On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 2

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the U.S. and Canada. BTW, I heard that this morning, the groundhog emerged from its burrow and did not see the shadow, which means an early spring! February 2nd also saw the birth of a great songwriter and vocalist, the day before the music died, a recording of a masterpiece and the release of a new album by a Southern Rock staple. Let’s get to it!

1942: Graham William Nash was born in Blackpool, England. Nash, who according to Wikipedia has been active since 1958, is best known for his vocal and songwriting contributions to The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of both bands. Between May 1971 and April 2016, Nash has also released six solo albums. Here’s Myself At Last, a pretty tune from Nash’s most recent solo record This Path Tonight, which appeared in April 2016 and was his first new studio album in 14 years. Like all songs on that record, it was written by Nash and producer Shayne Fontayne. Nash who turned 78 today is planning to embark on a tour of the U.S. and Europe in early March. The current schedule is here. Long may you run!

1959: This was the day before the music died. Rock & rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, artistically known as The Big Bopper, played their last gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. It was the 11th show of the 24-date Winter Party Tour through the midwestern U.S. The next scheduled stop was 365 miles away in Moorhead, Minn. Rather than doing the entire trip by bus in freezing temperatures as the musicians had done up to this point, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, N.D., close to Moorhead. Initially, his touring bassist Waylon Jennings was supposed to be one of the three passengers (in addition to the pilot). But he gave his seat to Richardson who had fallen ill with the flu to spare him a gruesome bus trip. The V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza embarked on its fateful flight from Mason City Municipal Airport in the early morning hours of Feb 3 and the rest is history.

The_Day_the_Music_Died

1967: The Beatles were working on their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Abbey Road Studios in London, according to The Beatles Bible. While it may not be quite as popular as Jesus, this source captures the ultimate truth about The Fab Four in all of its gory details. During the recording session that evening, Paul McCartney added his lead vocals to the album’s title track, joined by Lennon John and George Harrison in the chorus. For the nerds, and yes, I like that shit, The Beatles Bible further points out their voices were captured on track four of the tape. Track three was used to overdub additional harmonies. Afterwards, a reduction mix was created to free up space on the tape. All instruments were now on track one, and all vocals were on track four. I sharply conclude this left tracks two and three to add additional overdubs. And, yes, separately I read Sgt. Pepper was still recorded in four-track since music studios in London did not start using eight-track tape recorders until late 1967.

1976: Southern rockers Lynryd Skynyrd released Gimme Back My Bullets, their fourth studio album and the second-to-last recorded with original members Ronnie Van Zandt and Allen Collins prior to the October 1977 plane crash. Peaking at no. 20 on the U.S. Billboard 200, it was less successful than Skynyrd’s two previous records. Van Zant and Collins attributed the performance to the loss of the band’s three-guitar attack that had been one of their early hallmarks. While the album didn’t match the Platinum status of the band’s other pre-crash records, it still earned a respective Gold certification in January 1981. Here’s lead single Double Trouble co-written by Van Zandt and Collins.

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

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Returns With Great New Album

Kenny Wayne Shepherd first entered my radar screen about two years ago with the release of his eighth studio album Lay It On Down, which I covered here at the time. Now, the Louisiana guitarist is back with The Traveler. While Shepherd’s music remains anchored in blues rock, his latest release also offers flavors of country, Southern and straight rock. No matter how you characterize it, this record simply presents fun music by a great guitarist who also proves he’s a pretty talented songwriter.

For quick background on Shepherd, I’m quoting from his website: “In a 20-year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues…At 16 years old, he signed his first record deal and burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights…In 2013, Shepherd further expanded his musical horizons by teaming with veteran rockers Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg to form THE RIDES, whose first album Can’t Get Enough helped to expand Shepherd’s audience as well as his musical resume.”

Released last Friday, May 31, The Traveler is the Shepherd’s ninth studio album. Eight of the ten tracks are originals written by Shepherd. In addition to playing guitar, he shares lead vocals with Noah Hunt, who has been part of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band since 1997. The other members include drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, a co-founding member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble; Joe Krown  and Jimmy McGorman (both keyboards) and Scott Nelson (bass). The Traveler appears on Concord Records and was co-produced by Shepherd and Marshall Altman with whom Shepherd also worked on his previous two albums. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Woman Like You, a catchy blues rocker with some nice horn accents, featuring Hunt on lead vocals.

Long Time Running is another great rock tune with horns and Hunt singing lead.

I Want You combines a classic blues riff, great horn fills and a more contemporary drum sound. Here, Shepherd is also handling lead vocals. It is one of the few tunes where he is playing a more extended guitar solo, something that is largely absent on the other tracks.

On Tailwind, a Southern rock style, acoustic-oriented tune, the band is slowing things down. Once again, Hunt is providing lead vocals

The Traveler also includes two covers: Joe Walsh’s Turn To Stone and Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul written by Neil Young. As a big Neil fan, I couldn’t resist the latter. With the dominant horns, it’s a pretty cool version, in my opinion.

“I like albums to have their own identity, and I don’t want to be one of those artists where you know what it’s going to sound like before you even hear it,” Shepherd stated. “I want the new material to be original and give the listener something different. A lot of these songs represent stories I’ve picked up on the road, and the experiences we’ve had along the way.”

“The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows,” Shepherd further pointed out. “We’re a live band, and when people listen to our records, I want them to hear what we sound like when we play live. As far as my playing goes, I’m still refining my approach, and learning that it’s not about showing off or how flashy you can play. It’s about serving the song and playing what’s right emotionally. I want to move people in the depths of their souls, and to stir my own spirit. The only way I know how to do that is to get everyone recording together in the same room, and everyone’s making eye contact. That’s how spontaneous moments happen.”

Shepherd and his band are busy touring the U.S. and Europe for the remainder of the year. Most of the U.S. dates are with Buddy Guy – damn, this should be an awesome show! Some of the upcoming gigs include Flagstaff, Ariz. (Jun 8); Cincinnati (Jun 16) ; Red Bank, N.J. (Jun 18) – dangerously close to my house – and East Providence, R.I. (Jun 21). Starting toward the end of the month, Shepherd is playing a series of concerts in Europe before returning to the U.S. in late July. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kenny Wayne Shepherd website, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Facebook page, Glide Magazine, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Tin Pan Alley

Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the greatest blues rock guitarists who ever walked on the surface of the planet. Tin Pan Alley is one of my favorite Vaughan renditions and perhaps the coolest slow blues I know.

The above clip of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble was captured during an August 1984 open air festival at Lorelei, a famous steep slate rock in Germany on the bank of the river Rhine. The festival was conducted as part of Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German music TV program and concert series I previously covered here.

According to Wikipedia, Tin Pan Alley was originally credited to Robert Geddins; later credit was given to James Reed. Vaughan recorded the tune for his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand The Weather, released in May 1984.

While this live take is busier and more aggressive than the studio version, and I generally think less is more when it comes to the blues, it still gives me goose bumps, and I just find it amazing to watch. It’s also not a coincidence I’m featuring the song.

After more than 25 years since my band days as a bassist, I decided to buy an electric bass guitar and a small amp (both for house use and nothing fancy). My first experience playing with other guys was in a blues band, and Tin Pan Alley was one of the first songs I learned on the bass after I had joined them. I’ve always thought the bass part on this track is really cool. As such, I was happy I still know how to play it, though it’s definitely gonna take time to get comfortable again with the instrument.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rockpalast website, YouTube

A Blues & Soul Playlist That’s Cooking

Yesterday, my streaming music service suggested the enclosed great playlist of blues-oriented tunes. To be clear, this isn’t some hidden advertising. While I’ve acknowledged Apple Music on previous occasions as an inspiration for some of my posts, not all of their listening suggestions, which are supposed to reflect your previous music choices, are great; in fact, sometimes I find it outright bizarre what they serve up because I like genre X or have listened to artist Y. While overall their music selection algorithm works pretty well, there’s clearly some room left for improvement. I guess this proves algorithms, which also have started to be utilized in other creative fields like journalism, can never fully replace actual human beings, which is a good thing!

Here’s how Apple Music describes the playlist that features 26 songs: Blues is tradition, but it’s also evolution—the sound of hard times and healing, then and now. Filled with gritty, Howlin’ Wolf-style throwbacks, progressive hybrids, and sophisticated soul, this mix represents the best of the blues right now—with a few old favorites thrown in for balance. We regularly update these tunes, so if you hear something that rips you up or breaks you down (in that good way, of course), add it to your library.

Following I’d like to highlight a few of these tunes. I’m deliberately leaving out tracks I already featured in previous posts, such as Leave The Light On (Beth Hart), Too Cold To Cry (Lindsay Beaver) or Cognac (Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck and Keith Richards). But in case you haven’t listened to these songs and like blues and soul, you definitely should. On to some music clips!

Got To Go Where The Love Is, Van Morrison

Van Morrison may no longer release another Astral Weeks or Moondance, but at age 73, the Belfast Cowboy surely isn’t done yet with music. In fact, if anything, for the past two years, he seems to be on some sort of recording spree! Here’s Got To Go Where The Love Is, a great soulful Morrison tune from his most recent album The Prophet Speaks, his 40th studio release, which appeared last December.

We Made It, Cedric Burnside

Frankly, I had never heard of Cedric Burnside before. Wikipedia describes him as an American electric blues drummer, guitarist, singer and songwriter. He definitely has blues in his genes. Burnside is the son of blues drummer Calvin Jackson and grandson of blues singer, songwriter and guitarist R. L. Burnside. Since his 2006, he has released eight albums. We Made It is from his most recent record Benton County Relic that came out in September 2018. I really dig the rough sound and the energy of this tune.

Whipping Post, Nakia

Nakia, another name I hadn’t heard before, is a musician, singer-songwriter and actor from Austin, Texas. From his website: Before he was on “The Voice” [semi-finalist on the first season of the NBC singing competition], Nakia was a Blues Grifter. Named for the age-old concept of stealing from the greats, the Blues Grifters formed in 2010. In August 2018, Nakia released his latest album appropriately called Blues Grifter, a smoking hot compilation of blues covers. Instead of Double Trouble, which the Apple Music playlist features, I decided to highlight Nakia’s soulful take of Whipping Post. While taking an Allman Brothers Band classic and changing it up is a gutsy move, I like the outcome!

Home, Janiva Magness (featuring Cedric Burnside)

Janiva Magness is a blues, soul and Americana singer-songwriter from Detroit. Apparently, she has been an active artist since the 1980s. Between 1991 and February 2018, she has released 14 albums. In 2009, Magness became only the second woman after Koko Taylor named B.B. King Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation. She has also received seven Blues Music Awards from the foundation and other accolades. Here’s Home, a powerful duo with the above noted Cedric Burnside. It appears on Magness’ most recent album Love Is An Army from February 2018.

Cry No More, Danielle Nicole

Another great soul-oriented tune is Cry No More by Danielle Nicole, a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. I previously included her in a post about ladies who excel at singing the blues. Written by Nicole, Cry No More is the title track from her last album, which was released in February 2018.

Here’s the entire playlist:

Leave the Light On (Live), Beth Hart

Got To Go Where The Love Is, Van Morrison

Too Cold To Cry, Lindsay Beaver

We Made It., Cedric Burnside

Double Trouble, Nakia

Another Mule, Elvin Bishop

Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck & Keith Richards), Buddy Guy

Revolution, Eric Lindell

Rock and Stick, Boz Scaggs

Ain’t Got Time For Hate, Shemekia Copeland

Shine Bright, Marcia Ball

Plastic Hamburgers, Fantastic Negrito

Soul Shake, Tommy Castro

Things Have Changed, Bettye LaVette

Home (feat. Cedric Burnside), Janiva Magness

Damn Your Eyes, Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa

Blue No More (feat. James Bay), Buddy Guy

Upper Hermosa Mountain Blues, Casey Wickstrom

Sound of a Broken Man, Tinsley Ellis

When I Go, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

Come Together, Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL

I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish), Curtis Salgado & Alan Hager

Cry No More, Danielle Nicole

The High Cost of Low Living, Nick Moss

Cannonball (feat. Fantastic Negrito) [Acoustic], ZZ Ward

We’re All In This Together (feat. Joe Bonamassa), Walter Trout

If you have access to Apple Music, you can find the playlist at https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/the-a-list-blues/pl.a9faca07cf8f47e19f1819b0f5a2e765

Sources: Apple Music, Wikipedia, Nakia website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listing to: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Couldn’t Stand the Weather

Vaughan’s second studio album remains an electric blues gem more than 30 years after its release

I’ve always admired Stevie Ray Vaughan for his incredible guitar skills and cool sound. He is right up there with Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. In fact, he oftentimes reminds me of Hendrix.

The first time I was introduced to Vaughan’s music was in my early twenties after I had joined a blues band as a bassist. Among the songs I had to learn was Tin Pan Alley, one of the tunes on Couldn’t Stand the Weather. Vaughan’s second studio album with Double Trouble was released in May 1984. I bought the CD shortly thereafter. It remains one of my favorite blues albums to this day.

The record kicks off with Scuttle Buttin’, an instrumental Vaughan shreds at breakneck speed. It is one of two instrumentals on the album and one of four tracks written by him. Here’s a nice clip of a live performance of this incredible tune.

Next up is the record’s fantastic title song, another Vaughan composition. A cool mix of blues and funk, the tune features Vaughan’s brother Jimmie Vaughan on rhythm guitar. Here is a clip of the official music video, which according to Wikipedia received regular play on MTV – a pretty remarkable feat, given the song sounded very differently from the music that dominated the charts at the time. I imagine the funky grove had something to do with it.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather also includes an amazing version of the Hendrix classic Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It nicely showcases Vaughan’s virtuosity and his impeccable command of the wah-wah pedal – just like the maestro himself! Here’s a great illustration.

Another tune from the record I’d like to highlight is Cold Shot, which was co-written by the “Godfather of Austin Blues” Wesley Curley Clark and Michael Kindred. Here’s a pretty hilarious clip of what apparently is the song’s official video.

And then there is of course Tin Pan Alley, written by James Reed. Vaughan’s version is perhaps the best electric slow blues I know. It literally makes the hair in my neck stand up. Here’s an epic clip.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather was recorded in just 19 days at the Power Station in New York City (now called Avatar Studios). Other major artists, such as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, David Bowie, Neil Young and Sting, have worked at that studio. The record was produced Vaughan and Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon, bass; and Chris Layton, drums), Richard Mullen and Jim Capfer. John Hammond was the executive producer.

Following on the heels of his 1983 debut Texas Floods, the album was another success for Vaughan, climbing to no. 31 on the Billboard 200, and selling one million copies in just five weeks – a remarkable showing for a blues album. Couldn’t Stand the Weather is part of Vaughan’s impressive recording legacy.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan no. 12 in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, saying he “was recognized as a peer by the likes of B.B. King (no. 6 on the list) and Eric Clapton (no. 2 on the list) and despite his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, he’s still inspiring multiple generations of guitarists, from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to John Mayer and rising young star Gary Clark Jr.”

Another inspired young blues guitarist is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He told Rolling Stone in 1999, “Stevie Ray Vaughan was the whole inspiration for me picking up the guitar. I got to hear him play for the first time when I was seven years old, in Shreveport, Louisiana…It’s weird to think that a seven-year-old child can have such a spiritual experience, but it affected the rest of my life. Six months later, I got my own guitar.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone