Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

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

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

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

Apollo Theater Historic Image

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

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

Aretha Franklin at Apollo Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eagles Release Hotel California 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clips & Pix: U2/The Blackout

The Blackout is from U2’s upcoming 14th studio album Songs Of Experience, which after multiple delays is now set to appear next Friday, December 1. According to NME, the band also released a limited edition 12-inch vinyl single of the tune in the U.S. today to coincide with Record Store Day Black Friday.

Initially released in August as the first track from the forthcoming album, The Blackout “started off its life about a more personal apocalypse, some events in my life that more than reminded me of my mortality, but then segued into the political dystopia that we’re heading towards now,” Bono told Rolling Stone in September. The first part of the statement refers to a bad bicycle accident the U2 singer had in November 2014, while the second part alludes to political changes in Europe and the US in late 2016. The latter were one of several reasons why U2 decided to delay the release of their new album.

Sources: NME, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Beatles/Boys

The above clip, which shows The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl in LA in August 1964, is taken from The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years. The documentary by Ron Howard was first released in select movie theaters on Sep 15 and 16, 2016 in the U.K. and U.S., respectively. According to Variety, it will premiere on U.S. television this Saturday on PBS at 8:00 pm E.T.

The film illustrates both the excitement The Beatles generated during their live shows and the sheer insanity of “Beatlemania.” The conditions at the gigs became increasingly chaotic. Oftentimes, John, Paul, George and Ringo couldn’t hear themselves while playing on stage, which took a toll on their performances. Eventually, they grew tired of the madness and decided to stop touring after four years of almost constantly being on the road. On August 29, 1966, The Beatles gave their last commercial show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

The Ron Howard film will be followed by another Beatles documentary at 10:30 pm E.T., Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution. Directed by Francis Hanly, the film was first shown on PBS in early June to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the corresponding Beatles studio album. Looking forward to an exciting night of Beatles binge watching!

Sources: Variety, Wikipedia, YouTube

Greta Van Fleet Continues To Rock Like Early Zeppelin On Sophomore Album

Michigan rockers deliver more hard-edged ’70s style rock

When I told a colleague yesterday I was going to see Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out last night (see previous post), he asked me whether I had ever heard of Greta Van Fleet. The name somehow sounded familiar, and just a little while ago, I finally remembered – I had first read about these Michigan rockers in a previous post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast.  On November 10, the band released their second studio album From The Fires – close enough to put it into the “new music” category.

The record actually is a double EP, combining the four tracks from Greta Van Fleet’s debut EP Black Smoke Rising with four newly recorded tunes. I have to say I really dig their music, which almost sounds like a reincarnation of early Zep. Exactly because of that, I could see some people might dismiss them.

Greta Van Fleet

I also recall previously reading that Lenny Kravitz in his early years was accused of sounding too retro, too ’60s, too much like Jimi Hendrix; or that blues rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd essentially was a Stevie Ray Vaughan knockoff. The reality is great musicians listen to other great musicians, and in certain genres this inevitably leads to some repetition. Plus, last time I checked, Hendrix, Vaughan and Zeppelin recorded some of the best rock in music history, so I don’t mind if others embrace their sound. With that being out of the way, let’s take a look at From The Fires.

The record’s opener Safari Song is one of the four tracks from the first EP. Credited to all four members of the band – brothers Joshua Kiszka (lead vocals), Samuel Kiszka (bass guitar, keyboards) and Jacob Kiszka (guitar) and drummer Daniel Wagner – this rocker sounds like a tune that could have been included on Led Zeppelin IV. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance, which was captured in June at a music venue in Chicago. While at first sight these guys may look like a high school band, they certainly don’t sound like one!

Next up: Edge Of Darkness, one of the newly recorded tunes.

The album includes two covers: Meet On The Ledge, the second single from Fairport Convention, released in December 1968 and written by Richard Thompson; and the great Sam Cooke tune A Change Is Gonna Come, from his 1964 studio album Ain’t That Good News. I find this rock version intriguing, so here’s a clip.

The last track I’d like to call out is Talk On The Street, another new song.

According to their Facebook page, Greta Van Fleet was formed in 2012 in Frakenmuth, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where 20 year-old twin brothers Josh and Jake Kiszka began playing shows with their 17 year-old younger brother, Sam, and 17 year-old family friend Danny Wagner. Their name is derived from a local resident called Gretna Van Fleet and used with her permission. Apparently, one of band’s members had heard it mentioned by a relative.

Wikipedia notes various remarkable accomplishments of the young band, especially in the past couple of years. In January 2016, their song Highway Tune was featured on an episode of Showtime comedy series Shameless. This April 21, Greta Van Fleet was named Apple’s new music artist of the week, and in October they won Best New Artist at the Loudwire Music Awards. The new album currently tops the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart. Based on all the band’s success, it doesn’t appear their retro Zeppelinesque sound is hurting them, which is great to see. I certainly look forward to hearing more from these guys.

