A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom!

In Memoriam of Little Richard

“I created rock ‘n’ roll! I’m the innovator! I’m the emancipator! I’m the architect! I am the originator! I’m the one that started it! There wasn’t anyone singing rock ‘n’ roll when I came into it. There was no rock ‘n’ roll.” No, Richard Wayne Penniman wasn’t exactly known for modest self-assessment. I think this comment he made during an interview with SFGATE.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, in July 2003 also illustrates he was a showman who had a knack for memorable quotes.

I’m writing this, as the obituaries still keep pouring in for the man known as Little Richard, who passed away this morning in Tullahoma, Tenn. at the age of 87, according to The New York Times. CNN reported Richard’s former agent Dick Alen confirmed the cause of death was related to bone cancer. Apparently, Richard had not been in good health for some time.

Little Richard 2

Instead of writing yet another traditional obituary, I’d like to primarily focus on what I and countless other rock & roll fans loved about Little Richard, and that’s his music. While he is sadly gone, fortunately, his music is here to stay. And there is plenty of it, so let’s get started and rock it up!

Richard’s recording career started in 1951 close to his 19th birthday when RCA Victor released Every Hour. An original composition, the soulful blues ballad doesn’t exactly sound like A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom!, but one already can get an idea of Richard’s vocal abilities. While tune became a regional hit, it did not break through nationally, just like the other songs Richard recorded with RCA Victor, so he left in February 1952.

Following a few lean years and a struggle with poverty, which in 1954 forced Richard to work as a dishwasher in Macon, Ga., the breakthrough came when Specialty Records released Tutti Frutti as a single in November 1955. The record company had hired songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to replace some of Richard’s sexual lyrics with less controversial words. Not only did the classic bring Richard long-sought national success, but the loud, hard-driving sound and wild (yet somewhat tamed) lyrics also became a blueprint for many of his tunes to come.

Tutti Frutti started a series of hits and the most successful two-year phase of Richard’s career. One of my favorites is the follow-up single Long Tall Sally from March 1956. Co-written by Richard, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, the song became Richard’s highest-charting U.S. mainstream hit, climbing to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked his first no. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. Over the years, I must have listened to Long Tall Sally 100 times or even more. It still grabs me. I also dig the cover by The Beatles. Classic rock & roll doesn’t get much better.

Ready, Teddy, for another biggie? Yeah, I’m ready, ready, ready to a rock ‘n’ roll.

Lucille, you won’t do your sister’s will?
Oh, Lucille, you won’t do your sister’s will?
You ran off and married, but I love you still

Lucille, released in February 1957, was co-written by Richard and Albert Collins – and nope, that’s not the blues guitarist. The two just happen to share the same name. According to Wikipedia, “the song foreshadowed the rhythmic feel of 1960s rock music in several ways, including its heavy bassline and slower tempo.” Okay, I guess I take that. Lucille became Richard’s third and last no. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles. The song reached a more moderate no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, on the other hand, it climbed to no. 10 on the Official Singles Chart. In addition to Richard’s vocals and piano, the horn work on this tune is just outstanding!

And then came that tour of Australia together with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in October 1957 that changed Richard’s trajectory. As Rolling Stone put it in their obituary, After what he interpreted as signs – a plane engine that seemed to be on fire and a dream about the end of the world and his own damnation – Penniman gave up music in 1957 and began attending the Alabama Bible school Oakwood College, where he was eventually ordained a minister. When he finally cut another album, in 1959, the result was a gospel set called God Is Real.

After Richard left the music business, his record label Specialty Records continued to release previously recorded songs until 1960 when his contract ended and he apparently agreed to relinquish any royalties for his material. One of these tunes was another classic, Good Golly, Miss Molly. Co-written by John Marascalco and Blackwell, and first recorded in 1956, the single appeared in January 1958. It became a major hit, peaking at no. 10 and 8 in the U.S. and UK pop, charts respectively, and reaching no. 4 on the Hot R&B Singles.

Here’s the title track from the above noted 1959 album God Is Real. The tune was written by gospel music composer Kenneth Morris.

In 1962, Richard started a gradual return to secular music. While according to Rolling Stone, a new generation of music artists like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan welcomed him back, his music no longer sold well. When Richard performed at the Star-Club in Hamburg in the early ’60s, a then still relatively unknown British band called The Beatles opened up for him. The above Rolling Stone obituary included this quote from John Lennon: “We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play…He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we’d sit around and listen. I still love him and he’s one of the greatest.”

In January 1967, Richard released a soul-oriented album titled The Explosive Little Richard. It was produced by his longtime friend Larry Williams and featured Johnny “Guitar” Watson. They co-wrote this tasty tune for Richard, Here’s Poor Dog (Who Can’t Wag His Own Tail). It also appeared as a single and reached no. 121 and 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively. The record didn’t chart.

While Richard enjoyed success as a live performer, his records continued to sell poorly. In April 1970, he had a short-lived comeback of sorts with Freedom Blues, a single from his album The Rill Thing released in August that year. Co-written by Richard and R&B singer Eskew Reeder, Jr., who had taught him how to play the piano, the tune reached no. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 28 on the Hot R&B Singles.

During the remainder of the ’70s, Richard continued to perform and also had guest appearances on records by Delaney and Bonnie, Joe Walsh and Canned Heat, among others. He also became addicted to marijuana and cocaine. Eventually, his lifestyle wore him out, and in 1977, Richard quit rock & roll for the second time and returned to evangelism.

In 1984, he returned to music yet another time, feeling he could reconcile his roles as a rock & roll artist and an evangelist. Following a role in the movie picture Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Richard released another album, Lifetime Friend, in 1986. I actually got it on CD at the time. Here’s the nice opener Great Gosh A’Mighty, which Richard co-wrote with Billy Preston. Reminiscent of the old “A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom Richard,” the tune had also been included in the soundtrack of the aforementioned movie.

In 1992, Richard released Little Richard Meets Masayoshi Takanaka, which featured newly recorded versions of his hits. The final Little Richard album Southern Child appeared in January 2005. Originally, the record had been scheduled for release in 1972 but had been shelved. Richard continued to perform frequently through the ’90s and the first decade of the new millennium. Nerve pain in his left leg and hip replacement forced him to reduce concerts and eventually to retire in 2013.

Richard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of the very first group of inductees, which also included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. He also was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and received numerous awards. Four of his songs, Tutti Frutti (no. 43), Long Tall Sally (no. 55), Good Golly, Miss Molly (no. 94) and The Girl Can’t Help It (420), are in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time from April 2010.

I’d like to end this post with a few reactions from other music artists:

“He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s” (Mick Jagger)

“So sad to hear that my old friend Little Richard has passed. There will never be another!!! He was the true spirit of Rock’n Roll!” (Keith Richards)

“He will live on always in my heart with his amazing talent and his friendship! He was one of a kind and I will miss him dearly” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

“God bless little Richard one of my all-time musical heroes. Peace and love to all his family.” (Ringo Starr)

“He was there at the beginning and showed us all how to rock and roll. He was a such a great talent and will be missed. Little Richard’s music will last forever.” (Brian Wilson)

Sources: Wikipedia; SFGATE.com; The New York Times; CNN; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube

 

 

Queen/Live Aid Set

In memoriam of Freddie Mercury, the greatest rock and pop vocalist of all time

On this day twenty-seven years ago, Freddie Mercury passed away at the age of 45 from bronchopneumonia, a complication he had acquired from AIDS. No matter what you may think about him, I would go as far as calling Mercury the greatest rock and pop vocalist of our time. He also was a beast of a live performer, as illustrated by the above clip of Queen’s epic appearance at London’s Wembley Stadium during the Live Aid benefit concert on July 13, 1985.

According to Wikipedia, Mercury had a near five-octave range from a bass F2 to a soprano’s F6, something that’s extremely rare. Here’s what Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé said about his voice: The difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice. His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sung with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colouring or expressive nuance for each word.”

Mercury admired and was friends with Caballé. He also recorded a collaborative album with her, Barcelona, which was released in October 1988. The record, which combined elements of pop and opera, was a commercial success but received mixed reception from critics. The title track became the official anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games held in the Spanish city and received massive air play.

Queens above eight-song set at Live Aid featured a mix of old and then more current tunes (albums in parentheses): Bohemian Rhapsody (A Night At The Opera, November 1975); Radio Ga Ga and Hammer To Fall (The Works, February 1984), Crazy Little Thing Called Love (The Game, June 1980); We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions (News Of The World, October 1977) and Is This The World We Created…? (The Works).

Mercury and Queens oftentimes were pretty bombastic and over-produced, and I don’t like all of their songs, but there was simply no other band that sounded like them, and there was no none who sang like Freddie Mercury.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Aretha Franklin

Earlier this year, I got very close to seeing Aretha Franklin live at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. I had already purchased two tickets and was thrilled to finally experience who I felt was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. Another cool thing was that the March 25th show would have coincided with her 76th birthday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

On very short notice, the concert was cancelled due to an unidentified illness. When media reported shortly thereafter that Franklin’s doctor had ordered three months of absolute rest, I didn’t have a good feeling. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had dealt with health issues. Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, barely five months after her birthday and what I’m sure would have been an unforgettable performance.

FRANKLIN
Aretha Franklin performing at the VH1 Divas 2001

Given the vast number of obituaries that have been published since news about her untimely death broke yesterday morning, I’m not going to develop yet another one. Instead, I’d like to focus on what will remain – an amazing amount of music by an amazing performer, released over a 60-year-plus professional career.

Based on Wikipedia, Franklin’s enormous catalog includes 42 studio albums, six live albums, 131 singles and numerous compilations. While it’s obviously impossible to capture all of that music in one playlist while keeping it to no more than 10 tracks, I tried to come up with tunes that span her entire recording period.

Where to start the undertaking? Well, how about Franklin’s studio debut Songs Of Faith from 1956, which was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Here’s While The Blood Runs Warm. Franklin was only 14 years old at the time, but you can already hear her powerful voice. This is giving me goosebumps!

Franklin’s fourth studio album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin from August 1962 became her first charting record, reaching no. 69 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Here’s Try A Little Tenderness, a tune I dig, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, and first recorded by the Ray Nobel Orchestra in December 1932. It has since been covered by many other artists, who in addition to Franklin most notably included Otis Redding in 1966.

Respect is perhaps the best-known Aretha Franklin song. The signature tune, which was written and first released by Otis Redding in 1965, appeared on her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You from March 1967. The song was Franklin’s first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, as well as the Cash Box chart. The record became her highest charting to date, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard album chart and topping the magazine’s R&B chart.

Another Franklin signature song undoubtedly is Think, co-written by her and her manager and first husband Ted White. The feminism anthem appeared on her 15th studio album Aretha Now in June 1968 and was also released separately as a single in May of the same year. White’s involvement in the song’s writing looks ironical, given Franklin divorced him in 1969, following reports of domestic abuse.

This Girl’s In Love With You was Franklin’s first ’70s album appearing in January that year, and her 18th studio album overall. Intriguingly, it includes the first commercial release of Let It Be, preceding The Beatles’ version by two months, and the following take of The Weight written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Oh, and if the guy on the slide guitar somehow seems to sound familiar, it was Duane Allman. I think not only is this soulful cover smoking hot, but it’s also a great illustration of Franklin’s great ability to take songs written by others and make them her own.

In February 1974, Franklin released her 22nd studio album Let Me Be In Your Life.  The second single from that record was Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do), co-written by Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder and Morris Broadnax. It was first recorded by Wonder in 1967, though he didn’t release his version until 1977. The tune became a million-seller for Franklin, topping the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at no. 2 on the Hot 100. It was her last major ’70s hit.

Jumping to the ’80s, Franklin collaborated on a number of songs with various other artists during that decade, such as George Benson, Elton John, George Michael and Eurhythmics. The tune I’d like to highlight in this context is Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, another feminist anthem that Franklin recorded with Eurhythmics. Apart from appearing as a single in October 1985, the tune was included on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and the British pop duo’s Be Yourself Tonight studio albums. Co-written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the song reached no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 9 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart. The track proves that Franklin could even make an ’80s commercial pop tune sound pretty hot.

A Rose Is Still A Rose, released in March 1998, was Franklin’s last studio album that reached Gold certification and became her best-selling record of the ’90s. Following is the title track, which was written by Lauryn Hill and is yet another feminist-based tune. It also appeared as a single one month ahead of the album, reaching no. 1, 5 and 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2003, Franklin’s 38th studio record So Damn Happy appeared. It included Wonderful, a song co-written by Aleese Simmons and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, which won Franklin the 2003 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

Franklin’s 42nd and final studio album A Brand New Me was released in November 2017. It featured archival vocal recordings from her years with Atlantic Records combined with new arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and newly recorded backing vocals. Here’s I Say A Little Prayer, which Burt Bacharach and Hal David co-wrote for Dionne Warwick who released it in 1967 as as single. It was also included on her eighth studio release The Windows Of The World. Franklin originally recorded the tune for the above noted Aretha Now album and released it as a single in July 1968, scoring a no. 3 and 10 on the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

As previously noted, the goal of the above playlist was to be career-spanning. As such, not all of the songs are among my favorite tunes. But at the same time, I feel that because of her powerful voice and soulful delivery, Franklin simply never sang a bad song in the first place – at least I haven’t heard one yet. Two other artists who come to my mind in this context are Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s a rare quality that is going to be part of Franklin’s legacy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Gregg Allman/Just Another Rider

Today is the first anniversary of Allman’s death

Hard to believe it’s already been one year since Gregg Allman passed away at the age of 69. The above clip, which is perhaps the best in-studio footage I know, is a great illustration what an exceptional artist Allman was. Also, take a close look at the fantastic musicians who backed him and how they are grooving along – it’s the impersonation of true craftsmanship and beautiful soul!

Co-written by Allman and Warren Haynes, long-time guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band and a co-founding member of Gov’t Mule, Just Another Rider appeared on Allman’s excellent seventh studio album Low Country Blues. It was his second-to-last studio record and the last to be released during his lifetime.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: George Harrison/Taxman

I just returned from the movies where I watched Concert For George, a documentary about a fantastic George Harrison tribute show Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne put together with Dhani Harrison and Olivia Harrison at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002. I could easily go on raving about it. For now all I want to say is, if you’re a fan of Harrison’s music, you should absolutely catch this film, which is available on DVD and is still on in certain select movie theaters. For listings you can check here.

With my mind still very much set on Harrison, undoubtedly because of the amazing documentary, I’m publishing my third and last post (promise!) to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday today (February 25). The above clip of Taxman is from a concert in Japan in December 1991, which Harrison conducted as part of a joint tour with Eric Clapton. The tour was also documented with the double album Live In Japan that came out in July 1992.

Taxman is one of three Harrison compositions that appear on Revolver, The Beatles’ seventh studio album released in August 1966. His two other contributions for that record were Love You To and I Want To Tell You.

Sources: Concert For George official website, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: George Harrison

Today, George Harrison would have turned 75 years, so this felt like a great occasion to put together a commemorative piece and playlist. Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. His father Harold Hargreaves Harrison was a bus conductor, while his mother Louise  (née French) was working as a shop assistant. He had three older siblings, two brothers (Harold and Peter) and one sister (Louise).

While growing up in Liverpool, Harrison developed an early interest in music and guitars. His father had reservations about his son’s plans to pursue a music career but still bought him an acoustic guitar in 1956. One of his dad’s friends taught Harrison a few songs. Not surprisingly soon thereafter, Harrison formed his first band with his brother Peter and a friend – a skiffle group inspired by Lonnie Donegan. In 1957 on the bus to his high school, Harrison had a chance encounter that started a life-changing path: Running into Paul McCartney. With their shared passion for music, the two hit if off pretty quickly.

McCartney, who had started playing with another young fellow called John Lennon in The Quarrymen, brought Harrison into the skiffle band in early 1958. By August 1960, the band had adopted rock & roll and following a few name changes evolved into The Beatles. Apart from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, the initial lineup included Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). In August 1962, Ringo Starr joined on drums, after George Martin had complained to Brian Epstein about Best’s poor skills. Sutcliffe had left The Beatles a year earlier, which had prompted McCartney to switch from guitar to the bass. The classic line-up was finally in place!

The Beatles

In the early years, Lennon and McCartney dominated the band’s songwriting. While Harrison got his first credit for Don’t Bother Me on the second studio album With The Beatles from 1963, it wasn’t until Help! (1965) that he started asserting himself more as a writer. Help! featured his two compositions I Need You and You Like Me Too Much. Eventually, he introduced Indian influences and other ideas. The Beatles’ music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, had it not been for Harrison.

Some of Harrison’s other song contributions during The Beatles period included If Needed Someone (Rubber Soul, 1965), Taxman (Revolver, 1966), Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967), The Inner Light (non-album single, 1968), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles, aka The White Album, 1968), It’s All Too Much (Yellow Submarine), Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road) and I Me Mine (Let It Be).

Before The Beatles broke up in early 1970, Harrison had already released two solo records, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which were mostly instrumental. In November 1970, his first post-Beatles solo record appeared, the triple LP All Things Must Pass – a powerful statement that Harrison was finally free from all artistic restrictions!

Concert For Bangladesh

In 1971, responding to a request from his mentor Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the Concert For Bangladesh to raise money for starving refugees in the war-ravaged country. In addition to him and Shankar, the charity event in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st featured an impressive array of other artists, such as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan. It attracted more than 40,000 visitors and raised close to $250,000 (about $1.55 million in today’s money), and essentially introduced the concept for Live Aid and other music charity events.

Between 1973 and 1987, Harrison released eight additional solo albums: Living In The Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975), Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), George Harrison (1979), Somewhere In England (1981), Gone Troppo (1982) and Cloud Nine (1987). He could not complete his final album Brainwashed due to advanced cancer but left it with a guide for his son Dhani Harrison and his friend and music collaborator Jeff Lynne to complete. The record appeared in November 2002, one year after Harrison’s death.

The Traveling Wilburys

In 1988, Harrison co-founded The Traveling Wilburys, which also included Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The band released two albums, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990). The latter record did not include Orbison who had passed away in December 1988. Harrison’s discography also includes two live records, four compilation albums and four box sets. Time for some music clips!

Wah-Wah appears on All Things Must Pass, which is widely considered to be Harrison’s best solo album. It also became his most successful solo release, topping the charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and various other countries.

Here Comes The Sun is one of Harrison’s compositions from The Beatles period and one of my favorite tunes from the Abbey Road album. The following clip captures his live performance during the Concert For Bangladesh, together with Badfinger lead vocalist and guitarist Peter Ham.

The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord) is from Harrison’s forth studio album Living In The Material World, which appeared in May 1973.

Dark Horse is the title track of Harrison’s fifth studio record from December 1974.

Crackerbox Palace appears on Thirty Three & 1/3, Harrison’s seventh studio album from November 1976. The tune, which features a slide guitar sound that had become a Harrison signature, was also released as the record’s second single in January 1977.

Blow Away is included on Harrison’s eponymous 8th studio album, which came out in February 1979. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single a few days ahead of its release.

Got My Mind Set On You, composed by American songwriter Rudy Clark, is from Cloud Nine. Released in November 1987 after a five-year hiatus from the music business, Harrison’s 11th studio album became a successful comeback, reaching no. 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Got My Mind Set On You was also the record’s lead single and reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Handle With Care is the opening track from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The tune, which like all songs on the 1988 album is simply credited to Traveling Wilburys, features Harrison and Orbison on lead vocals. Here is the official video clip.

If I Needed Someone is one of my favorite Harrison compositions and Beatles tunes. It appears on the band’s sixth studio Rubber Soul, released in December 1965. The following clip is from Harrison’s 1992 Live In Japan album, which features Clapton and a terrific backing band.

I’d like to conclude this post and playlist with Any Road from Brainwashed, released in November 2002. Harrison’s final solo album took about 14 years to complete. After he had started work in 1988, things got delayed due to business problems with his former manager Denis O’Brien, his work with the Traveling Wilburys and Ravi Shankar, and his involvement in The Beatles Anthology albums. In 2001, Harrison underwent surgery for lung cancer and radiotherapy for cancer that had metastasized into his brain. He continued to work on the album as long as he could and left instructions for Dhani and Lynne to complete things. Harrison passed away at a friend’s house in Los Angeles on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Concert For George Premieres On Big Screen And Vinyl

Celebration of Harrison’s 75th birthday with premiere of 2002 commemorative concert in select movie theaters and special audio reissue

This Sunday, February 25 George Harrison would have turned 75 years. Sadly, he passed away from cancer on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58 – I can’t believe it’s been more than 16 years! Exactly one year after Harrison’s untimely death, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London celebrated his life and music. That commemorative event, which had been available on DVD and CD, is now being shown in select movie theaters nationwide and today for the first time appeared as a 4-LP vinyl box reissue. Here’s a nice clip of the unveiling of the box.

The concert was organized by Harrison’s widow Olivia and son Dhani. Longtime friends Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne served as musical directors and performed during the show. Some of the other participating music artists included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, guitarist Albert Lee, Procul Harum lead vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker, session musican Klaus Voorman and Dhani.

Before the above artists came on stage, Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Harrison’s mentor Ravi Shankar, opened the event with a special composition by her father, presented together with a 16-piece orchestra of Indian musicians. Afterwards, surviving members of the Monty Python troupe performed comedy skits to acknowledge Harrison’s well-known sense of humor.

Following are a three clips from the concert. The first is a beautiful version of Harrison’s second song that appeared on a record by The BeatlesI Need You from Help!, performed by Petty and Heartbreakers.

The second clip is White Album gem While My Guitar Gently Weeps, featuring Clapton on lead vocals and guitar, backed by McCartney, Starr, Lee, Lynne and Dhani, among others. While it is probably impossible to beat the tune’s rendition and Prince solo performed during the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction show, it’s a pretty solid performance.

I also came across the following clip, showing Billy Preston singing My Sweet Lord, backed by the above other musicians. The tune was Harrison’s first big post-Beatles hit, which appeared on his solo debut album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the quality of the video isn’t great but the audio is decent.

“We will always celebrate George’s birthday and this year we are releasing Concert for George in a very special package in memory of a special man,” Olivia said in a statement.

In addition to the vinyl set, the reissue is available in four other formats: 2-CD + 2-Blu-Rays Combo Pack, 2-CD + 2-DVD Combo Pack, 2-CD Pack and, I suppose for the true die-hard fans, as a limited Deluxe Box Set, including four 180-gram audiophile LPs, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, a 12”x12” hard-bound 60-page book, plus a piece from the original hand-painted on-stage tapestry used as the backdrop at the Royal Albert Hall concert. The recording of the concert also premiered on music streaming services today.

The film that captured the concert was directed by David Leland and produced by Ray Cooper, Olivia Harrison and Jon Kamen. All profits from the sale of Concert for George products will go to The Material World Charitable Foundation, founded by George Harrison in 1973.

Sources: Wikipedia, Concert For George official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Gary Clark Jr., Jon Batiste & Joe Saylor/Ain’t That A Shame & Maybellene (Medley)

The above clip captures one of the highlights from Sunday night’s 60th annual Grammy Awards ceremony: Gary Clark Jr. teaming up with Jon Batiste and Joe Saylor, the leader and drummer of the house band of the Late Night Show With Stephen Colbert, respectively, for Ain’t That A Shame and Maybellene. Featuring great piano and guitar solos, the medley was performed in honor of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, who both passed away last year.

Ain’t That A Shame, co-written by Domino and Dave Bartholomew, appeared on Domino’s 1955 debut album Rock and Rollin’ With Fats Domino. It was also released as a single ahead of the record and became one of his biggest hits, peaking at no. 1 and no. 10 on the Billboard R&B Chart and Hot 100, respectively. Ranked at no. 438 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list, the tune ended up selling one million copies.

Also recorded and released in 1955, Maybellene is credited to Berry, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed. An adaptation from Ida Red, a Western swing fiddle tune that first had been made famous in 1938 by Bob Willis and The Texas Playboys, Maybellene was Berry’s first single and became his first hit. Like Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame, it reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart and sold one million copies. It climbed to no. 5 on the Hot 100 and is included in the above Rolling Stone list at no. 18. The song also appeared on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is On Top, released in July 1959.

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Cranberries/Zombie

This is kind of crazy. Yesterday, I listened to Zombie by The Cranberries and thought I should take a closer look at this Irish alternative rock band for a post. Today, I’m finding myself writing this piece after the incredible news that lead vocalist Dolores O’Riordan suddenly passed away at age 46. I think her distinct way of singing and intense delivery make this song one of the most memorable tunes of the ’90s.

According to Rolling Stone, O’Riordan had been in London for a short recording session. The cause of her death hasn’t been revealed. Apparently, she struggled with some health issues that forced the band to cancel shows last year. The Rolling Stone story also noted a diagnosis with bipolar disease in 2014.

Zombie was the lead single to The Cranberries’ second studio album No Need To Argue, which appeared in October 1994. Written by O’Riordan in 1993 to commemorate two children who were killed during an IRA bombing in England earlier that year, Zombie was the band’s biggest hit. It reached no. 1 in Australia, France, Germany and various other countries. In their native Ireland, it peaked at no. 3, while in the UK, it climbed to no. 14. In the U.S., the tune didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it entered various other Billboard charts, most notably Alternative Songs, which it topped.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube