Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! ūüôā

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist St√©phane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far ‚ÄĒ this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Rock the Farm Triumphantly Returns to Jersey Shore

Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts

After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.

Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).

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Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!

Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.

One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move

As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!

Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson

Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.

Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator

Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.

Decade/Almost Cut My Hair

Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the D√©j√† Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.

The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line

Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.

Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine

Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as¬†Axl Rose (lead vocals),¬†Eamonn¬†as¬†Slash (guitar), Chris as¬†Duff McKagan (bass),¬†David¬†as¬†Dizzy Reed (keyboards),¬†Martin¬†as¬†Steven Adler (drums) and¬†Chris¬†as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!

TUSK/You Make Loving Fun

TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as¬†Stevie Nicks (vocals),¬†Kim Williams as¬† Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals),¬†Scott McDonald as¬†Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals),¬†Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as¬†Mick Fleetwood (drums).¬†Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.

Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.

This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube

Rock The Farm Once Again Proves To Be Gift That Keeps On Giving

Sixth annual music tribute festival on Jersey show delivers day of great music for a great cause

While late September in New Jersey means fall is upon us and soon folks will start bitching about rain, wind and cold weather, I’ve been looking forward to this last weekend of the month all year. The reason is Rock the Farm, the annual music tribute festival and fundraiser in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation. As previously noted on these pages, this charitable organization provides support to families struggling with addiction at a particularly critical time when their loved ones come out of drug rehab and need to rebuild their lives while staying sober.

It’s a good thing if you like me have never been hooked on drugs, but let’s not kid ourselves: Even if we think we’re immune, there’s no doubt in my mind addiction can happen to anybody. And it can probably go faster than we want to admit.¬†Therefore, I strongly feel we shouldn’t look down on folks who are in the throes of drugs. Instead, we should support them as best as we can. It’s safe to assume nobody wants to be a drug addict, if they could freely choose. And, yes, impacted people probably made some choices they wish they could take back. But we shouldn’t judge.¬†Behind each case, there is a human being with a unique story.

In fact, just like last year, the event featured individuals who had the courage to come on stage and briefly share their stories with the audience. It’s safe to assume it takes guts to this. It’s also extremely powerful. Among these folks was an 18-year-old woman who said she became a drug addict at age 13. Thirteen years – that’s a good deal younger than my 17-year-old. Her life fell totally apart and she lost everything. This is truly heart-breaking stuff. Luckily, thanks to support from the CFC Foundation, this young woman was able to turn things around and now feels she’s stronger than ever. While it was obviously a happy outcome, I have to admit these stories get to me. I also love the message of hope and empowerment. With that being said, let’s get to some music. There was plenty, and once again, most of it was outstanding.

Rock the Farm 2019 Line-up

For readers who aren’t familiar with Rock the Farm, the concept of the 10-hour open air event is this: Imagine a music festival many folks wish would happen but can’t, since artists have passed away or no longer perform. As a music lover, I think it’s a fun idea. Yesterday’s line-up brought a nice mix of tributes playing different music styles, including folk, rock, pop and even hair metal. Following are some clips.

I’d like to kick things off with One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. At the core of this act are¬†Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band and in addition to King also played some tunes by Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. For more information and their schedule of shows mostly in Jersey, you can check out their website. Here’s Sweet Seasons, a tune off King’s third solo album Music from December 1971, co-written by her and Toni Stern.

Coo Coo Cachoo, another Jersey-based act, are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been singing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school some 47 years ago. This means they started about two years after Simon & Garfunkel had released their fifth and last studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water. I find that pretty amazing. In addition to performing as a duo, they each do solo projects. Johnston recently completed his third album of original singer-songwriter material. Jankiewicz has recorded one original album and plays in an eclectic array of music groups , from symphony to blue grass to jazz. More information is on the duo’s¬†Facebook page. Here is their rendition of America. Written by Paul Simon, the song appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio record Bookends released in April 1968. I’ve always liked this tune!

Following are a few tribute acts I covered before, but they’re just too good to skip. First up:¬†Decade, a great act revolving around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway, who is also from New Jersey and performs with different line-ups of great backing musicians. Frequent members include guitarist Gordon Bunker Strout, pedal steel player Joseph Napolitano, bassist John Dickson and keyboarder Steve Cunniff. Sometimes, Hathaway’s band also features a female backing vocalist as was the case yesterday with Pam McCoy. For more information and upcoming gigs, visit Decade’s Facebook page. Here’s Cinnamon Girl, a tune from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which Young released as his second solo album in May 1969.

The Glimmer Twins, a Rolling Stones tribute from Philly, are another excellent band I previously featured. Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this bandis led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound fantastic:  Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ). For more information, check out their website. Here’s Can You Hear Me Knocking, one of my favorite tunes from the Sticky Fingers album that appeared in April 1971. Check out the nice sax work by Michaels!

Yet another outstanding band I’ve covered before is TUSK, a tribute to Fleetwood Mac, which mirrors the¬†Rumours¬†lineup. Their members include¬†Kathy Phillips¬†(as¬†Stevie Nicks, vocals),¬†Kim Williams¬†(as¬†Christine McVie,¬†keyboards & vocals),¬†Scott McDonald¬†(as¬†Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals),¬†Tom Nelson¬†(as¬†Mick Fleetwood, drums) and¬†Randy Artiglere¬†(as¬†John McVie, bass). While TUSK are from Jersey, they tour nationally. Check the band’s website for more information including their schedule. If you are into Rumours¬†and other albums the band recorded with that line-up, this is definitely a tribute act I can recommend. Here’s the McVie tune You Make Loving Fun from Rumours, the Mac’s 11th studio album released in February 1977.

The last band I’d like to call out is Simply Queen, a tribute to – yes, you guessed it – Queen. This Canadian band, which has been around for 15 years, features Rick Rock (as Freddie Mercury), Bob Wegner (as Brian May), Phil Charrette (as Roger Taylor) and Mitch Taylor (as John Deacon). Despite some technical issues they seemed to have, especially in the beginning,¬†Simply Queen put on a great show. It was quite obvious that Rock and Wegner have closely studied Mercury and May, respectively, beyond the music to mimic their onstage personas. So similar to the Glimmer Twins and also TUSK, Simply Queen is an audio-visual experience. While they mostly perform in Canada, they venture out to the U.S. fairly frequently. For more information and their schedule, visit their website. Here’s a nice rocker called It’s Late. Written by Brian May, the song is from News of the World, Queen’s sixth studio album released in October 1977.¬†

With some not so great things that have happened on the family front over the past two weeks, Rock the Farm could not have come at a better time for me. Oftentimes, I feel music is the best therapy and distraction when the shit hits the fan. I was a happy camper. Can you tell from the selfie?

Selfie

This was the 6th annual Rock the Farm festival and my third time there in a row. I have every intention to return next next year. More information about this great event is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rock the Farm website, One Fine Tapestry website, Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page, Decade Facebook page, Glimmer Twins website, TUSK website, Simply Queen website, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 28

1964:¬†The Beatles performed the first of two gigs at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York during the U.S. leg of their world tour that year. They played their standard 12-song set of original tunes largely drawing from the A Hard Day’s Night album, as well as rock & roll covers. The tunes¬†included Twist And Shout,¬†You Can’t Do That,¬†All My Loving,¬†She Loves You,¬†Things We Said Today,¬†Roll Over Beethoven,¬†Can’t Buy Me Love,¬†If I Fell,¬†I Want To Hold Your Hand,¬†Boys,¬†A Hard Day’s Night¬†and¬†Long Tall Sally. After the show, The Fab Four met Bob Dylan¬†who visited them in their suite at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City. Beatles biographer Jonathan Gould¬†noted the musical and cultural significance of the meeting, saying within six months, “Lennon would be making records on which he openly imitated Dylan’s nasal drone, brittle strum, and introspective vocal persona”; and six months after that, Dylan began performing with a backing band and electric instrumentation, and “dressed in the height of Mod fashion.” While the fact that great music artists influence each other isn’t exactly surprising, based¬†on The Beatles Bible’s account of that night, it seems to me John, Paul, George and Ringo primarily got stoned with Dylan who brought along some grass to smoke. Not really sure how much their condition allowed them to have meaningful conversations about music. Here’s some footage from the Forest Hills show, a great illustration of Beatlemania, which makes me wonder why The Beatles didn’t stop touring earlier.

1965: Exactly one year after The Beatles, Bob Dylan took the stage at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, marking the first night of a 40-date North American tour. Following a solo section, Dylan played an electric set. This all happened only about a month after he had rattled the “folkies” at the Newport Folk Festival. On that night in Forest Hills, Dylan’s electric backing band featured guitarist Robbie Robertson and drummer Levon Helm, who were then associated with a band called The Hawks, a predecessor to The Band.¬†Harvey Brooks¬†(bass) and Al Kooper (organ) rounded out the line-up. After the first two shows of the tour, Robertson and Helm insisted that their mates from The Hawks join Dylan’s backing band: Rick Danko¬†(bass),¬†Garth Hudson¬†(keyboards) and Richard Manuel (drums). Dylan agreed, and until May 1966, they would be billed as Bob Dylan and the Band. Here’s a clip of Like A Rolling Stone, which supposedly was captured from the Forest Hills gig. The sound quality is horrible, but, hey, it’s mighty Dylan and it’s historical!

1968: Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth and second-to-last studio album Bookends hit no. 1 on the UK Official Albums Chart Top 100, starting a five-week run in the top spot there. Apart from the title track, the record featured gems like America and the no. 1 U.S. single¬†Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune had become famous the previous year when it had been included in the American motion picture The Graduate. I’ve always loved the bluesy touch of that song.

1972: Alice Cooper¬†topped the British singles chart with¬†School’s Out, scoring his only no. 1 hit anywhere in the world. Credited to Cooper (lead vocals) and the members of his band at the time,¬†Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals),¬†Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass, backing vocals) and Neal Smith (drums, backing vocals), the tune was the title track of the band’s fifth studio album released in June 1972. School’s Out also became Cooper’s biggest chart success in the U.S., peaking at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Songfacts, Cooper during a 2008 interview with Esquire said, “When we did ‘School’s Out,’ I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school.” It’s also safe to assume, Cooper shocked some school principals and parents.

1981: British DJ, producer and band manager Guy Stevens passed away at the age of 38 years from an¬†overdose of prescription drugs he was taking to reduce his alcohol dependency – yikes! Among others, Stevens gave Procol Harum and Mott the Hoople their distinct names. He also co-produced The Clash’s fifth studio album London Calling from December 1979, together with Mick Jones, the band’s co-founder, lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Stevens also brought Chuck Berry to the U.K. for his first tour there in 1963. He also was the president¬†of the¬†Chuck Berry¬†Appreciation Society. According to Wikipedia, Stevens introduced lyricist Keith Reid to keyboarder Gary Brooker and told Reid at a party that a friend had turned “a whiter shade of pale”. Supposedly, these words inspired the song with the same title that was subsequently recorded by Brooker’s newly formed band Procol Harum and became a major international hit in 1967.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, Songfacts, YouTube