My Playlist: Thin Lizzy

While I wouldn’t call myself an all-out Thin Lizzy fan, I dig many of the Irish rock band’s songs I know and definitely feel they would have deserved getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, how many rock bands can you name that were fronted by a kick-ass black bassist and lead vocalist? Wikipedia calls Phil Lynott the “first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in the field of rock music.” While I’m not sure how many other black rock artists come from Ireland, Thin Lizzy were more than just a multi-cultural band. They also transcended religious division, featuring both Catholic and Protestant members during the period of the Northern Ireland conflict. Before getting to some of Thin Lizzy’s music, a few words about their history are in order.

Thin Lizzy were founded in December 1969, when former Them members guitarist Eric Bell and keyboard player Eric Wrixon met drummer Brian Downey and vocalist and songwriter Phil Lynott in a Dublin pub. Downey and Lynott were performing there with their band Orphanage. Wrixon exited before Thin Lizzy released their debut single The Farmer. After the band (then a trio) had signed with Decca Records at the end of 1970, they recorded their eponymous debut album that appeared in April 1971. Subsequently, except for Lynott and Downey, the band had many different members that notably included guitarist Gary Moore from 1974 to 1977 and 1978 to 1979.

Thin Lizzy with Gary Moore
Thin Lizzy’s 1979 lineup with Gary Moore (from left): Brian Downey, Scott Gorham, Phil Lynott and Moore

In November 1972, Thin Lizzy scored their first hit with the non-album single Whiskey in the Jar, an Irish traditional song that had first been popularized in 1968 by Irish folk band The Dubliners. I still remember that song received a good deal of radio play in Germany during the ’70s and for a long time was the only Thin Lizzy tune I knew. After their initial success, the band lost momentum, and it took them three more years to have their first charting album in the UK, Fighting, released in September 1975. The follow-on Jailbreak from March 1976 finally brought commercial breakthrough and chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 18 on the Billboard 200.

Until their breakup in August 1983, Thin Lizzy recorded six more studio albums. Lynott who had released two solo records in 1980 and 1982 went on to form rock band Grand Slam. They didn’t manage to secure a recording contract and folded in late 1984. On January 4, 1986, Lynott passed away at the age of 36 from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicemia. In 1996, John Sykes, one of the guitarists in Thin Lizzy’s final lineup, decided to revive the band as a tribute. They conducted various tours over the years until Sykes’ departure in June 2009. Shortly thereafter, Scott Gorham who had played guitar with Thin Lizzy since 1974, started putting together another lineup. In 2012, Thin Lizzy offspring Black Star Riders was formed to record new material. Thin Lizzy has continued to gig occasionally, most recently last summer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Whiskey in the Jar. The song’s great twin lead guitar parts were one of the features that attracted me to Thin Lizzy. I still dig that sound. Apparently, the band wasn’t happy about Decca’s release of their cover of the tune, feeling it did not represent their sound.

Here’s a nice rocker appropriately titled The Rocker. Co-written by Bell, Downey and Lynott, the song was included on Vagabonds of the Western World, Thin Lizzy’s third studio album that came out in November 1973 in the wake of the Whiskey in the Jar single. Unlike that tune, The Rocker only charted in Ireland where it went to no. 14.

Next up: Rosalie, the great opener to Thin Lizzy’s fifth studio album Fighting. The track was written by Bob Seger who first recorded it on his 1973 album Back in ’72.

The follow-on album Jailbreak became Thin Lizzy’s best-selling record and also their highest-charting in the U.S. Undoubtedly, that performance was fueled by the classic The Boys Are Back in Town, which remain a staple on classic rock rock to this day. Written by Lynott, the band’s most successful single is another beautiful example of their seductive twin lead guitar sound.

The soulful Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight) is another Lynott tune I dig. It appeared on Thin Lizzy’s eighth studio album Bad Reputation from September 1977. The saxophone part was played by Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell. Call me crazy, I can hear some influence from Irish fellow artist Van Morrison.

Black Rose: A Rock Legend, released in April 1979, was the only Thin Lizzy album featuring Gary Moore despite his two stints with the band. Here’s opener and lead single Waiting for an Alibi written by Lynott. I like the tune’s driving bass line, and these twin lead guitar parts never get boring. It became one of the band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 9 in the UK and no. 6 in Ireland.

How about two more songs? First is Killer on the Loose, another Lynott composition released in September 1980, just ahead of Thin Lizzy’s 10th studio album Chinatown that appeared the following month. Perhaps not surprisingly, the song’s lyrics and video, in which Lynott took the persona of a Jack-the-Ripper-type serial killer, created controversy. It probably didn’t help that the single coincided with a string of murders by an English serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper. But one thing is for sure – chart performance didn’t suffer. The band scored another top 10 hit in the UK and a no. 5 in Ireland.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Cold Sweat. Co-written by Lynott and Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, it was included in the band’s final studio record Thunder and Lightning from March 1983. Here’s a clip from Thin Lizzy’s supporting farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; Thin Lizzy website; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube

 

 

Christian’s Fourth of July Rock Playlist

While I never need a reason to listen to great music, I certainly don’t mind the idea to combine it with a special occasion. Today happens to be the Fourth of July, which undoubtedly means many folks will be hanging out with family and friends, eat burgers and other barbecued foods, and watch some fireworks. Perhaps with the exception of the latter, all of these activities are much more fun with music, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion.

Before we get to the enclosed playlist, I wanted to express my hope that all people celebrating Independence Day remember this country was built by immigrants, based on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not hate, division and walls. And that’s all I have to say about that, to borrow a line from one of my all-time favorite motion pictures. Time to get to some music!

How to organize a playlist of random rock tunes I found in my music library? Well, how about alphabetically and kicking if off with some Abba? Just kidding! Here’s AC/DC with It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll. Co-written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott, the track first appeared as a single in December 1975 and also became the opener to High Voltage, the Aussie rockers’ first internationally released album in April 1976. I suppose many people never looked at bagpipes the same way again. While the visual is a bit blurred, I just couldn’t resist to post the video version of the tune. Fasten your seat belts and let’s go!

What comes after “a”? Well, d’uh, “b”! Though don’t worry, I won’t go through the entire alphabet. But I didn’t want to skip Blue Öyster CultCities On Flame With Rock With Rock And Roll is from their eponymous debut album released in January 1972. I’ve always dug that song, which is credited to Albert Bouchard, Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Sandy Pearlman. It also became the band’s first single.

I’m skipping “c” and jump ahead to “d”. It didn’t take long to figure which band to feature: Deep Purple.  I just love these guys and still believe they’re the ultimate hard rock band. And while Highway Star or Smoke On The Water may have been more obvious choices, I felt like going with Speed King, the opener to their fourth studio album Deep Purple In Rock from June 1970. Like all tracks on the record, the tune was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie BlackmoreIan GillanRoger GloverJon Lord and Ian Paice – their best line-up, in my opinion.

Before Gary Moore started to focus on the blues, the Northern Irish guitarist was more of a straight rocker and in this case a hard rocker. Victims Of The Future is the title track of his fourth studio album that came out in December 1983. It was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter, Ian Paice and Neil Murray – and, yep, that’s Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, which I didn’t know either until I read up on the tune. Once it kicks into high gear at around the one-minute mark, the track literally feels like fireworks going off!

Okay, I thought a rock playlist has to have some Jimi Hendrix. Given the occasion, Star Spangled Banner it is. And since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, here’s Jimi’s legendary rendition from the festival.

Next up is a choice you may find a bit surprising: Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas. In my book, this tune off their fourth studio album Leftoverture from October 1976 features one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. Written by Kerry Livgren, the track also became the record’s lead single in November that year.

We’re up to “l” and that means Led Zeppelin. With so many great tunes from this band, the choice was tough. Whole Lotta Love is one hell of a song that includes one of the best Jimmy Page riffs, in my opinion. In addition to all members of the band, the opener to Led Zeppelin II is co-credited to Willie Dixon, since Zep “adapted” parts of Dixon’s 1962 tune You Need Love. Unfortunately, they didn’t give any love to Dixon when the album came out in October 1969. It took a lawsuit and settlement in 1985 to make this happen – not the only example where Zep obviously stole material from other artists. Maybe I’m a bit naive here, but I never got why they engaged in this kind of BS! Proper attribution wouldn’t have diminished them as one of rock’s greatest bands.

Rainbow, the band founded by Ritchie Blackmore in 1975, may not match Deep Purple, but they released some great music, especially during the initial phase with powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Following is their best known tune, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, the title track to the band’s third studio album from April 1978. Dio wrote all lyrics on the record, his last with Rainbow. Most of the music including for this song was penned by him and Blackmore.

As somebody who grew up in Germany, I felt I had to acknowledge what’s probably the most successful German rock band internationally: Scorpions. While I acknowledge their music has varied quite a bit over the decades, these guys have released some kickass rock. Here’s Loving You Sunday Morning, the opener to Lovedrive. According to Wikipedia, the band’s sixth studio album from January 1979 “cemented the “Scorpions formula” of hard rock songs combined with melodic ballads.” Lead vocalist Klaus Meine and drummer Herman Rarebell co-wrote the tune’s lyrics, while guitarist Rudolf Schenker came up with the music. Scorpions continue to rock to this day, more than 40 years on, with Meine and Schenker still being part of their line-up – amazing!

We’re up to the tenth and last tune. Let’s finish it with some early Van Halen, when they were still great: Runnin’ With The Devil, off their eponymous studio debut in February 1978. Like most of the record’s tracks, the song is credited to all members of the band at the time:  Eddie Van HalenAlex Van HalenDavid Lee Roth and Michael Anthony.

And that’s a wrap. Hope everybody who is celebrating it has a great Fourth of July. And please be safe and don’t do anything silly, such as drinking and driving!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube