Up-And-Comer Myron Elkins Shines On Debut Album

Young singer-songwriter from Michigan small town sounds like an old soul who has seen and done it all

Welcome to my second full-album review of 2023. Not only is it music by another contemporary artist, but it’s also brand new – a promising start of the year, which makes me very happy!

When I first came across Myron Elkins last Friday while doing research for my most recent Best of What’s New installment, I simply couldn’t believe I was listening to a 21-year-old artist. Based on his sound and especially his gritty vocals, you could picture this young singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich. jam with the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Tom Petty back in the ’70s!

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine via Sacks & Co

Before getting to some music from Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines, released on January 13, I’d like to touch on his background story. According to his website, while being exposed to music as a kid, taught by his grandfather how to play guitar and starting to write his own songs at 14 or 15, Elkins did not set out to become a professional singer-songwriter. Instead, after high school graduation, the then-17-year-old became a welder in a local factory. Then his trajectory changed.

Three years ago, a relative signed Elkins up for a local battle of the bands competition, even though his music performance experience had been limited to the church and a few gigs at local bars. Elkins also had no band at the time, so he quickly gathered three cousins and a friend to join him. They had three weeks to rehearse. While Elkins’ band “only” came in second, the experience started to change his path.

Photo: Anna Sink

For the next three years, Elkins and his band members continued to practice nearly every day while working regular jobs. Recording in a studio was a big step forward for the nascent group, according to his website. Luckily, Elkins and his band were already fans of [producer] Dave Cobb’s live-band production style before signing with Elektra/Low Country Sound, and so they relished the chance to record with him at his studio, Nashville RCA Studio A. Cobb has worked with the likes of Chris StapletonBrandi CarlileJohn PrineSturgill SimpsonJason IsbellThe Highwomen and Rival Sons.

Time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener Sugartooth. To me, it sounds a bit like Tom Petty channeling Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee. Check this out!

Since I highlighted the album’s title track in my aforementioned Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here to go right to Hands To Myself. The groovy and soulful tune addresses the touchy subject of domestic use…You can hope you can pray that maybe someday/Someone will love someone will help and put you on some kind of shelf/Oh I swear ill never learn to keep my hands to myself…“I’m writing about where I come from,” Elkins explains on his website. “Things I’ve seen and things I’ve heard. I had only been out of Michigan one time—to Graceland—before I started the band, so that little part of Michigan is all I really knew when writing this album.”

Wrong Side Of The River has a country rock flavor. Elkins’ website notes the tune encourages embracing where you’re from, because a supportive home life can make all the difference even if you’re not living on the so-called right side of town.

On Nashville Money, a nice bluesy rocker, Elkins muses about life as a professional music artist…With that Nashville money/gonna take care of my hopes and dreams/With that Nashville money/Gonna make a big star out of me

Let’s take a look at one more tune: Machine, a funky rock tune with a cool bass line.

As briefly noted above, Factories, Farms & Amphetamines was recorded live in studio at the storied RCA Studio A in Nashville. In early 2016, Dave Cobb took over the historic landmark for his Low Country Sound record label imprint. Apart from Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, some of the other artists who worked there include The Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, Waylon Jennings, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, The Monkees, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell and George Strait.

In addition to Elkins (guitar, vocals), the album also features the members of his touring band: Caleb Stamphler (guitar), Avery Whitaker (guitar), Nathan Johnson (bass) and Jake Bartlett (drums). Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

Reflecting on working with producer Dave Cobb, Elkins states on his website: “I came in with probably 30 songs that we had widdled down from 50-60. Dave would just sit down with us and say ‘ok, let’s hear what you got.’ He knew pretty quickly which ones he wanted to dive into, and from there, it was just kind of a Dave Cobb crash course. We’d only been in the studio one time before that, so there might have been a thing or two that we needed to learn.”

Encouraged by the experience, apparently, Elkins is already looking forward to recording more music. “Now when I’m writing songs, I have all these Dave-isms in my head—like, ‘Oh, yeah, there we go. All right, throw this here.’”, he notes. “Before we recorded Factories, Farms & Amphetamines, I thought maybe you had to be a superhero to make a record. Next time, it’s going be a little easier.”

Elkins is off to a great start as a recording artist, and he’s only 21 years old. I think we can look forward to more great music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Myron Elkins website; YouTube; Spotify

Advertisement

A Short Holiday Hiatus

Tonight I’m leaving for Germany to spend Christmas with my parents. Therefore, I’ve decided to put the blog on a short hiatus until my return close to the new year. In lieu of Song Musings, my weekly feature looking at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date, I’m republishing a post that first appeared recently on Dave’s blog A Sound Day as part of his fun Turntable Talk series. The topic was perfect for this time of the year: “Songs of the Season”, i.e., writing about a Christmas/holiday song the invited participants love and why it has meaning to them. Following is what I contributed.

Once again, I’m happy to share my thoughts for Turntable Talk – thanks, Dave, for keeping this great feature going and inviting me back.

When I received the notification with the topic, it immediately took me back to my years growing up in Germany. I have fond memories of Christmas, which was a pretty big deal in my family.

For many years, we (my parents, my six-year-older sister and I) drove to Heidelberg to gather at my grandma’s (from my mom’s side) house. My dad picked up his parents, who also lived in Heidelberg, and we all celebrated Christmas eve (December 24) together.

The old town of Heidelberg with the Old Bridge over the river Neckar and the Heidelberg castle on the hill

Every year, my grandma got a Christmas tree – a relatively small but real tree with real candles – nothing like the scent of wax candles! On many occasions, my sister and I got to decorate the tree. While working we listened to my favorite mainstream radio station where they played song requests from listeners. Apart from straight pop songs, there were many, typically modern Christmas songs, such as John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), Chuck Berry’s Run Rudolph Run and Wham’s Last Christmas.

Christmas songs weren’t limited to the radio. My grandparents liked to sing traditional Christmas carols on December 24 in the evening before we exchanged Christmas presents. This was preceded by my dad lighting the candles on the Christmas tree and switching off all other lights in the room. It was a festive atmosphere I enjoyed, especially as a small child. I was also full of anticipation about opening presents, which would follow the singing!😊

This brings me to my Christmas song pick. There are many Christmas tunes I like, both traditional carols and modern Christmas songs. For this post, I decided to select a traditional Christmas carol performed by what I think probably is the best vocal group I know: Silent Night by The Temptations.

Composed in 1818 by Austrian church organist and composer Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian Roman Catholic priest and writer, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht became a popular Christmas carol. It was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church in New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from three of Mohr’s original six verses.

Silent Night has appeared in various films and television specials. It has also been recorded by numerous artists, such as Nat King Cole, Percy Sledge, Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey and, of course, The Temptations. The mighty-sounding vocal group from Detroit included it on their second Christmas album Give Love At Christmas, released in August 1980.

In addition to being a beautiful song with an outstanding vocal rendition by The Temptations, Silent Night (Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht) has a special meaning to me. It is one of the carols my family and I used to sing each Christmas eve back in Germany.

Before signing off temporarily, if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas. If you don’t, have a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Making Your Christmas Groove

It’s been about seven weeks since the last Musings of the Past, a feature that roughly runs once a month where I revisit previous posts published at a time when this blog was in its younger days. I guess I missed November! With the holiday season being in full swing, I thought this would be an opportune moment to republish a post from December 2017, which featured a variety of modern Christmas songs from various music genres. The Spotify playlist at the end wasn’t in the original post.

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year [December 2016 – CMM]. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe at the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies suddenly discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano & Daryl Hall/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 21, 2017, ended here. And, yes, I kept Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, even though I snarkily commented the other day this tune has been overexposed – oh, well, it was part of the original post. Plus, it’s certainly not terrible!

The Spotify playlist is an addition. Instead of The Ravers, it features a rendition of It’s Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas by UK pop punk band Majorettes. Feliz Navidad is the studio version José Feliciano recorded in 1970, not the live performance with Daryl Hall captured in the clip. The playlist also includes some additional tunes. Season’s Greetings!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

New Live Box by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Is Triumphant Celebration of Rock & Roll

Live at The Fillmore (1997) is packed with covers and original tunes captured during 20-show run at storied San Francisco venue

In 1997, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played 20 shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Now Live at the Fillmore (1997), a long-anticipated box set that appeared on November 25, captures highlights from the band’s residency in the city by the bay. And what a truly amazing celebration of rock & roll it is!

“We’re musicians and we want to play,” Tom Petty told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the 20-show run, as noted in a statement on Petty’s website, which announced the box set back in September. “We’ve made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be.”

Six-LP format of the box set, which is also available in various other vinyl, CD and streaming configurations

Here’s more from the above press release: The shows at the Fillmore ended up being some of the most joyful, honest, inspirational and prolific experiences of the band’s career, creating a unique bond between the group and their fans. This album features more covers than originals, paying tribute to the artists and songs that shaped Petty’s love of music as he was growing up—before he became a legendary songwriter and performer in his own right.

Highlights include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and more from The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The collection also features special performances with The Byrds’ front man Roger McGuinn and blues legend John Lee Hooker. Other standouts include extended versions of original tracks “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “It’s Good To Be King.”

The Fillmore was a laboratory for the band. The captivating sold out performances were such a hit, the Heartbreakers were even nicknamed the “Fillmore House Band.” At the final show, Petty noted as he took the stage: “We all feel this might be the highpoint of our time together as a group… It’s going to be hard to get us off this stage tonight.”

Added Mike Campbell: “Playing the Fillmore in 1997 for a month was one of my favorite experiences as a musician in my whole life. The band was on fire and we changed the set list every night. The room and the crowd was spiritual… AND… we got to play with some amazing guests. I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration.” Here’s a nice short film about the residency.

You can find a lot more background on the residency in the liner notes here, which were written by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin. I’m also including a Spotify link to the box set at the end of the post. Now I’d say it’s time to take a look at some of the goodies.

Kicking it off is a great cover of a tune by the man about who John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”. Around and Around first appeared as the B-side to Chuck Berry’s March 1958 single Johnny B. Goode. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, released in July 1959 – an album that in my book you could title the greatest hits of classic rock & roll.

I’ve always loved J.J. Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. Evidently, so did Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Call Me the Breeze first appeared on Cale’s debut album Naturally, which came out in October 1971. Check out this great cover. Man, this is swinging! Here’s the neat official video.

Did I mention The Rolling Stones previously? Let’s check out Time is on My Side. Written by Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym Norman Meade, the tune was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his orchestra in 1963. The Stones recorded two versions of the tune in 1964. The first, which is a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro, appeared as a U.S. single in September of the same year and was also included on their second American album 12 X 5, released in October 1964. The second version, a tighter arrangement with a guitar intro, was included on The Rolling Stones No. 2, their second UK album from January 1965.

After three tracks into this review, you might wonder about originals. Frankly, I could easily focus on covers only, since there are so many excellent renditions. But of course, this box set also features plenty of Tom Petty songs. Here’s a nice take of I Won’t Back Down, the lead single of his first solo album Full Moon Fever, released in April 1989.

Let’s throw in a cool instrumental – a great rendition of Green Onions, a tune by Booker T. & the M.G.’s I’ve always loved. The group served as the house band of Stax Records. Green Onions was mostly written by keyboarder Booker T. Jones when he was 17 years old. Also credited to the other three members of the MG’s, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), the tune first appeared as a single in 1962 and also became the title track of the group’s debut album that came out in October of the same year. Heartbreakers keyboarder Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell do a great job with it.

The last track I’d like to call out features a cool guest appearance by John Lee Hooker. Here’s Boogie Chillen, which Hooker wrote and first recorded in 1948. Buddy Guy has cited the tune as a key reason why he picked up the guitar and became a blues guitarist. Prompted by Hooker, this sizzling close to 8-minute version features neat harp and keyboard solos by Petty and Tench, respectively.

I easily could go on and on featuring additional tunes. Instead, I leave you with a Spotify link to the entire collection. If you dig Tom Petty and The Live Anthology, a November 2009 box set with a similar concept combining live renditions of covers and originals, I have no doubt you’re going to like Live at the Fillmore (1997).

Live at the Fillmore (1997), which appears on Warner Records, is available in 3-LP, 6-LP and 6-LP Uber Deluxe formats (exclusively via Tom Petty web store), 2 and 4-CD sets, and on major streaming platforms. The compilation was meticulously curated by producers Ryan Ulyate and Mike Campbell. Serving as executive producers were Benmont Tench, as well as Adria Petty, Annakim Petty and Dana Petty, Tom’s daughters and wife, respectively, who manage the Tom Petty estate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I hope everybody is spending a great weekend. Once again, I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six. In case you’re here for the first time, in this weekly recurring feature, I stretch out musically speaking, visiting different decades and different genres over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. All onboard and let’s go!

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet/Joy Spring

Today, our little trip starts in December 1954 with beautiful music by two jazz greats: Trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach. Earlier that same year, Roach had invited Brown to join him in creating a quintet. By the time, they recorded Clifford Brown & Max Roach, which I believe was their band’s first album, the line-up also featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Richie Powell (piano) and George Morrow (bass). Unfortunately, the quintet was short-lived due to a tragic car accident that killed Brown in June 1956 at age 25. He was on his way to a gig in Chicago together with Powell whose wife Nancy drove the car. They both lost their lives as well. The quintet’s last official album Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street, recorded earlier that year, featured then-up-and-coming tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Here’s Joy Spring, a composition by Brown.

