In Memoriam of Tom Petty

Music has lost another great artist way too early

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I still cannot believe that Tom Petty, one of my long-time favorite music artists, is gone. At 66 years, he was even younger than Walter Becker and Gregg Allman, two other giants who recently passed away at 67 and 69 years, respectively. Sure, let’s be honest here – all of these guys did drugs at some time in their lives, but as far as I know, they all had become sober long before they died. I also believe it is not known whether drugs may have had any role in Petty’s cardiac arrest, which preceded his untimely death.

Sadly, Petty’s death also illustrates the frenzy of today’s media world. TMZ broke the news Monday afternoon that Petty was taken to UCLA Santa Monica Hospital on Sunday night after he had been found unconscious and in full cardiac arrest at his Malibu, Calif. home. CBS News prematurely reported his death Monday evening, hours before he actually passed, apparently based on wrong information from the Los Angeles Police Department. E! News, Rolling Stone and other media outlets promptly picked up the story. This triggered immediate condolences from Bob Dylan and others from the entertainment world. It also reportedly prompted a blistering Instagram post from AnnaKim Violet Petty, one of Petty’s surviving three children. Very sad.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Thomas Earl Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Fla. He had a difficult childhood with an apparently abusive father. School wasn’t his thing, but he discovered his love for music early on and got his first guitar at the age of 12. One of his first guitar teachers was then-fellow Gainesville resident Don Felder, who later became a member of the Eagles. In the mid-’60s, Petty joined his first band, the Sundowners, playing local shows in the Gainesville area.

In 1970, Petty co-founded Mudcrutch together with guitarist and vocalist Tom Leaden. Among the other members of the line-up were Mike Campbell (guitar) and starting from 1972 Benmont Tench (keyboards), who later became part of Petty’s longtime band The Heartbreakers. Originally, The Heartbreakers, which Petty formed in 1976, also included Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Petty who had played bass and was the backing vocalist in Mudcrutch switched to guitar and lead vocals.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. At first, the record received little attention in the U.S. That changed when it entered the U.K. charts in the wake of a British tour. Breakdown became a top 40 single in the U.S. The album also included American Girl, one of my favorite early Petty tunes that became a staple on rock radio. Here’s a cool clip from the Heartbreakers’ 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance. I love Petty’s Rickenbacker guitar!

The band’s third record Damn the Torpedoes, which appeared in October 1979, brought significant commercial success in the U.S., reaching Triple Platinum certification and peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Among others, it included the Petty tune Don’t Do Me Like That, as well as Refugee and Here Comes My Girl, both co-written by Petty and Campbell. All three tracks were also released separately as singles and charted in the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of Refuge from Farm Aid 1985.

In November 1982, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their fifth album Long After Dark. It featured another Petty-Campbell co-write that is one of my favorites: You Got Lucky. The song also became the album’s lead single and climbed to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip recorded in Newark, N.J. in June this year during the band’s 40th anniversary tour, which only concluded last week in Los Angeles. I saw the band twice, once in the late ’80s in Germany, and a second time in September 2014 at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. I had thought about catching them a third time during the 40th anniversary tour – now I wish I would have done it!

Another highlight in the Heartbreakers’ discography is Southern Accents, the follow-on to Long After Dark, which appeared in March 1985. The album generated three singles: Don’t Come Around Here No More, Rebels and Make It Better (Forget About Me). The first was co-written by Petty and the Eurhythmics’ Dave Stewart, while the last two were penned by Petty only. Rebels is my favorite of the three tunes. Here’s a clip of the studio version.

In 1988, Petty joined George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan in The Traveling Wilburys, a true “supergroup” that was initiated by Harrison. They released their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in October 1988. In December that year, Orbison passed away. The remaining four members recorded a follow-up album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, which appeared in October 1990. Here is a clip of Last Night, which was included on the first album and featured Petty and Orbison on vocals.

Petty also released three solo albums, the first which of which came out in April 1989. Recorded with members of both The Heartbreakers (Campbell, Tench and bassist Howie Epstein) and The Traveling Wilburys (Lynne, Orbison and Harrison), Full Moon Fever became Petty’s most popular record in the U.S. It reached no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was certified five times platinum. The album spawned various singles, including the hits I Won’t Back Down and Free Fallin’. Both songs were co-written by Petty and Lynne. Here’s clip of Free Fallin’.

In 2007, Petty convened his former Mudcrutch bandmates to record their belated debut album. The furthest band had gotten in the ’70s was to tape some demos. Mudcrutch was released in April 2008 and entered the Billboard 200 at no. 8. A second Mudcrutch record, Mudcrutch 2, came out in April last year. Petty supported both albums with tours. Here is a live clip of Scare Easy from the first album, which was captured during the band’s tour in Nashville last May.

Petty’s 13th and last studio album with The Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye appeared in July 2014. Here is a clip of Red River, which was written by Petty and became the record’s second single. It was released on June 10 that year, ahead of the album.

Over his 40-year-plus career, Petty was nominated for multiple award and won various of them. Among others, he won Grammy awards in 1990 (Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group; with Traveling Wilburys for Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1), 1996 (Best Rock Album; for Wildflowers solo album) and 2009 (Best Music Video, Long Form; with The Heartbreakers for Runnin’ Down a Dream). In 2002, Petty and The Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Following are some reactions from other music artists to Petty’s death. “It’s shocking, crushing news,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Separately in Rolling Stone, long-time J. Geils Band lead singer Peter Wolf wrote in an exclusive remembrance: “I first met Tom when he and the Heartbreakers were the opening act on a J. Geils tour back in 1977. It was a full circle honor for me to be his opening act on the 2017 Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour…he worked very hard at everything he did and always with a deep passion and a great sense of dignity. He certainly carved his own way and always stayed one of the good guys!”

Various artists also took to Twitter:

Bon Jovi: “I’m crushed… Praying for all those affected by Vegas last night. And now the loss of one of my great influences Tom Petty today.”

Ringo Starr: “God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you Tom.”

Peter Gabriel: “Very sad to say goodbye to Tom Petty, he was a kind and generous man, an excellent musician…”

Steven Van Zandt: “Man this cannot be happening. Not Tom Petty please. Our deepest love and condolences to his family and band. A brother and true believer.”

The last word of this post shall belong to Petty. “Music is a real magic,” he told NPR’s All Things Considered in 2014. “It affects human beings, it can heal, it can do wonderful things. I’ve had two people contact me in my life about coming out of comas to their family playing a song to them of mine, that they had liked before they were injured. They credited the song having something to do with that. I find that fascinating. A lot of people have told me, ‘This music got me through a really hard time,’ and I can relate to that.”

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone Fox News, YouTube

In Memoriam of Walter Becker

Steely Dan co-founder dead at age 67

I’m still a bit in disbelief about the sad news of the untimely death of Walter Becker at age 67.  According to Rolling Stone, the passing of the Steely Dan co-founder was announced earlier today on his official website without providing any details. Uncut reported that Becker had a recent operation that prevented him from performing with the band at the Classic East and Classic West festivals in July in Los Angeles and New York, respectively – possibly an indication of a lingering health issue.

In early August, Becker’s Steely Dan compatriot Donald Fagen told Billboard that “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” He did not further elaborate. I imagine more details about the circumstances of Becker’s death are going to emerge over the next few days.

Becker was born in Queens, New York on February 20, 1950 and grew up in the city’s suburbs. He started getting into music by learning the saxophone before switching to the guitar. Becker ended up taking blues guitar lessons from his neighbor at the time, Randy Craig Wolfe, also known as Randy California. He was in good hands. Wolfe was an original member of rock band Spirit that was founded in 1967. The previous summer, he had played with Jimi Hendrix in his short-lived rock band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

In 1967, Becker and Fagen met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. They began to form Steely Dan in the summer of 1970. According to Wikipedia, the impetus was an ad in the Village Voice placed by guitarist Danny Dias, who was looking for a “bass player and keyboard player with jazz chops.” At that time, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for all of the band’s other ’70s albums. Unlike the initial single, the record became very successful. It reached Gold certification in August 1973. Eventually, in September 1993, Can’t Buy a Thrill was certified Platinum, after sales had reached one million copies. Here is a clip of the record’s great opener Do It Again, one of my favorite Steely Dan tunes.

Seven months after their debut, Steely Dan released Countdown to Ecstasy in July 1973. While Bodhisattva and My Old School became concert favorites among fans, the record didn’t generate a major hit single. That changed with Pretzel Logic, the band’s third studio album, which appeared in February 1974 and featured Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. Also released separately in April 1974, the tune became Steely Dan’s most successful single, reaching no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1974.

In March 1975, Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied appeared. By that time, most of the band’s original members had left, and Steely Dan essentially became Becker and Fagen who hired additional musicians as needed. Katy Lied reached Gold certification. Lead single Black Friday charted at no. 37. Notable guest musicians on the record included future Toto members David Paich (keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), as well as Michael McDonald on background vocals. Royal Scam followed in May 1976, another gold record for Steely Dan. Lead single Kid Charlemagne charted at no. 82 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In September 1977, Steely Dan released their sixth studio album Aja, the band’s best-selling record and my Steely Dan favorite. It peaked at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. and U.K. charts, respectively, and became Steely Dan’s first platinum record. Ultimately, the album sold more than five million copies. It generated three singles, Peg, Deacon Blues and Josie. Here is a clip of my favorite one, Deacon Blues.

Gaucho, which came out in November 1980, was Steely Dan’s last studio release before they disbanded in June 1981 and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career. While the recording of Gaucho was impacted by various personal and professional challenges, the album was mostly well received, peaking at no. 9 on the U.S. album chart and reaching Platinum certification. The record includes the classic Hey Nineteen, which became the lead single climbing to no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Between 1981 and 1993, Becker produced records for various artists, including Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Franks and Fra Lippo Lippi. He also became involved with the band China Crisis. Becker is listed a member of the band on their third studio album Flaunt the Imperfection. While Fagen and Becker had a couple of one-off collaborations in-between, they resumed their official partnership in 1993 when they toured as Steely Dan for the first time in 13 years.

Becker also produced Fagan’s second solo album Kamakiriad, which appeared in May 1993. In turn, Fagan became the co-producer of Becker’s 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks of Whack. Here is a clip of one of the record’s tunes, Lucky Henry, which features some great guitar work.

While Becker and Fagan continued Steely Dan tours, it took them until 2000 before they released a new album, Two Against Nature. It was a successful recording comeback, peaking at no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and scoring four Grammy awards and Platinum certification in the U.S. One of the Grammy awards was the record’s lead single Cousin Dupree, which won Best Performance by a Pop Duo or Group with Vocal.

The final Steely Dan studio album Everything Must Go appeared in June 2003. While the record received mixed reviews, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard 200. Here is a clip of the title track.

Following the album’s release, Steely Dan continued to tour frequently. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. Becker’s second and final such record Circus Money appeared in June 2008. Here’s a clip of Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore, a tune with a nice reggae groove.

Following are excerpts from a statement Fagen posted on his Facebook page about his long-time music partner: “Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967…We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues…[Becker] was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny…I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

 

Sources: Rolling Stone, Uncut, Billboard, Wikipedia, Donald Fagen Facebook page, YouTube

In Memoriam of Gregg Allman

Rock music has lost another giant

Considering I’ve been a music fan for nearly 40 years, I feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I “discovered” The Allman Brothers Band very late. Sure, I had known and liked Ramblin’ Man for a long time, but it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I really started exploring their music. From there I quickly proceeded to Gregg Allman’s solo records. Once I did, I quickly realized what I had missed between the two for all this time!

Even though I knew Allman was not in good health and also read rumors about hospice care a few months ago, I’m still in disbelief this great artist is gone. As I’m writing this post, new reports about his death and obituaries literally keep appearing by the minute. I don’t feel I need to add to this by writing another recap of his life. Instead, I’d like to let his music do the talking.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable performances of the Allman Brothers is Whipping Post at Fillmore East in 1970, when killer guitarist Duane Allman was still around. It’s just epic!

Here is another one – the “laid back” version of Midnight Rider, which I’ve come to like even more than the Brothers’ original version.

Soulshine live at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2013. This literally brings tears to my eyes.

Last but not least, here is an awesome rehearsal version of Just Another Rider from Allman’s last solo album Low Country Blues (2011).

To quote a Rolling Stone story, “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.” Well said!

Allman may be gone, but I’ve no doubt his music will live on.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

In Memoriam of J. Geils

Earlier this week, blues and jazz guitarist J. Geils, who led what Rolling Stone called “the world’s greatest party band,” passed away at age 71.

Like most other people, the first time I heard about The J. Geils Band was in the early 80s when Centerfold was playing on the radio. The song and the album on which it appeared, Freeze-Frame, took the band to its commercial peak. Ironically, as is all too common in rock & roll, long sought and finally achieved success led to the band’s demise only a few years thereafter.

John Warren “J.” Geils Jr. was born in New York on Feb 20, 1946. As a child, he listened to Count Basie, Duke EllingtonBenny Goodman and other artists in the record collection of his father, who was a big jazz fan. During his high school years, he took up the trumpet and learned how to play Miles Davis tunes. But after Geils had heard Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and other blues legends on the radio, he put the trumpet aside and switched to blues guitar.

In 1965, while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Geils got together with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz to form Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio. In 1968, the band changed its style to electric blues, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and became The J. Geils Blues Band. Later that year, keyboarder Seth Justman completed the lineup. Prior to the release of its eponymous 1970 debut album, the band dropped “Blues” from its name.

J Geils Band Live Full House

While The J. Geils Band may be best known to most people for Love Stinks, Centerfold and Freeze-Frame, they were at their very best during their earlier years, particularly as a live band. In addition to 11 studio albums, 30 singles and various compilations, the band recorded three live albums between 1970 and its breakup in 1985. In particular Live Full House from 1972 is truly electrifying. I had a chance to see the band live myself in New Jersey in 2013, when they were an opening act – I believe for Bon Jovi. They played a great set, though Geils was not part of the lineup.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album.

Apart from their own music, the band recorded fantastic covers of songs from other artists, especially on their early albums.  First I Look at the Purse (Robert Roberts, Smokey Robinson) and Homework (Otis Rush, Al Perkins, Dave Clark) from their first album, and So Sharp (Arlester Christian) and Looking For a Love (J.W. Alexander, Zelda Samules) from the second studio album The Morning After are great examples in this context.

J Geils and Peter Wolf

After the band split up in 1985, Geils got into car racing and restoring old sports cars. In 1992, he returned to music, producing an album for Klein and forming a band with Salwitz called Bluestime for Magic Dick. They released two albums: Bluestime (1994) and Little Car Blues (1996). Another project included New Guitar Summit, a blues trio with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin, which released two records in 2004. In 2005, Geils also put out a solo jazz album, Jay Geils Plays Jazz.

The J. Geils Band did occasional reunions after their breakup. Then things started to go downhill. In 2009, Geils obtained a trademark for The J. Geils Band name, of which he informed his band mates in 2011, his lawyer told Billboard. In August 2012, Geils sued his former band mates after they had announced a tour without him. As reported by Rolling Stone, he claimed Wolf, Salwitz, Klein and Justman “planned and conspired” to exclude him from the tour while unlawfully using the group’s trademarked name.

On April 12, Geils was found dead by police officers at his home in Groton, Mass. He appeared to have died of natural causes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Geils and his former band mates reconciled.

Here’s a clip of a live performance of First I Look At the Purse.

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

 

In Memoriam of Chuck Berry

When I listened to Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I instantly realized Chuck Berry sounded differently than any other guitarist I had ever heard.

When I saw a push message in my smartphone yesterday about the death of Chuck Berry, I was in disbelief at first. Sure, I knew the man turned 90 last October, so he wasn’t exactly a teenager any longer. But I also recalled Berry used that happy occasion to announce his first new record in 38 years slated for release sometime this year. I suspect it will become a big seller and would be a cruel irony that happened to many other music artists after they passed away.

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. To begin with, there was simply no guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” Berry’s style may sound crude at times, but try playing his licks, and you quickly realize it’s much more sophisticated than you might think – I found out myself! Admittedly, I was always much more an acoustic guy, and the electric guitar certainly did not come naturally to me.

In addition to being an innovative guitarist who created his own signature sound, Berry was an incredible showman. Perhaps the move for which he is best remembered is the “duckwalk” he popularized in the 1950’s – a whooping 30 years before another walk made music history: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983.While the origins of the duckwalk reportedly go back to 1930’s performance by T-Bone Walker, one of Berry’s influences, it was Berry who brought the move on the map and who is typically credited as its inventor.

And then there are of course all the iconic classic rock & roll tunes Berry wrote: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Day, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Little Queenie – and the list goes on! Remarkably, none of these amazing songs topped the mainstream U.S. charts. Sweet Little Sixteen came closest, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958; it did hit no. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart the same year. Berry’s only no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was My Ding-a-Ling in 1972. While I read he always stood by the tune, I think it’s fair to say an important reason why the song became so successful was the ill-fated refusal from many radio stations to play it because of its lyrics.

Many of Berry’s tunes were covered by other artists. In fact, the very first single from The Rolling Stones in 1963, Come On, is a Berry tune he had first released in 1961. The Beatles were also big fans of Berry and did excellent covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music – in fact, I have to say I prefer the latter to the original version! Yet another great example of a Berry cover is the Yardbirds’ Too Much Monkey Business on their 1964 debut live album Five Live Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar – nothing “slowhand” about this absolute killer version!

Reportedly, Berry was not an easy person to deal with offstage. He had certain rules that could not be broken. He always demanded payment in advance of any performance and a specific guitar amplifier. He also insisted on a limousine for his shows, which he would drive himself. Instead of relying on a standing set of touring musicians, he asked concert promoters to hire local backup bands for him. Together with not providing set lists in advance to gigs, it’s not surprising this sometimes impacted the quality of his live shows. But I also read other accounts suggesting Berry was a very kind-hearted man who was simply reluctant to trust people he didn’t know well, since he felt life had betrayed him in the past.

Not surprisingly, when an influential artist like Chuck Berry passes away, social media lights up with present or past sentiments expressed by other great rock guitarists. I’d like to share some of them. For Rolling Stone’s December 2010 feature 100 Greatest Artists, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wrote, “I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top – and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair in the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.”

For a rock music fan, it’s easy to understand Perry’s reaction. Released in July 1959, Berry’s third studio album included some of his greatest gems, such as Carol, Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven – all on one album and all written by him!

Bruce Springsteen, who set the stage on fire playing Johnny B. Goode with Berry and the E Street Band during a 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s museum, tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Keith Richards wrote on Facebook, “One of my big lights has gone out.” The post was accompanied by a photo showing Richards standing on stage next to Berry with the following caption: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does…It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” More specifically, that moment came for Richards when as a teenager he saw Berry perform Sweet Little Sixteen at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was captured in the film documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, as he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the most beautiful take came from the E Street Band’s Little Steven on the Facebook page of his excellent radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage: 

“Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

– Little Steven, March 18 2017”

I have nothing to add, except offering a clip of Berry’s amazing performance of Too Much Monkey Business, which features a very cool solo by Keith Richards, of course played Chuck Berry style! It’s taken from Taylor Hackford’s 1987 music documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, shot to celebrate Berry’s 60’s birthday. In addition to Richards, other artists performing with Berry included Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon and Joey Spampinato.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

In Memoriam of David Bowie

Some thoughts on David Bowie who passed away today one year ago.

It’s hard to believe it’s been already one year since David Bowie passed away. He died from liver cancer in New York only two days after his 69th birthday, when he also released Blackstar, his 25th and last studio album.

I believe the first Bowie song I ever heard was Space Oddity on the radio. I must have been 12 at the time and in the process of getting into music. The title song of his second studio album remains one my favorite Bowie tunes to this day.

As Billboard reported, Bowie was obsessed with space. In addition to Space Oddity, he recorded other space-themed songs, such as Starman, Life on Mars? and Ashes to Ashes, the continuation of Major Tom’s saga.

And then there was of course Ziggy Stardust, the extraterrestrial rock star and alter-ego Bowie created in early 1972. His related fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is the best Bowie album, in my opinion. It includes an amazing amount of classics like Soul LoveStarman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.

Another vivid experience I connect with Bowie during my teenage years was the 1981 German movie Christiane F., in which he had a cameo appearance. The soundtrack consisted of Bowie songs that were mostly taken from the “Berlin Trilogy”, the three consecutive studio albums Bowie produced while living in West Berlin during the second half of the 70s: Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979).

Released in 1981, the film is based on a true story of a young teenage girl in Berlin, Christiane F, who got into drugs, became a full-blown heroin addict, got into prostitution and almost died from an overdose. The plot has eerie parallels to the opioid crisis that’s ravaging the U.S. these days. The musical highlight of the movie is Heroes, which in the soundtrack version combines English with German lyrics – the only time I know of that Bowie sang in German.

Apart from the above songs, other Bowie tunes I like include The Man Who Sold the World (title song of album with the same name, 1970), Changes (Hunk Dory, 1971), The Jean Genie (Aladdin Sane, 1973), Rebel Rebel (Diamond Dogs, 1974), Wild Is the Wind (Station to Station, 1976), DJ (Lodger, 1979),  Let’s Dance (title song of album with the same name, 1983), Blue Jean (Tonight, 1984) and Absolute Beginners (from the rock musical film with the same name, 1986).

Over the next few weeks, prominent Bowie collaborators will perform a series of commemorating concerts. Events are scheduled in New York tonight, Los Angles (Jan 25), Sydney (Jan 29) and Tokyo (Feb 2). The first such show took place in London on Sunday (Jan 8), which would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday. Uncut Magazine did a story on the event, illustrated with a few clips, including a performance of Let’s Dance by Duran Duran’s Simon Le BonSting will headline the LA concert.

Celebrating Music Giants Lost in 2016

Following are my favorite memories of five exceptional music personalities we lost in 2016.

Other than briefly acknowledging some of the big music personalities who passed away in this year, I had not planned to further cover this rather sad subject. Yesterday’s news about the untimely death of George Michael at age 53 made me change my mind. But instead of writing a traditional obituary type of post, I’d like to celebrate each personality’s life by recalling my favorite memories of them.

Glenn Frey

The Eagles are among my all-time favorite 70s rock band. Not only was Glenn Frey one of the founding members, but he also wrote, co-wrote and sang lead on many of their tunes. One such gem is Already Gone, the opener to the Eagles’ 1974 album On the Border. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, this rocker features Frey on lead vocals and sharing lead guitar responsibilities with Don Felder. I had the great fortune to see the Eagles as part of their History tour in Atlantic City in July 2015, six months prior to Frey’s death. Here is a nice clip of Already Gone from a Sep 2014 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which brings back memories of that unforgettable show in Atlantic City.

Prince

While I immediately liked Purple Rain when I listened to it for the first time, other Prince songs were more of an acquired taste. But one thing that impressed me from the very beginning about Prince is that he was a multi-instrumentalist. In fact, I read he played almost all instruments on his first five studio albums, including an incredible 27 instruments on his debut! Undoubtedly, his signature instrument was the guitar, and nothing illustrates his mastery better than the killer solo he played on While My Guitar Gently Weeps during his 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is a clip of this unbelievable performance, together with a pretty cool band that includes Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dhani Harrison, among others.

David Bowie

The first David Bowie song I ever heard on the radio was Space Oddity, and it continues to be one of my favorite songs. The tune is the opener of his 1969 album David Bowie, which was his second studio album. I always thought one of the song’s cool features is how Bowie is harmonizing with himself. Another aspect that immediately attracted me is the acoustic guitar part – I guess in part because I was learning to play the guitar myself at the time. Here is a clip of the song’s official video from 1972.

Maurice White

The founder of Earth, Wind & Fire was instrumental for the band’s success, especially between 1970 and his official retirement in 1994 due to Parkinson’s disease. He was the band’s main song writer and producer, and sang co-lead with Philip Bailey. In addition to their amazing voices, the thing I’ve always loved about Earth, Wind & Fire is that their music makes you want to dance. The band has recorded so many great songs, but if I would have to name one in particular, it would be September. Co-written by White, Al McKay and Allee Willis and produced by White, the tune was initially released as a single in Sep 1978. It was also included on the band’s The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which appeared in Nov that year. Here is an audio clip.

George Martin

While he was not a performing artist, what would The Beatles have been without their great producer, Sir George Henry Martin?  There is a reason why he was called the “Fifth Beatle,” including by Paul McCartney. Martin had extensive involvement in all of The Beatles 12 original albums. His musical expertise proved particularly valuable for orchestral arrangements on the band’s later albums. In addition to The Beatles, Martin produced recordings for many other artists, such as America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, Elton John and Little River Band. In my opinion, one of his greatest accomplishments with The Beatles was the stings arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. Here is a clip of this gem from the 1969 album Yellow Submarine.