Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature, in which I explore music from different genres over the past 60-70 years. As always, I do this in a time-travel fashion, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me for the ride. Let’s go!
Lonnie Smith/Twenty-Five Miles
Our journey today starts in 1970 with some groovy jazz by Hammond B3 maestro Lonnie Smith. Given how much I dig the sound of this organ, perhaps it’s not a huge surprise I featured Smith before. He first came to prominence in the mid-’60s as a member of George Benson’s quartet. After recording two albums with the jazz guitarist, Smith launched a solo career in 1967 with his delicious debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ. At some point during the ’70s, he decided to wear a traditional Sikh turban and become Dr. Lonnie Smith, though he neither converted to Sikhism nor obtained an academic doctor title. After a 50-year-plus recording career, Smith sadly passed away in September 2021 at the age of 79. Twenty-Five Miles, penned by him, appeared on his 1970 solo album Drives when he was still known as Lonnie Smith. He was backed by Dave Hubbard (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Larry McGee (guitar) and Joe Dukes (drums). That track gets me in the mood for more music!
John Lennon/Nobody Told Me
Earlier this week (December 8) marked the sad 42nd anniversary of John Lennon’s senseless murder in New York City – really hard to believe it’s been 42 years! Rather than picking Imagine, the seasonal Happy Xmas (War Is Over) or another perhaps more obvious tune, I decided to go with Nobody Told Me, a track that appeared on the posthumous album Milk and Honey released in January 1984. Assembled by Yoko Ono and Geffen, it includes new music Lennon had recorded in the last months of his life during and following the Double Fantasy sessions. Originally, he had written Nobody Told Me for Ringo Starr to include on his 1981 album Come and Smell the Roses, but due to John’s death, Ringo decided against recording it. Nobody Told Me, a song I dug from the very first moment I heard it, also became the first single from Milk and Honey and a top 10 hit in various countries, including the U.S. (no. 5), Canada (no. 4), the UK and Australia (no. 6 in each), as well as Norway (no. 7). Here’s a cool video!
The Easybeats/Friday On My Mind
Our next stop is May 1967, which saw the release of Good Friday, the fourth studio album by The Easybeats and their first after the Australian band had relocated to London and had signed an international recording deal with United Artists Records. In North America, a slightly different version appeared in the same month under the title Friday On My Mind. The Easybeats had been founded in Sydney in late 1964 by Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar), Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy” Fleet (drums). Notably, they each came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from The Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. During their six-year run, The Easybeats scored 15 top 10 hits in Australia, including one of my all-time favorite ’60s tunes, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, their biggest hit topped the charts in Australia, reached no. 2 in New Zealand, and climbed to no. 6, no. 13 and no. 16 in the UK, Canada and the U.S., respectively. The band’s popularity waned thereafter, and they broke up in October 1969. Man, what a great tune!
Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Baby Got Gone
Let’s jump to the current century and some great blues rock by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The Louisiana guitarist first entered my radar screen about five years ago. Shepherd who is completely self-taught started his recording career in 1995 at the age of 18. Since his debut album Ledbetter Heights, which came out in September that year, he has released nine additional studio albums and two live records, and established himself as an influential force in the contemporary blues realm. Baby Got Gone is from Shepherd’s August 2017 album Lay It Down. I haven’t listened to Shepherd in a while. This great tune makes me want to hear more!
This next tune takes us back to 1956 and one of the pioneers of rockabilly and rock & roll: Gene Vincent. In June of that year, Vincent released his debut single Woman Love backed by what became his biggest U.S. hit: Be-Bop-a-Lula, credited to him and his manager Bill “Sheriff Tex” Davis. According to Vincent (born Vincent Eugene Craddock) and his label Capitol Records, he wrote the tune in 1955 while recuperating from a motorcycle accident at the US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., inspired by the newspaper cartoon strip Little Lulu. That story was disputed by Dickie Harrell, the drummer in Vincent’s backing band The Blue Caps, who told Mojo in 2000 the tune had been penned by Donald Graves, and that Vincent and Davis subsequently purchased it from Graves for $25. Yet another version is that Vincent and Graves wrote it together. Whatever the truth is, there can be no doubt Be-Bop-a-Lula is a ’50s gem. The fact that it sounded very much like a Sun Records production probably wasn’t a coincidence. Capitol Records had eagerly sought an artist similar to Elvis Presley. Unlike Elvis, Vincent’s chart career in the U.S. only lasted until 1957. In the UK, he had a total of eight top 40 hits between 1956 and 1961. Vincent’s life was cut short in October 1971 when he passed away at the age of 36 from a combination of a ruptured ulcer, internal hemorrhage and heart failure – yikes!
Once again it’s time to wrap up another music journey. For this final pick, we jump to August 1992 and the eponymous debut album by The Wallflowers. Initially formed as The Apples in 1989 by Jakob Dylan and his childhood friend and guitarist Tobi Miller, the group changed their name to The Wallflowers in 1991. After six studio albums including the hugely successful sophomore release Bringing Down the Horse (May 1996), Dylan turned The Wallflowers into a project in 2013, relying on hired musicians for his recurring tours. The most recent Wallflowers album Exit Wounds from July 2021, the first in nine years, in many ways feels like it could have been the follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse. I reviewed it here at the time. Going back to the debut, the album missed the charts. In my view, it certainly wasn’t because it lacked decent music. Here’s Sugarfoot, which like all other tracks except for one was written by Dylan.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.
Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify