 album from “King of Rock ‘N’ Soul” is a soul gem

Solomon Burke came to my mind earlier today when looking at fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast’s great list of his top 25 favorite singers and commenting that I might have included Burke in that list. If I recall it correctly, a good friend of mine recommended A Change Is Gonna Come to me in the late ’80s, a few years after the album had been released in 1986.

From the get-go, I liked Burke’s voice and the way he delivered the album’s nine tunes, though sadly I never continued exploring his music beyond this record – something I’m planning to correct! A Change Is Gonna Come mixed covers of a few older classics with then-new material written by Burke and songwriters Paul Kelly, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham and Jimmy Lewis.

The album kicks of with the Kelly composition Love Buys Love, a beautiful mid-tempo ballad.

Next up is Got To Get Myself Some Money, one of two tracks written by Burke. The upbeat tune has a great groove driven by a pumping bass and a great Memphis style horn section.

The title song A Change Is Gonna Come is the standout on the album. It truly takes Sam Cooke’s beautiful original to the next level. Burke’s singing simply gives me the goose bumps. Burke, who also was a preacher, extends the tune into a sermon. According to the liner notes of my CD, the tune has always meant a lot to Burke. He is quoted as saying, “Even though it’s a song that’s over twenty years old, it still hits home. The world’s still got problems – drugs, crime, apartheid. We’ve progressed a long way since Sam wrote that song, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Here We Go Again, the album’s second track written by Burke, has a great funk grove. It also features a cool part where Burke calls out the bassist, the guitarist and the keyboarder, with each responding by playing their respective instrument.

The last song I’d like to call out is a great cover of one of my favorite soul ballads, When A Man Loves A Woman. Written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, the song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. Burke’s version slightly kicks up the speed and turns the song more into a mid-tempo classic soul tune with a great horn section.

Produced by Scott Billington, A Change Is Gonna Come continued a revival of sorts in Burke’s career that began with 1984’s Soul Alive! Still, these albums, which both appeared on Rounder Records, did not bring mainstream chart success for Burke, though they increased his popularity as a live performer.

While Burke never achieved the commercial success of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown, he is considered to be one of the artists who helped shape soul music in the ’60s. He was revered by other musicians like The Rolling Stones who covered Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and Cry to Me on their second and third U.K. albums, respectively.

Late in his career, Burke finally received some well-deserved recognition. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a performer. He also won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Contemporary Blues Album for his 2002 studio release Don’t Give Up On Me. Last but not least, Rolling Stone ranked Burke at no. 89 in its 2010 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, A Change Is Gonna Come Liner Notes (Jeff Hannusch), Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Alice Cooper/School’s Out

One of Mr. Shock Rock’s defining tunes

To say it right upfront, I know very little about Alice Cooper, so cannot claim to be a fan. Yet, I’m seeing him tomorrow night as part of a double feature with Deep Purple, my favorite hard rock band since I was 14 or so, when I got the Machine Head album on vinyl – still own it to this day! Cooper’s School’s Out is one of a handful of his tunes I know and kind of think is cool. The following clip was captured back in May during a show in Ohio.

Credited to all members of the Alice Cooper Band, who in addition to Cooper included Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass, backing vocals) and Neal Smith (drums backing vocals), School’s Out was first released as a single in April 1972. It’s the title track of the band’s fifth studio album, which appeared in June that year.

The tune became Cooper’s first big hit, peaking at no. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and catapulting the album to climb to no. 2 on the Billboard 200. In the U.K., the song did even better, hitting no. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart. In 2011, School’s Out was also ranked at 326 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Everly Brothers/Cathy’s Clown

Among my first vinyl records during my teenage years was a greatest hits compilation of The Everly Brothers. I’ve always liked Don and Phil’s beautiful harmony singing, which has influenced other music artists like The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. Cathy’s Clown is a great example.

