Clips & Pix: Jackson Browne/Running On Empty

Jackson Browne has been one of my favorite artists for many years. When I recently learned he is touring, I simply couldn’t resist and got a ticket for a show on May 13 in Bethlehem, Pa. I was lucky, since the concert was almost sold out, though the ticket wasn’t exactly cheap. Still, I’m completely psyched!

Running On Empty was the first song by Browne I ever heard in the late ’70s/early ’80s. The title track of his fifth album from December 1977 immediately grabbed me and still does. The entire record is amazing and is one of the best ’70s albums, in my opinion.

Apparently, the above clip was captured during a gig in Adelaide, Australia in March this year. It shows Browne’s current touring band, which consists of Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Shane Fontayne (guitar), Alethea Mills (vocals), Chavonne Stewart (vocals), Jeff Young (keyboards) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). While it is perhaps impossible to replace the amazing David Lindley, who played lap steel guitar on the original recording, it surely sounds like Leisz is doing a great job.

Browne’s current tour schedule shows some 40 dates across the country between early May and early August.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jackson Browne official website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Gregg Allman & Jackson Browne/Melissa

When I saw this clip on Facebook earlier today, I decided right away to post it when I get a chance: Gregg Allman and Jackson Browne performing one of Gregg’s most beautiful tunes, Melissa. Perhaps even nicer than listening to their voices, which go perfectly together, is to watch the obvious joy these two artists and good friends had – it’s truly priceless!

The clip is taken from All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman, a tribute concert to Allman that was held in Atlanta on January 10, 2014. In addition to Browne, it featured many other high profile artists, such as Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, Dr. John and John Hiatt. The show was recorded and appeared on CD and DVD.

Gregg Allman_All My Friends

According to Wikipedia, Gregg wrote Melissa in late 1967, using his brother Duane’s guitar. Apparently, Duane considered it to be one of Gregg’s best songs. It was included on Eat A Peach, the third studio album by The Allman Brothers Band from February 1972, as a tribute to Duane, who had died in a motorcycle accident three months prior to the recording. The track also became the album’s second single released in August that year.

Wikipedia’s entry about Melissa also includes a great excerpt from Allman’s memoir My Cross To Bear, in which he explains how he came up with the title:

It was my turn to get the coffee and juice for everyone, and I went to this twenty-four-hour grocery store, one of the few in town. There were two people at the cash registers, but only one other customer besides myself. She was an older Spanish lady, wearing the colorful shawls, with her hair all stacked up on her head. And she had what seemed to be her granddaughter with her, who was at the age when kids discover they have legs that will run. She was jumping and dancing; she looked like a little puppet. I went around getting my stuff, and at one point she was the next aisle over, and I heard her little feet run all the way down the aisle. And the woman said, “No, wait, Melissa. Come back—don’t run away, Melissa!” I went, “Sweet Melissa.” I could’ve gone over there and kissed that woman. As a matter of fact, we came down and met each other at the end of the aisle, and I looked at her and said, “Thank you so much.” She probably went straight home and said, “I met a crazy man at the fucking grocery.”

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, YouTube

Van Morrison Teams Up With Joey DeFrancesco On New Jazz Album

After almost 60 years, Van the Man shows no signs of slowing down

Van Morrison has kept pretty busy over the past few years. Since September 2016, he has released four studio albums, the latest of which, You’re Driving Me Crazy, just appeared yesterday. Think about this for a moment, how many septuagenarian music artists do you know who are as productive as Van the Man? Of course, ultimately, it should be about quality, not quantity. After having listened to this new album, I have to say I really dig it!

So, how does Morrison’s 39th studio release compare to his other albums? Frankly, given my significant knowledge gaps about his music, I can’t give a fully informed answer. I certainly like Moondance better, but I’m not sure this comparison makes a lot of sense. Is it a good jazz record? That’s another tough question for me to answer, since I rarely listen to jazz. But while this isn’t Morrison’s first jazz album and jazz has been a key influence for his music over the decades, it’s safe to assume the Belfast Cowboy isn’t on the radar screen of most hard-core jazz fans.

Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco

Here’s the deal, as far as I’m concerned. After having listened to music for some 40 years and as a past hobby musician who still occasionally grabs a guitar, I’m confident enough to say I know good music when I hear it. To my ears, Morrison and his partner in crime Joey DeFrancesco delivered a beautiful record that is smooth and grooves nicely throughout. While recording the tracks live in the studio, they apparently also had a lot of fun – you can literally hear laughter during and after some of the songs!

The album’s 15 tunes feature a mix of reworked jazz and blues songs like Every Day I Have The Blues (Peter Chatman), The Things I Used To Do (Eddie Jones) and Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter), together with new takes of orignal Morrison tracks, such as All Saints Day (Hymns To The Silence, 1991), The Way Young Lovers Do (Astral Weeks, 1968) and Close Enough For Jazz (Too Long In Exile, 1993). Morrison shares writing credits for Evening Shadows with Bernard Stanley “Acker” Bill, an English clarinettist and vocalist  who passed away in November 2014. He first recorded the tune with Bill for his 2002 studio album Down The Road.

