My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part IV

Some of the great artists who passed away

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In the last installment of this year-in-review feature, I’d like to honor some of the great artists we lost in 2017. With most of my rock & roll heroes having gotten into music during the ’60s and ’70s, decades that ween’t exactly known for a healthy lifestyle, perhaps not surprisingly it has been another rough year for artists from the older generation.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. There was simply no known guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” In addition to popularizing a signature guitar sound The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Yardbirds and many other artists embraced in the ’60s, Berry was an incredible showman. To me his “duckwalk” was an equivalent to Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk.”

And then there are of course all the iconic tunes Berry wrote. They read like a greatest hits of classic rock & roll. From Roll Over BeethovenToo Much Monkey Business and  Sweet Little Sixteen to Johnny B. GoodeCarol and Little Queenie – and the list goes on! For additional thoughts on Berry, who passed away in March at the age of 90, you can read this. Here is one of my favorite clips showing Berry perform the iconic Johnny B. Goode with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

J. Geils

J. Geils led what Rolling Stone once called the “world’s greatest party band.” The J. Geils Band emerged in 1968 when Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio Geils had co-founded with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz in 1965, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and later that year keyboarder Seth Justman. Initially, they called the new band The J. Geils Blues Band. Prior to the release of their eponymous 1970 debut album, they dropped “Blues” from their name.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album. Read here for more about J. Geils, who died in April at the age of 71. Below is a clip of Hard Drivin’ Man from the band’s excellent 1972 album Live Full House.

Gregg Allman

Even though I had known Gregg Allman was not in good health, his death in May at age 69 still hit me. From today’s perspective, it’s hard to believe that he and The Allman Brothers Band were late discoveries in my rock & roll journey. I thought a Rolling Stone obituary hit the nail on the head: “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.”

Allman’s voice and emotional power are also omnipresent on his final studio album Southern Blood, which was released postmortem in September and is among my favorite new records this year. More thoughts on his death and the album are here and here. Following is one of my favorite clips of Allman performing Just Another Rider with his great band from his excellent 2011 album Low Country Blues.

Walter Becker

Walter Becker was best known as Donald Fagen’s longtime partner in Steely Dan, which is hands down one of coolest bands I know. The two met in 1967 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and guitarist Danny Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). In November 1972, Steely Dan released their excellent debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill. And the rest is history.

For more thoughts on Becker’s untimely death in September at the age of 67, which I learned only recently was caused by esophageal cancer, read this. Here is a great clip of what is perhaps my most favorite Steely Dan tune: Deacon Blues, from their sixth studio album Aja, which was released in 1977. Not sure when that life performance was captured.

Tom Petty

The sudden death of Tom Petty on October 2 at just 66 years was a true shocker. Barely a week earlier, he had wrapped up a successful 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Petty founded The Heartbreakers in 1976, together with guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench from his previous band Mudcrutch, as well as Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums).

The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. Over the next 38 years, the band put out 12 additional studio records, the last of which was 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Petty’s impressive studio catalog also encompasses three solo records, two albums with Mudcrutch and two releases with the Traveling Wilburys, the “super group” that in addition to him included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Ray Orbison. More thoughts on Petty’s death are here. Following is how I prefer to remember him – through his great music. Here’s great clip of Refugee, which has always been one of my favorite Petty tunes.

Other music artists we lost in 2017

Some of the other artists who passed away this year include early rock & roller Fats Domino (89), AC/DC co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (64), country singer and guitarist Glen Campbell (81), Soundgarden co-founder and lead vocalist Chris Cornell (52), Allman Brothers co-founder and drummer Butch Trucks (69), and jazz, R&B and soul singer Al Jarreau (76).

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part III

The concerts that moved me

The third installment of my year-in-review feature looks back on the many great concerts this year I had the fortune to see in 2017. It was a nice mix of major and semi-professional acts, including various excellent tribute bands. Following are highlights from my favorite shows.

U2, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., June 30

After I had listened to U2 for more than 30 years, I finally saw the Irish rock band during their Joshua Tree Tour 2017. In a nutshell, seeing them perform what I think is their best album live in its entirety, along with many other great songs, was simply epic!  You can read more about the show here. In addition, following is a clip of Red Hill Mining Town.

John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, July 7

This was the second time I saw John Mellencamp after close to 20 years. Since the gig was part of a tour supporting his most recent album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which features Carlene Carter, I wasn’t sure what to expect: R.O.C.K. or more of the stripped down Americana Mellencamp has gradually embraced since 1986’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It was definitely the former! While his voice has changed quite a bit since the days of Jack And Diane, Pink Houses, Small Town and Paper In Fire, he still delivered many of his ’80s with great dynamic. More about this great show, which also featured Emmylou Harris as a guest, is here. And for instant gratification, you can watch this nice clip of Pink Houses. Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go beautifully together!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’, F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

If I would have to name one show as the highlight, I guess it would have to be this concert. Seeing blues dynamos Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ bring the good time to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley and doing it with such joy was simply priceless. Also remarkable was opening act Jontavious Willis, a 21-year-old country blues artist from Greenville, Ga., who with just an acoustic guitar blew the roof off the place. I previously reviewed the show here. Following is a clip of the Sleepy John Estes tune Diving Duck Blues. The chemistry between Mahal and Mo’ is just amazing.

Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

It’s hard to believe it took me more than 30 years after I had first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band Deep Purple live. Together with Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and high-energy blues rocker Edgar Winter, it made for three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some additional hearing loss! You can read more about my experience here. And here is a clip of one of Deep Purple’s signature tunes,  Highway Star.

Outstanding Tribute Bands

I’ve also seen a number of excellent tribute bands this year. Full-time professional acts included RAIN and Get The Led Out, tributes to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, respectively. My review of the shows are here and here. Following is a clip of RAIN performing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

And here is Get The Led Out killing it with Rock And Roll.

Two other outstanding tribute bands I like to highlight are Decade and The Royal Scam, tributes to Neil Young and Steely Dan, respectively. In fact, I was so much impressed with these bands that I saw them more than once – Decade three times and The Royal Scam twice. Here is my review of a Decade gig in late October. To get an idea, check out this clip of Ohio.

One of The Royal Scam’s concerts I visited was a great gig at an intimate jazz club in October. I posted about it here. The following clip of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number was captured at an outdoor performance during the summer, the first time I saw these guys.

Cool music festivals

Last but not least I’d like to acknowledge three great music festivals I attended. It started with a British Invasion spectacle in Atlantic City in June, which featured The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next, tributes to The Rolling Stones and The Who, respectively, as well as Britain’s Finest, another tribute band to The Beatles. I posted about the event here. A nice promo clip of Who’s Next is below.

In September, I visited two additional festivals, which are conducted annually. First up was the Rock The Farm Festival in Seaside Heights, N.J., also cleverly called Faux-Chella, the concert that never was. In addition to the above mentioned The Glimmer Twins and Decade, the festival featured tributes to Carole King, Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, The Beatles (yet another tribute band!), The Doors, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. Here is my review of the 10-hour rock marathon. And following is a nice highlights reel of the Pink Floyd tribute, which is called Echoes.

Finally, there was Colts Neck Rockfest. The two-day event presented close to 30 bands from New Jersey. Unlike Rock The Farm, this festival focused less on tribute acts. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers. My post about the great event is here. Following is a clip of Moroccan Sheepherders performing Feeling Stronger Every Day by Chicago.

The last and final installment of this year-in-feature will reflect on some of the great artists who passed in 2017.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part I

Industry news that moved me

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe that another year is coming to an end. Yesterday, when I looked through my blog posts over the past 12 months, I noticed it’s been a quite eventful year on the music front. Between broader industry news, newly released music, concerts and great artists who passed, there is a lot of fodder for a year in music review post.

When I say music, I mostly mean ’60s and ’70s style rock and blues. You won’t find anything about Kendrick Lamar, Kesha, Selena Gomez and Jay-Z, to name a few contemporary artists who are in the charts these days. I don’t want to judge them, I just don’t listen to these guys.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as I started putting together my thoughts, I quickly realized that doing so in one shot would either be very lengthy or not do much justice to the above topics. Since I have to admit I’m not particularly patient myself when it comes to reading long pieces, I decided to break things down into four parts. Here is part I, in which I’m looking at broader industry stories that moved me. Parts II, III and IV will cover new music, concerts and artists we lost, respectively.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates 2017 and announces 2018 inductees

In April, the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Inductees in the Performer category included Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes, while Nile Rodgers was honored with the Award for Musical Excellence.

The induction festivities recognized Chuck Berry, who sadly passed away in March at the age of 90 and who was among the first group of artists inducted in January 1986. In his honor, ELO performed their cover of Roll Over Beethoven. I still haven’t quite made up my mind about this band, which I find weird and intriguing at the same time. No matter how you feel about them, Jeff Lynne certainly demonstrated he can play guitar solos that would likely have made Berry proud. Here is a clip of the spectacle.

Earlier this month, the class of 2018 was officially announced. Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone made it into the Performer category. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the coolest rock & roll pioneers I know of, will be inducted in the Early Influences category.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees

I won’t get into a discussion about whether the above artists deserve the honor or why others still haven’t been inducted. What I will say is that with an ever-growing pool of eligible artists, the task of selecting the inductees is formidable. You can read more about the class of 2018 here.

Is the electric guitar becoming an endangered species?

In June, a story in The Washington Post declared the electric guitar is dying a slow and secret death. As a hobby guitar player, the article got my attention and triggered broad discussion. The stats cited in the story certainly painted a grim picture. Annual electric guitar sales are down by one-third from 1.5 million to just over one million over the past decade. Legendary guitar makers Fender and Gibson are in debt, while PRS Guitars was forced to lay off people. The largest chain retailer Guitar Center is $1.6 billion in debt and was downgraded by Moody’s in April.

Death of the Guitar

Paul McCartney’s take? “The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after. So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there. [pause] Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently. They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”

But is the situation really that grim? The Dallas Observer said the death claim may be exaggerated. Nashville guitar dealer George Gruhn, who has sold guitars to McCartney, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Taylor Swift, was also quoted in the Post story as saying, “What we need is guitar heroes.” But he saw the published article, he was surprised about the Post’s overall take. “I would say that the guitar market is under stress from oversaturation,” he told the Observer. “But by no means is the market for the guitar simply dying.”

While I certainly don’t have the answer, I feel McCartney’s comments are well taken. In a society that is dominated by digital devices and increasingly seems to be looking for instant gratification, I suspect trying to motivate young folks to invest the time and patience to learn the guitar (or other instruments for that matter!) is a tough proposition. Moreover, the guitar is an afterthought in most of the electronic dance music today’s young kids listen to. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by the debate the Post story triggered. Plus, as will become obvious in the next installment of this four-part series, the guitar is very much alive in my kind of music that came out this year, and it’s not only old rockers who released new material.

Jann Wenner gives up ownership of Rolling Stone

Earlier this week, Variety and other media outlets reported that Penske Media Corporation acquired the 51% stake in Rolling Stone that Wenner Media still owned for just over $100 million. This means Jann Wenner, who co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with music journalist Ralph Gleason, will give up all ownership in the wake of the storied magazine’s 50th anniversary.

Rolling Stone Covers

“I am so proud of our accomplishments over the past 50 years and know Penske Media is the ideal match for us to thrive in today’s media landscape,” said Wenner in a statement, which also noted his company will retain “majority control and editorial oversight” of Rolling Stone. Variety is part of Penske Media.

Stay tuned for part II, in which I will look at music that came this year, including new recordings and anniversary editions of albums I dig.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website, The Washington Post, Dallas Observer, Variety, YouTube

The Stones and The Boss Ruled Rock in 2016: A Look Back

It’s been an eventful year in rock music – from great new albums to fantastic concerts to the sad deaths of iconic artists. Once again, it was mainly the “old guard” that kept the show going, and nobody did so more than Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones.

As 2016 is drawing to its close, I’d like to take a look back through my own personal lens at some of the key events in rock music that touched me this year.

To people who know me or have glanced at the blog before it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that my thoughts mostly focus on artists who became big in the 60s, 70s and 80s. While I want to be careful not to dismiss the music that currently dominates the charts and acknowledge that some its artists are very talented, it simply doesn’t excite me much.

The Stones

When I think of rock in 2016, the first thing that comes to mind are The Rolling Stones. Between their historic concert in Cuba; the cool film documentary Olé Olé Olé! about their 2016 Latin American tour that ended with their gig in Havana; the Exhibitionism exhibit I still have to visit; and their fantastic new album of vintage blues covers Blue & Lonesome, the Stones have been everywhere. That’s not bad for any artist, and even more remarkable for septuagenarians – okay, Ronnie Wood who is 69, but it’s close enough!

While during interviews in the documentary traces of age and previous drug use are evident, especially for Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, somehow it all magically changes as soon as these guys start playing music. In one of the movie’s coolest scenes, Mick Jagger and Richards give an impromptu performance of Honky Tonk Women, with Richards doing a great job on acoustic guitar. I also find it incredible how fresh and spontaneous the Stones sound on their new album after 50-plus years! For more on the album, read here. The Stones may be aging and, yes, it’s only rock & roll, but I like it – sure as heck!

The Boss

Another rock icon who got a lot of well-deserved attention this year is Bruce Springsteen. Much of his omnipresence was powered by the box set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, released in Dec 2015; The River Tour 2016; and his autobiography Born to Run. I feel The Boss, who at age 67 is not exactly a youngster either, pretty much is in a league of his own. I had the pleasure to see Springsteen with The E Street Band at MetLife at the end of August. Four hours of high-energy, non-stop rock & roll made for an unbelievable experience! You can read more about that show here.

Other Great Concerts

First and foremost, there was of course Desert Trip in October, probably a once-in-lifetime rock festival in Indio, Calif., though I read there is already some talk about Desert Trip 2. Dubbed “Coachella for old people” by Jagger, the event over two weekends brought together The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. While with the exception of Young I’ve seen all of these artists on other occasions, boy, do I wish I could have been there – perhaps the event should have been called “Coachella for old and rich people!”

Anyway, I also invested a good deal of money in concert tickets and saw some excellent shows this year. Apart from Springsteen, the highlights include Santana & Journey (April), BAP (June), Paul McCartney (July), Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck (July) and Bonnie Raitt (August). For more on the last four of these concerts, read here, here, here and here, respectively. The fantastic Santana & Journey show predated the start of the blog.

New Music

In addition to the Stones, my favorite albums for this year include new releases from three other “old hands” – Bonnie Raitt (Dig In Deep), Santana (Santana IV) and Sting (57th & 9th) – and a relative newcomer: Muddy Magnolias (Broken People), a rock band from Nashville around singer-songwriters Jessy Wilson and Kallie North. Other new music I’d like to acknowledge includes Elton John (Wonderful Crazy Night), 3 Doors Down (Us And the Night), Car Seat Headrest (Teens of Denial), Eric Clapton (I Still Do), Van Morrison (Keep Me Singing), Green Day (Revolution Radio), Melissa Etheridge (Memphis Rock & Roll), The Pretenders (Alone), Bon Jovi (This House Is Not For Sale) and Neil Young (Peace Trail). I’m planning to write a separate post on my Top Five releases in 2016. Look for it over the next week or two.

Icons we lost

Sadly, 2016 was a tough year in music, serving as a reminder that rock & roll is a brutal business. The pressure to make music that sells, the physical demands of touring, and in many cases past or present drug use are taking their toll, especially on artists who are north of their fifties.

Some of the great personalities in music we lost this year include David Bowie (Jan 10; 69), Glenn Frey (Jan 19; 67, founding member of The Eagles), Maurice White (Feb 3; 74; founder of Earth, Wind & Fire), George Martin (Mar 8; 90; producer of The Beatles), Keith Emerson (Mar 10; 71; keyboarder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Prince (Apr 21; 57), Leonard Cohen (Nov 7; 82) and Leon Russell (Nov 13; 74). This is by no means a complete list.

What else?

The one other event that stood out for me this year is Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in October. While I won’t get into whether or not he deserved it, one thing is for sure: the Swedish academy’s selection has redefined the boundaries of literature.

Even more remarkable has been the aftermath of the academy’s announcement. Dylan being Dylan, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. At first, he chose to ignore the award for weeks; then he acknowledged it halfheartedly, at least initially; then he said he might attend the award ceremony, if possible; only to ultimately inform the academy he could not be there due to “pre-existing commitments.” Instead, Patti Smith accepted the award on his behalf, and Dylan wrote a speech that was read to attendees of the banquet by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. Adding to the spectacle, Smith performed A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall as a tribute, and two minutes into the song suddenly stopped, apparently overcome by nerves, asking the orchestra to start again.

Technically, to fulfill the requirements of the award, Dylan is supposed to give a lecture within the next six months or so. Stay tuned for the final chapter.