Happy hump day! Once again, I need to pick a song I would take with me on a desert island. Not any tune. My selection needs to come from an artist or band I have only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. And the name of the chosen group or artist (last name) must start with a specific letter, which for this installment is “z.”
Z-options that came to mind include Zager & Evans, Frank Zappa, The Zombies and ZZ Top. I decided to go with American pop rock one-hit wonder Zager & Evans and In the Year 2525. It’s a bit of an odd song, but I’ve always liked it.
Written by one of the duo’s members, Rick Evans, the tune was first released as a single in June 1969. It ended up topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia – they certainly made that one count! The song, completely titled In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), also appeared on Zager & Evans’ debut studio album 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) that came out in July of the same year.
Denny Zager (guitar, vocals) and Rick Evans (guitar, vocals) met at Nebraska Wesleyan University in the year 1962. Initially, they formed a band called The Eccentrics, together with Danny Schindler (drums). The group disbanded when Schindler departed for his tour of Vietnam in 1965. Evans reunited with Zager in 1968. By the time they recorded In the Year 2525, they were backed by Mark Dalton (bass) and Dave Trupp (drums).
Following the success of 2525, which peaked at a respectable no. 30 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, Zager & Evans’ record label White Whale Records released an album titled The Early Writings of Zager & Evans and Others. It featured recordings of The Eccentrics on side one and songs by a band called J.K. and Co., on side two. That latter group had absolutely no connection to Zager & Evans. It all looks like an attempt to make a quick buck in the wake of a big hit. But it didn’t work. The album failed to chart.
Zager & Evans released two additional records, Zager & Evans (1970) and Food for the Mind (1971), before calling it quits. Evans later put out a record with Pam Herbert titled I Need This Song. In the late 1970s, he formed his own label, Fun Records, and released Fun Songs, Think Songs, an album featuring new songs and re-recordings of Zager & Evans material. Today, Zager builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska. Evans who had largely retired from public life passed away in February 2018.
This bleak futuristic tale is a very unusual song, but 1969 was a very unusual year, with hippie anthems like “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” going to #1 along with bubblegum songs like “Sugar, Sugar.” The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Temptations all had classic #1s as well, but one of the top songs was “In the Year 2525,” which stayed at #1 for six weeks.
The song reflected the apprehension of the times and also the wonder of technology. It started its run at the top of the US chart the week before the Apollo 11 moon landing.
…The song was subtitled “Exordium & Terminus,” which is a fancy way of saying “Beginning & End.” The song took itself quite seriously in its description of what will become of man as technology takes over.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Another Sunday calls for another expedition into the great world of music and all its different beautiful flavors. In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, you may ask yourself why throw all kinds of tracks from different eras into a post in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Well, I have a fairly eclectic taste and find it liberating not to limit myself to a specific theme like I typically do in my other posts. Hope you’ll join me!
Wes Montgomery/In Your Own Sweet Way
The first stop on today’s journey is April 1960, which saw the release of a studio album by Wes Montgomery. Even if you’re not a jazz aficionado, chances are you’ve heard of this amazing American jazz guitarist. His unusual technique to play the guitar, including plucking the strings with the side of his thumb and his frequent use of octaves, created a distinct and beautiful sound. During his active career spanning the years 1947-1968, Montgomery regularly worked with his brothers Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone, piano) and Monk Montgomery (bass), as well as Melvin Rhyne (organ). Sadly, Wes Montgomery’s life was cut short at age 45 when he suffered a heart attack in June 1968. In Your Own Sweet Way, composed by Dave Brubeck in 1952, is a track off an album aptly titled The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.
Chuck Prophet/Summertime Thing
Obviously, here in America, we’re into the summer season, so picking a tune titled Summertime Thing didn’t look far-fetched. The artist is Chuck Prophet, who only entered my radar screen earlier this year, and we now find ourselves in June 2002. From his AllMusicbio: Chuck Prophet is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has created a handful of impressive solo albums when he isn’t busy collaborating with some of the most respected figures in roots rock. A songwriter with a naturalistic sense of storytelling and drawing characters, and a melodic sense that brings together the impact of rock with the nuance of country, blues, and folk, Prophet has been releasing worthwhile solo albums since 1990, when he brought out his first solo LP, Brother Aldo. Prior to that, he was a key member of the rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red, who had a small cult following in the United States and a significantly larger one overseas, and in between solo efforts, he worked as a sideman, collaborator, or producer for Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Warren Zevon, Cake, Kim Richey, and many more. Summertime Thing, written by Prophet, is from his 2002 solo album No Other Love. I really dig what I’ve heard from him thus far – good reminder to keep exploring!
Stray Cats/Rock This Town
Let’s pick up the speed with some fun ’50s rockabilly brought to us by Stray Cats. Formed in the U.S. in 1979 by guitar virtuoso Brian Setzer, double bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom (gotta love that stage name!), the trio initially established a following in the New York music scene. After a gig in London, they met Welsh singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer Dave Edmunds who co-produced their eponymous debut album. First released in the UK in February 1981, the record generated an impressive three top 40 hits on the Official Singles Chart: Runaway Boys (no. 9), Stray Cat Strut (no. 11) and the tune I decided to pick, Rock This Town (no. 9), which was penned by Setzer. The Cats are still roaming the streets, though they’ve had a few breaks along the way. Remarkably, their current line-up is the original formation. Coinciding with their 40th anniversary, they put 40 in May 2019, their 10th and first new studio album in 26 years. Let’s shake it, baby – meow!
Little Feat/Rock and Roll Doctor
Time to see a doctor. ‘What kinda doctor?’ you may wonder. Well, obviously not any doctor. What we need is a Rock and Roll Doctor. And this brings us to Little Feat and August 1974. I had this tune earmarked for Sunday Six use a while ago. The group was formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention. Notably, Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract. After George’s death in 1979, the group finished one more album, Down On the Farm, before disbanding. They reunited in 1987 and have had a history since then that is too long to recap here. Rock and Roll Doctor, co-written by George and Martin Kibbee, appeared on the band’s fourth studio release Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, their first charting album, reaching no. 36, no. 40 and no. 73 in the U.S., Canada and Australia, respectively.
Let’s pay the current century another visit with this gem by Lucinda Williams: Knowing, off her ninth studio album Little Honey, released in October 2008. While I had been aware of her name for many years, it wasn’t until June of this year that I started paying attention to her when she opened for Bonnie Raitt in Philly. The American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1978 blends Americana, folk, country and heartland rock. Her fifth studio album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road brought her commercial breakthrough. Nine additional albums have since come out. In November 2020, Williams suffered a debilitating stroke. While she has managed to largely recover and resume performing, some signs are still visible. Like most tunes on Little Honey, Knowing was solely written by Williams – great lady!
Elvis Presley/Suspicious Minds
And once again, we’re reaching the final stop of our music journey. I’d like to go back to 1969 and one of my all-time favorite Elvis Presley renditions: Suspicious Minds. The tune was written by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, who also first recorded it that year. Not sure what kind of impact the original single had but I know this: Presley’s version, which was released in August 1969, was a huge success, becoming his 18th and final no. 1 single in the U.S. Notably, as Wikipedia points out, session guitarist Reggie Young played on both the James and Presley versions. A leading session musician, Young also worked with the likes of Joe Cocker, John Prine, J.J. Cale, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Man, I love that song!
Thanks for accompanying me on another zig-zag music excursion. Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all featured tunes. Here you go – hope there’s some stuff you like!
Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.
1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.
1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.
1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden. Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!
1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.
1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”
1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.
Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to the final Sunday Six of 2021 – can’t believe I’m writing this! To those celebrating, I hope you had a nice Christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season. To everybody else, hope you’ve been having a great time anyway! Today, this weekly recurring feature is hitting a milestone with its 50th installment. It’s another eclectic set of music touching the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021. Ready for the last mini music excursion of the year? Let’s do it!
Frank Zappa/Pink Napkins
I’d like to start today’s music time travel with an artist I never thought I’d feature. While I recognize Frank Zappa was widely acclaimed, except for the weirdly catchy Bobby Brown Goes Down, I always found it difficult to listen to his music and never warmed to him. That being said, I’ve always known he was a pretty talented musician. When my streaming music provider served up Pink Napkins the other day, I was immediately intrigued by this guitar-driven instrumental. And, yes, I was quite surprised to learn I had just listened to Frank Zappa! Pink Napkins is from Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, the second in a series of three all-instrumental albums released in May 1981, which subsequently appeared as a box set in 1982. It’s a very improvisational collection of what essentially are guitar solos. While hey there, people, you may wonder, wonder, why Zappa released a massive collection of guitar solos, dare I say it, I actually dig Pink Napkins!
Next is what I would call a deep track from Pink Floyd’s catalog. Stay, co-written by the band’s keyboarder Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour, was included on the group’s seventh studio album Obscured by Clouds that came out in June 1972. It was the soundtrack for a French motion picture titled La Vallée and directed by Iranian-born Swiss film director and producer Barbet Schroeder. Among others, he’s known for directing Hollywood films Barfly (1987) and Single White Female (1992). While Obscured by Clouds didn’t match the chart performance of the group’s two preceding records Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, it still reached a respectable no. 6 in the UK. By comparison, it remained, well, a bit more obscure in the U.S. where it stalled at no. 46. This was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd’s next album The Dark Side of the Moon.
Little Richard/Good Golly, Miss Molly
Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to get movin’ and groovin’ with some killer classic rock & roll by the great Little Richard: Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball, whoo/Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball/When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’/Can’t hear your momma call…Even though I’ve listened to Good Golly, Miss Molly countless times since I first heard it 40-plus years ago, I’m still amazed by Richard’s energy. This man was a force of nature and an incredible performer. Good Golly, Miss Molly was co-written by John Marascalco and producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It was first recorded by Richard and appeared as a single in January 1958. It was also included on Richard’s eponymous sophomore album released in July of the same year.
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Ways and Means
Let’s keep rockin’ and jump to 2021 and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. If you happened to read part 1 of my recent year-in-review feature, you may recall the name of this unusual country blues trio, which has been around since 2003. Ways and Means is the opener of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s energetic 10th studio album that came out back in April. Check out the official video, which is fun to watch. These guys are just amazing! Peyton is a really talented guitarist, and his singing ain’t too shabby either – my kind of reverend!
The Mamas & The Papas/Monday Monday
After two high-energy tunes, I’d like to slow it down a little with some beautiful sunshine pop from the ’60s. For the purposes of this feature, the tune really should have been titled “Sunday Sunday”, but I’ll gladly go with Monday Monday. The third single by The Mamas & The Papas, released in March 1966, became the L.A. vocal group’s only no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the group’s leader John Philipps, aka Papa John Phillips, the tune was a big hit outside the U.S. as well, reaching no. 2 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands; no. 3 in the UK; and no. 4 in Australia, among others. Monday Monday was also included on The Mamas & The Papas’ debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears from February of the same year. I’ve always loved their beautiful harmony singing.
I’d like to wrap up this installment with one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. Since I was introduced to her with Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve come to love her music and amazing slide guitar-playing. I also finally had a chance to see her in August 2016 in New Jersey. If you’re curious you can read more about the show here and watch a clip of the entire gig, which is still up! For this post, I’ve picked You, a beautiful tune from Raitt’s 12th studio album Longing in Their Hearts that appeared in March 1994. The song was co-written by John Shanks, Bob Thiele and Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian). Bonnie Raitt will tour in 2022. Man, would I love to catch her again – we’ll see whether conditions are going to responsibly allow it!
Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!
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).
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 Sixinstallment: 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 Zappa, Yes, P-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.
In March 2018, I listened to Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat after a dear longtime friend from Germany had highly recommended this great live album from 1978. I also wrote about it at the time. Then, as oftentimes happens, before I knew it, I was on to other music avenues, and the band fell off my radar screen again. Luckily, my streaming music provider served up the song Dixie Chicken as part of a playlist the other day. The title track of Little Feat’s third studio album from January 1973 prompted me to take a closer look at the record. It didn’t take long to realize that Dixie Chicken is a true gem.
Before I get to some music, I like to provide a bit of background on the group. Little Feat were formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention.
While Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract, the details are disputed. One version is that Zappa encouraged George to form his own group after he had listened to George’s song Willin’. A second version is that Zappa who was strongly opposed to drugs fired George from the Mothers after he noticed some references to drugs in the lyrics of Willin’. The third version is the weirdest: Zappa kicked out George after George had played a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off!
Whatever the true circumstances were, Little Feat signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and soon thereafter started recording their eponymous debut album, which appeared in January 1971. By the time Little Feat went into the studio to make Dixie Chicken, the group had become a six-piece. Estrada had been replaced by Kenney Gradney on bass, and the band had added Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals) and Sam Clayton (congas). Among additional guest musicians were Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie fame; Danny Hutton, vocalist in Three Dog Night; and Bonnie Raitt, who each provided backing vocals.
On to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track, which is widely viewed as the band’s signature song. Dixie Chicken was co-written by George, who had established himself as Little Feat’s frontman, producer and main songwriter, and Martin Kibbee, who according to Songfacts was credited as Fred Martin. Bramlett supported Lowell on lead vocals. Love the New Orleans vibe this tune has!
Two Trains, another George composition, is a nice groovy track. I dig the guitar work and the great singing. Check out the mighty group of backing vocalists: Bramlett, Raitt, Daring Dan Hutton, Debbie Lindsey and Gloria Jones.
Another tune on side one (in vinyl speak) is a great cover of On Your Way Down, a song by influential R&B New Orleans artist Allen Toussaint. It first appeared on his 1972 studio album Life, Love and Faith.
On to side two and Walkin’ All Night. Co-written by Barrere and Payne, it’s one of only three tracks on the album that were not penned by George. It’s got a bit of a Stones vibe. Of course, that’s also true for many of the other tunes on the record.
Fat Man in the Bathtub (gotta love that title!) was also written by George. Not much more that I can say here other than it’s yet another gem on an album that’s packed with great music.
Let’s do one more. Here’s Juliette, yet another song written by George.
Dixie Chicken is viewed as Little Feat’s landmark album that defined their sound, a tasty gumbo of southern rock, roots rock, blues rock, New Orleans R&B and swamp rock. Just like the band’s first two records, Dixie Chicken missed the charts, though it did reach Gold certification. This just goes to show that chart positions and sales certifications don’t necessarily capture an album’s greatness.
Following George’s death in late June 1979 from a cocaine overdose-induced heart attack at the age of 34 and the release of Little Feat’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November that year, the band called it quits. In 1987, surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne revived Little Feat, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up.
Between 1988 and 2012, Little Feat released nine additional albums. Barrere passed away from cancer in October 2019. He was 71. The group remains active to this day, with Clayton, Gradney, Tackett and founding member Payne being part of the current line-up. According to Little Feat’s official website, they have scheduled a series of U.S. dates starting November 11 in Port Chester, N.Y. Also, if you feel like catching them in Jamaica, together with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Band, Tommy Emmanuel and Jack Broadbent, and have the time, not to mention the necessary dollars to go on a music adventure, you can do so from January 30 – February 5, 2022 at Featcamp.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Little Feat website; YouTube
It’s a gray and rainy Sunday morning in New Jersey, at least in my neck of the woods. But I’m determined not to let that bring me down. Plus, we’ve had plenty of sunshine over the past couple of weeks, so there’s no good reason to complain and every reason to expect the sun will come back. Most importantly, bad weather isn’t a deterrent to listen to great music. In fact, one could argue a rainy day is a perfect opportunity to do just that. And, guess what, I have some suggestions! 🙂
ShwizZ /Clock Tower
Let’s get into the mood with an amazing brand new rock instrumental by ShwizZ. I had never heard of the group until Friday when I spotted the below clip on Facebook. I’m not even sure how to properly pronounce that name! According to their website, ShwizZ is 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 call out Frank Zappa, Yes, P-Funk and King Crimson as their influences – notably, all artists I essentially don’t listen to, except for Yes. Still, Clock Tower grabbed me right away! The band’s members include Ryan Liatsis (guitar), Will Burgaletta (keyboards), Scott Hogan (bass) and Andrew Boxer (drums). I know Scott who is a very talented bassist. Frankly, when I see him play, sometimes, I ask myself ‘what’s the point’ of me trying. But while skill is great, at the end of the day, playing an instrument should be about fun first and foremost. Anyway, after I watched the video, I messaged Scott with a few inquisitive questions. I think he has no idea I’m writing about him – sneaky, huh? Anyway, he told me ShwizZ have been around for about 10 years. He joined them 1.5 years ago. Most of their music is instrumental. Their website lists a few albums and singles, including Clock Tower, which was released as a single on Friday, April 8. Apparently, they’re working on other new music. Meanwhile, let’s give this cool-sounding tune a listen!
Gerry Rafferty/Baker Street
From the very first moment I heard Baker Street by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, I loved that tune. The saxophone part by Raphael Ravenscroft and the guitar solo by Hugh Burns still give me the chills. Rafferty wrote Baker Street for his second studio album City to City that came out in January 1978. The song was also released separately as a single and became Rafferty’s biggest hit, peaking at no. 2 and no. 3 in the U.S. and the UK, respectively, and charting within the top 10 in various other European countries. In Australia, it went all the way to no. 1. Rafferty had a complicated relationship with fame and the music industry, and unfortunately, he struggled with alcoholism and depression. On January 4, 2011, Rafferty passed away from liver failure at the untimely age of 63. Primarily fueled by Baker Street, City to City ended up to become his most successful album. Altogether, Rafferty released 10 albums during his solo recording career from 1971 to 2009. He also gained popularity as co-founder of Scottish folk rock band Stealers Wheel and their hit Stuck in the Middle with You.
Muddy Magnolias/Broken People
In December 2016, about seven months after I had started the blog, I named Muddy Magnolias “my new discovery for 2016 I’m most excited about.” Then the now-defunct duo of African American singer-songwriter Jesse Wilson from Brooklyn, New York, and Kallie North, a white pianist from Beaumont, TX, kind of fell off my radar screen until I remembered them out of the blue the other day. They got together in 2014 and released an amazing album titled Broken People in October 2016. The music represents an intriguing blend of each artist’s background. Wilson’s influences include Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G., while North grew up listening to artists like The Carpenters, Alison Krauss, James Taylor and Eagles. Unfortunately, the duo dissolved at the end 0f 2017. Wilson went on by herself and released her debut solo album Phase in May 2019, which was produced by Patrick Carney, the drummer of The Black Keys. No idea what happened to North who apparently initiated the duo’s breakup. While Muddy Magnolias only released one album, they certainly made it count. Here’s the cool title track.
Tom Faulkner/Lost in the Land of Texico
A few weeks ago, my longtime music buddy from Germany recommended that I check out Tom Faulkner and his 1998 album Lost in the Land of Texico. Usually, he has a good idea what will appeal to me, and once again he was right! While the singer-songwriter and producer, who was born in New Orleans, already at the age of five knew music was his calling, unfortunately, it appears he never quite broke through as a music artist. To date, decades into his career, Faulkner has only released two albums: Lost in the Land of Texico (1997) and Raise the Roof (2002). For the most part, he has made his living with commercial music for radio and TV. As his bio on last.fm notes, Faulkner has created hundreds of national jingles and scores, including some of the most memorable commercial music on television and radio. Most notably, he composed and sang the wildly popular “I Want My Baby Back” for Chili’s, a jingle that has since found its way into motion pictures (Austin Powers) and over a dozen major network TV shows. He also created the multi-award winning music theme for Motel 6 and Tom Bodett, the longest running commercial campaign in the history of advertising (23 years, 5 CLIOs, and counting). As of June 2019, when his bio was last updated, Faulkner was working on his third CD. Here’s the bluesy title track, which has a nice musical New Orleans flavor.
The Subdudes/Light in Your Eyes
Let’s stay with New Orleans and The Subdudes, another great tip from my German music friend. This band from The Big Easy blends folk, swamp pop, New Orleans R&B, Louisiana blues, country, cajun, zydeco, funk, soul and gospel into a tasty musical gumbo. They have been around since 1987 with breaks from 1996-2002 and 2011-2014. The band’s current members include Tommy Malone (vocals, guitar), John Magnie (vocals, accordion, keyboards), Steve Amedée (tambourine, drums, other percussions, vocals), Tim Cook (percussion, bass, vocals) and Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar), which is almost still their original line-up. Since their eponymous debut from 1989, The Subdudes have released nine additional studio and two live albums. Light in Your Eyes is a track from the band’s first album. It was co-written by Malone and Johnny Ray Allen, the band’s former bassist. The Subdudes’ harmony singing and the warm sound of their music are sweet. Check it out!
As has sort of become a Sunday Six tradition, the last tune I’d like to highlight is a rocker: Free by Chicago. Formed as The Chicago Transit Authority in The Windy City in 1967, a name that after the threat of legal action from Chicago’s actual transit authority was shortened to Chicago, the band doesn’t need much of an introduction. They started out as a rock group with horns before moving to an easy listening sound that was dominated by ballads, especially in the late ’70s and ’80s. Over their nearly 55-year career, Chicago have seen numerous line-up changes, as you’d expect. Notably, the current 10-piece still includes original members Robert Lamm (keyboards, lead vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, flugelhorn, backing vocals) and James Pankow (trombone, backing vocals). Free dates back to a period when Chicago were rockin’ and on a true roll: Chicago III, the group’s third consecutive double album in less than two years. Written by Lamm, Free is part of the so-called Travel Suite of tunes that make up side 2 of the double LP. Featuring amazing lead guitarist Terry Kath on lead vocals, the tune also became the album’s lead single in February 1971. It’s hard for me to say and I’m sorry, while Chicago’s ’80s ballads were popular, it’s the rock & horns songs like Free where the band truly shines.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Time for some newly released music. This is perhaps the most eclectic Best of What’s New installment to date, including afrobeat, indie pop folk, rock and jazz. Yes, more jazz, though it does have some singing. All of the featured albums came out yesterday (February 5). Let’s get to it!
Femi Kuti & Made Kuti/Stop the Hate
Femi Kuti is a Nigerian afrobeat and jazz musician born in London and raised in Lagos. According to his website, Before Femi was his own bandleader, he started playing saxophone in his father — Fela Kuti’s — band, Egypt 80, in 1979, where he learned the ins and outs of performing with a legend. [Fela Kuti, a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, composer and political activist, is considered to be a pioneer of afrobeat.] In 1984, Femi had no choice but to fulfill his destiny after Fela was arrested at the Lagos airport just before the start of a U.S. tour and Femi was asked to be the frontman of his father’s band instead of cancelling the shows. In 1986, Femi created his own band, called Positive Force, which quickly gained notoriety as a formidable group in Afrobeat music. Over the next 30 years, Femi would amass worldwide acclaim as an ambassador of this righteous music and many humanitarian organizations. Positive Force is still at the forefront of the Afrobeat movement, expanding the music’s vocabulary by adding hints of punk and hip-hop to the sound, while maintaining its traditional roots and political message. This track, Stop the Hate, is from Legacy +, which combines two new albums: Stop the Hate by Femi Kuti and For(e)ward by his son Made Kuti. The groove of this music is infectious.
Hayley Williams/First Thing to Go
Hayley Williams, who was born and raised in Mississippi, is a singer-songwriter and musician. She’s best known as lead vocalist and keyboarder of Paramore, a rock band from Franklin, Tenn. she co-founded in 2004. According to her profile on Apple Music, Williams was already signed to Atlantic Records as a solo pop artist at age 15 before she insisted on going in an edgier alt-rock direction with her high-school pals in tow. As Paramore became fixtures on the mid-2000s Warped Tour circuit, Williams represented an orange-haired beacon for girls looking to elbow their way into the predominantly male mosh pit that was the pop-punk scene…Outside the band, Williams has crowd-surfed far away from her punk roots. After releasing two EPs, Petals for Armor I and Petals for Armor II, in February and April 2020, respectively, her first full-length solo album Petals for Armor appeared in May 2020. It combines songs from the EPs with some new tracks. First Thing to Go is the opener of Williams’ new sophomore release FLOWERS for VASES/decansos. She wrote and recorded the entire album by herself at her home in Nashville. I like the stripped back approach.
Foo Fighters/Making a Fire
While it’s safe to assume Foo Fighters need no introduction to most readers, admittedly, I know next to nothing about this rock band from Seattle, other than it’s fronted by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl who is the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter. I also previously heard a song or two. I didn’t realize Foo Fighters have been around for more than 25 years. In addition to Grohl, the current line-up includes Pat Smear (guitar), Chris Shiflett (guitar), Rami Jaffee (keyboards), Nate Mendel (bass) and Taylor Hawkins (drums). Except for Jaffee who joined in 2017, all other members of the band have played together for more than 15 years. Making a Fire, credited to Foo Fighters, is the opener of the band’s new and 10th studio album Medicine at Midnight.
Archie Shepp & Jason Moran/Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
I’d to wrap things up with new jazz by saxophone player Archie Shepp who teamed up with Jason Moran, a jazz pianist, for a new album titled Let My People Go. Both of these artists are entirely new to me. Shepp, who is 83 years old, has been active since 1960. Over his 60-year-plus career, he has been on close to 100 records and played with Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Dave Burrell, Chet Baker and Frank Zappa, among others. Forty-six-year-old Jason Moran recorded his debut album Soundtrack to Human Motion in 1999 and has since released 14 additional albums as a bandleader. He has also been a sideman for Steve Coleman, Bunky Green, Charles Lloyd and Greg Osby, among others. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is the opener of the above noted Let My People Go. It starts with very relaxing piano and saxophone music before Sheep starts singing at about 5:17 into the tune, which based on the description of the YouTube clip is a “negro spiritual” by an unknown writer. Just beautiful to listen to and also fascinating to watch these two artists from different generations.
Sources: Wikipedia; Femi Kuti website; Apple Music; YouTube
I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last installment in this recurring music history feature. And even though to me it feels like I’ve covered so many dates already, the reality is I have more than 300 left to go. So without further ado, let’s take a look at May 26!
1964: Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City as Leonard Albert Kravitz. He was the only child of actress Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC Television. Both of his parents have passed away. Kravitz was drawn to music since he was tiny. At age 3, he began using pots and pans as drums, and two years later, he apparently knew he wanted to become a professional musician. After his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1974, Kravitz started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When he set out to get a record deal, initially, he was given a hard time, with record labels either telling him he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough.” Fortunately, Kravitz was able to overcome this BS, and in September 1989 his debut studio album Let Love Rule appeared. He has since released 10 additional studio records, in addition to a greatest hits compilation, as well as various box sets and EPs. My introduction to Kravitz was his sophomore album Mama Said from April 1991. Here’s a great rocker from that record he co-wrote with Slash: Always On the Run.
1967: The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If I could only choose one of their records, a nearly impossible task, this would be it most days. On other occasions, I might go with Abbey Road or Revolver. You can read more about Sgt. Pepper and why I dig that album here. Following is the record’s grande final A Day in the Life, a tune that was mostly written by John Lennon. Paul McCartney’s main contribution is the middle section.
1969: Janis Joplin made the cover of Newsweek. The headline declared Janis Joplin: Rebirth of Blues. Seventeen months later, on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles after she had not appeared for a recording session at Sunset Sound Recorders studios. An autopsy by L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi determined she had passed away from a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Joplin, undoubtedly one of the most compelling female blues vocalists, was only 27 years old.
1972: English rock band Mott the Hoople, which despite their cult status in England were on the verge of disintegration due to lack of commercial viability, recorded All the Young Dudes, a song that had been given to them by one of their fans: David Bowie, who also produced the single, played guitar, sang backing vocals and clapped. All of that happened in the middle of the night at Olympic Studios in London, where Bowie had managed to get them some time. The tune was released on July 28, 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., All the Young Dudes became a top 40 hit, reaching no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up saving the band and extending their life until 1976.
1973: Deep Purple release Smoke on the Water as the third and final single from their sixth studio album Machine Head, another gem of a record, in my opinion. The tune, which must be a living nightmare of many folks working at guitar stores, was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. The song was inspired by a fire at the casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971, where Deep Purple were about to get underway with recording sessions for the Machine Head album. But some stupid with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground – the night before after a Frank Zappa concert. Perhaps he had not liked Zappa’s performance! Whatever the case may have been, the tragic fire, which claimed all of Zappa’s equipment, led to one of the most iconic rock songs of the ’70s.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube