Clips & Pix: Buddy Guy/Whiskey, Beer & Wine

Earlier today, I listened to a blues playlist curated by Apple Music, which included the above killer tune by Buddy Guy. It’s almost like a Jimi Hendrix reincarnation played by a man who was 78 years old when he recorded the track – damn!

Whiskey, Beer & Wine appeared on Guy’s last studio album aptly titled Born To Play Guitar. That record was released on July 31, 2015, one day after his 79th birthday. The song was co-written by Richard Fleming (couldn’t find anything specific on him) and the record’s producer Tom Hambridge who also played drums and percussion. According to Wikipedia, Guy has called him “The White Willie Dixon.” Hambridge certainly has worked with an impressive array of blues artists, who in addition to Guy include Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood and Johnny Winter, among others.

Born To Play Guitar climbed to no. 60 on the Billboard 200, not too shabby for a blues record these days, and topped the Billboard Blues Albums chart in late August 2015. It also won the 2016 Grammy for Best Blues Album.

According to his website, the now 81-year-old Guy continues to tour vigorously. In case you are wondering, he is scheduled to play Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn. tonight. The current temperature in that part of the country is -7F, so a dose of smoking hot blues sounds like a good proposition! Between January 4 and April 24, Guy has 39 additional scheduled gigs, if I counted it correctly! I saw him last July. If you’re into electric blues and like guitar shredders, I can highly recommend his show.

Sources: Wikipedia, Buddy Guy website, YouTube

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What I’ve Been Listening To: Santana/Abraxas

1970 album is a highlight by the classic Santana band

Abraxas was the sophomore album by Santana. By the time it appeared in September 1970, the Latin jam rock band had gained significant popularity, fueled by a high-energy performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 followed by the release of their eponymous debut record. While Santana established the sound and groove of the band’s classic lineup and was a successful album that peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 in mid-November, I think Abraxas kicked things up a notch musically.

The album opens with Singing Winds, Crying Beasts, one of three all-instrumental tunes. Written by percussion and conga player Mike Carabello, the improvisational track with its mystic sounds almost feels like it wants to put listeners into a trance.

Next up: Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, which undoubtedly is one of the record’s gems. It combines portions of the 1966 instrumental Gypsy Queen by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó and Black Magic Woman, a tune written by Fleetwood Mac founder and guitarist Peter Green. Fleetwood Mac, which at the time was a blues rock-oriented band, first released the track as a single in 1968. It was also included on the 1969 U.S. and UK compilation albums English Rose and The Pious Bird of Good Omen, respectively.

While doing some research for the post, I read that Green apparently encouraged Carlos Santana to record the tune. It turned out to be a good decision. Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman became a major hit, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971. The royalties Green received from the cover became a significant source of income after he had left Fleetwood Mac.

Pretty much the same thing happened with Oye Como Va, another album highlight that has become a signature Latin rock tune. The song was written by Latin jazz and mambo artist Tito Puente in 1963. And just like with Black Magic Woman, it was Santana’s rendition that turned the song into a hit, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Keyboarder and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie’s Hammond B3, along with Santana’s guitar and the band’s rhythm section create a powerful sound and compelling groove that invites people to dance.

According to an NPR story, Puente autobiographer Steven Loza said Santana’s version “exposed the world to Tito Puente and to Latin music in general. And “Oye Como Va” helped catapult the salsa movement to the ’70s because it gave the music recognition all over the world. And that inspired a lot of people to go into salsa.” It also brought Puente an unexpected stream of royalties.

Samba Pa Ti is among Santana’s most popular tunes and one of the best known guitar-oriented instrumentals. An Ultimate Classic Rock story explains how the piece came about, quoting Santana: “‘Samba Pa Ti’ was conceived in New York City on a Sunday afternoon. I opened the window I saw this man in the street, he was drunk and he had a saxophone and a bottle of booze in his back pocket. And I kept looking at him because he kept struggling with himself. He couldn’t make up his mind which one to put in his mouth first, the saxophone or the bottle and I immediately heard a song […] I wrote the whole thing right there.”

I also found an interesting nugget about Santana’s guitar sound on the album and Samba Pa Ti in a background article on Gibson’s website titled, “Flashback 1970: How Carlos Santana Refined and Defined his Sound with Abraxas”: “Although the cornerstones of Santana’s sound on Abraxas are his Gibson SGs, volume and the pureness and control of his touch, there are spots where he audibly used a wah-wah pedal to attenuate his tone. On “Samba Pa Ti” he left the pedal cocked to an open position throughout the song, achieving a sweet, warm distortion that produced the album’s most subtle guitar tone.”

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hope You’re Feeling Better, which was written by Rolie. His roaring Hammond B3 and Santana’s wah-wah-accentuated guitar make for an awesome sound. The song also became the album’s third single, though unlike Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va, it didn’t chart.

Produced by Fred Catero and Carlos Santana in San Francisco, Abraxas became another major success for the band. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October 1970 and remained in the chart for 88 weeks. The album also topped the charts in Australia and reached no. 2 in Canada, while in the UK it climbed to no. 7. It was certified 5X Multi-Platinum in April 2000 by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Abraxas was ranked number 207 on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list from 2003. And last year, the record was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”

In addition to Santana, Rolie and Carabello, the band’s members included David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums) and José “Chepito” Areas (percussion, conga, timbales). The same lineup plus guitarist Neal Schon would record Santana III, the next and last studio album of the classic Santana band, which appeared in September 1971. In 2013, most of the band – Santana, Rolie, Carabello, Schon and Shrieve – reunited for another album, Santana IV, which was recorded together with Benny Rietveld (bass) and Karl Perazzo (timbales, percussion, vocals).

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, Ultimate Classic Rock, Gibson website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Status Quo/Whatever You Want & Rockin’ All Over The World

The music of Status Quo may be relatively simple, but it surely rocks, in my opinion. Above is a nice clip of two of their biggest hits performed live back-to-back, Whatever You Want and Rockin’ All Over The World. It’s just fun to see how the band and the audience are having a great time. This is really what music should be all about!

Fellow blogger Hotfox63 reminded of the British psychedelic turned boogie rockers earlier today, when he mentioned to me their great cover version of Roadhouse Blues by The Doors. Sadly, the band’s long-time rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt, who is in the clip, passed away just a little over a year ago at age 68. He had been with Status Quo from 1965 until his death. Lead guitarist and vocalist Francis Rossi remains the only original member of the band, which originated from The Spectres he co-founded in 1962 with school friend and future Status Quo bassist Alan Lancaster.

Written by John Fogerty (formerly of Creedence Clearwater Revival) and first recorded for his second solo album in 1975, Rockin’ All Over The World became the title track of Status Quo’s 10th studio record, which was released in November 1977. Whatever You Want, co-written by Parfitt and Quo keyboarder Andy Bown, was the title track of the band’s 12th studio album that came out in October 1979. The two songs were also released separately as singles. I still remember repeatedly hearing both tunes on the radio in Germany in the late ’70s.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young/American Stars ‘N Bars

Young’s eighth studio album is best known for the epic rocker “Like A Hurricane”

Why American Stars ‘N Bars? And why now? To start with, it includes Like A Hurricane, one of my all-time favorite Neil Young rock tunes – well, make that ’70s rock songs! And second, because of that, I grabbed the record yesterday on vinyl in a great small store close to my house, which buys and sells used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment, a place in which I could get lost, but that’s another story! Since other than Like A Hurricane I didn’t know any of the other tracks, yes, it was at least in part an impulse purchase!

When spinning the record for the first time, I noticed two things. I was reminded how short vinyl records used to be. Side one clocks in at less than 18 minutes. With just over 20 minutes, side two isn’t much longer. The second thing I realized is that most of the songs on the album are country and folk-oriented – of course, Young has always done acoustic music, and I consider many of these tunes to be among his best work. Still, I guess because of Like A Hurricane, I expected more such rockers.

Neil Young American Stars 'N Bars Record Sleeve

Looking for background and some inspiration, I started reading up on American Stars ‘N Bars, Young’s eighth studio album, which was released in May 1977. Most reviews characterized the record as a hodgepodge and highlighted Like A Hurricane as the standout. One exception was a take by the Observer, which revisited the record in late May this year on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, calling it “in many ways…the quintessential Neil Young album.” I think they made a good point.

Throughout his career, Young has been known for making impulsive decisions. This has not always exactly endeared him to others. As an Ultimate Classic Rock story notes, in the mid-’70s, he recorded various albums that were ready to release but at the last minute changed his mind. For example, Young aborted Homegrown and instead decided to pursue and release Tonight’s The Night. American Stars ‘N And Bars is another example of Young’s unpredictability. Instead of this record, the retrospective collection Decade had been slated for release. Unlike Homegrown, which never appeared, Decade was delayed and came out in October 1977, five months after American Stars ‘N Bars.

The notion that American Stars ‘N Bars is a hodgepodge is not entirely unfounded. In fact, Young himself was very transparent about it by indicating the dates of the four different recording sessions on the album’s sleeve: November 1974, November 1975, May 1976 and April 1977. Side one lists Young, his long-time band Crazy Horse and The Bullets as the performers. The latter was a spontaneous name and included pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, violinist Carole Mayedo, as well as vocalists Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Side two indicates Young and Crazy Horse as the performing artists. All tracks were written by Young, except Saddle Up The Palomino, which he co-wrote with bassist Tim Drummond and singer-songwriter Bob Charles.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 1

All tracks on side 1 were recorded in April 1977. The opener The Old Country Waltz is a traditional country tune that features fiddle and pedal steel guitar, along with Ronstadt and Larson on backing vocals. The lyrics describe how Young received the news that his first wife actress Carrie Snodgress was leaving him. The topics of love, loss and lust also prominently feature on other tracks.

This is followed by a more upbeat sounding Saddle Up The Palomino. According to the above Observer story, Carmelina, the woman mentioned in the song, supposedly was the wife of his neighbor. The tune features more pedal steel guitar, fiddle and backing vocals by Ronstadt and Larson. Apparently, the giggle at the beginning of the song is from Larson, who would later become Young’s next girlfriend.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 2

Side 2 kicks off with Star Of Bethlehem, which was recorded in November 1974 and initially had been slated for Young’s never released Homegrown album. It’s a typical Young acoustic track, which could have appeared on an album like Harvest. The song prominently features him on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Country artist Emmylou Harris provides beautiful harmony vocals.

While I like the album’s acoustic tunes, the clear crown jewel to me remains Like A Hurricane. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for this epic tune, I wouldn’t have bought the record. Recorded in November 1975, Young initially had in mind to put this track on Chrome Dreams, yet another unreleased album. Referring to Young’s biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough, Songfacts explains that while recovering from vocal cord surgery and unable to talk, Young went to a bar with some friends. One of them, Taylor Phelps, said: “Neil, Jim Russell, David Cline and I went to Venturi’s in La Honda. We were really f–ked up. Neil had this amazing intense attraction to this particular woman named Gail – it didn’t happen, he didn’t go home with her. We go back to the ranch and Neil started playing. Young was completely possessed, pacing around the room, hunched over a Stringman keyboard pounding out the song.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Homegrown. Originally, it was supposed to become the title track to Young’s above abandoned album. While not as hard-charging as Like A Hurricane, the tune still has a rock feel to it thanks to Young’s distorted electric guitar. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was recorded at the same time as Like A Hurricane.

American Stars N’ Bars reached no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was certified Gold in October 1977 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Undoubtedly, the album’s performance was largely fueled by Like A Hurricane. The track was also released separately as a single and became one of Young’s best-known songs and a staple of his live shows. In a 2011 Rolling Stone readers poll, it was ranked no. 4 among the top 10 Young songs.

Sources: Wikipedia, Observer, Ultimate Classic Rock, Songfacts, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Led Zeppelin/In Through The Out Door

Led Zeppelin’s 8th studio album is band’s most unusual masterpiece

In Through The Out Door is an unusual Led Zeppelin album. When it was released in August 1979, critics and fans were divided. Some felt the synthesizer-driven sound on tracks like All Of My Love and Carouselambra was forward-thinking, while others criticized the band for having abandoned its hard-charging rock sound. To me Zep’s final record prior to drummer John Bonham’s death shows a willingness to push into new sonic territory rather than simply repeating the tried and true. That’s what great bands do!

When looking at In Through The Out Door, it is also important to understand the challenging circumstances under which the record came together. A serious car accident in August 1975 had left Robert Plant unable to tour for the remainder of the year and in 1976. This had made the recording of In Through The Out Door predecessor Presence very difficult. Jimmy Page had started a heroin habit during the studio sessions. The band’s concert film The Song Remains The Same had received a lukewarm reception upon its release in October 1976. In late July 1977, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac had died from a stomach virus. Last but not least, Bonham was struggling with alcoholism.

In Through The Out Door Album Jackets
In Through The Out Door was originally available in six different album jackets

With Page and Bonham frequently not showing up in time at the recording studio, John Paul Jones and Plant took a much bigger role than on previous Zep albums, while Page’s and Bonham’s relative influence was diminished. Jones, who had obtained a Yamaha GX-1 polyphonic synthesizer from Keith Emerson, ended up getting writing credits on all except one track: Hot Dog, a rockabilly song co-written by Plant and Page. Bonham did not receive writing credits for any of the album’s seven tunes, though he was included in the credits for Darlene, which was recorded at the time but not released until 1982’s Coda, the band’s final album.

During a December 2008 interview with Uncut, Jones put the making of In Through The Out Door this way: “I had this big new keyboard. And Robert and I just got to rehearsals early, basically, and as I said… [pause] actually, I’m not sure if I did say it in this interview… [laughs]… With Zeppelin writing, if you came up with good things, and everybody agreed that they were good things, they got used. There was no formula for writing. So Robert and I, by the time everybody turned up for rehearsals, we’d written three or four songs. So we started rehearsing those immediately, because they were something to be getting on with.”

In Through The Out Door opens with In The Evening, a track that was largely written by Jones, though it is credited to him, Plant and Page. The tune introduces the fabulous sound of the GX-1, the synthesizer that is omnipresent on the album.

Fool In The Rain is an unusual track, which features a Latin samba-like section in the middle. Co-written by Jones, Plant and Page, it was also released separately and became the band’s last single.

Carouselambra, with its synthesizer-dominated sound and Page’s guitar mostly feeling like an afterthought, is Led Zeppelin’s most radical sonic departure from their previous albums. Clocking in at a mighty 10:34 minutes, it is also the band’s second longest studio recording; only In My Time Of Dying from 1975’s Physical Graffiti was longer with 11:06 minutes.

The last tune I’d like to call out is All My Love, a rock ballad in honor of Plant’s above mentioned son. Co-written by Jones and Plant, I think it is the album’s highlight. In addition to Plant’s strong vocals, I really dig the sound of Jones’ synthesizer.

According to Wikipedia, Plant, Page and Bonham expressed some reservations about the album following its release. In a December 1990 story in UK music magazine Q, Plant reportedly said: “In Through The Out Door wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but at least we were trying to vary what we were doing, for our own integrity’s sake…In ’77, when I lost my boy, I didn’t really want to go swinging around—”Hey hey mama say the way you move” didn’t really have a great deal of import any more.”

During a 1998 interview with Guitar World, Page reportedly commented, “We [Bonham and Page] both felt that In Through The Out Door was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All My Love.” I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought, ‘That is not us. That is not us.’ In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted to pursue that direction in the future.”

In Through The Out Door was recorded between November and December 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden – almost one year prior to its actual release by Swan Song Records. Like all of Led Zeppelin’s albums, it was produced by Page. Despite its mixed reception, the record peaked at no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and is said to have sold 1.7 million copies only within days after its release. The album also topped albums charts in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. In November 1997, it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Sources: Wikipedia, Uncut, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 27

You’d think the time between the Christmas holiday and New Year would be dead when it comes to music. At least I didn’t expect to find much when I checked my usual sources for this feature. Well, it turns out that at least for December 27, the above notion is not exactly true.

1963: In a story titled What Songs The Beatles Sang William Mann, music critic of the UK newspaper The Times wrote, “The outstanding English composers of 1963 must seem to have been John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the talented young musicians from Liverpool whose songs have been sweeping the country since last Christmas, whether performed by their own group, the Beatles, or by the numerous other teams of English troubadours that they also supply with songs.” Only two days thereafter, Sunday Times music critic Richard Buckle kicked it up a few notches, proclaiming Lennon and McCartney were “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” Even as a die-hard fan of The Beatles, I have to say that Buckle may have had a few too many eggnogs before the wrote this!

Backstage At Beatles Christmas Show

1967: Bob Dylan released his eighth studio record, John Wesley Harding. After three electric rock-focused albums – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965), Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and Blonde On Blonde (May 1966) – Dylan returned to acoustic and roots music on this album, which was recorded in Nashville. John Wesley Harding was liked by critics and fans alike. It hit no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Only less than three months after it had appeared, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Among others, John Wesley Harding includes All Along The Watchtower, which Jimi Hendrix widely popularized with his recording the following year. Here’s a clip of a Dylan live performance, which apparently was captured during a show in Italy in 1984.

1969: Led Zeppelin II, the English rock band’s second studio album, hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Released on October 22 that year, it was Led Zeppelin’s first record to top the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album also became a big seller. On November 15, 1999, it was certified 12 times Platinum by RIAA. This album includes gems, such as Whole Lotta Love, The Lemon Song, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and Thank You, one of my favorite acoustic Zep tunes.

1975: The Faces, one of the great British rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s officially called it quits. Lead vocalist Rod Stewart, who already had released six albums under his name and scored a big international hit with Sailing a few months earlier, decided to entirely focus on his solo career. Guitarist Ronnie Wood already had started recording and touring with The Rolling Stones and became an official member in February 1976. Bassist Ronnie Lane went on to form his own band, Slim Chance, while drummer Kenney Jones eventually joined The Who in November 1978, following the death of Keith Moon. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance of Stay With Me. If you ever doubted that Stewart once was a kick-ass rock & roll singer, check it out.

1980: Double Fantasy, the album credited to John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it would stay for eight weeks, while the record’s lead single Just Like Starting Over started a five-week run as no. 1 on the singles chart. Undoubtedly, the remarkable chart performance was driven by Lennon’s tragic death on December 8 that year, when he was shot at the entrance to his Manhattan apartment building by Mark David Chapman, an apparently mentally deranged former Beatles fan. Initially, Double Fantasy had been poorly received. While I’m not particularly fond of Ono’s songs, I’ve always thought the album includes some of Lennon’s greatest tunes of his solo period. Here’s a clip of one of my favorites, Watching The Wheels.

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

Pix & Clips: The Temptations/Silent Night

This just felt right to post. Whether you celebrate Christmas and listen to related traditional music or not, I hope you enjoy this performance of Silent Night by The Temptations as much as I do. I know of no other singing group that harmonizes like these guys. To me this is as close to perfection as it gets!

Silent Night was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber, an Austrian primary school teacher and Catholic church organist. The lyrics, which originally are in German (Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) were written by Austrian Roman Catholic priest Josephus Franciscus Mohr (Joseph Mohr).

The Temptations included the tune on their Christmas album The Temptations Christmas Card, which was released in October 1970 on the Gordy (Motown) label. The intro was spoken by the band’s amazing bass singer Melvin Franklin. Eddie Kendricks sang lead. The remaining lineup at the time included Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams and Otis Williams. Otis co-founded The Temptations in 1960 as The Elgins and performs with the band’s current version to this day.

Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part IV

Some of the great artists who passed away

In the last installment of this year-in-review feature, I’d like to honor some of the great artists we lost in 2017. With most of my rock & roll heroes having gotten into music during the ’60s and ’70s, decades that ween’t exactly known for a healthy lifestyle, perhaps not surprisingly it has been another rough year for artists from the older generation.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. There was simply no known guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” In addition to popularizing a signature guitar sound The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Yardbirds and many other artists embraced in the ’60s, Berry was an incredible showman. To me his “duckwalk” was an equivalent to Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk.”

And then there are of course all the iconic tunes Berry wrote. They read like a greatest hits of classic rock & roll. From Roll Over BeethovenToo Much Monkey Business and  Sweet Little Sixteen to Johnny B. GoodeCarol and Little Queenie – and the list goes on! For additional thoughts on Berry, who passed away in March at the age of 90, you can read this. Here is one of my favorite clips showing Berry perform the iconic Johnny B. Goode with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

J. Geils

J. Geils led what Rolling Stone once called the “world’s greatest party band.” The J. Geils Band emerged in 1968 when Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio Geils had co-founded with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz in 1965, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and later that year keyboarder Seth Justman. Initially, they called the new band The J. Geils Blues Band. Prior to the release of their eponymous 1970 debut album, they dropped “Blues” from their name.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album. Read here for more about J. Geils, who died in April at the age of 71. Below is a clip of Hard Drivin’ Man from the band’s excellent 1972 album Live Full House.

Gregg Allman

Even though I had known Gregg Allman was not in good health, his death in May at age 69 still hit me. From today’s perspective, it’s hard to believe that he and The Allman Brothers Band were late discoveries in my rock & roll journey. I thought a Rolling Stone obituary hit the nail on the head: “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.”

Allman’s voice and emotional power are also omnipresent on his final studio album Southern Blood, which was released postmortem in September and is among my favorite new records this year. More thoughts on his death and the album are here and here. Following is one of my favorite clips of Allman performing Just Another Rider with his great band from his excellent 2011 album Low Country Blues.

Walter Becker

Walter Becker was best known as Donald Fagen’s longtime partner in Steely Dan, which is hands down one of coolest bands I know. The two met in 1967 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and guitarist Danny Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). In November 1972, Steely Dan released their excellent debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill. And the rest is history.

For more thoughts on Becker’s untimely death in September at the age of 67, which I learned only recently was caused by esophageal cancer, read this. Here is a great clip of what is perhaps my most favorite Steely Dan tune: Deacon Blues, from their sixth studio album Aja, which was released in 1977. Not sure when that life performance was captured.

Tom Petty

The sudden death of Tom Petty on October 2 at just 66 years was a true shocker. Barely a week earlier, he had wrapped up a successful 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Petty founded The Heartbreakers in 1976, together with guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench from his previous band Mudcrutch, as well as Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums).

The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. Over the next 38 years, the band put out 12 additional studio records, the last of which was 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Petty’s impressive studio catalog also encompasses three solo records, two albums with Mudcrutch and two releases with the Traveling Wilburys, the “super group” that in addition to him included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Ray Orbison. More thoughts on Petty’s death are here. Following is how I prefer to remember him – through his great music. Here’s great clip of Refugee, which has always been one of my favorite Petty tunes.

Other music artists we lost in 2017

Some of the other artists who passed away this year include early rock & roller Fats Domino (89), AC/DC co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (64), country singer and guitarist Glen Campbell (81), Soundgarden co-founder and lead vocalist Chris Cornell (52), Allman Brothers co-founder and drummer Butch Trucks (69), and jazz, R&B and soul singer Al Jarreau (76).

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part III

The concerts that moved me

The third installment of my year-in-review feature looks back on the many great concerts this year I had the fortune to see in 2017. It was a nice mix of major and semi-professional acts, including various excellent tribute bands. Following are highlights from my favorite shows.

U2, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., June 30

After I had listened to U2 for more than 30 years, I finally saw the Irish rock band during their Joshua Tree Tour 2017. In a nutshell, seeing them perform what I think is their best album live in its entirety, along with many other great songs, was simply epic!  You can read more about the show here. In addition, following is a clip of Red Hill Mining Town.

John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, July 7

This was the second time I saw John Mellencamp after close to 20 years. Since the gig was part of a tour supporting his most recent album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which features Carlene Carter, I wasn’t sure what to expect: R.O.C.K. or more of the stripped down Americana Mellencamp has gradually embraced since 1986’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It was definitely the former! While his voice has changed quite a bit since the days of Jack And Diane, Pink Houses, Small Town and Paper In Fire, he still delivered many of his ’80s with great dynamic. More about this great show, which also featured Emmylou Harris as a guest, is here. And for instant gratification, you can watch this nice clip of Pink Houses. Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go beautifully together!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’, F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

If I would have to name one show as the highlight, I guess it would have to be this concert. Seeing blues dynamos Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ bring the good time to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley and doing it with such joy was simply priceless. Also remarkable was opening act Jontavious Willis, a 21-year-old country blues artist from Greenville, Ga., who with just an acoustic guitar blew the roof off the place. I previously reviewed the show here. Following is a clip of the Sleepy John Estes tune Diving Duck Blues. The chemistry between Mahal and Mo’ is just amazing.

Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

It’s hard to believe it took me more than 30 years after I had first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band Deep Purple live. Together with Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and high-energy blues rocker Edgar Winter, it made for three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some additional hearing loss! You can read more about my experience here. And here is a clip of one of Deep Purple’s signature tunes,  Highway Star.

Outstanding Tribute Bands

I’ve also seen a number of excellent tribute bands this year. Full-time professional acts included RAIN and Get The Led Out, tributes to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, respectively. My review of the shows are here and here. Following is a clip of RAIN performing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

And here is Get The Led Out killing it with Rock And Roll.

Two other outstanding tribute bands I like to highlight are Decade and The Royal Scam, tributes to Neil Young and Steely Dan, respectively. In fact, I was so much impressed with these bands that I saw them more than once – Decade three times and The Royal Scam twice. Here is my review of a Decade gig in late October. To get an idea, check out this clip of Ohio.

One of The Royal Scam’s concerts I visited was a great gig at an intimate jazz club in October. I posted about it here. The following clip of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number was captured at an outdoor performance during the summer, the first time I saw these guys.

Cool music festivals

Last but not least I’d like to acknowledge three great music festivals I attended. It started with a British Invasion spectacle in Atlantic City in June, which featured The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next, tributes to The Rolling Stones and The Who, respectively, as well as Britain’s Finest, another tribute band to The Beatles. I posted about the event here. A nice promo clip of Who’s Next is below.

In September, I visited two additional festivals, which are conducted annually. First up was the Rock The Farm Festival in Seaside Heights, N.J., also cleverly called Faux-Chella, the concert that never was. In addition to the above mentioned The Glimmer Twins and Decade, the festival featured tributes to Carole King, Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, The Beatles (yet another tribute band!), The Doors, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. Here is my review of the 10-hour rock marathon. And following is a nice highlights reel of the Pink Floyd tribute, which is called Echoes.

Finally, there was Colts Neck Rockfest. The two-day event presented close to 30 bands from New Jersey. Unlike Rock The Farm, this festival focused less on tribute acts. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers. My post about the great event is here. Following is a clip of Moroccan Sheepherders performing Feeling Stronger Every Day by Chicago.

The last and final installment of this year-in-feature will reflect on some of the great artists who passed in 2017.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube