The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature where I stretch out across different genres and different decades to celebrate music I dig, six tracks at a time. This edition features blue-eyed soul/R&B, Americana rock and Stax soul, bookended by two beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals. It touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021.

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler/Hurricane Light

Kicking off this post is beautiful instrumental music by Portland, Ore.-based guitarist and composer Marisa Anderson. From her website: Marisa Anderson channels the history of the guitar and stretches the boundaries of tradition. Her deeply original work applies elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone and 20th century classical music to compositions based on blues, jazz, gospel and country music, re-imagining the landscape of American music…Classically trained, she honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands. Originally from Northern California, Anderson dropped out of college at age nineteen to walk across the US and after more than decade of wandering landed in Portland, Oregon, where she currently lives. Hurricane Light is a track from Anderson’s new album, Lost Futures, which appeared on August 27 and which she recorded together with William Tyler, a fellow guitarist from Nashville, Tenn. I find this music super relaxing. It’s got a cinematic feel to it, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Anderson’s website also notes she writes scores for short films and soundtracks.

Boz Scaggs/Lowdown

Let’s jump back 45 years to a very cool tune by Boz Scaggs. Lowdown, which features a seductive funky bassline and is smooth at the same time, is from Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees released in February 1976. Co-written by Scaggs and then-future Toto co-founder David Paich, the song also became the highest-charting single off the album, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2. It also charted in the UK and Australia. BTW, that neat bassline was played by David Hungate, another soon-to-become original member of Toto. And there was a third musician who would join Paich and Hungate to form Toto the following year, together with Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball: drummer Jeff Porcaro. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with them for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. He is still active and has released 19 solo albums to date, the most recent of which, Out of the Blues, appeared in July 2018.

Steve Earle & The Dukes/I Ain’t Ever Satisfied

When my streaming music provider served up I Ain’t Ever Satisfied the other day, I was immediately hooked. I’ve listened to some of Steve Earle’s catalog, but there is a lot left for me to explore. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, written by Earle, appeared on his sophomore album Exit 0 from May 1987, which he recorded together with his backing band The Dukes. The album placed in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts at no. 90 and no. 36, respectively, and earned Earle two 1988 Grammy nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song. Earle has released 21 studio albums to date, including collaborations with Del McCoury Band and Shawn Colvin. His most recent album J.T., a tribute to his oldest son Justin Townes Earle who passed away from a drug overdose in August 2020, was released in early January this year. I previously reviewed it here.

Son Volt/Driving the View

Alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt are a recent discovery for me. They entered my radar screen with their latest album Electro Melodier, which came out at the end of July. I featured a tune from it in a previous Best of What’s New installment. The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar),  Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). Here’s Driving the View, a great track from Son Volt’s third studio album Wide Swing Tremolo that appeared in October 1998.

Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour

Next we’re going back to 1965 and Memphis, Tenn. for some sweet soul music recorded at the Stax studio. By the time Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett recorded In the Midnight Hour, Stax founder Jim Stewart had signed a formal national distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that would come to haunt him when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967 and Stax would lose the rights to all Atlantic-distributed recordings between 1960 and 1967. Coming back to a happier subject, In the Midnight Hour was co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, a founding member of Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.s, who also was the label’s A&R man. M.G.s members Al Jackson Jr. (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) participated in the recording session. In the Midnight Hour, which appeared in June 1965, also was the title track of Pickett’s sophomore album released the same year. The tune became Pickett’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and his highest charting song at the time on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it reached no. 21. Just a timeless soul classic!

Robben Ford/A Dragon Tail

For the last track in this installment, we’re going back to the present time and a killer instrumental by guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford, off his new album Pure that came out on August 27. Ford, who began playing the saxophone at age 10 before he discovered the guitar as a 13-year-old, has had a remarkable career. He has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Carlton and Little Feat, among many others. His solo debut Schizophonic, a jazz album, came out in 1976. Ford has since released close to 30 additional records under his name. This doesn’t include any of his collaboration albums. While primarily being associated with blues, Ford has played many other genres, including jazz, rock and funk. He has been nominated for five Grammys and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by trade publication Musician magazine that folded in 1999. Here’s A Dragon Tail from Ford’s above mentioned new album. Check out this amazing sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Marissa Anderson website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six that celebrates music from the past 70 years or so in different flavors, six tunes at a time. This week’s zig-zag excursion features a tasty stew. The ingredients include jazz, early ’60s pop, contemporary blues, classic ’70s soul, contemporary indie rock and early ’90s southern and blues rock. I generally find diversity enriching, in music and otherwise. Let’s embark on our little journey.

The Charlie Watts Quintet/Relaxing at Camarillo

On August 24, the music world lost Charlie Watts who passed away at age 80 from an undisclosed cause. Undoubtedly, he will always best be remembered as the unassuming longtime drummer and reliable time-keeper of The Rolling Stones. But it was actually his life-long love for jazz, not rock and roll, that got Watts into music. In-between tours and recording sessions with the Stones, he frequently was involved in jazz projects and eventually formed his own groups, The Charlie Watts Orchestra and The Charlie Watts Quintet. I’d like to celebrate the late Charlie Watts with Relaxing at Camarillo, a composition by jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Watts recorded the tune with his jazz quintet for a 1991 Charlie Parker tribute album titled From One Charlie. According to the credits listed on Discogs, in addition to Watts, the group featured Peter King (alto saxophone), Gerard Presencer (trumpet), Brian Lemon (piano) and Dave Green (bass). I know, it’s only jazz but I like it, like it, yes, I do!

The Everly Brothers/When Will I Be Loved

For fans of artists who are in their ’70s and ’80s, these are tough times. On August 21, Don Everly, who together with his younger brother Phil Everly had performed as The Everly Brothers for nearly 45 years (not counting a 10-year hiatus between 1973 and 1983 when each of the brothers pursued solo careers), passed away in Nashville at the age of 84. No cause of death was provided. I loved The Everly Brothers from the very first moment I got a greatest hits compilation, which must have been in the early ’80s. What spoke to me in particular was their beautiful harmony singing. I also thought their acoustic guitar playing was cool, especially on Wake Up Little Susie, their massive hit from 1957. In addition to covering songs written by others, The Everly Brothers also recorded some originals. Here’s one written by Don Everly: When Will I Be Loved. The tune was released as a single in May 1960 and also included on the album The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers that came out in the same year as well. What a classic!

Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’/Ain’t Nobody Talkin’

Let’s jump forward 57 years to May 2017 for some sizzling blues delivered by two great artists, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. I was reminded about their fantastic collaboration album TajMo the other day when putting together a post about other artists covering songs by The Who. Apart from renditions like a Cajun swampy version of Squeeze Box, TajMo also includes original tunes. One of them is Ain’t Nobody Talkin’, co-written by Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) and John Lewis Parker. I was happy to see that TajMo won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. You can read more about it here. Meanwhile, here’s Ain’t Nobody Talkin’ – man, I love how Mahal and Mo’ sound together. And these horn fill-ins – so good!

Al Green/Let’s Stay Together

Next I’d like to turn to Al Green, one of the finest soul vocalists I can think of. Green, who became an ordained pastor in 1976 following the suicide of his girlfriend Mary Woodson in October 1974, is best known for a series of soul hits in the first half of the ’70s. In 1979, after he had gotten injured during a stage accident in Cincinnati, Green turned to gospel for nearly 10 years. In 1988, he came back to secular music, teaming up with Annie Lennox for a cover of Put a Little Love in Your Heart, yielding his first top 10 mainstream hit since 1974. It remains his last to date. Here’s Green’s first no. 1 from November 1971: Let’s Stay Together, his signature song. He co-wrote the smooth tune with Al Jackson Jr. (founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and producer Willie Mitchell. Let’s Stay Together also became the title track of his fourth studio album from January 1972. In 1983, Tina Turner brought the soul classic back into the top 10 charts in the UK, her comeback single from her comeback album Private Dancer that appeared in May 1984.

Lord Huron/Meet Me in the City

If you are a frequent reader of The Sunday Six, the name Lord Huron might ring a bell. Or perhaps you’ve been aware of this cool indie folk rock band all along, which initially was founded in Los Angeles in 2010 as a solo project of guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider. In addition to him, the group’s current line-up includes Tom Renaud (guitar), Miguel Briseño (bass, keyboards) and Mark Barry (drums, percussion). In the June 20 installment, I featured the stunning Mine Forever, a track from the band’s most recent album Long Lost that came out on May 21. Here’s another great track from that album, Meet Me in the City, which further illustrates Lord Huron’s amazing moody and cinematic sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb.

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard

This once again brings me to the sixth and final track. Let’s make it count with some crunchy rock by The Black Crowes. Initially founded as “Mr. Crowe’s Garden” in Marietta, Ga. in 1984, the band around Chris Robinson (lead vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar, percussion) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (guitar, backing vocals) has a long history. It includes the type of drama with break-ups and reunions that’s all too common once rock egos become too big. The good news is since late 2019, The Black Crowes are flying again. Perhaps the band’s third reunion is the charm. Their tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Shake Your Money Maker from February 1990 had to be postponed because of you know what. It finally got underway on July 20 in Nashville, Tenn. and is scheduled to conclude in Bethel, N.Y. on September 25. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group’s new line-up features Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), along with touring members Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, backing vocals), Joel Robinow (keyboards, backing vocals) and Brian Griffin (drums, percussion). Here’s Twice As Hard, the great opener of Shake Your Money Maker. Co-written by the Robinson brothers, the tune also became the album’s third single and their first no. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Sources: Wikpedia; Discogs; YouTube

My Top 5 Debut Albums Turning 50

Earlier this week, I wrote about my top 5 studio albums turning 50 this year. That post was inspired by “Top 50 Albums Turning 50,” a fun program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) I had caught the other day. But capturing the greatness of 1971 with just five albums really doesn’t do justice to one of the most remarkable years in music, so I decided to have some more fun with it.

This time, I’m looking at great debut albums from 1971. While that caveat substantially narrowed the universe, an initial search still resulted in close to 10 records I could have listed here. Following are my five favorites from that group, again in no particular order.

Electric Light Orchestra/The Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, were formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, along with drummer Bev Bevan, as an offshoot of British rock band The Move. The idea was to combine Beatlesque pop and rock with classical music. I always thought the result was somewhat weird, feeling like The Beatles and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” on steroids; yet at the same time, ELO created a signature sound and songs that undoubtedly were catchy. The band’s debut album, the only record with Wood, first came out in the UK on December 3, 1971 as The Electric Light Orchestra. In the U.S., it appeared in March 1972, titled No Answer. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, that title was accidental when a representative from U.S. label United Artists Records unsuccessfully tried to reach an ELO contact in the UK and wrote down “no answer” in his notes. Here’s the record’s opener 10538 Overture, a tune Lynne wrote, which initially was recorded by The Move to become a B-side to one of their singles.

Bill Withers/Just As I Am

Bill Withers got a relatively late start in music. By the time his debut single Three Nights and a Morning appeared in 1967, Withers already was a 29 year-old man who previously had served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. It took another four years before his debut album Just As I Am was released in May 1971. Unlike his first single that went unnoticed, the record became a significant success, reaching no. 35 and no. 37 in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, and peaking at no. 9 on the Billboard Soul charts. Much of the popularity was fueled by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, one of Withers’ best known songs and biggest hits. Just As I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones, who also played keyboards and guitar. Some of the other musicians on the album included M.G.’s bassist and drummer Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr., respectively, as well as Stephen Stills (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums). While Ain’t No Sunshine is the crown jewel, there’s more to this record. Check out Do It Good, a soul tune with a cool jazzy groove, written by Withers.

ZZ Top/ZZ Top’s First Album

While guitarist Billy Gibbons recorded ZZ Tops’s first single Salt Lick (backed by Miller’s Farm) in 1969 with Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), the band’s current line-up with Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) has existed since early 1970. This makes ZZ Top the longest-running group in music history with unchanged membership. It was also the current line-up that recorded the band’s debut ZZ Top’s First Album released on January 16, 1971. It was produced by Bill Ham, who was instrumental to ZZ Top’s success. Not only did he produce or co-produce all of their records until their 12th studio album Rhythmeen from September 1996, but he also served as the band’s manager until that year. Here’s the great blues rocker Brown Sugar, one of my favorite early ZZ Top tunes written by Gibbons.

Bonnie Raitt/Bonnie Raitt

As a long-time fan of the amazing Bonnie Raitt, picking her eponymous debut album for this post was an easy choice. According to Wikipedia, it was recorded at an empty summer camp located on an island on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. That location had been recommended to Raitt by John Koerner and Dave Ray, two close friends and fellow musicians. We recorded live on four tracks because we wanted a more spontaneous and natural feeling in the music, a feeling often sacrificed when the musicians know they can overdub their part on a separate track until it’s perfect, Raitt explained in the album’s liner notes. Here’s Mighty Tight Woman written and first recorded by Sippie Wallace as I’m a Mighty Tight Woman in 1926.

America/America

America sometimes are dismissed as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. I’ve loved this band since I was nine years old and listened for the first to their 1975 compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, which my six-year older sister had on vinyl. The folk rock trio of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar, piano) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass, guitar, piano) released their eponymous debut album on December 26, 1971 in the U.K. That was the year after they had met in London where their parents were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. version of the record, which appeared on January 12, 1972, included A Horse with No Name, a song that initially was released as the group’s first single and was not on the UK edition. Remarkably, that single became America’s biggest hit, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and France, and surging to no. 3 in the UK. Here’s a track from the original UK edition: Sandman written by Bunnell. Beckley and Bunnell still perform as America to this day. Peek left the group in 1977, renewed his Christian faith, and pursued a Christian pop music career. He passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Booker T. Jones/Sound The Alarm

I dig the distinct sound of the Hammond B3 – just can’t get of enough it! Whether it’s used in blues, jazz, rock or even hard rock a la Deep Purple, to me it’s one of the greatest sounding music instruments I know. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, this won’t be exactly a new revelation. If you happen to be here for the first time and would like to read more about the B3, I invite you to check out this previous post from June 2017.

Undoubtedly, one of the music artists most closely associated with the legendary tone wheel organ is Booker T. Jones. I feel magic is happening when the man works those keys and drawbars. As I’m writing this, I can literally hear Greens Onions.  Jones wrote the tune’s distinct organ line when he was just 17. His band mates from the M.G.s helped put it all together, and it became their signature tune. Booker T. & the M.G.s, of course, were primarily known as the house band of Memphis soul label Stax. While I know and dig the music Jones helped create in the ’60s, until recently, I had not explored any of his work post Stax and the M.G.’s.

Booker T. & the M.G.s
Booker T. & The M.G.’s (from left): Al Jackson Jr., Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn

Booker T.’s solo debut Evergreen appeared in 1974, four years after he had severed ties with Stax and moved to Los Angeles. Sound The Alarm from June 2013 is his most recent solo work. It also marked Jones’ return to Stax since Melting Pot, the M.G.’s final album with the label in January 1971.

Sound The Alarm was co-produced by Jones and brothers Bobby Ross Avila and Issiah “IZ” Avila, who have worked with the likes of Usher, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot. The album also features various collaborations with younger R&B artists. The result is an intriguing blend of Booker T.’s Hammond B3 and contemporary sounds.

Booker T. Jones

Here’s the groovy opener and title track. It’s one of eight tunes co-written by The Avila Brothers. The song features American multi-talented artist Andrew Mayer Cohen, known as Mayer Hawthorne, on vocals. To be clear, I had never heard of the 40-year-old from Los Angeles before, who in addition to being a singer is a producer, songwriter, arranger, audio engineer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist, according to Wikipedia.

Broken Heart features another contemporary artist, Jay James, who has a great soulful voice that blends beautifully with Jones’ warm Hammond sound. The tune was co-written by Jones, The Avila Brothers and Terry Lewis. Together with his song-writing and production partner James Samuel (Jimmy Jam), Lewis also co-produced the track

Next up: Austin City Blues. Of course I couldn’t skip a good ole blues! Penned by Jones, the instrumental features Gary Clark, Jr. on guitar. The Hammond and Clark’s electric guitar live in perfect harmony, to creatively borrow from a Paul McCartney ballad he recorded with Stevie Wonder in the early ’80s. “Gary and I have a real thing going on mentally, kind of like what I had with Steve Cropper in the MGs, really understanding each other,” Jones noted on his website.  “He really is in my corner.”

66 Impala is a cool, largely instrumental Latin jazz tune with an infectious Santana vibe, even though there’s no guitar. But you can easily imagine Carlos playing electric guitar lines in his signature style and tone on the track, which is another co-write by Jones and The Avila Brothers. Instead of Santana, it features two other big names: Poncho Sanchez and Sheila E on percussion and drums, respectively.

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer Father Son Blues. The title of this Jones-written tune couldn’t be more appropriate. On guitar, the instrumental duo features Booker T.’s son Ted, who was 22 years old at the time of the recording. Apparently, Booker T. coincidentally had heard his son play at their house one day and at first mistakenly had assumed it was Joe Bonamassa. “I thought, ‘This is amazing,'” Jones noted. “‘you can have something right in front of your own nose and you don’t see it!’”

Commenting on the collaboration with The Avila Brothers, Jones said, “Bobby and I had previously done a little impromptu gig with El Debarge – that was the turning point when I decided to work with him. They have a different perspective about the musical palette. Their attitude is quite unique and quite innovative. That’s something I’ve looked for since I was maybe 13 or 14 years old and had figured out a little bit about music. It can be very predictable or it can be exploratory. I’m always looking for something new to do.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Booker T. Jones website, YouTube

 

In Appreciation of the Drummer

My top 10 favorite rock drummers, from Baker to Watts

I learned the guitar and also used to be a bass player. The first additional instrument I’d pick up if I had the time would be the drums – and, yes, also after soundproofing a room in my basement!

I’ve always been fascinated with the drums. I have a fairly good feel for rhythm and might actually be good at it – at least that’s what I’m telling myself! Since the drums and the bass form the core rhythm section of a rock band, I also think it would make sense for me to learn the drums next.

But this post is not about my crazy drumming dreams. It’s about professional drummers who are masters of their craft. More specifically, it’s about drummers playing rock, blues, soul and pop, which are the genres I’m most familiar with. Undoubtedly, there must be incredible jazz drummers out there, but since I essentially don’t know jazz, I’m purposely leaving them out.

Here are some of the drummers I find pretty cool, in alphabetical order.

Ginger Baker

Best known as the founder of power rock trio Cream, Ginger Baker is widely considered to be one of the most influential rock drummers and a pioneer in jazz fusion, heavy metal and world music. Born Peter Edward Baker, he began playing the drums at the age of 15. He met bassist Jack Bruce and infamously started clashing with him for much of the time ever since when he joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Despite their clashes, Baker and Bruce continued playing together in the Graham Bond Organization and, of course, in Cream, which they co-founded with Eric Clapton in 1966. After briefly playing with Clapton in Blind Faith and heading his own band Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Baker lived and recorded for several years in Africa. In the mid-70s, he co-headed the Baker Gurvitz Army, a hard rock band. He has also recorded 18 solo albums throughout his career, starting in the early 1970s, and collaborated with various other artists, including Gary Moore. Here is a clip of Cream instrumental Toad from one of the band’s 2011 reunion shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall, featuring an extended drum solo.

Cindy Blackman

The inclusion of Cindy Blackman in my list is solely based on the fact that she is a kick-ass drummer. That being said, how many high-profile non-white female drummers do you know? When I saw a clip of Blackman sometime ago, playing live with Lenny Kravitz, I was truly blown away by her furious drumming. Before becoming part of his live band in 1993, Blackman had focused on jazz. She returned to her roots when she left Kravitz’s touring band in 2004. Blackman joined forces with Kravitz again in 2014 to support the tour for his 10th studio album Strut. In 2010, she got involved with another well-known guitarist, Carlos Santana, and got married to him in December that year. Currently, Blackman, now Cindy Blackman Santana, is part of his touring band and also appears on Power of Peace, Santana’s just-released collaboration album with The Isley Brothers. Here is an awesome clip of Blackman’s live days with Kravitz. The entire band is absolutely killing it.

John Bonham

Modern Drummer magazine and others have called John Bonham the best rock drummer of all time. He is also no. 1 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time list. While I’m not sure it’s possible to determine the best drummer, I think Bonham’s drumming on Stairway to Heaven is one of the coolest drum parts in rock music I know. According to Wikipedia, Bonham was self-taught and began playing when he was five years old, using containers and coffee tins. He would imitate his idols Max Roach, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. At the age of 15, he received his first drum set and started playing in bands only a couple of years thereafter. In 1966, Bonham met Robert Plant when joining a blues group called Crawling King Snakes. When Plant formed Band of Joy in 1967, he chose Bonham as the drummer. After the breakup of the Yardbirds in 1968, guitarist Jimmy Page was putting together another band and recruited Plant who brought in Bonham. Bassist and keyboarder John Paul Jones completed the line-up of the band that soon thereafter became Led Zeppelin. After Bonham’s untimely death in September 1980 at age 32, the band decided to disband. Here’s Stairway to Heaven.

Sheila E.

Born Sheila Escovedo, Mexican-American percussionist, drummer, singer, author and actress Sheila E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family since her early childhood. Since the late 60s, her father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente. Already at the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George Duke, Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince and worked with him until 1989. Meanwhile, she also launched her own solo career in 1984 with her debut album The Glamorous Life. E. reunited with Prince several times and also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006. Her most recent release in June 2016 was Girl Meets Boy, a song in honor of Prince. Here is a clip of E. showcasing her drum skills during and appearance on David Letterman in 2011.

Al Jackson Jr.

As a founding member of Stax Records‘ session band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Al Jackson Jr. performed on countless classics produced by the legendary soul, blues and jazz label, such as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Albert King. He was known as “The Human Timekeeper” for his drumming ability. Jackson started playing the drums at an early age and began performing in his father’s jazz dance band when he was just five years old. Later, he played in the band of trumpeter Willie Mitchell, where he met Booker T. Jones who convinced him to come to Stax. Booker T. & M.G.’s were formed in 1962. In addition to backing up the label’s artists in the studio and working on Booker T. & the M.G.’s own music, Jackson co-wrote many Stax hits, such as Otis Redding’s Respect and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Additionally, he worked as a session drummer outside of Stax with artists, such as Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Bill Withers. On October 1, 1975, Jackson was shot to death by a home intruder. He was only 39 years old. Jackson was inducted in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and ranked No. 9 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Sam Moore of Sam & Dave had this to say about Jackson: “I put him in the same bag with Ray Charles or Billy Preston, in a class all his own.” Following is a cool clip of Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming, featuring Jackson as part of Booker T. & the M.G.’s.

Keith Moon

I think it’s safe to say there is no other drummer like Keith Moon and perhaps never will be. According to Drum! magazine, “His drumming style was tribal, primitive, and impulsive, with him often stomping the bass drums and pounding his wall of toms like a madman. Yet his drumming was often surprising and always made an impression.” I think the following quote in Rolling Stone from Ahmir Khalib Thompson, aka Questlove – the drummer and joint frontman of The Roots, sums it up nicely: “Often drummers are supposed to be the line on the paper where you write the sentence, but Keith Moon is the exclamation point.” Perhaps no other tune by The Who illustrates Moon’s raw energy better than My Generation – and Pete Townshend’s! Here’s an awesome clip.

Ian Paice

Ian Paice is best known as the drummer of Deep Purple. In fact, he is the only member of the band who played on each of their albums. After Deep Purple disbanded in 1976, Paice formed a supergroup called Paice Ashton Lord. From August 1979 to January 1982, he played in Whitesnake and then in Gary Moore’s band. In April 1984, he rejoined Deep Purple and remains with the band to this day. Pictures Of Home from 1972’s Machine Head album features on of my favorite Paice drum parts. It also happens to include a terrific bass solo by Roger Glover.

Jeff Porcaro

In addition to being the drummer of Toto from the band’s inception in 1977 until his death in 1992, Jeff Porcaro was one of the most sought-after session drummers. Pocaro took up the drums when he was seven years old. He received lessons from his father Joe Porcaro, a jazz drummer, and later from Robert Zimmitti and Richie Lepore. At 17, Porcaro got his first professional engagement with Sonny & Cher’s touring band. He has also collaborated with numerous other artists, such as Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson and Elton John, to name a few. Porcaro died from a heart attack at age 38 in August 1992. Here is a 1982 clip of Toto performing Rosanna, one of their biggest hits. It features Porcaro’s so-called “half-time shuffle groove,” a beat he explained to Drum! magazine he created by combining Bernard Purdie’s shuffle on Steely Dan songs Babylon Sister and Home Alone with John Bonham’s groove on Fool In the Rain.

Ringo Starr

While Ringo Starr may not be the first who comes to mind when thinking about The Beatles and got less attention than some of his ’60s compatriots like Keith Moon or the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell, he has received accolades from may other drummers. Prior to joining The Beatles in 1962, Starr had played in Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, which had become one of Liverpool’s leading bands in early 1960. After the break-up of The Beatles in early 1970, Starr launched a solo career, which to date has included 18 studio albums. In 1989, he put together a live rock supergroup called The All-Starr Band, which has since consistently toured with various line-ups. Starr’s 19th solo album Give More Love is scheduled for September 15 and will be supported with a tour by the All-Starr Band starting in October. In 2015, Starr became the last Beatle to be included as a solo artist in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He is ranked no. 14 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. The accompanying write-up quotes Dave Grohl who said, “Ringo was the king of feel.”  In Modern Drummer, Jim Keltner called Ringo “the epitome of a feel-good drummer, with just the right amount of chops needed!” According to Wikipedia, Journey’s Steve Smith said, “His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song.” A drum part frequently mentioned by other drummers is A Day In the Life from the Sgt. Pepper album. Here’s a clip.

Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts received his first drum set from his parents in 1955 at the age of 14. At the time, he was into jazz and practiced the drums listing to jazz records. In the late 50s, he joined a local jazz band, together with his neighbor and friend Dave Green, who went on to become a jazz bass player. In 1961, Alexis Korner invited Watts to join his band Blues Incorporated. Watts met Brian Jones, Ian “Stu” Stewart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the following year. But it wasn’t until January 1963 that he agreed to join The Rolling Stones. In addition to recording music with the Stones ever since, Watts has also released various jazz albums since the 80s. According to Rolling Stone, drum compatriot Jim Keltner told Drum! magazine, “Charlie can rush like mad and still make it feel great. That’s his style…He can’t explain it and I don’t necessarily like going into too much detail with him about it. I just marvel at it.” Here’s a cool clip of Get Off My Cloud, captured in 2012 from the Stones’ 50th anniversary show.

Sources: Wikipedia, Modern Drummer, Rolling Stone, Modern Drummer, Drum!, Sheila E. website, YouTube