With DeFrancesco, Morrison selected a heavy hitter. Over a now 30-year professional career, the 47-year-old American jazz organist, trumpeter and vocalist has worked with the likes of Miles Davis, David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and Ray Charles. I love DeFrancesco’s playing on the album, especially his work on the Hammond organ. According to Rolling Stone, it was also DeFrancesco who put together the backing musicians for the recording sessions: Dan Wilson (guitar), Michael Ode (drums) and Troy Roberts (saxophone). I’d say the time has come for some music!

The record opens with Miss Otis Regrets, a relaxing jazz standard composed by Cole Porter in 1934. The piece is a testament to Morrison’s apparent appreciation of old jazz.

The Way Young Lovers Do takes Morrison back all the way to 1968 and his second studio album Astral Weeks, which I understand is widely considered to be one of his best records. I think this new version presents a nice slightly smoother take, though one certainly needs to consider the whooping 50 years that separate the two recordings.

Another great cover is The Things I Used To Do. Originally, this 12-bar blues tune was written by Eddie Jones, better known as Guitar Slim, and released in 1953. By the way, the producer was then-23-year-old Ray Charles. I like how Morrison and DeFrancesco give the tune a nice jazz feel that makes you want to snip your fingers. The tune is a great example of DeFrancesco’s ace work on the Hammond. I also dig Wilson’s guitar-playing.

Close Enough For Jazz originally was recorded by Morrison as an instrumental for Too Long In Exile, his 22nd studio record from 1993. This new version is a tick faster and more immportantly adds vocals, a nice take.

Everyday I Have The Blues is a blues standard by John Chatman, also known as Memphis Slim. The American blues pianist, singer and composer first recorded the tune in 1947. In addition to Morrison, many other artists covered the song, including B.B. King, Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac during their blues days with Peter Green.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Have I Told You Lately, a Morrison tune he first recorded as a ballad for his 19th studio album Avalon Sunset, which appeared in 1989. Admittedly, until now, I only had known the Rod Stewart version from his 1993 Unplugged…And Seated album. Morrison’s new take speeds up the original and gives it a jazz groove. The updated version also uses a female backup singer whose name I haven’t been able to find. But she surely sounds great, as do the Hammond and the horns.

This post wouldn’t be complete without some commentary from Van The Man himself. During a rare phone interview with The New York Times he said, “My thing is not talking about music. It’s about doing it. Other people talk about it, and they make a living talking about it. I make a living kind of singing it and playing it. If it feels right, and it’s the right kind of vibe, then you should just go with it.” Amen to that!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, YouTube

My Playlist: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac has been making headlines lately. Yesterday, they announced a big North American tour, which will kick off in October, include more than 50 cities, and stretch all the way into the beginning of April 2019. This comes in the wake of news that longtime vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham is out and has been replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. The band also announced The Fleetwood Mac Channel on SiriusXM, which will launch on May 1st and run throughout the month. All these latest developments have triggered this post and playlist.

I’m most familiar with the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac, which spans the periods from 1975 to 1987, 1995 to 1997 and 2014 to April 2018. I find it very hard to imagine the band without Buckingham. His vocals and guitar-playing were a major part of the Mac’s distinct sound. At the same time, I’m intrigued about the addition of Campbell, the former guitarist of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers, and Finn, the previous lead vocalist and frontman for Crowded House, who also co-fronted Split Enz.

Of course, Fleetwood Mac’s 50-year-plus story started long before Buckingham came into the picture. It also continued following his first departure in August 1987 after the release of the band’s 14th studio album Tango In The Night. In fact, the band’s history is characterized stylistic shifts and numerous lineup changes. Before exploring some music, I’d like to highlight some of Fleetwood Mac’s stages. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, which would go beyond the scope of the post.

Fleetwood Mac Initial Line-up

Fleetwood Mac was formed in July 1967, when guitarist Peter Green left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and asked fellow Bluesbreakers Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) to form a new band. Fleetwood who had been fired from the Bluesbreakers agreed right away while McVie was hesitant. Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and Bob Brunning (bass) completed the initial lineup. But Greene continued to pursue McVie as a bassist and named the new band after his preferred rhythm section of Fleetwood on drums and McVie on bass, i.e., Fleetwood Mac. After a few weeks, McVie agreed to join the fold.

The band released its eponymous studio debut in February 1968, a hard-charging blues rock album featuring a mix of blues covers and original tunes written by Greene and Spencer. And even though the record didn’t include a hit, it became a remarkable success in the U.K., peaking at no. 4 and remaining in the charts for a whooping 37 weeks. The sophomore album Mr. Wonderful, which already appeared in August 1968, was similar in style.

Fleetwood Mac_Then Play On

First changes started to emerge on Then Play On, the Mac’s third studio release. Danny Kirwan had joined the band as a guitarist and vocalist. Stylistically, the music started to move away from an exclusive focus on blues rock. The band’s transition continued between 1970 and 1975. In May 1970, Greene who had started taking LSD and was not in good mental health, left. Christine Perfect, who had married John McVie, did her first gig with the band as Christine McVie in August that year. In February 1971, Spencer left to join religious group Children of God. Bob Welch and later Bob Weston entered as guitarists.

Fleetwood Mac’s next big transition happened when Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who had performed together as a duo, joined the band at the end of 1974 after the departure of Welch. The classic line-up was in place and recorded the band’s second eponymous album. Also known as “The White Album,” it appeared in July that year and became the Mac’s first no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The follow-on Rumours not only was another chart-topper but also catapulted the band to international mega-stardom. The classic line-up released three additional successful studio albums.

Fleetwood Mac 1975

The period between 1987 to 1995 brought additional changes. Buckingham left in August 1987, and guitarists and vocalists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joined the line-up -apparently, it takes two artists to replace Buckingham! Nicks and Vito departed in 1991. In 1995, following the release of the unsuccessful album Time, the Mac’s classic line-up regrouped. A performance in Burbank, Calif. in May 1997 resulted in the excellent live album The Dance, which was released in August that year. In 1998, Christine McVie left and returned to her family in England, where she lived in semi-retirement.

The remaining members recorded one more studio album, Say You Will, and continued to tour occasionally. In January 2014, Christine McVie officially rejoined the band. Subsequent efforts to make another Fleetwood Mac album were derailed when Nicks decided to focus on her solo career. While Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were involved in the recording, the record appeared last June as a collaboration between Buckingham and Christine McVie, titled Buckingham/McVie. You can read more the album here. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to start off this playlist with My Heart Beat Like A Hammer, a nice blues rocker from the Mac’s first album, which is also known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The tune was written by Jeremy Spencer.

About a month after the release of the debut album, Green’s Black Magic Woman was released in March 1968 as the band’s third single. Long before the original, I had heard the excellent Santana cover sung by Gregg Rollie, which became that band’s first big hit peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Green’s version climbed to no. 37 on the UK Singles Chart, not a bad showing either.

Fleetwood Mac’s first and only no. 1 song on the U.K. Singles Chart was the beautiful instrumental Albatross, another Green composition that appeared in November 1968.

Kiln House was the band’s fourth studio album and the first record without Green. Released in September 1970, it featured new guitarist and vocalist Danny Kirwan. By that time, the Mac had moved away from blues and sounded more like a straight rock band. While not being credited, Christine McVie provided backing vocals and keyboards. Here is Jewel-Eyed Judy, which was co-written Kirwan, Fleetwood and John McVie. It also became one of the record’s singles – great tune!

In October 1973, Fleetwood Mac released their eighth studio album Mystery To Me. At that time, the line-up included Bob Welch and Bob Weston, in addition to Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie. Welch and Christine wrote most of the songs. Here is Hypnotized, a nice tune penned by Welch with a relaxed feel.

Fleetwood Mac from July 1975 was the first album of the classic line-up. One of the songs on the record is the Stevie Nicks composition Rhiannon, which is among my favorite Mac songs.

When it comes to Rumours, which is packed with many great tunes, it’s tough to decide which one to select. Here is Go Your Own Way, which was written by Buckingham and became the album’s lead single in December 1976.

The follow-on Tusk, the band’s 12th studio album, sounded quite different from Rumours. This was exactly the intention. “For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham told Billboard in November 2015. ” While opinions about the album were divided at the time is was released, it still peaked at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, though it “only” sold four million copies compared to 10 million for Rumours. Here is the title track.

Tango In The Night from April 1987 was Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album and the last with Buckingham prior to his first departure. It became the band’s second-best selling record after Rumours. The opening track is Big Love, a tune written by Buckingham. Here is an incredible live version captured during a show in Boston in October 2014. It illustrates Buckingham’s impressive guitar skills.

I’m fully aware that capturing the Mac’s long recording career in a post and playlist of no more than 10 songs without skipping stuff is impossible. For the last tune I’d like to highlight, I’m jumping to band’s most recent studio album Say You Will, which was released in April 2003. It was recorded by the band’s classic line-up minus Christine McVie. Here is Throw Down, a tune written by Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac’s next chapter just started, and it remains to be seen how the story continues after the 2018/2019 tour. The current schedule is here. In the band’s first interview since Buckingham’s departure with Rolling Stone, it appears they are ready to soldier on and excited about Campbell and Finn. “Why would we stop?” asked Nicks. “We don’t want to stop playing music. We don’t have anything else to do. This is what we do.” Referring to the band’s new members, Christine McVie said, “I immediately felt like I’d known them for years,” even though we’d only just met.”

“There’s no doubt that my instincts, for better or worse, have always been to gravitate towards going forward,” Fleetwood stated. About Buckingham he added, “Words like ‘fired’ are ugly references as far as I’m concerned. Not to hedge around, but we arrived at the impasse of hitting a brick wall. This was not a happy situation for us in terms of the logistics of a functioning band. To that purpose, we made a decision that we could not go on with him. Majority rules in terms of what we need to do as a band and go forward.”

According to Nicks, Buckingham’s departure occurred over timing differences about a world tour. The band wanted to start rehearsals this June while Buckingham wanted to put that off until November 2019. Apparently, Rolling Stone tried to reach him for comment without success.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips And Pix: Paul McCartney/Mother Nature’s Son

This clip felt right to post on Earth Day. Usually, I try to keep this a “happy” blog and stay away from social issues. No matter where one stands politically, preserving our planet shouldn’t be about politics in the first place. But sadly this country continues to be more divided than ever. And, as mind-boggling as it is in the 21st Century, there are still folks out there who believe climate change is a hoax or that mankind can somehow beat the laws of chemistry, physics and biology – and most of it for selfish short-term gain!

Anyway, to get back to music, according to Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote Mother Nature’s Son after listening to a speech from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, where The Beatles were attending a camp to learn transcendental meditation. McCartney recorded the tune by himself in two sessions on August 9 and 20, 1968. It was included on the “White Album,” The Beatles’ ninth studio record that appeared in November 1968.

In October 2008, McCartney told Mojo magazine the song was influenced by Nature Boy, a Nat King Cole standard from 1948. “At that time I considered myself a guy leaning towards the countryside,” he reportedly said. “But I would have to tip a wink to Nature Boy. Though, when you think about it, the only thing they have in common is the word ‘nature’- the rest of the link is pretty tenuous.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Sting And Shaggy Deliver Sunny Pop Reggae

Unlikely pairing of artists teams up for groovy collaboration album

Like probably most folks, initially, I was surprised when I learned a few months ago that Sting and Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy had teamed up to record an album together. Then I thought if anything, the British artist has demonstrated plenty of versatility throughout his now 45-year-plus career. As early as during his days with The Police, this has included occasional reggae groove-influenced tunes, such as Roxanne and Walking On The Moon. While 44/876, which was released yesterday, is unlikely to become my favorite Sting album, after having listened to it a few times, I have to say there is something intriguing about it.

The album opens with the title track, a combination of the codes of each artist’s respective home country, the U.K. and Jamaica. In addition to Sting and Shaggy, who like on all other songs trade lines back and forth, the tune also features Jamaican artists Aidonia and reggae band Morgan Heritage. By the way, all tracks are credited to Sting, Shaggy and their backing musicians.

Next up: Morning Is Coming, one of catchiest tunes on the record. It was also released separately as a single on March 9. I think the voices of Sting and Shaggy match particularly well on this track, which has summer written all over it.

Don’t Make Me Wait is another lovely tune, which became the album’s lead single in January. Here is the official video. Check out that cool Gibson SG Sting is playing, though no Highway To Hell in there!

Just One Lifetime reminds us that we each only have one life to make a difference, so we should make it count: Just one lifetime/And there is only one/Yes there is only one/Just one life to live/Assuming that we’ll make it/We’ve no choice but to take it…It’s one of the few songs on the album, where political undertones come more to the forefront. The lyrics borrow from The Walrus and the Carpenter, a poem from 19th Century English novelist Lewis Carroll, which originally appeared in his novel Through The Looking Glass.

The final track I’d like to call out is Dreaming In The U.S.A., a tune I’m afraid could easily be misunderstood, similar to what happened in the ’80s with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. While the lyrics praise America for its movies, music, stars and clothes, they don’t mean to endorse the country’s present situation – in fact, quite the opposite! During a recent interview with ABC Nightline, Sting said, “We’re both immigrants. He’s [Shaggy] from Jamaica, I’m from Britain. And we came here because we love this country, because we value what this country represents. We both feel that the things we value about America are under threat. So it’s really a love letter to the United States.”

So how did Sting and Shaggy meet? According to a Billboard story, it was Martin Kierszenbaum who brought them together about a year ago. Kierszenbaum is Sting’s manager and Shaggy’s former A&R. Despite their very different backgrounds and approaches to music, they clicked and decided to record their first single Don’t Make Me Wait. In January, Sting performed at Shaggy and Friends, a biennial fundraising concert supporting Kingston’s Bustamante Children’s Hospital – his first time to play in Jamaica. During the show, he and Shaggy unveiled their new single. From there, they decided to pursue a collaboration album.

“We just had a rapport,” Sting explained to Billboard. “I decided a joint venture was much more exciting than him just guesting.” Added Shaggy: “He’s brought me patience and intuitiveness. He’s taught me to dissect a record down to the last T…. I used to do three or four songs a day, just write them, boom, boom, boom and done… [but] this is more exciting.”

Sting & Shaggy

Perhaps not surprisingly, various initial reviews of the album I’ve seen are lukewarm. “44/876 contains much of the sizzle of classic reggae or dancehall, though a little more substance would’ve been welcome too,” concluded Rolling Stone. “While the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for this album to exist, the end product is more lucid than many likely expected,” wrote USA Today. “If anything, 44/876 is proof that both Shaggy and Sting can keep evolving into the later era of their careers, and maintaining a sense of humor about it in the process.” The Guardian opined, “The sound of two millionaires fretting non-specifically about the state of the world is pretty annoying, especially given their only solutions are Marley-ish bromides about peace and love.”

As I said at the outset, 44/876 isn’t my favorite Sting album. But it’s undeniable he and Shaggy have developed a good rapport, blending their different styles and voices in groovy pop reggae tunes. I think a review by The Associated Press got it right: “The fact that Shaggy and Sting are teaming up on a CD does, admittedly, sound like a gimmick. Why are these two very different artists together? Because they happen to be known by a single name? Why not keep going and add Shakira, Sia, Slash and Seal? Maybe one day, but put the snarkiness aside and enjoy this warm bromance between the Jamaican dancehall king and the cool, intellectual Englishman.”

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News, Billboard, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Guardian, YouTube

Damn Right, Buddy Guy Still Got The Blues

81-year-old Chicago blues legend shined at New York’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

Boy, had I been full of anticipation of this show, and Wednesday night it finally happened – Buddy Guy at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in the heart of New York City. It was just as amazing if not even better as the first time I had seen the Chicago blues legend at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center in July 2016. Undoubtedly, one factor was the more intimate club setting where I was seated much closer to the stage. And then, of course, there was the man himself, who at age 81 still delivers the blues with a Jimi Hendrix-like intensity.

From the very beginning with the excellent opener Damn Right, I Got The Blues, Guy left no doubt why he had come to the Big Apple. As I usually do, I didn’t take any videos with my smart phone. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube clips to recreate some of the show’s highlights with the caveat that the footage was captured at different gigs. Written by Guy, Damn Right, I Got The Blues is the title track of his seventh studio album from 1991. Here’s a nice clip of the blues rocker from 2016.

Guy followed up his set’s fiery start with a 12-minute-plus version of the classic I’m A Hoochie Coochie Man combined with She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both tunes were recorded by Muddy Waters, who became a major influence on Guy after he had moved from his native Louisiana to the windy city of Chicago in 1957. The following clip from a concert earlier this month nicely illustrates the onstage persona of Guy who likes to tease his audience by cursing like a sailor. It also showcases his killer piano player Marty Sammon.

Another highlight of the set was Five Long Years, which Guy also recorded for his Damn Right, I Got The Blues album. The tune was written and first recorded by blues pianist Eddie Boyd, who scored a no. 1 hit with it on the Billboard R&B Chart in 1952. Guy’s rendition featured more hilarious cursing and a crazy solo by his guitarist Ric Jaz Hall, who mostly played rhythm but proved he can shred as well, if given the opportunity. The following clip from July 2017 nicely illustrates all of that. Check out Hall’s solo starting at about 2:25 minutes into the tune.

Yet another great moment occurred when Guy performed Skin Deep, the title track of his 14th studio album from 2008. He was joined on stage by his long-time producer Tom Hambridge who co-wrote the beautiful ballad with Guy and Gary Nicholson. I just loved Guy’s soulful singing in that tune.

Apart from singing and playing great blues tracks like the above, Guy also credited white British blues artists, especially his friend Eric Clapton, with introducing black blues artists to broader, white audiences. He also threw in a bit of Hendrix. Here’s a cool clip of a medley including Voodoo Chile and Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love.

A few words about Guy’s excellent backing musicians, The Damn Right Blues Band. In addition to Sammon and Hall, the members include Orlando Wright (bass) and Tim Awesome Austin (drums). All of these artists are veterans of the Chicago blues scene and have been touring with Guy for more than a decade.

Also, the show had an excellent opening act, The Ben Miller Band. I had never heard of these guys before, who have been around since 2005. They play a dynamite mix of blues, country and bluegrass, using homemade instruments and other unusual equipment. Among others, this includes a one-string washtub bass played by Scott Leeper who is also the band’s drummer. In addition to a standard microphone, lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Miller uses a microphone from an old telephone that creates a unique distorted sound. Rachel Ammons (violin, cello, guitar) and Bob Lewis (bass, guitar, percussion) are also part of the current line-up.

I was very intrigued by this band and plan to check them out more closely. One of the tunes they played last night was a cool cover of Black Betty. Probably the best known version of this traditional African-American work song was released in 1977 by American one-hit rock band Ram Jam.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the sad fact that Wednesday night’s concert was one of the final shows at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. After 18 years, the place is closing down at the end of the month. Guy will return to headline the final show on April 29. A note “To Our Valued Patrons” stated, “As a result of escalating rent, we are being forced to close our doors at the end of April” – what a shame! It was added the club is in the process to select a new location in Manhattan, so at least there appears to be a silver lining here.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Celebrates 2018 Inductees

Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone Join Rock Hall

I know many of the folks who may see this post have strong opinions about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Discussions about inductees and who hasn’t been inducted but should be in there are sure to continue. The selection process certainly looks less than perfect. One could even question the name of the institution. After all, rock & roll certainly doesn’t come to mind when it comes to the amazing Nina Simone, one of the 2018 inductees. So should The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be renamed to “The Music Hall of Fame?” But if that would be done, wouldn’t this imply such a broad scope that would make it an even more daunting task to identify nominees and select inductees?

While I acknowledge the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is flawed, I still like the idea of celebrating rock & roll music. And let’s be honest, being in the company of the likes of Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles, to name a few, is pretty cool. I think it’s safe to assume that many artists dream about joining such an exclusive club, whether they admit it or not.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Plaques

Following are highlights from last night’s induction ceremony in Cleveland, based on Rolling Stone’s reporting. Unfortunately, most of the current clips on YouTube sound distorted. I’m actually wondering whether this is done on purpose, so people don’t widely share the material. Also, keep in mind the HBO broadcast of the festivities is still ahead on May 5. Perhaps, better quality clips will become available thereafter I could use to replace some of the current footage. We shall see.

Interestingly, the night kicked off with Bon Jovi who were inducted by Howard Stern. It’s fair to say the Jersey boys, who by far won the fan vote, were the most anticipated artists of the night. One of the questions was whether former guitarist Richie Sambora would join his former band mates – he did, unlike Mark Knopfler who was a no-show. Since ultimately it’s the fans who have made these bands successful by purchasing their music and going to their shows, it’s unfortunate when artists cannot put aside their reservations at least for one night. Knopfler’s absence meant Dire Straits did not perform, which must have been a real bummer to many of their fans!

Anyway, here is Bon Jovi’s performance of Livin’ On A Prayer from their third studio album Slippery When Wet from 1986, which catapulted them to international super-stardom and more than 130 million albums sold to date.

Next it was the turn for Dire Straits. Three former members showed up, including bassist and co-founder John Illsley, initial keyboarder Alan Clark and the band’s second keyboarder Guy Fletcher. While Knopfler was absent, I still feel somebody should have inducted the band. Here is a clip of their acceptance speech.

One of the artists I was particularly pleased to see inducted is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a true trailblazer of early rock & roll. She was inducted by Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist of Alabama Shakes. After her speech, Howard grabbed a guitar to perform That’s All, a Tharpe tune from 1938 – that’s 80 years ago! Howard was backed by a band that included Roots drummer Questlove and Paul Shaffer, among others.

Next up were the Cars, an American new wave, power pop rock band that had a string of hits between 1978 and 1988. They were inducted by Brandon Flowers, the lead singer and keyboarder of The Killers. “The Cars were the first band I fell in love with,” he noted. “And you never forget your first…They achieved greatness and left a comet trail behind them, writing and recording songs that have transcended into classics.” Here’s You Might Think, one of the band’s hits from their fifth studio album Heartbeat City, which was released in March 1984.

Nina Simone was inducted by Mary J. Blige. “Nina was bold, strong, feisty and fearless, and so vulnerable and transparent all at the same time,” she said. “Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful; I never heard anything like it. She knew who she was and she was confident in what she did and why she did it. But it was often the lack of confidence in herself that people could relate to. Nina sang for all her pain, her joy, her confusion, her happiness, her sickness, her fight. She fought through all the stereotypes. She fought for her identity. She fought for her life.”

Simone was honored with a two-part tribute. Part one was performed by the Roots and singer-songwriter Andra Day. For the second part, Lauryn Hill, formerly with the Fugees, took the stage. Here is Hill’s entire set, which consisted of Ne Me Quitte Pas, Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Feeling Good.

The last honoree of the night were The Moody Blues. They were inducted by Ann Wilson, formerly with Heart. Referring to the band’s iconic second studio album Days Of Future Past, she said, “In 1967, The Moody Blues made a record that changed the face of popular music and influenced an entire generation of progressive musicians, including Yes, Genesis, ELO and many, many others. For the first time, mellotron was introduced to the rock and roll mainstream and rock married classic orchestra. There was no progressive showboating or self-indulgent, mathematical noodling; just great, classy music that expanded your mind, sang to your heart, took you inward and lifted you higher.” Nicely said! Here’s a clip of the band’s best known song from that album: Nights In White Satin.

