When Less Is More

A list of some of my favorite unplugged performances

Do you remember when in the ’90s many music artists suddenly seemed to realize they could deliver more intimate performances by sitting down on stage with their bands and largely replacing electric with acoustic instruments? Unplugged albums quickly became en vogue. They also helped revive flagging careers of some artists, such as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. Undoubtedly, the television series MTV Unplugged fueled this trend.

To perform music that originally was written for electric instruments in a stripped down fashion required a good degree of craftsmanship. Gone were many of the sound effects behind which artists had been able to “hide.” While as is oftentimes the case with fashionable trends the unplugged wave may have been a bit overdone, the concept has generally appealed to me as a hobby guitarist. Following are five of my favorite unplugged performances.

I also would have loved to include the fantastic version of Hotel California by the Eagles from their great Hell Freezes Over album. But this band is very protective of their music, and even if you’re lucky enough to find a specific song you want on YouTube, oftentimes the clips are taken down, and before you know it, you have a dead link – not fun!

Billy Idol/White Wedding (VH-1 Storyteller, 2002)

Billy Idol may have been a fashion punk who became known for playing commercial music that didn’t have anything to do anything with punk. But in my opinion, he surely knew how to write tunes with catchy melodies that rocked. Undoubtedly, a major role in all of it played his guitarist Steve Stevens, who co-wrote various of Idol’s biggest hits, such as Rebel Yell, Eyes Without A Face and Flesh For Fantasy. Plus, Stevens is a hell of a guitarist, which this clip of White Wedding nice illustrates, one of the best unplugged performances I’ve seen. He continues to perform and tour with Idol to this day.

Eric Clapton/Layla (Unplugged, 1992)

To successfully strip down an iconic rock song like Layla, which in its original features fantastic guitar interplay by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, is a formidable task. Clapton didn’t only do that, but gave the tune an entirely new character on his 1992 Unplugged album. In my opinion, the result is one of the best rock cover versions, similar to Joe Cocker’s rendition of With A Little Help From Friends by The Beatles.

Rod Stewart/Maggie May (Unplugged…And Seated, 1993)

Sometimes one may forget that Rod Stewart in his early days was a top-notch rock artist. I’ve always loved Maggie Mae, which he co-wrote with British guitarist and composer Martin Quittenton. The tune was originally recorded for Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells A Story, released in May 1971. At the time, Stewart was still with The Faces. In fact, all of the band’s members played on the album. Notably, Ronnie Wood was also part of Unplugged…And Seated, Stewart’s excellent unplugged album from 1993, from which this clip is taken.

Nirvana/The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged In New York, 1993)

Nirvana’s unplugged version of The Man Who Sold The World is one of the most haunting covers of the David Bowie song I know. It was part of the band’s MTV Unplugged In New York album, which was recorded on November 18, 1993 – about four and a half months prior to Curt Cobain’s death. His almost painful singing, along with guitars that sound are out of tune, give this performance a somewhat creepy feel. It shows an artist who at the time was in the brutal throes of drug addiction and depression.

Neil Young/Like A Hurricane (Unplugged, 1993)

Like A Hurricane is one of my favorite rock tunes by Neil Young. Naturally, I was curious how he would handle an unplugged version of a song that in its initial recording is dominated by heavily distorted grunge-like electric guitar. In my opinion, Young’s performance with just an organ and a harmonica takes it to another level. The church-like sound of the organ combined with Young’s signature quavering voice induces chills and literally blows me away. Check it out yourself.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Making Your Christmas Groove

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

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

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners. Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

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

Christmas Rocks

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

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

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

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

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

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (2010)

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

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

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

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

Happy Holiday season!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation of musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For those who know me and regular readers of the blog, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, this post focuses on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a 70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.”

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni Mitchell, Don Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha Franklin, Twisted Sister, Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr and the All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder Road, The Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony Kinsey, Ted Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who has been a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He has toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with ‘Live’ Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad, Little Feat, The Blues Brothers and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Times Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn The Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn The Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun, (I’m A) Roadrunner, Shake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the 70s and into the early 80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Harrison, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC News, YouTube

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

A list of covers from AC/DC to The Yardbirds

A few days ago, I coincidentally came across a previously created iTunes playlist I had completely forgotten about: Covers of Chuck Berry classics performed by other music artists. I thought it would be fun to develop a post around this theme.

While no one artist can claim they created an entire genre of music, there is a reason why Berry was known as Mr. Rock & Roll. In any case, the number of other artists who covered his tunes sure as heck is impressive.

Maybelline/Foghat

English blues and boogie rock band Foghat included a killer version of Maybelline on their 1972 eponymous album. The tune was written and recorded by Berry in 1955, and first released as a single in July that year. It also appeared on his 1959 iconic third study album Berry Is On Top, which also included many of his other major hits. Here’s a great clip of the tune from a Foghead live performance.

School Days/AC/DC

AC/DC recorded a cool cover of School Days for their second Australian studio album T.N.T., which appeared in December 1975. Originally, Berry released the song as a single in March 1957, two months ahead of his debut studio album After School Session.

Too Much Monkey Business/The Yardbirds

Too Much Monkey Business is the first track on Five Live Yardbirds, the band’s terrific debut live album from 1964. Berry released the song as his fifth single in September 1956. It was also included on the After School Session album.

Sweet Little Sixteen/John Lennon

John Lennon recorded a nice Memphis soul-style cover of Sweet Little Sixteen for Rock ‘n’ Roll, his sixth studio album from 1975. Berry released the track as a single in January 1958. It was also included on his second studio album One Dozen Berries, which appeared in March 1958.

Rock & Roll Music/The Beatles

Rock & Roll Music is among my favorite rock & roll covers from The Beatles. They included it on their 1964 fourth studio album Beatles For Sale. Berry initially released the tune as a single in September 1957. It also appeared on the One Dozen Berrys studio album. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the Beatles’ studio version, so here is a live performance captured from a 1965 performance in Paris.

Carol/The Rolling Stones

I’ve always loved the cover of the song The Rolling Stones recorded. Initially, they included it on their 1964 eponymous debut album, but my favorite version appeared on the fantastic 1970 live record Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. First released in 1958 as a single, Carol is also one of the gems from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Here’s a great clip of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out version.

Johnny B. Goode/Jimi Hendrix

If I only had one classic rock & roll tune to choose, it would be Berry’s 1958 gem Johnny B. Goode, which first appeared as a single in March that year and is yet another highlight from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Who could possibly do a better cover of it than Jimi Hendrix? Here is a great clip of Hendrix absolutely killing it live – not sure whether it is the same performance that was also captured on Hendrix in the West, a 1972 posthumous live album.

Little Queenie/The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

Frankly, I do not quite remember how I came across this cover of Little Queenie when I put together the above iTunes playlist, but I find it pretty awesome. It’s performed by country and southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters featuring Johnnie Johnson, a jazz, blues and rock & roll pianist, and was included on a 2015 release titled Meet Me In Bluesland. Originally, Berry released Little Queenie as a single in 1959, another tune from Chuck Berry Is On Top.

Roll Over Beethoven/Electric Light Orchestra

It’s safe to say this is one of the most unique covers of the track performed by Electric Light Orchestra. Blending elements of classical music with rock & roll and other styles of rock, ELO is one of the weirdest ’70s bands, in my opinion. While most of their productions were bombastic and completely over the top, I still have to admit there is something intriguing about their music. Their 8-minute-plus cover of Roll Over Beethoven was included on their eponymous second studio album, which was released in 1972. Berry first recorded the tune as a single in May 1956. It also appeared on Chuck Berry Is On Top. The following clip is an abbreviated live version of the song, captured from a 1973 performance on The Midnight Special, an American late-night music variety show that aired during the 1970’s and early ’80s.

Memphis/The Hollies

This cover from The Hollies was included on the band’s debut album Stay With The Hollies, which appeared in the U.K. in January 1964. The track was also included on the U.S. version of the album titled Here I Go Again, released in June that year. Berry first recorded Memphis as a single in 1959.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Stars of Stax

Some of my favorite artists who recorded at the legendary Memphis record label

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Stax Records. I’ve always been impressed with the amazing array of artists who are associated with this record label: Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Kim Weston and The Staple Singers, to name some of them. I thought this would be a great theme for a list, but before I get to it, a bit of history is in order.

Stax Records was originally founded as Satellite Records in 1957 in Memphis, Tenn. by Jim Stewart, a banker who played the fiddle in a country band on the side. Initially operating in a garage, Stewart started out focusing on country, rockabilly and straight pop. In 1958, his sister Astelle Axton co-invested in the company by mortgaging her family home.

Jim Stewart & Estelle Axton

In 1959, Satellite set up a small recording studio in Brunswick, Tenn. and released its first record in the summer of  that year, Fool In Love, by R&B band The Veltones. Following the release of the record, Satellite moved back to Memphis and set up shop in an old movie theater. In the summer of 1960, Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla became the first artists to record at the new facility. Their record Cause I Love You was nationally distributed by Atlantic Records, laying the foundation for an important yet fateful distribution partnership.

Stax Records Museum

Due to a legal dispute, Satellite Records changed its name to Stax in September 1961, using the first two letters from the siblings’ last name – Stewart and Axton. In addition to a recording studio in the movie theater’s former auditorium, the company also set up a record store in the cinema’s old foyer. The store carried records from many different labels and became a popular hangout for local teenagers, which gave the company valuable insights into what music was selling.

Stax also established a house band that backed up the company’s artists during recordings. Eventually, that band consisted of the members who formed Booker T. & the M.G.’s in 1962: Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They served as the session band during most recordings until 1970.

Booker T & the MGs

In 1962, Stax also signed Otis Redding, who would become its biggest star until his untimely death in 1967. By the mid ’60s, Stax had also signed other major artists, including Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes. Stax’s Booker T. & the M.G.’s and other ethnically integrated bands, along with a racially integrated team of staff and artists was unprecedented amid the civil rights-era racial strive and deep-seated tensions of the late ’50s and ’60s, especially in Memphis and the South.

In 1968, Stax ended its distribution deal with Atlantic Records and in the process lost the rights to all recordings Atlantic had distributed between 1960 and 1967. A new co-owner, Al Bell, stepped up and substantially expanded the label’s operations in an effort to better compete with its main rival Motown Records. In 1972, Bell got a distribution deal with CBS Records, but CBS lost interest in Stax, which eventually forced the label to close in 1975.

In 1977, Fantasy Records purchased the post-1968 Stax catalog and some of the pre-1968 recordings. In 1978, Stax under Fantasy’s ownership began signing new acts. But by the early ’80s, no new material appeared on Stax, and it became strictly a reissue label. In 2004, the Stax label was reactivated after Fantasy had been acquired by Concord Records. Today, Stax continues to be owned by Concord and issues both new recordings and its 1968-1975 catalog. Atlantic Records still owns most of the Stax material from 1959 to 1968.

Following is a selection of songs from some of my favorite artists whose records have been issued on Stax, old and new:

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions (1962)

Otis Redding/I’ve Been Loving You For Too Long (1965)

Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour (1965)

Sam & Dave/Soul Man (1967)

Isaac Hayes/Theme From Shaft (1971)

The Staple Singers/I’ll Take You There (1972)

Albert King/That’s What the Blues Is All About (1974)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats/S.O.B. (2015)

Melissa Etheridge/Hold On I’m Coming (2016)

Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis (2017)

Between its initial establishment and 1975, Stax has released more than 800 singles and nearly 300 LPs, winning eight Grammys and an Academy Award. The label has had 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B Charts and more than 167 hits in the top 100 Pop Charts. In April this year, Concord and Rhino Entertainment, which manages the Stax catalog owned by Atlantic Records, announced a joint campaign to celebrate the 60th anniversary with multiple albums, boxed sets and live performance releases throughout the year. Among others, this includes the Stax Classic Series, which consists of collection albums for each of the label’s 10 biggest stars, the Complete Stax Singles boxed set series, as well as a 4-CD anthology of Isaac Hayes to coincide what would have been his 75th birthday.

Sources: Wikipedia, Stax Records website, YouTube

In Appreciation of the Drummer

My top 10 favorite rock drummers, from Baker to Watts

I learned the guitar and also used to be a bass player. The first additional instrument I’d pick up if I had the time would be the drums – and, yes, also after soundproofing a room in my basement!

I’ve always been fascinated with the drums. I have a fairly good feel for rhythm and might actually be good at it – at least that’s what I’m telling myself! Since the drums and the bass form the core rhythm section of a rock band, I also think it would make sense for me to learn the drums next.

But this post is not about my crazy drumming dreams. It’s about professional drummers who are masters of their craft. More specifically, it’s about drummers playing rock, blues, soul and pop, which are the genres I’m most familiar with. Undoubtedly, there must be incredible jazz drummers out there, but since I essentially don’t know jazz, I’m purposely leaving them out.

Here are some of the drummers I find pretty cool, in alphabetical order.

Ginger Baker

Best known as the founder of power rock trio Cream, Ginger Baker is widely considered to be one of the most influential rock drummers and a pioneer in jazz fusion, heavy metal and world music. Born Peter Edward Baker, he began playing the drums at the age of 15. He met bassist Jack Bruce and infamously started clashing with him for much of the time ever since when he joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Despite their clashes, Baker and Bruce continued playing together in the Graham Bond Organization and, of course, in Cream, which they co-founded with Eric Clapton in 1966. After briefly playing with Clapton in Blind Faith and heading his own band Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Baker lived and recorded for several years in Africa. In the mid-70s, he co-headed the Baker Gurvitz Army, a hard rock band. He has also recorded 18 solo albums throughout his career, starting in the early 1970s, and collaborated with various other artists, including Gary Moore. Here is a clip of Cream instrumental Toad from one of the band’s 2011 reunion shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall, featuring an extended drum solo.

Cindy Blackman

The inclusion of Cindy Blackman in my list is solely based on the fact that she is a kick-ass drummer. That being said, how many high-profile non-white female drummers do you know? When I saw a clip of Blackman sometime ago, playing live with Lenny Kravitz, I was truly blown away by her furious drumming. Before becoming part of his live band in 1993, Blackman had focused on jazz. She returned to her roots when she left Kravitz’s touring band in 2004. Blackman joined forces with Kravitz again in 2014 to support the tour for his 10th studio album Strut. In 2010, she got involved with another well-known guitarist, Carlos Santana, and got married to him in December that year. Currently, Blackman, now Cindy Blackman Santana, is part of his touring band and also appears on Power of Peace, Santana’s just-released collaboration album with The Isley Brothers. Here is an awesome clip of Blackman’s live days with Kravitz. The entire band is absolutely killing it.

John Bonham

Modern Drummer magazine and others have called John Bonham the best rock drummer of all time. He is also no. 1 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time list. While I’m not sure it’s possible to determine the best drummer, I think Bonham’s drumming on Stairway to Heaven is one of the coolest drum parts in rock music I know. According to Wikipedia, Bonham was self-taught and began playing when he was five years old, using containers and coffee tins. He would imitate his idols Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. At the age of 15, he received his first drum set and started playing in bands only a couple of years thereafter. In 1966, Bonham met Robert Plant when joining a blues group called Crawling King Snakes. When Plant formed Band of Joy in 1967, he chose Bonham as the drummer. After the breakup of the Yardbirds in 1968, guitarist Jimmy Page was putting together another band and recruited Plant who brought in Bonham. Bassist and keyboarder John Paul Jones completed the line-up of the band that soon thereafter became Led Zeppelin. After Bonham’s untimely death in September 1980 at age 32, the band decided to disband. Here is a clip of Stairway to Heaven from 1975.

Sheila E.

Born Sheila Escovedo, Mexican-American percussionist, drummer, singer, author and actress Sheila E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family since her early childhood. Since the late 60s, her father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente. Already at the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George Duke, Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince and worked with him until 1989. Meanwhile, she also launched her own solo career in 1984 with her debut album The Glamorous Life. E. reunited with Prince several times and also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006. Her most recent release in June 2016 was Girl Meets Boy, a song in honor of Prince. Here is a clip of E. showcasing her drum skills during and appearance on David Letterman in 2011.

Al Jackson Jr.

As a founding member of Stax Records‘ session band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Al Jackson Jr. performed on countless classics produced by the legendary soul, blues and jazz label, such as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Albert King. He was known as “The Human Timekeeper” for his drumming ability. Jackson started playing the drums at an early age and began performing in his father’s jazz dance band when he was just five years old. Later, he played in the band of trumpeter Willie Mitchell, where he met Booker T. Jones who convinced him to come to Stax. Booker T. & M.G.’s were formed in 1962. In addition to backing up the label’s artists in the studio and working on Booker T. & the M.G.’s own music, Jackson co-wrote many Stax hits, such as Otis Redding’s Respect and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Additionally, he worked as a session drummer outside of Stax with artists, such as Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Bill Withers. On October 1, 1975, Jackson was shot to death by a home intruder. He was only 39 years old. Jackson was inducted in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and ranked No. 9 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Sam Moore of Sam & Dave had this to say about Jackson: “I put him in the same bag with Ray Charles or Billy Preston, in a class all his own.” Following is a cool clip of Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming, featuring Jackson as part of Booker T. & the M.G.’s.

Keith Moon

I think it’s safe to say there is no other drummer like Keith Moon and perhaps never will be. According to Drum! magazine, “His drumming style was tribal, primitive, and impulsive, with him often stomping the bass drums and pounding his wall of toms like a madman. Yet his drumming was often surprising and always made an impression.” I think the following quote in Rolling Stone from Ahmir Khalib Thompson, aka Questlove – the drummer and joint frontman of The Roots, sums it up nicely: “Often drummers are supposed to be the line on the paper where you write the sentence, but Keith Moon is the exclamation point.” Perhaps no other tune by The Who illustrates Moon’s raw energy better than My Generation – and Pete Townshend’s! Here’s an awesome clip.

Ian Paice

Ian Paice is best known as the drummer of Deep Purple. In fact, he is the only member of the band who played on each of their albums. After Deep Purple disbanded in 1976, Paice formed a supergroup called Paice Ashton Lord. From August 1979 to January 1982, he played in Whitesnake and then in Gary Moore’s band. In April 1984, he rejoined Deep Purple and remains with the band to this day. Pictures Of Home from 1972’s Machine Head album features on of my favorite Paice drum parts. It also happens to include a terrific bass solo by Roger Glover.

Jeff Porcaro

In addition to being the drummer of Toto from the band’s inception in 1977 until his death in 1992, Jeff Porcaro was one of the most sought-after session drummers. Pocaro took up the drums when he was seven years old. He received lessons from his father Joe Porcaro, a jazz drummer, and later from Robert Zimmitti and Richie Lepore. At 17, Porcaro got his first professional engagement with Sonny & Cher’s touring band. He has also collaborated with numerous other artists, such as Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson and Elton John, to name a few. Porcaro died from a heart attack at age 38 in August 1992. Here is a 1982 clip of Toto performing Rosanna, one of their biggest hits. It features Porcaro’s so-called “half-time shuffle groove,” a beat he explained to Drum! magazine he created by combining Bernard Purdie’s shuffle on Steely Dan songs Babylon Sister and Home Alone with John Bonham’s groove on Fool In the Rain.

Ringo Starr

While Ringo Starr may not be the first who comes to mind when thinking about The Beatles and got less attention than some of his ’60s compatriots like Keith Moon or the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell, he has received accolades from may other drummers. Prior to joining The Beatles in 1962, Starr had played in Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, which had become one of Liverpool’s leading bands in early 1960. After the break-up of The Beatles in early 1970, Starr launched a solo career, which to date has included 18 studio albums. In 1989, he put together a live rock supergroup called The All-Starr Band, which has since consistently toured with various line-ups. Starr’s 19th solo album Give More Love is scheduled for September 15 and will be supported with a tour by the All-Starr Band starting in October. In 2015, Starr became the last Beatle to be included as a solo artist in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He is ranked no. 14 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. The accompanying write-up quotes Dave Grohl who said, “Ringo was the king of feel.”  In Modern Drummer, Jim Keltner called Ringo “the epitome of a feel-good drummer, with just the right amount of chops needed!” According to Wikipedia, Journey’s Steve Smith said, “His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song.” A drum part frequently mentioned by other drummers is A Day In the Life from the Sgt. Pepper album. Here’s a clip.

Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts received his first drum set from his parents in 1955 at the age of 14. At the time, he was into jazz and practiced the drums listing to jazz records. In the late 50s, he joined a local jazz band, together with his neighbor and friend Dave Green, who went on to become a jazz bass player. In 1961, Alexis Korner invited Watts to join his band Blues Incorporated. Watts met Brian Jones, Ian “Stu” Stewart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the following year. But it wasn’t until January 1963 that he agreed to join The Rolling Stones. In addition to recording music with the Stones ever since, Watts has also released various jazz albums since the 80s. According to Rolling Stone, drum compatriot Jim Keltner told Drum! magazine, “Charlie can rush like mad and still make it feel great. That’s his style…He can’t explain it and I don’t necessarily like going into too much detail with him about it. I just marvel at it.” Here’s a cool clip of Get Off My Cloud, captured in 2012 from the Stones’ 50th anniversary show.

Sources: Wikipedia, Modern Drummer, Rolling Stone, Modern Drummer, Drum!, Sheila E. website, YouTube

In Appreciation of the Bass Player

While not always being fully appreciated, the bass player is an essential member of any rock band

Oftentimes, when people think about rock bands, the bass player is not the member that comes to mind first. Especially, for guitar-oriented rock, it’s usually the singer and especially the lead guitarist who get most if not all of the attention – after all, the lead guitarist is the guy who gets to play the cool solos. But while typically being less in the limelight, the bass player actually is an essential part of any rock band!

As a former hobby bass player, I’m of course completely unbiased here. But let’s face it, what would music be without a great groove? And that’s exactly where the bass player comes in, together with the drummer. These two guys form the core rhythm section of any rock band, and they better are on the same page!

Okay, so after having reiterated the importance of the bass player, now on to the fun part: yet another list, specifically of great bass players. There are actually many who come to mind. Undoubtedly, I don’t know all of them – not even close! But with a little help from Bass Player Magazine, the task becomes less daunting. So let’s get to it, in no particular order:

Paul McCartney

Of course, I have to start with somebody who is associated with The Beatles – I just can’t help it! McCartney is not a technical virtuoso, which I recall he has admitted himself in interviews. The thing that’s great about McCartney is not technique, but his beautiful melodic style. As The Beatles became more sophisticated in using recording technology in the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded the bass part as one of the last tracks of the song. That way, he could hear the other instrumental parts and truly add to the music with a nice bass melody. While Rubber Soul only represents The Beatles’ early transition to more advanced studio work, McCartney’s bass part on Drive My Car is among my favorites.

John Entwistle

In some regards, John Entwistle to me falls on the other end of the spectrum when compared to McCartney. While according to Bass Player Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All TimeEntwistle did not consider himself to be a “proper” bass player, his virtuosity was off the charts – and he played all his crazy parts in such a cool and relaxed manner! I was fortunate enough to witness this myself during a great show of The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000, less than two years prior to Entwistle’s untimely death at age 57 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Perhaps, the ultimate Entwistle part is his epic solo in My Generation.

Roger Glover

Together with drummer Ian Paice, Roger Glover forms the kick-ass rhythm section of Deep Purple. My favorite Glover part is the terrific bass solo in Pictures of Home, one of the great tunes on Machine Head; if I would have to choose one 70s hard rock album, I think it would be this record. Undoubtedly, there were other important bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but to me it’s still Deep Purple. I’m actually going to see them for the first time ever at the end of August. Three of the legendary Mark IV members, Paice, Glover and singer Ian Gillan, are still part of the mix! Glover’s solo, BTW, starts at 3:40 minutes.

Graham Maby

Graham Maby is best known for his association with Joe Jackson with whom he has worked since Jackson’s 1979 studio debut Look Sharp! One of my favorite Maby moments is his bass part on Geraldine and John, from I’m the Man, Jackson’s best album in my opinion. It’s another great example of melodic bass playing, though Maby also plays hard-pumping, punk rock-oriented bass parts on that album. I just dig the man’s sound!

Tal Wilkenfeld

This 30-year-old lady from down under simply is an amazing overachiever. Tal Wilkenfeld has worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Prince, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock – oh, and this band called The Allman Brothers. In addition, this Australian dynamo is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who fronts her own band. Is there anything she can’t do? While in 2008 Wilkenfeld was voted The Year’s Most Exciting New Player in a poll of readers of Bass Player and was also recognized by the publication in 2013 with the Young Gun Award, surprisingly, she’s not on their 100 Greatest Bass Player list – definitely an oversight! Just watch this amazing clip of Wilkenfeld with Beck and you know why. BTW, she was 20 years at the time!

Sting

Apart from being a songwriter and talented acoustic guitarist, Sting is also a great bassist. Bass Player credits him for bringing reggae influences into rock when he was still with The Police, citing tunes like Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You. One of my favorite Sting bass parts from his time with The Police is in Spirits In the Material World, from the band’s fourth studio album Ghost in the Machine, released in 1981.

Pino Palladino

To me, this exceptional session bassist will always remain synonymous with the fretless bass. And perhaps no other tune captures this better than Paul Young’s cover of the beautiful Marvin Gaye tune Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – ah, the 80s are coming back to me! For the record, at the time, I owned a fretless in addition to a regular bass, but whatever I tried, I just could never create that distinct fretless sound – not even close!

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce is considered to be one of the greatest rock bassists. When he passed away in October 2014 at the age of 71, there were countless tributes from fellow music artists. According to Rolling Stone, former Cream band mate Eric Clapton said, “he was a great musician and composer, and a tremendous inspiration to me.” The same story also recalled Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters saying in his 100 Greatest Artists tribute to Cream that Bruce was “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.” While Bruce had a serious career prior to and post Cream, he will probably always best be remembered as the singer and bassist of the rock supergroup power trio, who also co-wrote some of their best known songs like I Feel FreeSunshine of Your Love and White Room. Here’s a nice clip of Sunshine of Your Love from Cream’s 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Geddy Lee

Just like Cream, Canadian rock legends Rush are a power trio. And just like Jack Bruce was, Geddy Lee is Rush’s singer and bassist. In addition to a remarkable vocal range, Lee oftentimes uses his bass as a lead instrument. His signature style is characterized by high treble sound and furiously hard playing of the strings. Bass Player also notes his “multi-tasking chops: His ability to trigger samples, play keys, step on bass pedals, and sing vocal parts in odd time signatures while nailing Rush’s complex yet catchy bass lines…” Here’s a nice illustration of Lee’s playing – a live performance of the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone, which first appeared on Rush’s 1993 studio album Counterparts.

Stephen Oliver Jones

Who? Stephen Oliver Jones (Ojay) currently does not play in any famous band, but maybe he should. Also known as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass, he used to be a professional musician. Now it appears he’s a street musician and a YouTube sensation. During a 2015 interview with the Draper on Film blog, Jones explained he is self-taught and used to play in a rap rock band called Dust Junkys from Manchester, England. The following YouTube clip, which has more than 1.6 million views, showcases Jones’ incredible talent. When I first saw it on Facebook, I was blown away. And since this hasn’t changed, it was an easy decision to include Ojay in this list. He is going full-blown Hendrix at 2:48 minutes – unreal!

Sources: Bass Player Magazine: The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time (Feb 2017); Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Draper on Film, YouTube