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 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

This Is It – Arrivederci 2021!

The time has come again for the final post of the year – wow! As I previously said around Christmas, it would be easy to launch into a tirade. In fact, just over the past few days, I had two costly misfortunes. While it’s frustrating, that’s life and shit happens!

Plus, my grievances look rather trivial compared to the things other folks have gone through over the past year. As such, I feel I should be grateful for what I have. Instead of venting, I’d like to highlight a few songs that have a new year’s theme. You can find some additional tunes in the playlist at the end. Hope you enjoy!

The Breeders/New Year

The Breeders are an alternative rock band from Dayton, Ohio, who initially were formed in 1989. New Year is a tune off their sophomore album Last Splash from August 1993 – appropriately titled, as it turned out since the group went on a hiatus in 1995 and didn’t release their next album until May 2002. The Breeders are still around with two original members including founder Kim Deal being part of the present lineup.

Charlie Robison/New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is a tune by country singer-songwriter Charlie Robison. He was active from 1996 until his early retirement in 2018 due to complications from a surgery that left him permanently unable to sing. Robison recorded New Year’s Day for his fourth studio album Good Times that appeared in September 2004.

Ella Fitzgerald/What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? was written by American songwriter Frank Loesser in 1947. R&B group The Orioles took it first to the charts in 1949. Subsequently, the tune has been recorded by many other artists including Ella Fitzgerald for her 1960 album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. A classic!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/New Year’s Eve Party

When high-energy boogie-blues artist George Thorogood does a party song, you know it’s gotta be good, g-g-g-good! Written by Thorogood, the tune became the b-side of his 1983 single Rock and Roll Christmas. Instead of blues rock, the tune has a nice soul vibe.

G. Love & Special Sauce/Happy New Year’s Blues

G. Love & Special Sauce, according to Wikipedia, are an alternative hip hop trio from Philadelphia, “known for their unique, “sloppy”, and “laid back” blues sound that encompasses classic R&B.” Happy New Year’s Blues is from their new album Coming Back Home for Christmas that came out on November 26. In fact, I saw this trio open for Hall & Oates in September 2019. Their music definitely is much more blues than hip hop and quite fun to watch!

Otis Redding Redding & Carla Thomas/New Year’s Resolution

The last new year-related song I’d like to highlight is New Year’s Resolution. This nice soul tune appeared on King & Queen, a studio album by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, which came out in March 1967.

Check the playlist below for the above tunes and a few additional new year’s songs.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank all visitors of this blog for reading, especially my fellow bloggers who keep coming back and take the time to leave comments. Not only do I find it a lot of fun to discuss music, a topic I love, but I’m also grateful for the insights I learn from those who share their thoughts and tips. Reading their blogs is very rewarding as well and definitely has inspired more than one idea.

The show must and will go on in the new year. I’m looking forward to it!

I’d like to wish everybody all the best for 2022 and please stay well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

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

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

James Taylor Releases American Songbook Cover Album

I suppose if you’re a cynic you could point out that when an artist releases a cover album of American standards or Christmas tunes for that matter, it’s a sign they’ve run out of ideas and may consider retirement, or they simply are trying make a quick buck. While in some cases this notion may not be unfounded, I feel differently when it comes to James Taylor. To me, his just-released new album American Standard is a legitimate undertaking by an artist who wants to highlight songs that have played an important role in his musical journey.

I’ve admired James Taylor for many years for his warm and soothing vocals and his impressive acoustic guitar chops. I wish I could play like that! His cover of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend is one of my all-time favorite tunes. And, yes, Taylor has also written beautiful songs like Carolina in My Mind, Sweet Baby James and of course the amazing Fire and Rain. I realize this may make me a bit biased when it comes to his latest release.

So why come out with a cover album of American standards? Do we really need another version of Moon River and God Bless the Child? Here’s what the album’s liner notes say, as reported by American Songwriter: “These are songs I have always known. Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina…Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album.”

James Taylor in this studio
James Taylor in his barn studio in Western Mass.

“My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius. I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements.”

Call me naive, but to me Taylor doesn’t sound like some artist who is just out there to cash in on his big name late in his recording career. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on the American songbook. I’m not. It’s simply not the kind of music I typically listen to. I also doubt this will change all for a sudden. What I do know is that I love how Taylor and Pizzarelli arranged these tunes. I think it’s time to let the music do some of the talking or writing.

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 by pianist Gene De Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This jazz standard has been covered by Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau and Stevie Wonder, among other countless artists. I dig the beautiful arrangement, including the trumpet solo and percussion played by Walt Fowler and Luis Conte, respectively. Here’s the official video.

Another beautiful tune is Almost Like Being in Love. The music and the lyrics were written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, respectively, for the score of their 1947 musical Brigadoon. The song was first performed on Broadway by David Brooks. Gene Kelly sang the 1954 film version. The tune was also recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. As a fan of old James Bond movies, she entered my radar screen with Goldfinger, perhaps the best 007 tune.

My Heart Stood Still was composed by Richard Rodgers in 1927, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It was written for a British musical revue by Charles Cochran, which opened in London in May 1927. It was also featured later that same year in the American Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee. Like with most other tracks on the album, it’s a tune that was recorded by many artists over the decades, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The lovely violin part is played by Stuart Duncan.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Only a Paper Moon, which I previously only knew from the 1973 motion picture Paper Moon. But the song’s origin dates all the way back to 1932, when it was titled If You Believed in Me and first performed by Claire Carleton during a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose. According to Wikipedia, the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings being made by Nat King ColeElla Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

American Standard, which was released yesterday (Feb 28), is Taylor’s 20th studio album. It was co-produced by Dave O’Donnell, Taylor and Pizzarelli. O’Donnell has worked in different capacities (engineering, mixing, producing) with an impressive array of artists, who in addition to Taylor include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, isn’t exactly obscure either. According to Wikipedia, apart from recording more than 20 solo albums, he has appeared on more than 40 albums, including Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones and Natalie Cole.

Taylor will be touring Canada and the U.S., starting in mid-April and featuring special guests. In Canada, it is going to be Bonnie Raitt, while for most U.S. gigs Jackson Browne will be his special guest. This surely does sound tempting to me. If Raitt would be the special guest in the U.S., I’d probably get a ticket right away. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Jackson Browne as well but saw him relatively recently in May 2018. My previous and so far only Bonnie Raitt show, on the other hand, dates back to August 2016. And, yes, I admit it, I do have a weak spot for her – she’s just an amazing lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; James Taylor website; Dave O’Donnell website; YouTube

Debate Over Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Selection Process Likely To Continue With 2019 Inductees

Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, The Cure, Roxy Music and The Zombies make up class of 2019

By now it’s an all too familiar annual ritual in the music world, at least in America. On Thursday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed its new inductees. The 2019 class includes Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, The Cure, Roxy Music and The Zombies. While a good deal of music fans stopped paying attention long ago, others still care about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I count myself as being part of the latter group.

I’ve no doubt that among those who follow the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the debate about the selection process and who should be in is going to continue. While I don’t want to be overly judgmental and I’m luckily not a music critic and don’t aspire to become one, I have to say I’m a bit surprised about some of the inductees. Of course, I can’t claim this would be the first time.

Radiohead Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2019

Let’s start with Radiohead. In June 2017, guitarist Ed O’Brien told Rolling Stone, “I don’t want to be rude about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because for a lot of people it means something, but culturally I don’t understand it. I think it might be a quintessential American thing. Brits are not very good at slapping ourselves on the back…It just feels non-authentic to us.” Most of the band’s other members expressed reservations as well. That’s totally fine with me. What I don’t get is why the Rock Hall has inducted them anyway. Presumably, they won’t show for the induction ceremony, and I just feel sorry for their fans – unless of course they don’t care either!

Janet Jackson Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Janet Jackson. I hate to say this, but the thought her selection at least in part reflects political correctness can’t escape my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s dreadful that the Rock Hall mostly remains a white boys club, and there’s no question women are underrepresented, especially women of color. But should Janet Jackson really have been the choice here? How about Ella Fitzgerald? Sure, you can say as a jazz singer, she wouldn’t be a perfect fit for an institution that has ‘rock and roll’ in its name. But they inducted Nina Simone last year. Or how about Mavis Staples, an amazing African American female artist? Yes, she’s already in the Rock Hall as part of The Staple Singers, who were inducted in 1999. Still, there are numerous examples of artists who have been inducted more than once – as part of a band and solo. Just look at 2019 inductee Stevie Nicks!

The Cure_Def Leppard Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

I never paid much attention to The Cure. Boys Don’t Cry was kind of nice at the time but completely over-exposed. Ironically, it might actually make me cry if I have to listen to the song one more time! Def Leppard, who won the fan ballot and got in the first time they had become eligible, may also trigger some debate. A British band that became hugely popular in the ’80s by mixing hard rock with pop elements, Leppard were oftentimes dismissed by the critics. In this context, I think The New York Times rightly called them the equivalent to Bon Jovi, who were inducted last year. While I wouldn’t have considered them, I don’t have any particular problem with Leppard or Bon Jovi for that matter – in fact, I generally like the latter.

Steve Nicks_The Zombies_Roxy Music Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

I’m happy about Stevie Nicks, a great singer-songwriter who like Leppard made it in the first she had become eligible. Additionally, I’ve always liked Time Of The Season and She’s Not There, so I find it nice to see The Zombies among the 2019 inductees. I also generally like Roxy Music, though I have to add I don’t know them particularly well beyond their big hits.

This year, the induction festivities will happen at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on March 29. HBO and SiriusXM will broadcast an edited version of the event sometime thereafter. Last year, the broadcast happened in early May.

What do you think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 2019 inductees? Feel free to leave comments. My only request is let’s keep any discussion civil, please.

Sources: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, Rolling Stone, New York Times

Ladies Singing The Blues And Killing It

A playlist of five outstanding female artists who may not be top of mind when you think of the blues

If somebody asked you who comes to mind when thinking of the blues, you might mention artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton – all terrific choices! What else do they have in common? They are all men! Sure, if you dig the genre, you’ve probably also listened to Etta James, Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, and perhaps even to early trailblazers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton. But I bet you likely wouldn’t have included them in your answer to the above question. At least I can safely say that for myself!

Just like in so many other professions, music is yet another field where women oftentimes don’t get the credit they deserve. And it seems to me this is even more so the case for the blues compared to some other genres like jazz where you’d probably name Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, or soul where you’d likely include Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner when asked the above question.

The idea behind this playlist is fairly simple: Celebrate five female artists who shine at singing the blues. And to make this more interesting, I’m excluding some of the obvious choices like Etta James or Janis Joplin. All of the songs appear on the artists’ most recent albums from this year.

I’d like to give credit where credit is due. All of the artists highlighted in this post were included in an Apple Music blues playlist that was served up to me as a listening suggestion. When some of their names rang a bill, I decided to check the site of blues aficionado and fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast – BTW, a blog I can recommend to any music fan and guitarist! And, yep, he previously included four of the five artists on his blog. So kudos to Apple Music and Music Enthusiast!

I still think this doesn’t change the premise of this post, which is that female blues artists oftentimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. And while I’m under no illusion that this post isn’t coming anywhere close to making up for this unfortunate state of affairs, I guess it’s one post at a time. So with that, let’s finally get to it, shall we?

Kicking off the list is Lindsay Beaver with Too Cold To Cry. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Maybe somebody should change that. Luckily, she has a website, and according to the bio there, Beaver is a drummer, songwriter and bandleader from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. To date, she has self-released five albums with her band The 24th Street Wailers, of which she produced three. BTW, how many female record producers can you name? Just saying. This could be a good topic for another post. Written by Beaver, Too Cold To Cry appears on her new album Tough As Love, which was only released two weeks ago. As this clip suggests, Beaver seems to be one hell of a firecracker!

Next up: Shemekia Copeland and Ain’t Got Time For Hate. This blues vocalist, who was born in Harlem, New York is the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland. The tune is from an album called America’s Child, which came out in August. In addition to Copeland’s powerful voice, I dig the timely lyrics: Black and white/Gran or ten/Every woman/Child and man/Rich or poor/Gay or straight/We ain’t got time for hate… Well said!

Another gem is Shine Bright by Marcia Ball. This blues singer and kickass pianist from Vinton, La. has been around for a very long time. How long? How about 1970! Since 1972 she’s released 18 records. Shine Bright is the title track of her most recent album, which appeared in April. Check out this clip, which is actually a stripped back live take of the studio version. I can highly recommend the latter as well. I know this may sound a bit silly, but if you’d meet this lady in the street, unless you knew her, would you ever guess what a smoking hot artist she is – damn!

Danielle Nicole is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 (a nod to Led Zeppelin?) and was their lead vocalist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Here’s Crawl, a nice blues rocker from Nicole’s third solo record Cry No More from February.

The last outstanding artist I’d like to highlight in this post is Bettye LaVette. This singer-songwriter from Muskegon, Mich. also has been around for a long time. In fact, she recorded her first single My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man as a 16-year-old in 1962. Things Have Changed is the title track of LaVette’s last studio album from January – a collection of tunes written and originally sung by Bob Dylan. In this case, Dylan first released the song as a single in May 2000. It was part of a soundtrack from a motion picture called Wonder Boys.

Admittedly, I still don’t know much about the above artists. But based on the songs in this post and a few other tunes I’ve sampled from the corresponding albums, it’s obvious to me how top-notch each of them is. You can bet I’m going to further explore them.

Sources: Wikipedia, Lindsay Beaver website, YouTube