The evening also included tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, performed by The Killers and Wilson and Jerry Cantrell, respectively. Here are The Killers playing  American Girl, throwing in some lyrics of Free Fallin’ at the end – too bad the clip’s sound sucks!

And here are Wilson and Cantrell with their rendition of Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden’s best known song. Written by Cornell, the tune appeared on the Seattle rock band’s fourth studio album Superunknown from March 1994.

Last but not least, Steve Van Zandt came on stage with a surprise announcement. “We all know the history of rock and roll can be changed with just one song, one record,” he noted. “This year, we are introducing a new category to the Rock Hall. We’re calling it The Rock and Roll Singles. It’s a recognition of the singles that shaped rock and roll, a kind of Rock Hall jukebox by artists that aren’t in the Rock Hall, which is not to say these artists won’t ever be in the Rock Hall. They just aren’t at this moment.”

The first six singles in this new category include Rocket 88 (Ike Turner’s King’s of Rhythm), Rumble (Link Wray), The Twist (Chubby Checker), Louie Louie (Kingsmen), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) and Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf) – cool choices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Eric Clapton/461 Ocean Boulevard

1974 album marked Slowhand’s triumphant return to music after three-year heroin addiction

461 Ocean Boulevard represented a clear break for Eric Clapton from his hardcore blues rock-oriented days with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos. I’m a fan of all the aforementioned bands but also dig the more laid back side Clapton showed on his second studio solo album, which was released in July 1974.

It’s important to remember this record came after a three-year hiatus during which Clapton had overcome a heroin addiction. As the great documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars tells, he tragically ended up replacing heroin with alcohol before finally getting sober in 1987. Clapton had also grown weary about his previous status as a “guitar god,” so he was clearly looking for a new start.

The album opens with a cover of Motherless Children, a blues standard that was first recorded by American gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The sped up beat gives the tune a great groove. I also like Clapton’s slide guitar playing.

The second track Give Me Strength is one of three tunes, for which Clapton has writing credits. I dig the dobro he plays on that track, something that at the time of the album’s release seemed to irritate a Rolling Stone critic, who also noted, “What’s disturbing is not that Clapton plays differently, but that he plays so little.” In my humble opinion, knowing when and how to show restraint is part of being a great guitarist.

Willie And The Hand Jive is one of two songs that were also released separately as singles. The tune was written by Johnny Otis and first appeared in 1958. Like the original version, Clapton’s take has a cool Bo Diddley beat.

The second and undoubtedly much better known single from the record is I Shot The Sheriff, a nice cover of the Bob Marley tune. I really like the slightly funky guitar sound and the keyboard part on this recording. It became a big hit for Clapton, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and also topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, years later Marley told Clapton he liked his cover.

Next up: Let It Grow, which is my personal favorite on the album and another tune written by Clapton and on which he plays the dobro. Yvonne Elliman sings backup vocals. Before joining Clapton’s band in 1974, she had played Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. Elliman also scored a hit with If I Can’t Have You in 1978, which became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever. Music critics noted the chord progression of Let It Grow is similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, something Clapton himself acknowledged. I wonder whether those same critics also worried about the similarity between Stairway and Taurus, the instrumental by Spirit.

The last track I’d like to call out is Steady Rollin’ Man, a song written by Robert Johnson, one of Clapton’s influences. In fact, 30 years later, he would record Me And Mr. Johnson, an entire album dedicated to the delta blues artist. This is another example where Clapton took an old blues tune and gave it new life and a nice groove by speeding it up.

While 461 Ocean Boulevard received mixed reviews from music critics, it became one of Clapton’s most successful albums with strong chart performances in the U.S. and many other countries. In August 1974, it was awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America. And, oh yes, it’s also listed at no. 409 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Albums Of All Time – the same publication whose critic ripped it apart when it originally appeared.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the musicians who helped Clapton record the album. Some critics felt they were less than capable – yes, there was no John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce or Duane Allman, but to say that Clapton’s band essentially was mediocre is simply ridiculous, in my opinion.

The musicians included Dick Sims (keyboards), George Terry (guitar, vocals), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldacker (drums, percussion), Al Jackson Jr. (drums on Give Me Strength and Albhy Galuten (synthesizer, piano, clavichord). In addition to Elliman, Tom Bernfield and Marcy Levy were backing vocalists.

Last but not least, the album was produced by studio wizard Tom Dowd. This certainly helps explain the great sound.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

My Playlist: Joe Cocker

Earlier this week, a post from fellow music blogger hotfox63 reminded me of Joe Cocker and made me go back and listen to some of his music, which I had not done in a long time. I’ve always liked the English singer for his distinct rough voice and excellent covers, especially With A Little Help From My Friends. Cocker truly made the tune his own; in fact, I prefer it over the original by The Beatles, and I say this as a huge fan of The Fab Four. From my rediscovery of Cocker it was only a small step to put together this post and playlist.

