Playing for Change – Reimaging a World Connected by Music

The other day, I came across an amazing video clip featuring Robbie Robertson and a bunch of well-known and to me unknown, yet pretty talented other musicians from all over the world, playing The Weight, one of my favorite tunes by The Band. At first, I only paid attention to their great version of the iconic song and ignored the chiron at the beginning and the end of the clip that notes “Playing for Change.” Then, I noticed other video clips on YouTube, which were also put together by Playing for Change. Finally, I got curious. Who or what is Playing for Change?

It didn’t take long to find their website, which describes their story as follows: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music… Playing For Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

PFC Co-Founders
PFC co-founders Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke

In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” Roger had so much soul and conviction in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing “Stand By Me” as a Song Around the World. Roger agreed, and when Mark returned with recording equipment and cameras he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger replied, “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.” Ever since that day the Playing For Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.

Creating Songs Around the World inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey and form the Playing For Change Band. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language. Songs Around The World The PFC Band is now touring the world and spreading the message of love and hope to audiences everywhere.

I realize the above may embellish things a bit; still, PFC sounds like an intriguing concept. They also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded through donations and supports arts and music programs for children around the world. Based on the foundation’s website, it looks like a legitimate organization. That being said, this isn’t an endorsement. Let’s get back to what originally brought me here – recorded musicians all over the world performing the same song and everything being neatly put together in pretty compelling video clips. Before getting to the above mentioned Robbie Roberson clip, let’s take a look at some of PFC’s other videos.

Walking Blues (Son House)

Walking Blues was written and first recorded by delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other blues musicians recorded their own versions. This clip features Kevin Roosevelt Moore, aka Keb’ Mo’, along with other musicians from Argentina, South Africa, Spain and Morocco. Apparently, the clip was put together in honor of Johnson’s birthday. Check it out!

Soul Rebel (Bob Marley)

Written by Bob Marley, Soul Rebel is the opener to Soul Rebels, the second studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which appeared in December 1970. This clip features Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Wailers, French guitarist Manu Chao and Jamaican reggae singer Bushman, along with other musicians from Jamaica, Spain, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina and the U.S. Feel free to groove along!

Listen to the Music (Tom Johnston)

Listen to the Music is a classic by The Doobie Brothers from their second studio album Toulouse Street released in July 1972. It was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, one of the band’s founding members. Apart from Johnston and fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the clip features other musicians from Venezuela, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Japan, Argentina, Senegal, Congo, South Africa and the U.S., including a gospel choir from Mississippi. This is just a joy to watch!

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

While perhaps best known by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan. He first recorded it for John Wesley Harding, his eighth studio album from December 1967. Check out this riveting take featuring Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, John Densmore of The Doors and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, along with other musicians from Italy, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Niger, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali and the U.S. The latter include singers and dancers from the Lakota, a native American tribe that is part of the Great Sioux Nation. This is just mind-boggling to watch!

The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

And finally, here comes the crown jewel that inspired the post: The Weight written by Robbie Robertson, and first recorded for the debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink, released in July 1968. This clip was co-produced by PFC co-founder Mark Johnson and Robbie’s son Sebastian Johnson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song. And it’s quite a star-studded affair: In addition to Robertson, the clip features Ringo Starr, blues guitarist Marcus King, roots rockers Larkin Poe and country-rock guitarist Lucas Nelson, along with other musicians from Italy, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal and Jamaica – what a beautiful tribute to this great tune. Just watch the smile on Robertson’s face at the end. He knows how figgin’ awesome this came out – priceless!

PFC clearly has their go-to musicians in each country, and they’re not hobby musicians. Based on PFC’s website, all musicians are professionals who appear to be recognized within their countries. While as such one could argue PFC doesn’t seem to use amateur/ hobby musicians, it doesn’t take away anything of the concept’s beauty, in my view. Most of their videos capture songs performed by individual artists from different countries or by the PFC band. But it’s the song-around-the-world videos I find most impressive. You can watch all of PFC’s clips on their YouTube channel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Playing For Change website; Playing for Change Foundation website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 22

Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.

1963: Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.

1965: Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.

1971: John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.

1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.

1975: Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.

1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!

1980: Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Revisiting My Favorite German Rock Band: BAP

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may recall seeing the name BAP. The group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. They entered my radar screen in 1981 after their national breakthrough with their third studio album Für Usszeschnigge! (translation: to cut out). BAP remain my favorite German rock band, which I realized once again the other day when listening to some of their music. This triggered my decision to do another post on them. And it may not by my last!

