The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six that celebrates music from the past 70 years or so in different flavors, six tunes at a time. This week’s zig-zag excursion features a tasty stew. The ingredients include jazz, early ’60s pop, contemporary blues, classic ’70s soul, contemporary indie rock and early ’90s southern and blues rock. I generally find diversity enriching, in music and otherwise. Let’s embark on our little journey.

The Charlie Watts Quintet/Relaxing at Camarillo

On August 24, the music world lost Charlie Watts who passed away at age 80 from an undisclosed cause. Undoubtedly, he will always best be remembered as the unassuming longtime drummer and reliable time-keeper of The Rolling Stones. But it was actually his life-long love for jazz, not rock and roll, that got Watts into music. In-between tours and recording sessions with the Stones, he frequently was involved in jazz projects and eventually formed his own groups, The Charlie Watts Orchestra and The Charlie Watts Quintet. I’d like to celebrate the late Charlie Watts with Relaxing at Camarillo, a composition by jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Watts recorded the tune with his jazz quintet for a 1991 Charlie Parker tribute album titled From One Charlie. According to the credits listed on Discogs, in addition to Watts, the group featured Peter King (alto saxophone), Gerard Presencer (trumpet), Brian Lemon (piano) and Dave Green (bass). I know, it’s only jazz but I like it, like it, yes, I do!

The Everly Brothers/When Will I Be Loved

For fans of artists who are in their ’70s and ’80s, these are tough times. On August 21, Don Everly, who together with his younger brother Phil Everly had performed as The Everly Brothers for nearly 45 years (not counting a 10-year hiatus between 1973 and 1983 when each of the brothers pursued solo careers), passed away in Nashville at the age of 84. No cause of death was provided. I loved The Everly Brothers from the very first moment I got a greatest hits compilation, which must have been in the early ’80s. What spoke to me in particular was their beautiful harmony singing. I also thought their acoustic guitar playing was cool, especially on Wake Up Little Susie, their massive hit from 1957. In addition to covering songs written by others, The Everly Brothers also recorded some originals. Here’s one written by Don Everly: When Will I Be Loved. The tune was released as a single in May 1960 and also included on the album The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers that came out in the same year as well. What a classic!

Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’/Ain’t Nobody Talkin’

Let’s jump forward 57 years to May 2017 for some sizzling blues delivered by two great artists, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. I was reminded about their fantastic collaboration album TajMo the other day when putting together a post about other artists covering songs by The Who. Apart from renditions like a Cajun swampy version of Squeeze Box, TajMo also includes original tunes. One of them is Ain’t Nobody Talkin’, co-written by Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) and John Lewis Parker. I was happy to see that TajMo won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. You can read more about it here. Meanwhile, here’s Ain’t Nobody Talkin’ – man, I love how Mahal and Mo’ sound together. And these horn fill-ins – so good!

Al Green/Let’s Stay Together

Next I’d like to turn to Al Green, one of the finest soul vocalists I can think of. Green, who became an ordained pastor in 1976 following the suicide of his girlfriend Mary Woodson in October 1974, is best known for a series of soul hits in the first half of the ’70s. In 1979, after he had gotten injured during a stage accident in Cincinnati, Green turned to gospel for nearly 10 years. In 1988, he came back to secular music, teaming up with Annie Lennox for a cover of Put a Little Love in Your Heart, yielding his first top 10 mainstream hit since 1974. It remains his last to date. Here’s Green’s first no. 1 from November 1971: Let’s Stay Together, his signature song. He co-wrote the smooth tune with Al Jackson Jr. (founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and producer Willie Mitchell. Let’s Stay Together also became the title track of his fourth studio album from January 1972. In 1983, Tina Turner brought the soul classic back into the top 10 charts in the UK, her comeback single from her comeback album Private Dancer that appeared in May 1984.

Lord Huron/Meet Me in the City

If you are a frequent reader of The Sunday Six, the name Lord Huron might ring a bell. Or perhaps you’ve been aware of this cool indie folk rock band all along, which initially was founded in Los Angeles in 2010 as a solo project of guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider. In addition to him, the group’s current line-up includes Tom Renaud (guitar), Miguel Briseño (bass, keyboards) and Mark Barry (drums, percussion). In the June 20 installment, I featured the stunning Mine Forever, a track from the band’s most recent album Long Lost that came out on May 21. Here’s another great track from that album, Meet Me in the City, which further illustrates Lord Huron’s amazing moody and cinematic sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb.

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard

This once again brings me to the sixth and final track. Let’s make it count with some crunchy rock by The Black Crowes. Initially founded as “Mr. Crowe’s Garden” in Marietta, Ga. in 1984, the band around Chris Robinson (lead vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar, percussion) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (guitar, backing vocals) has a long history. It includes the type of drama with break-ups and reunions that’s all too common once rock egos become too big. The good news is since late 2019, The Black Crowes are flying again. Perhaps the band’s third reunion is the charm. Their tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Shake Your Money Maker from February 1990 had to be postponed because of you know what. It finally got underway on July 20 in Nashville, Tenn. and is scheduled to conclude in Bethel, N.Y. on September 25. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group’s new line-up features Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), along with touring members Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, backing vocals), Joel Robinow (keyboards, backing vocals) and Brian Griffin (drums, percussion). Here’s Twice As Hard, the great opener of Shake Your Money Maker. Co-written by the Robinson brothers, the tune also became the album’s third single and their first no. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Sources: Wikpedia; Discogs; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube