My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part I

Industry news that moved me

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe that another year is coming to an end. Yesterday, when I looked through my blog posts over the past 12 months, I noticed it’s been a quite eventful year on the music front. Between broader industry news, newly released music, concerts and great artists who passed, there is a lot of fodder for a year in music review post.

When I say music, I mostly mean ’60s and ’70s style rock and blues. You won’t find anything about Kendrick Lamar, Kesha, Selena Gomez and Jay-Z, to name a few contemporary artists who are in the charts these days. I don’t want to judge them, I just don’t listen to these guys.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as I started putting together my thoughts, I quickly realized that doing so in one shot would either be very lengthy or not do much justice to the above topics. Since I have to admit I’m not particularly patient myself when it comes to reading long pieces, I decided to break things down into four parts. Here is part I, in which I’m looking at broader industry stories that moved me. Parts II, III and IV will cover new music, concerts and artists we lost, respectively.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates 2017 and announces 2018 inductees

In April, the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Inductees in the Performer category included Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes, while Nile Rodgers was honored with the Award for Musical Excellence.

The induction festivities recognized Chuck Berry, who sadly passed away in March at the age of 90 and who was among the first group of artists inducted in January 1986. In his honor, ELO performed their cover of Roll Over Beethoven. I still haven’t quite made up my mind about this band, which I find weird and intriguing at the same time. No matter how you feel about them, Jeff Lynne certainly demonstrated he can play guitar solos that would likely have made Berry proud. Here is a clip of the spectacle.

Earlier this month, the class of 2018 was officially announced. Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone made it into the Performer category. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the coolest rock & roll pioneers I know of, will be inducted in the Early Influences category.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees

I won’t get into a discussion about whether the above artists deserve the honor or why others still haven’t been inducted. What I will say is that with an ever-growing pool of eligible artists, the task of selecting the inductees is formidable. You can read more about the class of 2018 here.

Is the electric guitar becoming an endangered species?

In June, a story in The Washington Post declared the electric guitar is dying a slow and secret death. As a hobby guitar player, the article got my attention and triggered broad discussion. The stats cited in the story certainly painted a grim picture. Annual electric guitar sales are down by one-third from 1.5 million to just over one million over the past decade. Legendary guitar makers Fender and Gibson are in debt, while PRS Guitars was forced to lay off people. The largest chain retailer Guitar Center is $1.6 billion in debt and was downgraded by Moody’s in April.

Death of the Guitar

Paul McCartney’s take? “The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after. So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there. [pause] Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently. They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”

But is the situation really that grim? The Dallas Observer said the death claim may be exaggerated. Nashville guitar dealer George Gruhn, who has sold guitars to McCartney, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Taylor Swift, was also quoted in the Post story as saying, “What we need is guitar heroes.” But he saw the published article, he was surprised about the Post’s overall take. “I would say that the guitar market is under stress from oversaturation,” he told the Observer. “But by no means is the market for the guitar simply dying.”

While I certainly don’t have the answer, I feel McCartney’s comments are well taken. In a society that is dominated by digital devices and increasingly seems to be looking for instant gratification, I suspect trying to motivate young folks to invest the time and patience to learn the guitar (or other instruments for that matter!) is a tough proposition. Moreover, the guitar is an afterthought in most of the electronic dance music today’s young kids listen to. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by the debate the Post story triggered. Plus, as will become obvious in the next installment of this four-part series, the guitar is very much alive in my kind of music that came out this year, and it’s not only old rockers who released new material.

Jann Wenner gives up ownership of Rolling Stone

Earlier this week, Variety and other media outlets reported that Penske Media Corporation acquired the 51% stake in Rolling Stone that Wenner Media still owned for just over $100 million. This means Jann Wenner, who co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with music journalist Ralph Gleason, will give up all ownership in the wake of the storied magazine’s 50th anniversary.

Rolling Stone Covers

“I am so proud of our accomplishments over the past 50 years and know Penske Media is the ideal match for us to thrive in today’s media landscape,” said Wenner in a statement, which also noted his company will retain “majority control and editorial oversight” of Rolling Stone. Variety is part of Penske Media.

Stay tuned for part II, in which I will look at music that came this year, including new recordings and anniversary editions of albums I dig.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website, The Washington Post, Dallas Observer, Variety, YouTube

Doctors Who Rock, Literally!

Using the power of music to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring hope to patients

Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and see a fully set up drum kit? I had not until earlier today when accompanying my wife to an appointment. As a former bassist, I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I asked Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth about the drums. He confirmed he is a drummer, casually mentioning recorded music and that “we are on iTunes.” Before I knew it, he handed me two CDs. It turned out I just had met a doctor who rocks, literally.

After I had returned to the waiting room, I took a closer look at the CDs and noticed they said N.E.D. – cool name, I thought, which somewhat reminded me of R.E.M. Then I saw N.E.D. stands for “no evidence of disease.” Now I was really intrigued and started googling the name and looking for N.E.D. in Apple Music. What I found truly impressed me.

According to Wikipedia and their website, N.E.D. is a six-piece rock band of American gynecologic cancer surgeons from different parts of the country. They got together in 2008 at the annual meeting of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, a U.S. patient advocacy organization, to entertain the conference’s attendees as a cover band. After an enthusiastic reception from the audience, the doctors decided to continue playing together. Eventually, they started writing their own songs and released their eponymous debut album in September 2009.

N.E.D. In Concert

But to me the most remarkable thing about N.E.D. is that they are using their music to raise awareness of gynecological cancers, which include cervical, ovarian, uterine and other reproductive cancers. “GYN cancers are not things people talk about in our culture, and they’re woefully underfunded and misunderstood,” N.E.D. singer, guitarist and keyboarder Dr. John Boggess told the The Washington Post in 2011. “We really believe that we’re starting a conversation. Because there are worse things than getting cancer, and that’s feeling isolated and without help and understanding.” Dr. Boggess’s day job? Medical Director at UNC Gynecologic Oncology at REX Hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

In addition to Dr. Boggess and Dr. Nagarsheth, who practices at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., the members of N.E.D. include Dr. Joanie Hope (vocals, guitar), Alaska Women’s Cancer Care, Anchorage; Dr. Robert Burger (bass, harmonica, vocals), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Dr. John Soper (guitar, mandolin), UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill; and Dr. William Winter (lead guitar), Compass Oncology, Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore.

So how do these doctors who are all in different locations handle rehearsals? According to the above Washington Post story, much of it relies on emailing and using audio tracks. “As surgeons, we’re just really used to doing what it takes to get things accomplished, and we have high expectations for ourselves,” Dr. Boggess explained. “We don’t walk into things thinking we can’t do it.”

Let’s take a look at some of N.E.D.’s music, which sounds really professional. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess that recording music isn’t their main job. Following are two clips from the band’s debut album. First up: False Pretenses.

Here is Rhythm Heals.

In June 2011, N.E.D. released their sophomore album, Six Degrees. Here is a track called Nevermind.

From this album I also like to highlight We Never Mattered – I wish they also would have used that wah wah guitar in the intro in other parts of the tune.

As N.E.D. continued to perform concerts to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring together cancer survivors, they came to the attention of socially conscious documentary production company Spark Media and producer Andrea Kalin. Kalin and her crew ended up following the band and their patients over a three-year period and put together an 84-minute feature film called No Evidence of Disease. Tagline: Six GYN Cancer Surgeons On A Rock & Roll Mission To Save Women’s Lives.

“They boiled all of that [film footage] down into a story that is really human and really breaks down the wall between physicians and patients and really talks about an experience but about a topic that’s not typically talked about, which is cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs,” said Dr. Boggess during an interview with North Carolina public television network UNC-TV in March 2015. Here is the official trailer of the documentary, which was shown at 44 U.S. movie theaters on February 4, 2015 for World Cancer Day and has aired on PBS.

Last September, N.E.D. released their third album Love & Pain, an EP. Here is the opener Bring You Back.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the record’s title track.

I’d like to finish this post with quotes from each members of N.E.D, which are published on the band’s website. I think they nicely illustrate where these remarkable doctors are coming from.

“It’s not so much that we’re trying to cure cancer with this effort… I think even if you can’t cure the problem, if people feel connected and understood they sure feel a lot stronger and a lot better supported.” (Dr. Boggess)

“I’m hoping it makes them feel good and relaxed and hopeful and brings a smile to their face and makes them feel like there’s something bigger going on here.” (Dr. Hope)

“You can learn a lot from patients with cancer. And they see the world in a way that’s much different from the way that someone else sees the world.” (Dr. Nagarsheth)

“Music, laughter and compassion go hand in hand with medicine and surgery in the care of our patients.” (Dr. Burger)

“We want to make a noise. There’s been a wall of silence around it and hopefully we can, we can bring some noise to that so that we’re heard and so that our patients are heard.” (Dr. Soper)

“Medicine is not all science. Medicine is an art, surgery is an art. Taking care of a cancer patient is an art. There is a lot of art in medicine, as well as music, so I think it really parallels in terms of what I do in the operating room.” (Dr. Winter)

Sources: Wikipedia, N.E.D. website, The Washington Post, UNC-TV, YouTube

 

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe about the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies all for a sudden discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

Christmas Rocks

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are some clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas, to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run, to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis, to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas, to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall, to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007

Happy Holiday season!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Pix & Clips: Little Richard/Long Tall Sally

There is actually nothing little about Richard Wayne Penniman, the giant artist better known as Little Richard. Long Tall Sally, which he co-wrote and recorded with Enotris Johnson and producer Robert Blackwell in 1956, is one of my favorite classic rock & roll tunes. It became Richard’s first no. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and reached no. 7 on the Hot 100 pop chart. The song is also ranked at no. 55 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The above clip is from the 1956 musical picture Don’t Knock The Rock, which also included performances from Bill Haley & His Comets, The Treniers and studio band Dave Appell and the Applejacks. While it is obviously staged and the audience is kind of hilarious to watch, I still dig this clip, since it illustrates Richard’s great showmanship. And how how about this kick ass saxophone player jumping on Richard’s piano and playing a killer solo?

If I were a little kid watching this, I would want to learn how to play the piano like Richards and the sax like the saxophone guy. In fact, I still feel like learning these instruments. So maybe there is still a little child in me!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Brandi Carlile/The Joke

Boy am I out of touch when it comes to music by contemporary artists! I just listened to an episode of the NPR program All Songs Considered called “The Year In Music 2017.” For close to 1.5 hours, the hosts cheerfully discussed new music released during 2017 by artists I had never heard of for the most part. Most of the music wasn’t my cup of tea, but the track above by Brandi Carlile really blew me away. It once again illustrates you ignore contemporary artists at your own risk!

According to Wikipedia, Carlile is an American folk rock and Americana singer-songwriter, who released her eponymous debut album in 2005. In the meantime, she’s put out four additional records and has a new one scheduled for February 2018, which is called By The Way, I Forgive You. The above track The Joke is from the new album and was released as a single last month. This incredibly powerful tune encourages me to further explore this artist.

Sources: Wikipedia, Brandi Carlile website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swings remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day.  Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is their best record: Making Movies. 

Dire Straits_Making Movies_Vinyl Side 1

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew.

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

Dire Straits_On Location Tour Poster

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…. They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Are Worthy Additions

Class of 2018 represents diverse music genres, including blues, jazz, new wave and rock

On Monday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made it official: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone are the 2018 inductees in the Performers category, while Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be inducted in the Early Influences category. Like every year there will be debate about the inductees and who didn’t make it in. One could also question whether an artist like Simone should be in something called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless, I think the 2018 class represents fine artists. I was particularly pleased to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe among the inductees, an amazing and widely under-recognized early rock & roll pioneer.

Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording – for the 2018 class this means no later than by 1992. Each year, the Nominating Committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selects the candidates for voting. Ballots are subsequently sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists, including every living Rock Hall inductee. The top five performers getting the most votes become that year’s induction class. Since 2012, there is also a public vote for fans. Their top-five picks become a ballot that is weighted the same as the remainder of the submitted ballots. Following is a look at the 2018 inductees.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Collage.jpg

I know many rock purists cringe when it comes to Bon Jovi. Apart from admittedly having a weak spot for ’80s music, I think these guys are legit. Yes, their music has always had a commercial bent, but that doesn’t disqualify it. Tunes like Runaway, Livin’ On A Prayer and Born To Be My Baby illustrate that rock and catchy melodies aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, Bon Jovi with their big hair in the ’80s looked pretty ridiculous, but frankly so did many other rock bands at the time. Ultimately, to me it’s about the music, so I can see beyond that.

What I will say rubbed me a bit the wrong way was what Jon Bon Jovi told The New York Times when asked about the induction. “Well. I mean … we’re very happy about it. And um, you know. It’s great [pause] “I really want to say it’s about time,” reportedly using a “colorful adjective” the article omitted. To me this smacks like a sense of entitlement.  Given there are so many great artists but only a limited number of inductee spots, none should feel they are entitled to induction.

Bon Jovi is a great live band. I saw them a few years ago, and it was a terrific show. Here’s a live clip of Wanted Dead Or Alive, captured at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2012.

While I would have preferred the J. Geils Band, who just like last year were nominated but didn’t make it in, The Cars certainly look like a worthy addition. I’m caveating it a bit, since I really don’t know their music in great detail. They certainly have had a number of decent songs since their 1978 eponymous debut album. After taking a few breaks from the mid to late ’80s, The Cars dissolved in 1988 and reunited in 2010. In May 2011, they released a new album, Move Like This, which they supported with a tour. Since the tour’s conclusion later that year, they have been inactive.

Here is a clip of Sad Song from their last album, taken at a gig during the band’s 2011 tour.

Dire Straits is one my longtime favorite bands, so I was happy to see they made it in. Between their formation in London in 1977 and the final show in October 1992, the band went through various lineup changes. In addition to front man, lead guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Knopfler, the only other permanent member was bassist John Illsley. The other inductees include the band’s first drummer Pick Withers, Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Alan Clark (keyboards) and Guy Fletcher (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals).

Asked during a recent Rolling Stone interview, Illsley confirmed he will attend the induction ceremony but didn’t know whether the band will perform. “I think we’ll just have to see how that’s going to work. We’re talking about a long time. David left the band in 1980. That’s 37 years ago. Pick left in 1983. We’re talking 34 years ago…A lot of time has passed. That’s something Mark and I need to talk about and I’m not about to make any categorical [claims] right here.”

While I like Dire Straits pretty much throughout their recording career, I generally prefer their first three albums over their later records. One of my favorites remains Sultans Of Swing from the band’s eponymous 1978 debut. Here’s a clip from a February 1979 performance on German TV music show Rockpalast.

The Moody Blues is another band I’ve yet to explore. With a discography that includes 16 studio albums between their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies and their most recent album December from 2003, it looks like this going to be a bigger undertaking – maybe something for the Christmas break. It appears Graeme Edge (drums, percussion, vocals) remains the band’s only original member, though Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and John Lodge (bass, vocals) joined in 1966, a whooping 51 years ago!

Asked during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Hayward said he’d be open to perform at the induction ceremony with former band members Ray Thomas (flute, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards), who will be inducted together with him, Edge and Lodge. But he wasn’t sure whether they are going to come. “When you leave a group it’s because you don’t want to be in it. I miss them both, particularly Mike Pinder because he was the guy that brought me into the group.”

Here is a clip of Tuesday Afternoon, one of my favorite among the few tunes I know from this band.

Nina Simone is often considered a jazz singer, though her musical styles also included classical, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. Between her 1958 debut Little Girl Blue and her final studio album A Single Woman in 1993, Simone recorded close to 50 records. She also was a social activist during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

A biography on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website notes Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone that “Nina could sing anything, period,” when the magazine included her in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. The same biography also quotes Bob Dylan: “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer…Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform…the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”

Here is a clip of My Baby Just Cares For Me, a tune I’ve always liked since I heard it for the first time in 1987 when it became a hit after it had been used in a perfume commercial. Originally, Simone had recorded this jazz standard in 1958.

And then there is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “the first guitar heroine of rock & roll. An accompanying biography notes, “If she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers. No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

Tharpe’s recording career started in 1938 when the gospel songs Rock Me, That’s All, My Man and The Lonesome Road became instant hits. Rock Me influenced many rock & roll singers like Chuck BerryElvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was Tharpe who in 1947 first put 14-year-old Richard Wayne Penniman on a stage, who later would become known as Little Richard.

Here is a clip of Strange Things Happening Every Day, which Tharpe recorded in 1944. According to Wikipedia, the tune became the first gospel record to cross over into R&B, peaking at no. 2 on what was then called the Billboard “race” chart. The song’s groove and sound clearly represent an early version of classic rock & roll.

The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland. The TV premiere of the event will again be on HBO. There also be a radio broadcast on SiriusXM. Broadcast details will be announced early next year.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Albert King, B.B. King, Robert Cray et al/Blues Medley

Inspired by this recent post from Music Enthusiast, I’ve been listening to Koko Taylor and originally intended to post a clip of this amazing artist who was also known as The Queen of the Blues. Then I came across the amazing clip above, which apparently was captured at the Grammy Awards in 1987 and shows two back-to-back performances by some of the greatest blues artists on one stage.

Things kick off with Willie Dixon and Taylor singing the Dixon tune When I Make Love. The backing band includes Dr. John, Junior Wells and Ry Cooder, among others. Next up is the Louis Jordan song Let The Good Times Roll, performed by Albert King and B.B. King, together with Big Jay McNeely, Robert Cray and Etta James. The audience is on their feet and McNeely on his back by the end of the track – any doubts you may have had whether the blues is here to stay will be gone after you’ve watched this!

I’ll definitely do something on Taylor soon and also post on some of the other blues pioneers who wrote music that was made popular by others, often white artists.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 10

1966: The Rolling Stones released Got Live If You Want It!, their first full live album. The record, which only appeared in the U.S., resulted from a contractual obligation with the band’s American distributor London Records. A year earlier, an EP with the same title had been released in the U.K. Two of the tunes – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Fortune Teller – actually were recorded in the studio and overdubbed with audience background noise. The Stones didn’t like the record and later repudiated it, maintaining their first true live album was the excellent Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! Frankly, given the two fake live tracks and the mediocre sound quality, you can’t blame them! Here’s a clip of the opener Under My Thumb.

1967: Soul legend Otis Redding became another major American music artist who tragically died in a plane crash during a tour. Redding and his band were on route from Cleveland to their next scheduled gig in Madison, Wis. when his Beechcraft H18 crashed at night during bad weather into Lake Monoma near Madison. Apart from Redding, who was just 26 years old, the crash also killed four members of his touring band, guitarist Jimmy King, tenor saxophonist Phalon Jones, organist Ronnie Caldwell and drummer Carl Cunningham, along with assistant Matthew Kelly and the pilot, Richard Fraser. The only survivor was Ben Cauley, Redding’s trumpet player. The official cause of the crash was never determined. At the time of his death, Redding had been the biggest star of Memphis-based Stax Records. Here’s a great clip of Respect captured live at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in June 1967. Written by Redding, the tune was originally recorded and released in 1965.

1973: CBGB, a music club in Manhattan’s East Village that became a famous performance venue for American punk and new wave bands, opened its doors to the public. Initially, founder Hilly Kristal’s vision for the club was to feature the music styles that were represented by CBGB,  which stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues. Instead, it became a forum for acts like the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB showcased mainly hardcore punk, post punk, metal and alternative rock. The club closed in October 2006. Here’s a clip of the Ramones at CBGB in 1977.

1976: Wings released Wings Over America, the band’s only live album and the sixth record in their overall catalog. The triple LP set captured the American leg of their 1975/76 Wings Over The World Tour. In addition to major hits Paul McCartney had recorded with Wings by then, the album included five songs from his time with The Beatles: Yesterday, Lady Madonna, I’ve Just Seen A Face, Blackbird and The Long And Winding Road. The album became a huge success, especially in the U.S. where it hit no. 1 in early 1977 and ended up selling four million copies. It also holds the distinction to be the first triple set by a group to reach the top of the U.S. charts. Here’s a clip of Maybe I’m Amazed, one of my favorite tracks from the record. I actually much prefer it to the original studio version on McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney, which appeared on April 17, 1970, just seven days after the official announcement of The Beatles’ breakup.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube

Today, Gregg Allman Would Have Turned 70 Years Old

As true Allman Brothers Band connoisseur and fan Music Enthusiast posted earlier, today Gregg Allman would have turned 70 years old.

Gregg, one of the finest artists who sadly passed away this May at the age of 69, played the blues hard. He lived and partied just as hard, especially during the anything-goes 70s. While he sobered up following the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, undoubtedly, Gregg’s lifestyle was a factor in his untimely death.

But his music will live on, and there is so much incredible material this artist has recorded. Here is one of my all-time favorite clips showing Gregg and the band he used for his solo recordings and performing Just Another Rider, which appeared on his excellent second-to-last 2011 studio album Low Country Blues. Gregg was very proud of these musicians. When you watch this clip, you’ll understand why:

 

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube