On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 5

It’s been four and a half months since the last installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History, a feature that has appeared irregularly since the very early days of the blog. What tends to happen is I remember the feature, do a few installments based on dates I haven’t covered yet, and then it kind of drops off the radar screen again.

Whenever I come back to it, usually, I find it intriguing what turns up by looking at a specific date throughout music history. Typically, my time period of reference for these posts are the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Without further ado, following are some of the events that happened on July 5.

1954: Elvis Presley recorded his first single That’s All Right at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. The song was written by blues singer Arthur Crudup who also first recorded it in 1946. Some of the lyrics were traditional blues verses Crudup took from Blind Lemon Jefferson, recorded in 1926. Presley’s cover of That’s All Right came together spontaneously when during a break in the studio Elvis started to play an uptempo version of Crudup’s song on guitar. Bill Black joined in on string bass and they were soon joined by Scotty Moore on lead guitar. When producer Sam Phillips heard them play, wisely, he asked them to start over, so he could record. That’s All Right appeared on July 19, 1954, with Blue Moon of Kentucky as the B-side. While the tune gained local popularity and reached no. 4 on the Memphis charts, it missed the national charts.

1966: Chas Chandler, who at the time was the bassist for The Animals, saw Jimi Hendrix for the first time at Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was awestruck by the 23-year-old guitarist’s performance. Hendrix was playing with a band and they called themselves Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. One of the songs Hendrix performed that day was Hey Joe. Coincidentally, When Chandler had heard a version of the tune by folk singer Tim Rose a few days earlier and immediately was determined to find an artist to record it after his return to England. Shortly after the Café Wha? gig, Chandler became Hendrix’s manager and producer and took the guitarist to London. Chandler brought Hendrix together with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. They became the Jimi Hendrix Experience, recorded Hey Joe and released the tune as their first single in December of the same year. And the rest is history.

1969: The Who released I’m Free, the second single from Tommy, their fourth studio album. Like most of the rock opera album, the tune was written by Pete Townshend. Backed by We’re Not Gonna Take It, the single didn’t chart in the UK. In the U.S., it reached no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did best in Germany and the Netherlands where it climbed to no. 18 and no. 20, respectively. The relatively moderate performance is remarkable for a tune that is one of the best-known tracks from the album. Townshend has said the song was in part inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man.

1974: Linda Ronstadt recorded You’re No Good at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, working with renowned producer Peter Asher. Written by Clint Ballard Jr., You’re No Good was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Ronstadt’s rendition became her breakthrough hit and the most successful version, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 7 on the Canadian mainstream chart. Elsewhere it climbed to no. 15, no. 17 and no. 24 in Australia, The Netherlands and New Zealand, respectively. You’re No Good actually also turned out to be, well, pretty good for Heart Like a Wheel, helping Ronstadt’s fifth solo record to become her first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200.

1981: A performance of The Cure at the annual Rock Werchter in Belgium was cut short when the English gothic rock and new wave band was told they had to wrap up so Robert Palmer could begin his set. “This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ’cause everybody wants to see Robert Palmer,” Cure vocalist Robert Smith told the crowd before the band defiantly launched into an extended 9-minute version of A Forest. While they were wrapping up, bassist Simon Gallup grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck Rock and Roll!” Apparently, the festival organizers forgave The Cure who returned several times in subsequent years. By contrast, Robert Palmer’s 1981 performance at Rock Werchter remained his only appearance at the festival.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, July 3 and a long holiday weekend for folks in the U.S. Perfect timing to embark on another mini-excursion to celebrate music from different decades, six tunes at a time. If you don’t have anything better to do, hop on; if you’re busy, hop on anyway – most things go better with great music! 🙂

Lettuce/Insta-Classic

Usually, I start these trips with a jazz instrumental from the past. This time, let’s get underway with music from the presence by Lettuce, a neat American jazz and funk band I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, this group came together in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, they reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, Lettuce released their debut album Outta There. They have been pretty productive since then with seven additional albums. Insta-Classic is a cool-sounding track from their latest release Unify, which appeared on June 3.

Keith Richards/Take It So Hard

I trust guitarist Keith Richards doesn’t need an introduction. Obviously, Keef is best known as co-founder of The Rolling Stones and for his longtime writing partnership with Mick Jagger. But, of course, no good rock & roll story is without big egos and drama, and the Glimmer Twins are no exception. By the time Richards’ solo debut Talk Is Cheap came out, his relationship with Jagger was, well, on the rocks. The Stones were in their third decade. While Jagger wanted to stay hip and follow music trends, Richards wanted to preserve the band’s roots. After Jagger had released two solo albums in relatively short order (She’s the Boss, 1985; and Primitive Cool; 1987) and appeared to be more interested in continuing his solo career, Keef decided to strike out by himself as well. The result was the above-mentioned Talk Is Cheap, his first of three solo efforts to date. Let’s check out Take It So Hard, which Keef wrote with co-producer Steve Jordan who also provided bass and backing vocals – good traditional Stonesy tune I frankly take any day over Undercover of the Night.

Elvis Presley/Blue Suede Shoes

While I haven’t watched the new Elvis biopic, I can’t deny the movie is the reason why Elvis Presley is on my mind again these days. I’ve mentioned before I adored Elvis when I was a young kid. It all goes back to the start of my music journey. Soon after I got my first turntable (must have been around the age of 10 – frankly, I don’t remember), I received a 40 greatest hits sampler as a Christmas present. The 2-LP set had pink discs, which I thought was pretty cool. While I’ve since matured (at least that’s what I want to believe) and no longer idolize Elvis or anybody else for that matter, I still get a kick out of the King of Rock and Roll. In particular, I keep going back to his ’50s classic rock & roll tunes he recorded and performed with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. One of my favorites remains their rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, which also features D.J. Fontana on drums. The classic was written and first released by Carl Perkins in January 1956. Elvis’ version, which appeared in September of the same year, surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – almost matching Perkins who scored his only no. 1 with Blue Suede Shoes on the same chart. Let’s go, cats!

Dr. Feelgood/She Does It Right

Let’s slightly slow it down but keep rockin’ and rollin’ with a killer tune by Dr. Feelgood. I guess the first time I heard of the English pub and blues rockers was in the late ’70s when they scored their biggest hit with Milk and Alcohol, a tune I loved from the get-go. Dr. Feelgood were formed on Canvey Island, England in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals), who soon added John Martin (drums). That line-up remained in place until 1977 and recorded the group’s dynamite debut album Down by the Jetty (January 1975), as well as two additional records. Dr. Feelgood are still around, though their current line-up hasn’t included any founding members since 1994. She Does It Right, penned by Johnson, is a tune off Down by the Jetty. Man, I love their raw sound!

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

Alrighty, after a series of rockers the time has come to really take it down. Gregg Allman is another artist I trust doesn’t need an introduction. For the longest time, the only tune I had known by The Allman Brothers Band had been Ramblin’ Man. Finally, eight or nine years ago, I decided to explore what has since become one of my favorite groups – just in time to see them once in New Jersey in the summer of 2014, a few months prior to their final curtain at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Soon my exploration of the Brothers also led to Gregg Allman’s solo work. Even though he started releasing albums by himself early, in 1973, his solo catalog is relatively moderate, featuring seven studio albums, two live recordings and a few compilations. My Only True Friend, co-written by Allman and guitarist Scott Sharrad, is the great opener of Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. It was released in September 2017, four months after his death at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer. Sharrad who also served as musical director had been a member of Allman’s backing band since 2008. Gosh, I love this tune and album!

Lenny Kravitz/Always On The Run

And once again, another Sunday Six excursion is coming to an end. For this last pick, let’s go back to April 1991 and Mama Said, the sophomore album by Lenny Kravitz. It came less than two years after his debut Let Love Rule, which he wrote and produced nearly all by himself and on which he played nearly all instruments. For Mama Said, he got a little help from some friends, including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Kravitz has since released nine additional studio albums, with the most recent being Raise Vibration in September 2018. I previously reviewed here. Back to Mama Said and the album’s great lead single Always On The Run. Kravitz wrote the tune together with Slash, who also played guitar including a cool solo – just a great funky rocker!

Before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again – boy, this first week of 2022 flew by really quickly! Well, this means it’s time for another installment of my favorite weekly feature where I time-travel to celebrate music of the past and sometimes the present, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble/Chitlins con Carne

Let’s kick it off with a great jazzy instrumental by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists. Chitlins con Carne is from the fifth and final album of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble, appropriately titled The Sky Is Crying. This record appeared in November 1991, 14 months after Vaughan’s tragic and untimely death in a helicopter crash. He was only 35 years old – what a huge loss! Chitlins con Carne, composed by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was first released on his 1963 album Midnight Blue. In case you’re curious you can check out the original here. Following is Vaughan’s excellent rendition!

Christine McVie/Got a Hold on Me

Christine McVie is best known as keyboarder, vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1970, coming from British blues band Chicken Shack. At the time she became a member of the Mac, she was the wife of bassist John McVie whom she had married in 1968. Their union fell apart after Christine had an affair with the band’s lighting engineer Curry Grant during the production of the Rumours album in 1976. Let’s just say there were many on and off relationships within Fleetwood Mac! Christine McVie wrote some of the band’s best-known songs, such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun (about her affair with Grant, though at the time she claimed it was about a dog!) and Say You Love Me. To date, she has also recorded three solo albums. Got a Hold on Me, co-written by her and Todd Sharp, is from her second solo effort Christine McVie, which came out in January 1984. I’ve always loved this pop-rock tune – simple and a bit repetitive, but quite catchy!

James Taylor/Fire and Rain

Last Sunday, I caught a great CNN documentary, Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, focused on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour – I could still kill myself that I completely missed that tour! Anyway, one of the tunes they played was Fire and Rain, my favorite James Taylor original song. I also love his rendition of King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Fire and Rain is off Taylor’s sophomore album Sweet Baby James from February 1970. The tune also appeared separately as a single in August that year. It became his first hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 in Canada and no. 6 in Australia. It also charted in the UK (no. 48) and The Netherlands (no. 18). Here’s a beautiful live performance captured from the BBC’s In Concert series in November 1970. James Taylor, his smooth voice and his great guitar-playing – that’s really all you need!

Them/Gloria

Next, let’s jump back further to December 1964 and some dynamite British garage rock: Gloria by Them, a band formed in April 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fronted by Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), the group’s original line-up also included Billy Harrison (guitar, vocals), Eric Wrixon (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Milling (drums). Gloria, penned by Morrison, was first released in November 1964 as the B-side to Baby, Please Don’t Go, Them’s second single. The tune was also included on the group’s debut album The Angry Young Them from June 1965, which in the U.S. was simply titled Them. This song’s just a classic. I wish I could say the same about Van Morrison these days!

Elvis Presley/Heartbreak Hotel

As frequent visitors of the blog may recall, my childhood idol was Elvis Presley who, btw, would have turned 87 yesterday (January 8). While I no longer idolize him or anyone else for that matter, I still dig Elvis, especially his early period. One of the coolest songs I can think of in this context is Heartbreak Hotel. Credited to Tommy Durden, Mae Boren Axton and Presley, the slow jazzy blues tune first appeared as a single in January 1956 and became Elvis’ first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in the UK. Heartbreak Hotel was also included on the compilation Elvis’ Golden Records from March 1958. In addition to Presley’s regular backing musicians Scotty Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (double bass), the recording featured Chet Atkins (acoustic guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano) and D.J. Fontana (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Mark Knopfler/Prairie Wedding

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final track in this installment. It’s yet another tune my streaming music provider recently served up as a listening suggestion: Prairie Wedding by Mark Knopfler. The song is from the former Dire Straits frontman’s second solo album Sailing to Philadelphia that came out in September 2000. Written by Knopfler like all other tunes on the album, the track features Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings on backing vocals, as well as Guy Fletcher on keyboards. Fletcher also served in that role in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s final dissolution in 1995. Great tune with a nice cinematic feel!

Here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part II

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

Here’s part II of a mini series of three posts featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Each installment includes five tunes in chronological order from oldest to newest. Part I focused on planes. Now it’s on to trains. Hop on board!

In case you didn’t read the previous installment, the idea of the mini series came from the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Elvis Presley/Mystery Train

Let’s kick of this installment with Mystery Train, written and first recorded by Junior Parker as a rhythm and blues track in 1953. When Elvis Presley decided to cover the song, it was turned into a rockabilly tune featuring him on vocals and rhythm guitar, together with his great trio partners Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). Produced by Sam Philips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., Presley’s version was first released in August 1955 as the B-side to I Forgot to Remember to Forget, which became his first charting hit in the U.S., hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This has got to be one of the best rockabilly tunes ever!

The Monkees/Last Train to Clarksville

Last Train to Clarksville is the debut single by The Monkees, which was released in August 1966. While at that time they still were a fake band that didn’t play the instruments on their recordings, which as a musician is something that generally makes me cringe, I just totally love this song. It was co-written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who used their band Candy Store Prophets to record the tune’s instrumental parts. At least there was one member from The Monkees on the recording: Micky Dolenz, who would become the band’s drummer for real, performed the lead vocals. Last Train to Clarksville, a Vietnam War protest song disguised by ambiguous lyrics and a catchy pop rock tune inspired by The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, was also included on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966.

The Doobie Brothers/Long Train Runnin’

Long Train Runnin’ has been one of my favorite tunes by The Doobie Brothers since I heard it for the first time many moons ago. As such, it was a must to include in this post. Written by Tom Johnston, the groovy rocker is from the band’s third studio album The Captain and Me that appeared in March 1973. The song was also released separately later that month as the album’s lead single, backed by Without You. Long Train Runnin’ became the first U.S. top 10 hit for the Doobies on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 8, as it did in Canada. In the U.K., it reached no. 7, marking their highest charting single there.

The Allman Brothers Band/All Night Train

I had not known about this tune by The Allman Brothers Band and wouldn’t have found it without a Google search. All Night Train, co-written by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell, is included on the band’s 11th studio album Where It All Begins, their second-to-last studio release that appeared in May 1994. The track features some nice guitar action by Haynes and Dickey Betts and, of course, the one and only Gregg Allman on lead vocals and keys. Great late-career tune!

AC/DC/Rock ‘n’ Roll Train

For the final track let’s kick it up. How much? How about kick-ass rock & roll level with AC/DC! Rock ‘n’ Roll Train is the opener to their October 2008 studio release Black Ice. By then, the time periods in-between AC/DC albums had significantly lengthened, especially compared to the ’70s and ’80s. Predecessor Stiff Upper Lip had come out in February 2000. The next release, Rock or Bust, would be another six years away. Obviously, AC/DC has had their share of dramatic setbacks, but last November’s Power Up album proved one shouldn’t count them out yet. There has been some chatter about touring, though I haven’t seen any official announcements. Earlier this month, Brian Johnson joined Foo Fighters at a Global Citizen Vax Live concert in Los Angeles to perform Back in Black. Of course, one song is different from an entire concert, not to speak of an entire tour. Still, I guess it gives AC/DC fans some hope that maybe they’ll get another chance to see the band. Meanwhile, let’s hop on the rock ‘n’ roll train!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 28

In the past, I tended to wait several weeks before compiling the next installment of my music history feature. Not so this time. Let’s take a look at events that happened on January 28 in rock and pop history.

1956: Elvis Presley made his debut on national U.S. television with an appearance on the Stage Show, a popular variety show on CBS. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bassist Bill Black, Presley performed covers of Shake, Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly and I Got a Woman. Apparently, the show liked it. Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned five more times over the next two months that same year. Here’s a clip of Shake, Rattle & Roll, written by Charles F. Calhoun and first recorded and released by Big Joe Turner in 1954.

1965: The Who appeared on the popular British rock and pop music TV show Ready Steady Go!, marking their debut on television in the UK. They performed their brand new single I Can’t Explain, which had been released two weeks earlier. Written by Pete Townshend, it was the band’s second single and first released as The Who. To help ensure a successful visual outcome, manager Kit Lambert placed members of the band’s fan club in the audience, who were asked to wear Who football scarves.

1969: Stevie Wonder released the title track of his 11th studio album My Cherie Amour as a single, seven months ahead of the record. Co-written by him, Sylvia Moy and producer Henry Cosby, the tune was about Wonder’s girlfriend he had met at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing, Mich. The song peaked at no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also climbed to no. 4 on the UK singles chart, making it one of Wonder’s highest charting tracks there.

1978: Van Halen introduced the world to Eddie Van Halen’s furious signature guitar sound with their first single You Really Got Me. Written by Ray Davis and first released by The Kinks in August 1964 in the UK, the cover garnered a good amount of radio play and helped Van Halen kick off their career. It did quite well in the charts, reaching no. 36 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 49 in Canada and peaking at no. 11 in Australia. The tune was also included on Van Halen’s eponymous debut album that came out two weeks after the single.

1980: The J. Geils Band released their ninth studio album Love Stinks. It became their first top 20 album on the Billboard 200 since Bloodshot from April 1973, reaching no. 18. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 4. Their biggest album Freeze-Frame would still be 16 months away. Yes, The J. Geils Band’s earlier records may have been better, but bands also need to have some hits every now and then to make a living. Here’s the title track, co-written by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman. I guess like some other folks, I will forever associate the tune with the 1998 American picture The Wedding Singer. Now it’s stuck in my head!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; uDiscoverMusic; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Elvis Presley/Santa Claus Is Back In Town

When I recently wrote about the formidable songwriting partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, I had come across this song they wrote for Elvis Presley. While I selected what I feel is the much better Jailhouse Rock for that post, Santa Claus Is Back In Town isn’t a shabby rock & roll Christmas tune. Plus, it obviously fits the occasion.

Presley recorded it in September 1957 as the opener for Elvis’ Christmas Album. According to Wikipedia, that record is America’s and the world’s best-selling Christmas/holiday album of all time. Including its various reissues, it has sold at least 17 million copies in the U.S. and more than 20 million worldwide.

Leiber and Stoller also produced the track. In addition to Elvis on lead vocals, it features his core backing musicians at the time, Scotty Moore (guitar), Bill Black (bass) and D.J. Fontana (drums), jazz musician Dudley Brooks on piano, as well as The Jordanaires, his frequent backing vocals group. The tune was also released separately as a single that appeared together with the album on October 15 that year.

Happy Holidays!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube