My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 1: The Concerts

This two-part series isn’t a traditional year-end music review. If that’s what you’re looking for, you could check out this New York Times article about the 28 best albums of 2018 or this Rolling Stone piece titled 50 Best Songs of 2018. Frankly, I don’t even know the names of the majority of artists and songs mentioned in these two articles. And without meaning to sound arrogant or judgmental, I simply don’t care! The reality is the vast majority of music that’s popular nowadays and in the charts doesn’t speak to me.

I’ve also finally accepted that classic rock won’t return to the mainstream – like the blues, it was never meant to be there in the first place, as a recent article reminded me. But, as the same article also correctly stated, just because rock no longer is in the limelight doesn’t mean it’s dead. Consider this: My most viewed blog post this year was a review of a concert by excellent Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out. My most popular Facebook post was a video clip I took of Guns ‘N Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses performing Paradise City, which got 125 shares and some 24,000 views. Trust me, I’m not particularly popular on Facebook, but rock music apparently is!

GTLO Collage Asbury Park 11 24 18

I think the above examples are anecdotal evidence of rock’s ongoing appeal outside the charts. More importantly, rock isn’t going away in my music world. To start with, I never get bored listening repeatedly to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Neil Young and The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few of my favorite artists. I also feel there’s a massive amount of 60s and 70s music I’ve yet to explore. Altogether, this adds up to more stuff I will ever be able to handle, even if I would retire from work immediately and live until age 100! And then there’s icing on the cake when occasionally I come across young bands I dig like Detroit classic rockers Greta Van Fleet, all-female New York blues rock band Jane Lee Hooker or Memphis blues, soul and R&B outfit Southern Avenue.

Music, apart from being something I deeply enjoy, has always been a welcome distraction from challenges life can throw at you. This year, I certainly had my share, so it’s probably not a coincidence that between the blog, listening to music and going to concerts, 2018 felt like my most active year in music to date. It’s also worth remembering that shit happens to everybody. I’m alive and have a job, and my family has a roof over our heads, so ultimately I should be grateful. With that being said, let’s get to part 1 of this review, which focuses on concerts I’ve visited this year, and there have been many.

John Fogerty & Billy Gibbons

Between original artists and tribute acts, I must have set a new record for myself! I’ve seen more than a dozen original artists, who in reverse order include Toto (Nov); Steely Dan twice (Oct & Jul); Southern Avenue (Aug); Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers (Aug); The Doobie Brothers (Jul, together with Steely Dan); Gov’t Mule (Jul, Dark Side of the Mule Pink Floyd show); Neil Young (Jul); Lynyrd Skynyrd (Jun); ZZ Top & John Fogerty (May); Jackson Browne (May); Buddy Guy (Apr 20) and Steve Winwood (Mar 9). I also had a ticket for Aretha Franklin for March 25, one of her very last shows that got canceled due to her illness. The concert would have coincided with her 76h birthday.

While all of the above gigs delivered, the three highlights were Steely Dan at The Beacon Theatre, New York City, Oct (review); Neil Young at Wang Theatre, Boston, Jul (review); and John Fogerty at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmel, N.J., May (review). Following is one clip from each show.

Here’s the mighty Dan with Deacon Blues. This song is a great example of a tune I can listen to over and over again, and it just doesn’t get boring. Truly masterful music never does!

Next up: Neil Young and After The Gold Rush – the combination of Neil with his shaky, almost vulnerable voice and the pipe organ’s church-like sound still give me goosebumps when I think about it!

And here’s John Fogerty with Billy Gibbons performing Holy Grail, a tune they wrote together prior to their Blues & Bayous Tour. Yes, essentially, it’s a remake of La Grange, and it certainly wasn’t the best song of the show. But it’s the only clip I took myself that night, plus watching these two rock legends together on one stage was a treat in and of itself.

Things in 2018 were also pretty intense on the tribute concert front but, hey, I suppose my good blogger pal Music Enthusiast doesn’t call me the “King of Tribute Bands” for nothing! By now I can probably claim that I’ve seen tribute acts of bands ranging from A to Z. The highlight in this context once again was Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September (review). Among others, the annual festival featured great tributes to Neil Young (Decade), Guns ‘N Roses (Guns 4 Roses), Fleetwood Mac (TUSK), Tom Petty (Free Fallin’) and AC/DC (LIVE/WIRE). Another great tribute event was the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. in June (review). Like the previous year, the line-up included tributes to The Beatles (Britain’s Finest), The Rolling Stones (The Glimmer Twins) and The Who (Who’s Next).

Outside these two festivals, I’ve seen numerous other tribute bands throughout the year. In this context, I’d like to call out the above noted Led Zeppelin tribute Get The Led Out  (review), as well as Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd” (review), and Jimi Hendrix tribute Kiss The Sky, which I saw together with Cream tribute Heavy Cream (review). Following are a few clips. First up: Get The Led Out playing the big enchilada Stairway To Heaven.

Next is a flavor of Echoes performing Time and The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon album. I still frequently listen to that record to this day, oftentimes at night and with earbuds. I really should get a decent set of headphones, especially for Pink Floyd music.

Last but not least is Kiss The Sky setting the stage on fire with Voodoo Child (Slight Return). If you’re into Hendrix, it’s really a fun show to watch.

Part 2 is going to focus on new 2018 albums that excited me. As stated at the outset, don’t expect seeing any chart toppers here! Part 2 will also take a brief look at music activities that are on my radar for 2019.

Sources: New York Times, Rolling Stone, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Billy Gibbons/Let The Left Hand Know…

The above track Let The Left Hand Know… is from Billy Gibbons’ new solo album The Big Bad Blues, which appeared last Friday – his second after Perfectamundo from November 2015. According to the official press release, it focuses on Gibbons’ lifelong love of the blues and rock & roll…[and] features 11 tracks balancing some classic covers like “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Standing Around Crying” [both by Muddy Waters], along with some of Billy’s signature new blues originals. The above tune is among the latter.

Commenting on his affection for the blues, Gibbons said, “I suspect Jimmy Reed did me in early on. The inventiveness of that high and lonesome sound remains solid and stridently strong to this day. We could go on to mention the lineup of usual suspects,  Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, all three Kings [B.B., Albert and Freddie]. The lengthy list of champions are forever carved in stone.”

While Let The Left Hand Know… is nothing we haven’t heard from Gibbons before, its nice shuffling groove and the blues harp fills make for a fun listening experience, as does the remainder of the album. Gibbons is sharing harmonica parts with blues harp player and singer-songwriter James Harman, though I don’t know who is playing the instrument on this tune.

Gibbons is supporting his new album with a 25-date tour kicking off October 13 in Riverside, IA and concluding in Los Angeles on November 18. The schedule is here.

Sources: Billy Gibbons website, YouTube

John Fogerty & ZZ Top Bring Blues & Bayous Tour To Holmdel, NJ

Yesterday evening, it was finally time for John Fogerty and ZZ Top at PNC Bank Arts Center. I’ve been fortunate to see a number of great shows there over the past few years and have come to like this amphitheater-style venue in Holmdel, NJ. The Allman Brothers Band, Santana and Steve Winwood are a few of the concerts that come to mind. Of course, one of the potential caveats with outdoor venues is the weather, and things started off a bit dicey on that front.

While driving to PNC, I was blasting Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain from my car stereo, literally living the song: seeing the rain, coming down on a sunny day – at times pretty heavily! I arrived right in the middle of an early evening thunderstorm with lots of lightning and thunder, and it wasn’t hard to imagine to see a bad moon rising. But I had waited for Fogerty for some 40 years and was determined not to allow some rain to get into the way. Luckily, the thunderstorm dissipated before the show got underway and I could ride it out in my car in the parking lot.

Blues & Bayous Tour

ZZ Top started the main part of the evening. There was an opening act I missed due to surprisingly long lines to enter the facility – the first time I ever recall encountering that at PNC. The Texan rockers’ set was identical to the song lineup they played during the tour opener in Atlantic City the night before, mostly drawing from their ’70s albums and 1983’s Eliminator, the band’s most commercially successful release. That was the record that first brought ZZ Top on my radar screen, long before I listened to their first three albums, which I now generally like better than their 80s recordings.

As usual, I didn’t record any videos with one exception, so I’m relied on YouTube clips from previous live shows. To make it as similar as possible, I tried to find the most recent footage with an acceptable quality. I realize this approach not 100% ideal, but for the most part I believe it captures the overall feel of the show.

Things kicked off with Got Me Under Pressure from Eliminator followed by a nice cover of I Thank You, first recorded by Sam & Dave in 1968 – it’s hardly impossible to ever go wrong with a Stax tune, at least in my book! Next up was Waitin’ For The Bus, one of my favorite ZZ Top tunes. It is the opener of their third studio album Tres Hombres from July 1973. Unlike most other original tunes that are credited to all three members, only guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill share credits for this song. ZZ Top combined it with Jesus Left Chicago, another track from the same album. Here’s a nice clip from Bonnaroo 2013 where they did the same.

Another song I’d like to highlight is I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide. It is from Degüello, ZZ Top’s sixth studio release from November 1979. One thing I thought was fun to watch was Gibbons and Hill trading guitar and bass parts toward the end of the song.

Close to the end of the regular set came Sharp Dressed Man. The track, which is also from the Eliminator album, remains a classic to this day despite its noticeable ’80s sound. Surprisingly to me, when it came out in 1983, it only reached no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it did better, peaking at no. 8 on the singles chart.

The encore was reserved for two other ZZ Top classics: La Grange from Tres Hombres and Tush, which in my opinion perhaps is the ultimate blues rocker – at least the studio version, on which the band sounds super-tight and just rocks! Tush is the closer of Fandago!, the follow-on album to Tres Hombres, which came out in April 1975.

ZZ Top certainly delivered a solid performance. All three of them are top notch musicians, who have played together forever. The one thing I thought was missing a bit was joy and spontaneity. At times the performance felt like a routine, a show they had done a million times – which undoubtedly must be true for most of the songs they played.

After a 15- to 20-minute intermission, John Fogerty and his band got on stage. Not only did they play a fantastic set, though no encore, but in marked contrast to ZZ Top, you could see these guys had fun, especially Fogerty. He was upbeat in his announcements and moved around the stage quite a bit, projecting an almost youthful joy of playing that reminded me a bit of Paul McCartney.

John and Shane Fogerty
John Fogerty with his son Shane Fogerty who plays guitar and his backing band

The set featured mostly featured classics from all CCR albums, except the last one, Mardi Gras, and tunes from Fogerty’s excellent 1985 solo record Centerfield. It also included a new tune Fogerty had recorded with Gibbons leading up to the tour, and a few covers. Unlike ZZ Top, Fogerty made a few variations to the set he played during the tour opener in Atlantic City.

The first track I’d like to highlight is Rock And Roll Girls from the Centerfield album that was released in January 1985. I’ve always liked this tune. One of the distinct features last night was a great Clarence Clemons-style solo by young saxophone dynamo Nathan Collins, giving the tune a nice Bruce Springsteen vibe. According to his blog on John Fogerty’s official website, he will be a senior at the University of Southern California in the Popular Music Performance program – way to go! The quality of the following clip isn’t great, but it’s the only recent version I could find that features the sax part.

Who’ll Stop The Rain appeared on Cosmo’s Factory, CCR’s fifth studio album from July 1970. Fogerty introduced it by pointing out he was playing the tune with the same Rickenbacker guitar he had used at Woodstock – a 325 Sunburst from 1969. How cool is that! And, as has been reported by Rolling Stone and other entertainment media, Fogerty actually gave away that guitar in 1972/73 and it was “lost” for some 44 years, until his wife Julie was able to recover it in 2016 after an extensive search and gave it to John as a Christmas present that year – wow!

Apart from showing an upbeat spirit throughout the night, Fogerty also made it very clear he’s a proud dad. In fact, one of the members of his backup band is his son Shane Fogerty, who did a nice job on guitar, frequently trading solos with his father. The gig also featured another son, Tyler Fogerty, who like his brother is a musician playing guitar and singing. In fact, in 2012, the two brothers were among the co-founding members of Hearty Har in Los Angeles, which describe themselves as a psychedelic rock band. Tyler shared vocals on a few covers, one of which was Good Golly, Miss Molly, the rock & roll classic that first was made famous by Little Richard in 1958.

The next song I’d like to highlight is Holy Grail, Fogerty’s new song he had recorded with Gibbons leading up to the tour. It’s got a nice La Grange groove to it. It’s the only tune I recorded myself, since I figured it might be tough to find it on YouTube. Fogerty and Gibbons had only performed it live once before during the tour opener the night before. That song and a cover of the Moon Martin tune Bad Case Of Loving You, which they also played together, was when Gibbons seemed to be most engaged.

