The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part I

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. I was reminded of this on Saturday when thanks to fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride I listened to Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’).

This cool live album by Tedeschi Trucks Band, released back in July, celebrates Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the sole 1970 studio album by Derek and the Dominos. And just like blues musicians often feed off one another, I let this inspire me and decided to come up with a post of great live blues and blues rock performances. I’m going to do this in two parts. Hope you dig this as much as I do!

B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone

Let’s kick off part I with the king of electric guitar blues, the amazing B.B. King. He demonstrated that it’s not about speed and how many notes you play, it’s what you play. And when it comes to this man, he made every note count he played on his beloved “Lucille”. Check out this cool rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, captured in Chicago at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell and first recorded by Hawkins in 1951, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1969 and I would argue his signature song. King is joined by many of the musicians he influenced, including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan, among others. Check it out, this is just amazing!

John Lee Hooker/Boogie Chillen’

Recently, I watched the great documentary Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away, in which Guy identified John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’ as the first single he bought, and the song that got him hooked to the guitar and the blues! I’m thrilled I found this clip of Hooker performing the tune with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones in 1989 in Atlantic City, N.J. That’s what I call a cool backing band! Hooker wrote and first recorded the song in 1948. Clapton and the Stones, who are huge fans of American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker and have done a lot to promote their music, especially in the U.S., clearly cherished the moment.

Muddy Waters/Rollin’ Stone

Speaking of Muddy Waters, here’s a great live performance of Rollin’ Stone, the very song that inspired the name of the “world’s greatest rock & roll band.” An interpretation of delta blues tune Catfish Blues, Waters recorded Rollin’ Stone in 1950. The clip shows his performance of the song at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. It’s the oldest footage features in this two-part post.

Cream/Crossroads

Cream possibly are my all-time favorite blues rock band. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker perfectionated the art of the power trio. Here’s a great clip of Crossroads performed by the band in March 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium & Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Written by Robert Johnson who originally recorded it as Cross Road Blues in 1936, Crossroads (arranged by Clapton) appeared on Cream’s 1968 album Wheels of Fire. The live version on the record seems to be the same than the one that is captured in this clip.

Dani Wilde/Mississippi Kisses

Buddy Guy, who together with Taj Mahal is one of the last men standing of what I would call the old blues guard, often speaks about the need for young artists to come along to keep the blues alive when he will be gone. I’m actually pretty optimistic about this. Some great examples coming to mind include 22-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram; 24-year-old Jontavious Willis who has been called “wunderkind” by none other than Mahal; or 44-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But guess what? There are also some dynamite female blues and blues rock artists out there like 36-year-old British singer-songwriter Dani Wilde. Ana Popović, Shemekia Copeland and Eliana Cargnelutti are among some of the others who come to mind. Here’s a 2015 performance by Wilde of Mississippi Kisses, a tune she wrote for her 2012 album Juice Me Up.

J. Geils Band/First I Look at the Purse

A post about great live renditions of blues rock tunes would be amiss without the ultimate party group, the J. Geils Band, don’t you agree? I think it’s also a perfect way to wrap up part I. Here’s a cool clip taken from what looks like a 1979 appearance of the band on the German music TV program Rockpalast. One of my all-time favorites by the J. Geils Band is their high energy rendition of First I Look at the Purse. It’s the main part of this encore medley, which starts at around 4 minutes into the clip. Co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, the song was first released by Motown R&B group The Contours in 1965. J Geils Band recorded their cover of the tune for their eponymous debut album from November 1970, but it’s really their live rendition that brings out the song’s true magic. When watching this, don’t you feel like dropping anything you’re doing right now and going to a fuckin’ rock & roll show? What a killer performance by a killer live band!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature on the blog. For first time visitors, the idea of The Sunday Six is to celebrate music in a random fashion, six tracks at a time. It could literally be anything from the past 60 years or so, in any order. My only “rule” is I have to like it. That’s consistent with my overall approach for this blog to write about music I dig. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Neil Cowley/Circulation

I’d like to start with Neil Cowley, an English contemporary pianist and composer I first included in a Sunday Six installment back in March. Born in London in November 1972, Cowley began as a classical pianist and already performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall as a ten-year-old. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts, including  Mission ImpossibleThe Brand New HeaviesGabrielle and Zero 7. It appears his first album Displaced was released in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. Fourteen additional albums featuring Cowley as band leader or co-leader have since come out. He has also worked as a sideman for Adele and various other artists. Circulation is another track from Cowley’s most recent solo album Hall of Mirrors released in March this year. This is very relaxing piano-driven music with elements of ambient electronics.

Cream/Crossroads

After a mellow start, here’s something crunchy from one of my favorite ’60s British rock bands: Cream. Featuring Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Jack Bruce (bass, vocals) and Ginger Baker (drums, vocals), they were a true supergroup. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising they broke up after just a little over two years. In fact, given the bad, sometimes physical fights between the volatile Mr. Baker and Bruce, it’s a miracle they lasted that long – not to mention the fact they still managed to record four amazing albums. One of my favorite Cream tunes is their remake of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, which he first recorded as Cross Road Blues in May 1937. Clapton did a neat job in rearranging the acoustic Delta blues. Cream’s version appeared on the live record of their double LP Wheels of Fire. Their third album was first released in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK two months later.

The Jayhawks/She Walks In So Many Ways

Lately, I’ve started exploring The Jayhawks. I first came across the alt. country and country rock band about a year ago after the release of their most recent album XOXO in July 2020. The Jayhawks were initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985. After seven records, they went on hiatus in 2014 and reemerged in 2019. She Walks In So Many Ways is a track off their eighth studio album Mockingbird Time from September 2011. It marked the return of original frontman Mark Olson (guitar, vocals), reuniting him Gary Louris (guitar, vocals), another co-founder. Not only did they co-write all songs on the album, but they also delivered great harmony vocals. The other members at the time included co-founder Marc Perlman (bass), together with Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals) and Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals). All remain with the band’s current line-up except for Olson who left again in the fall of 2012. She Walks In So Many Ways has a nice Byrds vibe – my kind of music!

Lenny Kravitz/Are You Gonna Go My Way

Let’s turn to Lenny Kravitz, who first entered my radar in late 1991 when I coincidentally listened to his sophomore album Mama Said in a restaurant in France. My brother-in-law asked the waiter about the music, and the rest is history. I immediately got the CD after my return to Germany and have since listened to Kravitz on and off. While he has won various awards and, according to Wikipedia, sold more than 40 million albums worldwide during his 40-year career, success didn’t come easy – especially in the U.S. where initially Kravitz was told he didn’t sound “black enough” or “white enough”, and there was too much ’60s and Hendrix in his music. Jeez, that terrible guitarist Jimi Hendrix – what a bunch of crap! Anyway, here’s the title track of Kravitz’s third studio album from March 1993. Are You Gonna Go My Way was co-written by him and guitarist and longtime collaborator Craig Ross. I’ve always loved this cool kick-ass guitar riff.

The Police/Spirits in the Material World

Let’s jump to the ’80s and one of my favorite bands from that time, The P0lice. A visit of a tribute band music festival in Atlantic City last weekend brought the British trio of Sting (lead vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums) back on my radar screen. During their seven-year run from 1977 to 1984, The Police recorded five albums, a quite productive output. While I have a slight preference for their earlier rawer sound, I think there are great songs on all of their albums. Here’s one I dig from Ghost in the Machine, the band’s second-to-last record released in October 1981: Spirits in the Material World. I love Sting’s bassline on that track, as well as the synthesizer-driven reggae groove. According to Wikipedia, he wrote that tune on a Casio keyboard, his first experience with a synthesizer.

