What Would Summer Be Without Great Music?

A list of fun summer songs

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Summer means many things – sun, swimming, beaches, outdoor barbecues, biking, vacation…the list goes on and on. All of these activities wouldn’t even be half as much fun without great music. So I thought I put together a list of tunes that capture summer associations.

Jan & Dean/Surf City (1963)

The Lovin’ Spoonful/Summer In the City (1966)

Eric Burdon & The Animals/San Franciscan Nights (1967)

The Who/Summertime Blues (1967)

Seals And Crofts/Summer Breeze (1972)

America/Ventura Highway (1972)

Bryan Adams/Summer of ’69 (1985)

The Beach Boys/Kokomo (1988)

Sheryl Crow/Soak Up the Sun (2002)

Kid Rock/All Summer Long (2008)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Pink Houses

A Mellencamp classic from his 1983 studio album Uh-huh

Awesome clip of John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses performed together with Carlene Carter during a recent show from his ongoing Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour. While the song was written more than 30 years ago, its lyrics remain relevant in present-day America. I’m going the see the man in Philly this evening, so he’s very much on my mind!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: George Harrison & Friends/ While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Concert for Bangladesh was the first music event of such magnitude to raise money for a cause

Great clip from the historic concert held in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st, 1971, mainly featuring George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Ringo Starr (drums), Jesse Ed Davids (guitar), Klaus Voormann (bass) and I believe Leon Russell (piano) can also briefly be seen. Billy Preston cannot be spotted, but his roaring Hammond can clearly be heard!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Holly/Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly is the second studio album of a young artist who during a short career created an incredible legacy

While working on my previous post about the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, I learned that Buddy Holly was one of the model’s early adopters and in fact became its first “hero” in the U.S. His 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with his band The Crickets helped popularize the Strat. This gave me the idea to revisit the music of Holly, an artist I’ve liked from the very first moment I listened to Peggy Sue on the radio, which is longer ago than I want to remember!

Released in February 1958, technically, Buddy Holly, was Holly’s first solo album. For contractual reasons, his previous record, The “Chirping” Crickets, was credited to The Crickets, but the same band played on both releases. The then 21-year-old artist from Lubbock, Texas, who was a prolific writer, wrote or co-wrote six of the 12 tracks – similar to the predecessor, for which he co-wrote five of 12 songs.

The album kicks off with I’m Gonna Love You Too, a nice rockabilly tune. Officially, the song is credited to Crickets bassist and rhythm guitarist Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, respectively, as well as Norman Petty, who produced the album. But Crickets drummer Jerry Allison later went on record saying it was actually Holly who primarily wrote the song.

Next up is Peggy Sue, which in my opinion is one of the greatest rock & roll tunes of all time. Credited to Holly, Allison and Petty, it was initially released as a single in July 1957. Amazingly, Peggy Sue “only” peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Top 100. Here’s a clip from the above mentioned 1957 performance on Ed Sullivan.

Everyday is another classic appearing on the album. The song was written by Holly and Petty, and initially released as the B-side to the Peggy Sue single. The tune has two unusual features. The percussion was created by drummer Allison slapping his knees. There is also a celesta played by Petty, a keyboard instrument that creates a sound similar to a glockenspiel.

As a huge fan of The Beatles, I have to call out Words Of Love, which the Fab Four covered in 1964 on their fourth UK studio album Beatles For Sales. It is the only song on Buddy Holly that is solely credited to Holly. What stands out in this tune are the beautiful guitar lines. Seemingly effortlessly, Holly blended playing chords and picking-style. It reminds me a bit of The Byrds. He also harmonized with himself by combining tape recordings of each vocal part.

Another tune I’d like to highlight is Rave On, which became the album’s fourth and final single in April 1958. The song was written by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Petty. West recorded and released it first, but it was Holly’s version that ended up becoming a hit – one of six Holly tunes that entered the charts in 1958. Here’s a great clip – don’t know from which show.

While unlike its predecessor at no. 420, Buddy Holly is not included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, four of its tracks are in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: That’ll Be the Day (No. 39), Rave On (No. 155), Peggy Sue (No. 197) and Everyday (No. 238). Altogether, five Holly tunes are on the list – the fifth being Not Fade Away (No. 108), a co-write with Petty included on The “Chirping” Crickets. And, yep, that’s the Not Fade Away The Rolling Stones recorded seven years later and issued as their first U.S. single.

Sadly, Buddy Holly was Holly’s final studio album that appeared during his life time. Not even a year later, his life was cut short at age 22 while touring the Midwest together with fellow rock & roll artists Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). To get to their next gig, Holly chartered a small plane, which crashed during bad weather in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, only minutes after takeoff from Mason City, Iowa.

Buddy Holly Plane Wreck
Photo of the plane wreck near Clear Lake, Iowa, taken by the Civil Aeronautics Board (precursor to the National Transportation Safety Board) the morning after the crash in the course of their investigation

On board and also killed were Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Valens had tossed a coin for a seat on the doomed plane with rockabilly singer Tommy Allsup, who was the guitarist of Holly’s band during the tour. Holly had parted ways with Petty and The Crickets in December 1958. Allsup passed away in January this year at the age of 85.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied of flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube

 

 

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 4

This is a re-post from last year with some amendments.

The Fourth of July is associated with many festivities, such as barbecues, picnics, festivals, carnivals and of course fireworks. America’s Independence Day has also seen some music milestones throughout rock history. Following are some of them.

1964: I Get Around by The Beach Boys hits no. 1 on the U.S. singles charts. The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love and released in May 1964, together with Don’t Worry Baby as its B-side. It became the band’s first no. 1 song in the U.S. and stayed in the top spot for two weeks. I Get Around was also the opener of the Beach Boy’s album All Summer Long, which was released in July of 1964 as well. While the Beach Boys were a hit machine, notably, I Get Around was one of only four singles that made it to the top of the U.S. charts. The others were Help Me, Rhonda (1965), Kokomo (1988) and my personal favorite, Good Vibrations (1966).

1969: The Atlanta International Pop Festival kicks off. Held at the Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Ga. from July 4-6, the festival featured more than 20 performances. Some of the acts included Blood, Sweat & TearsChicago Transit Authority (which later would become Chicago), Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Winter and Santana. About five weeks later, many of these bands and artists met again in New York’s Catskill Mountains to perform at Woodstock.

First Atlanta International Pop Festival 1969

1974: Steely Dan play in Santa Monica, Calif. what would be their last live performance until 1993. Instead, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan decided to focus on their recording work. In February of that year, they had released Pretzel Logic, their third studio and gold-certified album, which was also certified platinum in September 1993. It includes one of my favorite Steely Dan tunes, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The band’s next album, Katy Lied, was released in March 1975 and also went gold.

1986: Farm Aid II takes place in Manor, Texas. The second in the series of benefit concerts featured more than 30 music acts, including The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Willie NelsonTom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Walsh and Neil Young, among others. Farm Aid was founded by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young in 1985, with the inaugural show being held on September 22 that year in Champaign, IL. To date, 30 Farm Aid concerts have been held. Farm Aid 2017 is scheduled for September 16 in Burgettstown, Pa. In addition to the three founders, the line-up includes Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, The Avett Brothers and Sheryl Crow, among others. For more information, visit https://www.farmaid.org/concert/

2003: Barry White, one of the greatest R&B, funk and disco singers with a one of a kind voice, passed away at the age of 58. During his 40-year career, Barry scored 20 gold and ten platinum singles. Some of his most memorable tunes include You’re the First, the Last, My Everything (1974), Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe (1974) and What Am I Gonna Do With You (1975).

Hope your Fourth of July rocks – most of all be safe!

Fourth of July Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music, Farm Aid website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening to: Rory Gallagher/Blueprint

This 1973 gem started the period that brought the Irish blues rocker his biggest successes

While I enjoy exploring different types of music on the blog, somehow the journey always seems to lead back to the blues and great guitarists who contributed to the genre. Undoubtedly, one of the finest craftsmen in this context is Rory Gallagher, though I’m not sure the Irish blues rocker has always gotten the recognition he deserves.

Blueprint was Gallagher’s fourth studio album, which was released in February 1973. It was the first of five records with then-new drummer Rod de’Ath and the addition of a keyboarder, Lou Martin. Rounding out the four-piece was bassist Gerry McAvoy with whom Gallagher had played since 1970, following the breakup of Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio Gallagher had founded in 1966.

All you need to hear are the opening bars of the album’s first song Walk On Hot Coals, and you know you’re listening to one hell of a guitarist. Here is a cool clip of a live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. And, by the way, Gallagher could sing as well!

Next up is Daughter of the Everglades, which takes things down a notch. It features Gallagher on both acoustic and electric guitar. The man was a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to guitar, Gallagher also played the mandolin, harmonica and occasionally the saxophone. And, by the way this virtuoso was entirely self-taught!

Banker’s Blues is a great acoustic blues written by American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. According to SecondHandSongs, Broonzy originally recorded and released the tune in 1931. Apart from the great music, you just gotta love the lyrics: “If you got money in the bank/Don’t let your woman draw it out/Cause she’ll take all your money…and/Then she’ll kick you out.” Here’s a great clip of Gallagher performing the tune live on Rockpalast, all by himself with just an acoustic guitar – that’s all you need!

Another tune I’d like to call out is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the longest track on the album. It’s an 8-minute-and-26-second blues rock tour de force with a great riff. I also love Martin’s keyboard work.

From Blueprint Gallagher went on to release eight additional studio records and two live albums. After collapsing during a show in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in January 1995, Gallagher was hospitalized in London with liver failure. Following what initially looked like a successful liver transplant, he got a bacterial infection and passed away on June 14, 1995. He was only 47 years old.

Gallagher may be long gone but his impressive legacy continues to live on. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 57 on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Being included in the same list with other guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Duane Allman, just to name a few, speaks for itself. And while the ranking perhaps matters less than being in the list, I’m still a bit surprised Gallagher didn’t come in at a higher spot. For example, I don’t quite get how John Lennon was ranked ahead of Gallagher at no. 55. And I’m saying this as a huge fan of Lennon who undoubtedly was one of the greatest songwriters. But frankly to rank him as one of the greatest guitarists is a bit of a stretch to me.

Rory Gallagher
Gallagher with his signature beaten up sunburst 1961 Fender Stratocaster

During a 1973 interview with Beetle Magazine, which is reprinted on his offical website, Gallagher commented on what Rolling Stone in the above ranking called his non-stop touring ethic: “I’d like to work six nights a week, basically because this is not just a job with me, it’s my entire life. I enjoy what I do and I like to think that others do, too. It’s really inhuman the way some bands will retreat to the countryside for years on end and leave their audiences with nothing but their latest albums.”

Sources: Wikipedia, SecondHandSongs, Rolling Stone, Rory Gallagher website, Beetle Magazine, YouTube