The Year that was 2020 – Part 2 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

This is second and last installment of my two-part year in review. In case you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Celebrating new music one song at a time

With more than 150 songs highlighted since the launch of the Best of What’s New feature, I find it impossible to call out the best tunes. As I wrote in the inaugural March 21 post, While I don’t see myself starting to write about electronic dance music or Neue Deutsche Haerte a la Rammstein, I’m hoping to keep these posts a bit eclectic. I realize the characterization “best” is pretty subjective. If a song speaks to me, it’s fair game. I should perhaps have added that I don’t need to like other tunes by an artist to include them. It’s literally about the specific song.

Best of What’s New installments have featured tunes ranging from prominent artists like Sheryl Crow, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty to lesser known acts like rock bands Brother Man and Mondo Silicone and Austin, Texas-based band leader Joe Sparacino, aka. Dr. Joe. Frequently, these posts triggered new album reviews, e.g., LeRoux (One of Those Days), Mick Hayes (My Claim to Fame) and Niedeckens BAP (Alles Fliesst). Following are four songs I discovered in the context of Best of What’s New.

Dr. Joe: Believer

From Dr. Joe’s websiteBased in Austin TX but raised on a farm outside Salina, Kansas, band leader Joe Sparacino spent his early childhood learning piano from a southern gospel choir matron and listening to his family’s old vinyl collection of Ray Charles, Leon Russell and James Booker. Released on April 10, Believer was Dr. Joe’s then-latest single and it’s cooking!

The Reverberations: Under Your Spell

The Reverberations are a five-piece band from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” I’d call it psychedelic garage rock. Under Your Spell, the B-side to their single Palm Reader released May 28, features some cool Byrds-ey guitars and nice keyboard work. Did I mention it’s also got a quite catchy melody? And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art – super cool all around! For more on this great band, you can read my review of their February 2019 album Changes, their most recent full-fledged studio release.

Kat Riggins: No Sale

Kat Riggins is a blues artist hailing from Miami. According to her website, She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. The nice blues rocker No Sale, which has a bit of a ZZ Top vibe, is from Riggins’ fourth album Cry Out released on August 14. That woman’s got it!

Greta Van Fleet: Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album The Battle at Garden’s Gate, which is scheduled for April 16, 2021. I think this kickass rocker provides more evidence the young band has evolved their style, moving away from their initial Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. Looking forward to the album!

Live music in the year of the pandemic…

Except for two tribute band concerts in January, pretty measly for the ‘King of the Tribute Band,’ I didn’t go to any live gigs this year. Shows for which I had tickets, including The Temptations and The Four Tops, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and Steely Dan with special guest Steve Winwood, were rescheduled until April, June and July 2021, respectively. Perhaps with the exception of the last concert, I hope all other shows will be rescheduled a second time and moved back to the second half of the year. For somebody who loves live music and over the past 4-5 years has gotten into the habit of seeing an average 20-30 shows per year (counting lower cost tribute band and free summer type concerts), seizing live concerts it’s a bitter but necessary pill to swallow until this lethal pandemic is behind us.

I ended up watching two live concerts via Internet stream: Southern Avenue at Instrumenthead Live Studio in Nashville, Tenn. last week, and Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs at the Troubador in Los Angeles in late November. It was fun and also a nice opportunity to support music via voluntary donations in lieu of buying official tickets, but no virtual experience can replace the real deal.

Some final musings…

While my primary motivation for the blog has always been the joy I get from writing about a topic I love, i.e., music, it’s nice to see continued growth in visitor traffic, followers and feedback. Just like in 2019, the most popular post remained my January 2018 piece about Bad Company’s live CD/DVD collection from their May 15, 2016 show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; personally, I find the post average at best. By comparison, my July 12, 2020 post about the mellotron, which I’m proud of, received less than one percent of traffic than the Bad Company post. Perhaps, it was too geeky! 🙂 It’s funny how these things sometimes go.

I’d like to thank all visitors of the blog. If you’re here for the first time, you’re welcome back anytime. If you’re a regular, I hope you keep coming back. I also enjoy receiving comments, including different opinions. All I ever ask is to keep things civil.

Last but not least, I’d like to leave you with a great song by Southern Avenue they also played during the above noted virtual concert. I feel it’s a great message, especially during these crazy times: Don’t Give Up, from their eponymous debut album released in February 2017. Since I couldn’t capture footage from the above gig, here’s an alternative I can offer: a clip I recorded during a show at The Wonder Bar, a small venue in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019.

Sources: Christian’s Music Music Musings; YouTube

The Venues: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

In January 2018, I did a post about Bad Company’s album Live at Red Rocks. It keeps getting views, with the most recent occurring just a few days ago. This gave me the idea to write about what must be one of the most magnificent outdoor performance venues. Plus, my last post in the venues category dates back to August 2019 – another good reason to look at one of the places where the ultimate thrill in music takes place: The live experience!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre has a long history, something I had not been aware of and frankly had not thought about. How long? It somewhat depends where you start. Construction of the facility near Morison, Col., 10 miles west of Denver, began in 1936, though the first concerts there were produced by John Brisben Walker as early as 1906. Brisben, a magazine publisher and automobile entrepreneur, had the vision to leverage the site’s natural acoustics for entertainment purposes.

The next important milestone in the venue’s history occurred in 1927, when manager of Denver parks John Cranmer convinced the city to acquire the area of Red Rocks from Brisben. The price? $54,133, which is the equivalent of approximately $797,920 today – quite a bargain, if you ask me! Denver architect Burnham Hoyt was brought in to design the facility. After a five-year construction, Red Rocks Amphitheatre opened to the public in 1941.

What’s truly amazing to me is the age of the rock formations. It took the natural amphitheater more than 200 million years to form. There are traces dating back to the Jurassic period 160 million years ago, including dinosaur tracks and fossil fragments. In one of the less glorious aspects in Red Rocks’ history, the area around it was inhabited for hundreds of years by the native American Ute tribe, until they were displaced in the 19th century, according to this collection of facts about the venue, published by the Denver Post in June 2016.

Now let’s get to the fun part: Music performances at Red Rocks. And as you might imagine, there have been many. The challenge, however, is to find live footage from there, capturing artists I truly dig, especially old gigs from the ’60s and ’70s, such as Jimi Hendrix in September 1968 or Jethro Tull in June 1971. The latter unfortunately led to a confrontation between non-paying fans who had arrived to the sold-out show without tickets and the police. It resulted in a five-year ban of rock concerts at the venue.

The first show I’d like to highlight dates back to August 26, 1964, when The Beatles played Red Rocks as part of their U.S. tour that year. While according to The Beatles Bible, only 7,000 of the 9,000 tickets were sold, making it the sole show of the tour that wasn’t sold out, the Fab Four still set a box office record for the facility, marking the earliest notable rock & roll performance there. Here’s some historical footage I found, which includes concert snippets. It’s impossible to verify whether were actually captured at Red Rocks. In any case, it’s a nice illustration of the insanity of Beatlemania.

For the next gig, I’m jumping ahead 19 years. On June 5, 1983, U2 recorded their concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, which also yielded their live album Under a Blood Red Sky released in November of the same year. The following clip captures the first 15 minutes of the film directed by Gavin Taylor. U2 almost looked like high school pals, but they sure as heck didn’t sound like a high school band. The energy they brought is just infectious. Appropriately, the boys from Dublin kicked it off with Out of Control, a tune from their October 1980 album Boy. It was a rain-soaked evening! This was followed by two other tracks from Boys: Twilight and An Cat Dubh.

While I couldn’t find a clip of the above noted Jethro Tull gig from 1971, here some footage from a show they played at Red Rocks on August 12, 2008: Aqualung, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from March 1971. It was the only song on that album that wasn’t solely written by Ian Anderson. His first wife, English photographer, actress, playwright and life coach Jennie Anderson (born Franks), is listed as a co-writer.

The last clip I’d like to include captures one of my all-time favorite rock artists John Fogerty who played Red Rocks last year as part of his My 50 Year Trip tour, which is still ongoing though currently on hold because of you know what! Here’s Fortunate Son, a tune a wrote for Willy and the Poor Boys, the fourth studio album by Creedence Clearwater Revival released in November 1969. I can tell you one thing: I consider myself as fortunate to have seen the man in May 2018. He continues to kick ass!

Obviously, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is currently closed, and their website lists the many shows from April through October that have been cancelled or postponed/ rescheduled due to COVID-19. While this sucks for live music lovers like myself and creates a lot of pain for artists, the venue and all the connected vendors, it’s the right thing to do. Catching the bloody virus spreads many hospitalizations and lots of death, as this country has painfully witnessed over the past few months.

I’d like to wrap up this post on a more cheerful note with some additional Red Rocks facts noted in the above Denver Post article, which was updated in November 2018.

Red Rocks has seen nearly 2,700 shows through the end of 2016.

While the above Beatles gig may have marked “the earliest notable rock performance,” it was Ricky Nelson who played the venue’s first ever rock show in 1959.

The band that has performed at Red Rocks the most is Widespread Panic.

Huey Lewis and the News are the band with the record for most consecutive shows in a row, with four gigs performed from August 9-12, 1985.

Electrical transformers were moved outside the venue, after Neil Young noticed they were causing feedback on his tube amps.

While Red Rocks has been successful in attracting big names, one of the biggest has yet to book the venue despite constant rumors they are going to do so: The Rolling Stones.

Sources: Wikipedia; Denver Post; The Beatles Bible; Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre website; YouTube

‘Stars Align’ Is Bold Tour Title, But Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers And Jeff Beck Look Like They Can Live Up To It

One could be forgiven to a bit cynical about the concept: Take three artists who had their prime years in the ’70s, throw ’em together and boldly call it the Stars Align Tour. Admittedly, I couldn’t entirely escape this notion when I saw that Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers and Jeff Beck announced their tour, which kicked off on July 18 in West Valley City, Utah. Then I read some reviews and watched some clips on YouTube – well, let’s just say I wasn’t turned off by what I saw and just got a ticket for August 12 at my go-to concert venue PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., and for very reasonable money I should add.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised in the first place. After all, the success or failure of the three-in-one concept crucially depends on the featured artists. At 74, Beck seems to continue to defy age, not only with his looks but much more importantly with his guitar-playing. Okay, you might say, compared to 82-year-old Buddy Guy, Beck’s still an adolescent. But let’s not kid ourselves, rock & roll is a brutal business. On top, I can’t imagine Beck lived a particularly healthy life style. Speaking of Guy and Beck, I saw these two guitar dynamos in a double-header in July 2016 at the above venue, and it was a terrific show, so my expectations for the upcoming gig are high – now you better bring it, Beck! 🙂

Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck & Ann Wilson

As for Rodgers, I had actually hoped he and Bad Company would be part of the June 22 Lynyrd Skynyrd farewell show I caught at – yes, you guessed it correctly – PNC. Given how many freaking shows I’ve seen there, perhaps I should apply for an honorary membership! 🙂 Leading up to the Skynyrd gig, I had read somewhere that Bad Company would be among the special guests that night. So I was full of anticipation and quite disappointed when it turned out they weren’t part of the lineup. I suppose that was another good reason to get a ticket for the Stars Align Tour. Looking at setlists from recent gigs, Rodgers is playing a nice mix of Bad Company and Free stuff. And his rock pipes still seem to be working nicely!

And then there’s Wilson. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a Heart expert, based on their music I know, I’m well aware of Wilson’s vocal capabilities. Barracuda is a nice showcase of what she can do. As an aside, Ann’s older sister Nancy Wilson is a kick-ass guitarist, but she’s not part of the tour. Interestingly, as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock and other media outlets, Ann’s set only includes one Heart tune, the aforementioned Barracuda. The remainder are all covers, and there’s some great stuff there, such as The Who’s The Real Me, The Black Crows’ She Talks To Angels and the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane.

Okay, time for a few clips. Here’s Wilson’s rendition of Life In The Fast Lane. She took some creative liberties with the tune, which was co-written by Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley and appeared on the Eagles’ Hotel California album from December 1976. It’s quite different from the original, but I think it’s a cool take.

As noted above, Rodgers’ set nicely draws from Bad Company and Free. Here’s the latter band’s signature tune All Right Now. Penned by Rodgers with Free bassist Andy Fraser, the song is from their third studio album Fire And Water, released in June 1970. It also appeared separately as a single. It’s one of these timeless straight rockers with a cool guitar riff that still sound great to this day!

Last but not least, here’s a cool clip of Beck performing one of the few originals from his set, Brush With The Blues, which he co-wrote with Tony Hymas. The tune appeared on his seventh studio album Who Else! from March 1999.

Wilson, Rodgers and Beck are playing Boston tonight. Next they are taking the Stars Align Tour to Camden, N.J. (Aug 4), Cincinnati (Aug 8) and Indianapolis (Aug 10). The tour will wrap up in Tampa, Fla. on Aug 26.

Sources: Wikipedia, “Stars Align Tour” announcement; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bad Company/Bad Company

Earlier this week, I got an email from Live Nation Concerts. Thinking it was just advertising about upcoming shows, I was about to delete it, when I decided to take a peek. The listings included a June 22 Lynyrd Skynyrd show at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., which is part of their farewell tour and for which I got a ticket a couple of months ago. It also revealed that Bad Company is slated to be among the special guests for that date. Like Skynyrd, I dig and haven’t seen the English rockers yet, so that’s pretty exciting!

The above clip is from Live At Red Rocks, a 2016 CD/DVD capturing a May 2016 show at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre close to Denver, one of the dates during the band’s U.S. tour that year. Co-written by lead vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, Bad Company is the title track of the band’s eponymous debut album, which was released in June 1974. It also appeared separately as the record’s third single the same year.

In addition to Rodgers and Kirke, Bad Company’s current line-up includes Howard Leese (guitar) and Todd Ronning (bass). While co-founding member and guitarist and keyboarder Mick Ralphs is also still listed as a member on the band’s Facebook page, he suffered a stroke in 2016 and hasn’t performed since.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bad Company Facebook Page, YouTube