Another standout of the show was a string of New Orleans songs, during which the band truly shined. Here’s New Orleans, a great tune co-written by Frank Guida and Joseph Royster for Gary U.S. Bonds, who recorded it in 1960. The following clip nicely captures last night’s groove, though it’s a slightly different band. The guy on the bass who is visibly having a ball is producer Don Was.

I could go on and on, but this post is already getting very long. So the last song I’d like to highlight is one of my all-time favorite CCR tunes, Have You Ever Seen The Rain. They recorded it for their sixth studio album Pendulum released in December 1970. It also appeared separately and became the band’s eighth gold-selling single. In another dad moment, Fogerty dedicated the tune to his 16-year-old daughter Kelsy Cameron Fogerty. Sure, this wasn’t the first time he did that, but it still felt genuine.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the other musicians in Fogerty’s band: Kenny Aronoff (drums), Bob Malone (keyboards), James LoMenzo (bass) and Devon Pangle (guitar). In addition to Collins, the horn section includes two other very talented young musicians: Steve Robinson (trombone) and Ethan Chilton (trumpet). Each of them also has a blog on Fogerty’s website. The fact that John Fogerty gives these young musicians this great opportunity for exposure tells me this man not only has soul but also is a true class act.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Rolling Stone, Hearty Har website, John Fogerty Facebook page and official website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: John Fogerty & Billy Gibbons/ Sharp Dressed Man

This clip is just too much fun to watch and not to post – John Fogerty and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons rocking out to Sharp Dressed Man! Apparently, this was captured during a gig Fogerty played last year in Tulsa, Okla. as part of his 2016 tour. Gibbons was a guest. Seeing the mutual respect these guys have for each other and the fun playing together, I suppose it’s not a big surprise they’re teaming up for a John Fogerty/ZZ Top double headliner this year, the Blues and Bayous Tour. That’s one I don’t wanna miss, so I already got a ticket!

Credited to Gibbons and his longtime band mates Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, Sharp Dressed Man, of course, is one of ZZ Top’s best known tunes. It became the third single from their eighth studio album Eliminator that was released in March 1983. Fueled by that tune, as well as Gimme All Your Lovin, Got Me Under Pressure and Legs, the album became ZZ Top’s most successful commercial release, selling more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Personally, I prefer the band’s edgier 70s albums, but even during their most commercial phase, the three Texans were just cool dudes! Plus, they always seemed to have a good sense of humor. Who can forget these hilarious videos they made during the 80s – rotating guitars anybody? Priceless!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

My Playlist: ZZ Top

The idea to put together this playlist came to me yesterday, after I had spotted this clip on Facebook. It shows John Fogerty and Billy Gibbons rocking out together to some Creedence Clearwater Revival and ZZ Top tunes to promote their upcoming Blues & Bayous Tour. While nothing is spontaneous here as it seems they want folks to believe, and I just wish they would have played more of each song than just the opening bars, hey, it’s still fun to watch these guys. And the thought of them doing a double-headliner that also will be right in my backyard sure as heck is very tempting!

I don’t want to pretend I’m a ZZ Top expert, but I have a good deal of their songs in my iTunes library – certainly more than enough material to inform this playlist. I think the first time these Texan rockers entered my radar screen was in 1983, when seemingly out of nowhere they were all the rage on the radio with songs like Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. At the time, my parents didn’t have cable, which wasn’t as popular in Germany as in the U.S., so it wasn’t until much later that I also got to watch some of ZZ Top’s hilarious music videos, such as the rotating guitars in Legs!

ZZ Top was formed 1969 in Houston, TX, when Gibbons (guitar), Lanier Greig (organ) and Dan Mitchell (drums) got together. That formation recorded the single Salt Lick but record companies weren’t receptive, and it didn’t go anywhere. Greig and Mitchell left shortly thereafter. In late 1969, bassist, keyboardist and co-vocalist Dusty Hill joined, replacing then-bassist Billy Ethridge. Hill subsequently introduced Gibbons to drummer Frank Beard with whom he had played in various other bands in the past. The classic line-up was in place and still is to this day, more than 45 years later – frankly, I don’t know of any other band that hasn’t changed its line-up over such a long time!

ZZ Top in 1975
ZZ Top in 1975, with Dusty Hill (left) and Billy Gibbons

Due to continued lack of interest from U.S. record companies, ZZ Top finally signed a contract with UK label London Records and released their debut album. Cleverly called ZZ Top’s First Album, the record appeared in January 1971. While it established the band’s blend of Blues, Boogie, Hard Rock and Southern Rock, it didn’t get much attention. The sophomore Rio Grande Mud from April 1972 entered the U.S. Billboard 200, peaking at no. 104 in June 1972, while the single Francine climbed to a respectable no. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100.

ZZ Top’s commercial breakthrough came with the follow-up album Tres Hombres from July 1973. While the reception from music critics was lukewarm at the time, the album climbed all the way to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. The single La Grange, which has since become a classic, peaked at no. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1974. The band’s fourth album Fandango! from April 1975 brought another successful single, Tush, which peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became ZZ Top’s highest charting single in the 70s.

ZZ Top_Eliminator

The band has since released 11 additional studio records, four live albums and various compilations. Eliminator from March 1983, which includes the above mentioned tunes Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, became ZZ Top’s best-selling album, thanks to a more commercial sound the band had adopted in the early ’80s. Their 15th and most recent studio release La Futura appeared in September 2012. I haven’t seen any reports about a new album. La Futura was the first new record in nine years, so if that’s any guide, fans may need to have patience for a few more years. Time for some music!

Let’s start off the playlist with ZZ Top’s debut single Salt Lick, a nice blues rocker written by Gibbons, an early showcase of his outstanding guitar skills. I also like Greig’s organ work.

Brown Sugar, another tune by Gibbons to whom most of the band’s early songs are credited, appears on ZZ Top’s First Album. I like how the song begins slowly with just Gibbon’s vocals and his guitar, before it launches into a groovy blues rocker.

Tres Hombres may be best known for La Grange, but the tune I’d like to highlight from that album is the fantastic opener Waitin’ For The Bus, which is credited to Gibbons and Hill. I just totally dig the guitar riff and groove on that track, and also like the blues harp solo.

If I had just one ZZ Top tune to select, it would be Tush from the Fandango! album. To me it’s perhaps the ultimate guitar blues rocker. I love the riff and how tight the band is playing – there’s not one second being wasted here! Starting with this record, the band’s songs typically are credited to all three members.

In November 1976, ZZ Top released their fifth studio album Tejas. It includes this nice Stonesy tune called It’s Only Love.

Next up: Tube Snake Boogie from El Loco, ZZ Top’s seventh studio album from July 1981. It’s the first record on which the band started experimenting with a more commercial sound, introducing synthesizers on some of the tracks.

Even though it sounds more commercial than their ’70s records, no ZZ Top playlist would be complete without music from the Eliminator album. Despite the somewhat monotonous drum beat, which sounds more like a drum machine, Sharp Dressed Man is just a cool song. And the official video is too hilarious to leave out, so here it is!

And ‘coz it’s so much fun watching ZZ Top music videos from that time, here’s Legs. No doubt, the rotating guitars have become an unforgettable part of music video history.

I would also like to acknowledge a couple of the band’s later songs. Here’s Fearless Boogie, a tune from XXX, ZZ Top’s 13th studio album released in September 1999. And just in case, the title is a reference to the band’s then-30th year in business.

I’d like to close out this playlist with Chartreuse. The tune, which sounds a bit like a remake of Tush, is from ZZ Top’s most recent studio record La Futura. It surely proves these guys still know how to rock.

With total domestic record sales of some 25 million copies, ZZ Top are among the top 100 selling artists in the U.S. Internationally, the band has sold more than 50 million albums. In 2004, the Texan rockers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Asked during a Rolling Stone interview in November 2017 whether he still wants to be in ZZ Top at age 80, Gibbons said, “Well, yeah, I could do it. We are smack dab in the middle of a technological breakthrough that is making life extension quite a bit of the day-to-day norm.”

As for that double-headliner with Fogerty, the Blues & Bayous Tour kicks off in Atlantic City on May 25. Currently, there are 24 additional dates on the schedule, with the final gig being in Welch, Minn. on June 29.

Sources: Wikipedia, U.S. Billboard Charts, Rolling Stone, YouTube