One of BAP’s defining features is that Niedecken performs their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. While I think they are on par with many English singing bands, undoubtedly this has largely limited their appeal to Germany, though they have ventured out to neighboring countries and even once to China. BAP have seen many line-up changes over the decades, and Niedecken remains the only original member. Since September 2014 after the departure of two longtime members, Niedecken announced that going forward the band would perform under the name Niedeckens BAP and no longer have a standing line-up.

BAP in 2016
Current members of BAP (from left): Wolfgang Niedecken (guitar, vocals), Werner Kopal (bass), Anne De Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums)

Niedecken has been BAP’s driving creative force. His key influences are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The  Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Niedecken has a friendly relationship with Springsteen. In fact, I previously read that whenever the Boss performs in Germany and Niedecken is around, he likes to invite him on stage to play a song together – to me this sounds like something Springsteen would do. BAP have released 17 studio albums, eight live recordings and three compilations to date – more than enough fodder for another playlist, so let’s get to it. Unlike the first chronological playlist I published here, this time, I’m going randomly.

Let’s kick it off with a nice blues rocker called Diego Paz Wohr Nüngzehn (Diego Paz was 19). Co-written by then-guitarist Helmut Krumminga and Niedecken, the tune has a cool ZZ Top La Grange vibe. It appeared on BAP’s 15th studio album Radio Pandora from May 2008.

The next song takes us all the way back to 1980 and Affjetaut (defrosted), BAP’s sophomore release. Here’s the opener Ne schöne Jrooß (greetings) co-written by Niedecken and Klaus Heuser, who had joined the band as their lead guitarist prior to the recording sessions and would become Niedecken’s key musical partner until his departure in 1999. While perhaps not surprisingly the sound is a bit dated, I still dig that tune.

In August 1996, BAP released their 10th studio album Amerika (America), one of my favorites. Here’s the great opener Nix Wie Bessher (nothing like it used to be), another Niedecken-Heuser co-write. As you can hear, BAP’s sound had significantly matured by then.

Time Is Cash, Time Is Money, a humorous take on organized vacation travel, appeared on the band’s sixth studio record Ahl Männer, Aalglatt (old slick guys). The song was co-written by Niedecken and producer Reinhold Mack. Mack had produced, co-produced and sound-engineered for Queen, Billy Squier and E.L.O. According to Wikipedia, it was the first time BAP relied on a “professional” producer – I assume by this they mean somebody who had worked with international acts.

Next up: Do Kanns Zaubere (you can do magic), one of my favorite BAP ballads, and yet another co-write by Niedecken and Heuser. The tune is from their fourth studio album Vun Drinne Noh Drusse (from the inside to the outside) released in August 1982.

Over their long history, BAP have released a number of songs addressing social and political issues, including racism/hostility against foreigners and nationalism – sadly topics I never thought would remain as relevant as they are today in the 21st Century. Here’s Denn Mer Sinn Widder Wer (Coz we’re great again – sound fucking familiar?) The track appeared on BAP’s eighth studio album X Für ‘e U (an “x” for a “u”) released in October 1990 in the wake of Germany’s reunification. And, yes, in case you wondered, Niedecken and Heuser teamed up for this tune as well. The clip I found is not an official video but was put together by the guy who uploaded it YouTube.

How ’bout Shoeshine? Ask and you shall receive. This great song, written by Niedecken, is from BAP’s 13th studio album Aff Un Zo (every now and then) from June 2001. It was an important record for the band after the departure of longtime members Heuser and keyboarder Alexander Büchel. The only YouTube clip of the tune I could find is this version from the 2014 unplugged live album Das Märchen Vom Gezogenen SteckerLive (the tale of the pulled plug – live). While it’s a bit different from the studio recording, I think it’s actually pretty cool.

A BAP playlist without a tune from their aforementioned breakthrough album would be incomplete. Since I previously featured what is perhaps their best-known song Verdamp Lang Her (such a long time ago), I’m going with the road tune Frau, Ich Freu Mich (Can’t wait to see you, baby). Given this record appeared in 1981, guess who co-wrote the rocker? Yep, Niedecken and Heuser had done it again!

For the next tune, let’s jump all the way forward to BAP’s most recent studio release, Lebenslänglich (for a lifetime), which appeared in early 2016: Et Ess Lang Her (long ago). The song was co-written by Niedecken and keyboarder Michael Nass. I dig the beautiful acoustic roots sound, which reminds me a bit of John Mellencamp.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Halv Su Wild (not a big deal) another of my favorite BAP albums. It is from their 16th and the last studio record to date released under the name BAP. It also marked the final album with longtime drummer Jürgen Zöller (1987-2014) and Helmut Krumminga, who had been the band’s lead guitarist from 1999 until 2014. Here’s a live version of Et Levve Ess En Autobahn (life is a highway), which apparently was captured during an open-air gig in Germany in 2012. Written by Niedecken, it’s an autobiographic song about the band’s long history.

During an interview with Swiss newspaper Tagblatt, Niedecken confirmed BAP are working on a new studio album that will likely appear sometime this year, followed by a tour in 2021. Mentioning his most recent solo effort Das Familienalbum (the family album), which was recorded in New Orleans and came out in 2017, Niedecken also hinted the band’s next record is going to feature some of the same U.S. horn players. For a long-time BAP fan like myself, this does sound intriguing.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tagblatt; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 20

January 20 presented various memorable moments in music history, from surf rock to The Fab Four to Dylan to an all-star concert to celebrate the first official Martin Luther King Day. Let’s get to it!

1962: Dick Dale (born Richard Anthony Monsour) and The Del-Tones entered the Billboard Hot 100 with the instrumental Let’s Go Trippin‘ at no. 60, marking the first surf rock song to chart. While Dale became known as The King of the Surf Guitar, he never reached the success and popularity of fellow surf rockers like Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys. In addition to being a surf music pioneer, Dale was also instrumental in advancing guitar amplifier technology. Working with guitar manufacturer Fender, he helped develop customized amplifiers, including the first 100-watt amp. Dale who was of Lebanese descent incorporated Middle Eastern music scales in his playing and experimented with reverb, which both became key elements of his surf rock sound. He also had an unusual technique, playing a left-handed guitar upside down, i.e., without restringing the instrument.

1964: Meet the Beatles, The Beatles’ second U.S. album and the first on Capitol Records was released. While the cover cheerfully stated, “The First Album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo,” the record actually was the second U.S. release. Ten days prior to its appearance, Vee-Jay Records issued the Fab Four’s actual U.S. debut Introducing… The Beatles. Originally, that album had been scheduled for July 1963. Still, Meet the Beatles beat Introducing…The Beatles in the charts, entering the Billboard 200 one week prior to the latter and peaking at no. 1, denying the top spot to Vee-Jay’s release that got stuck at no. 2. While the cover of Meet the Beatles looked almost identical to the UK album With the Beatles, the song line-up on each record was different. Here’s I Saw Her Standing There, a tune that in the UK already had appeared on The Beatles’ debut Please Please Me and therefore was not on With the Beatles.

1968: John Fred & and his Playboy Band topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Judy in Disguise (With Glasses). Co-written by John Fred Gourrier and Andrew Bernard, the song was the only hit for the U.S. band. The title was a play on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles. Apparently, when he first heard the Beatles tune, Gourrier understood the words as Lucy in disguise with diamonds. Ironically, Judy in Disguise knocked Beatles song Hello, Goodbye out of the Billboard Hot 100 top position. The tune also became a no. 1 hit in Australia, Germany, South Africa and Switzerland, and climbed to no. 3 in Canada, Ireland and the UK. Well, John Fred & and his Playboy Band may have hit it big time only once, but at least they made it count!

1975: Bob Dylan released his 15th studio album Blood on the Tracks. After receiving mixed reviews initially, the album has since been acclaimed as one of Dylan’s greatest. Isn’t it funny how music critics oftentimes change their minds? Apparently, people were faster to embrace the record. By March 1, 1975, Blood on the Tracks stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand and climbed to no. 3 in the UK. In 2003, it was ranked at no. 16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time. Here’s Shelter From the Storm.

1986: Stevie Wonder commemorated the first official celebration of Martin Luther King Day with a star-studded concert in Washington, D.C. For many years, Wonder had supported the idea for the national holiday, which first had been proposed in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. But sadly it took Congress many years to embrace the idea. During the Carter administration, a bill to establish Martin Luther King Day was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives. This prompted Wonder to write the song Happy Birthday and release it as a single in September 1980. After Congress received petitions in excess of six million signatures, the Senate and the House passed legislation, which was signed by President Regan in November 1983. The first official observance of Martin Luther King Day took three more years. Here’s a clip of the above concert’s finale, featuring Diana Ross and Wonder, along with many other artists.

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

Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Yes, You’re Gonna Be a Star!

Since my recent post about Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman, the above creatively borrowed and somewhat adjusted phrase had been stuck in my head, just like the catchy song. The first part of the statement is true, the second half is perhaps debatable. But while this British rock band only had one real hit, there’s no doubt in my mind Thunderclap Newman was more than just a one-hit-wonder.

As a fan of The Who, I’m intrigued by Pete Townshend’s role in the band’s history – in fact, without Townshend, there would have been no Thunderclap Newman. He brought the band’s core members together in late 1968/early 1969: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Speedy Keen (born John David Percy Keen), Dixieland jazz pianist Thunderclap Newman (born Andrew Lawrence Newman) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (born James McCulloch). They are pictured in that order from left to right in the above photo.

Something in the Air Single

Interestingly, prior to the band’s formation, Keen had been The Who’s chauffeur and shared an apartment with Townshend. He also had written Armenia In the Sky, the opener to The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Apparently, Townshend was impressed with the songwriting talents of Keen who had played in different bands since 1964, so he decided to introduce him to Newman and McCulloch. Townshend was also instrumental in getting the band a contract with Track Records, an independent label established by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

The first song Thunderclap Newman recorded was their big hit Something in the Air written by Keen. The sessions took place at Townshend’s home studio. He also produced the single and played bass on the recording under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Released in May 1969, Something in the Air topped the UK Singles Chart only three weeks after its appearance, replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko. The tune’s original title was Revolution, but it was changed because The Beatles already had a song with that title, which had come out in 1968.

Thunderclap Newman_Hollywood Dream

Following the success of Something in the Air, an initially reluctant Thunderclap Newman agreed to go on the road. They brought in Jim Pitman-Avery (bass) and Jack McCulloch (drums), Jimmy’s older brother, to support Deep Purple on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland from July to August 1969. After the tour, Pitman-Avery and Jack McCulloch exited and formed country-rock band Wild Country, leaving Thunderclap Newman with their three core members. Keen, Newman and McCulloch went back into the studio and recorded Hollywood Dream, their only studio album.

Like Something in the Air, Townshend played a key role, producing Hollywood Dream and again playing bass under the name of Bijou Drains. And while the final track Something in the Air undoubtedly is the hit, there are other gems on this album. Let’s kick things off with the nice opener Hollywood #1, which like most of the other tracks was written by Keen.

Here’s Open the Door Homer, a great cover of a Bob Dylan song. If I see it correctly, Dylan did not release the tune until 1975 when he included it on The Basement Tapes, a collection of tracks he had recorded in 1967, mostly with backing by The Band. In particular, I dig Keen’s singing on this tune.

Next up: Accidents, another original tune written by Keen. There’s a lot going on in this more than nine-minute track, including some great piano and guitar work. In fact, as much as I dig Something in the AirAccidents is the album’s tue standout to me. A shorter version was released separately and peaked at no. 46 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1970, becoming Thunderclap Newman’s only other single to make the charts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. To readers who know my affection for vocals, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I chose to highlight an instrumental. Well, it’s not that I don’t like instrumentals – after all, I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ’70s albums that are filled with instrumental parts. But after a while, I simply feel the need to hear some vocals! In part, I also chose Hollywood Dream since it was co-written by the McCulloch brothers, making it the only original that wasn’t penned by Keen. BTW, Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 years when he recorded this tune with the band.

In early 1971, Thunderclap Newman brought in Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass) to create a new touring lineup. This was followed by another tour with Deep Purple through England and Scotland between January and April 1971. And then it was suddenly all over for the band. Why? Referencing a 1972 interview Newman gave to the New Musical Express (now known as NME), Wikipedia hints to personal friction between Newman and Keen. It’s unfortunate when egos clash, but certainly not unheard of, especially in music!

Keen went on to record two solo albums, Previous Convictions (1973) and Y’ Know Wot I Mean? (1975), and also played as a session musician with Rod Stewart, The Mission and Kenny G. Sadly, he passed away from heart failure at the age of 62 on March 12, 2002.

Newman also recorded a solo album, Rainbow, which appeared in 1971. Other than that he was “was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. In addition to Newman, the band’s new line-up featured Tony Stubbings (bass), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend (rhythm guitar and vocals). Shortly thereafter, the band released Beyond Hollywood, an album of studio and live tracks of old Thunderclap Newman songs. In 2011, they toured the UK with Big Country. The last two gigs listed on the band’s official website are from 2012. Newman died on March 29, 2016 at the age of 73.

Jimmy McCulloch formed his own group in October 1971 and also played guitar in various other bands, most importantly Paul McCartney’s Wings, which he joined in August 1974. After exiting Wings in September 1977, McCullogh joined the reformed Small Faces. Another own band and a few additional stints followed. On September 27, 1979, McCulloch was found dead, apparently having died from a heart attack attributed to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was only 26 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 30

Before this year and decade are finally over, I thought why not throw in another installment of this recurring feature. For first-time visitors, the idea of these posts is simple: Look what happened on a specific date in rock throughout the decades. Admittedly, it’s a rather arbitrary way to cover music history. Moreover, these posts reflect events I find interesting and are not supposed to be comprehensive summaries. Usually, the selections are heavily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which generally are my favorite music decades. This time, I’m also throwing in two birthdays. With that being said, let’s get to it!

1928: Ellas McDaniel (born Ellas Otha Bates), the American artist who became known as Bo Diddley, was born in the tiny city of McComb, Miss. When he was six years old, the McDaniel family who had adopted him from his mother, moved to Chicago, where the boy studied the trombone and the violin before taking up the guitar. Initially, he played on street corners with friends. By 1951, he had secured a regular gig at Chicago South Side’s 708 Club. In April 1955, then already known as Bo Diddley, he released his namesake tune featuring his signature Bo Diddley beat. Diddley, who passed away on June 2, 2008, influenced many artists, such as early rock & rollers Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, as well as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Here’s Bo Diddley, his only tune to top the Billboard Hot R&B chart.

1947: Jeffrey (Jeff) Lynne was born in the Birmingham suburb of Erdington, England. Jeff got his first (acoustic) guitar as a child from his father Philip Lynne. In 1963, he formed his first band, The Rockin’ Hellcats – that’s when bands still had fun names! Three years later, Jeff joined Birmingham rock group The Idle Race as lead guitarist, keyboarder and vocalist, and played on their first two albums. While the band developed a cult following, it did not achieve commercial success. In 1970, Lynne’s friend Roy Wood invited him to join The Move, the band that eventually morphed into Electric Light Orchestra. After a successful run that lasted 11 albums and 15 years, ELO disbanded in 1986. In 2000, Lynne revived ELO, but until 2013, they mostly released re-issues and played occasional mini-reunions. Since 2014, the band essentially has been a Jeff Lynne project billed as Jeff Lynne’s ELO and released two albums. Lynne also was a co-founder of Traveling Wilburys. In addition to producing for “his” bands, Lynne produced for many other artists, such as Dave Edmunds, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. Here’s Livin’ Thing from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record, released in July 1976. Like most ELO tunes, the song was written by Lynne who turned 72 years today. Happy birthday!

1967: For the 15th time, The Beatles stood at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, this time with Hello, Goodbye. Written by Paul McCartney, the tune was released as a non-album single in November 1967, backed by I’m The Walrus. According to Songfacts, John Lennon wasn’t fond of the tune, calling it “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions.” Apparently, he was also mad that his song I’m The Walrus was relegated to the B-side. While Hello, Goodbye has nice harmony singing and a cool bassline, I have to say I’m with Lennon here. The lyrics are silly and the much stronger I’m The Walrus would have deserved to be an A-side release.

1973: Jim Croce topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Time In A Bottle, his second and last no. 1 hit. Sadly, he didn’t get a chance to witness this milestone. On September 20, 1973, Croce was killed in a plane crash during a tour while taking off from Natchitoches, La.  He was en route to Sherman, Texas for his next scheduled gig at Austin College. All of the other five people who were on board of the chartered Beechcraft E18S died as well. Time In A Bottle was the third single off Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which had come out in April 1972. The poetic love song is a timeless gem!

1974: Bob Dylan recorded the take of Tangled Up In Blue that ended up on his 1975 album Blood On The Tracks while visiting his brother David for the holidays in Minnesota. Written in the summer of 1974, the tune deals with personal matters Dylan was going through at the time, including his failing marriage to his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky). Dylan had first recorded the song with producer Phil Ramone in New York but not released it. During the session that generated the album version, Dylan asked Kevin Odegard, a local singer and guitarist who had been brought in to support the recording, what he thought about the song. Odegard suggested changing the key from G and A. Dylan gave it a try and apparently was satisfied with the outcome. Odegard never received any credit on the record but graciously said the experience was instrumental in launching his own successful music career.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; This Day In Rock; YouTube

Time For Some Additional German Music

This post was inspired by a recent short trip back to Germany, the country in which I was born and lived for the first 26 years of my life. While I didn’t have time to look for new CDs by German music artists, I ended up listening to a playlist of German rock and pop songs while driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt to the beautiful Rhine city of Bad Honnef near Bonn.

Once again, I was reminded there is some great German music out there, except it’s barely known beyond the country’s borders. To be clear, what I’m talking about is German language music, not German bands singing in English like Scorpions or electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. While I already previously posted about German music artists here and here, I thought this would be a good time for an encore. Since I left Germany more than 25 years ago, I’m not aware of any younger acts, so I’m revisiting artists I’ve known and liked for many years.

I’d like to kick things off with Wolf Maahn, a singer-songwriter, actor and producer. Born on March 25, 1955 in Berlin, Maahn got his initial start in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band, which mixed soul, jazz, pop and rock and sang in English. His German language music debut was the album Deserteure from 1982. In 1985, he gained broad popularity as the first German act performing during Rockpalast Nacht, a recurring live six-hour concert event broadcast throughout Europe. To date, more than 20 studio, live and compilation Maahn albums have appeared. Slow-Mo In New York is his recently released latest single from an upcoming new studio album titled Break Out Of Babylon. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might think, didn’t I just note this post is about German language music? Yep, the lyrics are in German – for the most part. 🙂

Another longtime German music artist is Marius Müller-Westernhagen, also simply known as Westernhagen. The rock musician, who was born on December 6, 1948 in Düsseldorf, started his career as an actor at the age of 14. While he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s, success didn’t come until the release of his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz in 1978. Today, with 19 studio albums and various live and compilation records, Westernhagen is one of the most successful German music artists. Here’s a clip of Mit 18 from his upcoming release titled Das Pfefferminz-Experiment (Woodstock Recordings Vol. 1), scheduled for November 8. Based on what I’ve seen on the web, this appears to be a remake of the above album with new stripped down versions of the tracks. The album was recorded at Dreamland Studio in Woodstock with American musicians. This included multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon. I have to admit the orginal Mit 18 is one of my favorite Westernhagen tunes, but after having listened to the remake a few times, I find it intriguing.

Udo Lindenberg, born on May 17, 1946 in Gronau, is a rock musician, writer and painter. He entered the music scene as a 15-year-old drummer playing in bars in Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. Commerical breakthrough came with the third studio album Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria. While Lindenberg has consistently recorded throughout the decades, success began to vane in the mid ’80s. Since 2008 and his 35th studio album Stark Wie Zwei, Lindenberg has experienced a late career surge. Today, the 73-year-old continues to go strong. His most recent album MTV Unplugged 2: Live vom Atlantik appeared last year. Here is Du Knallst In Mein Leben, which first appeared on Lindenberg’s 1983 studio album Odyssee. In this version, he shares vocals with German indie pop artist Deine Cousine.

Herbert Grönemeyer is one of the most versatile German artists. The musician, producer, vocalist, composer, songwriter and actor was born on April 12, 1956 in Göttingen. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio record Bochum. To date, Grönemeyer has released 15 studio albums, as well as various compilations and live records. With more than 18 million units, he has sold more records than any other music artist in Germany since 1975, according to Wikipedia. While Grönemeyer has written some rock-oriented songs, for the most part, I would characterize his music as straight pop. Here is the ballad Warum from his most recent album Tumult, which came out in November 2018.

If I could only select one German rock band, it would be BAP, a group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which nowadays performs as Niedecken’s BAP. The band has been around with different line-ups since 1976, and I’ve followed them since the early 1980s. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the region of Cologne, the home town of Niedecken who remains the group’s only original member. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are among his key influences. In fact, Niedecken is also friends with the Boss and has performed with him on the same stage. Niedecken’s BAP’s most recent release is a live album, Live & Deutlich, which was released in November 2018. Here’s Nix Wie Bessher, a track that first appeared on BAP’s excellent 10th studio album Amerika from August 1996.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; Westernhagen website; Udo Lindenberg website; Herbert Grönemeyer website; BAP website; YouTube