What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy New Year and welcome to my first post of 2022! Yes, as hard as it is to believe, apparently, some new music appeared yesterday (December 31). While I didn’t see anything that sufficiently excited me, the show must go on with other new releases that came out earlier in December. I think I got some good stuff here!

Corey Kent/There’s Always Next Year

Kicking off this first Best of What’s New installment of 2022 is some rock by Nashville, Tenn.-based country singer-songwriter Corey Kent. According to a bio on the website of his record label Combustion Masters, Music chose Corey Kent early in his life. At age 11, Corey was touring as the lead singer of a Western Swing band opening for legends like Roy Clark & The Oak Ridge Boys. By the time he could drive, he was playing weekly in his hometown of Bixby, OK. In December of 2010, Corey found himself on stage singing Milk Cow Blues with country music icon, Willie Nelson. By 17, he said goodbye to his family & moved out to Nashville, TN…Shortly after graduating with his business degree, Corey wrote his first #1 Hit (William Clark Green’s hit, “You Where It Hurts”). On December 28, Kent released what looks like his sophomore album ’21. Here’s There’s Always Next Year, co-written by fellow country artists David Garcia, Jameson Rodgers and Jonathan Singleton.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

John Mayall is 88 years old, but apparently, the Godfather of the British Blues ain’t slowing down. This is just amazing and makes me happy! Mayall is best known as the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band that featured some of the finest British guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. ‘Is this for real?’, you might ask. It is, but wait there’s more. On January 28, Mayall is scheduled to come out with a new album. According to his website, on The Sun is Shining Down, he teams up with a stellar cast to deliver a funky soulful affair punctuated by brass, violins, harmonica and electric ukulele. Special guests include, The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, fast rising roots rocker Marcus King, Americana icon Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Chicago blues guitar mainstay Melvin Taylor and Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. And, yes, apparently Mayall is planning to take this baby on the road starting in late February. Here’s the tasty Can’t Take No More, a soulful blues rocker written by Mayall and featuring Marcus King. The tune was released upfront on December 17. Man, this is so good I can’t take it no more to wait for the new album!

Best Coast/Leading

American rock duo Best Coast, comprised of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases: a self-titled 7″ single on Art F*g; a cassette tape release, Where the Boys Are, on the U.K. label Blackest Rainbow; a split 7″, Up All Night, on Atelier Ciseaux; an EP, Make You Mine, on Group Tightener; and a self-titled 7″ on Black Iris. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. In July 2010, the duo released Crazy for You, the first of five albums that have appeared to date. Leading, co-written by Cosentino and Bruno, is Best Coast’s new single that came out on December 14 – a quite catchy rocker!

Tinsley Ellis/Beat the Devil

Wrapping up this first Best of What’s New of the new year is more sweet blues rock, by Tinsley Ellis. From his website: Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He acquired his first guitar at age seven, soon after seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. He took to it instantly, developing and sharpening his skills as he grew up. Ellis discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night in 1972, he and a friend were listening to Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfield’s Super Session record when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked that, they should really go see B.B. King, who was in town that week. Tinsley and his friends went to the Saturday afternoon performance, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on his guitar, Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. And the rest is history and a recording career of 40 years to date. Beat the Devil, penned by Ellis and released on December 6, is a single from his upcoming album Devil May Care set to drop on January 21 – another one I’m looking forward to. I really like how this new year starts!

And, I almost forgot, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; Combustion Master website; John Mayall website; Apple Music; Tinsley Ellis website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 28

Welcome to the 75th installment of my irregularly recurring music history feature where I celebrate birthdays of notable artists and look back at events that happened on a certain date throughout the decades. Today, my picks revolve around December 28.

1968: The Miami Pop Festival kicked off north of Miami, Fla. The three-day event took place at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track in Hallandale. Not to be confused with another festival that had been held at the same place seven months earlier, the Miami Pop Festival was the first major rock festival on the U.S. East Coast, drawing approximately 100,000 people. Performing acts came from a wide variety of music and included Chuck Berry, José Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf, among others. The only footage I could find is this clip of Turn On Your Lovelight by Grateful Dead. Good tune, actually, and it’s only 12 and a half minutes long! 🙂

1970: John Lennon released Mother as a single in the U.S. The haunting tune became the lead single of Lennon’s debut solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that had appeared two weeks earlier on December 11. Songfacts notes Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing “Primal Scream” therapy, where he was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics: He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk-driving, off-duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk, and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, “Mother you had me, but I never had you.” His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and for work. “I wanted you, you didn’t need me” explains his feelings about his dad. Lennon’s primal screaming on this song expresses the pain of his childhood. It’s one of Lennon’s most personal and powerful songs.

