The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning and time again to embark on another eclectic music mini-journey. Somehow it doesn’t feel a week has gone by since the last published installment of The Sunday Six, but the calendar doesn’t lie. This time, my picks include some saxophone-driven jazz, rock, funk and country, touching the 1950s, ’70s, ’80s and 2021. I actually skipped one of my favorite decades, the ’60s, which is a rare occurrence!

Sonny Rollins/St. Thomas

This time, I’d like to start with some saxophone jazz by Sonny Rollins. I first featured the American tenor saxophonist, who is very influential in the jazz world, earlier this year in this Sunday Six installment from March. Over an incredible 70-year-plus career, Rollins has recorded more than 60 albums as a leader and appeared on many additional records as a sideman. He has played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach and Modern Jazz Quartet. St. Thomas is the lead track off his breakthrough album Saxophone Colossus from 1957. The title of his sixth record became Rollins’ nickname. Credited to Rollins, St. Thomas is based on a nursery song his mother sang to him when he was a child. On the recording, he was joined by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Doug Watkins (bass) and Max Roach (drums). Earlier this month, Rollins turned 91.

Dave Mason/Let It Go, Let It Flow

Dave Mason had been a familiar name to me in connection with Traffic, the English rock band he founded together with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood in April 1967. Over the course of his 50-year-plus career, Mason also played and recorded with many other artists, such as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and Leon Russell. Between 1993 and 1995, Mason was a member of Fleetwood Mac and appeared on their 16th studio album Time from October 1995. In addition to that, he launched a solo career in 1970 and has released 15 albums to date. Let It Go, Let It Flow, written by Mason, is from his seventh solo record Let It Flow that appeared in April 1977. This is a catchy tune – I love the singing and the harmony guitar action, as well as the organ (Mike Finnegan) and bass work (Gerald Johnson). Let It Go, Let It Flow also was released separately as a single and reached no. 45 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cold Chisel/When the War is Over

A recent post by Robert Horvat from Rearview Mirror about Cold Chisel reminded me of When the War is Over, another song by the Australian rock band. Not only do I love this tune, especially the vocals, but it also brings back memories of my years as a bassist in a band when I was in my early ’20s. In addition to originals written by the group’s leader, we also did some covers. And, yes, this included When the War is Over, a track from Cold Chisel’s fourth studio album Circus Animals that came out in March 1982. Written by the band’s drummer and backing vocalist Steve Prestwich, When the War is Over also became the album’s third single in July 1982, climbing to no. 25 on the Australian charts. The song has been covered by various other artists, including Little River Band and Scenic Drive. ‘Who the hell is Scenic Drive?’ you might wonder. Hint: A German band that focused on West Coast-oriented pop rock and existed between 1987 and 1989.

Stevie Wonder/Superstition

After a beautiful rock ballad, it’s time for something more groovy, something funky. Superstition by Stevie Wonder was the first track that came to my mind in this context. One of my all-time favorite tunes by Wonder, Superstition became the lead single of his 15th studio album Talking Book from October 1972. It also yielded his first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since Fingertips – Part 2 from 1963 when he was still known as Little Stevie Wonder. Jeff Beck who participated in the recording sessions for Talking Book came up with the opening drum beat. Wonder improvised the guitar-like riff, playing a Hohner clavinet. They created a rough demo of the tune with the idea that Beck would record the song for his next album. However, by the time Beck did so, Wonder had recorded the tune for Talking Book, and at the insistence of Berry Gordy who saw a hit, it had been released as a single. Apparently, Beck wasn’t happy and made some comments to the press Wonder didn’t appreciate. Eventually, Beck released his version of Superstition on his 1973 eponymous debut album with Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Scott Hirsch/Dreamer

For this next pick, let’s jump to the present and beautiful music from a forthcoming album by producer and singer-songwriter Scott Hirsch. From his Facebook page: You’ve heard the sound of Scott Hirsch. You might not know it, but his audio production has lurked deep in the cut of many admired recordings from the late 1990s to the present. A founding member of Hiss Golden Messenger, he was integral to the band’s formative years in the studio and on the road. His sonic imprint remains on their productions; most recently mixing the forthcoming album Quietly Blowing It. He recorded and mixed a Grammy nominated record by the legendary folk-singer Alice Gerrard and has produced and played on records by William Tyler, Mikael Jorgensen, Orpheo McCord and Daniel Rossen. I’m completely new to Hirsch who released his solo debut Blue Rider Songs in 2016. Dreamer, which features folk and alt. country singer-songwriter Kelly McFarling, is a mellow country-oriented tune from Hirsch’s upcoming third solo album Windless Day scheduled for October 8. He released the tune upfront on August 13.

The Robbin Thompson Band/Brite Eyes

And once again, it’s time to wrap up this latest music zig-zag excursion. Let’s pick up the speed with a great tune by Robbin Thompson. Thompson was a member of Steel Mill, an early Bruce Springsteen band that existed from November 1969 to January 1971 and included three members of the future E Street Band: Vini Lopez, Danny Federici and Steve Van Zandt. Thompson also worked with Timothy B. Schmit, Phil Vassar, Butch Taylor and Carter Beauford. Between 1976 and 2013, he recorded a series of albums that appeared under his and other names. Thompson passed away from cancer in 2015 at the age of 66. Here’s Brite Eyes, a track from Two B’s Please, an album released in 1980 by The Robbin Thompson Band. The seductive rocker also became a single and a minor national hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s got a bit of a Jackson Browne flair, while the harmony singing is reminiscent of America. Also, check out that great bassline – what an awesome tune!

Sources: Wikipedia; Scott Hirsch Facebook page; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

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

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

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

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

Ginger Baker 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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