The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday morning is upon us, at least in my neck of the woods (Central New Jersey, USA). Of course, this means it’s time to embark on another journey to celebrate music of the past six decades, six tunes at a time.

Julius Rodriguez/Gift of the Moon

This trip starts in the present. The immediate present. Julius Rodriguez, aka Orange Julius, is an American pianist, drummer and composer, whose music combines elements of jazz, avant-garde, R&B, hip-hop and pop. He started studying classical piano at a young age, or I should say at an even younger age – he’s only 23 years old! His father, a jazz connoisseur, introduced him to artists like Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. Rodriguez has been an active touring member of New York jazz combo Onyx Collective, and has worked as a sideman with numerous other artists like Macy Gray, Wynton Marsalis and Nick Hakim. And, yes, in addition to all of that, Rodriguez has been releasing music under his own name and the Orange Julius moniker since 2015. Here’s Gift of the Moon, off his new album Let Sound Tell All, which appeared on June 10.

John & Yoko & Plastic Ono Band/New York City

Now let’s kick it up with some great rock & roll. One artist I’ve always loved in this context is John Lennon. I recall reading somewhere that John said the rock & roll covers The Beatles played at the Star-Club in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool before they were famous were the best music they ever performed. Of course, John said many things about The Beatles after they had broken up, which seemed to dismiss their original music. While I don’t agree with some of his remarks, I think he’s right The Beatles were a great rock & roll band. John was a great rock & roll singer, which he not only demonstrated on his 1975 covers album Rock ‘n’ Roll but also on this tune: New York City, a track that appeared in June 1972 on a double LP titled Some Time in New York City, released as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s Memory – rolls right of your tongue! Go, Johnny, go – que pasa New York!

Creedence Clearwater Revival/Born On the Bayou

I don’t know about you, I’m in the mood for more rock. Let’s go to 1969 and the swamp. I trust Creedence Clearwater Revival, aka CCR, don’t need an introduction. If you’d like a crash course, check this AllMusic bio. Like most CCR tunes, Born On the Bayou was penned by the group’s leader John Fogerty. Yes, the man had pretty strong opinions, which he oftentimes imposed on his bandmates. And, yes, I feel sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve. But there’s no doubt John knew what he was doing. Born On the Bayou is the lead track of CCR’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which appeared in January 1969. It also was released separately as the B-side to the record’s single Proud Mary. In my humble opinion, Born On the Bayou should have been a separate single, and it should have been an A-side – man, I love this tune!

Asia/Heat of the Moment

And next, we find ourselves back in ’82. When I caught Heat of the Moment by Asia on the radio the other day, it reminded me of what a catchy tune it is. Growing up in the ’80s back in Germany, I loved much of the music that came out during that decade. I suppose you could say, well, it was in the heat of the moment! While I can’t deny a certain remaining weak spot, nowadays I’m no longer as fond of ’80s music. That being said, some songs are holding up pretty well to me. One is Asia’s debut single, co-written by the band’s John Wetton (lead vocals, bass) and Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals), which appeared on their eponymous debut album, released in March 1982. After they broke up in 1986, Asia reunited in 1989 and remain active to this day, with Downes as the only original member.

The Wallflowers/Shy of the Moon

Undoubtedly, being a music artist and offspring of Bob Dylan poses challenges. But I feel Jakob Dylan, a son of Bob and his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky), has done pretty well. While Jakob played guitar in various high school bands and was featured as a guitar player on his friends’ group’s eponymous 1987 album, Trash Matinee, he didn’t start focusing on a professional music career until 1989. Together with his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) he began forming a band called The Apples. After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. The Wallflowers are still around, though it’s now a music project by Dylan with a revolving cast of touring musicians. Here’s Shy of the Moon, the great openers of The Wallflowers’ above-noted eponymous debut album. Like all except one of the remaining tracks on the album, the tune was penned by Dylan.

Southern Avenue/Keep On

And once again another music trip has arrived at its final stop. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you probably recall Southern Avenue are one of my favorite contemporary bands. They are also among the nicest, down-to-earth professional musicians I’ve met. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent. Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings backing vocals; white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016 they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Here’s the great title track of their sophomore album Keep On, released in May 2019.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube, Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of music in different flavors of the past and the present, six tunes at a time. To those celebrating, Happy Easter! If you don’t observe the holiday, I still hope you’re enjoying the weekend. And just in case you’re looking for some great music, I have some humble suggestions. Hope on our magical time machine and let’s go!

Ahmad Jamal/For All We Know

Today’s journey starts in 1960 with relaxing jazz music by Ahmad Jamal. According to his website, he was born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and already began playing the piano at the age of 3. By the age of 10, Jamal was composing, orchestrating and performing works by Franz Liszt, exploring the music of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner and a host of music notables...At 17, he left home at the request of the George Hudson Orchestra and began touring the country...He formed his own group in 1951 and with the help of John Hammond started his recording career with Okeh Records. Today, more than 70 years later, the now-91-year-old Jamal still appears to be active. His most recent album Ballads appeared in September 2019 – what an amazing career! For All We Know, which initially had been published in 1934 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, was included on Happy Moods, a 1960 album Jamal recorded with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums – my type of music to start a Sunday morning!

Big Star/September Gurls

Next, we turn to the ’70s and power-pop band Big Star, to which Max from PowerPop blog introduced me and safe to assume other readers a while ago. Formed in Memphis, Tenn. in 1971 by Alex Chilton (guitars, piano, vocals), Chris Bell (guitars, vocals), Andy Hummel (bass, vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums), the group was initially active until 1975, during which they recorded two albums. While each received excellent reviews, both records were “commercial failures” due to ineffective marketing and other record label issues. For more on the band’s unfortunate history, I’d encourage you to visit Max’s blog, who has written about them various times, most recently here. One of Big Star’s best-known tunes is September Gurls, written by Chilton, off their sophomore album Radio City that appeared in February 1974. It’s hard to believe this catchy power-pop gem didn’t become a hit at the time. Twelve years later, the Bangles included a great cover on their hugely successful second album Different Light, the version I had known and loved for many years. When I listened to the original first, I immediately dug it just as much!

Bonnie Raitt/Made Up Mind

I’m very excited about this next pick, which is the most recent single by one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you’ve probably seen me rave about Raitt and her great musicianship as a slide guitarist before. I think she’s an exceptional artist who has battled and overcome significant challenges during her 50-year-plus career. Made Up Mind, released on February 25, is from Raitt’s upcoming new album Just Like That…, slated for April 22. The tune was co-written by David Landreth, Joseph Sydney Landreth and Jonathan Singleton. Damn, now I want to see Bonnie again even more than I did before! If you like her music and haven’t been to one of her shows, I’d encourage you to catch her if you can. Her current national tour kicked off last evening in Hampton, N.H. Here’s the schedule. This lady is just amazing!

John Mellencamp/Paper in Fire

As fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day posted a few days ago, April 12, 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of American Fool, the fifth studio album by John Mellencamp who at the time was still known as John Cougar. The thought the little ditty about Jack and Diane was on the radio four decades ago is mind-boggling to me! In a comment, I noted that my favorite album by the heartland rocker from Indiana is The Lonesome Jubilee, which appeared in August 1997. Don’t get me wrong, I also still dig Mellencamp’s straight rock albums he put out during the first half of the ’80s. But I love his transition into roots rock even more. It started on The Lonesome Jubilee with the introduction of instruments like accordion, fiddle and banjo. Here’s Paper in Fire, which was also released separately as a lead single a week ahead of the album. Like all other tracks except one, the song was written by Mellencamp.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Under the Bridge

Including two songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers off their latest album Unlimited Love in recent Best of What’s New posts here and here reminded me of a band I had known primarily by name for many years. One of the few songs I could name was Under the Bridge, a tune I’ve always liked. Credited to all four members of the band – Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals); Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals); John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals); and Chad Smith (drums, percussion) – Under the Bridge is from their fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991. Today, 21 years and seven albums later, the group from the city of angels is rocking on with the same line-up. One of the things I dig about Under the Bridge is Frusciante’s guitar part. That sound is just awesome!

Green Day/Wake Me Up When September Ends

Okey-doke, time to wrap up another Sunday Six. My final pick for this installment takes us back to the ’90s and one of the best-known tunes by Green Day: Wake Me Up When September Ends, off their seventh studio album American Idiot, released in September 2004. I’ve always liked how this band, which has been around since 1987, oftentimes combines grunge, punk and alternative rock with pop, especially on this album. Wake Me Up When September Ends was written by Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong about the death of his father when he was 10 years old. Bandmates Mike Dirnt (bass, backing vocals) and Tré Cool (drums, percussion, backing vocals) received co-writing credits for the music. The three of them still form Green Day’s current core line-up. Beware, this is a bloody catchy tune that might get stuck in your head! 🙂

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ahmad Jamal website; Bonnie Raitt website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly imaginary time travel that celebrates music of the past 60 years or so, six tunes at a time. Today’s post was inspired by fellow blogger and poet Lisa from Tao Talk who is currently doing a great Women Music March series. The reality is the music business is pretty male-dominated, even more so once you go back to the past. But, as many music fans know, there have been amazing female artists throughout the decades. Following are some of them.

Ella Fitzgerald/Rock It For Me

Let’s start today’s journey in the year 1938. ‘Wait a moment,’ you may say, that’s 84 years ago, not just 60. Well, the 60-year span isn’t set in stone. In fact, nothing really is on The Sunday Six, except I have to dig it. I trust everybody has heard of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. According to Wikipedia, “The First Lady of Song”, “Queen of Jazz” and “Lady Ella”, as she was called, was known for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, timing, intonation and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing (a vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or no words at all – CMM). After gaining popularity with the Chick Webb Orchestra during the second half of the 1930s, Fitzgerald launched a solo career in 1942. Over a nearly 60-year career, she collaborated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The Ink Spots, and released an enormous catalog of studio and live solo and collaboration albums. Rock It For Me, co-written by twins Kay Werner and Sue Werner, appeared as a single by the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938. Wikipedia notes the lyrics include the term “rock and roll,” an early reference to the genre before it existed…Now it’s true that once upon a time/The opera was the thing/But today the rage is rhythm and rhyme/So won’t you satisfy my soul/With the rock and roll

Wanda Jackson/Let’s Have a Party

Let’s continue our music celebration with some kickass classic rock & roll by Wanda Jackson, one of the first female artists who made a career in rock & roll in the 1950s. One of her best-known tunes is Let’s Have a Party, penned by Jessie Mae Robinson, which Jackson first recorded for her eponymous debut album from July 1958. The previous year, Elvis Presley had released the song as a single in the UK, titled Party. As much as I dig Elvis, Jackson’s version leaves him in the dust! Jackson’s rendition of Let’s Have a Party also came out as a single in June 1960. If I see it correctly, this was her first song that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 37. Jackson, who is now 84, has also released music in other genres, including country and gospel. Apparently, she is still active. Her latest album Encore appeared last year, and you can watch her most recent single It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’ here. What a dynamite lady!

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts/I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

Speaking of kickass, next our time machine shall take us to the early ’80s and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Yes, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll may be the obvious tune, and it hasn’t exactly suffered from underexposure. But, as we used to say in Germany during my teenage years, this tune is just “geil,” which loosely translated means amazing. Co-written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker, who shockingly were both guitarists, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was first recorded by short-lived British rock band Arrows and released as a single in July 1975. After Jett had seen the band perform the tune on British TV in 1976 while touring the UK, she decided to cover it. Her initial rendition was recorded with Sex Pistols guitarist and drummer Steve Jones and Paul Cook, respectively. It appeared in 1979 as the B-side to Jett’s single You Don’t Own Me and went unnoticed. Jett’s decision to re-record the song in 1981 with her band the Blackhearts and make it the title track of the group’s second studio album proved to be a winner. Not only did the tune become the band’s first charting single, but it also turned out to be their biggest hit. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll topped the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, hit no. 1 in Sweden, and reached the top 10 in various other European countries. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts still love rock & roll and are scheduled to launch what looks like an extended US tour later this month.

The Pointer Sisters/Fire

American vocal group The Pointer Sisters, who have been around since 1970, have performed songs in multiple genres, including pop, disco, jazz, electronic music, bebop, blues, soul, funk, dance, country and rock – I suppose it would have been easier to list the genres they haven’t done! The song that brought them on my radar screen is one of their biggest hits: Fire. For several years, I didn’t realize this was actually a Bruce Springsteen tune. When I heard the original for the first time on Springsteen’s boxed set Live/1975–85, admittedly, I was underwhelmed, feeling it lacked the great dynamic of the Pointer Sisters. I’ve since warmed to it, though I still prefer the rendition by the female vocal group. Their version was first released as the lead single of their fifth studio album Energy in October 1978. The entire record is fairly rock-oriented and also includes a great cover of the Steely Dan tune Dirty Work.

Melissa Aldana/Elsewhere

Not including an instrumental in a Sunday Six post just didn’t feel right, so I decided to feature another track by my “latest discovery,” Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. In case you saw my latest Best of What’s New installment, you may recall the name. Borrowing from this post, Aldana, the daughter of renowned tenor saxophonist Marcos Aldana, began formal saxophone instruction at the age of six. By the time she was 16, she already headlined jazz clubs in Santiago. With the help of Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, Aldana auditioned at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, subsequently won a scholarship to Berklee and launched a career in the U.S. Elsewhere is a beautiful tune from Aldana’s fifth studio album Visions released in May 2019. This young woman is so talented!

The Linda Lindas/Growing Up

And once again this brings us to the final stop of our mini-excursion. How many Asian-American and Latino all-female punk bands do you know? I had not been aware of any until I came across The Linda Lindas the other day. This group from Los Angeles, which includes Bela Salazar (guitar, vocals), Eloise Wong (bass, vocals), Lucia de la Garza (guitar, vocals) and her sister Mila de la Garza (drums, vocals), has been around since 2018. After American actress and film director Amy Poehler watched a live performance of the band, she asked them to record a song for her 2021 comedy-drama Moxie. The Linda Lindas also penned a tune for the 2020 Netflix documentary The Claudia Kishi Club. In May last year, they signed with Epitaph Records and released Oh!, their first single with the label. Here’s Growing Up, the title track of the band’s full-length debut album that’s scheduled for April 8. The enthusiasm and energy of these ladies just make me smile. And apparently, they are still so young. I suppose I’m now at an age where I repeatedly find myself thinking, ‘gee, these could be my kids!’

Last but not least, here’s a playlist of all the above-featured tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Joan Jett & the Blackhearts website; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

Today’s proposed remedy to chase the clouds away is Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. While Wonder wrote that song as a tribute to musicians he loves, especially Duke Ellington, to me, it has a very happy feel that always lifts my mood instantly. And it’s also really groovy.

Sir Duke first appeared on Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder’s 18th studio album from September 1976, and a true masterpiece. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1977. In the U.S., it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Best Selling Soul Singles (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) charts. Among ex-U.S. chart placements, it also hit no. 1 in Canada and climbed to no. 2 in the UK.

In addition to Ellington, Sir Duke celebrates Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”), Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Sodarisa Miller. “I knew the title from the beginning but wanted it to be about the musicians who did something for us,” Wonder said, according to Songfacts. “So soon they are forgotten. I wanted to show my appreciation. They gave us something that is supposed to be forever. That’s the basic idea of what we do and how we hook it up.”

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the wise words of George Harrison: All things must pass!

The Hump Day Picker-Upper will go on a short hiatus for the holidays and be back on Wednesday, January 5.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions exploring different styles of music over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. This installment kicks off with jazz from 1956, followed by new jazzy pop-rock from 2021, country rock from 1976, new wave from 1984 and soft rock from 2013, before finishing up with some rock from 1967.

Charles Mingus/Profile of Jackie

I’d like to embark on this little journey with beautiful music by Charles Mingus, who is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians. Over a 30-year career, the double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader played with many other greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and released about 50 albums as a bandleader. Initially, Mingus started on the trombone and later studied the cello before picking up the double bass. As a teenager, he felt excluded from the classical music world since he couldn’t join a youth orchestra because of his inability to read musical notation quickly enough due to a poor education. These experiences, along with lifelong racism Mingus encountered influenced his music that oftentimes focused on themes like racial discrimination and injustice. By the mid-70s, sadly, Mingus had ALS. Eventually, this heinous disease made it impossible for him to play bass. Mingus continued to compose music until his untimely death in January 1979 at the age of 56. Here’s Profile of Jackie, a composition from a 1956 album titled Pithecanthropus Erectus. Mingus’ backing musicians included Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), J.R. Monterose (tenor saxophone), Mal Waldron (piano) and Willie Jones (drums).

ShwizZ/Overboard

For this next tune, I’d like to jump to the present and a cool band I first featured on the blog back in April as part of another Sunday Six installment: ShwizZ. Their website describes them as a one of a kind powerhouse from Nyack, New York. Drawing a substantial influence from classic progressive rock and funk, they consistently put their musical abilities to the test to deliver a high intensity and musically immersive show. ShwizZ note Frank ZappaYesP-Funk and King Crimson as their influences. The band, which has been around for about 10 years, features Ryan Liatsis (guitar), Will Burgaletta (keyboards), Scott Hogan (bass) and Andrew Boxer (drums). Here’s their latest single Overboard. Not only do I love the cool Steely Dan vibe, but I also find the clip pretty hilarious.

Hoodoo Rhythm Devils/Safecracker

Any band that calls itself the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils gets my attention. Until a week ago or so, I had never heard of this ’70s American group until I came across their tune Safecracker. According to Apple Music, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils blended blues boogie with country-rock, rock & roll and some soul. Initially, they were formed in San Francisco in 1970 by guitar teacher John Rewind (guitar), his student Lee Humphries (guitar) and Humphries’ friend Joe Crane (vocals). They were later joined by Glenn Walter (drums) and Richard Greene (bass). Between 1971 and 1978, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils released five studio albums. The group’s line-up changed various times over the years until they disbanded in 1980 following Crane’s death from leukemia. Here’s the above-mentioned Safecracker, an awesome tune from the band’s fourth studio album Safe In Their Homes from 1976. The song also appeared separately as a single that year. I can hear some Doobies in here.

The Cars/You Might Think

The Cars are a band I always realize know much better than I think I do once I start listening to their music. While I’m not very familiar with their background and can only name a few of their songs off the top of my head, I recognize a good deal of their songs when I hear them. It’s not really surprising since the American new wave and pop-rock band had hits throughout much of their career. The Cars were formed in Boston in 1976 and included Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Ric Ocasek (rhythm guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards), Benjamin Orr (bass) and David Robinson (drums). During their initial run until 1988, six studio albums appeared. After reuniting in 2010, The Cars released one more album before going on another hiatus in 2011. A second reunion followed in 2018 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In September 2019, Ocasek was found dead in his apartment in New York at the age of 75. You Might Think, written by Ocasek, is from the band’s fifth studio album Heartbeat City that appeared in March 1984. It also became the record’s lead single that same month, and one of the band’s biggest U.S. hits, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Mainstream Rock chart. Quite a catchy tune!

Lenny Kravitz/I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa)

For this next track, let’s go to January 2013 and the 20th-anniversary edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way, which initially appeared in March 1993 as the third studio album by Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz entered my radar screen in late 1991 when I first heard his excellent sophomore album Mama Said that had been released in March of the same year. Since he started his recording career in 1989, Kravitz has released 11 studio albums, one greatest hits collection and various box set compilations, among others. I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa) is a bonus track on the aforementioned 20th-anniversary reissue of the Are You Gonna Go My Way album. I came across the tune coincidentally the other day. With the only lyrics being baby, I may not be a star, it sounds like an unfinished song – still, I dig it! I assume Vanessa refers to French singer and model Vanessa Paradis who Kravitz was dating at the time the original record came out.

The Doors/Break On Through (To The Other Side)

And once again, it’s time to wrap up things. For my final pick, I’d like to jump back to January 1967 when The Doors released their eponymous debut album. It was the first of six albums recorded by all four members of the great L.A. rock group, Jim Morrison (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Robby Krieger (guitar, vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards, keyboard bass, vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals). After Morrison’s death in July 1971 in Paris, France, The Doors released two more albums, Other Voices (October 1971) and Full Circle (1972), before they disbanded in 1973. A third Morrison post-mortem album, An American Prayer, appeared in 1978. Krieger and Densmore are still alive and remain active. Manzarek passed away in May 2013. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from the band’s first album, Break On Through (To The Other Side), credited to all four members.

Sources: Wikipedia; ShwizZ website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

What do a folk-oriented singer-songwriter from Sydney, an indie rock band from New York, a power pop group from Toronto, and a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter from Melbourne have in common? The first and the last are from Australia. Moreover, all of of these artists released new music yesterday (February 19), and they are featured in my new installment of Best of What’s New.

Indigo Sparke/Colourblind

Indigo Sparke is a singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. According to a profile on the website of her record label Scared Bones Records, her parents, a jazz singer and a musician, named her after the Duke Ellington song “Mood Indigo,” and her childhood was spent serenaded by a rich soundtrack of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. From a young age Indigo felt called to the stage, attending a performing arts high school, and followed it with three years in an acting school, working as an actress before embedding herself and heeding the call to the path of music. Indigo taught herself to play guitar in her early twenties. Over the next few years, she established herself on the Australian music scene, and released her EP Night Bloom in 2016. Indigo’s career continually bloomed, opening for Big Thief on the Australian dates of their 2017/2018 tour, and then was invited to play at South by Southwest 2019. Colourblind, written by Sparke, is the nice opener of her first full-fledged studio album Echo.

The Hold Steady/Lanyards

The Hold Steady are an indie rock band from Brooklyn, New York, formed in 2003. The current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” The Hold Steady released their debut album Almost Killed Me in 2004. Boys and Girls in America, the band’s third album from October 2006, brought greater prominence. It was ranked no. 8 on Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2006 list. Lanyards, co-written by Finn and Kubler, is a track from The Hold Steady’s new album Open Door Policy, their eighth studio release. At first, I wasn’t too wild about Finn’s vocals, which oftentimes are more speaking than singing, but his style does work well with the songs.

Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs/What This City Needs

Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs are a power pop band from Canada. According to their Apple Music profile, Emerging out of Toronto’s punk scene, [the band is] a sextet of Ontario natives whose combined efforts result in a freewheeling, ’70s-indebted power pop sound. Originating out of Kitchener, Ontario, Coffey debuted the project in 2011 with the self-released Bedroom Rock EP, followed later that year by the band’s eponymous debut album. After a handful of D.I.Y. singles, they signed with California punk/garage indie Southpaw Records to release 2014’s Gates of Hell LP. Shows with Redd Kross, Flamin Groovies, and the Black Lips followed as their reputation grew throughout North America. Eschewing some of their more lo-fi leanings, they worked with producer Alex Bonenfant (METZ, Crystal Castles) in 2017, releasing their self-titled third full-length, this time via American indie Burger Records and Canadian punk staple Dine Alone Records. Here’s What This City Needs, a nice rocker from the band’s new and fourth studio album Real One.

Tash Sultana/Coma

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with another artist from down under: Tash Sultana, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Melbourne. According to her website, she is an explosive global producer and artist who has commanded attention world wide since homemade videos went viral on YouTube. ‘Tash’ was soon selling out major arenas, a string of sold out world tours and headlining the world’s biggest festivals – no mean feat for an artist who just a year before was recording songs on a go pro in a bedroom back in 2016. Since Tash’s grandfather gifted a guitar at the age of three, the artist developed a love for self teaching an array of different instruments…Tash plays over 12 instruments (guitar, bass, drums/ percussion, piano/ keyboard/ synth/ Oud, trumpet, saxophone, flutes, Pan pipes, Sitar, harmonica, beat production) with guitar as their main love, a self trained vocal range spanning 6 octaves (From C2-A7 on piano) and a live show that needs to be seen to be believed. The one-person powerhouse started out playing open mic nights at age 13 with the help of a fake ID. Soon to finish school with the reluctance to get a ‘real’ job, took to the streets to busk every day of the week on Melbournes famous Bourke St back in 2009-2015. Coma is a tune from Sultana’s new sophomore album Terra Firma.

Sources: Wikipedia; Sacred Bones Records website; Apple Music; Tash Sultana website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 22

Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.

1963: Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.

1965: Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.

1971: John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.

1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.

1975: Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.

1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!

1980: Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.

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