Paul McCartney at Hersheypark Stadium

During the more than 25 years since I first saw Paul, he has not lost any of his magic!

Yesterday (July 19), the wait was finally over – Paul McCartney’s show at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. was simply amazing. There couldn’t have been a greater kick-off to my summer concert season!

Another highlight was that I enjoyed the show together with my 14-year-old. It was his first big concert!

From the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night – the first time Paul performs this classic tune during a solo tour – to The End, Sir Paul gave it his all. And his all is still pretty magic! He certainly did not look or behave like a 74-year-old!

For almost three hours, Paul took the audience on an amazing journey through Beatlemania, Wings and his long solo career. Best of all, he really did appear to have a lot of fun doing so, and his joy to perform came across!

Of course, there were crowd pleasers you’d expect like Hey Jude, Let It BeBand On the Run and Live And Let Die, which were awesome. Other highlights included Maybe I’m AmazedLetting Go and Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five.

But to me the true standouts were the acoustic guitar pieces, such as BlackbirdHere Today and of course Yesterday. I’ve always loved Paul solo with just his acoustic guitar. He also threw in a great version of George Harrison’s Something, playing the first part of the song on a ukulele George had given to him many years ago before the band launched into the widely known version from Abbey Road.

Moreover, Paul played some songs by The Beatles I didn’t necessarily expect, such as Love Me DoYou Won’t See MeAnd I Love Her and especially Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

Another surprise to me was Paul’s direct engagement with members of the audience. He asked a young girl on stage who had drawn a poster for him and signed it. July 19 happened to be her birthday – the coolest present ever, I suppose!

Paul also called a teacher on stage with a sign that asked, ‘Could you sign this for show and tell?’ He ended up signing two autographs on one of her arms! I guess taking showers just became more complicated for the teacher!

I would also like to share a funny anecdote that happened the next day. Together with my son, my wife had come along, and we decided to stay overnight close to Hershey and turn the concert visit into a mini-vacation.

So the next day we visited Hershey’s Chocolate World where we went on a historic trolley tour around town. The tour guide was a cheerful 18-year-old, who also apparently happened to be a big Beatles fan. So he started talking about the show, noting the Höfner bass Paul used was his second such instrument from 1963. His first had been stolen. He added he also he really wanted Paul to play Help, so he started shouting ‘Help, Help’ during the concert. Very quickly people around him had concerned looks on their faces and started asking him whether he was okay!

Last but not least, I’d like to acknowledge Paul’s fantastic band. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, who also plays bass on some of the songs; keyboarder, Paul Wickens; and drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr. did an outstanding job backing up Paul!

Just like my first Paul McCartney concert I saw in Germany in the late ’80s, I will undoubtedly remember last night’s show for a long time! To all Paul McCartney and Beatles fans who haven’t done so yet, go and see Sir Paul if you get a chance. It will be one of your most memorable experiences that will stay with you for many years!

 

In Memoriam of Jon Lord…

Jon Lord was a giant in rock music and perhaps the best hard rock keyboarder of all time.

Four years ago today (July 16, 2012), Jon Lord passed away at the age of 71. This giant keyboarder may be gone, but his music and enormous contributions to rock music undoubtedly are here to stay.

To me as a rock music fan and hobby musician, Jon was one of those guys who make me think, ‘Man, if I ever would learn their instrument, this is how I’d love to be able to play!’ John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) and Clarence Clemons (The E Street Band) do the same to me when it comes to the drums and the saxophone, respectively. Obviously, this list is not meant to be complete!

Jon Lord was born on June 9, 1941 in Leicester, England. His father, Reginald Lord, instilled Jon’s interest in music early on. When Jon was five years old, her started taking classical piano lessons. This provided an important foundation to his later professional work.

Jon is best known for being the keyboarder of Deep Purple. In fact, he was the first recruit to what was supposed to become a “supergroup” called Roundabout, a vision of former Searchers drummer Chris Curtis. He was followed by guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore. After Curtis left the band, Jon suggested bringing in his friend Nick Simper on bass, with whom he had played as backup in the Flower Pot Men – yep, that 60s British pop band known for their hit single, Let’s Go to San Francisco, though Jon and I believe also Nick did not participate in the recording of the song.Later on, Ian Paice joined Roundabout as drummer. Rod Evans was the singer of the band, which in April of 1968 changed its name to Deep Purple.

During the first three years of Deep Purple, Jon developed his signature organ sound, relying on a Hammond C3 and Marshall speakers. The combination created a growling, heavy and distorted sound that was simply made for rock! Jon also started fusing rock with classical music, which resulted in Concerto for Group and Orchestra. It was performed live by Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and released in late 1969/early 1970.

My most favorite work of Jon with Deep Purple is on Machine Head, the band’s sixth studio album released in March 1972. In particular, Jon shines on the songs Highway Star, Pictures of Home and Lazy, which all feature organ solos that are simply out of this world. Just the other day, I listened to the album in its entirety. Once again I realized it’s a true gem that is certainly also a highlight when it comes to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar playing for the band! BTW, Pictures of Home also includes one of the coolest bass solos by Roger Glover.

While it’s probably fair to say that Jon is best remembered for his work with Deep Purple, he also played in English rock band The Artwoods, which like the Flower Pot Men predated Deep Purple;  Pace Ashton Lord founded in 1977 after the first break-up of Deep Purple the previous year; and of course Whitesnake, formed in England in 1978 by former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale. Jon joined them during sessions for their first studio album Trouble and stayed until 1984 after the release of the band’s sixth studio album Slide It In. He plays the Hammond on the original version of the iconic Here I Go Again. After his departure from Whitesnake, Jon joined the reformed Deep Purple, reuniting him with Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Ian Paice in the group’s so-called Mark IIb line-up .

Jon also released numerous, mostly orchestral/classical/instrumental albums that are not associated with the above bands, such as Gemini Suite (1971), Sarabande (1976), Durham Concerto (2008) and To Notice Such Things (2010).

Jon has received accolades from many rock musicians, including Metallica’s Lars Ulrich (drummer) and fellow keyboard giants Rick Wakeman (Yes) and Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), who died in March 2016 – an apparent suicide. In April 2016, Jon was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple – a long overdue recognition.

 

On This Day in Rock History: July 16

I suppose by now I can call this category of posts a regular feature of the blog.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that happened on July 16 in rock history:

1962: The Beach Boys sign a seven-year contract with Capitol Records. In Oct that year, they released their debut studio album, Surfin’ Safari. In addition to the title song and Surfin’, which had both come out as singles prior to the album, Surfin’ Safari also includes 409, one of my favorite early Beach Boys tune and the first in a series of car-themed songs from the band.

1966: Jack Bruce (bass, vocals), Ginger Baker (drums) and Eric Clapton (guitar) form Cream. Over the course of just two years, this amazing power rock trio would release four studio albums and such unforgettable classic blues/rock tunes like I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love, White Room and Crossroads. I was fortunate enough to see Jack and Ginger perform with blues dynamo Johnny Winter in Germany in the 80s – one of my first live concerts. Mr. Slowhand remains on my concert bucket list! July 1 6 (2014) also sadly happens to be the day when Johnny passed away at the age of 70.

1969: The Beatles are working at Abbey Road studios on two of my favorite George Harrison songs: Something and Here Comes the Sun. Both tunes were included on the Abbey Road studio album, which was released in September that year. While Let It Be was the last studio album that appeared in May 1970, shortly after the band’s break-up, most of that album had been completed prior to the release of Abbey Road. Originally, the latter was meant to be The Beatles’ final masterpiece. It foreshadowed their break-up with the song The End, the final song in the amazing medley that makes up most of the album’s side two.

2012: Jon Lord passes away at the age of 71. He was best known for being the keyboarder of Deep Purple, the defining hard rock band of the late 1960s/early 1970s, together with Led Zeppelin. Jon also played in a few additional bands, most notably Whitesnake. I think he was perhaps the best rock keyboarder of all time. His fusion of rock with classical and baroque music was pioneering. Jon also demonstrated that hard rock can be so much more than just distorted electric guitars, and what a cool solo instrument a Hammond organ can be! Also see my separate “In Memoriam” post.

My Summer Concert Season Is Heating Up

This is a little preview of shows I’m going to see later this month and in August.

It’s going to be a busy summer for me on the concert front. Following is what I’m planning to attend over the next couple of months:

Paul McCartney, Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, PA, Jul 19: Sir Paul is going to kick off my summer concert season. I went to one of his shows in Germany in the 80s, and I’m beyond thrilled to see him again! A great friend of mine from Germany told me his previous gigs there earlier this year received rave reviews and even made the evening news! Apparently from the signature opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night until the end of the last encore about three hours later it’s an amazing journey from the 60s to the present. Some say The Beatles are overrated – they don’t know what they’re talking about. And Paul has also written some pretty good music thereafter. He has helped change rock music forever. In my of course completely unbiased opinion, there’s no doubt about that!

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, Jul 26:  Two guitar legends in one show – it doesn’t get much better than that! Admittedly, I’ve got some catching up to on Jeff Beck. The fact that Jeff played with the Yardbirds, which he joined in March 1965 to succeed Eric Clapton, already makes him totally cool in my book. And Buddy Guy? I also only started exploring his music in greater depth more recently. Wow, is all I can say – it’s like Jimi Hendrix never passed!

Bonnie Raitt, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ, Aug 13: Bonnie has been on my concert bucket list for a long time. My above friend from Germany has seen her three times and told me each show was fantastic. A friend of his caught Bonnie during her current tour in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year and called him thereafter to rave about the concert. I’ve always been fascinated by Bonnie’s amazing slide guitar playing. And she’s released many great songs over the decades as well. It should be a lot of fun!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, Aug 30: This show will be part of The River Tour in connection with Springsteen’s 2015 box set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. I read the concerts feature performances of all or most songs of Bruce’s iconic album from 1980 and other tunes. The River was Bruce’s fifth studio album and includes two of my favorite Springsteen tunes: Hungry Heart and The River! I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt more than 25 years ago, together with my above friend. It was truly an unforgettable gig that lasted close to four hours, including some 1.5 hours of encores. Very few artists put on a rock & roll show like that. What a way to end my summer concert season with a home play of The Boss!

I’ll be sure to post my impressions from each of the above shows, so make sure to check back if you’re reading this!

On This Day in Rock History: July 9

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite moments that happened in rock history on this day over the past decades.

1954: Elvis Presley records Blue Moon of Kentucky at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN. The tune was written in 1946 by bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. The song was the B-side to That’s All Right, Elvis’ first single that was released on July 19 that year. That’s All Right was written by blues singer by Arthur Crudup in 1946. In 1950, Crudup also wrote one of my favorite songs performed by Elvis, My Baby Left Me.

1955: The rock & roll classic Rock Around the Clock is released by Bill Haley & His Comets, a no. 1 single and their biggest hit. Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers wrote the tune in 1952. What I’ve always liked about Bill Haley’s version are the fantastic guitar and sax solos by Franny Beecher and Joey Ambrose, respectively.

1959: Simple Minds lead singer James “Jim” Kerr is born in Glasgow, Scotland. Jim started his music career in 1977 with the punk rock band Johnny and the Self Abusers. In November 1977, the band changed its name to Simple Minds. Their first album, Life in a Day, came out in April 1979. I’m mostly familiar with the band’s work from the 80s. Some of my favorite songs from that period include Waterfront (1983), Don’t You Forget About Me (1985), Alive and Kicking (1985), Sanctify Yourself (1986) and Belfast Child (1989). Jim continues to record and perform with the Simple Minds, which released their 16th studio album Big Music in 2014.

1962: Bob Dylan records the iconic Blowin’ In the Wind at Columbia Recording Studios in New York City. It also happens to be one of the first folk songs I learned when starting to play the guitar.

1966: A closet rocker who shall remain unnamed is born. He once played in a band with big ambitions. While a professional career in music didn’t work out, which perhaps was for the better, music changed his life. He continues to be a huge rock music fan to this day.

1969: The Beatles record Maxwell’s Silver Hammer at Abbey Road Studios in London. The song was written and sung by Paul McCartney, though like most Beatles songs, it was credited to Lennon-McCartney. Written in October 1968, the tune was initially planned to be on the White Album. Instead it became the third song on the A-side of Abbey Road.

1971: David Bowie starts recording sessions at Trident Studios in London for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was his fifth studio album and features some of my favorite Bowie songs, including Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.

1983: Every Breath You Take by The Police hits no. 1 on the U.S. singles charts where it would stay for eight weeks and become the biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles in 1983.Written by Sting and included in the band’s 1983 album Synchronicity, it was also a no. 1 single for four weeks in the UK. Andy Summers’ signature guitar sound on the song became widely sampled thereafter.

 

 

Two Milestones in Beatles History

I’ve been so much caught up at work this week that I sadly couldn’t find the time to write about two milestones in my favorite band’s history: The day John Lennon met Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr’s 76th birthday.

This week saw two important milestones in Beatles history.

John and Paul Meet For the First Time…

On July 6, 1957, 16-year-old John Lennon met 15-year-old Paul McCartney. John was performing with a skiffle group called the Quarrymen at a garden fete of St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. Paul’s classmate from Liverpool Institute Ivan Vaughan, who sometimes played tea-chest bass for the Quarrymen, introduced him to John.

Paul and John chatted with each other for some time. Paul noticed that John’s guitar was out of tune and showed him how to tune it. He also sang a few songs to John. Both were impressed of each other from the get-go.

Later on, John and Pete Shotton, who played washboard for the Quarrymen, were talking about Paul and decided he’d be a great addition to the band. About two weeks later, Pete ran into Paul in the street and invited him to join the Quarrymen. After thinking about the invitation, Paul agreed.

It would take another year and a half before John, Paul, Stuart Sutcliffe (a friend of John’s from art school) and George Harrison (one of Paul’s friends) would become The Beatles. During a residency in Hamburg, Pete Best joined the band as a drummer. He was replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962.

Happy Birthday, Ringo…

On July 7, Richard Starkey, known professionally as Ringo Starr, turned 76 years. Ringo was born in Dingle, Liverpool in 1940. He was initially introduced to music by Roy Trafford in 1957 and played the washboard in a skiffle band. That same year, Ringo’s step father Harry Graves gave him a crude second-hand drum kit as a Christmas present. By late 1959, Ringo was playing the drums in Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, which became one of Liverpool’s leading bands. At that time, he adopted his stage name, Ringo Starr.

Ringo first met The Beatles in Hamburg in October 1960, where The Hurricanes were doing a residency just like The Beatles. He subsequently performed with them during a few stand-in engagements there. On October 15, 1960, he recorded with John, Paul and George for the first time as back-up band for Hurricanes singer Lu Walters. It would take close to two more years before Ringo would join The Beatles to complete the band’s classic line-up.

I think Ringo’s contributions to The Beatles are sometimes under-appreciated. Yes, he did not as write and sing as many songs as John and Paul or George for that matter. But he sang lead on With a Little Help From My Friends and Yellow Submarine, two of the band’s signature songs. He also wrote Don’t Pass Me By and one of my favorite Beatles tunes, Octopus’s Garden. And he has co-writing credits for What Goes On and Flying.

Ringo’s drumming has also gained recognition. In 1998, he was inducted in the publication Modern Drummer’s Hall of Fame. He was named the fifth greatest drummer of all time by the readers of Rolling Stone in 2011. Ringo was also inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hame of Fame: as a Beatle in 1988, accepting the honor together with George Harrison and Yoko Ono (representing John Lennon), and as a solo artist in 2015 – making him one of 21 performers who have been inducted more than once.

Just like Paul, Ringo is still going strong. On March 31, 2015, he released Postcards from Paradise, his 18th studio album. He also continues to perform with his All-Star Band. Drum on, Ringo!

 

 

On This Day in Rock History: July 4

Here is the second installment of a new feature I recently introduced. Let’s see what happened on Independence Day in rock history over the decades:

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 performed at Woodstock.

1974: Steely Dan play in Santa Monica, CA 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, TX. 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, 29 Farm Aid concerts have been held. Farm Aid 2016 is scheduled for September 19 in Bristow, VA. In addition to the three founders, the line-up includes Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Alabama Shakes and Sturgill Simpson, among others. For more information, click here.

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).