The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend. It’s time again for The Sunday Six and another set of tunes from different genres and different decades. This installment touches the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, 90s and 2021, and features jazz, psychedelic blues rock, alternative pop rock, rock and bluesy R&B.

Lou Donaldson/Blues Walk

Starting us off is beautiful saxophone jazz by American jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Donaldson, who is 94 years old and only retired in 2016, had a 64-year career as an active performer. That’s just mind-boggling! Here’s an excerpt from the bio on his website: Jazz critics agree that “Sweet Poppa Lou” Donaldson is one of the greatest alto saxophonists of all time. He began his career as a bandleader with Blue Note Records in 1952 and, already at age 25, had found his sound, though it would continue to sweeten over the years — earning him his famed nickname –“Sweet Poppa Lou.” He made a series of classic records for Blue Note Records in the 50’s and takes pride in having showcased many musicians who made their first records as sidemen for him: Clifford Brown, Grant Green, Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd, Ray Barretto, Horace Parlan, John Patton, Charles Earland, Al Harewood, Herman Foster, Peck Morrison, Dave Bailey, Leon Spencer, Idris Muhammad, and others.  After also making some excellent recordings for Cadet and Argo Records in the early 60s, Lou’s return to Blue Note in 1967 was marked by one of his most famous recordings, Alligator Bogaloo. I’ve decided to highlight one of his earlier recordings: Blues Walk, the title track of his 1958 album, which according to Wikipedia “has been considered Donaldson’s undisputed masterpiece.” I’m not a jazz expert but I know is this: I love the saxophone, and Donaldson surely sounds sweet. Also, check out Herman Foster on piano!

The Doors/Riders on the Storm

Now let’s turn to a classic psychedelic tune with a great jazz and blues vibe by The Doors, who I trust need no further introduction. Riders on the Storm is the magnificent closer of their sixth studio album L.A. Woman from April 1971 – yet another great record that has turned 50 this year! It was the final to be released during the lifetime of lead vocalist Jim Morrison who passed away three months later in Paris, France at the age of 27. While the official cause of death was listed as heart failure, several people who maintained they were eyewitnesses said Morrison died from an accidental heroin overdose. Of course, we know all too well the history of rock is littered with so many talented artists who became casualties to drugs! Riders on the Storm was credited to all members of The Doors, who in addition to Morrison included Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (lead guitar) and John Densmore (drums). It’s such a cool tune that still gives me goosebumps the moment that thunderstorm sound in comes on in the beginning.

Noods/Starting Over Again

For this next tune, let’s jump 50 years to the present and a recent discovery: Starting Over Again by Noods. Unfortunately, there is very little public information about the group. This short profile on Oh My Rockness describes them as a “fuzzy jangle pop band from from NY” and lists the following members: Trish Dieudonne (vocals, guitars), Nick Seip (vocals, guitars, synths, piano), Shane Danaher (drums, synths) and Mandy Romano (bass, vocals). According to this preview piece on Stereogum, the band released their debut EP Noods Please in 2017. The first full-length album is titled Blush. It has since appeared on April 16 this year. Here’s Starting Over Again, a pleasant song co-written by Dieudonne and Seip. I like the jingle-jangle guitar sound and the laidback vibe.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Something in the Air

When it comes to Tom Petty, one of my long-time favorite artists, there are so many great original tunes I could have picked. And yet I chose to highlight a cover. Why? Coz I absolutely love this tune and Petty’s rendition, which he recorded with The Heartbreakers for their November 1993 Greatest Hits compilation. That album is best known for the single Mary Jane’s Last Dance, which climbed to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Petty’s first top 20 hit of the ’90s in the U.S. mainstream chart. The band’s cover of Something in the Air also appeared as a single but missed the Billboard Hot 100. It did make Billboard’s Main Stream Rock chart, reaching no. 19. Written by singer-songwriter Speedy Keen, the tune was first recorded by short-lived British band Thunderclap Newman and became a no. 1 hit in the UK in mid-1969. Before joining Thunderclap Newman, Keen was the driver of none other than Pete Townshend and shared an apartment with him in London. Keen also wrote Armenia in the Sky, a tune The Who included on their third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Townshend was the catalyst behind the formation of Thunderclap Newman and also produced Something in the Air and the band’s only album Hollywood Dream released in September 1970.

Credence Clearwater Revival/Have You Ever Seen the Rain

This brings me to another band and song I’ve dug for many years: Creedence Clearwater Revival and Have You Ever Seen the Rain. In my book, it’s a great timeless tune that holds up well, even though I literally must have listened to it more than 100 times. In fact, it’s running in the background as I’m writing this! 🙂 Like most CCR songs, Have You Ever Seen the Rain was penned by the great John Fogerty. CCR were on a roll when this came out. The tune was included on their sixth studio album Pendulum released in December 1970, only five months after predecessor Cosmo’s Factory. It’s perhaps my favorite CCR song, together with Hey Tonight, Proud Mary and Born on the Bayou.

The Animals/I’m Crying

Am I already again at the point to wrap up this post, just when I’m having so much fun? I guess this means it’s time to shed some tears! 🙂 But, don’t worry, since I started The Sunday Six this January, it’s become my favorite recurring feature, so there will be more. The final tune for this installment shall belong to The Animals. When I first learned about them as a teenager, essentially, I only knew The House of the Rising Sun, their signature song and biggest hit that topped the charts in the U.S., UK and Canada in 1964. While it’s a great tune, there’s much more to the British rock band that was fronted by one of the best white blues vocalists, Eric Burdon, who turned 80 just a few days ago. Which brings me to I’m Crying, a gem that first appeared as a single in September 1964. Co-written by Burdon and the band’s first keyboarder Alan Price, the tune was also included on The Animals’ second studio album The Animals on Tour from February 1965 – a somewhat misleading title for a record that didn’t include any live tracks. I always liked the band’s raw bluesy guitar sound combined with Price’s organ and Burdon’s distinct, deep vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; Lou Donaldson website; Oh My Rockness; Stereogum; YouTube

John Mayall Has Turned 85 And No Plans For Retirement After More Than 50 Years

The Godfather of British Blues has announced a tour and a new album for 2019

What do Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce have in common? Together with Ginger Baker, they formed what perhaps was the ultimate blues rock power trio Cream. How about Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood? Well, they became part of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser? He joined Free as a 15-year-old bass player. Last but not least, Mick Taylor? He of course became a member The Rolling Stones during what is widely considered their musical peak. What else do all these top-notch artists share? They all played with John Mayall, mostly before they became famous.

As a ’60s blues rock fan, it is pretty much impossible not to come across the name of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. That being said, I’m the first to admit that oftentimes my music knowledge is still pretty insular. While I was well aware of Eric Clapton’s connection with Mayall, I didn’t know about all of the other above mentioned artists. I also had not heard much of John Mayall’s music and had not appreciated that in addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a pretty good vocalist. What finally caught my attention was a great story about him for his recent 85th birthday in German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which I spotted on Facebook the other day. It made me start listening to some of Mayall’s more recent solo albums I dug instantly, which in turn inspired this post.

John Mayall was born on November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England, and grew up in a village close to Manchester. He was first exposed to jazz and blues as a young teenager when he listened to the 78 record collection of his father Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music fan. So it certainly was no coincidence that young John initially became attracted to the guitar and guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Leadbelly. As a 14-year-old, he began to learn the basics for playing the piano. A couple of years later, he also picked up the harmonica. Not only does this mean Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also self-taught – pretty cool!

Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ca. 1966 (from left): John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Hughie Flint and John McVie

While Mayall had been playing music since his teenage years and during his twenties, it wasn’t until 1962 that he decided to make a living with music. He gave up his job as a graphic designer and moved from Manchester to London. Soon thereafter, he started The Bluesbreakers. In the spring of 1964, the band recorded their first two tracks: Crawling Up A Hill and Mr. James. Afterwards, they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour. At the end of the year, Mayall signed with Decca and recorded his debut John Mayall Plays John Mayall, a live record that appeared in March 1965, but it was not successful.

Things started cooking for The Bluesbreakers when Eric Clapton joined the band in April 1965. While initially Clapton only stood until August and left for another venture called The Glands, he returned in November. A few months later, the band recorded Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. But by the time the album was entering the charts, Clapton and then-Bluesbreakers bassist Jack Bruce had already left to form Cream. The next few years saw a succession of guitarists who came and left, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In fact, frequent line-up changes would become a constant for Mayall, yet I haven’t read anything that he was ever annoyed about it.

John Mayall 2018
John Mayall at 2018 Jazz Fest in New Orleans

In 1969, Mayall moved from England to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and began playing with American musicians. Over the next three decades, he recorded many albums featuring artists like Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins and Mick Taylor. In 2008, Mayall decided to retire The Bluesbreakers name. The following year, he started touring with Rocky Athas (guitar), Jay Davenport (drums) and Greg Rzab (bass). In 2016, after Athas had been unable to attend a festival gig due to airline cancellations, Mayall was left with Davenport and Rzab. He liked the trio format and decided to keep it until May of this year, when guitarist Caroyln Wonderland joined the band.

With a recording career of more than 50 years and 60-plus albums, it’s impossible to do Mayall and his music full justice, so the following selection can only scratch the surface. Let’s start with the above mentioned Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. Here’s Double Crossin’ Time, a tune co-written by Mayall and Clapton. Apart from them, the core line-up of The Bluesbreakers at the time also included John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).

In September 1967, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers released their fourth album Crusade. It was the first record with then-18-year-old Mick Taylor. Check out this hot track called Snowy Wood, which is credited to Mayall and Taylor.

To A Princess is an unusual tune from Mayall’s 13th album Empty Rooms, which appeared in 1970. It includes a bass duet featuring band member Steven Thompson and former Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor as a guest. In addition to Mayall (vocals, harmonica, guitars, keyboards), Thompson and Taylor, other musicians on the record were Jon Mark (guitar) and Johnny Almond (saxophone, flute). Mark and Almond left right after the album’s recording to form the duo Mark-Almond.

Next up: The title track of Mayall’s 19th album Ten Years Are Gone released in September 1973. I dig the brass work on this groovy tune, which gives it a cool jazzy and soulful vibe. The musicians on the record included Mayall (piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Freddy Robinson (guitar), Victor Gaskin (bass), Keef Hartley (drums), Sugarcane Harris (violin), Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Red Holloway (saxophone, flute).

In 1975, Mayall’s 22nd album Notice To Appear came out. For the most part, it featured covers, including the following hot funky take of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The track features Mayall (vocals), Rick Vito (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Soko Richardson (drums), Jay Spell (keyboards), Don Harris (violin) and Dee McKinnie (backing vocals).

In 1988, Mayall recorded his 34th album called Archives To Eighties. It included revised versions of select tunes that originally had appeared on his 1971 release Back To The Roots. Just like the earlier record, Archives To Eighties featured Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Here’s Force Of Nature.

Wake Up Call was Mayall’s 39th album. The Grammy-nominated record from 1994 brought together many prominent musicians, including Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins and Mavis Staples, among others. Here’s the smoking hot title track with Taylor on guitar and Staples on vocals.

In 2005, Mayall released his 53rd album called Road Dogs, one of the last under The Bluesbreakers name. The band’s line-up at the time included Buddy Whittington (guitars), Hank Van Sickle (bass) and Joe Yuele (drums), in addition to Mayall (vocals, keyboard, harmonica). Following is the record’s closer Scrambling.

Here’s the title track of Mayall’s 61st record A Special Life from May 2014. It featured his then-core backing band Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass, percussions) and Jay Davenport (drums), as well as C. J. Chenier (accordion, vocals). As usually, Mayall provided vocals, guitar, harmonica and keyboards.

The last album I’d like to touch on is Mayall’s most recent, Three For The Road. Released in February 2018, it is his 66th record – unbelievable! It presents live recordings from two 2017 concerts in Germany, performed by the trio format of Mayall, Rzab and Davenport. Here’s Lonely Feelings.

Just before his 85th birthday on November 29, Mayall made two announcements. After completing a few shows in California, he is planning a 2019 tour and has started booking gigs in Europe. A look on the current schedule already reveals 22 dates starting February 26 in Tampere, Finland and stretching out to March 24 in Ancona, Italy. U.S. dates are supposed to be announced soon. Mayall also revealed a new studio album, Nobody Told Me, which is scheduled to be released on February 22, 2019. Apart from his new guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, it includes numerous prominent guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Steven Van Zandt and Alex Lifeson.

I’d like to finish this post with a few quotes posted on Mayall’s website, which I think speak for themselves:

John Mayall has actually run an incredible school for musician. (Eric Clapton)

John Mayall, he was the master of it. If it wasn’t for the British musicians, a lot of us black musicians in America would still be catchin’ the hell that we caught long before. So thanks to all you guys, thank you very much! (B.B. King)

I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ-type guy. You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say “Just check this out.” He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton – he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. (Paul McCartney)

As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world. (Walter Trout)

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mayall website, YouTube