The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Yep, hard to believe it’s Sunday again. While I find it amazing how another week just flew by, on the upside, this also means it’s time again for my favorite feature, The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, these weekly posts are mini excursions exploring different styles of music in zig-zag fashion over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time.

My picks for this installment include instrumental acoustic guitar music, classic rock & roll, rock, soul and pop rock. The journey starts in 2021 and then makes stops in 1959, 1979, 1967 and 1995 before it comes to an end in 2003. All on board and fasten your seatbelts!

Hayden Pedigo/Letting Go

As is often the case in this series, I’d like to start with an instrumental track. This time, instead of a jazz tune, I’ve picked some lovely acoustic guitar music by Hayden Pedigo, a 27-year-old American artist whose music I first encountered about a month ago. According to Wikipedia, Pedigo started taking guitar lessons as a 12-year-old. His diverse influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ry Cooder, as well as artists of the so-called American Primitive Guitar style, such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Daniel Bachman and Mark Fosson. Pedigo has also studied Soft Machine and King Crimson, and jazz artists like Miles Davis and Pharoah Sanders. In 2013, he released his debut album Seven Years Late. Since then, seven additional records have come out, including his latest, Letting Go, which appeared on September 24. Here’s the title track. I find this music very nice, especially for a Sunday morning.

Chuck Berry/Little Queenie

Just in case you dozed off during that previous track, it’s time to wake up again with some classic rock & roll by one of my favorite artists of the genre, Chuck Berry. I trust the man who John Lennon called “my hero, the creator of rock & roll” needs no further introduction. While of course no one single artist invented rock & roll, I think it’s safe to say rock & roll would have been different without Chuck Berry. Apart from writing widely covered gems like Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode, Berry influenced many other artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Faces, The Yardbirds and The Kinks with his electric guitar licks. Here’s Little Queenie, which Berry wrote and first released as a single in March 1959. The tune also became part of the soundtrack of the rock & roll motion picture Go, Johnny Go that came out in June of the same year.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/What Are You Doin’ in My Life?

Let’s keep rockin’ with a great tune by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: What Are You Doin’ in My Life? I have to credit my streaming music provider for including the track in a recent “Favorites Mix” playlist. While this song is on my favorite Tom Petty album Damn the Torpedoes from October 1979, it had not quite registered until it was served up to me recently. I think it’s fair to say Petty’s third studio album with the Heartbreakers is better known for tunes like Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Even the Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. What Are You Doin’ in My Life? is more of deep track. Like most of the other songs on the album, it was solely written by Petty.

Sam & Dave/Soul Man

Next I’d like to go back to the ’60s and some dynamite soul by Stax recording artists Sam & Dave. Soul Man, co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became the R&B duo’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit surging all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was first released as a single in September 1967 and was also included on Sam & Dave’s third studio album Soul Men that came out the following month. The backing music was provided by Stax’s excellent house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In fact, the exclamation in the song, “Play it, Steve,” refers to the band’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Sam & Dave performed as a duo between 1961 and 1981. Sadly, Dave Prater passed away in a single-car accident in April 1988 at the age of 50. Sam Moore is still alive and now 86.

Del Amitri/Roll to Me

I had not heard of Del Amitri in a long time until I did earlier this week on the radio. In fact, other than the name and that tune, Roll to Me, I know nothing about this Scottish alternative rock band that was formed in Glasgow in 1980. During their initial run until 2002, the group released six studio albums and two compilations. Since Del Amtri reemerged from hiatus in 2013, it looks like they have mainly been a touring act. Only one live record, one compilation and one studio album have since appeared. Notably, the latter, Fatal Mistakes, came out this May, 19 years after their last studio album. The band’s current line-up includes original member and main songwriter Justin Currie (vocals, guitar, piano), along with Iain Harvie (guitar), Kris Dollimore (guitar), Andy Alston (keyboards, percussion) and Ash Soan (drums). Roll to Me, written by Currie, is from the group’s fourth studio album Twisted from February 1995. It also was released separately as a single in June that year and became their biggest hit in the U.S. where it reached no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – quite a catchy pop rock tune!

Pat Metheny/One Quiet Night

And this once again brings me to the sixth and final track. I decided to pick another acoustic guitar instrumental: One Quiet Night by Pat Metheny. While I’m very familiar with the name Pat Metheny, I believe the only music I had ever heard before is American Garage, the second album by Pat Metheny Group from 1979. That’s easily more than 30 years ago, so I don’t recall the record but oddly remember its title. Metheny who has been active since 1974 has an enormous catalog between Pat Metheny Group, his solo work and other projects. One Quiet Night, written by him, is the title track of a solo acoustic guitar album he released in May 2003. It won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Both my streaming music provider and Wikipedia tagged it as jazz, the genre that first comes to my mind when I think of Metheny. Whatever you want to label it, it’s nice instrumental music and shall close this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

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The Hardware: Vox Continental

Compact keyboard with characteristic sound became hit among touring bands in ’60s

When I listened to Light My Fire by The Doors the other day, I was reminded of Ray Manzarek’s distinct keyboard on that tune, a sound I’ve always loved. It also came to me that I hadn’t done a post on important music hardware in a long time – two good reasons to write about the Vox Continental, a handy and cool-looking organ that became popular in the ’60s and can be heard on many songs released during that decade and thereafter.

For those who are visiting my blog for the first time or haven’t seen one of my previous hardware posts, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not an engineering guy; in fact, having two left hands, it’s more of the opposite! As such, one could say there’s a certain degree of irony that I write about the subject. But while I’m not exactly a techie and therefore don’t go deeply into the technical aspects, music gear can still excite me like a little child, primarily from a sound and visual perspective. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Thomas Walter Jennings
Jennings Organ Company founder Thomas Walter Jennings at his Dartford factory in Kent, England in 1964

Prior to the Vox Continental’s introduction in England in 1962, the Vox brand name had been synonymous with guitar amplifiers, especially the Vox AC30 used by The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other ’60s bands. However, as its name already indicates, the company that made the amps, The Jennings Organ Company founded by Thomas Walter Jennings in Kent, England after the Second World War and renamed Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957, started out as a manufacturer of home and church organs. Their first successful product was the Univox, an electronic keyboard similar to the Clavioline.

The Vox Continental is a so-called combo keyboard. Does it come with French fries and a Coke you might ask? Well, not quite. Combo actually is another (British) term for band. Okay, it’s a keyboard for a band, but so is a Hammond or a regular piano, so what’s the big deal? While pianos were frequently used in the recording studio, amplifying their sound during live performances was tricky. Hammond organs like the mighty B3 certainly could meet volume requirements, but they were pretty clunky. A compact combo keyboard like the Vox Continental offered a great solution. It also looked pretty cool!

Vox Continental Electronics
The electronic inside of a Vox Continental

The Vox Continental was made possible by the invention of transistors that were less heavy and smaller than the electron tubes used in big electronic organs. The handy keyboard came in two basic variations, a single manual and a dual manual. One of the Continental’s distinct visual features is its reversed colored keys: what on a regular keyboard are the white keys are black, while the traditionally black keys are white (see image on top of the post). The top part covering the electronics with its orange or grey finish stands out as well. The curving and removable chrome stand is another distinct feature. Without a bass section, no bass pedals, no percussion, no sustain and only a single-speed vibrato, the Vox Continental was fairly archaic. Yet because of its sound and the aforementioned design features, the instrument became very popular.

Initially, Vox Continental keyboards were made at two plants in Kent: JMI’s facility in Dartford and the Vox Sound plant in Erith. In 1964, Jennings signed a licensing deal with the Thomas Organ Company in the U.S. JMI and Thomas subsequently also formed EME (Elletronica Musicale Europea), a joint venture with Italian guitar and keyboard manufacturer EKO. With the advent of the Moog and other more elaborate keyboards by the early ’70s, the appeal of Vox Continental organs started to decrease, and production was phased out. While it continued to have a significant following and remains sought-after, it took until September 2017 that Vox revived the Continental with an updated version. Since 1992, the company has been owned by Japanese electronics corporation Korg.

As noted at the outset, the Vox Continental is featured in many songs released during the ’60s and thereafter. This post wouldn’t be complete without some examples.

The House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)

The version of the traditional by The Animals featuring Alan Price on keys is one of the most compelling showcases of the Vox Continental, in my humble opinion as somebody who isn’t a keyboard player. Sure, the sound isn’t as fat and growling as the Hammond B3; in fact, it’s rather thin by comparison, and yet it still sounds awesome at least to my ears!

Because (The Dave Clark Five)

Written by Dave Clark, Because was recorded for the band’s third U.S. studio album American Tour from August 1964. The song also appeared as a single and became the band’s second most successful hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of an appearance on American music variety TV program Shindig! from 1965. While it is much less dominant than in The House Of The Rising Sun, one can nicely see Mike Smith playing the organ.

I’m A Believer (The Monkees)

I’m A Believer appeared on More Of The Monkees, the band’s second studio album released in January 1967, and as the record’s lead single in November the previous year. Written by Neil Diamond, the song became the band’s most successful hit, topping the charts in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and Germany, among others. While Peter Tork had known how to play keyboards, the keyboarder on the studio recording was Stan Free. Initially formed a musical acting quartet for a TV series, all of The Monkees eventually learned how to play their instruments.

Light My Fire (The Doors)

Credited to all members of the band, Light My Fire was included on The Doors’ eponymous debut album issued in January 1967. It also became the record’s second single released in April that year. It was the first of their two no. 1 U.S. hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune is another great example where the Vox Continental is quite dominant.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the title track of Iron Butterfly’s second studio album from June 1968. It was written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Doug Ingle. Clocking at more than 17 minutes, the track makes up the record’s entire side B. Iron Butterfly also released a single version, which was shortened to just under three minutes. Here’s a clip of the track in its entire mighty.

Watching The Detectives (Elvis Costello)

After production of Vox Continental keyboards had seized, the combo organs remained popular, as previously noted. One of their champions was Steve Nieve, who among others became known as keyboarder in Elvis Costello’s backing band The Attractions. Here’s a clip of Watching The Detectives from Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, released in July 1977. Written by Costello, the tune became his first hit, peaking at no. 15 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart.

Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Do Me Like That, the last song I’d like to highlight in this post, is another post ’60s example featuring a Vox Continental, played by Benmont Tench in this case. It appears on Damn The Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from October 1979. In November that year, the song also came out as the record’s lead single. Written by Petty, it became the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Engineering And Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Combo Organ Heaven, YouTube