On This Day In Rock & Roll History: September 9

1956: Elvis Presley appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, together with his backup group The Jordanaires. They played three songs: Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender and Ready Teddy. The performance became legendary, not only because it was watched by about 60 million viewers, a record 82.6 percent of the U.S. TV audience, but also because of what TV watchers weren’t allowed to see – Presley’s gyrating hips that Sullivan deemed too offensive for a family audience. So the cameras only showed Presley from only the waist up. Before launching into Don’t Be Cruel, Presley said: “This is probably the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life. There is not much I can say except if it makes you feel good, we wanna thank you from the bottom of our heart.”

1965: The Rolling Stones were at no. 1 in the U.K. with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the band’s fourth chart-topping single there, and their first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s iconic signature riff came to Keith Richards in a dream in a Florida hotel room. He got up and quickly recorded a rough version on a tape recorder, using an acoustic guitar. When he listened to the tape the next morning, there was about two minutes of music and 40 minutes of snoring. I suppose this must have been of Richards’ sweeter dreams!

1968: The Beatles were working on Helter Skelter at Abbey Road Studios in London. On July 18 of that year, they had recorded three takes. During the September 9 session, they transformed what was initially a slow blues into what perhaps became their most frantic song. The tune was included on The White Album, which appeared on November 22, 1968. The following evening, The Beatles added additional overdubs to the track. Commenting on the September 9 session, technical engineer Brian Gibson told Beatles book author Mark Lewisohn, “The version on the album was out of control…Everyone knew what substances they were taking but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio. As long as they didn’t do anything too outrageous things were tolerated.” Oh well, the times of neat suits and ties were definitely long past.

1972: British rockers Slade topped the U.K. single charts with Mama Weer All Crazee Now, scoring their third no. 1 there. Written by lead vocalist Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, the tune also was the lead single from the band’s third studio album Slayed? 

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Scorpions/Rock You Like a Hurricane

Do these look like guys who are ready to retire? Sure, lead singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker are 69 (the remaining members of the Scorpions are a good deal younger, ranging from bassist Pawel Mąciwoda [50] to guitarist Matthias Jabs [61]). Still, I didn’t quite believe it when the band announced retirement plans a few years ago. And while rock & roll undoubtedly doesn’t get any easier with increasing age, it seems to me this band continues to have lots of gas left in the tank.

Rock You Like a Hurricane, one of my favorite Scorpions tunes, is from their ninth studio album Love At First Sting, which was released in March 1984. While much of heavy metal is not my cup of tea, the Scorpions have demonstrated time and again that combining heavy rock with catchy melodies can make for terrific music. Of course, the band is just as much known for their softer ballads, but when they rock they truly do.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Art of McCartney

Tribute album illustrates McCartney’s incredible song catalog and admiration from artists like Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Smokey Robinson

This is another album I somehow missed when it was released in November 2014, even though it features music from Paul McCartney, one of my all-time favorite artists. Ironically, I came across this cover compilation earlier today when I looked for Bob Dylan in Apple Music and saw his single of Things We Said Today. In my humble opinion, Dylan’s voice has changed quite a bit and not for the better, and his version of the 1964 Beatles tunes from the A Hard Day’s Night album sounds pretty awful. But there are many other covers on this record I like.

The 34-track set opens with Maybe I’m Amazed, performed by Billy Joel, who I think together with Elton John is the greatest contemporary pop rock pianist. McCartney first released the tune on his 1970 solo debut McCartney and dedicated it to Linda McCartney, his first wife and I believe the great love of his life.

Heart did a nice version of Band On the Run, one of my favorite McCartney songs. Ann Wilson’s vocals are great fit, and Nancy Wilson, one of most underrated guitarists, does a terrific job. Band On the Run is the title song of the 1973 studio album McCartney recorded with Wings.  It was also released as a single in 1974, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. and no. 3 in the U.K.

Let me preface this next tune by admitting that I’ve never gotten much into the music of Kiss. But I have to say their version of Venus/Rock Show is pretty cool. The medley first appeared on Venus And Mars, the fourth studio album by Wings from May 1975.

Another great cover is Let Me Roll It performed by Paul Rodgers, one of the greatest voices in rock. Rodgers stays pretty close to the original, which was also first included on the Band On the Run album.

Who better to sing Helter Skelter than Roger Daltrey? Holy shit, I just love the man! The furious rocker initially appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from 1968.

Chrissie Hynde, another artist I admire, recorded Let It Be, doing a great job with this timeless, beautiful ballad. The track, of course, is the title song of The Beatles’ final studio album released in 1970.

When Motown legend the great Smokey Robinson covers your music, it probably doesn’t get much better and speaks for itself. It doesn’t even matter that the tune Robinson chose, So Bad, perhaps is not among the best songs McCartney has written – when Smokey sings, magic happens. So Bad first appeared on McCartney’s fourth studio album Pipes of Peace, released in October 1983.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Eleanor Rigby performed by Alice Cooper. Yep, you read that correctly – Mr. Shock Rock singing the tune from Revolver, The Beatles seventh studio album that appeared in 1966. And he did a nice job with it!

According to a Rolling Stone story, the initial idea for The Art of McCartney came from producer Ralph Sall. At the time, Sall, who has also produced for other artists like The Ramones, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith, was working with McCartney on polishing up A Love For You for the soundtrack of In-Laws, an American sitcom that aired from September 2002 until January 2003. A Love For You originally appeared on Ram, McCartney’s second post-Beatles album from May 1971.

There are many other remarkable artists on this tribute record, such as Steve Miller, Brian Wilson and B.B. King, who I didn’t include in the above selection, in part because other than snippets, I couldn’t find clips on YouTube. I’d like to finish this post with a trailer about the making of the album.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

 

Final Gregg Allman Studio Album Released

With Southern Blood, Allman’s solo work comes full circle

Today, the and eighth and final studio album from Gregg Allman Southern Blood  appeared. This followed an announcement from Rounder Records about the release in late July, which coincided with the premiere of the record’s first song My Only True Friend on NPR. I previously did a post on this.

My first impression of the album is that Allman’s voice sounds pretty powerful throughout. After all, the liver cancer he had been battling since 2012 was at a terminal stage when he recorded the 10 tracks over nine days in March 2016 – about 10 months prior to his death on May 27 this year. In fact, based on media reports I previously read, Allman could only work for four hours a day.

Gregg Allman & Band at FAME Studios
Gregg Allman (fourth from left) with FAME studio owner Rick Hall (fifth from left), Don Was (sixth from left) and members of his band

While all who were involved in recording the album knew this was Allman’s final output, the record doesn’t portray a dark mood. Instead, it feels like Allman has come full circle with his solo debut from 1973. “Laid Back had that great pedal steel on it and incorporates a little more of Gregg’s roots than maybe what you heard from just the Allman Brothers,” producer Don Was told Billboard. “One of the things Gregg and I did speak about was making the texture of this record something along the lines of what Laid Back would have sounded like if it were recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in 2017.”

Intially, Allman had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his declining health this wasn’t feasible. “So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” his former manager Michael Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.”

Southern Blood kicks off with My Only True Friend, the previously released song and the only track for which Allman has writing credits. He co-wrote the ballad with his guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard. The tune’s origins date back to 2012 when Sharrard saw Duane Allman talk to Gregg in a dream. “I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record,” Sharrard noted in an interview with Guitar World. When showing the beginnings of the song to Allman he liked it, and the two of them started working on it over the next few months. They finished the song just before it was recorded.

Once I Was is a country tune from Tim Buckley, which was included on his second studio album Goodbye and Hello from August 1967. Apparently, Allman was fond of the American singer-songwriter and guitarist. During the above interview with Guitar World, Sharrard said he first heard Allman play the song in March 2014. When he asked him, Allman confirmed he was a fan of Buckley, though he initially wasn’t sure whether he wanted to record the tune. Sharrad liked what he had heard continued to encourage Allman, who eventually agreed to record the song.

I Love the Life I Live is a mid-tempo Willie Dixon blues song. It has a cool guitar riff, great groove and nice horn work. I instantly liked the tune after listening to the opening bars.

Another nice blues rocker on the record is Love Like Kerosene, which was written by Sharrard. Similar to the Dixon tune, it has a great groove and some cool Memphis-style horns – my kind of song! Allman first included the track on his excellent live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA, which was released in August 2015.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Song For Adam, which was written by Jackson Browne and included on his 1972 eponymous debut album. Browne, a good friend of Allman, also sang back-up vocals on the recording. “Jackson and Gregg were such good friends and admirers of each other’s work since they were teenagers, I couldn’t think of a better way for the record to come to a conclusion than with a lyric that Gregg always related to through the tragic loss of his brother at a young age,” Sharrard told Guitar World.

As noted above, Southern Blood was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., which had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” added Was. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Spirit/The Family That Plays Together

Sophomore album showcases band’s remarkable versatility

One of my favorite George Harrison songs, The Inner Light, includes the wise words, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows.” This how I frequently feel when writing this blog. During research I oftentimes come across things I wasn’t aware of. The most recent example is my post about Walter Becker, who I learned took guitar lessons with Randy Craig Wolfe. Wolfe was also known as Randy California, and an original member of Spirit, an American rock band that wasn’t on my radar screen.

When I looked up Spirit, I realized it’s the band that wrote the instrumental Taurus, which features an opening guitar progression that sounds very similar to the main theme of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In April 2016, original Spirit bassist Mark Andes ended up filing an infringement lawsuit against Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, but a jury ruled the similarities between Taurus and Stairway didn’t add up to copyright violation. In March this year, an attorney and trustee for Wolfe filed an appeal.

While I believe the outcome of the appeal is still pending, there is much more to Spirit than this legal dispute. In fact, once I started listening to their music, I noticed they were a pretty remarkable band. This brings me to The Family That Plays Together, their second study album, which appeared in December 1968.

At the time, Spirit still had its original lineup. In addition to California (lead guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, bass) and Andes (bass, backing vocals), the band included Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), John Locke (keyboards) and Ed Cassidy (drums, percussion).

The record starts off with I Got a Line On You. Written by California, this upbeat rocker has a great groove and a catchy chorus. The tune was also released as a single ahead of the album in October 1968. The song ended up at no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Spirit’s biggest chart success.

I Got a Line On You nicely transitions into It Shall Be, a mid-tempo relaxed tune that incorporates some jazz elements and nice horn arrangements. The tune was co-written by Locke and California.

All The Same, a co-write by California and Cassidy, is another track that caught my attention. It features some cool double lead guitar parts by California and a drum solo by Cassidy. The singing reminds me a bit of Cream.

Jewish stands out, since it’s performed in Hebrew. According to Wikipedia, the lyrics came from a traditional song called Hine Ma Tov and were based on King David’s Psalm 133. The tune is solely credited to California. I don’t think I had ever heard a Hebrew song performed by a rock band.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Aren’t You Glad. It’s one of the six tracks written by Ferguson and includes some great guitar work.

The Family That Plays Together was produced by Lou Adler, who is known for his work with The Mamas And The Papas and especially for producing Carole King’s  iconic Tapestry. Adler was also an executive producer of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A 1996 reissue of the album includes five additional tracks, including Mellow Fellow, a previously unreleased song.

The original lineup of Spirit recorded two additional studio albums, Clear (1969) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970). Starting with 1972’s Feedback, the band issued 10 more studio records with different members, the last being California Bus from December 1996. One month later, California died under tragic circumstances at age 46 while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. In 2005, another record from Spirit appeared, which was a collection of material from 1968 that was used for the soundtrack to the 1969 motion picture Model Shop directed by Jacques Demy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Johnny Winter/Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo

A killer blues rock, Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo was written by Rick Derringer and first recorded by Johnny Winter for his fourth studio album And from September 1970. At the time, And was also the name of Winter’s band, which included Derringer.

In 1973, Derringer recorded a solo version of Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. It was the lead track for his studio debut All American Boy, which appeared in October that year. This version became Derringer’s biggest hit, peaking at no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The above clip was captured from a Winter show at Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Conn. on April 20, 1973. He was backed by Richard Hughes (drums) and Randy Jo Hobbs (bass).

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

In Memoriam of Walter Becker

Steely Dan co-founder dead at age 67

I’m still a bit in disbelief about the sad news of the untimely death of Walter Becker at age 67.  According to Rolling Stone, the passing of the Steely Dan co-founder was announced earlier today on his official website without providing any details. Uncut reported that Becker had a recent operation that prevented him from performing with the band at the Classic East and Classic West festivals in July in Los Angeles and New York, respectively – possibly an indication of a lingering health issue.

In early August, Becker’s Steely Dan compatriot Donald Fagen told Billboard that “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” He did not further elaborate. I imagine more details about the circumstances of Becker’s death are going to emerge over the next few days.

Becker was born in Queens, New York on February 20, 1950 and grew up in the city’s suburbs. He started getting into music by learning the saxophone before switching to the guitar. Becker ended up taking blues guitar lessons from his neighbor at the time, Randy Craig Wolfe, also known as Randy California. He was in good hands. Wolfe was an original member of rock band Spirit that was founded in 1967. The previous summer, he had played with Jimi Hendrix in his short-lived rock band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

In 1967, Becker and Fagen met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. They began to form Steely Dan in the summer of 1970. According to Wikipedia, the impetus was an ad in the Village Voice placed by guitarist Danny Dias, who was looking for a “bass player and keyboard player with jazz chops.” At that time, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for all of the band’s other ’70s albums. Unlike the initial single, the record became very successful. It reached Gold certification in August 1973. Eventually, in September 1993, Can’t Buy a Thrill was certified Platinum, after sales had reached one million copies. Here is a clip of the record’s great opener Do It Again, one of my favorite Steely Dan tunes.

Seven months after their debut, Steely Dan released Countdown to Ecstasy in July 1973. While Bodhisattva and My Old School became concert favorites among fans, the record didn’t generate a major hit single. That changed with Pretzel Logic, the band’s third studio album, which appeared in February 1974 and featured Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. Also released separately in April 1974, the tune became Steely Dan’s most successful single, reaching no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1974.

In March 1975, Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied appeared. By that time, most of the band’s original members had left, and Steely Dan essentially became Becker and Fagen who hired additional musicians as needed. Katy Lied reached Gold certification. Lead single Black Friday charted at no. 37. Notable guest musicians on the record included future Toto members David Paich (keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), as well as Michael McDonald on background vocals. Royal Scam followed in May 1976, another gold record for Steely Dan. Lead single Kid Charlemagne charted at no. 82 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In September 1977, Steely Dan released their sixth studio album Aja, the band’s best-selling record and my Steely Dan favorite. It peaked at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. and U.K. charts, respectively, and became Steely Dan’s first platinum record. Ultimately, the album sold more than five million copies. It generated three singles, Peg, Deacon Blues and Josie. Here is a clip of my favorite one, Deacon Blues.

Gaucho, which came out in November 1980, was Steely Dan’s last studio release before they disbanded in June 1981 and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career. While the recording of Gaucho was impacted by various personal and professional challenges, the album was mostly well received, peaking at no. 9 on the U.S. album chart and reaching Platinum certification. The record includes the classic Hey Nineteen, which became the lead single climbing to no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Between 1981 and 1993, Becker produced records for various artists, including Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Franks and Fra Lippo Lippi. He also became involved with the band China Crisis. Becker is listed a member of the band on their third studio album Flaunt the Imperfection. While Fagen and Becker had a couple of one-off collaborations in-between, they resumed their official partnership in 1993 when they toured as Steely Dan for the first time in 13 years.

Becker also produced Fagan’s second solo album Kamakiriad, which appeared in May 1993. In turn, Fagan became the co-producer of Becker’s 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks of Whack. Here is a clip of one of the record’s tunes, Lucky Henry, which features some great guitar work.

While Becker and Fagan continued Steely Dan tours, it took them until 2000 before they released a new album, Two Against Nature. It was a successful recording comeback, peaking at no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and scoring four Grammy awards and Platinum certification in the U.S. One of the Grammy awards was the record’s lead single Cousin Dupree, which won Best Performance by a Pop Duo or Group with Vocal.

The final Steely Dan studio album Everything Must Go appeared in June 2003. While the record received mixed reviews, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard 200. Here is a clip of the title track.

Following the album’s release, Steely Dan continued to tour frequently. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. Becker’s second and final such record Circus Money appeared in June 2008. Here’s a clip of Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore, a tune with a nice reggae groove.

Following are excerpts from a statement Fagen posted on his Facebook page about his long-time music partner: “Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967…We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues…[Becker] was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny…I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

 

Sources: Rolling Stone, Uncut, Billboard, Wikipedia, Donald Fagen Facebook page, YouTube