Cocker was born as John Robert Cocker on May 20, 1944 in the old British steel town of Sheffield, England. While growing up there, his key musical influences were Ray Charles and “skiffle king” Lonnie Donegan. At the age of 16, Cocker co-founded his first band The Cavaliers, together with three friends. Following the group’s break-up, he adopted the stage name Vance Arnold and performed with a new band called Vance Arnold and the Avengers. They mostly played at local pubs in Sheffield, focusing on Chuck Berry and Ray Charles tunes. In 1963, the band opened for The Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall.

Joe Cocker_I'll Cry Instead

In 1964, Cocker got his first record contract with Decca and released his debut single, a cover of The Beatles song I’ll Cry Instead. One of the backing musicians on that recording was a then 20-year-old session guitarist called Jimmy Page. Despite vigorous promotion by Decca, the single was a flop. After the setback, Cocker dropped his stage name and formed Joe Cocker’s Blues Band. The group was short-lived and Cocker took a one-year hiatus from music. In 1966, he re-emerged and together with session musician Chris Stainton formed The Grease Band. That group came to the attention of producer Denny Cordell.

Cordell, who worked with Procol Harum and The Moody Blues, among others, secured Cocker a residency at London’s Marquee Club, where he performed with a revamped lineup of The Grease Band. Cocker’s breakthrough came in October 1968 when he released his cover of With A Little Help From My Friends. Among others, the recording featured Procul Harum drummer B.J. Wilson, session keyboarder Tommy Eyre and guitar work from Page. The tune hit no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart on November 9, 1968.

Joe Cocker at Woodstock

With A Little Help From My Friends also became the title track of Cocker’s debut album, which appeared in May 1969, three months prior to his acclaimed performance at Woodstock. Over a 40-year-plus recording career, he went on to release 21 additional studio records. Cocker’s discography also includes 11 live albums and numerous compilations. On December 22, 2014, he passed away from lung cancer at the age of 70. Time to get to some music!

Kicking off this playlist is Cocker’s first single I’ll Cry Instead. I just totally dig this cover, especially the double bass, and similar to With A Little Help From My Friends like it better than the original.

Next up: The mesmerizing performance of With A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock.

She Came In Through The Bathroom Window is another excellent Beatles cover. Cocker recorded it on his sophomore album Joe Jocker! which appeared in November 1969.

In August 1974, Cocker released his forth studio album I Can Stand A Little Rain. It was produced by Jim Price, who had previously been a trumpet player in Cocker’s touring band. Here is I Get Mad, a co-write by Cocker and Price with a nice soul grove. I Can Stand A Little Rain became Cocker’s highest-charting album of the 70s in the U.S., peaking at no. 11 on the Billboard 200.

By 1976, Cocker was highly indebted and struggling with alcoholism. In April that year, he released Stingray, his final album for A&M Records. It includes the excellent slow blues Catfish, which was co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy.

Next up: Seven Days, another outstanding cover of a Dylan tune, appearing on Sheffield Steel. Cocker’s eighth studio album from May 1982 is a gem in his catalog. Here’s a nice live version of the track, captured during an August 1993 show in Germany, which I recall watching on TV at the time.

In April 1986, Cocker’s 10th studio album Cocker appeared. Fueled by the hit singles You Can Leave Your Hat On and Don’t You Love Me Anymore, it became a major success.  Here is You Can Leave Your Hat On, which was written by Randy Newman and initially became popular after its use in the steamy motion picture 9 1/2 Weeks. I love the horns and honky tonk style piano in this tune.

Have A Little Faith In Me is the title track of Cocker’s 14th studio album released in September 1994. This beautiful tune was written by John Hiatt. The gospel choir is one of the song’s outstanding features.

Cocker’s 17th studio album No Ordinary World appeared in Europe and the U.S. in September 1999 and August 2000, respectively. One of standouts is a great version of the Leonard Cohen tune First We Take Manhattan. Originally, the song was recorded by Jennifer Warnes on her 1986 Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat. In July 1982, Cocker and Warnes had recorded the chart-topping ballad Up Where We Belong, which was part of the soundtrack to the film An Officer And A Gentleman.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with the title track from Cocker’s 18th studio album Respect Yourself released in July 2002. The song was co-written by Stax recording artists Luther Ingram and Stax house songwriter Mack Rice, and first recorded by The Staple Singers in 1971. Here is a great live version of Cocker’s rendition during a 2002 concert in Germany.

Cocker was ranked at no. 97 on Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. “He brought Ray Charles to the mix as an influence on rock & roll,” said Steve Van Zandt in the accompanying narrative.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube