The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors know what’s about to happen. To new readers, The Sunday Six is all about enjoying the diversity and beauty of music. I make a deliberate effort to feature different music genres including some I don’t listen to frequently. While the resulting picks, therefore, can appear to be random, these posts don’t capture the first six tunes that come to my mind. At the end of the day, anything goes as long as it speaks to me.

George Benson/Breezin’

Kicking is off is some groovy guitar pop jazz by George Benson. Benson started to play the guitar as an eight-year-old, following the ukulele he had picked up a year earlier. Incredibly, he already recorded by the age of 9, which means his career now stands at a whooping 57 years and counting! He gained initial popularity in the 1960s, performing together with jazz organist Jack McDuff. Starting with the 1963 live album Brother Jack McDuff Live!, Benson appeared on various McDuff records. In 1964, he released his debut as a bandleader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, which featured McDuff on piano and organ. In the ’70s, Benson started to venture beyond jazz into pop and R&B. Breezin’ from May 1976 is a good example. Not only did it top Billboard’s jazz chart, but it also climbed to no. 1 on the R&B and mainstream charts. Here’s the title track, written by Bobby Womack who also originally recorded it in December 1970, together with Hungarian jazz guitar great Gábor Szabó. It appeared on Szabó’s 1971 album High Contrast. Here’s Benson’s version. The smooth and happy sound are perfect for a Sunday morning!

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Let’s stay in pop jazzy lane for a bit longer with Steely Dan, one of my all-time favorite bands. I trust Messrs. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for jazz and other music, don’t need much of an introduction. By the time they met guitarist Denny Dias in the summer of 1970, they already had written a good amount of original music. Steely Dan’s  first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters. It was also Katz who signed the Dan to the label. By the time their sixth and, in my opinion, best album Aja appeared in September 1977, Steely Dan had become a studio project by Fagen and Becker who surrounded themselves with a changing cast of top-notch session musicians and other artists. In this case, the latter included Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), among others. Here’s Home at Last, which like all other tracks on the album was co-written by Fagen and Becker. In addition to them, the track featured Carlton (though the solo was played by Becker who oftentimes left lead guitar responsibilities to a session guitarist like Carlton), Rainey (bass), Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Bernard Purdie (drums), Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals), and of course an amazing horn section, including Jim Horn (what an appropriate name!), Bill Perkins, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Chuck Findley, Lou McCreary and Dick Hyde.

The Temptations/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Time to start switching up things with a dose of ’70s funk and psychedelic soul, don’t you agree? Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations is one of the coolest tunes I can think of in this context. Co-written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song was first released as a single in May 1972 by the label’s recording act The Undisputed Truth. While the original to which you can listen here is pretty good as well, it’s the great rendition by The Temptations I heard first and have come to love! They recorded an 11-minute-plus take for their studio album All Directions from July 1972. In September that year, The Temptations also released a 6:54-minute single version of the song. While it still was a pretty long edit for a single, it yielded the group their second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’70s. It would also be their last no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. By the time Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone appeared, the group already had seen various changes and only featured two members of the classic line-up: Otis Williams (baritone) and Melvin Franklin (bass). The other members were Dennis Edwards (tenor), Damon Harris (tenor) and Richard Street (second tenor). Amazingly, The Temptations still exist after some 60 years (not counting the group’s predecessors), with 79-year-old Otis Williams remaining as the only original member. I have tickets to see them together with The Four Tops in early November – keeping fingers crossed! Meanwhile, here’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, of course, the mighty album version, coz I don’t do things half ass here! 🙂

Peter Gabriel/Don’t Give Up (feat. Kate Bush)

Let’s go to a different decade with another artist I’ve come to dig, which in no small part was due to this album: Peter Gabriel and So, his fifth studio release from May 1986. It’s probably Gabriel’s most mainstream-oriented album. Much of the former Genesis lead vocalist’s other solo work has been more of an acquired taste. I also didn’t pay much attention after his follow-on Us that appeared in September 1992. Fueled by the hit single Sledgehammer, which topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, peaked at no. 3 in Australia and New Zealand, and reached the top 10 in Germany and various other European countries, So became Gabriel’s best-selling solo album. I did catch him during the supporting tour in Cologne, Germany, and still have fond memories of that gig. Here’s Don’t Give Up, a haunting duet with Kate Bush. Inspired by U.S. Depression era photos from the 1930s Gabriel had seen, he applied the theme to the difficult economic conditions in Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s England. While the tune is a bit of a Debbie Downer, I find it extremely powerful. You can literally picture the lyrics as a movie. I also think the vocals alternating between Gabriel and Bush work perfectly.

The Turtles/Happy Together

I suppose after the previous tune, we all could need some cheering up. A song that always puts me in a good mood is Happy Together by The Turtles. Plus, it broadens our little musical journey to include the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. The Turtles started performing under that name in 1965. Their original members, Howard Kaylan (lead vocals, keyboards), Mark Volman (backing vocals, guitar, percussion), Al Nichol (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jim Tucker (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chuck Portz (bass) and Don Murray (drums), had all played together in a surf rock-oriented band called The Crossfires. That group turned into The Tyrtles, a folk rock outfit, before becoming The Turtles and adopting more of a sunshine pop style. The band’s initial run lasted until 1970. Vollman and Kaylan subsequently launched pop duo Flo & Eddie and released a series of records between 1972 and 2009. In 1983, Vollman and Kaylan legally regained the use of the name The Turtles and started touring as The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie. Instead of seeking to reunite with their former bandmates, Vollman and Kaylan relied on other musicians. The group remains active in this fashion to this day. Their website lists a poster for a Happy Together Tour 2021 “this summer,” though currently, no gigs are posted. Happy Together was the title track of the band’s third studio album from April 1967. Co-written by Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner, the infectious tune became The Turtles’ biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in Canada, and reaching no. 12 in the UK, marking their first charting single there.

Simple Minds/Stand by Love

I can’t believe it’s already time to wrap up this latest installment of The Sunday Six. For this last tune, I decided to pick a song from the early ’90s: Stand by Love by Simple Minds. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Scottish new wave and pop rock band and don’t follow them closely, I generally enjoy their music. I also got to see them live once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s and remember it as a good show. Simple Minds emerged in late 1977 from the remains of short-lived punk band Johnny & The Self-Abusers. By late 1978, the band’s first stable line-up was in place, featuring Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Mick MacNeil (keyboards), Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums). That formation recorded Simple Minds’ debut album Life in a Day released in April 1979. Their fifth studio album New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) was the first to bring more significant commercial success in the UK and Europe. This was followed by a series of additional successful albums that appeared between 1984 and 1995, which included the band’s biggest hits, such as Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive and Kicking, Belfast Child and Let There Be Love. Today, more than 40 years after their formation, Simple Minds are still around, with Kerr and Burchill remaining part of the current line-up. Here’s Stand by Love, co-written by Burchill and Kerr, from the band’s ninth studio album Real Life that came out in April 1991. This is quite a catchy tune. I also dig the backing vocals by what sounds like gospel choir, which become more prominent as the song progresses.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie website; YouTube

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A Change Is Gonna Come, Ooo, Yes It Is

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

This great song by Sam Cooke popped up in my mind yesterday. While he wrote it in a very different context, I still felt it fits the current situation where so many of us are hunkered down at home, hoping this bloody COVID-19 pandemic is going to turn a corner and that eventually, the country can get back to more normal circumstances.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

The tune was inspired by unfortunate events Cooke experienced in Louisiana in October 1963. On October 8, Cooke called a local motel in Shreveport to reserve rooms for his wife and himself, as well as his entourage. But it turned out to be a “whites-only” motel, so when they arrived, a nervous front desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. Cooke got angry and demanded to speak with the manager, but his wife convinced him to leave. After he eventually agreed, they drove away voicing insults and blowing their horns. When they got to another local motel, the police were waiting and arrested them for “disturbing the peace.”

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke New York Times 1963

The news agency UPI reported on the incident with the headline Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport. The piece was picked up by The New York Times on October 9 (see picture above). The story lead reads as follows: SHREVEPORT, La., Oct. 8 (UPI) – Sam Cooke of Los Angeles, a Negro band leader; his wife and two associates were arrested for disturbing the peace today after they tried to register at a white motel. George D’Artois, Public Safety Commissioner, said the four were not arrested for trying to register at the motel, but for creating a disturbance after they failed to get accommodations

Last year – that’s 56 years after the despicable incident – Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event – well, I suppose better late than never! He also posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city. Sadly, something tells me his actions were not embraced by everybody. Ignorance and racism are a bit like the coronavirus – they persist, at least in certain circles. Let’s leave at that!

Another factor that prompted Cooke to write the song was Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. According to Songfacts, he couldn’t believe that tune had been penned by a white man. After hearing it, he became determined to write something similar. And he did. Following Christmas in 1963, Cooke presented the tune to J.W. Alexander, a close music associate. Apparently, Alexander cautioned Cooke the song may not be as successful as his previous lighter, poppier songs, but Cooke decided to proceed anyway, saying he wanted to make his father proud.

A Change Is Gonna Come was recorded at RCA Studios in Los Angeles on January 30, 1964. The session was conducted by Cooke’s musical arranger and guitarist René Hall. Production is credited to songwriting and producer duo and cousins Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. They worked out of New York City’s storied Brill Building and are also known for having produced other Cooke songs like Twistin’ the Night Away and Another Saturday Night, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens, and Shout by The Isley Brothers.

A Change Is Gonna Come first appeared on Cooke’s final studio album Ain’t That Good News released on March 1, 1964. It wasn’t issued as a single until December 11, 1964, two weeks after Cooke had been shot to death under mysterious circumstances by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. The manager claimed she had acted in self-defense after Cooke had forced himself into her office, half-naked, looking for a woman who had spent the evening with him. The single version omitted the verse and chorus preceding the bridge (“I go to the movies…”) for radio airplay.

The tune became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Interesting, Cooke only performed it once in public, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964 – and only after his manager Allen Klein had pushed him to do so. Cooke told him there was no time to pull together the necessary musical arrangement, but Klein managed for RCA to pay for a full string section. According to Wikipedia, after that performance, Cooke had second thoughts about the tune, apparently in part triggered by Bobby Womack who felt it sounded “like death.” Cooke reportedly answered, “Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.”

As you’d expect, a gem like A Change Is Gonna Come has been covered by many other artists. One of my favorite takes is by Solomon Burke, who made it the title track of a studio album he released in 1986. He truly made it his own with a riveting version that takes the song to the then-present time of the mid-’80s. If you haven’t heard it, give this a listen!

I’d like to close with another intriguing cover by rock band Greta Van Fleet. Yep, you read this right – they included it on their second EP From the Fires that came out in November 2017. And, holy smoke, their gifted lead vocalist Josh Kiszka is absolutely killing it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ladies Singing The Blues And Killing It – An Encore

Last October, I wrote about five outstanding female blues artists who may not be top of mind when thinking about the genre. I was reminded of this recently when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast included British blues rock guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor in one of his “New Music Revues” and during a discussion noted an increasing number of female guitarists nowadays, especially blues. This inspired me to do some more digging on female blues artists to see who else is out there. Here are three additional dynamite ladies singing the blues. They are also great guitarists. And none of them is from the U.S.

Dani Wilde

Dani Wilde (left in above picture) is a 33-year-old blues and country singer-songwriter from Hullavington, a village in Southwest England. In 2007, she signed with German independent record label Ruf Records and released her debut album Heal My Blues in January 2008. Six additional records featuring Wilde have since appeared, the most recent being Live At Brighton Road from June 2017. According to her website, Blues Blast Magazine called Wilde “a modern day British blues phenomenon” and the album “a treat for the ear and the eyes.” Over the past 10 years, Wilde has performed across Europe, America, Canada and Africa and shared tickets with artists like Johnny Winter, Robben Ford, Bobby Womack and Taj Mahal. Here’s Don’t Quit Me Baby from the above live album, a tune written by Wilde.

Ana Popović

Ana Popović (middle in above picture) is a blues guitarist and singer from Serbia, who was born in Belgrade in May 1976 (then Yugoslavia). According to Popović’s website, her father, a guitar and bass player with an impressive blues and soul collection, always invited friends for nightly jam sessions. Popović started playing guitar as a 15-year-old and four years later formed the band Hush. In 1998, she recorded her first album with Hush, Hometown. Shortly thereafter, Popović went to The Netherlands and started to study jazz guitar. The following year, she formed the Ana Popović Band there and decided to terminate her studies after signing a deal with Ruf Records. BTW, that label seems to do a great job with signing new blues artists. In early 2001, Popović’s solo debut Hush! came out. She has since released 10 additional albums. Popović and her six-piece band have shared stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa, among others. Here’s a great funky tune called Like It On Top, the title track from her latest album, which appeared last September and was co-produced by her and Keb’ Mo’. Co-written by the two, the track features Robben Ford on guitar.

Eliana Cargnelutti

Eliana Cargnelutti (right in above picture) is a 29-year-old guitarist and singer from Udine, Italy. According to her website, she graduated in jazz guitar at the conservatory “G. Frescobaldi” in Ferrara…is the new hope of Italian rock blues…and one of the rare real front women of the Italian scene.  She plays a flavor of rock blues with a bit of everything in between: electric funk, mixed with pop and jazzy instrumentals, raw rock, tight blues grooves, illuminated by her skills as an electric guitarist. In addition to various Italian blues artists, Cargnelutti has played with American artists like John Craig (guitarist of Ike & Tina Turner), Peter Stroud (guitarist of Sheryl Crow) and the Joe Pitts Band. To date she has released two solo albums: Love Affairs (November 2013) and Electric Woman (January 2015). She also appeared together with Sadie Johnson and Heather Crosse on Girls With Guitars, a record and tour project by yes, you guessed it right: Ruf Records. Here’s I’m A Woman, an original tune from Electric Woman – mamma mia!

With all this great music, I can’t help but think about Etta James’ line The blues is my business, and business is good. Still, when it comes to female blues artists, I feel they still don’t get the limelight they deserve. But with labels like Ruf Records and kick-ass artists such as the above, things seem to be changing.

Sources: Wikipedia, Dani Wilde website, Ana Popović website, Eliana Cargnelutti website, YouTube