Sources: Wikipedia, Greta Van Fleet Facebook page, Billboard, YouTube

Rocking Thanksgiving Eve With Music Of The Mighty Zep

Get The Led Out Bring A Whole Lotta Love to New Brunswick Debut

What could be a greater way to kick off a long Thanksgiving weekend than with a rock & roll party featuring the music of Led Zeppelin? As a longtime fan of the band, I can’t think of any! Last night, I got exactly that with Get The Led Out bringing the music of the mighty Zep to State Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) in New Brunswick. My one word to sum it all up? Damn!

I’ve known about this terrific band from Philly for some time. When I saw a few weeks ago they were gonna groove right in my backyard, I instantly decided to see them. Calling themselves The American Led Zeppelin, Get The Led Out or GTLO doesn’t want to look like or impersonate their heroes in any other way on stage. Instead, the band wants “to bring the studio recordings of Led Zeppelin to life in concert,” according to their website. And since Zep like many other bands relied on overdubbing to enrich their recordings with multiple instrumental and vocal tracks layered on top of each other, it takes more than four musicians to replicate this sound on stage: Six in GTLO’s case.

Get The Led Out on Stage

With Zep’s fairly sizable catalog, GTLO has plenty of material to choose from. In fact, they make it a point to never repeat the same set back-to-back to keep things fresh. That way they can also perform more of the band’s songs. So what did they play last night? In case you haven’t noticed yet, the above photo collage includes an image with the line-up of tracks, which I shamelessly grabbed from the band’s Facebook page, along with a cool shot of the audience. The 2.5-hour spectacle included two sets divided by a short intermission and a terrific three-track encore – really can’t complain about that!

After all this introduction, it’s finally time to get to some music. And how better to do this than by featuring some YouTube clips. First up: The mighty Rock And Roll from Zep’s fourth studio album Led Zeppelin IV, released in 1971. The tune is credited to all four members, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, and was a perfect opener to last night’s show.

GTLO did a great job mixing some of Zep’s furious rockers with acoustic gems. Among the latter, I thought the highlight was The Battle Of Evermore, another track from Led Zeppelin IV, written by Page and Plant. For this tune, the band brought out their terrific special guest vocalist Diana DeSantis.

With so many great songs GTLO performed last night and fortunately plenty of clips available on YouTube, it’s hard to decide what to include in this post. After kicking off the second set with a strong rendition of In The Evening, the time had come to feature the band’s kick-ass drummer Adam Ferraioli. Playing the parts of Bonham, who undoubtedly was one of the best drummers in rock history, must be pretty daunting. How did he do? Check out this clip of Moby Dick, the furious instrumental credited to Bonham, Page and Jones, which appeared on Led Zeppelin II in 1969.

Another highlight from the second set was Kashmir, the bombastic 8.5-minute tune from Physical Graffiti, Zeppelin’s sixth studio album from 1975. I will openly admit this track was an acquired taste for me, as was Zeppelin overall – somewhat hard to believe from today’s perspective! Initially, I felt Kashmir was way over the top and completely overproduced. But over the years I’ve come to dig this song, which was written by Bonham, Page and Plant. So here’s GTLO’s rendition. It was the final tune of their second set, which of course begged for more!

The three-track encore started with Over The Hills And Far Away. Written by Page and Plant, the tune appeared on Houses Of The Holy, Zep’s fifth studio album from 1973.

At that point, the show was well beyond the two-hour mark, and the time had come for GTLO to play the big enchilada I’m sure many fans had been waiting for: Stairway To Heaven, yet another tune from Zeppelin IV, credited to Page and Plant.

And since it is so much fun listening to these guys, I’m throwing in yet another clip: The final song of the night, Whole Lotta Love, the iconic opener to Led Zeppelin II. As Zep did on various occasions, parts of the song were adapted from another tune, in this case Willie Dixon’s You Need Love, recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit that was settled in 1985 to have Dixon being added to the credits, which also list Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant.

Founded in the fall of 2003, GTLO went through some changes in their early years before their current line-up: In addition to the previously mentioned drummer and percussionist Ferraiolo and guest vocalist DeSantis, the band’s members include Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals) and Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion).

A look at their bios reveals, these guys are not only true Zeppelin fans, but bring a substantial amount of talent and experience to the band. Listening to them also makes it obvious they have played together for a long time. The attention to detail is really incredible. But after all these years, the band still strives to get even closer to perfection in replicating the sound of Zep’s oftentimes complex studio recordings.

Get The Led Out Members
From left to right: Paul Hammond, Andrew Lipke, Paul Sinclair, Adam Ferraioli, Phil D’Agostino and Jimmy Marchiano

During a recent podcast with STNJ, Lipke talked about GTLO’s meticulous approach. “It’s a constant process of refining and distilling.” The following excerpt nicely illustrates his point. Referring to Stairway To Heaven, which he said the band has performed more than 600 times, Lipke added, “but even a year ago, we were listening again…and realized, ‘Wait a second, that’s not a single 12-string playing that part, it’s a double 12-string. Now let’s figure out who’s gonna play that other 12-string.”

GTLO has a heavy tour schedule that’s posted on their website. Between their next gig in Lakewood, N.J. this Sat, Nov 25 and the end of March, the band is scheduled for some 40 shows in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and ten additional US states, and even Mississauga, Ontario, which is close to Toronto. That’s great news to all Zep fans out there!

Sources: Get The Led Out website and Facebook page, NJST “All Access” podcast, Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: AC/DC/Back In Black

The above clip of Back In Black is from a show AC/DC performed on December 4, 2009 at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina during their Black Ice World Tour. Yesterday, Malcolm Young, the band’s original rhythm guitarist who played a key role in writing the riff to this and many other AC/DC classics, passed away at the age of 64. He had fought an extended battle with dementia, which had forced his official retirement from the band in September 2014.

Malcolm Young

Malcolm co-founded AC/DC together with his younger brother Angus Young in November 1973. While he always gladly left the limelight to Angus and singer Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson, Malcolm had a major influence on AC/DC’s songwriting and sound. He is co-credited on pretty much all of their tunes together with Angus, Scott and later Johnson. An official statement on the AC/DC website highlights his “enormous dedication and commitment,” calling him “the driving force behind the band.”

Back In Black was the title track to AC/DC’s seventh studio album, which appeared in July 1980. Not only did the record bring unprecedented success to the band, but with an estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide, it became the second-highest selling album in music history behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Sources: Wikipedia, AC/DC website, YouTube

Jane Lee Hooker Release Powerful Sophomore Album

New York all-female band delivers more raw blues power

Jane Lee Hooker is a relatively recent discovery I made back in August when I saw this all-female blues rock band from New York at a free outdoor concert. I previously posted about them here. On Friday, they released their second studio album Spiritus on iTunes. According to the band’s website, the record is also out on CD in Europe and will become available in this format in the U.S. on January 26, 2018.

From the first to the last tune, the band exactly delivers what it does during their amazing live shows – raw oftentimes furious blues rock power that grabs you and invites you to move. Unlike their 2016 debut No B!, Spiritus mostly features original tracks. These five ladies definitely prove that in addition to covering tunes of blues greats like Muddy Waters and Johnny Winters, they also know how to write.

Except for one tune, I couldn’t find any of the studio recordings from the new album on YouTube, but luckily there are many clips of live performances, which are more fun to watch in the first place. Plus, according to a review in Music Republic Magazine, all tracks on the album were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. This translates to the album’s sound, which comes across as unfiltered and spontaneous.

How Ya Doin’ kicks off the record. The uptempo blues rocker sounds like a perfect concert opener. Here’s a clip of the tune, which was captured in Orleans, France on November 1.

Gimme That, another original tune, has a nice Stonesey sound. But Jane Lee Hooker play it with more of an edge. The following clip is from a show back in July at Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Here’s another nice tune, which was written by the band, Be My Baby. The clip is from another gig in France earlier this month.

Black Rat is one of the two covers on the album. It was first recorded in the 1940s by Memphis blues guitarist and songwriter Lizzie Douglas known as Memphis Minnie. BTW, that’s the same artist who together with her husband Kansas Joe McCoy wrote and recorded When The Levee Breaks in 1929, which was later reworked by Led Zeppelin and became the last song on their 1971 studio album Led Zeppelin IV. Jane Lee Hooker’s version of Black Rat sounds like triple the speed of the original.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer, a cool slower track called The Breeze. It’s the only tune for which I could find a clip of the studio recording on YouTube.

Spiritus was recorded in New York this summer and produced by Matt Chiaravalle. According his website, Chiaravalle is a New York City-based music producer and engineer, who has worked with such artists as Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, Warren Zevon, and Joe Bonamassa. Like the band’s debut album, Spiritus appears on German contemporary blues label Ruf Records. Apparently, Jane Lee Hooker just wrapped up a European tour in support of the album yesterday (November 18) in Šumperk, Czech Republic. The only upcoming date that’s currently listed on their website is the Cincy Blues Winter Blues Fest on February 3, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jane Lee Hooker website, Music Republic Magazine, YouTube

Bob Seger Still Like A Rock On New Album

‘I Knew You When’ features old time rock & roll and reflective tunes

I believe Old Time Rock And Roll was the first Bob Seger song I heard in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. Together with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, Seger belongs to my all-time favorite American rock artists. On Friday (November 17), he released I Knew You When, his 18th studio album. While it may not include immediately obvious gems like Katmandu, Turn The Page, Rock And Roll Never Forgets and Old Time Rock And Roll, to name a few, it’s a pretty solid record that gets better after listening to it for a few times.

In addition to arena first-pumping style rockers, Seger included various more reflective tunes. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In May, the heartland rocker turned 72, and rock & roll is a tough business that certainly doesn’t get any easier with advancing age. Last month, Seger was forced to cut short his 2017 Runaway Train Tour with The Silver Bullet Band due to a back issue that required surgery. According to a recent announcement on Seger’s website, his recovery is going well and “rescheduled dates are being mapped out for a coast to coast reboot of the tour this Spring.”

Bob Seger

Seger’s new album is dedicated to his long-time friend Glenn Frey, who like Seger was born in Detroit, MI. The two met in 1967 when Fry played in a band called the Mushrooms. Seger helped him get a recording contract and also wrote and produced the band’s first single Such A Lovely Child. Together with Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther, Seger also co-wrote the Eagles classic Heartache Tonight, a 1979 Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit. I Knew You When also pays tribute to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen with covers of Busload Of Faith and Democracy, respectively. While Seger isn’t known for being particularly vocal about politics, it’s safe to assume the inclusion of these two tunes is not a coincidence.

Currently, there are only clips of two songs from the new album on YouTube, and I wonder whether that’s by design. Only in June this year did Seger’s music become more widely available on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and iHeart Radio. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Seger pointed to his manager and record company: “It’s an ongoing issue with my manager and Capitol Records. You have to talk to him about that. They agreed to something many years ago about new media and they don’t want to live up to it. The record business is 50 percent of what it was ten years ago, so they’re trying to cut costs. Until that’s resolved, we let very little out.”

The first clip is Glenn Song, Seeger’s moving tribute to Frey, which initially appeared as a free download on his website this January on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The song is included as one of three bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the new album. “It’s obviously not meant to be a hit,” Seger told Rolling Stone. “There’s no chorus per se or title section or anything. The idea was just to honor his memory and talk, very specifically, about my impression of him in 1966 when we first met.”

The second clip I found is Seger’s cover of the Reed tune Busload Of Faith. Reed included the track on his 1989 studio record New York and also released it separately as a single that same year. Seger’s version adds muscle to the original with a great electric slide guitar, soul-sounding horns and gospel-like backing vocals. It’s a highlight of the record. According to BillboardSeger adjusted some of the lyrics. He replaced the Reed lines “You can’t depend on the churches/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” with “You can’t depend on the president/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” – remarkable how lyrics that were written in a different context more than 25 years ago eerily fit the situation in present day America!

Other tunes I’d like to mention are Gracile and The Highway, two rockers written by Seger. A third rocker, Runaway Train, was co-written by Seger, Tim Mitchell and Silver Bullet Band keyboarder Craig Frost. According to Wikipedia, it is one of several tunes on the album that were recorded many years ago but had remained unreleased until now. This particular song was initially recorded in 1993 and intended for Seger’s 1995 studio album It’s A Mystery. Another example is the title track I Knew You When, which Seger wrote in 1997 and considered for his 2006 album Face The Promise.

I Knew You When was recorded in Nashville and Detroit and produced by Seger himself. According to an announcement on Seger’s website, the album marks his 49th year with Capitol Records, extending his record as the longest tenured solo artist in the company’s history. The standard version of the album has 10 tracks and comes on vinyl and CD.  The deluxe version of the album includes three additional tracks and is available on CD, digital download and via select streaming services.

Seger has earned 13 platinum and 7 multi-platinum RIAA-certified sales awards, including his studio albums Beautiful Loser (1975), Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980), The Distance (1982), Like A Rock (1986), The Fire Inside (1991), Face The Promise (2006) and his double live albums Live Bullet (1976) and Nine Tonight (1981). Except for Beautiful Loser and Face The Promise, Seger recorded all of these records with The Silver Bullet Band. Earlier this year, his Greatest Hits album was certified diamond by the RIAA for achieving 10 million units sold in the U.S.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bob Seger website, Rolling Stone, Billboard, YouTube

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation of musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For those who know me and regular readers of the blog, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, this post focuses on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a 70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.”

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni Mitchell, Don Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha Franklin, Twisted Sister, Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr and the All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder Road, The Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony Kinsey, Ted Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who has been a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He has toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with ‘Live’ Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad, Little Feat, The Blues Brothers and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Times Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn The Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn The Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun, (I’m A) Roadrunner, Shake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the 70s and into the early 80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Harrison, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC News, YouTube