The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six! Once again it’s time to embark on some music time travel. As usual, I got six tunes lined up. Let’s go!

Benny Golson/Terminal 1

Today, our trip starts in 2004 with some great jazz by American bebop/hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. Before launching his solo career in the late 1950s, Golson had gained prominence in the big bands s of Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie, more as a writer than a performer. Apart from releasing multiple albums as a leader, he co-founded and The Jazztet in 1959 together with trumpeter Art Farmer, which the two musicians co-led until the 1990s. Golson also was a sought-after arranger for film and TV from the late ’60s through the ’70s, a period during which he was less active as a performer. Terminal 1, composed by Golson, is the title track of an album he released in June 2004. Golson, who in January turned 93, was backed by Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums).

The Crusaders/Street Life

Staying in the jazz lane but going more pop and funk, our next stop is 1979 and a groovy tune by The Crusaders, featuring great vocalist Randy Crawford. The Crusaders were formed as The Jazz Crusaders in 1960. Their debut album Freedom Sound appeared in 1961. After close to 20 additional records, the group became The Crusaders in 1971 and performed under that shortened name until 2010. Street Life is the title track of the band’s most successful album on the U.S. pop charts, which was released in December 1979. The tune was co-written by Jazz Crusaders co-founder Joe Sample and songwriter Will Jennings. The latter is best known for penning Titanic soundtrack tune My Heart Will Go On performed by Celine Dion, and co-writing Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. Street Life also appeared separately as a single and became a U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (no. 36). The single did even better in Europe where it hit the top 10 in the UK (no. 5), Norway (no. 6) and Sweden (no. 8). Here’s the album version in all of it’s 11-minute mighty – my type of music!

Spencer Davis Group/I’m a Man

Time for some ’60s rock and one of my favorite British bands from that decade: Spencer Davis Group. They were formed in Birmingham, England in 1963 by Spencer Davis (guitar), Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar), his 5-year-older brother Muff Winwood (bass guitar) and Pete York (drums). At the time Steve joined, he was 14 and still in school! I’m a Man was released as a non-album single in January 1967. Written by Steve Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller, the tune became Spencer Davis Group’s last top 10 hit in the UK and U.S. (no. 9 and no. 10, respectively). Three months later, Steve Winwood left the band to form Traffic with Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. Spencer Davis Group disbanded in July 1969 and had various reunions thereafter with Davis but sans Steve Winwood. Davis passed away in October 2020 at age 81 while being treated for pneumonia. There’s also an incredible cover of I’m a Man by Chicago, then known as Chicago Transit Authority, which they recorded for their eponymous debut album released in April 1969.

Blue Rodeo/Fallen From Grace

On to the ’90s and a tune by a Canadian band I’ve come to dig: Blue Rodeo. The country rock group was formed in 1984 in Toronto by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, along with Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, Blue Rodeo released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. The band’s fifth studio project 5 Days in July, which appeared in October 1993 in Canada and September 1994 in the U.S, remains their best-selling album in Canada. It’s also my favorite I’ve explored to date, and I’ve featured various of its tunes. Fallen From Grace, co-written by Cuddy and Keelor, is a song off Tremolo, the group’s seventh studio album released in July 1997. It holds the distinction of being Blue Rodeo’s only no. 1 album in Canada.

The Subdudes/Need Somebody

The Subdudes are a cool band from New Orleans, blending folk, swamp pop, 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 June 1989, The Subdudes have released nine additional studio and two live albums. Need Somebody, co-written by Magnie, Malone and the band’s former bassist Johnny Ray Allen, is from their first album. I love this band’s warm sound and want to check them out further.

Jane Lee Hooker/Lucky

Before wrapping up yet another Sunday Six, I got one more tune for you by one of the hottest contemporary bands I know: Jane Lee Hooker. If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog, their cool name may sound familiar. Or perhaps you’ve read about the group on fellow blogger Robert Horvat’s Rearview Mirror, who recently included them in a 2022 best new albums post. Founded in 2013, the band from New York currently features four co-founding ladies – Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass) and Tracy Hightop (guitar) – and one gent: ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums). In April this year, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’, which offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. Here’s Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker credited to the entire band, for which they recently released an official video.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am The Moon Dubbed Their Most Ambitious Studio Project to Date

Part I: I. Crescent & II. Ascension

Since I came across I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, which Tedeschi Trucks Band released on CD and digitally on Friday, I’ve been listening to their latest album and quickly come to dig it. It’s the second in a series of four I Am The Moon albums the band calls “the most ambitious studio project of their storied career” on their website. While I’m still new to the group’s music though not their name, I’ve no doubt that claim is true.

A series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs, all of which were inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem certainly sounds like an extraordinary effort. Intriguingly, that same poem also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. There’s a lot to unpack here, so please bear with me. 🙂

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I’m The Moon includes four albums: I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, who were founded in 2010 and are led by married couple Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar). After touring together in 2007 as the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to create a mighty 11-piece band. In 2015, they added another member and have since been a 12-piece – what an army of musicians!

Trucks, an incredible slide guitarist, started playing guitar at the age of nine and two years later performed his first paid gig. He was a former member of The Allman Brothers Band from 1999 until they disbanded in 2014. Derek is the nephew of the late Butch Trucks, a founder of the Allmans and their drummer. Tedeschi is no slouch either. She has played in bands since the age of 13, formed her first all-original group at 18, and in 1995 released the first of seven studio albums under her name. Tedeschi met Trucks in 1999 when her band opened for the Allmans. They hit it off, both personally and professionally.

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Led by Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar), the group also includes original members Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals) and Kebbi Williams (saxophone). Isaac Eady (drums & percussion), Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Brandon Boone (bass) and Gabe Dixon (keyboards & vocals) complete the current 12-piece lineup

Back to I Am The Moon. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest project was inspired by Layla and Majnun, a poem written by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The romantic narrative poem has been called the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by English poet Lord Byron, who according to Wikipedia is considered one of the greatest English poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement. I’m not a poetry expert, but I’m taking that statement at face value.

An album essay written by renowned American music journalist David Fricke notes I’m The Moon is inspired by classical literature but emotionally driven by the immediate drama, isolation and mourning of the pandemic era. There is the recurring fight for hope too, the reaching across damaged connections – all of that trial and urgency unfolding over a robust tapestry of blues, funk, country, jazz and gospel in collaborative writing, luminous singing and the instant fire of improvisation.

The initial idea to write an album based on the Layla and Majnun poem came from vocalist Mike Mattison in May 2020, two months after the group had been forced to stop touring by the pandemic. Nine months earlier, Tedeschi Trucks Band had performed the entire Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs live at the LOCKN’ Festival, which was released in July 2021 as Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’). Apparently, that created the initial spark.

“We get so carried away with the music – everyone knows it so well,” Mattison said, according to Fricke’s album essay. “That album is one point of view, Layla as this love object: ‘I want you, I can’t have you.'” But after Mattison read the original work, “I realized there are many things going on from different perspectives” and proposed “revisiting this source material as a band, as writers.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: Mike Mattison of Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at The Greek Theatre on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Golden/WireImage)

This review includes I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, as well as the first album, I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, which appeared on June 3. The corresponding films premiered on May 31 and June 28, respectively. The two remaining albums, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, are slated for July 29 and August 23, respectively, with their corresponding films scheduled to come out July 26 and August 23. I’m planning to review the two outstanding albums together in late August.

I’d say it’s finally time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the opener of I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, Hear My Dear. The beautiful tune was co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Gabe Dixon, the band’s keyboarder and one of the vocalists. Check out that warm sound – this is really sweet!

Another highlight on the first album of the series is the title track, which Dixon penned by himself. Pulling from Fricke’s album essay: “That was my idea, on the demo,” Dixon says of the space and crescendo at the end where Trucks solos, promising an even longer trip when this song goes into the setlists. “It was just me, playing some piano fills and singing over those chords. But of course, I thought, ‘This is going to be a solo section that can go however long we feel.'”

Let’s do one more from the first album: Circles ‘Round The Sun, co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Tyler Greenwell, one of the group’s two drummers. There’s a great soul vibe in that tune. With the gospel-like backing vocals, it also feels “churchy.” Check it out!

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

And, in case you’re curious, here’s the accompanying film. Like the other three films, it was directed by American documentary filmmaker and television writer Alix Lambert.

On to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, the current album in the series, which finally prompted me to take a closer look at Tedeschi Trucks Band. Since I just highlighted it in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping the excellent Playing With My Emotions and go right to the second track. Ain’t That Something is credited to Trucks, Dixon, Mattison and Tedeschi. It’s another soulful gem. I could see Bonnie Raitt play that tune. For some reason, I had always thought of Tedeschi Trucks Band as a “straight blues rock band.” Sure, there’s some of that here, but they also blend in soul and gospel. It’s one tasty stew!

Blues rock-oriented So Long Savior is closer to what I pictured Tedeschi Trucks Band to sound like. Written together by Trucks, Mattison and Tedeschi, the song shuffles along nicely and has some cool slide guitar action.

The last track I’d like to highlight from the second album is the closer. Hold That Line, a slower beautiful tune, was written together by Trucks, Dixon, Tedeschi and Greenwell. It’s neat the group has all these different writers!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension:

The companion film for the album is here.

Some remaining thoughts: Why four albums, you may wonder when the 24 songs could have fit on two or three CDs. According to Fricke’s album essay, the group looked at records they love such as Axis: Bold as Love, the 1967 album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “It’s 36 minutes long,” Trucks said. “That’s the way to digest a record.” That’s probably true for my and older generations. When it comes to most young folks, I’m afraid they no longer listen to albums and instead create their own playlists. Then again, teens and twenty-something-year-olds probably aren’t the group’s target audience in the first place.

As I noted at the beginning of the post, which at this point you can probably barely remember, I’m still new to Teschedi Trucks Band. As such, it’s a bit tricky to put I Am The Moon in the broader context of the band’s catalog to date. But having been a music fan for more than 45 years, I’m confident enough to say when I see greatness. To me, this album series has the ingredients of a career-defining Mount Rushmore-type release. I’d be curious to hear from readers who are more familiar with the group whether they agree with my assessment.

I Am The Moon certainly makes me want to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band who have been on the road since June 24. The Wheels of Soul 2022 tour is coming next to Westville Music Bowl, New Haven, Conn. (July 6) before moving on to Philly’s great The Mann Center for the Performing Arts (July 8) and Midway Lawn, Essex Junction, Vt. (July 9). Their U.S. tour concludes with a series of gigs at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in late September and early October before launching a European leg. The full schedule is here.

Last but not least, to all my readers in the United States, if you celebrate it, have a Happy Fourth of July. Most of all stay safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

A Debut Album I Love

A “Turntable Table Talk” contribution

Fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day is currently hosting Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature where he invites some fellow music fans and writers to weigh in on music subjects. After participating in previous installments about the pros and cons of live albums and the impact of MTV, I was glad Dave invited me back to share my thoughts about a great music debut.

In his own words: I’m calling it “Out of the Blue.”Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise. Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found, but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue.  So no Beatles, unless of course you were around in 1963 and had the luck to suddenly hear ‘she Loves You’ or ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and went ‘Wow, who are these mop-topped lads I’ve never heard the likes of?”…in which case, then that would be a great story! 

Well, I wish I would have been around to see The Beatles! Without further ado, following is my contribution:

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 seconds to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

Southern Avenue (from left): Evan Sarver, Tikyra Jackson; Tiernii Jackson, Ori Naftaly and Jeremy Powell

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became the first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune Old Time Rock and Roll.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! After another busy week on other fronts, I’m ready to time-travel to explore different flavors of the music world. Hope you’ll join me!

The Horace Silver Quartet/Serenade to a Soul Sister

Today’s journey starts in June 1968. This month saw some notable new music releases by artists like Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now), Iron Butterfly (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) and Pink Floyd (A Saucerful of Secrets). And Serenade to a Soul Sister, a studio album by The Horace Silver Quartet. The group was formed in 1956 by jazz pianist Horace Silver after he had left The Jazz Messengers which had co-founded with drummer Art Blakey in the early 1950s. The Horace Silver Quartet became Silver’s long-term combo he led into the ’80s. He continued to release albums until 1998. In 2007 and passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85. Here’s the groovy title track of the aforementioned record, composed by Silver. He was backed by Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Mickey Roker (drums).

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs/Maggie Mae

Ever since I first listened to power pop artist Matthew Sweet’s collaborations with Susanna Hoffs, who is best-known as a co-founder of The Bangles, I was hooked by how well their vocals blend in their covers of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s songs. Here’s their version of Rod Stewart classic Maggie Mae, which Stewart co-wrote with Martin Quittenton and recorded for his studio album Every Picture Tells a Story. Sweet and Hoffs included the tune on Under the Covers, Vol. 2, their second of three collaborative efforts that appeared in July 2009. The album featured covers of ’70s songs. From a vocal perspective, admittedly, there are perhaps more compelling examples of the Sweet/Hoffs harmony singing, but I just love that Rod Stewart tune!

Leon Russell/A Song For You

Our next stop takes us to March 1970 and the solo debut album by Leon Russell. Over a 60-year career that started as a 14-year-old in 1956, Russell proved to be a versatile artist spanning multiple genres, including rock & roll, country, gospel, bluegrass, R&B, southern rock, blues rock, folk, surf and Tulsa Sound. A Song For You from his eponymous solo debut album that came out in March 1970 is one of his best-known compositions. It’s probably not a coincidence the soulful ballad is Russell’s most popular song on Spotify. In addition to singing and playing the piano, he also provided the tune’s tenor horn part. The album featured multiple notable guests, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and most members of The Rolling Stones.

Sting/The Soul Cages

Ever since my wife and I recently considered seeing Sting who is currently on the road, the ex-Police frontman has been on my mind. I was going to pick a track off Ten Summoner’s Tales, my favorite solo album by the British artist but then decided to select the title track from predecessor The Soul Cages. Sting’s third full-length solo effort from January 1991 was a concept album focused on the death of his father. It helped him overcome a prolonged period of writer’s block he had developed after his dad’s passing in 1987. I always dug the rock vibe of the title track, which also yielded Sting his first Grammy award in 1992, for Best Rock Song.

Bruce Hornsby and The Range/Mandolin Rain

During a recent interview, Bonnie Raitt revealed that Bruce Hornsby is her favorite artist, citing his versatility if I recall it correctly. I guess this planted a bug in my brain to feature a track from the album that brought Hornsby on my radar screen in April 1986: The Way It Is, the first with The Range, his backing band during his early recording career. And what a debut it was it was for the singer-songwriter and pianist who had been active since 1974. Led by the huge success of the title track, The Way It Is achieved multi-Platinum status and helped the band the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1987. I pretty much love every tune on that album. Here’s the beautiful Mandolin Rain, co-written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother John Hornsby.

Quaker City Night Hawks/Suit in the Back

And once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our little music excursion. In the past, I’ve repeatedly recognized examples of great music suggestions Apple Music had served up. This time the credit needs to go to Spotify. That streaming platform has what I find is an interesting feature where once you’ve listened to all songs in a playlist you created they continue playing music, selecting tunes they feel fit with your playlist. And that’s exactly how I came across this tune, Suit in the Back, by Quaker City Night Hawks. I had never heard of the Texas band combing southern rock, country and blues, who released their debut ¡Torquila Torquila! in May 2011. Suit in the Back, written by the band’s vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Sam Anderson, is from their most recent album QCNH released in March 2019. Quaker City Night Hawks, who also include David Matsler (vocals, guitar) and Aaron Haynes (drums), certainly look like a band worthwhile to further out.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tune. Hope you enjoyed this Sunday’s mini-trip.

Sources: Wikipedia; Quaker City Night Hawks website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Impressions

All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door/I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…In case these words sound familiar, they are the opening lines of Leaving On a Jet Plane. While I’ve always loved this 1966 song by John Denver, it’s not my desert island pick for this week, but the lyrics fit well thematically.

Doing this feature alphabetically based on my song library, I’m up to the letter “I”. It turned out there weren’t too many choices: The Isley Brothers; two German acts, Ina Deter Band and Ich + Ich and, nope it’s not an illusion, Imagination. And, of course, the music act I picked: The Impressions. When it comes to this great doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group one song has always stood out to me in particular: People Get Ready.

Written by Curtis Mayfield, one of my all-time favorite artists, People Get Ready is the title track of The Impressions’ fourth studio album released in February 1965, the group’s first and only record to top Billboard’s R&B Chart. It also became their biggest success on the mainstream Billboard 200, climbing to no. 23. The beautiful tune also appeared as a single, reaching no. 3 and no. 14 on the U.S. R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The gospel-influenced, which reflected a growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing, rightfully has received much recognition. Rolling Stone named it the 24th greatest song of all time in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The magazine also ranked it at no. 20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Mojo named it as one of Top 10 Best Songs of All Time. Additionally, People Get Ready is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the tune has been covered by a broad range of other artists. Some include Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake and Jeff Beck who teamed up with Rod Stewart. Following is a Spotify playlist featuring some of the song’s renditions.

Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The song embodies a deep sense of spirituality and community, but with enough popular appeal to make it a hit. Mayfield based the song’s lyric on various sermons he heard in church. He wrote the music first, and the gospel feel dictated the words.

This song resonated with African Americans during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. The song speaks for the downtrodden, and Mayfield made it clear that transcended race. “It doesn’t matter what color or faith you have,” he told Goldmine in 1997. “I’m pleased the lyrics can be of value to anybody.”…

After Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 (a light rig fell on him, crushing three vertebrae), royalties from this song – especially the Rod Stewart version – helped keep him financially sound, which he credited for helping him fend off depression and remain active as a songwriter and singer despite his condition. Mayfield released the acclaimed album New World Order two years before his death in 1999...

…Train imagery was popular in traditional spirituals, with songs like “The Gospel Train,” “I Got My Ticket,” and “I’m Gwine Home on de Mornin’ Train” looking forward to a joyous passage to the afterlife aboard the heavenly locomotive. In the decades leading up to the US Civil War, “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe routes and shelters that helped slaves escape to free states, used these songs as codes to alert slaves throughout their journey.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday calls for another Best of What’s New. This latest installment of my weekly music revue is coming together at the last minute, and it’s got six instead of the usual four picks, so let’s get to it right away. Unless noted otherwise, all featured tunes were released yesterday (March 18).

The Dream Syndicate/Where I’ll Stand

Starting us off today are The Dream Syndicate, an alternative rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 1981. Their Apple Music profile calls them one of the most celebrated bands to come out of the Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” scene of the ’80s, adding, A hit on the college rock circuit, they never made it through to the mainstream. Until the group’s break-up in 1989, they released four studio albums. Since the band’s reunion in 2012, four additional albums have appeared, the first of which only came out in 2017. The Dream Syndicate’s current line-up includes original member Steve Wynn (lead vocals, guitar), along with Jason Victor (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Walton (bass) and Dennis Duck (drums). Where I’ll Stand, released on March 8 and written by Wynn, is the lead single of the band’s upcoming studio album Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions, scheduled for June 10.

Midlake/Bethel Woods

Midlake are a folk rock group from Denton, Texas, who have been around since 1999. According to their Apple Music profile, the band was formed by a group of musicians who had attended the North Texas School of Music. They were signed to Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label in the U.K., leading to European concerts and their first full-length album, 2004’s Bamnan and Slivercork. For their next LP, Midlake changed gears and moved away from the psychedelic leanings of their debut toward a more ’70s-influenced sound. Released in 2006, The Trials of Van Occupanther was a critical success, resulting in bigger sales and an enhanced reputation for subsequent recordings like 2010’s The Courage of Others. A key lineup change followed in 2012 when frontman Tim Smith departed and long-time guitarist Eric Pulido stepped into his place on lead vocals. 2013’s Antiphon was their first record without Smith. Fast-forward to Midlake’s new album For the Sake of Bethel Woods, which appeared after an extended hiatus and is their first since the aforementioned Antiphon. Here’s Bethel Woods, credited to all of the band’s current members who in addition to Pulido include Jesse Chandler, Joey McClellan, McKenzie Smith and Eric Nichelson.

Oso Oso/Father Tracy

Oso Oso are a rock band from Long Beach, N.Y. around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jade Lilitri (Jonathan Dimitri), the group’s only permanent member. Here’s more from Apple Music: Originally Oso Oso was solely the work of Lilitri, who wrote and released an EP, 2014’s Osoosooso, and an album, 2015’s Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Look Like Monsters…, through Soft Speak Records. Wanting to embark on more ambitious tours, Lilitri enlisted a full band to join him, including the addition of Aaron Wims on drums. Subsequently, the band took part in the recording of The Yunahon Mixtape in 2017 and sophomore full-length album Basking in the Glow in 2019, the latter of which saw release through Triple Crown Records. This brings me to Sore Thumb, Oso Oso’s fourth and latest album. Here’s Father Tracy, which like all other tunes was written or co-written by Dimitri.

Hailey Whitters/Raised

Hailey Whitters is a country artist who originally hails from Shueyville, Iowa. Here’s more from her website: On her 2020 breakthrough album The Dream, the singer-songwriter wrote about escaping her hometown of Shueyville, Iowa, to pursue stardom in Nashville. It was a fantasy record at first, full of far-off plans, hopes, and dreams. But it soon became Hailey’s reality — she signed a label deal with Big Loud/Songs & Daughters, went on tour with Luke Combs and Midland, and made her first of many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry...In the midst of that whirlwind, Hailey found herself reconnecting with her Midwestern roots. Shueyville was always in the back of her mind and the memories she made there — getting her first kiss; partying in the cornfields; gathering for Sunday supper — started to shape her writing. Over the past two years, she channeled those memories into her new album, Raised. Following is the title track.

Mavis Staples & Levon Helm/You Got to Move

I trust R&B and gospel vocalist Mavis Staples, who initially became known in the 1950s as a member of gospel, soul and R&B family group The Staple Singers, doesn’t need much of an introduction. Fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk featured her the other day as part of her ongoing Women Music March 2022 series. As reported by Pitchfork, on March 15, Staples announced a forthcoming live album that was recorded in 2011 with Levon Helm, former drummer and vocalist of The Band. Captured at Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Carry Me Home is among the final recordings by Helm who passed away from throat cancer in April 2012 at the age of 71. The announcement of the album, which is slated for May 20, coincided with the release of a great single, You Got to Move. Staples, now 82, remains active and has a busy touring schedule ahead of her throughout the entire year. What an amazing lady! And check out that great clip with Helm.

Neil Young & The Restless/Cocaine Eyes

I leave you with another goodie by “an old hand.” Neil Young has announced a new box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Continuing the chronological re-releasing of his official releases, remastered where analog tapes exist, the decade-spanning box set includes Hawks & Doves (1980), Re•ac•tor (1981), This Note’s for You (1988) and the Eldorado EP (1989),  a 5 track mini-album, previously only released on CD in Australia and Japan. The EP features two tracks not available on any other album and different versions of three songs that appeared on the Freedom album. Here’s one of the two tracks, Cocaine Eyes, a classic blistering grungy Neil Young rocker.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above tunes and a few others sans Neil Young who recently pulled his music from the platform.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Hailey Whitters website; Pitchfork, Mavis Staples website; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. I always look forward to writing these weekly posts. It feels very liberating to explore the music of the past 60 years or so with no set theme or rules other than I have to like it and keep my picks to six tracks at a time. That being said, frequent readers may have noticed that I’ve kind of settled into a groove on how I tend to structure these posts.

Usually, they kick off on a softer note, given I’m publishing these installments on Sunday mornings, at least in my neck of the woods. I feel these intros present a nice opportunity to feature some jazz and other instrumental music. From there, the posts are pretty much all over the place, jumping back and forth between different decades and featuring different genres. With my methodology behind the madness now having been officially revealed in case you hadn’t already noticed, let’s get to this week’s picks!

Federico Albanese/The Stars We Follow

I’d like to begin today’s journey with beautiful instrumental music by Federico Albanese, an Italian composer, pianist and music producer. He emerged in Spotify after I had looked up the latest composition by English contemporary pianist Neil Cowley I featured in two previous Sunday Six installments, most recently here. From Albanese’s website: Albanese’s compositions are airy and cinematic, blending classical music, pop and psychedelia...When Federico Albanese was just two years old, a local music store owner told his mother that her son had a gift for music...After an early childhood playing piano, the next stop on Albanese’s musical journey was jazz. Inspired by a Woody Allen film, his father gave the young teenager a clarinet, and booked him lessons...Next came the bass guitar, because he wanted to play in a punk rock band. In addition to playing in several rock bands, he and his friends were listening to new age music of the late 90s, from Brian Eno to William BasinskiAll of these musical interests have combined to influence his genre-fusing piano soundscapes, which also incorporate guitar, bass, violin and electronica. This brings me to The Stars We Follow, which is part of a soundtrack released in May 2019 Albanese wrote for a motion picture titled The Twelve. I find this music very relaxing and a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy/Dark End of the Street

Next, let’s turn to Eva Cassidy, a versatile American vocalist who was known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country and pop songs. Sadly, Cassidy’s life was cut short at age 33 when she passed away from melanoma. What a loss and at such a young age – truly heartbreaking! Cassidy gained most of her popularity after her death, especially overseas where three of her postmortem releases – a studio album, a live record and a compilation – topped the Offical Albums Chart in the UK and also reached the top 20 in various other European countries. Cassidy’s cover of Dark End of the Street appeared on The Other Side from January 1992, the only album released during her lifetime. She recorded it together with American guitarist, bandleader and vocalist Chuck Brown who was known as The Godfather of Go-Go. Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman in 1967, Dark End of the Street was first recorded by R&B and soul singer James Carr that same year. Check out Cassidy’s beautiful rendition – I find it incredible!

The Box Tops/The Letter

After two mellow tracks, it’s time to speed things up. Here’s a great tune that became the first and biggest hit for American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops: The Letter, which first appeared as a single in May 1967. The tune, written by Wayne Carson, was also included on the group’s first album The Letter/Neon Rainbow. It was quickly put together and released in November of the same year after The Letter had reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Letter featured 16-year-old Alex Chilton on lead vocals, who after The Box Tops had disbanded in February 1970 became a co-founder of power pop group Big Star. The original line-up of The Box Tops also included Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). I’ve always loved The Letter, an excellent rendition of which was also recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970.

The Hooters/All You Zombies

While I was thinking about the ’80s the other day and a tune I could feature in a Sunday Six installment, suddenly, I recalled American rock band The Hooters. They became quite popular in Germany in the mid-’80s. The first song that brought them onto my radar screen was All You Zombies. I vaguely seem to recall rocking out on the dance floor to this great tune during high school parties and festivities as a young college student. The song was co-written by the band’s founding members Eric Brazilian (lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, saxophone) and Rob Hyman (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion, melodica) who remain with the still-active group to this day. An initial version of All You Zombies first appeared on The Hooters’ debut album Amore and as a single, both released in 1983, and went unnoticed. I can see why it was the re-recorded and extended version from 1985, which became a hit. That take appeared on the band’s sophomore album Nervous Night from May 1985 and also separately as a single. The tune was most successful in Australia where it climbed to no. 8. It also charted in the top 20 in New Zealand and Germany (no. 16 and no. 17, respectively). In the U.S., it peaked at no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Billy Joel/New York State of Mind

The other day, Graham who pens the great Aphoristic Album Reviews blog did a post titled “10 Worst Billy Joel Lyrics”. Just in case any Billy Joel fans are reading this, Graham digs the piano man, just not necessarily all of his lyrics, and I think he explains it very well. Joel also happens to be one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve yet to dedicate a post to him – I guess a new idea was just born. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the artist from Long Island, N.Y. is that while he hasn’t released a new pop album since his 12th studio record River of Dreams from August 1993, he remains as popular as ever. Joel is selling out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a venue that can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts. One of my favorite songs by the piano man, especially musically, is New York State of Mind. The track appeared on Joel’s fourth studio album Turnstiles from May 1976. Surprisingly, this gem wasn’t released as a single at the time. Eventually, it appeared as a single in 2001, off a Tony Bennett album titled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. You can check out Joel’s and Bennett’s jazzy bar tune-like take here – beautiful!

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

And once again, it’s time to wrap up, so let’s make it count. Are you ready to groovin’? Ready to movin’? Ready to rockin’? Ready to rollin’? Get shakin’ with one of the best tunes by The Killer. I give you Jerry Lee Lewis, who at age 86 is the last man standing of the classic rock & roll era, and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On! Written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, the original jazzy version of the tune appeared as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by American R&B singer Big Maybelle in 1955. While it’s pretty groovy, Jerry Lee Lewis took the tune to a new level when he released his high-charged rendition as a non-album single in April 1957. Lewis’ propulsive boogie piano was backed by Sun Records session drummer J. M. Van Eaton and rockabilly guitarist Roland E. Janes, literally turning the tune into a killer rendition. “I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” a confident Lewis later proclaimed. “Sam Phillips [Sun Records founder – CMM] thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risqué, well, I’m sorry.” Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On became one of Lewis’ highest-charting hits, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, and topping both Billboard’s country and R&B charts. In the UK, the tune reached no. 8. Since it’s so much fun, I give you both the studio version and an incredible extended live take from 1964- and, yes, feel free to shake along!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist including the above picks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Federico Albanese website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, and the show must go on with a new explorative trip to celebrate great music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. This installment of The Sunday Six strikes out broadly, touching the ’40s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2017. Let’s do it!

Ry Cooder/I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine

I’d like to start today’s journey with some beautiful instrumental music by Ry Cooder. I believe the first time I heard of him was in connection with the great 1984 Wim Wenders motion picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score. This is some of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I’ve heard to date – if you don’t know the movie’s score, check it out! In addition to 17 film scores, the versatile Cooder has released the same amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Not surprisingly, Cooder has also collaborated with the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, David Lindley and numerous other artists. This brings me to Bop Till You Drop, Cooder’s eighth solo album from July 1979, which I received as a gift in the late ’80s from my longtime German music buddy and former bandmate. Here’s Cooder’s great instrumental rendition of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. Written by Rose Marie McCoy and Joe Seneca, the tune first appeared as a single by Ike & Tina Turner in June 1961.

The Animals/It’s My Life

After a gentle start, I’d like to step on the gas a bit with one of my favorite ’60s blues rock and R&B bands: The Animals. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered the British group’s music on various previous occasions, which among others include this Sunday Six installment and this post dedicated to their original lead vocalist Eric Burdon, one of the best British blues vocalists I can think of! It’s My Life first came out as a single in October 1965. Notably, it was penned by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. This was not the only time Brill Building songwriters wrote a tune for the group. In May 1966, The Animals released another single, Don’t Bring Me Down, co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It’s My Life was also included on the band’s first compilation The Best of The Animals, which appeared in the U.S. only in February 1966. I’ve always loved this great psychedelic-flavored tune.

Steve Winwood/Roll With It

When it comes to Steve Winwood, I generally prefer his early years with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith over his oftentimes more pop-oriented solo period. Perhaps the biggest exception is Windwood’s fifth solo album Roll With It from June 1988. While undoubtedly influenced by ’80s pop, this record is also quite soulful. It became his most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. and reaching no. 4 in the UK, with more than three million copies having been sold. Here’s the excellent opener and title track, a co-write by Winwood and Will Jennings. Subsequently, Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland received a co-credit due to the tune’s similarities publishing rights organization BMI saw to (I’m a) Roadrunner, which had been a hit in 1966 for Junior Walker & the Allstars.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe/Strange Things Happening Every Day

Next let’s turn to a trailblazer and true rock & roll pioneer, the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. While John Lennon famously said, “If you were to try to give rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” one of the genre’s early pioneers we must not forget was Tharpe. The prominent gospel singer started playing the guitar as a four-year-old and began her recording career at age 23 in 1938. She was one of the first popular recording artists using electric guitar distortion. Her technique had a major influence on British guitarists like Eric ClaptonJeff Beck and Keith Richards. She also influenced many artists in the U.S., including Elvis PresleyLittle Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Tharpe has been called “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock & roll.” Unfortunately, her health declined prematurely and she passed away from a stroke in 1973 at the untimely age of 58. In May 2018, Tharpe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence. Here’s Strange Things Happening Everyday, originally a traditional African American spiritual that became a hit for Tharpe in 1945. This recording is historic, as it’s considered to be one of the very first rock & roll songs. Tharpe’s remarkable guitar-playing, including her solos, distorted sound and bending of strings, is more pronounced on later tunes, but you can already hear some of it here. Check out this clip and tell me this amazing lady didn’t rock!

Prince/Cream

For this next pick, I’m jumping 46 years forward to 1991. Prince is an artist I’ve always respected for his remarkable versatility and amazing guitar skills, though I can’t say I’m an all-out fan. But I really like some of his songs. I must also add I’ve not explored his catalog in greater detail. It was largely my aforementioned German music buddy who introduced me to Prince. I recall listening together to his ninth studio Sign o’ the Times from March 1987. Cream, off Diamonds and Pearls that appeared in October 1991, is a tune I well remember hearing on the radio back in Germany. Based on Wikipedia’s singles chart, it looks like the song was Prince’s first big hit in the ’90s. Among others, it topped the U.S. charts, climbed to no. 2 in Canada and Australia, and reached the top 5 in France, Switzerland and Sweden. Here’s the official video. The actual tune starts at about 2:05 minutes into the clip. Sadly, we lost Prince way too early in April 2016 at age 57.

Greta Van Fleet/Safari Song

Last but not least, I’d like to turn to Greta Van Fleet, one of the contemporary bands that give me hope classic rock isn’t entirely dead yet. L.A. rockers Dirty Honey are another great example in this context. Greta Van Fleet were formed in Frankenmuth, Mich. in 2012 by brothers Josh Kiszka (lead vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitars, backing vocals) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Other than Hauck who was replaced by Danny Wagner in 2013, the band’s line-up hasn’t changed. The group has been criticized by some as a Led Zeppelin knock-off, and the tune I’m featuring here probably is part of the reason. Selfishly, I don’t care since in my book, Zep are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would also add Greta Van Fleet’s sound has evolved since their early days. To me, their most recent album The Battle at Garden’s Gate from April 2021 bears very little if any resemblance to Zep. Here’s Safari Song, Greta’s second single released in October 2017. Credited to all members of the band, it was also included on their debut EP Black Smoke Rising that had come out in April of the same year. This just rocks and I could care less about the critics!

Here’s a playlist featuring all of the above tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

My proposition for today is a gospel classic: Oh Happy Day. Not only do I generally love the harmony singing of a gospel choir, but how can you not listen to this upbeat tune and think, ‘yes, I can do this!’

Originally, Oh Happy Day was a hymn written in 1755 by Philip Doddridge, an English clergyman. In 1967, American gospel musician and choirmaster Edwin Hawkins arranged Doddridge’s hymn as a gospel tune and recorded it with his choir, The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Released as a single in 1968, Oh Happy Day became an international hit the following year. It topped the charts in France, Germany and Switzerland, reached no. 2 in the UK, and climbed to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The tune also appeared on The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1968 debut album Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.

Hawkins’ excellent arrangement became a gospel standard and, according to Wikipedia, has been recorded by hundreds of artists. It won a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970.

George Harrison has cited Oh Happy Day as a primary inspiration for My Sweet Lord, not that other song that gave him, well, a less than happy day. The tune has also appeared in many movies, perhaps most notably in the 1993 picture Sister Act II starring Whoopi Goldberg – gotta love Whoopi! You can check out the scene here.

Happy Hump Day, and speaking of George, always remember his wise words: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube