What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

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I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for Starman, Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for a another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be second to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album, after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been it’s own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the I album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s music arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clarence Carter, Groovy Southern Soul And R&B Man

Despite several hits in the late 60s and early 70s, Carter didn’t achieve the popularity of other FAME recording artists

I just love when this happens. Yesterday morning, I checked Apple Music and under “new releases” spotted Snatching It Back by Clarence Carter, a name I wasn’t familiar with. The cover showing Carter holding his electric guitar somehow reminded me of Stax, so I decided to give the album a listen. Right from the get-go I was intrigued by what I heard – great southern style soul and R&B that makes you groove and snip your fingers – my kind of music to start the day!

Carter was born blind in Montgomery, Ala. on January 14, 1936. According to his profile on Apple Music, he taught himself how to play the guitar at a young age by listening to blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. Any guy who can pull that off has my full respect! Following graduation from Alabama State College with a B.S. in music in August 1960, another remarkable accomplishment, given the time and place, he formed the duo Clarence & Calvin with his friend Calvin Scott. They signed with the Fairlane label and started releasing a series of singles, none of which got any traction. After Scott was badly injured in a car accident, Carter went on as a solo artist.

Clarence Carter Live 2012
Clarence Carter (center) live in 2012

It took until 1967 that Carter’s music received first recognition with Tell Daddy, recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. The tune, which he co-wrote, peaked at no. 35 on the Billboard R&B Chart. Carter gained additional visibility when Etta James covered the song as Tell Mama, scoring a no. 10 on the R&B Chart and peaking at no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, her highest-charting song there. At the end of 1967, he joined Atlantic Records and put out a series of records and singles. Some were pretty awesome and did well on the charts, but Carter never achieved the popularity of a Wilson PickettOtis Redding or Solomon Burke.

At the end of 1971, after a string of less successful releases, Carter left Atlantic and went to FAME Records, which like FAME Studios was owned by Rick Hall. In 1975, he signed with ABC Records, but the advent of disco negatively impacted his career. In 1985, Carter switched to Ichiban Records and released six albums before establishing his own Cee Cee Entertainment label in 1996. Since then, he has released at least 14 additional records, including the above mentioned Snatching It Back, a compilation that appeared last Friday. Time for some music. I’m mostly focusing on Carter’s early career.

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Tell Daddy, Carter’s first hit single. According to Wikipedia, he co-wrote the song with Marcus Daniel and Wilbur Terrell, though for some reason these guys didn’t receive any credits. BTW, Etta James initially resisted to record her version of the tune Tell Mama, but apparently Rick Hall insisted and eventually she gave in – a decision I imagine she didn’t regret!

Slip Away, released in 1968, was Carter’s first big hit, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard R&B Chart. Co-written by Marcus Daniel, Wilbur Terrell and William Armstrong, it was included on his Atlantic debut studio album This Is Clarence Carter.

Also in 1968, Carter released a single called Back Door Santa, which hip hop group Run-D.M.C. sampled for their 1987 hit Christmas In Hollis. The tune was also included on his second Atlantic release Testifyin’ from 1969. The song is credited to Carter, Rick Hall, David Newman and Marcus Daniel. While the tune was also featured on a Christmas album, the sexually suggestive lyrics make it clear it doesn’t have much to do with the holiday. Steamy lyrics, BTW, became Carter’s trademark.

Snatching It Back, also from Testfyin’, was another successful single for Carter released in 1969. The song was co-written by Carter, Jimmie Haskell, Rick Hall, Harrison Calloway and George Jackson. I just love the horns on this tune and its Stax vibe.

Another beautiful Carter song and yet another track from Testifyin’ that came out in 1969 is The Feeling Is Right. It was composed by Jimmie Haskell, Rick Hall, Harrison Calloway, Mickey Buckins and George Jackson.

Patches, the title track of Carter’s 1970 studio album, became his biggest hit, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard R&B Chart and reaching no. 4 Billboard Hot 100. Written by General Johnson and Ron Dunbar, the tune also earned Carter the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

Another nice track from the Patches album is You’re Love Lifted Me, co-written by Jimmie Haskell, Harrison Calloway and Obie McClinton. And yes, while the title looks grammatically wrong, it actually seems to be written that way – don’t know why.

I’m The Midnight Special is the opener to Carter’s 1973 album Sixty Minutes With Clarence Carter, the first record after he had signed on with FAME. It is credited to Muscle Shoals Horns, Raymond Moore, George Jackson, Allyn Mitchell and Larry Chambers.

In 1975, Carter issued a single called I Got Caught. Co-written by him and R. Hatcher, the soul ballad is classic Carter, lyrically speaking. Apparently, it was one of his last singles that charted.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is a Carter composition called Strokin’, the closer of his 1986 studio album Dr. C.C.  Since due to its lyrics the song was considered too raunchy for release as a single or radio play, the record company placed it in jukeboxes where it apparently became popular. Use in an Eddie Murphy picture gave it further exposure.

Today at the mighty age of 82, Carter is still active. While it appears he currently has no official website with a tour schedule, I found a reference on the web, according to which he’s scheduled to perform at Union Bank & Trust Pavillion in Portsmouth, Va. on September 8, 2018.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Discogs, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Poco/Pickin’ Up The Pieces

Buffalo Springfield, who definitely deserve an own post, may well have been called “Buffalo Springboard.” After the Canadian-American folk rock band broke up in May 1968, Stephen Stills got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & NashNeil Young launched his solo career and later joined CSN; and Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar) co-founded Poco, together with Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals), Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), George Grantham (drums, vocals) and Randy Meisner (bass, vocals). Messina also served as the band’s producer. They called their debut album Pickin’ Up The Pieces, a reference to Springfield’s break-up, and boy did they live up to the title!

I rarely find myself agreeing with the editors of Apple Music, but in this case, I think they got it right. They boldly call the record “an album that’s every bit as good as anything the Springfield did.” Poco is considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. And yet, compared to records from CSN and Young that came out around the same time Poco released their debut in May 1969, the latter only accomplished moderate chart visibility. It would take the band almost a decade before scoring a commercial success with the excellent Legend, the band’s 11th studio release from November 1978. Back to Pickin’ Up The Pieces.

Poco 1968
Poco in 1968 (left to right): Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, George Grantham, Richie Furay and Rusty Young

Furay was involved in most of the writing of the album’s music, either as the sole writer or a co-writer. Various of his songs date back to the time with Springfield. In this context, Wikipedia specifically notes What A Day. While Meisner participated in the recording sessions, he was asked to leave the band prior to the record’s release over disagreements with Furay, who for some reason insisted that only he and Messina could participate in the final mixing sessions. As a result, Meisner’s vocals were re-recorded by Grantham. He was also replaced on the cover with a dog. Only this bass parts were kept – egos in rock. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned What A Day. That song grabbed me immediately with it’s powerful opening It’s a good morning and I’m feeling fine. The vocal harmonies are an absolute killer and definitely rival the magic of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I also dig the tune’s groove. Apparently, Poco didn’t release any singles from the record. I wonder how that tune would have fared as a single.

Calico Lady is another standout to me – more terrific harmony singing and nice acoustic and electric guitar work. Also, I’ve never heard a dog play such a groovy bass line! The song is credited to Furay, Messina and Skip Goodwin.

Among the tunes that sound more like straight rock is Short Changed, another track written by Furay. The rugged lead guitar is a bit reminiscent of Neil Young. I would bet this is one of the songs Furay wrote during his Buffalo Springfield days.

The album’s title track is traditional country rock. This was the first song Poco recorded and appears to be another tune Furay wrote during the Buffalo Springfield era. According to Wikipedia, commenting on the song, Furay said, “To me it summarized the attitude we wanted to convey in our music: good, wholesome & positive. There was so much negativity going on in the world in the early 70s and it needed a refreshing sound. The country rock sound we were creating would be it. We were innovators, pioneering the way for a whole new ‘Southern California sound’ that many groups who followed would capitalize on.”

The last track I’d like to call out is Grand Junction. The instrumental, yet another piece written by Furay, has a groove that is similar to The Allman Brothers’ Jessica.

From Pickin’ Up The Pieces Poco went on to record 18 additional studio albums, the most recent of which appeared in March 2013. There are also nine live records and multiple compilations. In 1974, Furay left Poco, discovered Christianity, formed Christian rock band Souther, Hillman, Furay and in 1983 became a senior pastor in Bloomfield, Colo. He continues to perform to the present day. Messina left the band in 1971, following the release of their live album Deliverin’ to focus on producing. He then hooked up with Kenny Loggins to form Loggins & Messina. Following his exit from Poco, Meisner joined the Stone Canyon Band and in September 1971 became a co-founding member of the Eagles.

Poco is still around. Rusty Young remains the only co-founding member. The current line-up also includes Jack Sundrud (guitar, bass, vocals), Rick Lonow (drums, percussion) and Michael Webb (keyboards, guitars, accordion, vocals). While at the end of 2013 Young announced his official retirement, he still tours with the band. He also released his first solo album Waitin’ For The Sun last year.

Poco is currently touring the U.S. If you happen to live in or near Melbourne or Jacksonville, Fla., you can see the guys this Thursday or Friday. There are four additional scheduled gigs for 2018, as well as three dates for February and March 2019. Based on the schedule, it doesn’t look like Poco is planning to call it quits anytime soon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Poco official website, YouTube

From Bonehead To Deadhead

My late discovery of the Grateful Dead

For a guy who has listened to music for now more than 40 years, I have to make a somewhat embarrassing admission: Until a few days ago, essentially, I hadn’t known anything about the Grateful Dead. Then, fellow blogger Intogroove, who had done a two-part series on the Dead, was kind enough to give me a few recommendations to start my long overdue exploration of the band. While after two days of fairly intense listening to some of their albums I certainly haven’t become a Dead expert, I’m ready to boldly declare myself a Deadhead – even if all the music I’ve yet to hear (and there is plenty left!) should turn out to be horrible, which I highly doubt!

So why the hell did it take me so long to realize how grate, I mean great, these guys are? For some reason, I always thought that with their marathon concerts and endless instrumental jams, the Dead would be a hard-to-acquire taste. Sure, some may find a 15-minute-plus jam of Fire On The Mountain on their Cornell 5/8/77 live album a bit heavy, and I know there are even longer tunes, but I don’t find anything terrible about it – on the contrary, I actually love that song! And then, of course one needs to realize there’s a significant difference between the studio Dead and the live Dead.

Grateful Dead Press Kit for 1967 Debut Album
Press kit for Grateful Dead eponymous 1967 studio album. From left to right: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, Ron McKernan and Phil Lesh

At least I had been aware of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), who together with Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron McKernan (keyboards, harmonica), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) founded Grateful Dead in the San Francisco area in 1965. I’m not going to recap their history here. I had first heard of Garcia in connection with the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu, one of my all-time favorite records, for which he played pedal steel guitar on Teach Your Children Well. According to Wikipedia, in exchange CSNY helped the Dead with their harmony singing on their albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Both are among the Dead records I’ve listened to and come to dig immediately.

Following is a playlist of Dead songs I like, based on what I’ve heard thus far. Obviously, this is by no means meant to be complete. Considering the band’s prolific output, I don’t think it’s even possible to come up with a playlist that’s completely representative, unless perhaps one does the equivalent to some of their live jams! So here we go.

One thing I noticed is that in addition to original tunes, the Dead had some great covers. One I like in particular is Good Morning, Little School Girl from their debut The Grateful Dead released in March 1967. The tune, which has been covered by many artists, was written and first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937.

Casey Jones is from Dead’s forth studio album, the above mentioned Workingman’s Dead, which appeared in June 1970. The track was co-written by Garcia (music) and Robert Hunter (lyrics), who frequently worked with the band. I was also happy to realize that I had heard the tune before.

The follow-on album to Workingman’s Dead was American Beauty from November 1970. Two records released with barely six months in-between is pretty amazing, especially by today’s standards! Anyway, here’s the seductive, groovy Truckin’, which is credited to Gracia, Lesh, Weir and Hunter.

Now, I’m going to make a big jump to July 1987, when Dead released what became their most commercially successful studio album In The Dark. Among others, it includes the catchy Touch Of Grey, another song I had heard before, which made it into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 9 – the Dead’s only top 40 single. I also had known Throwing Stones. The tune I like to highlight here is Black Muddy River, which was co-written by Garcia and Hunter. Gregg Allman covered this beautiful song on his final studio album, which is where I had heard it initially.

Since I realize no Dead playlist could be called as such without any live material, I’d like to include two tracks. The first is from Europe ’72, a triple album released in November 1972: Jack Straw, a co-write by Hunter and Weir.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the epic Fire On The Mountain. This is the version from Cornell 5/8/77, which appeared in May 2017. Initially, the song was included on Shakedown Street, Dead’s 10th studio album from November 1978. It is credited to Mickey Hart, who became a member of the band in September 1967 as an additional drummer, and Hunter.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Predator Dub Assassins/Songs In The Key Of Sea

Until last Sunday, I had never heard of a band with the somewhat fearsome sounding name Predator Dub Assassins. I had seen them billed as a reggae outfit to perform at a free summer concert in the park type of event in Ocean Branch, N.J. Listening to Jamaican grooves on a lovely summer evening sounded like a great proposition, so I went there together with my wife.

We arrived a bit late and ended up sitting on a park bench a good deal away from the stage where it almost felt like listening to background music. At some point, I recognized Stir It Up and thought the lead vocalist sounded pretty similar to the great Bob Marley himself – pretty cool! We kept listening, and I liked the singer’s voice, as well as the sound and groove of the band, though I didn’t recognize any of the songs.

About 10 to 15 minutes prior to the end of the concert, we got up and moved a little closer toward the stage. Suddenly, the band started playing a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Miss You. While admittedly it’s not my favorite Stones tune, I thought giving it a reggae groove was a brilliant idea – frankly, to me it sounded better than the disco-influenced original! Finally, these guys had my full attention – I wish this would have happened a bit earlier, but between chatting with my wife and slurping an iced coffee, I guess I was a bit distracted!

Predator Dub Assassins
P-Dub (center) and Predator Dub Assassins

Before the band finished, the vocalist mentioned something about a new CD. So I looked them up in iTunes. And, there it was, Songs In The Key Of Sea (clever title!), along with numerous older albums and singles, going all the way back to 2005. Obviously, this meant I had just listened to a band that wasn’t exactly a newcomer. Now I was really curious!

It turns out that Predator Dub Assassins is one of the bands of Timothy Boyce, a.k.a. P-Dub. There isn’t exactly a ton of public information out on this artist, especially given how long he has been around. His Facebook page doesn’t reveal much. According to his website, P-Dub’s unique brand of reggae music fuses classic rock and pop elements with contemporary island sounds. Not only has he released more than 12 full-length albums since 2005, but he has also worked as an instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer with numerous other artists like Akon, Sean Kingston and Paul Wall – pretty much all names I admittedly don’t know.

P-Dub
Timothy Boyce, a.k.a. P-Dub

According to a recent interview he gave to Irie magazine, P-Dub initially got into music by working as a sound engineer at a local recording studio close to his home town of Sea Bright, N.J. The owner, a 55-year-old Kingstonian named George, attracted many musicians from the West Indies. Eventually, George ended up forming a band with P-Dub as the core member on vocals and guitar.

While I’ve listened to Bob Marley since my teenage years and always liked his music, I still wouldn’t consider reggae to be part of my core wheelhouse. So P-Dub is not the type of music I usually listen to. But once I started doing so, there was something that drew me in immediately. I think it’s his great voice and songs with seductive melodies and nice grooves – to me it’s the perfect summer music!

Unlike on most of P-Dub’s previous records, the material on Songs In The Key Of Sea goes beyond reggae and is a fusion of various styles. In a related note on his website, he explains, “I did things a lot differently this time. Instead of sticking to the musical rules of the reggae genre, I just let the songs do whatever they wanted. If a song popped out sounding funky, I let it. If a waltz popped its head in the door, I welcomed it in and this eclectic album resulted. The reggae is definitely in there. Its one of the main elements of the stew but you may have to look harder to find it on some tunes, while on others it’s more than obvious.”

Time for some music.

Things start off with Pleasant Picnic, which has a clear reggae feel to it – pretty much what I expected, based on the above concert and from listening into some of P-Dub’s earlier records.

Next up: Special. I like the funky groove. The beginning reminds me a bit of Listen To The Music by The Doobie Brothers, perhaps in part since I’m going to see these guys next week, so I guess they are on my mind.

Another tune I like is Good Day, a more acoustic-oriented song.

Chico Was The Man has an interesting groove. I also like the flute, which is a bit reminiscent of Jethro Tull.

On Your Prayer things become a more rock-oriented. To me this tune has a Lenny Kravitz vibe.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Rockets Are Supposed To Fly. In this song, P-Dub’s reggae influence becomes more obvious again.

Songs In The Key Of Sea was released on June 1. It is available on iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. According to P-Dub’s website, he wanted to create a 60s garage band approach to recording a reggae band. ” While some tracks are certainly more layered than others on this album, every single song was cut live in the studio, with the band playing together. I only used three mics on the drums and I let it bleed. I wound up loving the results and I think you will too.” Indeed!

Sources: Predator Dub Assassins website, Irie, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Gov’t Mule/Dark Side Of The Mule

What’s a Pink Floyd fan to do these days when they want to experience the band’s amazing music live? With the death of keyboarder Rick Wright in 2008 and their final studio album The Endless River from November 2014, Floyd’s officially gone. Yes, Roger Waters is currently on an extended Us + Them world tour. And, yes, David Gilmour released Live At Pompeii last September, which included Floyd material, and told Ultimate Classic Rock around that time that he’s planning a new album, which probably also means more touring. Still, it’s not the same!

Well, as the “king of the cover band” (Music Enthusiast’s previous kind words, not mine!) – one option I can highly recommend is Floyd tribute band Echoes. I saw these guys last year at the great Rock The Farm annual festival and wrote about it here. A second option I didn’t fully appreciate until recently is Gov’t Mule – yep, the southern rock jam band founded by Allman Brothers’ members Warren Haynes (guitar) and Allen Woody (bass) in 1994 to keep busy while the Brothers were off. Both ended up leaving the band to fully focus on Mule, though Haynes returned in 2000 and stayed with the Brothers until their final show in 2014. Woody passed away in 2000.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule’s current lineup (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

Haynes and Woody both were fond of 1960s power trios, such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mule also digs many other artists like Neil Young, Free, Traffic, Little Feat and, well, Pink Floyd. What’s interesting to me is that with so much own material Mule has released over the years, they frequently have covered songs of the aforementioned artists during their sets. To date their homage to Pink Floyd certainly represents the climax in that regard. I know of no other such high caliber musicians who put together an entire set of covers from a band they obviously admire.

Dark Side Of The Mule (love that title!), which was released in December 2014 as a CD and deluxe CD/DVD set, was recorded during a three-hour gig at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on Halloween 2008. While the standard CD edition only features the Floyd portion of the show, the enhanced deluxe version also includes original material Mule performed that night. Unlike the title suggests, their Pink Floyd set goes far beyond the Dark Side Of The Moon album. Time to get to some music!

The first tune I’d like to highlight is what I would call more of a deep cut: Fearless. Co-written by Gilmour and Waters, it appeared on Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album Meddle, released in October 1971. Haynes does a particularly nice job here, both in terms of his guitar work and the vocals.

Pigs On The Wing, Pt. 2 was written by Waters and included on Animals as the closer of that record from January 1977, Floyd’s 10th studio release. I think Mule’s version of the tune illustrates what’s also true for the entire set – while they stayed pretty close to the original tracks, they didn’t copy them 100%, which I find quite okay. After all, unlike Echoes, Mule is not a Floyd tribute band.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) is one of the tunes where Mule takes a bit more artistic freedom, especially Haynes. While I really dig Gilmour’s guitar parts on the original, I have to say I also like what Haynes is playing here. The opener of Wish You Were Here, Floyd’s ninth studio effort from September 1975, was credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters. It remains one of my all-time favorite Floyd tracks after having listened to the band for some 40 years.

Next up: Time from the epic Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Pink Floyd album, which appeared in March 1973. The song was credited to all members of the band, which apart from Gilmour, Waters and Wright also included drummer Nick Mason. BTW, one of the backing vocalists Mule had, Durga McBroom, also consistently served in that capacity during Floyd’s live shows starting from November 1987, as well as on The Division Bell and The Endless River studio records.

Another track I’d like to call out is Comfortably Numb, one of my favorite tunes from 1979’s The Wall album. Co-written by Waters and Gilmour, it’s one of the relatively few songs that are not solely credited to Waters who clearly was the dominant force on the record. Again, Haynes does a great job, both vocally and playing Gilmour’s guitar parts.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the title track from the Wish You Were Here album.  No Pink Floyd set would be complete without the song, which was yet another Waters-Gilmour co-write.

To date, Mule only played one additional Floyd set, which was during the Mountain Jam music festival in June 2015. But a third Dark Side Of The Mule performance is coming up. In March, the band announced that they are joining forces with The Avett Brothers for six co-headlining summer open air gigs. The dates include Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, N.Y. (Jul 12); PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J. (Jul 13); Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25).

One of these shows is happening right in my backyard. Based on Ticketmaster, prices look relatively reasonable. Plus, I’ve been to PNC Bank Arts Center many times and like this venue. All of these facts are impossible to ignore, so needless to say that I’m very tempted. Since I’m already seeing Steely Dan & The Doobie Brothers (July 7) and Neil Young solo (July 11), adding Mule would make this a pretty intense back-to-back music experience. But is there such a thing as too much rock & roll, and don’t make three a charm? We’ll see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Roger Waters official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, Echoes official website, Gov’t Mule official website, YouTube