The Asylum Choir/Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live

The next stop on today’s journey is November 1971. That’s when the second and final album by Leon Russell’s (keyboards) and Marc Benno’s (guitar) studio project The Asylum Choir came out. Initially formed in 1967, they put out their debut Look Inside the Asylum Choir the following year. While The Asylum Choir II had been recorded in 1969, its release was delayed due to contract disputes. In fact, by the time the record finally appeared, they had already dissolved the project. Russell and Benno were backed by prominent session musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Donald “Duck” Dunn (of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Chuck Blackwell (drums). Here’s the great honky tonk rocker Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live, which was co-written by Russell and Benno.

R.E.M./Losing My Religion

Let’s continue our excursion with a stopover in the ’90s. Losing My Religion was the first R.E.M. tune that really got the alternative rock band from Athens, Ga. on my radar screen. While I remember the song was on the radio back in Germany all the time, I still dig it to this day. Credited to all members of R.E.M. – Bill Berry (drums, percussion), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, backing vocals) and Michael Stipe (lead vocals) – Losing My Religion is from the group’s seventh studio album Out of Time, which appeared in March 1991. According to Songfacts, R.E.M. were surprised about their record label’s decision to make the tune the album’s lead single. After all, it didn’t have a chorus and featured a mandolin as a lead instrument, not exactly your typical ingredients for a hit. Not only did it become the album’s best-performing single but the band’s most successful overall!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Don’t Leave Me Here

Four tracks into this Sunday Six it’s time to jump to the current century with some sizzling blues by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, who in May 2017 came out with a great collaboration album, TajMo. Together with Buddy Guy’s 2016 studio album Born to Play Guitar, it reignited my love for the blues, a genre I had first explored in my late teens after I had picked up the bass and joined a blues band – the start of my intense but short-lived band career! 🙂 I also caught Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 during their tour that supported the album and have seen Guy three times since Born to Play Guitar. Here’s TajMo’s great opener Don’t Leave Me Here, which was co-written by the two artists and Gary Nicholson. I should add that while the tune has a traditional blues vibe, overall, TajMo, which includes elements of soul and world music, is an uplifting album. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” Mahal said at the time. “It’s therapeutic, so you can get up off that down.” He added, “We wanted to do a real good record together, but we didn’t want to do the record that everyone expected us to do.”

Echo & The Bunnymen/Lips Like Sugar

Our next stop takes us back to the ’80s. In July 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen released their eponymous fifth studio album. While The English post-punk band had been around since 1978, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until Lips Like Sugar that I heard of them for the first time. The catchy tune was co-written by band members Will Sergeant (guitar), Ian McCulloch (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Les Pattinson (bass). Pete de Freitas (drums) completed their line-up at the time. Interestingly, it only reached no. 36 on the UK Official Singles Chart, lower than most of their earlier singles. After the band’s breakup in 1993, Sergeant and McCulloch reunited the following year. When Pattinson rejoined them in 1997, they decided to revive Echo & The Bunnymen. Ever since Pattinson exited again in 1999, Sergeant and McCulloch have continued to tour and record under that name.

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Once again we’ve reached our final destination. The last tune is in memory of Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Lewis was the last man standing of a generation of pioneering classic rock & roll artists who also included the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. “The Killer” was known for his high-energy performances. After his popularity had taken off in 1957, his career was nearly derailed when it became known he was married to his 13-year-old cousin once removed while still being married to his previous wife. Lewis was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings were nearly wiped out overnight. Eventually, he managed to reinvent himself as a country artist. But scandal continued to follow him for much of his life. Here’s Lewis’ remake of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and his biggest hit, which was released as a single in April 1957. The tune was written by Dave “Curlee” Williams and first recorded by Big Maybelle in 1955.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Germans Who Rock In German

My recent trip to Germany reminded me that I previously wrote about German music artists and bands who perform their songs in German. This includes the following post, which originally appeared in June 2017. This republished version has been slightly edited. I’ve also added a Spotify playlist.

Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than a few acts like the Scorpions, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and Neue Deutsche Härte group Rammstein, I can’t think of any other German rock music artists with a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands and artists, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of them are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s hometown. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best-known songs. Here’s a clip.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen  released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best-known tunes. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his eponymous solo album appeared. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1984 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a musical perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released six additional studio records, the most recent of which (Nie wieder Krieg) appeared in January this year. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy EngelL.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and multi-talent Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

– End –

The original post, first published on June 17, 2017, ended here. The following Spotify playlist has been added. It includes most of the above songs and some additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

The other day while browsing the blog for older content that would be worthwhile to republish, I came across a post from August 2018 about my favorite David Bowie album. That’s when I realized that I had actually missed the 50th-anniversary date of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But since June 16 only passed about four weeks ago, I felt it was still close enough to celebrate this milestone with a repost of the above.

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space OddityThe Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for StarmanZiggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography  Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be secondary to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off-topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s  Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been its own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling  Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s musical arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part of his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder  (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the  Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton JohnPink FloydMahavishnu OrchestraJeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

– End –

The original post, first published on August 28, 2018, ended here. The following link to the album on Spotify has been added:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, and the show must go on with a new explorative trip to celebrate great music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. This installment of The Sunday Six strikes out broadly, touching the ’40s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2017. Let’s do it!

Ry Cooder/I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine

I’d like to start today’s journey with some beautiful instrumental music by Ry Cooder. I believe the first time I heard of him was in connection with the great 1984 Wim Wenders motion picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score. This is some of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I’ve heard to date – if you don’t know the movie’s score, check it out! In addition to 17 film scores, the versatile Cooder has released the same amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Not surprisingly, Cooder has also collaborated with the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, David Lindley and numerous other artists. This brings me to Bop Till You Drop, Cooder’s eighth solo album from July 1979, which I received as a gift in the late ’80s from my longtime German music buddy and former bandmate. Here’s Cooder’s great instrumental rendition of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. Written by Rose Marie McCoy and Joe Seneca, the tune first appeared as a single by Ike & Tina Turner in June 1961.

The Animals/It’s My Life

After a gentle start, I’d like to step on the gas a bit with one of my favorite ’60s blues rock and R&B bands: The Animals. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered the British group’s music on various previous occasions, which among others include this Sunday Six installment and this post dedicated to their original lead vocalist Eric Burdon, one of the best British blues vocalists I can think of! It’s My Life first came out as a single in October 1965. Notably, it was penned by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. This was not the only time Brill Building songwriters wrote a tune for the group. In May 1966, The Animals released another single, Don’t Bring Me Down, co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It’s My Life was also included on the band’s first compilation The Best of The Animals, which appeared in the U.S. only in February 1966. I’ve always loved this great psychedelic-flavored tune.

Steve Winwood/Roll With It

When it comes to Steve Winwood, I generally prefer his early years with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith over his oftentimes more pop-oriented solo period. Perhaps the biggest exception is Windwood’s fifth solo album Roll With It from June 1988. While undoubtedly influenced by ’80s pop, this record is also quite soulful. It became his most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. and reaching no. 4 in the UK, with more than three million copies having been sold. Here’s the excellent opener and title track, a co-write by Winwood and Will Jennings. Subsequently, Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland received a co-credit due to the tune’s similarities publishing rights organization BMI saw to (I’m a) Roadrunner, which had been a hit in 1966 for Junior Walker & the Allstars.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe/Strange Things Happening Every Day

Next let’s turn to a trailblazer and true rock & roll pioneer, the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. While John Lennon famously said, “If you were to try to give rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” one of the genre’s early pioneers we must not forget was Tharpe. The prominent gospel singer started playing the guitar as a four-year-old and began her recording career at age 23 in 1938. She was one of the first popular recording artists using electric guitar distortion. Her technique had a major influence on British guitarists like Eric ClaptonJeff Beck and Keith Richards. She also influenced many artists in the U.S., including Elvis PresleyLittle Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Tharpe has been called “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock & roll.” Unfortunately, her health declined prematurely and she passed away from a stroke in 1973 at the untimely age of 58. In May 2018, Tharpe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence. Here’s Strange Things Happening Everyday, originally a traditional African American spiritual that became a hit for Tharpe in 1945. This recording is historic, as it’s considered to be one of the very first rock & roll songs. Tharpe’s remarkable guitar-playing, including her solos, distorted sound and bending of strings, is more pronounced on later tunes, but you can already hear some of it here. Check out this clip and tell me this amazing lady didn’t rock!

Prince/Cream

For this next pick, I’m jumping 46 years forward to 1991. Prince is an artist I’ve always respected for his remarkable versatility and amazing guitar skills, though I can’t say I’m an all-out fan. But I really like some of his songs. I must also add I’ve not explored his catalog in greater detail. It was largely my aforementioned German music buddy who introduced me to Prince. I recall listening together to his ninth studio Sign o’ the Times from March 1987. Cream, off Diamonds and Pearls that appeared in October 1991, is a tune I well remember hearing on the radio back in Germany. Based on Wikipedia’s singles chart, it looks like the song was Prince’s first big hit in the ’90s. Among others, it topped the U.S. charts, climbed to no. 2 in Canada and Australia, and reached the top 5 in France, Switzerland and Sweden. Here’s the official video. The actual tune starts at about 2:05 minutes into the clip. Sadly, we lost Prince way too early in April 2016 at age 57.

Greta Van Fleet/Safari Song

Last but not least, I’d like to turn to Greta Van Fleet, one of the contemporary bands that give me hope classic rock isn’t entirely dead yet. L.A. rockers Dirty Honey are another great example in this context. Greta Van Fleet were formed in Frankenmuth, Mich. in 2012 by brothers Josh Kiszka (lead vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitars, backing vocals) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Other than Hauck who was replaced by Danny Wagner in 2013, the band’s line-up hasn’t changed. The group has been criticized by some as a Led Zeppelin knock-off, and the tune I’m featuring here probably is part of the reason. Selfishly, I don’t care since in my book, Zep are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would also add Greta Van Fleet’s sound has evolved since their early days. To me, their most recent album The Battle at Garden’s Gate from April 2021 bears very little if any resemblance to Zep. Here’s Safari Song, Greta’s second single released in October 2017. Credited to all members of the band, it was also included on their debut EP Black Smoke Rising that had come out in April of the same year. This just rocks and I could care less about the critics!

Here’s a playlist featuring all of the above tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 10

A look on the calendar revealed January 10 was a date I had not covered yet as part of my recurring music history feature that has become a bit more regular over the past few months. Not sure yet whether this is going to remain the case. For now, let’s look at some of the events that happened on January 10 throughout rock history.

1958: Jerry Lee Lewis topped the UK Official Singles chart with Great Balls of Fire, one of his best-known songs. Co-written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, the rock & roll classic had been recorded on October 8, 1957, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., and released on November 11 that year. The tune also became a big hit in the U.S. where it topped the Billboard country and R&B charts and peaked at no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The song was also featured in the American rock & roll picture Jamboree from 1957. “The Killer” remains alive at age 86.

1964: The Rolling Stones released their eponymous debut EP in the UK. It came on the heels of their second single I Wanna Be Your Man in November 1963, a cover of a Beatles tune that had yielded the first top 20 hit for the Stones in the UK. The EP featured four other covers of tunes written by Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, Arthur Alexander and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Here’s the Alexander song You Better Move On, which also became the Stones’ fourth single in January 1964. Unlike I Wanna Be Your Man, You Better Move On did not make the British charts, though it charted in Australia at an underwhelming no. 94. I’ve actually always liked this rendition.

1969: George Harrison quit The Beatles while they were at Twickenham Film Studios, where their rehearsals for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were being captured on camera. If you watched the Peter Jackson documentary The Beatles: Get Back, you could see that George’s frustration about the tensions within the group had been building up. When they broke for lunch, he had had it and told his bandmates, “I think I’ll be leaving, I’m leaving the band now.” Asked by John Lennon, “When?”, Harrison replied, “Now. Get a replacement.” His last words before walking out were, “See you ’round the clubs.” A few days later, he returned after he had received assurances the concert The Beatles had planned would be canceled and that his other wishes would be respected. Fortunately, things turned out to be different with the famous roof concert, though if you watched the above documentary, you saw it was up in the air until the very last minute.

1977: American blues legend Muddy Waters released Hard Again, the first of his final three studio albums that were produced by electric blues guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. That’s pretty much all the facts you need to have to know this has got to be great. The album, which was recorded live in-studio in just three days, won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Here’s The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2, co-written by Waters (credited as McKinley Morganfield, his real name) and Brownie McGhee.

2016: David Bowie passed away from liver cancer in New York at the age of 69. He had received his diagnosis 18 months earlier and decided not to make it public. Just two days earlier, his 26th and final studio album Blackstar had been released. The recording had taken place in secret at a studio in New York. Co-producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s “parting gift” for his fans before his death. While I understand many fans like Blackstar, admittedly, it’s not my cup of tea. I much prefer Bowie’s first decade, in particular his glam rock period. Here’s one of my favorites, Suffragette City, off his fifth studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars from June 1972. To quote the instruction on the back cover, “To be played at maximum volume”! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; This Day in Music; YouTube