Guitar Gods Re-Experienced

Jimi Hendrix and Cream tribute bands Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream recreate iconic rock history

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Electric Ladyland and Wheels Of Fire have their 50th anniversaries this year – wow, that’s hard to believe! The two albums were released on October 16 and August 9 in 1968 by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, respectively. What better way to celebrate the occasion than with an evening of great music capturing the amazing artists behind these iconic rock albums. And that’s exactly what I had a chance to do last night at Monmouth University Center for the Arts’ Pollak Theatre in West Long Branch, N.J. So, did I enjoy myself? You bet!

As some readers of the blog may recall, I posted about Jimi Hendrix tribute band Kiss The Sky and their amazing guitarist Jimi Bleu a month ago after I had seen an ad on Facebook. That’s when I also learned about last night’s gig and immediately decided to get a ticket. But before I get to Kiss The Sky, let’s start with Heavy Cream. And, as you probably guessed, it’s not what you may put on top of certain beverages, though the music they play sure;y as heck sounds sweet to me!

Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream Poster

Heavy Cream is a tribute to the rock power trio of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Cream were often called the world’s first successful “supergroup.” Frankly, I don’t care much about these labels. For me it all comes down to a simple question: Do I like the music? And when it comes to Cream, the answer is a clear hell yes!

While Heavy Cream are on Facebook and ReverbNation, there is relatively limited information on this band hailing from Philly. The lineup playing last night was different from the members listed in their biography on Facebook. Based on announced names I heard and some digging on the Internet, I believe yesterday’s performers included Joe Bithorn as Eric Clapton, Dion Paci as Jack Bruce and John Hummel as Ginger Baker. As a former bassist, I always like to acknowledge the musicians behind the bands I cover, so I’ve reached out to Heavy Cream and will update this post as needed if I hear back.

Let’s get to some music. Due to light conditions and where I was seated, capturing the action on my smartphone was challenging, and at times the video footage is out of focus. But I still prefer using my clips to keep things more authentic. Overall, I think the came out pretty well. Here’s the opener of Heavy Cream’s set: White Room. Composed by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, the tune also is the first track on the Wheels Of Fire album. Note I moved to a better recording position for the other clips that follow.

In addition to tracks from Wheels Of Fire, Heavy Cream also played a few other songs, such as Badge and the set closer Sunshine Of Your Love. A Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton co-write with lyrics by Pete Brown, Sunshine Of Your Love appeared on Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears from November 1967.

After a short intermission, Kiss The Sky hit the stage. According to his online bio, Jimy Bleu met Jimi Hendrix in 1968 as a young teenager at Warner/Reprise Records. He also was a member of the official Hendrix fan club that managed to convince Hendrix to speak at an assembly at Bleu’s high school in New York City. How cool is that? The following year, Bleu attended Woodstock and got one of the guitar straps Hendrix used during his performance there. How mega-cool is that?

Bleu went on to attend Berklee College of Music, as Hendrix had recommended to him, and became a Columbia/Def Jam recording artist and accomplished session musician. He is a recognized Hendrix historian and even produced and starred in his own off-Broadway play on the life of Jimi Hendrix. Watching Bleu last night, it was obvious how closely he has studied Hendrix and that he has paid tribute to his music for more than 45 years. Not only did he perfectly adopt Hendrix’s way to play right-handed guitars turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing, but also nailed stunts like playing with his teeth, playing guitar behind his back and pointing the instrument at the audience like a gun. Frankly, to me it really felt like the maestro himself had returned!

Jimy Bleu
Jimy Bleu in action

I would also like to acknowledge Bleu’s excellent backing musicians. Just like him they have plenty of experience and it simply shows. Members of The Experience tribute include bassist A.J. Hager as Noel Redding and drummer Ted Edwards as Mitch Mitchell. The Band of Gypsys tribute features Jay Powerz as Billy Cox (bass) and James Jaxon as Buddy Miles (drums).

Kiss The Sky played three sets. Kicking off their show was a recreation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. That legendary performance put them on the map in the U.S., which at the time already had gained popularity in the U.K. In fact, it was Paul McCartney who recommended the band to the organizers of the festival where they were introduced by The Rolling Stones’ co-founding member Brian Jones. Kiss The Sky also paid homage to Band of Gypsys and the Electric Ladyland album with two separate sets.

Here’s Foxey Lady from the Monterey Pop set. The song was written by Hendrix and first appeared on Are You Experienced, the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from May 1967.

Following are two other tunes from the Monterey Pop set, which was my favorite section of the show last night: Purple Haze and the closer Wild Thing. And while, yes, things got wild, I’m happy to report that no guitars were harmed in the process. As much as I understand showmanship, I always cringe when I see musicians destroy their instruments. Please don’t do that – instead, give your equipment to some kid who wants to learn how to play but can’t afford the gear! Written by Hendrix, Purple Haze was the opener of the U.S. edition of the Are You Experienced album. Wild Thing is a tune written by American songwriter Chip Taylor, which was made popular by English garage rock band The Troggs.

Following the Monterey Pop set, Kiss The Sky played some tunes from Band of Gypsys. Here’s Machine Gun, a Hendrix Vietnam War protest jam from 1970. It appeared on their eponymous live album, their only Band of Gypys record released during Hendrix’s lifetime. It appeared in March 1970, six months prior to his death.

The last song I’d like to highlight is another iconic Hendrix composition, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), the closer of the third set, which featured select tracks from Electric Ladyland.

While when it comes to tribute bands I generally care first and foremost how well they capture the music, I’d be amiss not to acknowledge how impressed I was with the close attention Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream paid to other aspects, including the Marshall stacks and other equipment they used, as well as the outfits they wore. In addition, Bleu’s visual resemblance to Hendrix is stunning. He looks like he could be his younger brother!

Based on their Facebook pages, Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream are taking their Guitar Gods 50th Anniversary Tour next to Sellersville, Pa. on December 19, where they will perform at Sellersville Theatre & Washington House Hotel & Restaurant. If you dig Jimi Hendrix and Cream and can get there, I’d highly recommend this show. Prior to this, Hendrix fans can also see Kiss In The Sky at Cafe WHA in New York City on November 26 and THS Shrine in Tulsa, Okla.

Sources: Wikipedia; Heavy Cream Facebook and ReverbNation pages; Kiss The Sky Facebook and website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: David Gilmour/Comfortably Numb

I swear this is yet another coincidental occasion that resulted in a spontaneous post. When checking out YouTube for something else, I got distracted, stepped away from the computer for a few minutes, and when I got back this killer clip was playing. I just couldn’t resist posting about it!

The Wall isn’t even my favorite Pink Floyd album (that would be Meddle), though I’d put it in my top 5, together with Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, as well as Relics, an excellent compilation of the band’s early stage. That being said, I’ve always dug Comfortably Numb, which David Gilmour co-wrote with Roger Waters. In no small part that’s because of Gilmour’s epic solo. While I oftentimes feel less is more when it comes to guitar solos, there are exceptions, and this is one of them – when the guitar-playing is as great, I don’t mind if a solo is a bit massive!

The above clip is from a 2016 David Gilmour concert at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii, which according to Wikipedia was the first public performance there since AD 79. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might say, ‘how about the 1972 documentary Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii?’ While the band indeed played there what was a typical live set at the time, there was no actual audience beyond the film crew. Maybe I’m romanticizing a bit here, but can you imagine how frigging awesome it must have been to be a member of that crew?

BTW, in case the guy singing co-lead vocals somehow looks familiar, it’s Chuck Leavell. The American singer-songwriter and keyboarder was a member of The Allman Brothers Band during their heyday in the ’70s. He has also worked with artists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Gov’t Mule.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 5

1957: The music program American Bandstand debuted on U.S. national television. It was hosted by Dick Clark who had joined the show the previous year when it still had been known as Bandstand and aired on Philadelphia TV station WFIL-TV (now local ABC affiliate WPVI-TV). The program, which ran until 1989, featured many artists who lip-synced their latest hits. While as such it was chart-oriented, it coincided with time periods when great music was part of the mainstream. So it’s perhaps not a surprise to see which artists appeared on the show. According to Wikipedia, American Bandstand  helped introduce famous artists to Americans, such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. Some of the other acts who were on the program included The Animals, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Van Morrison, R.E.M., Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and even Pink Floyd. Here’s a clip of a 1966 appearance of Roy Orbison performing Oh, Pretty Woman, featuring one of the coolest ’60s guitar riffs that still sounds awesome to this day.

1966: The Beatles released their seventh studio album in the U.K., Revolver, which many fans consider the band’s best record. While it’s undoubtedly a great album, if I had to choose, I would go with the follow-on release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolver, apart from gems like Taxman, Eleanor Rigby and Got To Get You Into My Life, stands out for the introduction of various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings, varispeeding and, most significantly, Artificial Double Tracking (ADT). George Martin’s string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby broke conventions by blending classical and pop music. George Harrison, who took on a bigger role in the album’s songwriting, introduced another Indian instrument to pop music after the sitar on predecessor Rubber Soul: the tambura. Here’s a clip of Eleanor Rigby.

1978: The Rolling Stones hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Miss You, their eighth and last no. 1 single in the U.S. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was written by Jagger while jamming with Billy Preston during rehearsals in 1977. It became the lead single for Some Girls, the band’s 14th and 16th British and American studio album, respectively. Apparently, there is some disagreement between Jagger and Ronnie Wood who maintain the track wasn’t supposed to be a disco song, while according to Richards, “Miss You’ was a damn good disco record; it was calculated to be one.” To me it’s obvious that Richards hates the tune. In my humble opinion, there’s no question the Stones have released much better songs.

1984: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played the first of 10 gigs at Brendan Byrne Arena, now called Meadowlands Arena, in East Rutherford, N.J. during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour, Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. The show included two sets and an encore, with a total of 28 tracks. As is typical for The Boss, he went far beyond the album that the tour supported and dug deep into his catalog. He also played a number of covers. Here’s a cool clip of a 21-minute medley captured during the same tour two weeks earlier in Toronto, Canada. The medley includes Devil With The Blue Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, CC Rider, Jenny Jenny, I Hear A Train, Twist And Shout and Do You Love Me. The band is absolutely killing it – rock & roll simply doesn’t get better than this! The crazy thing is that Springsteen pretty performed with the same intensity 32 years later when I saw him last in August 2016 at MetLife Stadium, right across the highway from Meadowlands.

1992: Jeff Porcaro, best known as co-founder and drummer of Toto, passed away at the young age of 38 years. The circumstances of his death remain ambiguous. According to the band history on the official Toto website, Porcaro died from a heart attack that resulted from a severe allergic reaction to chemicals in pesticide he had sprayed in his garden earlier that day. But the Los Angeles Times reported the heart attack stemmed from atherosclerosis triggered by years of cocaine use. One thing is clear: Porcaro was an excellent, sought after session drummer, who apart from Toto worked with Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Boz Scaggs, among others. Here’s a clip of Rosanna from Toto IV, which I think features some of Porcaro’s finest drum work.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music.com; Billboard Hot 100 chart history; setlist.fm; Toto website; YouTube

Damn Right, Buddy Guy Still Got The Blues

81-year-old Chicago blues legend shined at New York’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

Boy, had I been full of anticipation of this show, and Wednesday night it finally happened – Buddy Guy at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in the heart of New York City. It was just as amazing if not even better as the first time I had seen the Chicago blues legend at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center in July 2016. Undoubtedly, one factor was the more intimate club setting where I was seated much closer to the stage. And then, of course, there was the man himself, who at age 81 still delivers the blues with a Jimi Hendrix-like intensity.

From the very beginning with the excellent opener Damn Right, I Got The Blues, Guy left no doubt why he had come to the Big Apple. As I usually do, I didn’t take any videos with my smart phone. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube clips to recreate some of the show’s highlights with the caveat that the footage was captured at different gigs. Written by Guy, Damn Right, I Got The Blues is the title track of his seventh studio album from 1991. Here’s a nice clip of the blues rocker from 2016.

Guy followed up his set’s fiery start with a 12-minute-plus version of the classic I’m A Hoochie Coochie Man combined with She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both tunes were recorded by Muddy Waters, who became a major influence on Guy after he had moved from his native Louisiana to the windy city of Chicago in 1957. The following clip from a concert earlier this month nicely illustrates the onstage persona of Guy who likes to tease his audience by cursing like a sailor. It also showcases his killer piano player Marty Sammon.

Another highlight of the set was Five Long Years, which Guy also recorded for his Damn Right, I Got The Blues album. The tune was written and first recorded by blues pianist Eddie Boyd, who scored a no. 1 hit with it on the Billboard R&B Chart in 1952. Guy’s rendition featured more hilarious cursing and a crazy solo by his guitarist Ric Jaz Hall, who mostly played rhythm but proved he can shred as well, if given the opportunity. The following clip from July 2017 nicely illustrates all of that. Check out Hall’s solo starting at about 2:25 minutes into the tune.

Yet another great moment occurred when Guy performed Skin Deep, the title track of his 14th studio album from 2008. He was joined on stage by his long-time producer Tom Hambridge who co-wrote the beautiful ballad with Guy and Gary Nicholson. I just loved Guy’s soulful singing in that tune.

Apart from singing and playing great blues tracks like the above, Guy also credited white British blues artists, especially his friend Eric Clapton, with introducing black blues artists to broader, white audiences. He also threw in a bit of Hendrix. Here’s a cool clip of a medley including Voodoo Chile and Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love.

A few words about Guy’s excellent backing musicians, The Damn Right Blues Band. In addition to Sammon and Hall, the members include Orlando Wright (bass) and Tim Awesome Austin (drums). All of these artists are veterans of the Chicago blues scene and have been touring with Guy for more than a decade.

Also, the show had an excellent opening act, The Ben Miller Band. I had never heard of these guys before, who have been around since 2005. They play a dynamite mix of blues, country and bluegrass, using homemade instruments and other unusual equipment. Among others, this includes a one-string washtub bass played by Scott Leeper who is also the band’s drummer. In addition to a standard microphone, lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Miller uses a microphone from an old telephone that creates a unique distorted sound. Rachel Ammons (violin, cello, guitar) and Bob Lewis (bass, guitar, percussion) are also part of the current line-up.

I was very intrigued by this band and plan to check them out more closely. One of the tunes they played last night was a cool cover of Black Betty. Probably the best known version of this traditional African-American work song was released in 1977 by American one-hit rock band Ram Jam.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the sad fact that Wednesday night’s concert was one of the final shows at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. After 18 years, the place is closing down at the end of the month. Guy will return to headline the final show on April 29. A note “To Our Valued Patrons” stated, “As a result of escalating rent, we are being forced to close our doors at the end of April” – what a shame! It was added the club is in the process to select a new location in Manhattan, so at least there appears to be a silver lining here.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Eric Clapton/461 Ocean Boulevard

1974 album marked Slowhand’s triumphant return to music after three-year heroin addiction

461 Ocean Boulevard represented a clear break for Eric Clapton from his hardcore blues rock-oriented days with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos. I’m a fan of all the aforementioned bands but also dig the more laid back side Clapton showed on his second studio solo album, which was released in July 1974.

It’s important to remember this record came after a three-year hiatus during which Clapton had overcome a heroin addiction. As the great documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars tells, he tragically ended up replacing heroin with alcohol before finally getting sober in 1987. Clapton had also grown weary about his previous status as a “guitar god,” so he was clearly looking for a new start.

The album opens with a cover of Motherless Children, a blues standard that was first recorded by American gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The sped up beat gives the tune a great groove. I also like Clapton’s slide guitar playing.

The second track Give Me Strength is one of three tunes, for which Clapton has writing credits. I dig the dobro he plays on that track, something that at the time of the album’s release seemed to irritate a Rolling Stone critic, who also noted, “What’s disturbing is not that Clapton plays differently, but that he plays so little.” In my humble opinion, knowing when and how to show restraint is part of being a great guitarist.

Willie And The Hand Jive is one of two songs that were also released separately as singles. The tune was written by Johnny Otis and first appeared in 1958. Like the original version, Clapton’s take has a cool Bo Diddley beat.

The second and undoubtedly much better known single from the record is I Shot The Sheriff, a nice cover of the Bob Marley tune. I really like the slightly funky guitar sound and the keyboard part on this recording. It became a big hit for Clapton, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and also topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, years later Marley told Clapton he liked his cover.

Next up: Let It Grow, which is my personal favorite on the album and another tune written by Clapton and on which he plays the dobro. Yvonne Elliman sings backup vocals. Before joining Clapton’s band in 1974, she had played Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. Elliman also scored a hit with If I Can’t Have You in 1978, which became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever. Music critics noted the chord progression of Let It Grow is similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, something Clapton himself acknowledged. I wonder whether those same critics also worried about the similarity between Stairway and Taurus, the instrumental by Spirit.

The last track I’d like to call out is Steady Rollin’ Man, a song written by Robert Johnson, one of Clapton’s influences. In fact, 30 years later, he would record Me And Mr. Johnson, an entire album dedicated to the delta blues artist. This is another example where Clapton took an old blues tune and gave it new life and a nice groove by speeding it up.

While 461 Ocean Boulevard received mixed reviews from music critics, it became one of Clapton’s most successful albums with strong chart performances in the U.S. and many other countries. In August 1974, it was awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America. And, oh yes, it’s also listed at no. 409 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Albums Of All Time – the same publication whose critic ripped it apart when it originally appeared.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the musicians who helped Clapton record the album. Some critics felt they were less than capable – yes, there was no John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce or Duane Allman, but to say that Clapton’s band essentially was mediocre is simply ridiculous, in my opinion.

The musicians included Dick Sims (keyboards), George Terry (guitar, vocals), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldacker (drums, percussion), Al Jackson Jr. (drums on Give Me Strength and Albhy Galuten (synthesizer, piano, clavichord). In addition to Elliman, Tom Bernfield and Marcy Levy were backing vocalists.

Last but not least, the album was produced by studio wizard Tom Dowd. This certainly helps explain the great sound.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & The Band/I Shall Be Released

Yesterday (April 7) was the 40th anniversary of the release of The Last Waltz, the triple LP album by The Band and soundtrack to the 1978 concert film directed by Martin Scorsese. The album and picture document the group’s official farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976.

The Bob Dylan tune I Shall Be Released was the closing number of the official show. In addition to Dylan and The Band, it featured other high caliber guests, who had performed earlier during the show, including Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Hawkins and Neil Diamond.

Many critics have called the film one of the best rock concert movies; however, not everybody agreed. Notably, The Band’s Levon Helm charged the film portrays The Band as sidemen of Robbie Robertson. He also called it “the biggest fuckin’ rip-off that ever happened to the Band,” adding he and the other group members Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel didn’t earn a dime from the film and the soundtrack album.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: George Harrison/Taxman

I just returned from the movies where I watched Concert For George, a documentary about a fantastic George Harrison tribute show Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne put together with Dhani Harrison and Olivia Harrison at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002. I could easily go on raving about it. For now all I want to say is, if you’re a fan of Harrison’s music, you should absolutely catch this film, which is available on DVD and is still on in certain select movie theaters. For listings you can check here.

With my mind still very much set on Harrison, undoubtedly because of the amazing documentary, I’m publishing my third and last post (promise!) to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday today (February 25). The above clip of Taxman is from a concert in Japan in December 1991, which Harrison conducted as part of a joint tour with Eric Clapton. The tour was also documented with the double album Live In Japan that came out in July 1992.

Taxman is one of three Harrison compositions that appear on Revolver, The Beatles’ seventh studio album released in August 1966. His two other contributions for that record were Love You To and I Want To Tell You.

Sources: Concert For George official website, Wikipedia, YouTube