The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? What happened to the bloody week? Okay, let’s try this again: Happy Sunday and I hope everybody had a great week and is enjoying an even better weekend! Nearly anything you can do gets better with great music, so I invite you to join me on another time travel trip. As usual, I’m taking you to six different stops. Are you in? Let’s go!

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane/In a Sentimental Mood

What do you get when combining jazz piano great Duke Ellington and saxophone dynamo John Coltrane? Well, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, a collaboration album released in January 1963, and the first stop on our journey today. Jazz artists love to team up, and this record is one of many collaborative efforts Sir Duke undertook in the early 1960s, which also included artists, such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Rather than a big band setting, it placed Ellington in a quartet, which in addition to Coltrane featured Jimmy Garrison or Aaron Bell (bass) and Elvin Jones or Sam Woodyard (drums). My specific pick is In a Sentimental Mood, which Ellington had composed more than 25 years earlier in 1935, with lyrics written by Manny Kurtz. I guess Ellington’s manager Irving Mills was in the mood for a percentage of the publishing and gave himself a writing credit!

The Jayhawks/Martin’s Song

Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since “discovering” them in August 2020, I’ve come to dig this American alt. country and country rock band. 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 By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2019, which still includes Louris and Pearlman. Going back to Hollywood Town Hall, here’s the album’s great closer Martin’s Song, penned by Olson and Louris.

Stephen Stills/Right Now

How ’bout some ’70s? Ask and you shall receive! My pick is Stephen Stills – yep the guy who co-founded Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield with that Canadian fellow Neil Young in 1966, and two years later got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. In 1969, they added Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, played Woodstock and released the classic Déjà Vu in March 1970. Following CSNY’s success, Stills launched a solo career, just like the other three members of the group. In late 1971, he teamed up with Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds) to form the band Manassas. The group also included Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass, backing vocals), Joe Lala (percussion, backing vocals) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Their eponymous debut from April 1972 was the first of two studio albums the group released, as Stephen Stills/Manassas – I assume for name recognition reasons. Plus, Stills wrote or co-wrote all except one of the tunes. Right Now is among the songs solely penned by him – love that tune!

Paul Simon/You Can Call Me Al

In August 1986, Paul Simon released what remains my favorite among his solo albums: Graceland. Evidently, many other folks liked it as well, making it Simon’s best-performing album, both in terms of chart success and sales. It also won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (1987) and Record of the Year (1988) – confusing titles! While the first honors an album in its entirety, the second recognizes a specific track. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock and mbaqanga. The album involved recording sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring local musicians. Therefore, it was criticized by some for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. One can only imagine what kind of firestorm a comparable activity would likely unleash nowadays with so much polarization boosted by social media! If I would have to pick one track from the album, I’d go with You Can Call Me Al, an infectious tune that among others features a crazy bass run by South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.

Little Steven/Soulfire

Let’s keep the groove going with guitarist, songwriter, actor and (unofficial) music professor, the one and only Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven or Miami Steve. Van Zandt gained initial prominence as guitarist in various Bruce Springsteen bands, such as Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen Band, and, of course, the mighty E Street Band. In 1981, Van Zandt started fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The following year, while still being an official member of the E Street Band, he released his debut solo album Men Without Women, credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In April 1984, just before the release of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Van Zant officially left and recorded a series of additional solo albums. After a brief stint in 1995, he permanently rejoined Springsteen’s backing band in 1999. He also got into acting, which most notably included his role as mafioso and strip club owner Silvio Dante in the American TV crime drama series The Sopranos. This finally brings us to Soulfire, his sixth solo album from May 2017. The great title track was co-written by Van Zandt and Anders Bruus, the former guitarist of Danish rock band The Breakers. Here’s a cool live version!

The Sonics/Cinderella

And once again, we’re reaching our final destination of yet another Sunday Six excursion. For this one, let’s go back to the ’60s with some raw garage rock by The Sonics – coz why not! Formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960, they have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. Cinderella is a track from the band’s sophomore release Boom, which appeared in February 1996. The tune was written by Gerry Roslie, the group’s keyboarder at the time. The line-up on the album also included founding members Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals) and his brother Andy Parypa (bass, vocals), along with Rob Lind (saxophone) and Bob Bennett (drums). Based on Wikipedia, The Sonics still appear to be around, with Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa among their current members.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something for you!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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A Green Guitar God with a Unique Tone and Soulful Voice

In memoriam of Peter Green

“Playing fast is something I used to do with John [Mayall] when things weren’t going well. But it isn’t any good. I like to play slowly and feel every note.” I think this quote from Peter Green, which was included in a June 16, 2020 feature by Guitar World, nicely reflects the philosophy of the English guitarist. About six weeks after that story had been published, Green passed away “peacefully in his sleep” on July 25, 2020 at the age of 73, as reported by the BBC and many other media outlets. This post is a late recognition of a great artist I only had known from some of his excellent work with the early Fleetwood Mac.

It’s really unfortunate that oftentimes it takes a death or other tragic event to get somebody on your radar screen. When it came to Peter Green, I first and foremost viewed him as this great British guitarist who wrote the fantastic tune Black Magic Woman, which I initially thought was a Santana song, and Albatross, an instrumental with one of the most beautiful guitar tones I’ve ever heard. As I started to explore some of Green’s post-Fleetwood Mac work, perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that apart from his guitar chops he also had a pretty good voice.

This post doesn’t aim to be a traditional obituary. You can find plenty of such pieces elsewhere. Instead, I’d like to focus on Green’s music, especially beyond Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, Peter Allen Greenbaum who was born in London on October 29, 1946, started his music career as a bassist. According to the above BBC story, it was an encounter with none other than a young Eric Clapton that convinced Green to switch to guitar. “I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing him with the Bluesbreakers. He had a Les Paul, his fingers were marvellous. The guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.”

Not only did Green manage to retool fairly quickly, but before he knew it, he ended up replacing Clapton in The Bluesbreakers. Here’s a nice anecdote that’s included in the previously noted feature in Guitar World. When John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers assembled for the sessions to record their sophomore album A Hard Road in October 1966, producer Mike Vernon nervously asked, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall replied, “He’s not with us any more, but don’t worry, we’ve got someone better.” Apparently, somewhat in disbelief, Vernon said, “You’ve got someone better – than Eric Clapton?” Mayall responded, “He might not be better now, but in a couple of years, he’s going to be the best.” The Godfather of British Blues simply knew talent when he saw it!

Here’s The Supernatural from A Hard Road, a track Green wrote. Check out that mighty guitar tone! It reminds me a bit of Black Magic Woman. The instrumental helped establish Green’s trademark sound and earn him the nickname “The Green God.” In case you didn’t know what inspired the post’s headline, now you do!

By July 1967, Green had left The Bluesbreakers and formed his new band initally called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Featuring Jeremy Spencer. Apart from Green (vocals, guitar, harmonica), the lineup included Mick Fleetwood (drums), Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and John McVie (bass). Not only had all of them been previous members of The Bluesbreakers, but John Mayall turned out to be the band’s enabler by offering Green free recording time. Mayall strikes me as somebody who was more than happy to provide apprenticeships to talented up and coming musicians! Here’s Long Grey Mere, a tune Green wrote for Fleetwood Mac, the February 1968 debut by the band that by then was called Peter Greene’s Fleetwood Mac. Bob Brunning, who technically was the band’s first bassist before John McVie joined, played bass on the track.

In early 1970, Fleetwood Mac were on tour in Europe. At that time, Green had become a frequent user of LSD. In Munich, Germany, he ended up visiting a hippie commune and “disappearing” for three days. A New York Times obituary included a later quote from Green saying he “went on a trip, and never came back.” After a final performance on May 20 that year, he left Fleetwood Mac. The following month, Green started work on what became his first solo album, The End of the Game. Released in December of the same year, the record featured edited free-form jazz rock jam sessions, marking a radical departure from his music with the Mac. Here’s the title track.

Following his solo debut, Green’s output became unsteady. In 1971, he briefly reunited with Fleetwood Mac, filling in for Jeremy Spencer after his departure to help the band complete their U.S. tour under the pseudonym Peter Blue. Beasts of Burden is a single Green recorded with fellow British guitarist Nigel Watson, who many years later would become part of Peter Green Splinter Group. The tune later was added to an expanded version of the above album.

Eventually, Green’s mental health issues took a heavy toll. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ended up being in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy – yikes! To me, this frighteningly sounds like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 picture starring Jack Nicholson, one of his best performances I’ve ever watched. Luckily, Green reemerged professionally and in May 1979 released his sophomore solo album In the Skies. Here’s the great title track and opener, which Green co-wrote with his wife Jane Greene (nee Samuels) whom he had married in January 1978. Sadly, the marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce in 1979.

Starting with his next album Little Dreamer from April 1980, Green mostly relied on others to write songs for him, including his brother Mike Green (born Michael Greenbaum) for next few years. Here’s the groovy opener Loser Two Times. While the song was written by Mike Green, one cannot help but notice these words feel very autobiographic. I’m a loser two times/I’m a loser two times/I tried to change my ways but I was too blind/I lost my money, I lost my girl/And now I’ve almost lost my mind/Yes, I’m a loser two times…

Peter Green’s first reemergence from his health challenges ended with Kolors, his sixth solo album from 1983, which largely consisted of songs from previous recording sessions that had been unreleased. According to The New York Times, Green’s medications essentially incapacitated him. Eventually, he managed to wean himself from prescription tranquilizers in the ’90s. In 1997, he returned to music for the second time with Peter Green Splinter Group. Here’s Homework from their eponymous first album, a tune by Dave Clark and Al Perkins I had known and liked for many years by The J. Geils Band. The Splinter Group’s rendition features Green on lead vocals.

Time Traders, which appeared in October 2001, was the Splinter Group’s sixth album. Unlike their predecessors that had largely featured covers, especially of Robert Johnson, Time Traders entirely consisted of original tunes that had been written by members of the band. Here’s Underway, an instrumental by Green, which first had appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s third studio album Then Play On from September 1969. The track showcases more of that magic tone Green got out of his guitar.

February 2003 saw the release of the Splinter Group’s eighth and final album Reaching the Cold 100. Here’s Don’t Walk Away From Me, written by Roger Cotton, who played guitar, keyboards and organ in the band, featuring Green on guitar and vocals. Beautiful tune with a great sound – and yet another good example of Green’s vocal abilities!

The final track I’d like to highlight is Trouble in Mind, which Peter Green released together with Ian Stewart, Charlie Hart, Charlie Watts and Brian Knight in February 2009. Written by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones, the blues standard was first recorded by singer Thelma La Vizzo in 1924. It was also covered by Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and many other artists.

Peter Green was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 together with Fleetwood Mac, including Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Christine McVie. In June 1996, Green was voted the third greatest guitarist of all time in Mojo magazine. And in December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 58 in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. No matter how you rank Peter Green, there’s no doubt the “Green God” was a master of tone and I think an undervalued vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; BBC; The New York Times; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The J. Geils Band/The J. Geils Band

Ultimate party band’s studio debut went largely unnoticed

At first sight it’s somewhat puzzling. When The J. Geils Band released their eponymous studio debut in November 1970, they already had established themselves as a dynamic live act opening shows all around the country for top-notch artists like B.B. King, Johnny Winter and The Allman Brothers Band. Yet this dynamite album went largely unnoticed, barely making the Billboard 200 at no. 195, and not charting at all in other countries.

I was reminded how great this record is when Apple Music served it up to me as a listening suggestion. I also think this observation from their bio of the band is spot on: While their muscular sound and the hyper jive of frontman Peter Wolf packed arenas across America, it only rarely earned them hit singles. Seth Justman, the group’s main songwriter, could turn out catchy R&B-based rockers like “Give It To Me” and “Must Of Got Lost,” but these hits never led to stardom, primarily because the group had trouble capturing the energy of its live sound in the studio.

J. Geils Band 1970
The J. Geils Band (promotional photo from 1970)

The J. Geils Band started out as an acoustic blues trio in the mid-’60s, calling themselves Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels (clearly a ’60s name!) and consisting of J. Geils (guitar), Danny Klein (bass) and Richard Salwitz, known as “Magic Dick” (harmonica). In 1968, the band adopted an electric sound, hired Stephen Bladd (drums) and Peter Wolf (vocals), and became The J. Geils Blues Band. They completed their line-up when Seth Justman (keyboards) joined later that year. By the time they signed with Atlantic Records in 1970, the band had dropped “Blues” from their name and become The J. Geils Band.

Time for some music. Here’s the great opener Wait. One of the album’s five original tunes, it was co-written by Justman and Wolf.

Next up: Icebreaker (For The Big “M”), an excellent instrumental composed by Geils. Check out the cool guitar and harmonica harmony playing. This tune is cooking, even without Wolf’s vocals!

Hard Drivin’ Man is another terrific original track. It was co-written by Wolf and Geils.

I’d like to conclude this post with two covers by The J. Geils Band I’ve always liked. The first is called Homework, a tune co-written by Otis Rush, Al Perkins and Dave Clark. I believe the song was first recorded and released as a single in 1965 by Perkins and soul singer Betty Bibbs.

Last but not least, here’s First I Look At The Purse. Initially recorded by Motown act The Contours in 1965, the tune was co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers. It’s perhaps the example on the album, which best illustrates the above observation from the Apple Music bio. While it’s a great take, it feels a bit timid compared to the live version that can be found on the excellent Live Full House album from September 1972.

The J. Geils Band would go and record 10 additional studio albums and three live records, and release various compilations. Only one of their ’70s studio records, Bloodshot, charted in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 at no. 10. Ironically, shortly after the band finally hit commercial success with Freeze-Frame from October 1981, fueled by the singles Centerfold and the title track, The J. Geils Band started to fall apart.

Peter Wolf left in 1983. The band released one more album in October 1984, You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd, and called it quits the following year. The J. Geils Band has since reunited for various tours. In 2012, J. Geils who after the 1985 breakup had gotten into auto racing and restoration, sewed the other band members, charging they had planned a tour without him. He quit permanently thereafter and sadly passed away in April 2017 at the age of 71.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, YouTube