On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

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

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another mini-excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Most of the U.S. including my neck of the woods fell back to standard time overnight. If this affects you as well, don’t forget to adjust your watch – if you didn’t and believe you must head out for an activity that starts at a specific time, relax, you have an additional hour! This means you may have time to join me on today’s music trip! Even if you turned back your clocks by an hour, hop on anyway!

Ornette Coleman/Lonely Woman

Let’s start today’s journey in November 1969 with American jazz great Ornette Coleman. The saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer is known as a principal founder of the free jazz genre, a term derived from his 1961 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Coleman who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, began playing R&B and bebop in the late ’40s before joining Silas Green from New Orleans, a traveling show that was part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show. Later on, he became part of the band of R&B, blues guitarist and vocalist Pee Wee Crayton. He ended up in California, assembled his own band and recorded his debut album Something Else!!!! By the time his sophomore release Tomorrow Is the Question! had come out, Coleman had shaken up the jazz world with his “alien” music. Apparently, some jazz musicians went as far as calling him a fraud. None other than conductor Leonard Bernstein disagreed, praising him. Lonely Woman, composed by Coleman, is a track from his third album confidently titled The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was released in November 1959. Coleman (alto saxophone) is backed by Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums).

Steve Earle/You’re Still Standin’ There

Our next stop takes us to March 1996 and a tune by roots-oriented singer-songwriter Steve Earle, which was love at first listen: You’re Still Standin’ There, off his six studio album I Feel Alright. And that is safe to assume he did after he had overcome his drug addiction to cocaine and heroin in the fall of 1994. Like all other tracks on the album, You’re Still Standin’ There was penned by Earle. Lucinda Williams, another artist I’ve come to dig, joined him on vocals for this great Dylan-esque tune. I can also hear some Springsteen in here! After playing music for nearly 55 years and a recording career of more than 35 years, Earle is still going strong. His most recent album with his longtime backing band The Dukes, Jerry Jeff, came out on May 27 this year.

Cream/Politician

Time to hop to the ’60s, coz why not! Politician is one of my absolute favorites by British power trio Cream. I love that super cool guitar riff. With important midterm elections coming up in America, which could significantly impact the direction of the county, I also have to admit the song choice isn’t entirely coincidental. To the extent possible, I’d like to keep this blog uplifting and free of politics, which has become so toxic. All I will say is this: Never take anything for granted. The right to vote is a privilege. If you have it, exercise it! Politician, co-written by Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce and English poet, lyricist, and singer Pete Brown, appears on Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire, a part studio, part live double LP that first came out in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK in August of the same year.

Dire Straits/Tunnel of Love

Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post earlier this week about Love Over Gold, the excellent fourth studio album by Dire Straits, for which I’ve gained new appreciation. That’s why I’m featuring a song from the British rock band’s predecessor Making Movies, which came out in October 1980! 🙂 Joking aside, both of these albums rank among my top three Dire Straits releases, together with their eponymous debut that features this great signature Fender Stratocaster sound by Mark Knopfler. While that album and the similar-sounding sophomore Communiqué were great, Making Movies represented a leap in Knopfler’s songwriting. Here’s the excellent opener Tunnel of Love.

The Rolling Stones/Dead Flowers

Recently, I participated in another round of Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature by Dave from A Sound Day, for which he invites fellow bloggers to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. This time, he asked contributors to write about their favorite year in music. The submissions were amazing (not talking about mine, though “my” year obviously was the best! 🙂 ). One key takeaway from this latest installment is how much great music appeared, especially in the 1965-1975 timeframe. A close second to my choice, 1969, was 1971, though frankly, I pretty much could have picked any other year during the above period. Longwinded way of bringing me to Sticky Fingers, my favorite album by The Rolling Stones released in April 1971 and a tune I absolutely love: Dead Flowers. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the country-oriented song was influenced by Richards’ friendship with Gram Parsons. I just don’t get tired of the great honky tonk guitar fill-ins by Richards and the amazing Mick Taylor. Did somebody say they don’t like country?

Giovannie and the Hired Guns/Can’t Answer Why

For the final tune of this installment of The Sunday Six, we’re going all the way to the present with a great tune by Giovannie and the Hired Guns, a rock band from Texas I recently featured as part of my Best of What’s New music revue series. The group from Stephenville around frontman Giovannie Yanez, which also includes guitarists Carlos Villa and Jerrod Flusche, bassist Alex Trejo and Milton Toles on drums, taps into a variety of genres, such as Southern rock, country, stoner metal, musica norteña and even Latin hip-hop. Here’s Can’t Answer Why, credited to Yanez and the band, off their third and latest full-length album Tejano Punk Boyz. Great melodic rock!

‘So where’s the Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes’, you might wonder. Ask you shall receive. As always, thanks for reading and listening, and hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

A Debut Album I Love

A “Turntable Table Talk” contribution

Fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day is currently hosting Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature where he invites some fellow music fans and writers to weigh in on music subjects. After participating in previous installments about the pros and cons of live albums and the impact of MTV, I was glad Dave invited me back to share my thoughts about a great music debut.

In his own words: I’m calling it “Out of the Blue.”Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise. Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found, but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue.  So no Beatles, unless of course you were around in 1963 and had the luck to suddenly hear ‘she Loves You’ or ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and went ‘Wow, who are these mop-topped lads I’ve never heard the likes of?”…in which case, then that would be a great story! 

Well, I wish I would have been around to see The Beatles! Without further ado, following is my contribution:

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 seconds to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

Southern Avenue (from left): Evan Sarver, Tikyra Jackson; Tiernii Jackson, Ori Naftaly and Jeremy Powell

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became the first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune Old Time Rock and Roll.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

Buddy Guy Reminds New Jersey Why He Was Born to Play the Guitar

Wednesday night, I saw Buddy Guy at Wellmont Theater, a lovely 2,500-seat concert venue in Montclair, N.J. My ticket had been a last-minute impulse purchase triggered by a post from a Facebook friend. Age has been kind to Guy, and it felt as if time had stood still since I had first seen him in July 2016.

If I see this correctly, the now 85-year-old is the last man standing from the old generation of Chicago blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Luther Allison. Guy still proved to be an incredible guitarist, compelling vocalist and a great showman.

Key aspects of Guy’s show like hitting his guitar with a drum stick, cursing like a sailor and walking off the stage into the audience while playing were familiar from the two previous occasions I had seen him. While as such you could say there were no big surprises, I take predictability when it’s delivered at such a high caliber.

Buddy Guy with Colin James

Before getting to some of Guy’s music, I’d like to say a few words about Canadian blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Colin James who opened the night. According to his website, His career has spanned over 30 years, with a track record that includes 19 studio albums, 7 Juno Awards, 27 Maple Blues Awards and multi-platinum record sales. His most recent album Miles To Go garnered worldwide attention, debuting on the Billboard Blues Charts and holding a position on the RMR Blues Chart for 24 weeks, 14 weeks in the top 10. He continues to sell out shows across Canada with over 80,000 tickets sold on tours over the past 3 years. Colin was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

I was completely new to Colin James and greatly enjoyed his 45-minute set. For some of his songs, he was joined by Guy’s excellent pianist and organist Marty Sammon. Here’s one of these tunes, the title track from James’ new album Open Road, which appeared in November 2021. James came back for one song in Guy’s set.

After a short break, the time had come for Buddy Guy. And he made it damn clear right from the get-go that he meant business with Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues. The title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991 was penned by Guy.

One thing Guy likes to do is to combine songs, which can result in lengthy jam-like performances. Not only can this make it tricky to distinguish between songs, but it also becomes an endurance test for filming! 🙂 Anyway, here’s one such example from Wednesday night: The Willie Dixon standard I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man and the Muddy Waters tune She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both songs were first recorded by Waters in 1954 and 1958, respectively.

I leave you with one more clip: Skin Deep, the title track of Guy’s 14th studio album from July 2008, which I felt was one of the highlights of the night. The soulful tune was co-written by Guy and his long-time collaborators Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Such a great tune!

Other songs in Guy’s set I could recognize included Feels Like Rain (written by John Hiatt; title track of Guy’s 1993 studio album), Got My Mojo Working (written by Preston “Red” Foster; from Guy and Junior Wells’ Live in Montreux, 1978), a snippet of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (written by Denise LaSalle; from Guy’s 1994 studio album Slippin’ In), I Go Crazy (written by James Brown; from Feels Like Rain), Drowning On Dry Land (co-written by Mickey Gregory and Allen Jones; from Guy’s 2008 live album 2008-06-28: Glastonbury Festival) and Cheaper to Keep Her (co-written by Bonny Rice, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer; from Guy’s 2005 studio album Bring ‘Em In).

This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Guy’s excellent backing group The Damn Right Blues Band. Apart from Marty Sammon, the line-up includes dynamite guitarist Ric “JazGuitar” Hall, Orlando Wright (bass) and the above-mentioned Tom Hambridge on drums.

Guy is taking his show to the Kodak Center in Rochester, N.Y. tonight. Other upcoming dates include Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada (April 9); Revolution Hall, Portland, Ore (April 21) and Moore Hall, Seattle, Wash. (April 22). The tour also includes a show scheduled for July 30, Guy’s 86th birthday, at Taft Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. The schedule for his entire 2022 tour, which currently has gigs until September, is here.

I find Buddy Guy an amazing inspiration. If you dig electric blues Chicago-style and don’t mind cursing, I can highly recommend the man who truly was born to play the guitar and who damn right has got the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Colin James website; Buddy Guy website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Cranberries

The third installment of my weekly desert island exercise brings me to the letter “c.” Some of the artists and bands I could have selected include J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sheryl Crow. My pick are The Cranberries and Linger, a song I find exceptionally beautiful. The melody, the musical arrangement and the lyrics are all coming together perfectly.

Linger first appeared in February 1993 as the second upfront single of the Irish alternative rock band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? That album was released two weeks thereafter in March.

The Cranberries’ second single became one of their biggest hits. In addition peaking at no. 3 in their native Ireland, it reached no. 4 in Canada, no. 8 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and no. 14 in the UK, among others. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 24 weeks.

A beautiful great acoustic version of Linger was included on the band’s seventh studio album Something Else, released in April 2017. The record featured unplugged and orchestral renditions of 10 previously released singles, along with three new songs. Sadly, it would be the final album with Dolores O’Riordan who passed away on January 15, 2018, at the age of 46 years. The cause of death was determined as drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan wrote the music for this song before Dolores O’Riordan joined the band. Originally, it had lyrics written by the group’s first singer, a bloke named Niall Quinn. When O’Riordan auditioned for the band, she had some ideas for the song, and after she was hired, she wrote her own set of lyrics, turning it into a song of regret based on a soldier she once fell in love with.

The emotional, girlie sound was a huge departure for the band, but wildly successful. The song got lots of airplay from radio stations looking for an alternative to rap or grunge, and MTV put the video in heavy rotation [So did VH1 where I saw it repeatedly during my first semester as a student on Long Island, N.Y. – CMM]. The Cranberries became one of the best-selling bands of the mid-’90s.

In a Songfacts interview with Dolores O’Riordan, she described this as “a love song.” In the lyric, she describes being mistreated by her love and seeing him with another girl, yet unable to break free because he lets their relationship linger. This hardly seems the stuff of dreams, but the feeling of first love is what O’Riordan keyed in on. It brought her back to a time of innocence.

The Cranberries recorded the first version of this song in 1990 at their manager’s studio in Limerick, Ireland. It was one of three songs included on a demo they distributed to local records stores, which found their way to various record companies. Island Records signed the band, which released their first EP, Uncertain, in 1991. “Linger” was not part of that EP, as they wanted to save the song for when they built a bigger fan base.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Time for another installment of Musings of the Past, a recently introduced feature in which I repost select older content from the blog. These posts may be slightly edited and/or enhanced. The following was based on one of the best music documentaries I’ve watched to date: Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music. Thanks again to Jim at Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me in early 2018. Now that I’m reposting this, I feel like watching it again!

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Recording engineer and producer shaped sound of some of greatest music recorded during second half of 20th century

This post was inspired by Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, one of the most fascinating music documentaries I recently watched. Before getting to it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me.

Created by Mark Moormann, the documentary, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was a 2005 Grammy Award nominee, tells the fascinating story of Tom Dowd, a recording engineer and producer for Atlantic Records. Over a 50-plus-year career that started in the 1940s, this man worked with an amazing array of artists, including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.sEric Clapton, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the list goes on and on. During that period, Dowd also advanced studio techniques that would revolutionize recording.

Tom Dowd with Ray Charles

Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City. From the beginning of his life, he was exposed to music. His mother was an opera singer, while his dad worked as a concertmaster. While growing up, Dowd learned various instruments, including the piano, tuba, violin and string bass. After high school, he continued his musical education at City College of New York. During that time, Dowd also played in a band at Columbia University and became a conductor. Undoubtedly, all of this contributed to his great ear for music, which would come in handy for his later professional work in music.

Interestingly, Dowd’s path could have been very different. At 18, he was drafted into the military and through his work at the physics laboratory at Columbia University became involved in the Manhattan Project – yep that project, which developed the atomic bomb! Dowd planned to become a nuclear physicist after finishing his assignment. There was only one problem: His secret research for the military had been much more advanced than the university’s curriculum. So he decided against pursuing studies in nuclear physics and instead got a job at a classical recording studio in New York, before starting his longtime career with Atlantic Records.

Tom Dowd (left) with Jerry Wexler

In addition to helping shape the sound of some of the most amazing music recorded during the second half of the 20th century, Dowd was instrumental to drive innovation in the studio. He convinced Jerry Wexler, a partner in Atlantic Records, to install an Ampex eight-track recorder, putting the company on the cutting edge in recording technology. Dowd also popularized stereophonic sound and pioneered the use of linear channel faders on audio mixers as opposed to rotary controls. He then became a master in operating the linear channel faders, almost as if he was playing a keyboard!

Initially, various of the musicians were skeptical or even hostile when they saw Dowd. During the documentary, Eric Clapton said, “To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t interested in people like that.” Pretty much along the same lines, Gregg Allman noted, “Suddenly, you get to the studio, and there is a new guy there critiquing all this stuff, and you think, ‘where did he come from?'”

But when they realized what kind of artists Dowd had recorded in the past, how much he knew about music (likely, more than all of them combined!), and what he could do at the mixer, they listened. Heck, Dowd even managed to suggest to Ginger Baker, who undoubtedly is one of the best rock drummers but not exactly a warm fellow, the drum groove for Sunshine Of Your Love! The fact that all these musicians put their big egos aside and listened to this gentle recording engineer is truly remarkable.

Tom Dowd (second from left) and Duane Allman working on final master mix-down of Layla

Dowd passed away from emphysema at the age of 77 on October 27, 2007 in Florida, shortly after the above documentary had been finished. In 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – better late than never, I suppose! One can only speculate what would have happened to Layla by Derek and The Dominos, Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream and so many other great recordings Dowd impacted!

Following are two video clips. First up is the trailer to the documentary, which in addition to Dowd includes commentary from Ray Charles, Clapton, Allman and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Listening to the beginning of the clip when Charles is taking about the importance of sound is priceless in and of itself. I also recommend watching the remainder and hear all the other people talk about Dowd. It becomes obvious how much they revered him!

Here is how Dowd summarizes his amazing experience with artists from the ’50’s to the ’80s and the evolution of recording technology. I just find it fascinating and could listen to the man for hours!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dowd was his modesty. In the documentary, there is a scene where he notes that while he had worked with all these artists, he wasn’t a millionaire – far from it! Obviously, many albums these artists released became big-time sellers. But apparently, money didn’t matter to Dowd. Instead, it was all about the music. I think his following statement sums it up perfectly: “Music has been very kind to me over the years.” Boy, the music industry could need visionaries like Tom Dowd these days!

– End-

Below is a playlist that captures some of Tom Dowd’s impressive work both as a recording engineer and a producer.

This post was originally published on February 13, 2018. It has been slightly edited. The Spotify list is an addition.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music (Documentary, Mark Moorman, 2003), 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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy New Year and welcome to my first post of 2022! Yes, as hard as it is to believe, apparently, some new music appeared yesterday (December 31). While I didn’t see anything that sufficiently excited me, the show must go on with other new releases that came out earlier in December. I think I got some good stuff here!

Corey Kent/There’s Always Next Year

Kicking off this first Best of What’s New installment of 2022 is some rock by Nashville, Tenn.-based country singer-songwriter Corey Kent. According to a bio on the website of his record label Combustion Masters, Music chose Corey Kent early in his life. At age 11, Corey was touring as the lead singer of a Western Swing band opening for legends like Roy Clark & The Oak Ridge Boys. By the time he could drive, he was playing weekly in his hometown of Bixby, OK. In December of 2010, Corey found himself on stage singing Milk Cow Blues with country music icon, Willie Nelson. By 17, he said goodbye to his family & moved out to Nashville, TN…Shortly after graduating with his business degree, Corey wrote his first #1 Hit (William Clark Green’s hit, “You Where It Hurts”). On December 28, Kent released what looks like his sophomore album ’21. Here’s There’s Always Next Year, co-written by fellow country artists David Garcia, Jameson Rodgers and Jonathan Singleton.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

John Mayall is 88 years old, but apparently, the Godfather of the British Blues ain’t slowing down. This is just amazing and makes me happy! Mayall is best known as the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band that featured some of the finest British guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. ‘Is this for real?’, you might ask. It is, but wait there’s more. On January 28, Mayall is scheduled to come out with a new album. According to his website, on The Sun is Shining Down, he teams up with a stellar cast to deliver a funky soulful affair punctuated by brass, violins, harmonica and electric ukulele. Special guests include, The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, fast rising roots rocker Marcus King, Americana icon Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Chicago blues guitar mainstay Melvin Taylor and Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. And, yes, apparently Mayall is planning to take this baby on the road starting in late February. Here’s the tasty Can’t Take No More, a soulful blues rocker written by Mayall and featuring Marcus King. The tune was released upfront on December 17. Man, this is so good I can’t take it no more to wait for the new album!

Best Coast/Leading

American rock duo Best Coast, comprised of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases: a self-titled 7″ single on Art F*g; a cassette tape release, Where the Boys Are, on the U.K. label Blackest Rainbow; a split 7″, Up All Night, on Atelier Ciseaux; an EP, Make You Mine, on Group Tightener; and a self-titled 7″ on Black Iris. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. In July 2010, the duo released Crazy for You, the first of five albums that have appeared to date. Leading, co-written by Cosentino and Bruno, is Best Coast’s new single that came out on December 14 – a quite catchy rocker!

Tinsley Ellis/Beat the Devil

Wrapping up this first Best of What’s New of the new year is more sweet blues rock, by Tinsley Ellis. From his website: Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He acquired his first guitar at age seven, soon after seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. He took to it instantly, developing and sharpening his skills as he grew up. Ellis discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night in 1972, he and a friend were listening to Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfield’s Super Session record when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked that, they should really go see B.B. King, who was in town that week. Tinsley and his friends went to the Saturday afternoon performance, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on his guitar, Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. And the rest is history and a recording career of 40 years to date. Beat the Devil, penned by Ellis and released on December 6, is a single from his upcoming album Devil May Care set to drop on January 21 – another one I’m looking forward to. I really like how this new year starts!

And, I almost forgot, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; Combustion Master website; John Mayall website; Apple Music; Tinsley Ellis website; YouTube; Spotify

Deep Purple Demonstrate Cover Albums Can Be Fun

Machine Head by Deep Purple remains my most favorite hard rock album of all time, and I also like some of the English rockers’ other music, especially from their early period. But when I read a couple of weeks ago Deep Purple were coming out with an all-covers album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, Turning to Crime has since appeared (November 26). Did we need renditions of great tunes like Cream’s White Room or Shapes of Things by The Yardbirds? Not really. Is it fun when Deep Purple plays them? Hell yes! In fact, I included their great cover of White Room in my last Best of What’s New installment.

Of course, I can see cynics say when a group of mostly septuagenarians releases a collection of covers or a Christmas album for that matter, they either ran out of ideas or are trying to make a quick buck or both. Well, to start with, good luck with making money these days by selling albums unless you’re perhaps Adele! Plus, in Deep Purple’s case, there are two other explanations: COVID-19 (sigh!), which didn’t allow the band to go on the road and left them idle, and the fact they always write original music together in the studio – again something they couldn’t do because of this dreadful pandemic.

“The whole idea came about during the lockdown,” long-time band member and bassist Roger Glover told music journalist and Forbes contributor Jim Ryan. “We didn’t want to twiddle our thumbs or anything…And we couldn’t write songs. Because we don’t write songs for Purple. We just jam together. That’s where the songs are born really – coming out of the jams. But we’ve got to be together to jam. So we couldn’t write. Well, we’ll let other people do the writing. We’ll cover songs. Then all we’ve got to do is perform it.”

Glover further noted each of the group’s five members came up with ideas for covers, with producer Bob Ezrin acting as “our kind of conductor.” Ezrin also worked with Deep Purple on their previous three albums. Eventually, they had a list of about 50 tunes, from which 12 were selected via vote. “But we weren’t just covering them straight,” Glover said. “We wanted to add something to them, Purpleize them if you like.”

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu. How about that title! Co-written by Johnny Vincent and Huey Smith, the tune was first recorded in 1957 by Smith who was known as Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. It may not be Smoke On the Water, but damn, that boogie-woogie piano by the group’s keyboarder Don Airey surely smokes, as do the horns. Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan is in fine shape as well and is joined by Ezra on backing vocals.

How about some Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac? Oh Well. That’s actually the title of the song written by Green and first released as a non-album single in September 1969. Steve Morse, a solid guitarist and at age 67 the youngest current member of Deep Purple, does a great job. In fact, I just have to say this, the entire band kicks ass. Check it out!

Next up: Bob Dylan’s Watching the River Flow, a blues-rock tune the maestro penned and recorded in March 1971, and released as a single in June that year. Produced by Leon Russell, it was also included on the compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November 1971.

Let the Good Times Roll sounds like a good description of Deep Purple when they were recording this album, even though they weren’t physically together. It’s also the title of a jump blues co-written by Sam Theard and Fleecie Moore, and recorded by American saxophonist Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in 1946. Hearing a hard rock band swing like this is certainly something unusual!

Let’s do one more. How about a dose of New Orleans-flavored R&B? Here’s a great rendition of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Co-written by Lowell George and Fred Martin, the tune is the title track of the band’s third studio album from January 1973 and one of their most beloved songs. Did you ever expect to hear that track from Deep Purple? An intriguing pick and another remarkable cover.

While Turning to Crime is Deep Purple first all-covers album, the concept of recording songs written by other artists actually goes back to the group’s beginnings, so to some extent, they’ve come full circle. “We’ve covered songs before of course,” Glover told Ryan. ““Hush” [written by Joe South, Purple’s first single – CMM] was a cover [so were their next three singles, Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High and The Beatles Help! – CMM]. But doing an album of covers with the intent of messing with them and having a bit of fun with them is very new to us.”

Turning to Crime, Deep Purple’s 22nd studio effort, was released just 15 months after predecessor Whoosh! from August 2020. This Ultimate Classic Rock review noted it’s the band’s fastest turnaround since the mid-’70s. That’s when they released their 10th studio album Come Taste the Band. What’s much more intriguing to me is the remarkable versatility and great musicianship Deep Purple demonstrate on the album – certainly no crime committed here! You also get a sense they had a great time putting together these covers, even though for the most part each member recorded their parts remotely.

Sources: Wikipedia; Forbes; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube