My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part IV

Some of the great artists who passed away

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In the last installment of this year-in-review feature, I’d like to honor some of the great artists we lost in 2017. With most of my rock & roll heroes having gotten into music during the ’60s and ’70s, decades that ween’t exactly known for a healthy lifestyle, perhaps not surprisingly it has been another rough year for artists from the older generation.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. There was simply no known guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” In addition to popularizing a signature guitar sound The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Yardbirds and many other artists embraced in the ’60s, Berry was an incredible showman. To me his “duckwalk” was an equivalent to Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk.”

And then there are of course all the iconic tunes Berry wrote. They read like a greatest hits of classic rock & roll. From Roll Over BeethovenToo Much Monkey Business and  Sweet Little Sixteen to Johnny B. GoodeCarol and Little Queenie – and the list goes on! For additional thoughts on Berry, who passed away in March at the age of 90, you can read this. Here is one of my favorite clips showing Berry perform the iconic Johnny B. Goode with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

J. Geils

J. Geils led what Rolling Stone once called the “world’s greatest party band.” The J. Geils Band emerged in 1968 when Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio Geils had co-founded with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz in 1965, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and later that year keyboarder Seth Justman. Initially, they called the new band The J. Geils Blues Band. Prior to the release of their eponymous 1970 debut album, they dropped “Blues” from their name.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album. Read here for more about J. Geils, who died in April at the age of 71. Below is a clip of Hard Drivin’ Man from the band’s excellent 1972 album Live Full House.

Gregg Allman

Even though I had known Gregg Allman was not in good health, his death in May at age 69 still hit me. From today’s perspective, it’s hard to believe that he and The Allman Brothers Band were late discoveries in my rock & roll journey. I thought a Rolling Stone obituary hit the nail on the head: “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.”

Allman’s voice and emotional power are also omnipresent on his final studio album Southern Blood, which was released postmortem in September and is among my favorite new records this year. More thoughts on his death and the album are here and here. Following is one of my favorite clips of Allman performing Just Another Rider with his great band from his excellent 2011 album Low Country Blues.

Walter Becker

Walter Becker was best known as Donald Fagen’s longtime partner in Steely Dan, which is hands down one of coolest bands I know. The two met in 1967 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where they both studied at the time. Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and guitarist Danny Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). In November 1972, Steely Dan released their excellent debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill. And the rest is history.

For more thoughts on Becker’s untimely death in September at the age of 67, which I learned only recently was caused by esophageal cancer, read this. Here is a great clip of what is perhaps my most favorite Steely Dan tune: Deacon Blues, from their sixth studio album Aja, which was released in 1977. Not sure when that life performance was captured.

Tom Petty

The sudden death of Tom Petty on October 2 at just 66 years was a true shocker. Barely a week earlier, he had wrapped up a successful 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Petty founded The Heartbreakers in 1976, together with guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench from his previous band Mudcrutch, as well as Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums).

The Heartbreakers released their eponymous debut album in November 1976. Over the next 38 years, the band put out 12 additional studio records, the last of which was 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Petty’s impressive studio catalog also encompasses three solo records, two albums with Mudcrutch and two releases with the Traveling Wilburys, the “super group” that in addition to him included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Ray Orbison. More thoughts on Petty’s death are here. Following is how I prefer to remember him – through his great music. Here’s great clip of Refugee, which has always been one of my favorite Petty tunes.

Other music artists we lost in 2017

Some of the other artists who passed away this year include early rock & roller Fats Domino (89), AC/DC co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (64), country singer and guitarist Glen Campbell (81), Soundgarden co-founder and lead vocalist Chris Cornell (52), Allman Brothers co-founder and drummer Butch Trucks (69), and jazz, R&B and soul singer Al Jarreau (76).

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Today, Gregg Allman Would Have Turned 70 Years Old

As true Allman Brothers Band connoisseur and fan Music Enthusiast posted earlier, today Gregg Allman would have turned 70 years old.

Gregg, one of the finest artists who sadly passed away this May at the age of 69, played the blues hard. He lived and partied just as hard, especially during the anything-goes 70s. While he sobered up following the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, undoubtedly, Gregg’s lifestyle was a factor in his untimely death.

But his music will live on, and there is so much incredible material this artist has recorded. Here is one of my all-time favorite clips showing Gregg and the band he used for his solo recordings and performing Just Another Rider, which appeared on his excellent second-to-last 2011 studio album Low Country Blues. Gregg was very proud of these musicians. When you watch this clip, you’ll understand why:

 

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My First New Music On Vinyl In 30 Years

Today, I got my first new music on vinyl in 30 years. I couldn’t think of a better choice than Southern Blood, the final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, which was released on September 8. I previously reviewed it here. This post is all about capturing the cover art.

Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Cover Back
Gatefold cover backside
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Cover Inside Left
Gatefold inside cover left side
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Inside Cover Right
Gatefold inside cover right side
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Record Sleeve Front
Record sleeve front side

The actual vinyl record is colored in brown and looks it’s coming right out of a muddy swamp – pretty unique!

Gregg Allman Southern Blood Vinyl Record

Excerpt from the liner notes:

Gregg Allman cared deeply about his final album. He had very specific ideas about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. He spent his final night listening to the latest mixes and closed his eyes for the last time knowing that his vision had been realized. Everyone involved in the making of this record hopes that it moves you and brings you great comfort in the years to come.

Viva Gregg!

Don Was (producer)

Final Gregg Allman Studio Album Released

With Southern Blood, Allman’s solo work comes full circle

Today, the and eighth and final studio album from Gregg Allman Southern Blood  appeared. This followed an announcement from Rounder Records about the release in late July, which coincided with the premiere of the record’s first song My Only True Friend on NPR. I previously did a post on this.

My first impression of the album is that Allman’s voice sounds pretty powerful throughout. After all, the liver cancer he had been battling since 2012 was at a terminal stage when he recorded the 10 tracks over nine days in March 2016 – about 10 months prior to his death on May 27 this year. In fact, based on media reports I previously read, Allman could only work for four hours a day.

Gregg Allman & Band at FAME Studios
Gregg Allman (fourth from left) with FAME studio owner Rick Hall (fifth from left), Don Was (sixth from left) and members of his band

While all who were involved in recording the album knew this was Allman’s final output, the record doesn’t portray a dark mood. Instead, it feels like Allman has come full circle with his solo debut from 1973. “Laid Back had that great pedal steel on it and incorporates a little more of Gregg’s roots than maybe what you heard from just the Allman Brothers,” producer Don Was told Billboard. “One of the things Gregg and I did speak about was making the texture of this record something along the lines of what Laid Back would have sounded like if it were recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in 2017.”

Intially, Allman had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his declining health this wasn’t feasible. “So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” his former manager Michael Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.”

Southern Blood kicks off with My Only True Friend, the previously released song and the only track for which Allman has writing credits. He co-wrote the ballad with his guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard. The tune’s origins date back to 2012 when Sharrard saw Duane Allman talk to Gregg in a dream. “I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record,” Sharrard noted in an interview with Guitar World. When showing the beginnings of the song to Allman he liked it, and the two of them started working on it over the next few months. They finished the song just before it was recorded.

Once I Was is a country tune from Tim Buckley, which was included on his second studio album Goodbye and Hello from August 1967. Apparently, Allman was fond of the American singer-songwriter and guitarist. During the above interview with Guitar World, Sharrard said he first heard Allman play the song in March 2014. When he asked him, Allman confirmed he was a fan of Buckley, though he initially wasn’t sure whether he wanted to record the tune. Sharrad liked what he had heard continued to encourage Allman, who eventually agreed to record the song.

I Love the Life I Live is a mid-tempo Willie Dixon blues song. It has a cool guitar riff, great groove and nice horn work. I instantly liked the tune after listening to the opening bars.

Another nice blues rocker on the record is Love Like Kerosene, which was written by Sharrard. Similar to the Dixon tune, it has a great groove and some cool Memphis-style horns – my kind of song! Allman first included the track on his excellent live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA, which was released in August 2015.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Song For Adam, which was written by Jackson Browne and included on his 1972 eponymous debut album. Browne, a good friend of Allman, also sang back-up vocals on the recording. “Jackson and Gregg were such good friends and admirers of each other’s work since they were teenagers, I couldn’t think of a better way for the record to come to a conclusion than with a lyric that Gregg always related to through the tragic loss of his brother at a young age,” Sharrard told Guitar World.

As noted above, Southern Blood was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., which had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” added Was. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, YouTube

Gregg Allman One Last Time

Eighth studio album is southern blues rocker’s final testament

Two months after Gregg Allman’s death from lung cancer at the age of 69, Rounder Records announced his eighth and final studio album Southern Blood will be released on September 8. Recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. last year, the record includes one original song and nine covers of tunes from various artists, including Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon and Jackson Browne.

On his final album Allman collaborated with his long-time manager Michael Lehman and producer Don Was, who mostly recently produced The Rolling Stones’ 2016 blues album Blue & Lonesome and has served as producer for many other artists like Van Morrison, John Mayer, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Seger. According a Rolling Stone story, Allman initially had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his worsening health issues this wasn’t feasible.

Gregg Allman in Studio

“So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.” Added Was: “It was kind of unspoken, but it was really clear we were preparing a final statement, in many ways…It was so fuckin’ heavy, man. We weren’t going to a picnic.”

The original tune on the album is called My Only True Friend. It was co-written by Allman and Scott Sharrad, who had been the lead guitarist and the musical director of the Gregg Allman Band since 2008. NPR exclusively premiered the song on Wednesday.

Fame Studios had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” Was further pointed out. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Following is the album’s track listing:

1. My Only True Friend (Gregg Allman-Scott Sharrard)

2. Once I Was (Tim Buckley-Larry Beckett)

3. Going Going Gone (Bob Dylan)

4. Black Muddy River (Jerome J. Garcia-Robert C. Hunter)

5. I Love the Life I Live (Willie Dixon)

6. Willin’ (Lowell George)

7. Blind Bats and Swamp Rats (Jack Avery)

8. Out of Left Field (Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.-Dan Penn)

9. Love Like Kerosene (Scott Sharrard)

10. Song for Adam featuring Jackson Browne (Jackson Browne)

Southern Blood, Allman’s first all-new recording since the excellent Low Country Blues from 2011, will be available in different configurations, including a standard CD, a deluxe CD with two extra tracks and a bonus DVD, and a limited edition first-run LP featuring hardwood colored heavyweight vinyl and an exclusive lithograph. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and in Allman’s online store.

The deluxe edition includes a documentary about the making of the album. It’s titled, Back to the Swamp: The Making of Southern Blood. Here’s a trailer.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rounder Record press release, Rolling Stone, NPR, YouTube

In Memoriam of Gregg Allman

Rock music has lost another giant

Considering I’ve been a music fan for nearly 40 years, I feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I “discovered” The Allman Brothers Band very late. Sure, I had known and liked Ramblin’ Man for a long time, but it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I really started exploring their music. From there I quickly proceeded to Gregg Allman’s solo records. Once I did, I quickly realized what I had missed between the two for all this time!

Even though I knew Allman was not in good health and also read rumors about hospice care a few months ago, I’m still in disbelief this great artist is gone. As I’m writing this post, new reports about his death and obituaries literally keep appearing by the minute. I don’t feel I need to add to this by writing another recap of his life. Instead, I’d like to let his music do the talking.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable performances of the Allman Brothers is Whipping Post at Fillmore East in 1970, when killer guitarist Duane Allman was still around. It’s just epic!

Here is another one – the “laid back” version of Midnight Rider, which I’ve come to like even more than the Brothers’ original version.

Soulshine live at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2013. This literally brings tears to my eyes.

Last but not least, here is an awesome rehearsal version of Just Another Rider from Allman’s last solo album Low Country Blues (2011).

To quote a Rolling Stone story, “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.” Well said!

Allman may be gone, but I’ve no doubt his music will live on.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube