Rock the Farm Triumphantly Returns to Jersey Shore

Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts

After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.

Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).

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Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!

Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.

One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move

As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!

Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson

Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.

Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator

Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.

Decade/Almost Cut My Hair

Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the Déjà Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.

The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line

Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.

Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine

Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as Axl Rose (lead vocals), Eamonn as Slash (guitar), Chris as Duff McKagan (bass), David as Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Martin as Steven Adler (drums) and Chris as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!

TUSK/You Make Loving Fun

TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as  Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.

Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.

This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, which means the time has come again for going on another excursion to celebrate the beauty of music in different shapes from different decades, six tunes at a time. This latest installment of The Sunday Six touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the present, and includes jazz fusion, British invasion, Motown soul, alt. country and rock. Ready? Let’s do it!

Wayne Shorter/Beauty and the Beast

Kicking us off today is some beautiful saxophone-driven jazz fusion by Wayne Shorter, a co-founding member of Weather Report, which I featured in a recent Sunday Six installment. By the time he cofounded the jazz fusion band, Shorter already had enjoyed a 10-year-plus career that included playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet. In addition to being a sideman, Shorter started his recording career as a bandleader in 1959 with Introducing Wayne Shorter – the first of more than 20 additional albums he has made in that role. One of these albums, his 15th, appeared in January 1975: Native Dancer, a collaboration with Brazilian jazz musician Milton Nascimento. Here’s a track from that record titled Beauty and the Beast. Composed by Shorter, the instrumental combines saxophone with some funky elements – very cool!

The Dave Clack Five/Glad All Over

Let’s jump back to November 1963 and a song by The Dave Clark Five I’ve loved from the very first time I heard it on the radio back in Germany during my early teenage years: Glad All Over. Co-written by DC5 drummer Dave Clark who also was the band’s producer, and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, the tune first appeared as a single in the UK, followed by the U.S. in December of the same year. It also was the title track of the DC5’s U.S. debut album that appeared in March 1964. In January 1964, Glad All Over became the band’s first massive hit in the UK, knocking The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the no. 1 spot on the singles chart. In the U.S., the tune climbed to no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a hell of a catchy song with a driving drum beat and great vocals – frankly worthy of displacing a Beatles song, and I say this as a huge fan of the Fab Four.

Martha and the Vandellas/Dancing in the Street

I guess Glad All Over has put me in some sort of a party mood, so let’s throw in another great party song: Dancing in the Street by Motown vocal group Martha and the Vandellas, which were formed in Detroit in 1957. Co-written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Joe Hunter, the tune first appeared in July 1964 and became the group’s highest charting single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 2. Dancing in the Street, one of Motown’s signature songs, also did well in the UK where it reached no. 4 on the singles chart. Subsequently, the song was included on the group’s third studio album Dance Party from April 1965. Martha and the Vandellas disbanded in December 1972. After leaving Motown, Martha Reeves started a solo career but wasn’t able to replicate the success she had enjoyed with the group during the ’60s. Reeves who in July turned 80 apparently is still active.

The J. Geils Band/Looking for a Love

Well, now that I mentioned the word ‘party,’ let’s keep it going by turning to a group that has been called rock & roll’s ultimate party band: The J. Geils Band. The group, which was formed in 1967 in Worcester, Mass., originally included J. Geils (lead guitar), Peter Wolf (lead vocals, percussion), Danny Klein (bass), Stephen Jo Bladd (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Magic Dick (harmonica, saxophone, trumpet) and Seth Justman (keyboards, backing vocals). That line-up lasted for a remarkable 15 years until Wolf’s departure in 1983. After the rest of the group called it quits in 1985, The J. Geils Band had various reunion appearances and tours with different formations until 2015. Following his departure from the band, Wolf launched a solo career, released various albums and remains pretty active as a touring artist to this day. Here’s a great track off the band’s sophomore album The Morning After from October 1972: Looking for a Love, a cover of a song co-written by J.W. Alexander and Zelda Samuels, and first released by The Valentinos in March 1962. The J. Geils Band also put this tune out as a single in November 1971. It climbed to no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving them their first charting song in the U.S. It would take 10 more years before they scored a no. 1 with the more commercial Centerfold.

The Jayhawks/Five Cups of Coffee

I first covered The Jayhawks in August 2020 when I included a tune from their then-new album XOXO in a Best of What’s New post. I quickly came to dig this American alt. country and country rock band, and have since featured two of their other songs in previous Sunday Six installments this February and July. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers  (drums). By the time their sophomore album Blue Earth appeared in 1989, Thad Spencer had replaced Rogers on drums. After five additional albums and further line-up changes, The Jayhawks went on hiatus in 2004, before reemerging with a new formation in 2019. Louris and Pearlman are the only remaining original members. Five Cups of Coffee is a great tune from the above mentioned Blue Earth album. It was co-written by Olson and Louris. The band’s great guitar sound and beautiful harmony singing are right up my alley!

Dirty Honey/Gypsy

For the sixth and final tune this week, let’s step on the gas with a great rocker by Dirty Honey. I first became aware of this rock band from Los Angeles in April this year when they released their self-titled first full-length album. At the time, I included one of the tracks in a Best of What’s New installment. Apple Music has compared Dirty Honey’s sound to the likes of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. The band’s members include Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). I was drawn to Dirty Honey right away and covered them again in a Sunday Six post in May. Here’s yet another track from the above mentioned album: Gypsy. Labelle’s vocals very much remind me of Steven Tyler. Great to hear a young band other than Greta Van Fleet embrace a classic rock-oriented sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. In case you’re a first time visitor of the blog, this recurring feature celebrates the beauty of music six random tunes at a time, meaning songs from different genres and different decades. Pretty much anything goes in the same post. A jazz instrumental from the ’50s could be followed by a ’70s hard rock tune. A blues track from the ’60s could appear together with a pop song from the ’80s. My only condition is I have to like the tracks and how they work together. With that being said, let’s get to it!

John Barry & Orchestra/James Bond Theme

“Bond, James Bond.” These words started to fascinate me when I was a young teenager back in Germany. I still like the James Bond movies, as ridiculously unrealistic as they are. Especially the older pictures with Sean Connery and Roger Moore are classics in my book. Of course, part of every Bond picture is the soundtrack, including the James Bond Theme, which has been featured in every 007 film since the first one, Dr. No, from 1962. The signature theme was written by English singer and film composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, a composer and conductor of film music. Barry also wrote the scores for 11 Bond pictures between 1963 and 1987. I always loved the track’s distinct guitar part played by English session guitarist Vic Flick, using a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe electric/acoustic vintage guitar from 1939.

Al Jarreau/Take Five

I know of no other artist who had such an amazing ability to use his voice as an instrument like Al Jarreau. Perhaps the most compelling example is his rendition of jazz standard Take Five, which was included on a May 1977 live album titled Look to the Rainbow. I’ve always loved the original written by Paul Desmond and first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for the album Time Out from December 1959. But Al Jarreau took the track to a different level. I guess many folks at the time agreed. Look to the Rainbow became Jarreau’s breakthrough in Europe and the U.S. It won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Performance. If you haven’t heard this, check it out. If you already know Jarreau’s rendition, listen to it again anyway! 🙂

Joe Jackson/Down to London

Let’s jump to the late ’80s with a great tune by Joe Jackson. The British singer-songwriter first entered my radar screen in 1980, when I received his excellent sophomore studio album I’m the Man for my 14th birthday. I still own that vinyl copy. I’ve since listened on and off to Jackson, a versatile artist who has played many genres over the decades, including punk, new wave, pop, rock, jazz and Latin. He’s also fun live. I saw him in May 2019 at a mid-size theater in New Jersey. You can read about it here and watch some clips I took. Down to London is one of my favorite tracks from Blaze of Glory, Jackson’s 10th studio album that came out in April 1989. Like all other tunes on the record, he wrote the song.

The Wallflowers/6th Avenue Heartache

Next we’re on to the ’90s. I guess, I’m going chronologically this time. When The Wallflowers released their sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse in May 1996, they were still a standing roots rock-oriented band. Their origins date back to 1989 when Jakob Dylan (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) began forming a band called The Apples. Jakob is a son of Bob Dylan and his first wife Sara Dylan (nee Noznisky). After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1991 and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. Five additional studio albums appeared thereafter until 2012. Since 2013, Dylan has been the only remaining original member, relying on touring musicians for shows. A new album titled Exit Wounds is slated for July 9, the first to appear under The Wallflowers name in nine years. Apparently, it will be supported by a tour. For now, here’s 6th Avenue Heartache, written by Dylan, one of the band’s best known tunes and certainly one of my favorites.

Alicia Keys/Fallin’

Alicia Keys is an interesting artist in my book. While much of her music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I still like her. Undoubtedly, Keys’ amazing voice has a lot to do with it, but it’s also her stage presence. There’s just something about Keys that draws me in. It’s like she’s radiating – I can’t quite explain it. Anway, Fallin’ is a breathtaking tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor, which came out in June 2001. The record had a long history, which I hadn’t known until I read about it in Wikipedia. Keys, a classically trained pianist, already began writing songs for the record as a 14-year-old in 1995. She recorded the album in 1998 for Columbia Records, but the label rejected it. Eventually, it appeared in June 2001 on J Records, a new label that had been formed by Clive Davis who had sensed Keys’ talent and bought her contract from Columbia. His instincts turned out to be right. Songs in A Minor topped the Billboard 200 and won five Grammy Awards in 2002. As of 2015, the album had sold 7.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide. Fallin’ was solely written by Keys. That tune still gives me goosebumps.

Dirty Honey/Tied Up

I guess this already brings me to the last track of this Sunday Six installment. It’s time for some kickass rock and one of my new “discoveries,” Dirty Honey. I first featured this great rock band from Los Angeles a week ago in this Best of What’s New installment. The band, which has been around since 2017, features Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their classic rock-oriented sound is reminiscent of groups like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Here’s Tied Up, credited to the entire band, from their eponymous studio debut album released on April 23. This is a fun tune that nicely rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: Aerosmith

While bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin typically remain my first choice when I’m in the mood for more heavy-oriented rock, I’ve also come to appreciate Aerosmith over the decades. Like Zeppelin, “the Bad Boys from Boston” were an acquired taste. The song that started my Aerosmith journey was the power ballad Dream On, which I first heard on the radio in Germany sometime during the second half of the ’70s. I think it’s fair to say the tune has been burned a bit by overexposure, but I still dig it.

Before getting to some music by Aerosmith, here’s a bit of background on the band that was formed in Boston in 1970. This means they’ve been around for 50 years, which is remarkable; though not without drama, as you’d probably expect. Steven Tyler (lead vocals), who was in a band called Chain Reaction, and Joe Perry (guitar, vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums), who all were members of Jam Band, aka Joe Perry’s Jam Band, first met in 1970 when their respective bands performed at the same venue.

Tyler immediately was turned on by Jam Band’s sound and proposed to combine the two bands, insisting he’d front the combined group as their lead singer. The other guys agreed, and the members of the new band moved together to a place in Boston where they stared rehearsing and writing songs. Apparently, it was Kramer who came up with the name Aerosmith, after he had listened to Harry Nilssen album Aerial Ballet and recalled writing the word “areosmith” all over his notebooks when he was in school.

From left: Tom Hamilton, Joe Perry, Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer & Brad Whitford

Prior to playing their first gig as Aerosmith in Mendon, Mass. in November 1970, the band hired Ray Tabano, a childhood friend of Tyler, as rhythm guitarist. The following year, Tabano was replaced by Brad Whitford, completing the line-up that went on to sign a deal with Columbia Records in mid-1972 and that remains in place to this day. Soon thereafter, Aerosmith went into the studio to record their eponymous debut album that appeared in January 1973 – the first of 15 studio records to date. That’s no exactly an extensive catalogue, considering the band has been around for five decades. But, as hinted above, there has been good deal of drama throughout their history.

Even though it’s perhaps a bit lame to select the obvious tune, I’d like to kick off this playlist with Dream On, written by Tyler, which also became Aerosmith’s first single. It peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to No. 87 on the Canadian Singles Chart. While the album wasn’t a success initially, in addition to Dream On, it included tracks like Mama Kin and Walkin’ the Dog that became staples during Aerosmith’s live shows and on rock radio. Eventually, Aerosmith was certified 2x Platinum.

Following extensive touring, Aerosmith released their sophomore album Get Your Wings in March 1974. It was the first produced by Jack Douglas and the beginning of a long and successful studio collaboration that resulted in four additional albums. While contemporary reviews were mostly favorable, at first, the album didn’t do very well either. But similar to the debut, Get Your Wings eventually became a commercial success, securing 3x Platinum status. Here’s the band’s excellent cover of Train Kept A-Rollin’, a tune co-written by Tiny Bradshaw and Lois Mann, aka Syd Nathan, and first recorded by Bradshaw in 1951. In addition to Aerosmith, many other artists, such as Johnny Burnette, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, have covered the song.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith’s third studio album from April 1975, catapulted them to international stardom. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and remains the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S. to date, with more than 8 million copies sold. It was ranked at No. 229 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 version of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though it no longer made the cut for the list’s latest revision published in September this year. Here’s Sweet Emotion, co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, one of their best known tunes that also became their second charting single in the U.S., reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aerosmith followed up Toys in the Attic with Rocks in May 1976, an instantly successful seller that also became their highest charting album of the ’70s in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also made Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (No. 176). Unlike Toys, it’s still included in the most recent revision, ranking at No. 366. By the time they recorded Rocks, Aerosmith were well into living the rock & roll lifestyle and heavy drug indulgence, but apparently this wasn’t hampering them yet. Here’s the hard hitting opener Back in the Saddle, co-written by Tyler and Perry.

In the late ’70s, the band’s drug use started to take its toll and tensions among the members rose. After a fight between Tyler and Perry following a gig in Cleveland in July 1979, Perry left and formed The Joe Perry Project shortly thereafter. Whitford and long-time writing partner Richie Supa took on some of Perry’s guitar parts on Aerosmith’s next album Night in the Ruts. Eventually, the band hired Jimmy Crespo as their new lead guitarist. In 1981, during the recording sessions for Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith’s seventh studio album, Whitford departed and was replaced by Rick Dufay. In 1984, Perry and Whitford were back in the fold. Following a reunion tour, Aerosmith recorded their next studio album Done With Mirrors. Here’s the opener Let the Music Do the Talking, a Perry tune he originally had recorded as the title track for the Joe Perry Project’s debut.

While Aerosmith were back with their original line-up, the band members’ drug addiction continued to pose challenges. In 1986, Tyler successfully completed drug rehab. The rest of the band also completed such efforts over the next few years. In August 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, their ninth studio album, a comeback that became their best seller in over a decade with more than 5 million copies. It marked their first effort that brought in songwriters from outside the band. Here’s Dude (Look Like a Lady), co-written by Tyler, Perry and Desmond Child, their first charting single in the ’80s, climbing to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, Janie’s Got a Gun, appeared on the follow-on Pump from September 1989. It became the band’s highest-charting ’80s album in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, the Janie’s Got a Gun climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their second most successful U.S. single of the decade. Here’s the official video.

The 1990s saw Aerosmith’s highest-charting U.S. albums with Get a Grip (April 1993) and Nine Lives (March 1997) topping the Billboard 200. Get a Grip also became the band’s best-selling studio album worldwide, with sales exceeding 20 million copies. Like on Permanent Vacation and Pump, the record featured numerous external song collaborators. Seven of the album’s tracks were released as singles, of which three made the U.S. charts: Cryin (No. 12), Amazing (No. 24) and Crazy (No. 17). The tune I’d like to highlight is Line Up, a co-write by Tyler, Perry and Lenny Kravitz who also provided backing vocals.

Let’s do two additional songs from the current century. Here’s the title track of Aerosmith’s 13th studio album Just Push Play, which came out in March 2001. The tune was co-written by Tyler, Mark Hudson and Steve Dudas. Though I feel like it got decent radio play, the song failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It did climb to No. 10 on Billboard’s U.S. Rock Chart, which I find interesting since to me it’s more of a cross-over pop-rock song.

In November 2012, Aerosmith released their 15th and most recent studio album to date, Music from Another Dimension! While it climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard 200, I do seem to recall reading press accounts at the time, with Joe Perry saying this may be the band’s last album – possibly a sign of frustration over the long process it apparently took to make the record. Here’s lead single Legendary Child co-written by Tyler, Perry and Jim Vallence, which appeared in May 2012. Originally, the song had been written and recorded in 1991 during the sessions for the Get a Grip album but had never been released. Here’s the official video. The narrative in the beginning nicely sums up Aerosmith’s eventful history.

Between 2014 and 2018, Tyler and Perry largely focused on side projects. For much of last year, Aerosmith did a concert residency called Aerosmith: Deuces are Wild, mostly in Las Vegas. A European tour that had been planned for the summer of 2020 and a 50th anniversary show at Boston’s Fenway Park in September have all officially been rescheduled until next year.

The band’s current outlook does appear to be somewhat uncertain. Following some drama and lawsuits at the beginning of the year over the band’s refusal to allow drummer Joey Kramer to rejoin the line-up after his recovery from a shoulder injury, Brad Whitford during an interview on the Steve Gorman Rocks radio show in August 2020 expressed doubts over Aerosmith’s future. According to Wikipedia, citing ongoing dysfunction within the group, Whitford said, “I don’t really know what they want to do. And, I don’t really care because, um, truthfully, I’m not interested any more.”

It seems to me drama has been a near-constant during much of Aerosmith’s long history, and there’s a reason why Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have become known as the “Toxic Twins.” But while the band’s best days may be over, I think it’s safe to assume they still have a ton of fans out there who would love to see them once concert tours can resume. I could well see Aerosmith mirror Deep Purple and embark on a “never-ending” farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Larkin Poe/Venom & Faith

A few weeks ago, Facebook served me up a video of two young women rocking out: One with an electric guitar, the other one with a pedal steel. Apart from compelling musicianship, the clip featured great harmony vocals, but what really stood out to me was their infectious raw energy. More recently, I watched another clip of 28-year-old Rebecca Lovell and her two-year older sister Megan Lovell, who since January 2010 have performed as Larkin Poe. This prompted me to listen to Venom & Faith, an intriguing album with a stripped back sound blending a strong dose of traditional blues and roots with more modern elements, such as electronic drum loops and handclaps.

Rebecca and Megan, who originally hail from Georgia and now live in Nashville, Tenn. started out as teenagers in 2005 with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. They released two studio records and one live album before disbanding in January 2010. Rebecca and Megan regrouped as Larkin Poe immediately thereafter. They got the name from their great-great-great-grandfather who according to this review in Glide Magazine was a distant cousin to Edgar Allan Poe.

Released in November 2018, Venom & Faith is Larkin Poe’s fourth and most recent studio album. Wikipedia also lists Tarka Layman (bass) and Kevin McGowan (drums) as band members, though I assume the two session musicians are part of the touring lineup. All Venom & Faith reviews I’ve seen only mention Rebecca and Megan, along with slide guitarist Tyler Bryant and recording engineer Roger Alan Nichols with whom the sisters co-produced the album.

Larkin Poe
Rebecca (l) and Megan Lovell

The stripped-back approach Larkin Poe used on this album largely mirrors their YouTube “Tip o’ The Hat” video series, where they take mostly well-known tunes, such as Aerosmith’s Pink, Steelers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You and Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town, and create their own bare-bones versions. Check it out, these clips are fun to watch!

Let’s get to some music from Venom & Faith. The opener Sometimes is one of only two covers on the record. Co-written by Alan Lomax and folk and gospel singer Bessie Jones, the tune was first released by Jones in 1960.

Beach Blonde Bottle Blues is one of the album’s eight original tunes.

Next up: Mississippi. It features the above mentioned Tylor Bryant on resonator slide guitar.

Here’s Blue Ridge Mountains, another nice bluesy track.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hard Times Killing Floor Blues, the only other cover on the record. The song was written by delta blues artist Skip James in 1932.

I think Venom & Faith is a pretty cool album overall by two highly talented musicians. Perhaps my only point of criticism is the lack of real drums. The reliance on handclaps and drum loops does get a bit monotonous after a while. “For our previous records, we wanted to put our best foot forward, so there was a lot more production,” Megan told Guitar Player. You want to take out your mistakes, layer the guitars and double the vocals, and before you know it, you’ve covered up all the humanity in your performances…[For Venom & Faith] we didn’t want to smooth over the imperfections or the raw emotion, because often those are the very things listeners wind up loving.” Fair point!

Added Rebecca, “The production process was about how modern sounds could work with roots music to create a hybrid. We very much wanted to show that we are a female-fronted blues band in the 21st century.”

Venom & Faith has been nominated for the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. I see great potential in Larkin Poe and look forward to more great music from these highly skilled and dynamic ladies.

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Guitar Player; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: George Benson/Walking To New Orleans

The other day, I found myself looking at the Billboard Blues Chart, something I rarely do. That’s when I spotted Walking To New Orleans, the latest album by George Benson. While I had known the jazz guitarist had crossed over to other genres like pop, funk and R&B, I had not associated him with the blues. Intrigued by my “discovery,” I looked up the album in my music streaming service and started listening – boy, what a fun and groovy record, which celebrates the music of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry!

Before getting to the album, I’d like to give a bit of background on Benson, who was born in Pittsburgh on March 22, 1943. He started out playing the ukulele as a seven-year-old before he picked up the guitar a year later. At the age of 10, Benson recorded his first single She Makes Me Mad, which appeared on RCA-Victor under the name of Little Georgie. His debut album The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, recorded together with The Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, was released in 1964 when he was 21.

George Benson

In the mid-60s, Benson worked with Miles Davis and appeared as a guest on Davis’ July 1968 studio album Miles In The Sky. Until the mid-70s, Benson recorded a series of albums mainly in the jazz domain. The release of Breezin’ in May 1976 marked his breakthrough into pop and biggest success topping the Billboard 200. Another big mainstream success was Give Me The Night, which appeared in August 1980 and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard 200. I believe this Quincy Jones-produced record was my introduction to Benson. He has since released numerous additional studio, live and compilation albums.

Walking To New Orleans, which came out last month, is Benson’s 45th album and his first new recording since Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole from June 2013. “I’m a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys,” Benson explained. “Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit.” With that said, let’s get to some music!

The Chuck Berry tune Nadine (It’s You) makes for a great opener. Berry released it as a single in February 1964. I dig the honky tonk piano and the horns, which like on many other tracks on the album give the song a great groove.

Rockin’ Chair is one of the five Fats Domino songs on the record. Co-written by Domino and Alvin E Young, it appeared as a single in 1951 – another great tune that makes you want to move and snip your fingers.

Next up: Chuck Berry classic You Can’t Catch Me. Written by Berry, the tune appeared as a single in 1956. It was also included on Rock! Rock! Rock!, a soundtrack album for a motion picture of the same name.

The last track I like to highlight is the album’s great title song, another Fats Domino tune. Written by Bobby Charles, Domino released it in June 1960 as a single. Featuring Domino’s signature rock & roll piano style, the song also appeared on his album …A Lot Of Dominos! that came out the same year.

The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Kevin Shirley, a.k.a. “The Caveman.” Shirley has worked with many artists, such as Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Rush and Led Zeppelin. Backing up Benson is a quartet of excellent Nashville musicians, including Greg Morrow (drums, music director), Rob McNelley (guitar), Kevin McKendree (piano) and Alison Prestwood (bass).

“We did have us a ball making this record,” Benson summed up. It’s exactly that sentiment that is evident throughout the album and makes it such a fun listening experience. I think it may also encourage me to pay closer attention to the Billboard Blues Chart going forward.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, George Benson website, YouTube

My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 1: The Concerts

This two-part series isn’t a traditional year-end music review. If that’s what you’re looking for, you could check out this New York Times article about the 28 best albums of 2018 or this Rolling Stone piece titled 50 Best Songs of 2018. Frankly, I don’t even know the names of the majority of artists and songs mentioned in these two articles. And without meaning to sound arrogant or judgmental, I simply don’t care! The reality is the vast majority of music that’s popular nowadays and in the charts doesn’t speak to me.

I’ve also finally accepted that classic rock won’t return to the mainstream – like the blues, it was never meant to be there in the first place, as a recent article reminded me. But, as the same article also correctly stated, just because rock no longer is in the limelight doesn’t mean it’s dead. Consider this: My most viewed blog post this year was a review of a concert by excellent Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out. My most popular Facebook post was a video clip I took of Guns ‘N Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses performing Paradise City, which got 125 shares and some 24,000 views. Trust me, I’m not particularly popular on Facebook, but rock music apparently is!

GTLO Collage Asbury Park 11 24 18

I think the above examples are anecdotal evidence of rock’s ongoing appeal outside the charts. More importantly, rock isn’t going away in my music world. To start with, I never get bored listening repeatedly to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Neil Young and The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few of my favorite artists. I also feel there’s a massive amount of 60s and 70s music I’ve yet to explore. Altogether, this adds up to more stuff I will ever be able to handle, even if I would retire from work immediately and live until age 100! And then there’s icing on the cake when occasionally I come across young bands I dig like Detroit classic rockers Greta Van Fleet, all-female New York blues rock band Jane Lee Hooker or Memphis blues, soul and R&B outfit Southern Avenue.

Music, apart from being something I deeply enjoy, has always been a welcome distraction from challenges life can throw at you. This year, I certainly had my share, so it’s probably not a coincidence that between the blog, listening to music and going to concerts, 2018 felt like my most active year in music to date. It’s also worth remembering that shit happens to everybody. I’m alive and have a job, and my family has a roof over our heads, so ultimately I should be grateful. With that being said, let’s get to part 1 of this review, which focuses on concerts I’ve visited this year, and there have been many.

John Fogerty & Billy Gibbons

Between original artists and tribute acts, I must have set a new record for myself! I’ve seen more than a dozen original artists, who in reverse order include Toto (Nov); Steely Dan twice (Oct & Jul); Southern Avenue (Aug); Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers (Aug); The Doobie Brothers (Jul, together with Steely Dan); Gov’t Mule (Jul, Dark Side of the Mule Pink Floyd show); Neil Young (Jul); Lynyrd Skynyrd (Jun); ZZ Top & John Fogerty (May); Jackson Browne (May); Buddy Guy (Apr 20) and Steve Winwood (Mar 9). I also had a ticket for Aretha Franklin for March 25, one of her very last shows that got canceled due to her illness. The concert would have coincided with her 76h birthday.

While all of the above gigs delivered, the three highlights were Steely Dan at The Beacon Theatre, New York City, Oct (review); Neil Young at Wang Theatre, Boston, Jul (review); and John Fogerty at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmel, N.J., May (review). Following is one clip from each show.

Here’s the mighty Dan with Deacon Blues. This song is a great example of a tune I can listen to over and over again, and it just doesn’t get boring. Truly masterful music never does!

Next up: Neil Young and After The Gold Rush – the combination of Neil with his shaky, almost vulnerable voice and the pipe organ’s church-like sound still give me goosebumps when I think about it!

And here’s John Fogerty with Billy Gibbons performing Holy Grail, a tune they wrote together prior to their Blues & Bayous Tour. Yes, essentially, it’s a remake of La Grange, and it certainly wasn’t the best song of the show. But it’s the only clip I took myself that night, plus watching these two rock legends together on one stage was a treat in and of itself.

Things in 2018 were also pretty intense on the tribute concert front but, hey, I suppose my good blogger pal Music Enthusiast doesn’t call me the “King of Tribute Bands” for nothing! By now I can probably claim that I’ve seen tribute acts of bands ranging from A to Z. The highlight in this context once again was Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September (review). Among others, the annual festival featured great tributes to Neil Young (Decade), Guns ‘N Roses (Guns 4 Roses), Fleetwood Mac (TUSK), Tom Petty (Free Fallin’) and AC/DC (LIVE/WIRE). Another great tribute event was the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. in June (review). Like the previous year, the line-up included tributes to The Beatles (Britain’s Finest), The Rolling Stones (The Glimmer Twins) and The Who (Who’s Next).

Outside these two festivals, I’ve seen numerous other tribute bands throughout the year. In this context, I’d like to call out the above noted Led Zeppelin tribute Get The Led Out  (review), as well as Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd” (review), and Jimi Hendrix tribute Kiss The Sky, which I saw together with Cream tribute Heavy Cream (review). Following are a few clips. First up: Get The Led Out playing the big enchilada Stairway To Heaven.

Next is a flavor of Echoes performing Time and The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon album. I still frequently listen to that record to this day, oftentimes at night and with earbuds. I really should get a decent set of headphones, especially for Pink Floyd music.

Last but not least is Kiss The Sky setting the stage on fire with Voodoo Child (Slight Return). If you’re into Hendrix, it’s really a fun show to watch.

Part 2 is going to focus on new 2018 albums that excited me. As stated at the outset, don’t expect seeing any chart toppers here! Part 2 will also take a brief look at music activities that are on my radar for 2019.

Sources: New York Times, Rolling Stone, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

Rock The Farm Returns To Jersey Shore

Eleven-hour marathon for a cause features tributes from AC/DC to Zeppelin

While there were no barns and cows, Rock the Farm 2018 didn’t need them. The fifth annual music tribute for a great cause that took place yesterday in Seaside Heights, N.J. rocked anyway and felt even better than last year when I attended the 11-hour marathon for the first time and wrote about it here.

Rock the Farm, a.k.a. Faux-Chella, is a pretty cool idea: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process. It sort of mirrors Live Aid on a mini scale, but instead of focusing on starvation in Africa, the fund-raising supports domestic addiction recovery programs. All of the performing bands donated their time to the cause, playing for free. That’s what I call greatness in America that actually deserves the expression!

Rock the Farm 2018 Line-Up

With the U.S. being in the throes of an opioid crisis that according to a fact sheet from CNN claimed more than 63,600 overdose deaths or an average of 115 people a day in 2016, an event like Rock the Farm couldn’t be more timely. And while no amount of money is too small to help address this astonishing loss of human life in one of the richest countries in the world, a staggering $18 billion is spent in the U.S. each year as a result of the opioid crisis. And that’s just opioids, so it doesn’t include alcohol or other drugs!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the non-profit CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which was established by the Regan family in 2015, after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother Lynn Regan developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for him and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation.

According to their website, to date CFC has assisted more than 7,500 families to help overcome addiction by a loved one. Seeing founder Dan Regan and other CFC folks, and even more so, hearing from some other former addicts who had the courage to step on stage was inspiring to say the least. To me it’s the quintessential story of hope that has made America great and attracted immigrants like myself to its shores. I hope the country will never lose that!

All right, now that the “heavy stuff” is out of the way, it’s time for some great music. Since there was so much of it, I’m only going to highlight some of it.

Decade

Readers of the blog may recall I’ve covered this great Neil Young tribute band from New Jersey before. While they’ve only played together for a few years, all of the band’s members are seasoned musicians, and it shows. Decade are John Hathaway (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Herr (guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Here’s the opener of their set: A cool rendition of Star Spangled Banner a la Jim Hendrix, and Mr. Soul by Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young co-founded with Stephen Stills, Richie FurayKen Koblun and Dewey Martin in Los Angeles in 1966.

Walk This Way

This terrific tribute band to Aerosmith came all the way from Dallas to support the cause and they kicked ass. While Walk This Way mostly perform in their home state, the show history on the band’s website indicates they also travel nationally and occasionally even beyond. Walk This Way feature Ian Latimer (as Steven Tyler, lead vocals), David Semans (as Joe Perry, guitar & backing vocals), Chris Bender (as Tom Hamilton, bass), Martin Turney (Joey Kramer, drums), Eamonn Gallagher (as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein (as Russ Irvin, keyboards). I wasn’t going feature what perhaps is the expected Aerosmith tune, the epic Dream On, but when these guys combined it with Train Kept A-Rollin’, I just couldn’t resist. It was the perfect finish to their great set.

Guns 4 Roses

Walk This Way wasn’t the only band that came all the way from Dallas. They were joined by Guns N’ Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses. Unfortunately, their website and Facebook page only provides the first names of the members (what’s that all about?), and I still had to conduct a bit of research to figure things out: Laz (as Axl Rose, lead vocals), Eamonn (as Slash, guitar), Chris (as Duff McKagan, bass), David (as Dizzy Reed, keyboards), Martin (as Steven Adler, drums) and Chris (Izzy Stradlin, guitar). Hope I got it right. Here’s Sweet Child O’ Mine, one of my favorite Guns N’ Roses tunes.

TUSK

This outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, which mirrors the Rumours lineup, is another band from New Jersey. Their members include Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Like Walk This Way, TUSK is a national band, as indicated by the tour schedule on their website. Here’s Dreams and Say You Love Me from the Rumours (1977) and Fleetwood Mac (1975) albums, respectively.

Free Fallin’

Another band that took a long trip for Rock The Farm was Free Fallin’, a Minneapolis-based tribute to Tom Petty. He is yet another longtime favorite artist of mine, and with their execution of the music and Petty’s distinct vocals, I think Free Fallin’ would have made him proud. The band are Tom Brademeyer (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums), Russ Lund (as Ron Blair, bass), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals) and Craig Volke (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals). While I think looks are secondary when it comes to tribute acts, it doesn’t hurt when they have visual similarity with the artists they capture. I should add that’s also the case for at least one member of each of the other tribute bands I’ve highlighted in this post. I was tempted to feature Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, for which Kathy Phillips of TUSK joined Free Fallin’, but I just couldn’t resist highlighting my favorite Petty tune instead: Refugee, from the excellent Damn The Torpedos album (1979). Just like Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, it was spot on.

Live/Wire

What better way to close out a great all-day festival than with the hard charging rock & roll of AC/DC – and, boy, did Live/Wire kick ass! This band from New York, which has been around since 2000, includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). While most tribute acts like to call themselves the “ultimate experience” or variations of the claim, I could imagine that Live/Wire are indeed “the ultimate AC/DC experience.” Based on their current 2018 schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to span the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). While there were apparent problems with the microphone for the bagpipes, frankly, it didn’t matter much. Instructions for the clip: To be played on a decent sound system at maximum volume!😜

Yes, an 11-hour festival is a marathon, and I can’t deny by back and feet were aching when it was all over, but it was worth each and every moment. So guess what? Come next September, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be back!

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN opioid crisis fast facts (June 2018); CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; Decade Facebook page;  Walk This Way Facebook page and website; Guns 4 Roses Facebook page and website; TUSK website; Free Fallin’ Facebook page; Live/Wire website; YouTube

My Playlist: Toto

Even though their sound is pretty commercial pop, which to many music aficionados are bad words, I’ve always liked Toto for their great sound and outstanding musicianship. Here’s the thing: Yes, there are plenty of examples of terrible commercial pop music – just look at what’s currently dominating the charts. But just because something is selling well doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like it or not, a widely beloved and my all-time favorite band The Beatles made commercial pop music, at least during their earlier years. Or take Michael Jackson’s Thriller album: It probably doesn’t get more commercial than that, yet it’s one of the best records ever released, at least in my humble opinion. And there are countless other examples.

Toto was founded in Los Angeles in 1976 by David Paich (keyboards, vocals) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion), who had known each other from high school and done studio session work together. They recruited four additional members: Jeff’s brother Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Hungate (bass) and Bobby Kimball (lead and backing vocals). Like Paich and Jeff Porcaro, each of the additional members had worked with other artists. In fact, according to the official Toto website, the band’s members have performed on a total of 5,000 records that together sold half a billion copies. Obviously, this includes both projects that predated Toto and side engagements after the band’s formation – still, these are astonishing numbers!

Toto
Toto in 1978

Paich co-wrote half of the songs for Boz Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees from March 1976. Steve Porcaro, Hungate and Lukather also worked with Scaggs. Following the formation of Toto, Lukather became one of the most sought after session guitarists. Perhaps his most famous engagement in this context is his guitar work on Michael Jackson’s Beat It from the Thriller album. Jeff Porcaro, who at the time was a 20-year-old drummer, played on all except one Steely Dan tunes on their fourth studio record Katy Lied from March 1975 – anyone who could live up to the perfectionism of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker must have been top notch! Last but not least, Kimball before joining Toto had been a vocalist in various New Orleans bands and S.S. Fools, an unsuccessful short-lived venture with three former members of Three Dog Night.

After signing with Columbia Records, Toto began work on their eponymous debut album. Paich wrote all except two tracks for the record that appeared in October 1978. Though music critics weren’t impressed with Toto initially, the band soon got a significant following. The record reached the top 10 on the albums charts in various countries, including Australia (no. 2), Sweden (no. 5), Germany (no. 8), Canada and the U.S. ( both no. 9) – not shabby for a debut! Toto have since released 12 additional studio albums, six live records and numerous compilations. Between June 2008 and February 2010, the band was on hiatus. Last June, they announced their latest greatest hits collection 40 Trips Around The Sun and a 2018 tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Let’s get to some music!

The first time I recall hearing the name Toto was in connection with the song Hold The Line. Written by Paich, it was the lead single and most successful tune from their first album and remains one of my favorite Toto songs. In particular, I dig the keyboard part and the guitar riff.

Next up: The title track of Toto’s excellent sophomore album Hydra. Credited to all members of the band, it’s a pretty complex tune with all kinds of breaks and changes in tempo that nicely showcase top notch musicianship. You simply don’t play this stuff without plenty of experience!

Toto IV from April 1982 became the band’s most successful album, topping the charts in Australia, Canada and the Netherlands, and reaching the top 10 in many other countries, including the U.S. and U.K. (both no. 4) and Japan (no. 3). It also generated what became the band’s only no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100: Africa. Toto IV turned out to be Kimball’s last record with the band at the time. He was told to leave two years later after drug use had taken a toll on his voice. However, he would be back for Mindfields, the band’s 10th studio album from 1999, and stay on for the two albums thereafter. Toto IV’s lead single Rosanna, written by Paich, is yet another example of musical complexity the band seems to pull off effortlessly.

Since I suppose no Toto playlist would be complete without it, here’s Africa, which was co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Paich is sharing lead vocals with Kimball. Former Poco and Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit is among the guest musicians on the track, providing backing vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar.

In 1986, Toto released their sixth studio album Fahrenheit, the first with Joseph Williams as lead vocalist. It was also the last to feature three Porcaros: Jeff, Steve and their brother Mike Porcaro, who had replaced Hungate on bass shortly after Toto IV had come out. After Fahrenheit’s release, Steve left to focus on songwriting and music composing. While he continued to work with the band in a supporting capacity, it wouldn’t be until Toto XIV that he would be listed again as a core member. Here’s I’ll Be Over You, co-written by Lukather and American songwriter Randy Goodrum. Sung by Lukather, it’s perhaps Toto’s nicest ballad. The tune also features Michael McDonald on backing vocals. It became Toto’s highest charting single in the U.S. since Kimball’s departure, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Toto’s seventh study record, ingeniously titled The Seventh One, came out in March 1988. It’s one of my favorite Toto albums and the last to feature Williams until their most recent studio record Toto XIV from 2015. Similar to Kimball, Williams was let go after his voice had been impacted by drug use. One almost wonders whether Toto makes their lead vocalists take drugs, fire them thereafter, and eventually ask them to come back! Here’s a nice rocker, Stay Away, featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals and David Lindley on lap steel guitar.

By September 1992 when Kingdom Of Desire appeared, Toto had become a four-piece band, with Lukather performing all lead vocals. Their eighth studio album was also the last with Jeff Porcaro who passed away shortly after its release. Here’s the opener Gypsy Train, which like the majority of the record’s tracks is credited to the entire band. I hear a bit of an Aerosmith vibe in this one.

Tambu, released in May 1995 in Europe and in the U.S. the following month, is Toto’s ninth studio album and the first without Jeff Porcaro, who had been replaced by English drummer Simon Phillips. Similar to the band’s other members, Phillips had done plenty of session work. He also had been the drummer of The Who during their 1989 reunion tour in the U.S. Here’s The Turning Point, a groovy tune that’s credited to all members of the band plus Stan Lynch, the original drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Toto’s 10th studio record Mindfields appeared in Europe and the U.S. in March and November of 1999, respectively. Kimball’s return as a vocalist made Toto a five-piece band again. Here’s the title track, which is credited to all members of the band and features Kimball on lead vocals.

Since I’d like to keep playlists to no more than 10 songs while ideally spanning an artist’s recording career, I’m jumping to Toto’s most recent studio album, the previously noted Toto XIV. Released in March 2015, as mentioned above, the record once again featured Williams on lead vocals and Steve Porcaro as a core member. It also marked the return of original bassist Hungate; Mike Porcaro had been inactive since 2007 due to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and sadly succumbed to complications just days before the album came out. Keith Carlock had replaced Phillips on drums, who had decided to leave Toto in January 2014 and focus on his solo career. Here’s the haunting Burn, a Paich/Williams co-write that also became the album’s third single.

Toto’s current official core members include Williams, Paich, Porcaro and Lukather. Three weeks ago, the band announced that Paich won’t be part of the North American leg of their 40th anniversary tour and instead will focus on his health that took a hit during his recent appearances with Toto in Europe. In the statement Paich said: “To say this was a difficult decision would be a complete understatement. I hope you will all be understanding of my need to be home. I look forward to joining the boys again on stage ASAP.” In the meantime, Dominique Xavier Talpin, who among others played with Prince, will sit in on keyboards.

The band’s North American tour kicked off in Vancouver on July 30. Tonight the band is playing in Costa Mesa, Calif. before it’s on to Henderson, NV on Friday. The current schedule lists 32 additional North American dates all the way until mid-November at what mostly look like small and mid-size venues. One, State Theatre of New Jersey in New Brunswick, is right in my neck of the woods. I got two tickets today – if only more top notch bands would be as reasonable when it comes to ticket prices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto official website, YouTube