When I left Fakefest on Saturday evening, the first music festival I attended in close to two years, I was a happy camper. Listening live to three top notch tribute bands felt amazing. I had a real blast and knew this was likely not the last time I had come all the way to Atlantic City for this free annual open air event. What I didn’t anticipate was the timing of my return the very next day.
After all, I had been on my feet for close to five hours, so the thought of chilling on Sunday and reliving my Saturday at the event by writing a post about it sounded pretty attractive. Even after I had put together the post in the morning and scheduled it for yesterday, spending a quiet Sunday still was my plan. Then I took another look at the lineup for that day and all for sudden I felt, ‘damn, why wait until next year to have more fun.’ Plus, every great concert needs an encore, so here are some impressions from the final day of Fakefest.
The Gimmer Twins
This Rolling Stones tribute from Philly in and of itself would have been enough of a reason to return to Atlantic City. I’ve seen this band various times over the past four years. Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the group is 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 additional musicians don’t resemble the other members of 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.
Some of the tunes The Glimmer Twins performed included Brown Sugar, All Down the Line, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Gimme Shelter, Happy and Tumbling Dice. Here’s their rendition of Let’s Spend the Night Together, which the Stones first released as a double A single together with Ruby Tuesday on January 13, 1967. The song was also included as the opener of the U.S. version of Between the Buttons, which appeared a week later.
Here’s another Stones classic that I think has one of the best lines in rock & roll: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It). The was the lead single of the It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll studio album released in October 1974. I like it, yes I do!
Refugee were formed in New York in early 2014 by six musicians who according to the group’s website “have a deep love for the music of Tom Petty.” Who can blame them? Their members include Mike Epstein (lead vocals, guitar), Dominick Rosato (lead guitar), Andrew Nadien (keyboards, vocals), Hillary Epstein (vocals, harmonica, percussion, keyboards), Chris Arrigo (bass) and Niles Hughes (drums).
Refugee’s set featured I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’, Even the Losers, Refugee, Last Dance With Mary Jane, You Wreck Me and American Girl, among others. Here’s the opener You Got Lucky, the lead single of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ fifth studio album Long After Dark from November 1982.
Let’s do another one: Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Co-written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell for Stevie Nicks, the song became the first single of her debut solo album Bella Dona that came out in July 1981. The recording also featured Petty and all of the Heartbreakers except Ron Blair – the bass part was instead performed by Donald “Duck” Dunn.
Unforgettable Fire were formed on New Year’s Day in 1995 and, according to their website, were “one of the very first U2 tribute bands to ever perform in America.” In addition to playing songs spanning U2’s entire catalog, the group also recreates the looks of the Irish band. In particular, I’d like to call out lead vocalist Anthony Russo who bears a striking resemblance to Bono. The band’s other members include Mick Normoyle as The Edge, Craig Kiell as Adam Clayton and George Levesanos as Larry Mullen Jr.
Some of the tunes Unforgettable Fire performed featured I Will Follow, With Or Without You, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride, Mysterious Ways and Gloria. Here’s Beautiful Day, followed by Vertigo, from the October 2000 and November 2004 studio albums All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, respectively.
The last track I’d like to highlight is Unforgettable Fire’s rendition of One. U2 recorded that tune for their seventh studio album Achtung Baby from November 1991.
Yes, driving three hours back and forth from my house to Atlantic City two days in a row was a significant amount of time spent in the car. But I had a blast, so I feel it was worth it!
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sticky Fingers
While fans of The Rolling Stones may have different opinions which is the best album by the ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’, I think most agree Sticky Fingers ranks among their top records. If I would have to pick one, it would be this gem that was released on April 23, 1971. This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the record by a band that has existed for some 59 years and whose key songwriters became childhood friends in 1950. It’s just mind-boggling!
Sticky Fingers, the ninth British and the eleventh American studio album by the Stones, was the first they released under Rolling Stones Records. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts decided to form their own label in 1970 after the band’s recording contract with Decca Records had expired. Ten additional Stones albums appeared on that label until its discontinuation in 1992 when the Stones signed to Virgin Records.
Sticky Fingers also had a few other firsts. It became the Stones’ first studio album without any contribution from founding member Brian Jones who had been fired in June 1969 over his increasingly erratic behavior due to drug use. As we know, the story didn’t end well. Less than one month thereafter, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool – yet another great music talent tragically lost to drugs! Moreover, Sticky Fingers introduced the iconic tongue and lips logo of Rolling Stones Records, which has appeared on all Stones albums ever since.
The album’s original cover art work depicting a close up of a jeans-clad male crotch with a visible outline of a penis was conceived by none other than Andy Warhol. Unlike many fans assumed, it wasn’t Jagger’s crotch. Instead, Warhol “superstar” Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model, though apparently this hasn’t been confirmed. Initial editions of the cover had a working zipper and perforations around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of cotton briefs. Following complaints from retailers that the zipper damaged the actual vinyl records during shipping, the zipper was slightly pulled down toward the middle of the record to minimize the problem. Later reissues eliminated the working zipper and simply showed the outer photograph of the jeans.
In terms of the music, Sticky Fingers marked a return to a more basic and traditional Stones sound that mostly relied on guitar, bass, drums and percussion provided by the band’s key members: Mick Jagger (lead vocals, percussion, rhythm guitar), Keith Richards (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Taylor (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Long-time collaborators included Bobby Keys (saxophone) and keyboarders Billy Preston, Jack Nitzsche, Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins. The album was produced by Jimmy Miller, who had started to work with the Stones for Beggars Banquet from December 1968 and produced all of their albums until Goats Head Soup released in August 1973.
Time for some music. Unless otherwise noted, all tracks are credited to Jagger and Richards. Here’s the opener Brown Sugar. Songfactsnotes that while the tune comes across as “a fun rocker about a guy having sex with the black girl,” the lyrics written by Jagger are actually “about slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters.” The Stones recorded the tune in Sheffield, Ala. in early December 1969 and performed it for the first time live during the fateful Altamont Speedway concert on December 6 that same year. Brown Sugar backed by Bitch also became Sticky Finger’s lead single on April 16, 1971.
Wild Horses is one of my long-time favorite tunes by the Stones. Referencing the liner notes from their 1993 compilation Jump Back, Wikipedia quotes Jagger: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. [It did, in April 1970 on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ sophomore album Burrito Deluxe – CMM] Everyone always says this was written about Marianne [Faithfull – CMM] but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.” Added Richards: “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like “Satisfaction”, “Wild Horses” was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.” Wild Horses, with Sway as the B-side, was also released separately as the album’s second single on June 12, 1971.
Another highlight on Side One of Sticky Fingers is Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. At 7 minutes-plus, this is an unusually long track for the Stones. One of the song’s distinct features is a lengthy saxophone solo by Bobby Keys. Rocky Dijon and Billy Preston contribute percussion and organ, respectively. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” came out flying,” Richards said, as quoted by Rolling Stones fan site Time Is On Our Side. “I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we’re thinking, hey, this is some groove. So it was smiles all around. For a guitar player it’s no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and spare.”
This brings me to Side Two of the album. The first track I’d like to highlight here is Bitch, a tune with a great guitar riff and horn line. Like many other songs on the album, the Stones recorded it at the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, England, using their mobile recording unit. Songfactspoints outMick Jagger had multiple relationships, so the tune is not about Marianne Faithfull or any other specific woman for that matter. It’s safe to assume the song’s lyrics could not be written today without triggering a political fire storm. “When we were doing Bitch, Keith was very late,” recalled recording engineer Andy Jones, according to Time Is On Our Side. “Jagger and Mick Taylor had been playing the song without him and it didn’t sound very good. I walked out of the kitchen and he was sitting on the floor with no shoes, eating a bowl of cereal. Suddenly he said, Oi, Andy! Give me that guitar. I handed him his clear Dan Armstrong Plexiglass guitar, he put it on, kicked the song up in tempo, and just put the vibe right on it. Instantly, it went from being this laconic mess into a real groove. And I thought, Wow. THAT’S what he does.”
Next up is a track I’ve come to increasingly love over the years, even though it’s not a traditional Stones rocker: Dead Flowers. Nowadays, I would go as far as calling this must-play tune for every bar band my favorite Stones song – so much for a guy who used to dismiss country as hillbilly music for the longest time! Recorded at Olympic Studios in London in April 1970, Dead Flowers was written during a time when the Stones were embracing country and Richards’ writing was influenced by his friendship with Gram Parsons. “The ‘Country’ songs we recorded later, like “Dead Flowers” on Sticky Fingers or “Far Away Eyes” on Some Girls are slightly different (than our earlier ones),” Jagger observed, per Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones, a 2013 book by Bill Janovitz. “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer – I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.” Be that as it may be. What I particularly love about Dead Flowers are the great guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor throughout the song.
Let’s wrap things with one more tune: Moonlight Mile, the album’s excellent closer! Another track recorded at Stargroves at the end of October 1970, Moonlight Mile came out of an all-night session involving Jagger and Taylor. Notably, Richards was absent for the recording of this tune, so Taylor handled all guitar work. Songfacts also calls out contributions from Jim Price (piano) and Paul Buckmaster (string arrangements). “That’s a dream song,” Jagger reportedly said in 1978. “Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time – it’s nice to come back to reality.” BTW, even though Richards was nowhere to been when the tune was recorded, it still was credited to Jagger and him.
Sticky Fingers became the first Stones album to top both the U.S. and the UK albums charts. Based on a January 2020 article by news and entertainment outlet The Talko, it is the band’s best-selling record with about 21.7 million units sold, followed by Let It Bleed (21.3 million) and Aftermath (19.6 million). Sticky Fingers was ranked at no. 63 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. While it lost some ground in the most recent revised list from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 104. Sticky Fingers was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Given the album’s significance, you might think the Stones are celebrating the 50th anniversary with a major reissue. Not so. Instead, in early December, the band announced on Twitter a Red Limited Edition LP: Introducing… the Sticky Fingers Stones Red Limited Edition LP. 500 will be available in the Stones Carnaby Street store from Thursday Dec 3rd & 500 available online later that day at 8pm GMT / 12pm PST.Sign up for reminders: https://the-rolling-stones.lnk.to/StonesSignUpSo. More Stones Red to come! While at first sight, this may be a bit disappointing, it’s important to remember that Sticky Fingers already saw a reissue in 2015. Plus, there’s Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, a great 2017 release the Stones put out as part of their From the Vault series.
How about a little encore? Ask and you shall receive, and it’s a true gem: a killer rendition of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking from the aforementioned Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, which captures a gig before a relatively tiny audience of 1,200 people. It marked the opening of the Stones’ two-month Zip Code Tour in 2015 and also celebrated the above noted Sticky Fingers reissue. The band was truly on fire that night. I would argue that performance reaches the level of the legendary Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. If you haven’t seen this clip before and dig the Stones, I’d highly encourage you to watch it. This is rock & roll at its best!
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Time Is On Our Side; The Talko; Rolling Stones Twitter feed; YouTube
Inspired by Hans Postcard’s fun 2020 album draft, where 10 participants pick albums in 10 rounds for a total of 100, I decided to put together my list of 10 albums I would take on a desert island. Essentially, I already came up with such a collection in May 2018, but some things have changed in the meantime and this list features five new picks, including three different artists.
While each of the albums are longtime favorites, I still can’t exclude the possibility that my picks might be different in a month or two. Since I couldn’t figure out how to rank my selections, I ingeniously decided to put them in chronological order. Conveniently, this means kicking things off with my favorite band of all time.
The Beatles/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 1967)
While I dig all albums by the Fab Four, on most days, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is my favorite. The innovative use of recording technology, the cover art and the combination of different music styles like vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde and traditional Indian music with pop and rock make Sgt. Pepper a true masterpiece. The first album after The Beatles had stopped touring was influenced by The Beach Boys’Pet Sounds, which Brian Wilson had created in response to Revolver, as well as Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention. Had it not been because of silly pressure from EMI to issue Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane as a single, Sgt. Pepper hands-down would have been the strongest Beatles album. Still, with tunes like the title track, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Within You Without You and the magnificent A Day in the Life, there’s lots of great music.
Carole King/Tapestry (February 1971)
Carole King’sTapestry perhaps is the ultimate singer-songwriter album. Her sophomore release from 1971 featured 10 new tunes and two reinterpretations of songs King had written together with her former husband and lyricist Jerry Goffin in the ’60s. Like many of their other songs, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman became hits, in these cases by The Shirelles and Aretha Franklin, respectively. There’s really no weak tune on Tapestry and I could have selected any. It’s Too Late has always been one of my favorites.
The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers (April 1971)
I know many fans of The Rolling Stones consider Exile on Main St. or Some Girls as their best albums. While I can’t claim to know all of their records in detail, my favorite is Sticky Fingers. This was the second full-length record with Mick Taylor who had replaced Brian Jones in June 1969. Between Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch, Sister Morphine and Dead Flowers, there are so many classics on this album. I just think the Stones never sounded better. And interestingly, it’s the country-influenced Dead Flowers that has become one of my favorite Stones tunes. I just love the guitar work!
Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On (May 1971)
I think Marvin Gaye had one of the most beautiful soulful voices I know. This artist was a smooth operator, even when he sang about serious issues like on this album. …(Oh, crime is increasin’) Oh, woo/Trigger happy policin’/panic is spreadin’/God knows where we’re headin’/Oh baby/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand…It’s remarkable these lyrics were written almost 50 years, yet they sound frighteningly relevant in America in the year 2020.
Neil Young/Harvest (February 1972)
I dig a good number of Neil Young songs and feel his first compilation Decade is one of the best greatest hits collections I can think of. When it comes to his albums, my favorites are Harvest from 1972 and Harvest Moon from 1992. While I think the title track of the latter is among Young’s best tunes, I have a slight preference for Harvest from an overall album perspective. Featuring David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt as guests, it became Young’s most successful record and the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1972 – in part thanks to Heart of Gold, which remains Young’s only no. 1 song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 to this day. There are many other gems on the record, including The Needle and the Damage Done.
Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 1972)
I don’t listen to hard rock a lot these days, but when I do, Deep Purple remain my favorite choice, especially their sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972. I’ve always thought one of the cool things about this band are the equal roles the guitar and the keyboards play as solo instruments. Jon Lord was a true master of the Hammond organ who skillfully blended blues, hard rock and jazz with elements of classical music. Lazy is one of the tracks on which Lord shines in particular.
Pink Floyd/The Dark Side of the Moon (March 1973)
First, I was going to pick Meddle, Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971. With the great Echoes, it foreshadowed the band’s classic mid-’70s sound on The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. All three albums are among my favorite Floyd records. Eventually, I settled on The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a perfect album for headphones, and I’ve listened to it countless times at night in bed. The sound is just phenomenal. One of the standout tracks is The Great Gig In the Sky and the amazing vocal performance by British singer Clare Torry.
Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run (August 1975)
Bruce Springsteen entered my radar screen in 1984 with the Born in the U.S.A. album. While I’m still fond of that record, I subsequently explored and came to appreciate his earlier work. To me, Born to Run turned out to be Springsteen’s Mount Rushmore. After two albums that were critically acclaimed but not successful from a commercial perspective, he really needed a hit. Born to Run would turn out to be exactly that and catapult Springsteen to fame beyond the U.S. Apart from the title song, my favorite tracks on the album include Thunder Road, Backstreets, Jungleland and the beautiful soul-oriented Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
Stevie Wonder/Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976)
Stevie Wonder has been one of my favorite artists for 40 years. I dig many of his songs starting from when he was known as Little Stevie Wonder. But it’s his classic period in the ’70s I like the most, especially the albums Talking Book (October 1972), Innervisions (August 1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976). The latter became the best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of Wonder’s long career. Here’s his beautiful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington who had passed away in May 1974.
Steely Dan/Aja (September 1977)
I’m wrapping up this list with Steely Dan. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen made many great records, but it’s this gem from September 1977 that’s my favorite: Aja. As usual, Becker and Fagen assembled top-notch session musicians to record the album. There were also prominent guests, including Michael McDonald and Timothy B. Schmit. All of the tracks on this album are great. Deacon Blues is my favorite Steely Dan song, but since I previously featured it more than once, I’m going with the closer Josie.
If you frequently visit my blog, you may have seen I just posted on The Rolling Stones and their new live concert film/album release Bridges To Bremen. Fast forward some 21 years from that 1998 gig in Germany to last night at Chicago’s Soldier Field where the Stones finally opened their North American No Filter Tour. If you watch the enclosed clips and didn’t keep up with the news, you’d never guess anything much had changed. But apart from 21 years of water under the bridge, 75-year-old Mick Jagger underwent heart valve replacement surgery only a few months ago, so it’s fair to say last night was no ordinary kick-off date.
I don’t know how you felt, but when I first learned about Jagger’s heart issues and his then-upcoming procedure, my first thought was how crazy it is that the fittest guy in the band was ‘knocked out.’ My second thought was that if anybody from The Rolling Stones could pull off bouncing back from heart surgery, it would be Jagger. As such, with a Stones ticket in hand I had bought early this year, I selfishly was ‘glad’ the gig was postponed because of him. Coz’ let’s be honest here, had it been Charlie Watts, who earlier this month turned 78, who knows what would have happened. And while 75-year-old Keith Richards has survived many things, I’m not sure how he would have come out of heart surgery.
“This was certainly a swerve, a left-hand ball for us,” Ronnie Wood recently told U.K. tabloid Daily Mirror, commenting on Jagger’s heart surgery. “We knew it was something serious. I think he needed a bit of support, which we gave him. We thank our lucky stars.” So should the fans! While heart valve replacement is a so-called minimally invasive procedure that is not uncommon, especially in older men, I suppose there’s nothing routine about it when it affects the front man of the band you’ve been playing with for more than four decades!
Said Jagger last week: “I’m feeling pretty good. Been rehearsing a lot lately in the last few weeks. This morning a bit of gym. Nothing crazy. Then I go into rehearsal with the band.” Well, ‘nothing crazy’ may be a bit of an understatement when you watch this video of Jagger, which was posted about a month ago, only four weeks after his heart surgery. He is one beast of a guy! Anyway, let’s go back to last night and take a look at some YouTube footage.
Here’s Street Fighting Man. First released as a single in August 1968 and also appearing on the Beggars Banquet album from December that year, perhaps the Stones couldn’t have picked a more appropriate opener.
I was glad to see Dead Flowers is part of the set. I just love that tune off the Sticky Fingers album from April 1971. It’s also great to watch Jagger energetically strumming that guitar in adding to singing. What a triumphant return to the stage!
There are songs you immediately recognize after just a couple of bars, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash is one of them. If I could only pick one of Richards’ guitar riffs, this would be it, baby. The Stones first released the track as a single in May 1968. Okay, it may not be quite as compelling as the version on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, but it still sounds fucking awesome to me!
How about wrapping things up with one additional tune from Sticky Fingers? Here’s Brown Sugar, which was the final tune of the regular set. It was the album’s lead single released on April 16, 1971, just a few days ahead of the record.
Here’s the full set list:
1. “Street Fighting Man”
2. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
3. “Tumbling Dice”
4. “Sad Sad Sad”
5. “You Got Me Rocking”
6. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
8. “Dead Flowers”
9. “Sympathy for the Devil”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
11. “You Got the Silver”
12. “Before They Make Me Run”
13. “Miss You”
14. “Paint It Black”
15. “Midnight Rambler”
16. “Start Me Up”
17. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
18. “Brown Sugar”
19. “Gimme Shelter”
Am I ready for “my” August 1st gig at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey? How many days?
Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Mirror, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube
An edited take of the above recording of Dead Flowers appears on the bonus version of Honk, the new greatest hits collection released today by The Rolling Stones. It was captured in Philly in June 2013 and features country artist Brad Paisley, who shares vocals with Mick Jagger and puts on a nice guitar solo. Co-written by Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune first appeared on Sticky Fingers, my favorite Stones album from April 1971.
Based on Wikipedia, Honk is the Stones’ 26th compilation album. According to their website, it features “the biggest hits and classic cuts from every Rolling Stones studio album from 1971’s Sticky Fingers to 2016’s Blue & Lonesome” and “is the most up to date collection of essential Stones’ tracks, including 36 fan favourites and rarities, with the bonus version including 10 additional live songs, presenting collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, such as Dave Grohl, Florence Welch, Brad Paisley and more.”
Initially timed to their now postponed U.S. tour due to Mick Jagger’s heart valve surgery, folks could be forgiven to be a bit cynical about Honk. But as a long-time and probably somewhat biased listener of the Rolling Stones, the new collection doesn’t bother me. While I’m generally more fond of the Stones’ 60s and early ’70s period, apart from Dead Flowers, Honk features great other tunes like Brown Sugar, Start Me Up and It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It – yes I do! The other live tracks are fun to listen to as well.
Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, YouTube
The idea to put together this playlist came to me yesterday, after I had spotted this clip on Facebook. It shows John Fogerty and Billy Gibbons rocking out together to some Creedence Clearwater Revival and ZZ Top tunes to promote their upcoming Blues & Bayous Tour. While nothing is spontaneous here as it seems they want folks to believe, and I just wish they would have played more of each song than just the opening bars, hey, it’s still fun to watch these guys. And the thought of them doing a double-headliner that also will be right in my backyard sure as heck is very tempting!
I don’t want to pretend I’m a ZZ Top expert, but I have a good deal of their songs in my iTunes library – certainly more than enough material to inform this playlist. I think the first time these Texan rockers entered my radar screen was in 1983, when seemingly out of nowhere, they were all the rage on the radio with songs like Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. At the time, my parents didn’t have cable, which wasn’t as popular in Germany as in the U.S., so it wasn’t until much later that I also got to watch some of ZZ Top’s hilarious music videos, such as the rotating guitars in Legs!
ZZ Top were formed in 1969 in Houston, TX, when Gibbons (guitar), Lanier Greig (organ) and Dan Mitchell (drums) got together. That formation recorded the single Salt Lick, but record companies weren’t receptive, and it didn’t go anywhere. Greig and Mitchell left shortly thereafter. In late 1969, bassist, keyboardist and co-vocalist Dusty Hill joined, replacing then-bassist Billy Ethridge. Hill subsequently introduced Gibbons to drummer Frank Beard with whom he had played in various other bands in the past. The classic line-up was in place and still is to this day, more than 45 years later – frankly, I don’t know of any other band that hasn’t changed its line-up over such a long time!
Due to continued lack of interest from U.S. record companies, ZZ Top finally signed a contract with UK label London Records and released their debut album. Cleverly called ZZ Top’s First Album, the record appeared in January 1971. While it established the band’s blend of blues, boogie, hard rock and southern rock, it didn’t get much attention. The sophomore Rio Grande Mud from April 1972 entered the U.S. Billboard 200, peaking at no. 104 in June 1972, while the single Francine climbed to a respectable no. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100.
ZZ Top’s commercial breakthrough came with the follow-up album Tres Hombres from July 1973. While the reception from music critics was lukewarm at the time, the album climbed all the way to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. The single La Grange, which has since become a classic, peaked at no. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1974. The band’s fourth album Fandango! from April 1975 brought another successful single, Tush, which peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became ZZ Top’s highest charting single in the ’70s.
The band has since released 11 additional studio records, four live albums and various compilations. Eliminator from March 1983, which includes the above mentioned tunes Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, became ZZ Top’s best-selling album, thanks to a more commercial sound the band had adopted in the early ’80s. Their 15th and most recent studio release La Futura appeared in September 2012. I haven’t seen any reports about a new album. La Futura was the first new record in nine years, so if that’s any guide, fans may need to have patience for a few more years. Time for some music!
Let’s start off the playlist with ZZ Top’s debut single Salt Lick, a nice blues rocker written by Gibbons, an early showcase of his outstanding guitar skills. I also like Greig’s organ work.
Brown Sugar, another tune by Gibbons to whom most of the band’s early songs are credited, appears on ZZ Top’s First Album. I like how the song begins slowly with just Gibbon’s vocals and his guitar, before it launches into a groovy blues rocker.
Tres Hombres may be best known for La Grange, but the tune I’d like to highlight from that album is the fantastic opener Waitin’ For The Bus, which is credited to Gibbons and Hill. I just totally dig the guitar riff and groove on that track, and also like the blues harp solo.
If I had just one ZZ Top tune to select, it would be Tush from the Fandango! album. To me it’s perhaps the ultimate guitar blues rocker. I love the riff and how tight the band is playing – there’s not one second being wasted here! Starting with this record, the band’s songs typically are credited to all three members.
In November 1976, ZZ Top released their fifth studio album Tejas. It includes this nice Stonesy tune called It’s Only Love.
Next up: Tube Snake Boogie from El Loco, ZZ Top’s seventh studio album from July 1981. It’s the first record on which the band started experimenting with a more commercial sound, introducing synthesizers on some of the tracks.
Even though it sounds more commercial than their ’70s records, no ZZ Top playlist would be complete without music from the Eliminator album. Despite the somewhat monotonous drum beat, which sounds more like a drum machine, Sharp Dressed Man is just a cool song. And the official video is too hilarious to leave out, so here it is!
And ‘coz it’s so much fun watching ZZ Top music videos from that time, here’s Legs. No doubt, the rotating guitars have become an unforgettable part of music video history.
I would also like to acknowledge a couple of the band’s later songs. Here’s Fearless Boogie, a tune from XXX, ZZ Top’s 13th studio album released in September 1999. And just in case, the title is a reference to the band’s then-30th year in business.
I’d like to close out this playlist with Chartreuse. The tune, which sounds a bit like a remake of Tush, is from ZZ Top’s most recent studio record La Futura. It surely proves these guys still know how to rock.
With total domestic record sales of some 25 million copies, ZZ Top are among the top 100 selling artists in the U.S. Internationally, the band has sold more than 50 million albums. In 2004, the Texan rockers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Asked during a Rolling Stoneinterview in November 2017 whether he still wants to be in ZZ Top at age 80, Gibbons said, “Well, yeah, I could do it. We are smack dab in the middle of a technological breakthrough that is making life extension quite a bit of the day-to-day norm.”
As for that double-headliner with Fogerty, the Blues & Bayous Tour kicks off in Atlantic City on May 25. Currently, there are 24 additional dates on the schedule, with the final gig being in Welch, Minn. on June 29.
Sources: Wikipedia, U.S. Billboard Charts, Rolling Stone, YouTube
This killer version of Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones is from Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015. In early January, I posted another clip, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from this album, which appeared in September 2017 as part of the band’s From The Vault series.
The Stones’ dynamic during their performance before an audience of some 1,200 people at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on May 20, 2015 was through the roof. You can also see how much fun they had. This was clearly not some routine gig. These guys left their hearts and souls on that stage!
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Brown Sugar is the opener of the 1971 Sticky Fingers album, which the above show celebrated. By the way, it remains the only gig to date, during which The Stones performed what was their ninth British and 11th U.S. studio record in its entirety.
Brown Sugar was also released in April 1971 as the album’s lead single and became the 6th Stones single to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It would take until August 1973 before they scored another no. 1 in the U.S. with Angie. In the UK, Brown Sugar peaked at no. 2 on the Singles Chart. Rolling Stone ranked the tune at no. 5 on its 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time list.
World’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar continues to be popular to this day, more than 65 years after its introduction
Similar to the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul, which I covered in previous posts here and here, I could have called the Fender Telecaster the quintessential electric guitar. After all, that model predated the Stratocaster and the Les Paul by three years and one year, respectively. And while Paul Bigsby built the first solid-body for country and western artist Merle Travis in 1948, it was the Telecaster that became the first such electric guitar that was manufactured on a substantial scale.
But the truth is “quintessential” is largely in the eye of the beholder. I always loved the seductive shape of the Stratocaster. I also thought Mark Knopfler created such a cool signature sound with it on Sultans of Swing, Once Upon a Time In the West and other early Dire Straits classics. Ultimately, that’s why I feel the Strat is THE electric guitar and wrote about it first. On to the Telecaster.
The Telecaster was developed by inventor Leo Fender, the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Company. He built the first prototype in the fall of 1949 and introduced it to the market in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, a solid-body with one single-coil pickup. But the Esquire was hampered by quality issues, especially around the guitar neck that easily bent, so it was only produced in limited numbers.
Fender addressed the lacking neck stability with the placement of a tross rod. He also added a second single-coil pickup to the guitar and renamed it the Fender Broadcaster. That name was very similar to Broadkaster drum sets made by Gretsch, so needed it be changed. The Broadcaster became the Telecaster in 1951, and the guitar has been sold under that brand name ever since.
The Telecaster featured several innovations and used production techniques that made manufacturing and repairing the guitar more cost-effective compared to models from Gibson and other manufacturers. Rather than constructing the Telecaster individually, Fender introduced the production of components that could easily be put together into the finished product on an assembly line.
Unlike the traditional glued in neck, the Telecaster had a “bolt-on” neck. Not only did this make production easier, but it also allowed for faster repair or replacement of the neck. Additionally, the neck on the classic Telecaster was made from a single piece of maple without a separate fingerboard.
Moreover, the bodies of the Telecaster were built with solid pieces of wood instead of being hand-carved individually. The Telecaster also featured easily accessible electronics. This was made possible through a removable control plate. In contrast, the electronics of the then-predominant hollow-body electric guitars could only be accessed through the soundholes.
Unlike the Stratocaster, which got a lukewarm initial reception from many guitarists, the Telecaster was an immediate hit. This can be explained by the guitar’s distinct properties, which according to Reverb include: “A bridge pickup tone like to no other. The definition of twang when clean. The definition of rock when dirty; Liberating simplicity. Two pickups, two knobs, six strings, no frills. It forces you to be a better player; Surprising versatility. Across three pickup positions, different tone knob positions and varying levels of gain, the Tele is capable of an unexpected number of voices.”
I think it’s mainly the guitar’s versatility, which has made the Telecaster a staple in country, electric blues, rock & roll and other music genres. Like in the case of the Stratocaster and the Les Paul, several customized versions of the Telecaster have appeared over the decades. These variants feature different pickup configurations like a humbucker in the neck position, dual humbuckers and three single-coil pickups. There is also a semi-hollow version called the Telecaster Thinline.
Now comes the part of this type of gear-focused post that excites me the most – a list of musicians who have championed the equipment.
American guitarist James Burton, who has performed with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and many others, has played a Telecaster since age 13 and is considered to be the most visible Tele player in the late ’50s. Here’s a great clip of Burton performing Johnny B. Goode live with Presley.
Also known as Mr. Telecaster, English guitarist Albert Lee has played a Telecaster since 1963. Here is a cool live clip from the early ’70s of Lee performing Country Boy with British country rock band Heads Hands & Feet – holy moly!
American electric blues guitarist Albert Collins was called The Master of the Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop offers an Albert Collins Signature Telecaster, which is based on his 1966 model featuring a humbucker pickup in the neck position. Here’s Collins with Iceman, the title song of his tenth and final studio album released in March 1991, two and a half years prior to his untimely death from lung cancer in November 1993 at age 61.
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has used a variety of Telecasters throughout his long career. The most famous one is a ’53 Tele called Micawber. According to the Fender website, Richards got the Micawber from Eric Clapton as a present for his 27th birthday in 1970. At the time, the Stones were gearing up for Exile On Main Street. Shortly after the band’s ’72 tour, Richards replaced the single-coil pickup in the neck position with a ’50s Gibson PAF humbucker for extra bite. Here’s a clip of Richards in action with his Micawber, together with the Stones: Brown Sugar, from the 2016 concert in Havana, Cuba.
Blues guitar legend Muddy Waters played a red ’57 Telecaster. Until 2010, Fender offered a replica as part of its signature series, the Muddy Waters Telecaster. Here is a great clip of the maestro and his red Telecaster, performing I’m A King Bee, captured during ChicagoFest in 1981.
Of course, this short list of Telecaster champions would be incomplete without The Boss. Bruce Springsteen’s iconic guitar, which is pictured on the cover of the Born To Run album from 1975, is not a pure breed Telecaster. As Bobby Owsinskiexplains on his Music Production Blog, it’s actually a hybrid from at least two other guitars: a ’50s Telecaster body with what looks like a ’57 Esquire neck, which Springsteen purchased at a guitar shop in Neptune, N.J.
Before selling it to The Boss, store owner Phil Petillo removed the two additional pickups that had been added to return the guitar to its original Telecaster configuration. Over the years, Petillo made significant additional modifications requested by Springsteen, including triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, as well as custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics, so the guitar could better withstand Springsteen’s marathon shows. In 2005, he retired his beloved instrument from live shows and has since played clones of it during tours. Springsteen continues to use the original for studio recordings. Here’s a clip of the mighty Born To Run, which is from a 1978 show and presumably features Springsteen’s original Telecaster hybrid. Man, watching this footage makes me want to see The Boss again!
Sources: Wikipedia; “Telecaster Buying Guide,” The Hub, March 2017; “Statocaster vs. Telecaster: The Differences That Matter,” Reverb, Nov 2016; “Interesting Mods: Keith Richards’ ‘Micawber’,” Fender website; “The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Iconic Hybrid Telecaster,” Bobby Osinski, Music Production Blog; YouTube