Meanwhile, Some 1,400 Miles South…

…Yes, I guess I’m on a magical Beatles tour today

Yeah, you can call me predictable. For a 40-plus-year-Beatles fan, jumping from Ringo Starr to Paul McCartney really wasn’t exactly a leap. And when I spotted the below clip earlier today, writing about Macca was a no-brainer. While Ringo and His All Starr Band were rockin’ Casino Rama in Ontario, Canada, approximately 1,400 miles to the south Paul McCartney got back to Orlando, Fla., his first time in five years to hit the sunshine state, as noted by Orlando Weekly.

McCartney and his great band have been on the road since late April when they kicked off their Got Back Tour at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. The gig at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Saturday night was the 10th show of the 16-date North American tour. Orlando Weekly reported it attracted tens of thousands of folks who “converged from across the state, of all backgrounds and generations, spending a not insignificant amount of hard-earned money to sing long-loved songs together” and were treated for a nearly three-hour set. All you young cat musicians out there, listen up, three hours!

This is what the power of music can do. You may say I’m a dreamer: More music, fewer guns!

Here’s a bit more of what Orlando Weekly had to say about the gig: “McCartney was in prime-form, taking the stage with his iconic Höfner Violin Bass to overjoyed fans. The Beatle turns 80  next month, a stunning revelation considering he played three-dozen songs and a nearly three-hour set. The setlist was majority Beatles classics, a healthy balance of songs from the Fab Four’s expansive discography, while also weaving in Wings’ classics alongside more recent and obscure tracks for “the real ones.” Never before played live included “You Never Give Me Your Money” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road; as well as a virtual duet with John Lennon singing Let It Be’s “I’ve Got a Feeling,” incorporating remastered video from The Beatles’ last rooftop concert 53 years ago.”

Following is You Never Give Me Your Money (evidently without the piano intro), combined with She Came Into the Bathroom Window – oh, that magic feeling! Based on Setlist.fm, this was 23 tunes into the show! You also gotta love when Paul after a false start says, “we’re gonna start that again [laughter in the audience], aye, come on, it proves it’s live!” Yes, it is!

Let’s throw in another beautiful moment from that Orlando gig: The finale including Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. This is followed by Paul’s final words, “Beautiful, thank you so much, and all that’s left to say we’ll see you next time.” Okay, before I’m getting really emotional, let’s play the clip!

Tomorrow, Paul and his band are bringing their show to Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The schedule for the remaining dates of the Got Back Tour is here. Taking a peek at Ringo’s remaining tour dates reveals there isn’t any direct overlap with his former Beatles mate.

With Macca playing Baltimore on June 12 and Ringo’s two scheduled gigs there June 14 and June 15, they will just miss each other. Ringo is playing Providence on June 12. But Mr. Starr looks free on June 16 when Macca is wrapping up at MetLife in New Jersey, which is where I’m supposed to see him. Baltimore is only about 200 miles away from East Rutherford, N.J. Now there would be an idea…

Sources: Orlando Weekly; Setlist.fm; Paul McCartney website; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

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Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Kick Off Long-Awaited North American Tour

15th All Starr Band features Steve Lukather, Colin Hay, Warren Ham, Hamish Stewart, Greg Bissonette and Edgar Winter

We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re gonna play some rock ‘n’ roll, that’s true/Now we’re heading down the highway to play for you...

The above excerpt from We’re On the Road Again, the opener of Ringo Starr’s 2017 studio album Give More Love, was my first thought when getting a recent email reminder for my scheduled upcoming gig by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band at New York City’s storied Beacon Theatre. This prompted me to check on the status of their tour, which had been derailed twice in 2020 and then again in 2021 due to you know what! It’s now official. Ringo and his revolving cast of prominent bandmates are back on the road, the best news I’ve heard in a long time!

The tour kicked off on May 27 in Canada at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario. An announcement on Ringo’s website notes the show marked the fifth time the band launched a tour at that venue after 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2014. The large casino, hotel and entertainment complex is located on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band perform at Casino Rama on Friday, May 27, 2022. PHOTO BY DARREN EAGLES /PHOTO

“It’s loose,” Ringo told the Toronto Sun when describing the atmosphere at Casino Rama and explaining why the band chose the venue yet again to kick off another tour. “For a week we live here and we just go to the same stage. It’s good being in the same vicinity as where we’re rehearsing.”

Following are some clips taken by concert attendees of both the initial May 27 show and the second Rama date of May 28. First up: It Don’t Come Easy, which has always been one of my favorite Ringo tunes. The song, which he co-wrote with George Harrison who also produced it, first appeared as a non-album single in April 1971. It was Ringo’s second solo single. The tune may be titled “it don’t come easy”, but you don’t get the sense performing it posed any bigger challenge to Ringo who is turning 82 in July and seems to be in superb shape!

While Ringo undoubtedly is central to the All Starr Band, the idea behind the live “rock supergroup”, which he founded in 1989, has always been to go beyond Ringo’s songs and showcase tunes by the band’s members. Now in its 15th iteration, the group features longtime members Steve Lukather (of Toto), Colin Hay (formerly of Men At Work), Warren Ham, Hamish Stuart (formerly of Average White Band) and Gregg Bissonette, as well as alumni Edgar Winter whose first tenure was from 2006 to 2011. Speaking of Edgar, here’s Free Ride, a song written by Dan Hartman and originally recorded in 1972 by the Edgar Winter Group. Yeah, baby, this rocks!

How ’bout some Aussie music. Ask you shall receive. Here’s Colin Hay with Men at Work’s Down Under. One of the band’s best-known tunes, Down Under appeared on Business As Usual, the group’s debut album released in November 1981. Hay’s proposition of the vegemite sandwich still sounds pretty tasty.

Three clips in, you may wonder, and no Beatles? Agree, this borders on a crime. Here’s Octopus’s Garden, one of two songs Ringo not only sang but also wrote for the band. The second one was Don’t Pass Me By. He penned Octopus’s Garden during a boating trip with his family in Sardinia after he had walked out on The Beatles during The White Album sessions in 1968. Of course, we know the rest of the story. When Ringo returned, he found his drum kit covered with flowers, thanks to George, and Octopus’s Garden ended up on Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles album, even though it was released in September 1969, eight months prior to Let It Be.

Let’s do one more: With a Little Help From My Friends combined with a snippet of Give Peace a Chance, the show finale. With a Little Help From My Friends, off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was among the final songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney truly wrote together. Give Peace a Chance, recorded May 31, 1969 at a “bed-in” Lennon staged with Yoko Ono in a room at Queen Elizabeth’s Hotel in Montreal, was Lennon’s first solo hit.

Here’s the setlist from the May 27 show, as reported by the Toronto Sun:
• Matchbox
• It Don’t Come Easy
• What Goes On
• Free Ride
• Rosanna
• Pick Up the Pieces
• Down Under
• Boys
• I’m The Greatest
• Yellow Submarine
• Cut the Cake
• Overkill
• Africa
• Work to Do
• I Wanna Be Your Man
• Johnny B. Goode
• Who Can It Be Now
• Hold the Line
• Photograph
• Act Naturally
• With a Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance

“I can’t wait to get back out on the road and play,” Ringo said in the above statement that was issued in February. “This is the longest I’ve been off the road in years – up until 2020 I was touring every year with the All Starrs – and I’ve really missed it. Making music in the studio has been great, and it certainly saved me during the pandemic, but nothing beats playing live with great musicians in front of an audience. I love my fans and they love me and it’s going to be wonderful to be peace and loving and playing for them again.” That’s the spirit!

Tonight, Ringo and His All Starr Band are playing CMAC in Canandaigua, N.Y., before moving on to Boston’s Wang Theater on June 2 and Hanover Theater in Worcester, Mass. on June 3. The full tour schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ringo Starr website; Toronto Sun; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means the moment has come again for some music time travel. Hop on board, fasten your seat belt and let’s do this!

Santana/Welcome

Our journey today starts in 1973 with jazz fusion by Santana – very different from Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Oye Cómo Va, Samba Pa Ti and, of course, Black Magic Woman, which brought Carlos Santana and the classic line-up of his band on my radar screen 40-plus years ago. Welcome is the title track of Santana’s fifth studio album released in November 1973, and the follow-on to Caravanserai, which had marked a major departure from their classic seductive blend of Latin grooves and rock to free-form instrumental jazz fusion. I have to admit it was an acquired taste, and I still need to be in the right mood to listen to this type of music. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to give this a listen. It’s amazing music!

Joe Jackson/Friend Better

After a six-and-a-half minute-trance-inducing instrumental, it’s time to add some vocals and pick something a bit more mainstream. Enter Joe Jackson, a British artist I’ve admired since ca. 1980 when I received his sophomore album I’m the Man as a present for my 14th birthday. Initially called “an angry young man,” Jackson quickly proved to be a versatile artist. Over a 40-year-plus-and-counting recording career, he has gone far beyond his origins of punk-oriented pub rock and embraced multiple other genres like new wave, big band jazz and pop. Friend Better is from Jackson’s most recent 20th studio album Fool, which came out in January 2019. All songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. I also got to see him during the supporting tour and thought he was still the man. If you’re so inclined, you can read more about Fool here and the gig here.

The Church/Reptile

For our next stop, let’s jump to February 1988 and The Church, and I’m not talking about a house of worship. That’s when Starfish came out, the Australian rock band’s fifth album, which brought them their international breakthrough. Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post about this gem a couple of weeks ago. When back in the day I heard the album’s first single Under the Milky Way, I was immediately hooked by the amazing sound and got Starfish on CD right away. Only mentioning Milky Way gives me some chills. Okay, admittedly, I’m also listening to the bloody tune as I’m writing this! While this song undoubtedly is the best-known track on Starfish, there’s definitely more to the album. Point in case: Reptile, the second single, credited to all four members of the group Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass), Peter Koppes (guitars, lead vocals), Marty Willson-Piper (guitars, lead vocals) and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion). Kilbey remains the only original member in the Aussie band’s current incarnation.

The Temptations/Get Ready

I trust Motown legends The Temptations need no introduction. When it comes to multi-part harmony singing, the Detroit vocal group ruled in my book. If you haven’t heard it, check out their heavenly rendition of Silent Night, and you quickly know what I mean. This brings me to Get Ready, released in February 1966, the group’s third no. 1 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s R&B charts and their second top 10 on the UK Official Singles Chart. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, the tune also appeared on The Temptations’ fourth studio album Gettin’ Ready, released in June that same year. Motown founder and head Berry Gordy Jr. wasn’t impressed with the song’s performance on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 (no. 29). Subsequently, he replaced Robinson with Norman Whitfield as the group’s producer. Whitfield would become instrumental in shaping what became known as psychedelic soul in the late ’60s. Among others, he co-wrote and produced the epic Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

Counting Crows/Mr. Jones

We’re starting to get into the final stretch with one of my all-time favorite tunes by Counting Crows and the ’90s for that matter. Like I bet was the case for many other music listeners as well, Mr. Jones brought the rock band from San Franciso on my radar screen when they suddenly burst on the scene in December 1993. Not only marked Mr. Jones the group’s breakthrough, but it also was their very first single. Interestingly, the lead single off their studio debut August and Everything Thereafter, which had come out three months earlier, failed to chart in the U.S. but proved successful elsewhere. Mr. Jones, co-written by Counting Crows guitarist and lead vocalist David Bryson and Adam Duritz, respectively, hit no. 1 in Canada and no. 13 in Australia. In the UK, it reached a respectable no. 28. I wonder whether American audiences felt the tune sounded too much like R.E.M. – not an unfair comparison, though it never bothered me. Last year, Counting Crows hit their 30th anniversary (unreal to me!). Bryson and Duritz remain part of the current line-up.

Little Richard/Tutti Frutti

And once again, this brings us to our final destination for this Sunday. While he called himself Little Richard, there was nothing small about Richard Wayne Penniman. The flamboyant artist was a giant of the classic rock & roll era, one of the most exciting performers who also wrote and co-wrote gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Long Tall Sally and Jenny, Jenny. And I’m only talking about tunes from Richard’s debut album Here’s Little Richard released in March 1957. As was common at the time, it essentially was a compilation of Richard’s singles that had appeared earlier. Tutti Frutti, co-written by Penniman and Dorothy LaBostrie, had first been released in October 1955 and become Little Richard’s first U.S. hit, a no. 2 on Billboard’s R&B charts. It also reached the top 20 on the mainstream pop chart (no. 18). Inexplicably, at least from a musical perspective, Penniman never had a no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. His most successful tune there, Long Tall Sally, reached no. 6.

This wraps up another installment of The Sunday Six, folks, but we’ll embark on a new trip next Sunday. Meanwhile, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another weekly new music revue. Usually, most of the artists I feature in these posts are new to me. Not so this time! All picks appear on brand new albums released yesterday.

Wilco/All Across the World

American alternative rock band Wilco were formed in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica) and the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo after vocalist and guitarist Jay Farrar had left the alternative country group. Wilco’s studio debut A.M. came out in March 1995. Unlike Trace, the debut by Farrar’s newly founded Son Volt, A.M. missed the charts. But Wilco caught up with and eventually surpassed Son Volt from a chart performance perspective. To date, the band has released 12 albums including its latest Cruel Country, a double album. While Tweedy acknowledged Wilco hadn’t been very comfortable about being called a country band in the past, even though their music always had included country elements, he said with Cruel Country “Wilco is digging in and calling it country.” Here’s All Across the World. I dig that tune and really don’t care much what you call it!

Liam Gallagher/Too Good For Giving Up

English singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher first gained prominence in the 1990s as frontman and lead vocalist of Britain’s overnight sensation Oasis. After Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in August 2009, which ended the group, Liam and the remaining members decided to continue as Beady Eye. When that band broke up in October 2014, Liam launched a solo career, though for some reason, he initially didn’t want to characterize it as such. His solo debut As You Were was met with critical acclaim and debuted at no. 1 on the British albums chart. Now, Liam Gallagher is back with his third and new album C’mon You Know. Here’s a sample: Too Good For Giving Up, co-written by Gallagher and fellow British singer-songwriter Simon Aldred who is also listed as co-producer. Strong tune!

Steve Earle/Hill Country Rain

After a warm tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, released in January 2021, roots rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle is back with another tribute. Jerry Jeff, his 22nd studio release, celebrates the music of outlaw country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. While Walker wrote and interpreted many songs over more than 50 years, he was best known for Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 classic has been covered by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others. And now also Steve Earle, who released his solo debut Guitar Town in March 1986 following a 10-year-plus career as a songwriter and musician. “This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle wrote on his website. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.” Here’s Hill Country Rain, which Walker first recorded in 1972 for a self-titled studio album. Great rendition!

Bruce Hornsby/Tag

When I included Bruce Hornsby in a recent Sunday Six installment, I didn’t anticipate I’d be writing about the American singer-songwriter again so soon. Best known for his 1986 debut gem The Way It Is, Hornsby has drawn from folk-rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country rock, heartland rock and blues rock over a 36-year-and-counting recording career. Bonnie Raitt, whose music I’ve loved for many years, called Hornsby her favorite artist in a recent interview. Perhaps I should finally take a closer look at Hornsby beyond his first two albums! ‘Flicted, his 23rd and latest would be a start. “Thanks to all of our supporters who have followed the multi-genre journey for the last thirty-six years,” Hornsby wrote on his website.”…thanks for being open to change, exploration and a bit of musical mirth and merriment along with the attempts at deep and soulful music-making through the years.” Here’s Tag, which like most tunes on the album were written or co-written by Hornsby. This may not be as catchy as mainstream pop-oriented songs like Every Little Kiss, Mandolin Rain or The Way It Is, but I’m still intrigued and want to hear more.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes from each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Earle website; Bruce Hornsby website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Madonna

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song exercise. If you’re a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll stick around and come back.

My song choice this week falls outside my ’60s and ’70s core wheelhouse, so in case you dig music from these two decades but are less excited about this pick, I hope you’ll check out some of the other posts and return. Should you love the tune I selected but are less sure about the ’60s and ’70s, come back anyway and allow me to demonstrate how much great music these two decades have to offer. BTW, you’ll also find some contemporary music on this blog.

After this shameless attempt of self-promotion, here are the rules: I’m about to embark on an imaginary trip to a desert island and need to decide which one song (not an album!) to take with me. Moreover, it must be a tune by an artist or a band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. I’m doing this exercise in alphabetical order, based on my music library, and I’m up to the letter “m”.

Artists (their last names) and bands starting with the letter “m” are a sizeable pool in my music universe and, for example, include The Mamas & The Papas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Men At Work, The Moody Blues and Mumford & Sons. And my pick is La Isla Bonita by Madonna.

Yes, I like a good number of her songs but must immediately qualify for the most part I’m referring to music on her first four albums. I’m also not familiar at all with her two most recent albums Rebel Heart (March 2015) and Madame X (June 2019). I vaguely recall sampling a few tunes from MDNA (March 2012). Afterwards, I stopped paying attention altogether. Other contenders for my specific song choice included Borderline, Into the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Prayer. Not only has La Isla Bonita been among my favorite Madonna tunes for many years, but I also felt it’s a perfect fit for the occasion.

The Spanish pop-flavored tune was co-written by Madonna and co-producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. It first appeared on Madonna’s third studio album True Blue, which came out in May 1986. The song was also released separately as the album’s fifth and last single in February 1987.

Both the single and the album enjoyed substantial international chart success. La Isla Bonita went to no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland in the UK, while the album topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Europe definitely loved Madonna!

True Blue also became Madonna’s most commercially successful record globally, with more than 25 million units sold worldwide, and her third-highest seller in the U.S. where it reached 7x Platinum certification (verified sales of 7 million units) as of February 1995. In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called True Blue “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer who knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it.” The album was also well-received by many other music critics.

How about La Isla Bonita gypsy style. This cool live reinterpretation captured in 2007 features guitarist Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, both from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band formed in New York City in 1999. Check this out – man, what a performance!

I’m leaving you with a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

“La Isla Bonita” means “The Beautiful Island” in Spanish. In the song, Madonna sings about the beautiful island of San Pedro, where she longs to be. San Pedro is not a real island. In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, “I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”

This song provided yet another look and sound for Madonna, as it had a Spanish theme. In an interview with the New York Times, she called the song, “A tribute to the beauty and mystery of Latin American people.”

Songwriter and producer Patrick Leonard wrote this for Michael Jackson, but Jackson claimed he didn’t like the title and turned down the song. Leonard then offered it to Madonna, who rewrote some of the lyrics in her style. Leonard worked with Madonna on many of her other hits including: “Live To Tell,” “Who’s That Girl,” “The Look Of Love,” “Like A Prayer,” “Cherish,” “Oh, Father,” “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

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

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

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – man, it’s hot this weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey). In case you’re also experiencing sweltering temperatures I hope you stay cool! Are you ready for some hot music? 🙂

Melody Gardot & Philippe Powell/This Foolish Heart Could Love You

If you’re a more frequent traveler on The Sunday Six, by now, you’re probably not surprised I’m starting today’s journey with another relaxing jazz tune. But there are two differences: My pick has vocals and it’s brand new. American jazz vocalist Melody Gardot released her debut album Worrisome Heart in 2006. Her difficult recovery from brain injuries sustained during a 2003 bicycle accident played a significant part in her personal life and music journey. You can learn more about Gardot’s incredible story on her Wikipedia page. Philippe Powell (full name: Philippe Baden Powell) is a French-born pianist and composer, and the son of Baden Powell de Aquino, a prominent Brazilian jazz and bossa nova guitarist who professionally was known as Baden Powell. According to this online bio, Philippe Powell started his professional recording career in 1995. This Foolish Heart Could Love You, co-written by Gardot and Powell, is the beautiful opener of their great collaboration album Entre eux deux, which came out on May 20. So soothing!

The Alarm/Sold Me Down the River

Ready for some time travel? Let’s first jump to the late ’80s with a cool rocker by The Alarm. Shout-out to Max from PowerPop blog who featured another song by the Welsh rock band on Friday, which brought them on my radar screen! After I had found and listened to 68 Guns in the “Top Songs” list of my streaming music provider, Sold Me Down the River came on. Well, I guess you could say that tune completely sold me on the group. I love when stuff like that happens! The Alarm were initially formed in Rhyl, Wales, in 1981, emerging from a punk band with the lovely name The Toilets. During their original 10-year run as The Alarm, they released five studio albums. After the surprise departure of co-founder and lead vocalist Mike Peters in 1991, the group broke up. In the late 90s, Peters relaunched a new version of the group titled The Alarm MM++. They have released 14 albums and remain active to this day. Sold Me Down the River, co-written by Peters and original Alarm bassist Eddie Macdonald, is included on their fourth studio album Change that appeared in September 1989. That guitar riff just makes me smile. Yes, you can’t deny it’s an ’80s production, but it’s still great!

Foo Fighters/This Is a Call

I guess I wasn’t kidding when I told Dave from A Sound Day on Friday night about my need to take a closer look at Foo Fighters after he had posted about their 1997 sophomore album The Colour and the Shape. By now, some of you may be thinking, ‘okay, is this a post of borrowed ideas from other bloggers?’ A key reason I enjoy blogging is interacting with fellow bloggers and, yes, getting inspired! Even after having listened to music for more than 40 years, I can say without any doubt my awareness/knowledge today wouldn’t be the same without great fellow bloggers I’m following, and I can’t thank them enough! Anyhoo, getting back to the Foos who started in 1994 in Seattle as a music project of former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, an artist I’ve come to immensely respect. During their 27-year-and-counting recording career, they have released 10 studio albums, most recently Medicine at Midnight from February 2021. This Is a Call, a great grungy power-pop tune written by Grohl, takes us back to Foo Fighters’ project stage. Grohl played all instruments and did all vocals with two small exceptions. Starting with their above-mentioned sophomore release, Foo albums became band efforts.

Donald Fagen/Mary Shut the Garden Door

After two rock-oriented tunes, let’s take it back down a few notches for this next stop on our little journey. Like most great longtime music writing partnerships, Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were best when working together and off each other. But they also recorded some decent music as solo artists. A case in point is Mary Shut the Garden Door, a track off Donald Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat, released in March 2006. Paranoia blooms when a thuggish cult gains control of the government, explain the song’s liner notes, cited by a New York Times story published 10 days ahead of the album’s release. “I’m afraid of religious people in general,” Fagen told the Times, “any adult who believes in magic.”Morph the Cat was influenced by the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 and the gruesome death of Fagen’s mother from Alzheimer’s in January 2003. The article also observed the album’s dark lyrics contrast Steely Dan songs, which usually take a dark humor or indifferent stance on doom and gloom. That may be the case, but if you had told me Mary Shut the Garden Door was a Steely Dan song from the vault, I would have bought it. In addition to Fagen’s distinct voice, it’s got this smooth jazzy Dan sound and cool groove, all coming together in a high-quality production. At first, I thought Fagen’s melodica part was a harmonica and kept picturing Stevie Wonder playing this. I’m hoping to do it again and see Mr. Fagen’s Steely Dan in late June – knock on wood!

Chicken Shack/The Way It Is

A Sunday Six without at least one ’60s track is pretty much unthinkable. The next song doesn’t only meet this criterion but also represents one of my favorite music genres. British blues band Chicken Shack were formed in 1965 by Stan Webb (guitar, vocals), Andy Sylvester (bass) and Alan Morley (drums). The group’s biggest commercial success coincided with the 1968-1969 tenure of vocalist and keyboarder Christine Perfect. After her unsuccessful eponymous solo debut album, she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 as Christine McVie. Since 1968, she had been married to Mac bassist John McVie. The Way It Is, penned by Webb, is from Chicken Shack’s third studio album 100 Ton Chicken, released in November 1969. By that time, Perfect/McVie had been replaced by Paul Raymond (keyboards, vocals). I dig both the tune and the record, but neither gained any chart traction. In 1971, Raymond, Sylvester and then-Chicken Shack drummer Dave Bidwell left to join fellow English blues-rock band Savoy Brown. Webb ended up with them in 1974 as well and can be heard on their studio album Boogie Brothers, released that same year. Webb subsequently revived Chicken Shack and has since performed under that name with rotating members.

The Police/Peanuts

All things must pass, and once again it’s time to wrap up another zig-zag journey to the amazing world of music. Our final stop takes us to November 1978 and Outlandos d’Amour by The Police. It was the first of five excellent albums the British group released during their official run from 1997 to 1986. In reality, their active period ended in March 1984 after the end of their Synchronicity tour. By that time, Sting had already decided to go it alone and immediately started work on his solo debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles while the band was officially on hiatus. Turtles appeared in June 1985 and became a huge success. An attempt by the band to record a new album in July 1986 quickly came to an end after Stewart Copeland broke his collarbone in a fall from a horse and wasn’t able to play the drums. The Police officially disbanded shortly thereafter. I dig the raw sound of Outlandos d’Amour and deliberately avoided picking any of its three hit singles Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely – not because I can’t stand them, but I feel we’ve heard each of these tunes many times. Instead, I’m offering Peanuts – nope, it’s not a joke, that’s the title of the song, which Sting and Copeland wrote together. “I was thinking about a former musical hero who had dwindled to a mere celebrity, and I was more than willing to pass judgment on his extracurricular activities in the tabloids, never thinking for a moment that I would suffer the same distorted perceptions at their hands a few years later,” Sting said according to Songfacts.

This post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like. I couldn’t stand losing you!

Sources: Wikipedia; Far Out Recordings website; New York Times website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! Hope you join me in taking a fresh look at newly-released music. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday. (May 20).

Zach Bryan/Something in the Orange

Kicking things off today is Zack Bryan, a red dirt country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma I first featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment in November 2020. According to Wikipedia, red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Now Bryan is out with his third studio effort, American Heartbreak, an ambitious 34-track triple album. Check out Something in the Orange. I can hear traces of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Jason Isbell – great song!

Cola/At Pace

Cola are a Canadian post-punk band from Toronto. The group’s origins date back to late 2019 when Tim Darcy (vocals, guitar) and Ben Stidworthy (bass) who were members of Ought, another Toronto post-punk group, started working on music with Evan Cartwright, drummer of U.S. Girls, which Wikipedia describes as an experimental pop project by musician and record producer Meghan Remy – all completely new names to me. I’m also a bit puzzled how a group can name themselves Cola and not get in trouble with the mighty American beverage maker! Anyway, here’s At Pace, a track co-written by Stidworthy and Darcy from the group’s debut album Deep in View. There’s something about it – I kind of like their bare bones sound. What do you think?

Courtney Jaye/Hymns and Hallelucinations

Next up is folk singer-songwriter Courtney Jaye. Here’s more from her Apple Music profile: Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, singer/songwriter Courtney Jaye was signed on the spot after a mutual friend managed to set up an audition with several A&R executives at Island Def Jam Music Group. She made her major-label debut with 2005’s Traveling Light, and several of her songs found their way onto TV programs like Laguna Beach and One Tree Hill. Her partnership with Island proved to be short-lived, however, and she spent the rest of the decade issuing independent albums like 2007’s Who’ll Stop the Rain. The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye, her most accomplished album to date, followed in 2010, and featured a combination of Laurel Canyon folk and tropical pop. Which brings me to Hymns and Hallelucinations, the title track of her sixth and latest album (yes, it’s spelled that way) – kind of a riveting tune!

Alex Izenberg/Gemini Underwater

Alex Izenberg is an English chamber pop singer-songwriter. From his AllMusic bio: Touching on influences like Harry NilssonVan Dyke Parks, and King Crimson, the intimate chamber pop of singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg is colored by vintage Baroque and psychedelic pop as well as a flair for the romantic. He emerged with his full-length debut, Harlequin, in 2016. He drew inspiration from Alan Watts‘ writings on situational personas for his third album, 2022’s I’m Not Here. Here’s a track off that album, Gemini Underwater, which like all other tunes was penned by Izenberg.

SOAK/Purgatory

My last pick for this week is SOAK, the stage name of Northern Irish singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson. The stage name is a combination of soul and folk. Here’s more from Monds-Watson’s Apple Music profile: Bridie Monds-Watson’s breathy, emotionally revealing songs and evocative, often spare performing style are certainly soulful and folk-influenced, but there’s just as much indie rock in their musical formula. SOAK released a series of EPs beginning in 2012 before issuing their debut album, Before We Forgot How to Dream, as a teen in 2015. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The songwriter grappled with the realities of young adulthood on 2019’s Grim Town, then revisited formative experiences on 2022’s If I Never Know You Like This Again after embracing a non-binary identity. The opener of that album, Purgatory, was co-written by Monds-Watson and Thomas McLaughlin.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Elton John’s Honky Château at 50 Remains a Classic

While I know a good number of Elton John songs from throughout his 50-plus-year recording career, I cannot make that claim when it comes to his 30 studio albums. So why pick Honky Château to highlight in a post? Well, to start with, it includes Rocket Man, one of my all-time favorite tunes by John. I’ve also always dug Honky Cat. But the main reason for writing about Honky Château again today is the album’s 50th anniversary, another 1972 classic to hit the big milestone.*

Released on May 19, 1972, and named after Château d’Hérouville, an 18th-century French castle where it was recorded, Elton John’s fifth studio album is a gem that definitely has more to offer than the above-noted tunes. Moreover, it’s a significant album in his recording career. Honky Château became John’s first of seven consecutive no. 1 records in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. It also performed very well elsewhere: No. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Canada and no. 4 in Australia, to name a few countries where it charted. John truly ruled during the first half of the ’70s!

Honky Château also marked the first record to feature core members of John’s road band: David Johnstone (acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). Murray and Olsson had joined John’s touring band from The Spencer Davis Group. Johnstone, a session musician, had first played with John on predecessor Madman Across the Water from November 1971. He pretty much has been with John ever since. Johnstone, Murray and Olsson became instrumental in shaping Elton John’s sound during the ’70s.

Let’s get to some music, and what better way to start than with the opener  Honky Cat. Like all other songs on the record, the music was composed by John with lyrics from his long-time partner in crime Bernie Taupin. I always liked the tune’s New Orleans vibe. The brass section, which was arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon, featured Jacques Bolognesi  (trombone), Ivan Jullien (trumpet), as well as saxophonists Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain HatotHonky Cat also appeared separately as the album’s second single in July 1972, backed by Slave.

I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself has some of Honky Cat’s New Orleans vibe as well. According to Songfacts, John said the song about a moody teenager’s suicide thoughts isn’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not sure a tune like this could be released today without causing controversy. Of course, the times they are a-changin’, and you could make the same observation for other ’70s tunes. The tap-dancing routine was performed by “Legs” Larry Smith, the former drummer of the comedy satirical rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Smith was friends with George Harrison who would include a tribute song about him, His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen), on his 1975 studio album Extra Texture (Read All About It).

Closing out Side 1 is the majestic Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), as it’s officially titled. Not surprisingly, the tale about a Mars-bound astronaut’s mixed feelings about leaving his family behind to carry out his mission became the album’s big hit. Separately released as the lead single in April 1972, backed by Susie (Dramas), it rose all the way to no. 2 in the UK and reached no. 6 in the U.S. Rocket Man also was a hit in various other countries, including Canada (no. 8), Germany (no. 18), Ireland (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 11). It truly is a timeless classic!

Side 2 opens with Salvation. There isn’t much to say about this tune other than it’s the kind of ballad John excelled at in the ’70s, in my view.

Amy is another nice tune on Side 2. The song about young lust has a great groove. It features French jazz violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Honky Château’s closer Hercules. Initial plans to make Hercules the album’s third single did not materialize. While I haven’t read this anywhere, I’m wondering whether there may have been concerns it could have interfered with Crocodile Rock. One of John’s biggest hits, it was released in October 1972 as the lead single for his next studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album.

Honky Château was generally well received by music critics at the time and is regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums. In October 1995, the record was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America  (RIAA), meaning it had reached certified sales of one million units.

In 2003, Honky Château was ranked at no. 357 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a position that remained nearly unchanged (no. 359) in the 2012 list. Interestingly, the album moved up by more than 100 spots to no. 251 in the list’s most recent revision from September 2020.

* This post was originally published on May 31, 2021. It has been slightly updated.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Los Lobos

It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.

I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.

Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!

Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport ConventionRandy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.

In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major-label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. 

Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”

In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”

Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Songfacts