Pink Floyd/One of These Days

What, are we already at the sixth and final track? Just when I was fully getting warmed up! Don’t worry, I have every intention to continue this zig-zag music journey next Sunday. For now, I’d like to wrap it up with Pink Floyd and the opening track of Meddle. Their sixth studio album from October 1971 is one of my favorite Floyd records and yet another great album that’s turning 50 this year. I was tempted to feature Echoes but realize very few if any readers would likely to listen to a 23-minute-plus track, though I can highly recommend it! 🙂 Here’s One of These Days, credited to all four members of the band, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. I think it’s one of the best space rock instrumentals. That pumping double-tracked bass guitar part played by Gilmour and Waters is just great. The lovely line, “one of these days, I cut you into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason, and recorded using an effect device called a ring modulator, and slowed down to make it even more creepy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: November 26

After more than three months, I felt it was time for another installment of my recurring music history feature I started shortly after launching the blog in June 2016. While I previously did a post about music happenings on Thanksgiving (with different dates over the years), I had not specifically covered November 26. Yes, looking at a certain date is kind of arbitrary, but I continue to find it interesting what comes up. And in theory I still have many other dates to cover to make up the full year – 310 to be precise! 🙂

1962: The Beatles recorded their second single Please Please Me during a three-hour session at Abbey Road studio two. The tune was written by John Lennon but credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usually. After capturing 18 takes, George Martin was, well, pleased, telling John, Paul, George and Ringo, “Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one.” It’s all documented on The Beatles Bible, which may not be quite as popular as Jesus but is the ultimate source of truth about The Fab Four! Please Please Me topped the lists of Melody Maker and New Musical Express and Disc and rose to no. 2 in the Record Retailer chart. When the song was released on January 11, 1963, the UK didn’t have a standard singles chart yet. By the time The Beatles‘ third single From Me to You came out, things had changed, and that tune ended up being their first no. 1 on what became the official UK Singles Chart.

1968: Cream played their final farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the second of two sold out gigs at the venue. Both concerts were captured for a BBC documentary and released on video as Farewell Concert in early January 1969. While the two concerts received more attention than other Cream concerts, supposedly, they didn’t show the band at their best. “It wasn’t a good gig,” stated Ginger Baker, according to Wikipedia. “Cream was better than that…We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off, getting it over with.” Here’s an excerpt from the film featuring Sunshine of Your Love. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, the tune first appeared on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Frankly, if this was Cream “sucking”, just imagine how amazing they must have been when they were at their best.

1969: The Band’s eponymous second album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, which means it had reached one million sold copies in only just a little over two months after its release. Also known as The Brown Album, The Band features gems like Rag Mama Rag, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up on Cripple Creek. The album peaked at no. 9 on the Billboard 200 and has been on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, reaching no. 57 in the most recent update from September this year. Here’s one of my all-time favorites, Up on Cripple Creek, written by Robbie Robertson. The tune was also released as a single on November 29, 1969 and climbed to no. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1976: The Sex Pistols released their debut single Anarchy in the U.K. Credited to all of the British punk rock band’s original members John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten (lead vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums), the song caused controversy in England over its lyrics some viewed as advocating violence against the government. The tune was also included on the band’s only studio album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – and part of the reason it almost took one year for that record to appear in October 1977. The controversy didn’t do much damage to the song. It peaked at no. 38 on the official UK Singles Chart, came in at no. 53 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

This may still be a new year and we’re even in a new decade, but some things don’t change, at least not on this blog. One of them is this recurring rock music history feature. By now, I guess I must have put together more than 30 installments; but as a music nerd, this tells me I have more than 300 other dates left to cover! Let’s start with January 12 and the debut single by a then-teenaged Etta James.

1955: The first single by Etta James, The Wallflower, was released. It was co-written by James, who was only 16 years at the time, together with Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard. While due to the lyrics the song’s original version was considered “too risque” to be played on pop radio, it became a hit on the Billboard R&B Chart, which it topped for four weeks. The same year, the tune was covered as Dance With Me, Henry by Georgia Gibbs for the pop market. James released her own cover version of Dance With Me, Henry in 1958. Here’s the scandalous original tune, for which James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

1968: George Harrison recorded the origins of what became The Inner Light at a studio in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He had traveled there to record the soundtrack for Wonderwall, a psychedelic picture by Joe Massot co-starring 21-year-old Jane Birkin. According to The Beatles Bible, by January 12, Harrison had almost completed the work on the soundtrack and found himself with additional studio time he did not want to go to waste. He decided to record some additional ragas, one of which formed the basis for The Inner Light. The tune was completed at London’s Abbey Road Studios in early February of 1968 and appeared as the B-side to the single Lady Madonna. I think it’s the most beautiful Indian music-influenced tune Harrison wrote. I also love the lines, The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows. This is how I often feel when it comes to exploring music!

1969: Led Zeppelin released their mighty eponymous debut album in the U.S. The recording took place at Olympic Studios in London in September and October that year. Since the band had not secured a contract yet, the album was self-produced by Jimmy Page. He also paid the £1,782 for the 36 hours of studio time it took to complete the sessions. A key reason for the short recording time was a well-rehearsed band that had just performed as the New Yardbirds during a Scandinavian tour. Much of the music was recorded live in-studio. While Led Zeppelin initially received some poor reviews, the album was an instant chart success, peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 6 on the UK Albums Chart where it spent a total of 71 weeks. Here’s the great opener Good Times Bad Times, which is credited to Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham.

1974: The Steve Miller Band abracadabra scored their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with The Joker. Co-written by Eddie Curtis, Ahmet Ertegün and Steve Miller, the tune also was the title track of the band’s 8th studio album that appeared in October 1973. Ertegün is best-known as co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, and I admittedly had no idea he also was involved in writing classic blues and pop songs! The farther one travels…More than 16 years later in September 1990, The Joker again flew like an eagle and rose to the top in the UK, after the tune had been used in a Levi’s TV ad. According to Wikipedia, this makes it the single with the longest gap between transatlantic chart-toppers – wow, it’s amazing what people track!

1993: The eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place in Los Angeles. Honored inductees included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Etta James, Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, Ruth Brown and Cream, who reunited for the event for the first time in 23 years. And what would the spectacle be without some drama? John Fogerty refused to perform with his former CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. But fans still got to hear some CCR music. Fogerty recruited session musicians on drums and bass, and also got some help from Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Here’s Cream’s performance of Sunshine of Your Love from that night. Boy, did Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker sound mighty sweet! While apparently Bruce and Baker were interested in touring at the time, solo projects and I imagine some other issues prevented reunion shows until early May 2005 when Cream performed a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfascts Music History Calendar; 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

 

 

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: May 5

This is the 40th installment of my recurring feature on rock music history. While I generally enjoy doing research for the posts and seeing what comes up for a specific date, sometimes it feels I already must have covered most dates of the year. But this little milestone means I still have more than 300 other potential installments left! 🙂

Without further ado, let’s take a look at May 5:

1956: Elvis Presley for the first time topped the Billboard Hot 100, with Heartbreak Hotel, which also became his first million-selling single. It’s one of my all-time favorite tunes by Elvis who interestingly received a credit for singing it. Nashville steel guitarist  Tommy Durden wrote the lyrics. They were inspired by a newspaper article about a man who ended his life by jumping out of a hotel window, leaving a note behind that said, “I walk a lonely street.” The music was composed by Nashville songwriter Mae Boren Axton. Heartbreak Hotel is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In my opinion, the track is perhaps the coolest Elvis song. It has also been covered by Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and other artists, and is included in Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

1966: Manfred Mann reached the top of the British charts with Pretty Flamingo. Written by American songwriter and record producer Mark Barkan, the song became the band’s second no. 1 in the U.K. after Do Wah Diddy Diddy in 1964. The tune fared less well in the U.S., where it peaked at no. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late August – still not too shabby! The recording of Pretty Flamingo featured Jack Bruce, who briefly became a member of Manfred Mann before co-founding Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in July 1966. Bruce was replaced by another prominent artist: German musician, record producer and graphic artist Klaus Voormann, who remained the band’s bassist until 1969.

1967: The Kinks released Waterloo Sunset, the lead single to their fifth British studio album Something Else by The Kinks, which appeared in September that year. Written by Ray Davies, it reached no. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart, marking the band’s 10th Top 10 single. According to Songfacts, Davies called the tune “a romantic, lyrical song about my older sister’s generation.” Widely considered as one of The Kinks’ most acclaimed tunes, notably, the single did not chart in the U.S. It is ranked at no. 42 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list from 2004.

1969: The Beatles released Get Back in the U.S. Notably, their first single of 1969 was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston, the only time such credit appeared on any release by the band. The U.S. single came out nearly a month after it had appeared in Britain. According to The Beatles Bible, this “may have been due to a last-minute remix ordered by Paul McCartney on 7 April 1969, four days before the official U.K. release date.” The delay didn’t hurt the single’s performance in America where it topped the Billboard Hot 100, just as it did in the U.K. Canada, Australia and many other countries.

1973: David Bowie started a five-week run for Aladdin Sane on the Official Albums Chart in the U.K. Bowie’s sixth studio album, which was the follow-up to breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, became his first of six records to top that chart. With Ziggy Stardust being my favorite Bowie album I may be biased here, but I’m actually somewhat in disbelief that it was outperformed by Aladdin Sane. Well, I suppose Rolling Stone seems to agree with me that Ziggy Stardust is the better record: While both albums are included in their 2003 version of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, Ziggy Stardust is at no. 35, while Aladdin Sane is ranked at no. 277. Without meaning to get too much carried away with chart positions, Bowie’s next two albums following Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups (October 1973) and Diamond Dogs (May 1974), also hit no. 1 in Britain. I can’t imagine there are many other artists with three no. 1 albums in a row. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are among them. One final fun fact: According to This Day In Music, Aladdin Sane is a pun on “A Lad Insane.” That definitely deserves extra points for creativity! Here’s the insane lead single The Jean Genie.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, Songfacts, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Cream/Politician

As frequent visitors of the blog may have noticed, I’ve been a bit on a Cream trip lately. Undoubtedly, most of this can be explained by two great back-to-back tribute shows to the British power rock trio I saw recently.

Cream only lasted for two and a half years and three albums (not counting Goodbye, which was released after they already had disbanded). If anything, I’ve gained new appreciation for their music catalog and “discovered” tunes that weren’t much on my radar screen before. One of these songs I’ve really come to dig is Politician. Yeah, it’s only a simple blues scale, but I just love everything about it – Eric Clapton’s cool guitar riff and solo, Jack Bruce’s vocals and the tight rhythm section he formed with Ginger Baker. I know I’ve said this before and completely unbiased as a former bass player: No rhythm section, no band!

While I usually keep the blog to music and don’t comment on politics, posting the tune at this time feels weirdly relevant. I think it’s okay and even healthy for democracy to have different opinions but just wish certain politicians and other folks would remember that at the end of the day we’re all together in this. When you see the media being called the “enemy of the people” and some nutcase mailing pipe bombs all over the country, you know not all is well. But amid the grim picture, I haven’t lost faith in this country. Democratic nations deserve the leaders they have. There’s an election coming up, and if you don’t like what you see and are eligible to vote, go and do so – frankly, it’s your fucking responsibility!

Okay, with politics being out of the way, let’s get back to a more uplifting subject – music! Politician was co-written by the amazing Jack Bruce and his frequent music collaborator Pete Brown. It first appeared on Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third and last album that came out while they were still together. The above clip is from their 2005 reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Bruce and his former band mates Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton were in fine shape that night – boy, would I have loved to be at that show!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Music of Cream Shines at New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre

Relatives of original members pay tribute to legendary power rock trio

While I’ve seen many tribute bands over the past couple of years, Tuesday night was a first: a tribute act whose members were relatives of the original band’s musicians. Meet Music of Cream: Malcolm Bruce (bass) and Kofi Baker (drums), sons of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; and Will Johns (guitar), nephew of Eric Clapton.

The closest case I can think of is Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who pays tribute to the English rockers with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. But I’ve never seen a tribute act where the entire lineup is blood-related to the members of the original band.

Apart from being true masters of their craft, Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns also have impressive other accomplishments, as their bios on the Music of Cream website show. Malcolm is a composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and engineer. In addition to having recorded and performed with his father, he can be heard on recordings of other artists like Little Richard, Eric Clapton or Elton John. Last year, Malcolm also released his debut solo album Salvation.

Kofi first performed live with his father on the BBC TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test when he was just six years old. In addition to Jack Bruce, he has also played and toured with other rock musicians, such as Uli Jon Roth (former lead guitarist of Scorpions), UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore and Rick Derringer. He also released a solo record, Lost City, and recorded an album with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane called Abstract Logic.

Kofi, Malcolm and Will
Music of Cream (from left): Kofi Baker, Malcolm Bruce and Will Johns

In addition to Jack Bruce, Will has performed with Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. Will’s strong connection to members of The Rolling Stones is likely due to his father Andy Johns, recording engineer and producer, who apart from the Stones has worked with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Will is also the nephew of Glyn Johns who has produced for The Who, Eric Clapton and Eagles. To date, he has released three solo albums: Count On Me, Hooks & Lines and Something Old, Something New.

Yes, it’s safe to assume that all their connections haven’t hurt Malcolm, Kofi and Will, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are highly talented musicians and accomplished artists. Music of Cream’s shows are billed as a 50th anniversary tour, which was launched in Australia and New Zealand last year. Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream appeared in December 1966.

Tuesday night’s show was divided in two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission. Based on what I’ve seen on Setlist.fm, this appears to be the typical format. In addition to great music, I also thought the projection of psychedelic color patterns mixed with historical footage of Cream on the stage background was pretty cool. While the band was taking a break, documentary film footage was shown. During both sets, Kofi, Macolm and Will also shared anecdotes about Ginger, Jack and Eric.

Time for some clips! Here are two from the first set. Politician appeared on Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third album released in August 1968. It was written by Jack Bruce and lyricist and singer Pete Brown who frequently collaborated with Bruce.

Next up: Strange Brew, the opener of Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. The tune is credited to Eric Clapton, the record’s producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins.

Some of the other tunes from the first set included N.S.U., Badge and Sleepy Time Time.

The second set kicked off with I’m So Glad, followed by Crossroads. Following is a clip of the latter, a Robert Johnson tune arranged by Eric Clapton.

White Room was another tune Music of Cream performed during the second half of show. Co-written by Bruce and Brown, the song was the opener of the Wheels Of Fire album.

Some other tunes from the second sets included Born Under A Bad Sign, Sitting On Top Of The World, Toad and Sunshine Of Your Love. Here’s a clip of the latter, another track from Disraeli Gears, co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Brown. The band stretched it into an 11-minute-plus jam.

Music of Cream also threw in Spoonful as an encore. Including the intermission, the show lasted a solid three hours. Not only did Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns do a great job to capture the music of Cream, but they were also clearly enjoying themselves.

Upcoming tour dates include Baltimore, Md. (Oct 25), Greensburg, Pa. (Oct 26), Bristol, Tenn. (Oct 28) and Richmond, Va. (Oct 30). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Music of Cream website, Setlist.fm, 

 

Guitar Gods Re-Experienced

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

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 surely 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. To 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. Their usual lineup includes Billy Thoden as Eric ClaptonDion Paci as Jack Bruce; and Steve Iannetonnt as Ginger Baker. Last night JT Curtis and John Hummel filled in for Thoden and Iannetonnt, respectively.

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.

Note: This post was updated on March 23, 2019, after Heavy Cream manager Mike Gotch kindly got back to me to answer a couple of questions I had about the band’s lineup for the above gig.

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