1976: Guitarist Freddie King, who together with B.B. King and Albert King was known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” died at age 42 from complications of stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. King who hailed from Gilmer, Texas, picked up the guitar as a six-year-old, initially learning from his mother and uncle. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and eventually got a deal with Federal Records after Chess Records had repeatedly turned him down. In 1960, King recorded his first single Have You Ever Loved a Woman with that label. Written by Billy Myles, the tune also appeared on King’s 1961 debut album Freddy King Sings. Over his 14-year recording career, he released 13 studio records.

1978: Rolling Stone magazine voted Some Girls by The Rolling Stones as album of the year. The band’s 16th studio release became their sixth no. 1 album in a row on the U.S. Billboard 200 since 1971’s Sticky Fingers and is considered to be among their best records by many of their fans. It also holds the distinction of being the only Stones record to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. There was some controversy surrounding the cover showing the Stones with select female celebrities and lingerie ads. Following the threat of legal action from the likes of Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett and Liza Minnelli, the album was quickly reissued with a different cover that replaced all celebrities with black and punk-style garish colors with the phrase “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction”. Here’s a track off the record, When the Whip Comes Down, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as usual.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Current/Minnesota Public Radio; YouTube

John Hiatt Done by Others

A playlist of the singer-songwriter’s tunes covered by other artists

Lately, I’ve been getting more into John Hiatt’s music. Last week, when writing about his excellent ninth studio album Slow Turning, I noted many other artists have covered the singer-songwriter’s tunes over the decades. The man is a true goldmine! This triggered the idea for this post to look at great renditions of Hiatt songs, some of which ended up becoming hits, unlike his originals. For each pick, I’m going to feature both a cover and Hiatt’s original version. I’m also adding a playlist at the end with additional covers and originals.

B.B. King & Eric Clapton/Riding with the King

In 2000, B.B. King and Eric Clapton teamed up for a collaboration album. They cleverly named it Riding with the King, after the title track of Hiatt’s sixth studio release from 1983. Released in June 2000, King’s and Clapton’s record hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.

Bob Dylan/The Usual

Here’s a terrific Bob Dylan cover of The Usual. This is from a soundtrack of the 1987 American motion picture Hearts of Fire, in which Dylan also co-starred, alongside Fiona Flanagan and Rupert Everett. I love the soulful vibe of this version! Hiatt recorded the original for his seventh studio album Warming Up to the Ice Age that appeared in January 1985. George Thorogood and the Destroyers also did a nice cover of The Usual on their 10th studio album Rockin’ My Life Away released in March 1997. Since I couldn’t find Dylan’s rendition in Spotify, I included Thorogood’s cover in the below playlist instead.

Bonnie Raitt/Thing Called Love

I suppose one of the best-known John Hiatt renditions is Thing Called Love by Bonnie Raitt. She included the tune on her tenth studio album Nick of Time from March 1989, which after years of personal and professional struggles finally gave her commercial breakthrough and her first no. 1 album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The song’s official video featured a flirtatious Dennis Quaid. Bonnie did not seem to mind! I was actually surprised to see the song didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it reached no. 11 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Hiatt included that tune on Bring the Family, his eighth studio record that appeared in May 1987.

Delbert McClinton/Have a Little Faith in Me

Have a Little Faith in Me is one of the most beautiful John Hiatt songs I know. Like Thing Called Love, it appeared on Bring the Family. Delbert McClinton included a great cover on his studio album from April 1992, titled Never Been Rocked Enough. This is just neat!

Emmylou Harris/Icy Blue Heart

The last tune I’d like to highlight in this post is Icy Blue Heart, a powerful track off Hiatt’s above noted Slow Turning album from August 1988. Emmylou Harris recorded a beautiful cover for her 15th studio album Bluebird released in January 1989. It features Bonnie Raitt on background vocals – what an amazing pairing! Frankly, Harris’ angelic voice can make me well up. I also love how her vocals bend with Bonnie’s. This is just stunning!

The below playlist includes some additional Hiatt covers by Aaron Neville (It Feels Like Rain), Iggy Pop (Something Wild), Linda Ronstadt (When We Ran), Willie Nelson (The Most Unoriginal Sin) and Jimmy Buffett (The Tiki Bar is Open). Hope you enjoy it as much, as I did putting together this post and playlist. And, as always, feel free to comment, especially if I missed your favorite John Hiatt cover!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Slow Turning

Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.

While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.

John Hiatt - Slow Turning - Amazon.com Music

What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.

In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.

Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.

Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.

This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!

Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.

Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to my latest weekly foray into newly released music. This time, my picks include two artists I’ve listened to for more than 40 years and two who are completely new to me, though both are well established. There’s some blues, alternative rock, pop and soul, making for a good mix. All tracks are on albums that came out yesterday (November 19). Let’s get to it!

Mississippi MacDonald/It Can’t Hurt Me

When I spotted this review on Rock & Blues Muse earlier this week, I immediately had a feeling I would dig this contemporary British blues guitarist. From his website: Mississippi MacDonald is a 3 times British Blues Awards nominee, from London, England. He has been playing since he was 11 years old and has travelled extensively on the US blues trail, meeting, amongst others, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Otis Clay and BB King…Mississippi’s albums, “Dress For The Money[third studio album from 2016 – CMM] and “American Accent[2015 sophomore album – CMM] reached number 1 and 3 respectively in the UK IBBA Blues Charts. American Accent was one of the top 10 IBBA albums of 2016, and was the “Blues Is Back” Album of the Year, 2017. This brings me to MacDonald’s seventh and new album Do Right, Say Right. Here’s the official video for lead single It Can’t Hurt Me, which was first released on October 15 – man, this sounds mighty sweet!

Elbow/After the Eclipse

Elbow are a British alternative rock band formed in the Manchester area in 1997. According to their Apple Music profile, they began as a Sly Stone-influenced funk act called Soft, before deciding to change their name and take musical cues from The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, and U2. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses are two of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey’s favorite albums from childhood. Elbow has had three consecutive No. 1 UK albums: 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 2017’s Little Fictions, and 2019’s Giants of All Sizes. The band won Britain’s Mercury Prize for 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid, which has sold more than 1 million copies. Looks like Elbow have had significant success in the UK. Remarkably, they still have their original line-up: Guy Garvey (lead vocals, guitar), Craig Potter (keyboard, piano, backing vocals), Mark Potter (guitar, backing vocals) and Pete Turner (bass, backing vocals). Here’s After the Eclipse, a track from their just-released ninth studio album Flying Dream 1, credited to all four members. I find this very soothing.

Sting/Rushing Water

On September 1, ex-Police frontman Sting announced his new studio album The Bridge, which is now out: The Bridge was written in a year of global pandemic and finds Sting ruminating on personal loss, separation, disruption, lockdown, and extraordinary social and political turmoil…Representing various stages and styles from throughout his career and drawing inspiration from genres including rock n’ roll, jazz, classical music and folk, the eclectic album features Sting’s quintessential sound on pop-rock tracks such as the album’s opening rock salvo “Rushing Water” and new indie-pop sounding “If It’s Love,” to the smoldering electronic ballad “Loving You” and the romantic “For Her Love” which evokes Sting’s trademark “Fields of Gold” period. Here’s the aforementioned Rushing Water, first released on September 30 as the album’s second upfront single. “The song ‘Rushing Water’ is a fitting start to an album that seeks to bridge all of the petty differences that can separate us,” Sting noted in a separate announcement. The tune was co-written by him, Martin Kierszenbaum and Gavin Brown. It’s an upbeat pop tune with a guitar sound that in part appears to be sampled from Every Breath You Take.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss/Searching For My Love

After 14 years, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have come together for another album, Raise the Roof. It marks the second collaboration between the British ex-Led Zeppelin lead vocalist and the American bluegrass and country singer following Raising Sand from October 2007. Like the predecessor, Raise the Roof was produced by T Bone Burnett. Fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured one of the upfront tunes, Can’t Let Go, in a recent new music revue. Here’s another track: Searching For My Love. Like all except one song, it’s a cover, in this case of a tune written by Robert Moore and first released by soul group Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces in 1966. Plant and Krauss sound great together on this nice soul tune.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Mississippi MacDonald website; Apple Music; Sting website; YouTube

The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part I

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. I was reminded of this on Saturday when thanks to fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride I listened to Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’).

This cool live album by Tedeschi Trucks Band, released back in July, celebrates Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the sole 1970 studio album by Derek and the Dominos. And just like blues musicians often feed off one another, I let this inspire me and decided to come up with a post of great live blues and blues rock performances. I’m going to do this in two parts. Hope you dig this as much as I do!

B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone

Let’s kick off part I with the king of electric guitar blues, the amazing B.B. King. He demonstrated that it’s not about speed and how many notes you play, it’s what you play. And when it comes to this man, he made every note count he played on his beloved “Lucille”. Check out this cool rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, captured in Chicago at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell and first recorded by Hawkins in 1951, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1969 and I would argue his signature song. King is joined by many of the musicians he influenced, including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan, among others. Check it out, this is just amazing!

John Lee Hooker/Boogie Chillen’

Recently, I watched the great documentary Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away, in which Guy identified John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’ as the first single he bought, and the song that got him hooked to the guitar and the blues! I’m thrilled I found this clip of Hooker performing the tune with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones in 1989 in Atlantic City, N.J. That’s what I call a cool backing band! Hooker wrote and first recorded the song in 1948. Clapton and the Stones, who are huge fans of American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker and have done a lot to promote their music, especially in the U.S., clearly cherished the moment.

Muddy Waters/Rollin’ Stone

Speaking of Muddy Waters, here’s a great live performance of Rollin’ Stone, the very song that inspired the name of the “world’s greatest rock & roll band.” An interpretation of delta blues tune Catfish Blues, Waters recorded Rollin’ Stone in 1950. The clip shows his performance of the song at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. It’s the oldest footage features in this two-part post.

Cream/Crossroads

Cream possibly are my all-time favorite blues rock band. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker perfectionated the art of the power trio. Here’s a great clip of Crossroads performed by the band in March 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium & Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Written by Robert Johnson who originally recorded it as Cross Road Blues in 1936, Crossroads (arranged by Clapton) appeared on Cream’s 1968 album Wheels of Fire. The live version on the record seems to be the same than the one that is captured in this clip.

Dani Wilde/Mississippi Kisses

Buddy Guy, who together with Taj Mahal is one of the last men standing of what I would call the old blues guard, often speaks about the need for young artists to come along to keep the blues alive when he will be gone. I’m actually pretty optimistic about this. Some great examples coming to mind include 22-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram; 24-year-old Jontavious Willis who has been called “wunderkind” by none other than Mahal; or 44-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But guess what? There are also some dynamite female blues and blues rock artists out there like 36-year-old British singer-songwriter Dani Wilde. Ana Popović, Shemekia Copeland and Eliana Cargnelutti are among some of the others who come to mind. Here’s a 2015 performance by Wilde of Mississippi Kisses, a tune she wrote for her 2012 album Juice Me Up.

J. Geils Band/First I Look at the Purse

A post about great live renditions of blues rock tunes would be amiss without the ultimate party group, the J. Geils Band, don’t you agree? I think it’s also a perfect way to wrap up part I. Here’s a cool clip taken from what looks like a 1979 appearance of the band on the German music TV program Rockpalast. One of my all-time favorites by the J. Geils Band is their high energy rendition of First I Look at the Purse. It’s the main part of this encore medley, which starts at around 4 minutes into the clip. Co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, the song was first released by Motown R&B group The Contours in 1965. J Geils Band recorded their cover of the tune for their eponymous debut album from November 1970, but it’s really their live rendition that brings out the song’s true magic. When watching this, don’t you feel like dropping anything you’re doing right now and going to a fuckin’ rock & roll show? What a killer performance by a killer live band!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday music mini-excursion. I’m excited this is the first Sunday Six to feature music from my native country Germany, though admittedly you wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t told you. The trip is going to involve some contemporary jazz, blues rock, rock, blues, psychedelic garage rock and R&B. It’ll be touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the first two decades of the current century. I think it’s another pretty eclectic set of tunes that will hopefully have something for every reader. Hop on board!

Klaus Graf Quartett/Homezone

The first stop on this little journey in Germany and some great contemporary jazz by Klaus Graf Quartett. And, nope, that’s not a typo, “Quartett” is the German word for quartet. I have to give credit to my brother-in-law, who knows much more about jazz than I do and who recently brought the German alto saxophone player Klaus Graf to my attention. According to his website, Graf started playing the clarinet at the age of 10 but soon thereafter switched to the alto saxophone. He found his true love for jazz as a 15-year-old after he had joined a youth music school big band. Following his studies of the saxophone at Cologne University of Music, Graf mainly played as a sideman in various German and international jazz bands. In 2002, he founded his own quartet and released his debut album Changes in Life. In addition to him, the present line-up includes Olaf Polziehn (piano), Axel Kühn (upright bass) and Meinhard Obi Jenne (drums). Klaus Graf Quartett is one of various music projects of Graf who also teaches jazz saxophone at Nuremberg University of Music. Here’s Homezone, a composition by Graf from a 2007 album album titled Moving On. According to the credits listed on Discogs, the recording features all of the quartet’s current members, except for the bassist who on that album was Uli Glaszmann.

The Rolling Stones/Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Next we go back to May 1968 when The Rolling Stones first released their non-album single Jumpin’ Jack Flash in the UK, backed by Child of the Moon. The single also appeared in the U.S. the following month. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards only as usual, even though Bill Wyman contributed, this tune has one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. I recall reading several years ago that Richards during an interview said he still gets excited when he plays that riff – who can blame him! Speaking of Richards, according to Songfacts, he explained the tune’s title to Rolling Stone in 2010 as follows: “The lyrics came from a gray dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’ I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.” Now you know how to write an iconic rock song! After the Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was considered to be a return to their blues roots. It became a major hit, topping the mainstream charts in the UK and Germany, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S., and reaching no. 2 in France, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, as well as no. 5 in Canada. Man, this just rocks!

Steve Miller Band/Rock’n Me

On October 5, Steve Miller turned 78. Amazingly, the man still fronts the Steve Miller Band, the group he founded in 1966 as the Steve Miller Blues Band. And had it not been because of this dreadful pandemic, he would probably be out on the road. As he told Billboard earlier this year, the group had to cancel a planned 55-city tour with Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives that was supposed to kick off in June 2020. On the upside, Miller put the downtime to good use and dug into his archives. Out came a concert film, Breaking Ground concert, and a companion album, Steve Miller Band Live! Breaking Ground: August 3, 1977, which were released on May 14 this year. You can watch a trailer of the film here. And here’s Rock’n Me from the companion album. Originally, the tune was recorded for the Steve Miller Band’s ninth studio album Fly Like an Eagle released in May 1976. It also appeared separately as a single in August 1976 and became the group’s second no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the charts in Canada as well. This is neat rock & roll!

Buddy Guy/Stay Around a Little Longer (feat. B.B. King)

Next, let’s slow it down for some great blues by two of the best electric blues guitarists: Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Guy at age 85 thankfully is still with us and still playing, while King sadly passed away in May 2015 at the age of 89. This beautiful recording is from Guy’s 15th studio album Living Proof that came out in October 2010. The tune was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge and country and blues singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, who both have become frequent collaborators ever since. It’s just great to hear B.B. King sing on this tune, in addition to playing guitar. His voice sounds so good. He was 85 years at the time, Guy’s current age. I can’t deny I find this tune and clip quite emotional. That’s what great music does – it touches you!

The Fuzztones/Cinderella

After some emotional blues, it’s time to step on the gas again with a terrific tune by American garage rockers The Fuzztones. According to their profile on Apple Music, the New York City-based psychedelic/garage rock combo played a large role in the mostly underground ’60s revival during the 1980s. Led by the enigmatic Rudi Protrudi, the Fuzztones were one of the major “successes” (particularly in Europe) of the revival that flourished in 1984 and that also boasted the Chesterfield Kings, the Cynics, the Miracle Workers, and Plasticland. Their debut studio LP, Lysergic Emanations, was released in 1985. Thanks to praise from Ian Astbury of the Cult, the newly refitted Los Angeles-based Fuzztones were one of the few to get a major-label deal, and a second album, In Heat, was released by Beggars Banquet in 1989. Due to the album’s lackluster sales performance, the Fuzztones went back to the indies. That might have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Thanks to a hugely successful tour of Europe in 1985, the group built a loyal and dedicated fan base there, and one version or another of the Fuzztones has toured there regularly ever since. Here’s Cinderella from the band’s above noted 1985 debut album, which mostly featured covers, including this tune that originally was recorded by The Sonics in 1965. With that cool organ, the rendition reminds me a bit of The Animals. Founding member Rudi Protrudi (vocals, guitar, harmonica) remains with the band’s current line-up.

Ray Charles/Hit the Road Jack

Let’s conclude this mini-excursion with a tune that randomly popped up in my head the other day. When it did, I immediately thought it would be a terrific song to feature: Hit the Road Jack by the great Ray Charles. They didn’t call the singer-songwriter and pianist “The Genius” for nothing. Frank Sinatra reportedly said Charles was the “only true genius in show business.” Charles identified Nat King Cole as a primary influence. Others included Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. Hit the Road Jack, written by R&B artist Percy Mayfield and first recorded as an a cappella demo in 1960, was Charles’ second of three no. 1 mainstream hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The other two were Georgia on My Mind and I Can’t Stop Loving You. Any of them would have been great picks as would have many other tunes by Charles, but I felt like finishing with a more up-tempo song like Hit the Road Jack.

Sources: Wikipedia; Klaus Graf website; Discogs; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Perfectly Good Guitar

John Hiatt is a great artist I’ve been aware of for many years. I’m glad his excellent recent collaboration album with Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings, brought the acclaimed singer-songwriter back on my radar screen. It finally made me start exploring some of Hiatt’s other albums in their entirety, including Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio release that appeared in September 1993. I’m sure Hiatt aficionados are well aware of it; if you’re not and dig heartland and roots-oriented rock, you’re in for a treat.

Hiatt who was born in Indianapolis had a difficult childhood. After the death of his older brother and his father, he used watching IndyCar races and listening to music by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and blues artists as escape mechanisms. At the age of 11, Hiatt learned to play guitar and started his music career as a teenager in Indianapolis, playing local venues with the a variety of bands.

When he was 18, Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tenn. where he landed a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company. He also continued local performances, both solo and with a band called White Duck. Hiatt got his break in June 1974 when Three Dog Night turned his song Sure As I’m Sitting Here into a top 40 hit. His original version he had released as a single in February that year had gone nowhere.

In July 1973, Hiatt recorded his debut album Hangin Around The Observatory, which came out the following year. While it received favorable reviews, the album was a commercial failure. When the same thing happened with his sophomore release Overcoats, his label Epic Records was quick to drop him. Meanwhile, other artists kept covering Hiatt’s songs. Unfortunately, the story pretty much kept repeating itself until Bring the Family from May 1987, finally giving Hiatt his first album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 107.

Bring the Family featured the gems Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Willy DeVille, and the list goes on and on.

To date, Hiatt has released 28 albums, including two live records and two compilations. In 1991, he also formed the short-lived group Little Village together with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Previously, Hiatt had worked with each of the three artists on Bring the Family. After issuing a self-titled album in February 1992 and a short supporting tour the group disbanded.

Let’s get to some music from Perfectly Good Guitar. Here’s the great opener Something Wild. Like all other tracks except one, the tune was solely written by Hiatt. I dig the nice driving drum part by Brian McLeod. With the recent death of Charlie Watts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Satisfaction came to mind right away!

The title track perfectly captures my sentiments when I see footage of Pete Townshend trashing his guitar at the end of a Who gig; or Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire for that matter. Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars/ Smashing a perfectly good guitar/I don’t know who they think they are/Smashing a perfectly good guitar…Yes, of course, it was all for show and I believe Townshend at least glued some of his smashed guitars back together. And while I certainly don’t support jail sentences for guitar-smashing, destroying instruments still rubs me the wrong way! Instead, make some kid happy and give it to them! Who knows, you might even change their trajectory!

Another nice track is Buffalo River Home. I really like the guitar work on that tune.

Another track that got my attention, primarily because of the drum part, is Blue Telescope. McLeod’s drum work reminds me a bit of Steve Gadd’s action on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I have no idea whether Gadd’s unique drum part served as an inspiration here. Regardless, it sure as heck sounds cool to me!

The last track I’d like to call out is Old Habits, which has a great bluesy vibe. It’s the one song on the album Hiatt co-wrote with somebody else: Female singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. Similar to Hiatt, it appears her songs have been covered by many other artists, such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Irma Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d to acknowledge the other fine musicians on this great album. In addition to Hiatt (guitar, vocals, piano, organ) and MacLeod (drums, percussion), they include Michael Ward (guitar), Ravi Oli (electric sitar; Ravi Oli is a pseudonym of David Immerglück), Dennis Locorriere (harmony vocals) and John Pierce (bass guitar).

Perfectly Good Guitar was Hiatt’s last studio album with A&M Records. Once again, another great record failed to meet the commercial expectations of the label, though ironically, it became Hiatt’s most successful record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date, peaking at no. 47 on the Billboard 200. Hiatt subsequently signed with Capitol Records, which released his next two studio albums, including the Grammy-nominated Walk On from October 1995.

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