Initially released as a single in April 1960, the tune was also included on the Everlys’ fourth studio album A Date With the Everly Brothers, which appeared in October that year. Unlike the majority of their songs, which were composed by others, Cathy’s Clown was written by Don and Phil. It became their biggest hit, reaching the no. 1 spots on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the U.K. Singles Chart and selling eight million copies worldwide.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

A list of covers from AC/DC to The Yardbirds

A few days ago, I coincidentally came across a previously created iTunes playlist I had completely forgotten about: Covers of Chuck Berry classics performed by other music artists. I thought it would be fun to develop a post around this theme.

While no one artist can claim they created an entire genre of music, there is a reason why Berry was known as Mr. Rock & Roll. In any case, the number of other artists who covered his tunes sure as heck is impressive.

Maybelline/Foghat

English blues and boogie rock band Foghat included a killer version of Maybelline on their 1972 eponymous album. The tune was written and recorded by Berry in 1955, and first released as a single in July that year. It also appeared on his 1959 iconic third study album Berry Is On Top, which also included many of his other major hits. Here’s a great clip of the tune from a Foghead live performance.

School Days/AC/DC

AC/DC recorded a cool cover of School Days for their second Australian studio album T.N.T., which appeared in December 1975. Originally, Berry released the song as a single in March 1957, two months ahead of his debut studio album After School Session.

Too Much Monkey Business/The Yardbirds

Too Much Monkey Business is the first track on Five Live Yardbirds, the band’s terrific debut live album from 1964. Berry released the song as his fifth single in September 1956. It was also included on the After School Session album.

Sweet Little Sixteen/John Lennon

John Lennon recorded a nice Memphis soul-style cover of Sweet Little Sixteen for Rock ‘n’ Roll, his sixth studio album from 1975. Berry released the track as a single in January 1958. It was also included on his second studio album One Dozen Berries, which appeared in March 1958.

Rock & Roll Music/The Beatles

Rock & Roll Music is among my favorite rock & roll covers from The Beatles. They included it on their 1964 fourth studio album Beatles For Sale. Berry initially released the tune as a single in September 1957. It also appeared on the One Dozen Berrys studio album. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the Beatles’ studio version, so here is a live performance captured from a 1965 performance in Paris.

Carol/The Rolling Stones

I’ve always loved the cover of the song The Rolling Stones recorded. Initially, they included it on their 1964 eponymous debut album, but my favorite version appeared on the fantastic 1970 live record Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. First released in 1958 as a single, Carol is also one of the gems from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Here’s a great clip of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out version.

Johnny B. Goode/Jimi Hendrix

If I only had one classic rock & roll tune to choose, it would be Berry’s 1958 gem Johnny B. Goode, which first appeared as a single in March that year and is yet another highlight from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Who could possibly do a better cover of it than Jimi Hendrix? Here is a great clip of Hendrix absolutely killing it live – not sure whether it is the same performance that was also captured on Hendrix in the West, a 1972 posthumous live album.

Little Queenie/The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

Frankly, I do not quite remember how I came across this cover of Little Queenie when I put together the above iTunes playlist, but I find it pretty awesome. It’s performed by country and southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters featuring Johnnie Johnson, a jazz, blues and rock & roll pianist, and was included on a 2015 release titled Meet Me In Bluesland. Originally, Berry released Little Queenie as a single in 1959, another tune from Chuck Berry Is On Top.

Roll Over Beethoven/Electric Light Orchestra

It’s safe to say this is one of the most unique covers of the track performed by Electric Light Orchestra. Blending elements of classical music with rock & roll and other styles of rock, ELO is one of the weirdest ’70s bands, in my opinion. While most of their productions were bombastic and completely over the top, I still have to admit there is something intriguing about their music. Their 8-minute-plus cover of Roll Over Beethoven was included on their eponymous second studio album, which was released in 1972. Berry first recorded the tune as a single in May 1956. It also appeared on Chuck Berry Is On Top. The following clip is an abbreviated live version of the song, captured from a 1973 performance on The Midnight Special, an American late-night music variety show that aired during the 1970’s and early ’80s.

Memphis/The Hollies

This cover from The Hollies was included on the band’s debut album Stay With The Hollies, which appeared in the U.K. in January 1964. The track was also included on the U.S. version of the album titled Here I Go Again, released in June that year. Berry first recorded Memphis as a single in 1959.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Johnny B. Goode

Unforgettable performance of iconic tune at 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert

This morning, I listened to a nice compilation of tunes released by Chess Records. The legendary Chicago blues and R&B record company and the amazing artists it had under contract make an excellent topic for another post to explore in the future.

The first track on the list was Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry. Following is a clip of a great live version of the song, which has always been one of my favorite classic rock & roll tunes. It brought together Berry and the Boss as part of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert in 1995 to celebrate the dedication of the Hall of Fame Museum. The performance also marked the first appearance of the reunited E Street Band, which Springsteen had dissolved in 1989.

The quality of Berry’s concerts varied substantially, which is obvious when you watch clips of his live performances on the Internet. In great part this happened because Berry did not want to have a standing touring band. Instead, he insisted that tour organizers hire local musicians from the towns where he would perform. Typically, these bands would not get an opportunity to rehearse with Berry. Essentially, this left the musicians with following Berry’s lead. Not surprisingly, the outcomes varied.

The above clip is one of the best live performances of Berry I could find. He was still in pretty decent shape at age 68. You can clearly see the kick that Springsteen and The E Street Band got out of it. Also great to watch is the interaction between Berry and Clarence Clemons, the band’s amazing saxophonist at the time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jane Lee Hooker/No B!

Debut album from all-female New York band serves hard-charging blues rock

Jane Lee Hooker is another discovery I made when looking for free outdoor concerts in my area this weekend. The five-piece all-female blues rock band from New York City is scheduled to perform Sunday evening in Long Branch, N.J. as part of that seaside city’s summer concert series. The moment I started listening to No B!, I literally thought, ‘holy shit’ – these ladies are playing a furious type of blues rock, sometimes mixed with a dose of punk.

Just like my previous discovery this weekend, The John Byrne Band whose most recent album I reviewed here, Jane Lee Hooker or JLH doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry- too bad! But their website does provide some background. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston (drums) and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin. In 2015, JHL signed with blues label Ruf Records and released No B! in April 2016.

Jane Lee Hooker Live

As the website points out, while JLH was only founded four years ago, the band’s members have “between them decades of experience in the studio and on the road.” Each of these ladies were in other bands before they joined JHL. The two guitarists previously played together in the ’90s in a band called Helldorado where they “honed their love of blazing dual leads.”

JHL has shared bills with WilcoSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and The Blasters, among others. Earlier this year, they conducted a European tour, including Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of their gigs was a performance at the end of May on Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German rock TV show.

No B! starts off furiously with Wade In The Water, setting the tone for the album. According to Wikipedia, originally, the tune is a negro spiritual written by John Wesley Work III and his brother Frederick J. Work and was first published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Next up is Mean Town Blues, which kicks things up a few notches. The song was written by Johnny Winter who first released it on his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment. JLH’s version of the tune sounds like Winter spinning on 78 instead of 45 rpm!

While I Believe It To My Soul slows down the speed, the track sounds just as intense as the two previous tunes. Originally, Ray Charles wrote and first recorded the song in 1961 on his studio album The Genius Sings the Blues.

In The Valley is only JLH original tune on the album. It was written by Athens, the singer, whose voice at times reminds me a bit of Melissa Etheridge.

Free Me is another nice cover showing a soulful side of Athens. Written by Otis Redding and Gene Lawson in 1967, the song appeared on Redding’s fourth posthumous album Love Man, which was released in 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the great Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy. Waters recorded it first in 1955. While it’s perhaps a bit peculiar hearing a woman sing, “I’m a man, I’m a full-grown man,” JLH does a great job with it.

JHL, whose current tour apparently started in mid-July, will be on the road all the way to mid-November. After Long Branch they are scheduled for seven additional U.S. gigs until early September before taking their tour back to Europe in late October, returning to Germany and Switzerland. They are also adding Denmark and the Czech Republic where the tour will conclude in Šumperk on November 18 at the Blues Alive Festival.

Here is a clip of JLH’s above mentioned live performance on Rockpalast – not sure how long it will be available.

Sources: Jane Lee Hooker website, YouTube, Wikipedia