The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six and hope you’re enjoying your weekend. Whatever it is you’re doing or plans you may have, most things go better with great music. I invite you to join me to embark on a new trip to celebrate music of the past and the present, six tunes at a time.

Coleman Hawkins Quartet/Love Song From “Apache”

Let’s start our journey in August 1963 with some soothing saxophone jazz by Coleman Hawkins. According to Wikipedia, German jazz music journalist Joachim-Ernst Berendt characterized Hawkins as one of the first prominent tenor sax jazz players, saying, “There were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn”. It’s my first exposure to Hawkins, so I’ll take that comment at face value. Born in St. Joseph, Mo. in 1904, Hawkins started playing saxophone at the age of 9. As a 17-year-old, he already was playing with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds. While Hawkins became known with swing music during the big band era, he also had a role in the development of bebop in the ’40s. Love Song From “Apache”, composed by Johnny Mercer and David Raskin, is a beautiful track from a 1963 album by the Coleman Hawkins Quartet titled Today And Now. For jazz aficionados, Cole was backed by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Major Holley (upright bass) and Eddie Locke (drums).

Tears For Fears/Advice For the Young at Heart

On February 25, Tears For Fears released their first new album in nearly 18 years. While I’ve yet to spend more time with The Tipping Point, it brought the British new wave duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith back on my radar screen. Formed in 1981, they are best remembered for their ’80s hits Mad World, Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Sowing the Seeds of Love. Given the Beatlesque sound of the latter, perhaps it’s not a surprise that tune, off their September 1989 album The Seeds of Love, is my favorite. Another song from that album I’ve always liked is Advice For the Young at Heart. Like several other tunes, it is credited to Orzabal and Nicky Holland, the keyboarder in Tears For Fears’ touring band during most of the second half of the ’80s.

John Hiatt & The Gooners/My Baby Blue

Next, let’s jump to May 2003 and a great tune by John Hiatt, an artist I’ve really come to appreciate over the past couple of years. While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt  and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille. My Baby Blue, penned by Hiatt, is from his 17h studio album Beneath This Gruff Exterior, the only one that also credits his backing band The Gooners who also backed him on the Slow Turning (August 1988) and The Tiki Bar Is Open (September 2001) albums.

Chuck Prophet/Ford Econoline

When Spotify served up Ford Econoline by Chuck Prophet the other day, for a moment, I thought I was listening to a Ray Davies tune. From his AllMusic bio: Chuck Prophet is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has created a handful of impressive solo albums when he isn’t busy collaborating with some of the most respected figures in roots rock. A songwriter with a naturalistic sense of storytelling and drawing characters, and a melodic sense that brings together the impact of rock with the nuance of country, blues, and folk, Prophet has been releasing worthwhile solo albums since 1990, when he brought out his first solo LP, Brother Aldo. Prior to that, he was a key member of the rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red, who had a small cult following in the United States and a significantly larger one overseas, and in between solo efforts, he worked as a sideman, collaborator, or producer for Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Warren Zevon, Cake, Kim Richey, and many more. Well, I’m glad to finally “meet” an artist who it sounds like should have entered my radar screen a long time ago. Ford Econoline, written by Prophet, is a track from Night Surfer, an album that appeared in September 2014. Man, I love that tune and really want to hear more by Prophet. Any tips are welcome!

Traffic/Walking in the Wind

Alrighty, time to pay the ’70s a visit. The year is 1974 and the month is September. That’s when Traffic released their seventh studio album When the Eagle Flies. It would be the English rock band’s last record before Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi revived Traffic one more time for Far From Home, the final album released under that name in May 1994. On When the Eagle Flies, apart from Windwood (vocals, acoustic piano, organ, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer, guitars) and Capaldi (drums, percussion, backing vocals, keyboards), the band’s line-up also included founding member Chris Wood (flute, saxophones), as well as Rosko Gee (bass). By the time the record came out, percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah had been fired. Perhaps this explains why he remained uncredited for the congas he provided for two tunes – not a nice thing to do! Here’s Walking in the Wind, which like all other tunes except one was co-written by Winwood and Capaldi.

The Animals/Boom Boom

And once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our little trip. Let’s finish things off with a great rendition of John Lee Hooker classic Boom Boom by The Animals. The British blues rock band first released this gem as a single in North America in November 1964. It was also included on their second American studio album The Animals on Tour from February 1965, a somewhat misleading title for a studio recording. Originally, Boom Boom had appeared in March 1962 on Hooker’s studio album Burnin‘. The Animals’ rendition reached no. 43 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 14 in Canada on the RPM Top 40 & 5 singles chart. Hooker’s original peaked at no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100, only one of two of his songs that made the mainstream chart, as well as no. 16 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides. I never get tired to listen to Eric Burdon’s great voice and the band’s hot sound!

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above goodies. Hope there’s something there you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

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Celebrating James Jamerson

Uncredited on countless Motown songs, Jamerson was one of the most influential bass guitar players in modern music history

If you had asked me as recently as a few weeks ago to name influential bass players in pop and rock, I might have mentioned Paul McCartney, John EntwistleJack Bruce and John Paul Jones. Then I read that McCartney, one of my all-time favorite artists, noted  James Jamerson and Brian Wilson as key influences for his bass playing. Admittedly, that was the first time I had heard about Jamerson.

While given my history as a hobby bassist I’m a bit embarrassed about my ignorance regarding Jamerson, I can point to one key difference between him and the other aforementioned bassists. Unlike them, Jamerson was kind of invisible for a long time – literally. While he played on countless Motown recordings in the ’60s and early ’70s, usually, he wasn’t credited, at least at the time. That’s even more unbelievable once you realize how revered this man was among other professional bass players.

According to Bass Player magazine, which named Jamerson no. 1 on its 2017 list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, “The most important and influential bass guitarist in the 66-year history of the Fender Precision he played, South Carolina-born, Detroit-raised James Jamerson wrote the bible on bass line construction and development, feel, syncopation, tone, touch, and phrasing, while raising the artistry of improvised bass playing in popular music to zenith levels.” In addition to McCartney, many other prominent bassists have pointed to Jamerson as a primary influence, including Jones, Enwistle, Wilson, Randy Meisner, Bill Wyman, Chuck RaineyGeddy Lee and Pino Palladino, to name some.

Jamerson was born on January 29, 1936 on Edisto Island near Charleston, S.C. In 1954, he moved to Detroit with his mother. Soon, while still being in high school, he began playing in local blues and jazz clubs. After graduation, Jamerson started getting session engagements in local recording studios. In 1959, he found a steady job as a studio bassist at Motown where became part of The Funk Brothers, essentially the equivalent of Stax  houseband Booker T. & the M.G.s, except it was a much larger and more fluid group of musicians.

James Jamerson 2

During his earliest Motown sessions, Jamerson used a double bass. In the early ’60s, he switched to an electric Fender Precision Bass most of the time. Like him, most of The Funk Brothers originally were jazz musicians who had been hired by Motown founder Berry Gordy to back the label’s recording artists in the studio. For many years, the members of The Funk Brothers would do session work at the Motown studio during the day and play in local jazz clubs at night. Occasionally, they also backed Motown’s stars during tours.

Not only did the musicians make substantially less money than the label’s main artists, but they also did not receive any recording credits for most of their careers. It wasn’t until 1971 that Jamerson was acknowledged on a major Motown release: Somewhat ironically, that album was Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Eventually, Motown put Jamerson on a weekly retainer of $1,000 (about $7,200 in 2018 dollars), which enabled him and his family to live comfortably. In 1973, Jamerson ended his relationship with Motown, which had since been relocated to Los Angeles. For the remainder of the ’70s, he worked with artists like Eddie Kendricks, Robert Palmer, Dennis Wilson, Smokey Robinson and Ben E. King.

But Jamerson did not embrace certain trends in bass playing that emerged during the ’70s, such as simpler and more repetitive bass lines and techniques like slapping. As a result, he fell out of favor with many producers, and by the 1980s, sadly, he essentially could not get any serious session work. Eventually, Jamerson’s long history with alcoholism caught up with him, and he died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and pneumonia on August 2, 1983. He was only 47 years old. Time for some music featuring this amazing musician!

I’d like to kick things off with an early recording that did not appear on Motown: Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker. Written by him, it became one of his signature tunes. According to Wikipedia, apparently it was Detroit pianist Joe Hunter, who brought in Jamerson and some other members from The Funk Brothers to the recording session.

Here’s one of the many Motown tunes on which Jamerson performed: For Once In My Life, the title track of Stevie Wonder’s album from December 1968. The song was co-written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden.

Next up: The aforementioned What’s Going On, which I think is one of the most soulful Marvin Gaye songs. The title track of his 11th studio album released in May 1971 was co-written by Gaye, Motown songwriter Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson, a founding member of The Four Tops.

I also like to touch on a couple of songs after Jamerson had parted with Motown. Here is Boogie Down by Eddie Kendricks, another title track. The fourth studio album by the former vocalist of The Temptations appeared in February 1973. The groovy tune was co-written by Anita Poree, Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston.

For the last track let’s jump to November 1975 when Robert Palmer released his second studio album Pressure Drop. Here’s the great opener Give Me An Inch, which was also written by Palmer.

James Jamerson received numerous accolades after his death. In 2000, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the first inductees to be honored in the “sideman” category. In 2004, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as part of The Funk Brothers. Along with the other members of the group, Jamerson was also inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. in 2007.

I’d like to close with Paul McCartney, who during a 1994 interview with bass book author Tony Bacon said: “Mainly as time went on it was Motown, James Jamerson—who became just my hero, really. I didn’t actually know his name until quite recently. James was very melodic, and that got me more interested.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Bass Player magazine, Reverb.com, YouTube