The Venues: Beacon Theatre

In July 2017, I introduced The Venues, a category featuring famous concert halls, such as The Apollo Theatre and well known TV music programs like The Ed Sullivan Show. For some reason, the category fell off the bandwagon after the third post in November that year – not quite sure why. In any case, I felt the time was right for another installment. One of the venues that came to my mind immediately is the Beacon Theatre in New York City, in part because the beautiful historic theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is associated with two of my favorite bands: The Allman Brothers Band and Steely Dan, which both had frequent annual residencies there. The Dan still does! But first things first – a bit of history.

The Beacon Theatre opened as the Warner’s Beacon Theatre on December 24, 1929. It was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager as a venue for silent films. But when the original owners financially collapsed, Warner Theatres acquired the theater to be a first-run showcase for Warner Bros. films on the Upper West Side. By that time, the movie genre of silent films had already become obsolete. The Beacon, which subsequently was operated by Brandt Theaters, remained a movie theater over next few decades. It would take until 1974, when Steven Singer became the first owner who turned the Beacon into a venue for live music.

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Fortunately, an effort in 1987 to convert the theater into a night club was blocked in court, given its historic and protected architecture. In 1982, it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Through the ’80s and ’90s, the Beacon Theatre continued to fill a spot in the midsize category venue in New York between the larger Radio City Music Hall and various smaller clubs and ballrooms. In 2006, sports and entertainment holding company The Madison Square Garden Company started operating the Beacon. In November that same year, the theater began a 20-year lease by Cablevision, which also leases Radio City Music Hall and owns Madison Square Garden.

Between the second half of 2008 and early 2009, the theater underwent a complete renovation. As reported by The New York Times, the work involved about 1,000 workers, lasted seven months and cost $16 million. The result can be seen in the above photo and is certainly stunning. I was fortunate to experience the mighty venue myself when I saw Steely Dan there in October 2018.

In addition to pop and rock concerts, the Beacon Theatre has hosted political debates, gospel choirs, comedians and many dramatic productions. The 2008 Martin Scorsese picture Shine a Light, which captured The Rolling Stones live in concert, was filmed there. In January 2016, Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday with a show at the Beacon. She also played the venue in May this year as part of her now completed 2018/2019 Fare Thee Well Tour. Time for some music that was performed at the Beacon.

Let’s kick things off with the Grateful Dead, who performed two shows at the theater on June 14 and 15, 1976. Apparently, the following footage of Not Fade Away was captured during a soundcheck there, not one of the actual concerts but, hey, close enough! Plus, it’s a fun clip to watch. Not Fade Away was written by Charles Hardin, a.k.a. Buddy Holly. His producer Norman Petty received a co-credit. The tune was first released as a single in October 1957. It was also included on Holly’s debut album The “Chirping” Crickets, released in November of the same year.

Next up: The Black Crowes and Remedy. Co-written by lead vocalist Chris Robinson and his brother and rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson, the tune appeared on the band’s sophomore album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion from May 1992. The footage is from late August 1992 when The Black Crowes played a series of four shows at the Beacon.

James Taylor is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. One tune I dig in particular is Fire And Rain.  He recorded it for his second studio album Sweet Baby James, which was released in February 1970. The song also came out separately as a single and became Taylor’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This clip was captured during a show on May 30, 1998.

Here are The Rolling Stones with Jumpin’ Jack Flash from the aforementioned Martin Scorsese concert film. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was released as a single in May 1968. The film includes footage from two shows the Stones played at the Beacon. This performance is from their second night there on November 1, 2006.

Starting from 1998, The Allman Brothers Band played spring residencies at the Beacon for 19 years in a row except for 2010 when the theater wasn’t available. This performance of Dreams is from their March 2013 series of gigs. The Gregg Allman song first appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album from November 1969.

On April 1 and 2, 2016, Bonnie Raitt played the Beacon Theatre as part of her extended Dig In Deep Tour, named after her most recent studio album from February 2016. I caught her during that tour in August 2016, which thus far was the first only time. Her gig at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark remains one of the best shows I’ve seen. Co-written by Gordon Kennedy  and Wayne KirkpatrickGypsy In Me is one of the tracks from Dig In Deep. Not only is Raitt a superb guitarist and great vocalist, but she also is as genuine as it can get. There is no BS with this lady. What you get is what you see!

From The Allman Brothers Band it wasn’t a big leap to former member Derek Trucks, his wife Susan Tedeschi and the group they formed in 2010: Tedeschi Trucks Band. My knowledge of their music is fairly limited, and I definitely want to explore them more closely. Here’s their take of Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, another great tune written by Gregg Allman. It first appeared on the Allmans’ third studio album Eat A Peach from February 1972, long before Trucks joined them in 1999. The song was also released separately as a single in April that year. This clip was captured on October 11, 2017 during what looks like a six-date residency the band did at the Beacon that year.

The last and most recent clip I’d like to feature is footage of Steely Dan from their 2018 U.S. tour, which ended with a seven-date residency at the Beacon. Of course, I couldn’t leave out the Dan! This performance of Pretzel Logic was from their final gig on October 30. Co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Pretzel Logic is the title track of Steely Dan’s third studio album that appeared in February 1974.

Until last year when I saw them twice, which included the Beacon for an October 20 show dedicated to my favorite album Aja, I had never seen Steely Dan. Both concerts were fantastic. Fagen and co are currently touring again, which will bring them back to the Beacon in October. While the thought of returning to this beautiful venue is tempting, I can’t justify it to myself, given I saw them twice last year and other shows I’ve been to or still consider for this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, setlist.fm, YouTube

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My Playlist: Bonnie Raitt

While I previously wrote about an amazing Bonnie Raitt show I saw in 2016 and included her in a few other posts, it occurred to me I haven’t done anything related to her recorded music. Considering how highly I think of this lady as a musician and songwriter, this feels like a big miss that is overdue to be corrected.

First a bit of history. Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born on November 8, 1949 in Burbank, Calif. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad was John Raitt, an actor and acclaimed Broadway singer. Bonnie’s mom, Marjorie Haydock, was a pianist and John’s first wife. According to her online bio, Raitt was raised in LA “in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism,” all important influences that shaped her future life.

Raitt got into the guitar at the age of eight, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. According to an AP story in a local paper, she taught the instrument herself by listening to blues records – yet another example of a self-taught musician who turned out to be exceptional!

Bonnie Raitt 1969

In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. She also began her lifetime involvement as a political activist. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she notes in her online bio. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”

Three years after entering college, Raitt decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. She already had become a frequent performer on the local coffeehouse scene, exploring slide guitar blues and other styles. Soon thereafter, she opened shows for surviving blues legends, such as Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Word spread about her great talent, which led to her first record contract with Warner Bros.

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Since her 1971 eponymous debut, Raitt has released 16 additional studio albums, three compilations and one live record. Over her now 45-year-plus career, she has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is also listed at no. 50 and no. 89 in Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, respectively.

Like many artists, Raitt’s life wasn’t all easy peasy. She struggled with alcohol and drug abuse but became sober in 1987. “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead,” Raitt told Parade magazine in April 2012, adding, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Yep – time to get to some music!

Mighty Tight Woman is from Raitt’s 1971 debut record – just love that tune, which was penned by Sippie Wallace and recorded in 1929.

In September 1974, Raitt released her fourth studio album Streetlights. One of the gems on that record and frankly Raitt’s entire catalog is Angel From Montgomery, a country tune written and first recorded by John Prine.

Among the early ’60s pop songs I’ve always dug is Runaway by Del Shannon, a tune he co-wrote with keyboarder Max Crook for his 1961 debut Runaway With Del Shannon. Raitt’s version of the tune, which is included on her sixth studio album Sweet Forgiveness from 1977, is a brilliant cover with a cool bluesy soul touch. Here’s a great live performance, which apparently was captured at the time the album came out.

In addition to recording songs from other artists, Raitt also writes her own music. Here is Standin’ By The Same Old Love from 1979’s The Glow, which prominently features Raitt seductive electric slide guitar work.

Can’t Get Enough just about sums up how I oftentimes feel about Raitt’s music. Co-written by her and keyboarder Walt Richmond, the track appears on Raitt’s 1982 record Green Light. I just love the cool reggae style groove of this track and the saxophone accents.

Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time perhaps is the equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry. In fact, even though King’s music is quite different and unlike Raitt she’s a full-blown singer-songwriter, Raitt does remind me of King in another aspect. Like King, she has that warm and timeless quality to her music, a rare gift. While better known for its title track and Thing Called Love, Nick Of Time includes another track that is one of my favorites from Raitt: Love Letter. The tune was written by another Bonnie, Bonnie Hayes, who according to Wikipedia is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer.

Oh, and did I mention Raitt also knows how to perform beautiful ballads? Here’s I Can’t Make You Love Me from 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. The tune was co-penned by country music artist Mike Reid and country songwriter Allen Shamblin. Following is what appears to be the official music video.

Another powerful ballad Raitt recorded for her 13th studio album Fundamental from 1998 is Lover’s Will. This tune is from John Hiatt, one of Raitt’s favorite writers. He recorded and released it as a mid-tempo track in 1983 on his studio album Riding With The King. It’s beautiful how Raitt slowed it down, making it her own, similar to Runaway!

Used To Rule The World is from Slipstream, which appeared in April 2012. Widely acclaimed, Raitt’s 16th studio release became her highest charting album in 18 years, climbing to no. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and hitting no. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Top Blues Albums charts. The tune, which is another great example of Raitt’s feel for groove, was written by Randall Bramblett, a singer-songwriter, session keyboarder and touring musician. Here’s a nice live performance.

When it comes to an artist like Raitt with so many great tunes and such a long career, it’s hard to keep a playlist to ten tunes, but that’s the maximum I’m setting myself. I’d like to conclude with Gypsy In Me from Raitt’s most recent studio album Dig In Deep, which appeared in February 2016. The song is a co-write by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, two Nashville-based songwriters and musicians.

While I haven’t seen any hints about a new album, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy year for Raitt. Her tour schedule lists a steady stream of U.S. gigs from mid-March to the beginning of July, immediately followed by various concerts in Europe. Among the highlights are an opening/special guest appearance for James Taylor & His All-Star Band during his U.S. tour from May to the beginning of July, and Paul Simon’s farewell concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt official website; Bonnie Raitt discovers her roots in Scotland (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, Jul 14, 1991); Parade; YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass that Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied on flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady on German TV music broadcast Rockpalast.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube

Bonnie Raitt at NJPAC

Bonnie Raitt is one my favorite artists, and I finally got a chance to see her live.

Yesterday (Aug 13), the wait was finally over. It was time to see Bonnie Raitt at New Jersey Performing Arts Center!

During the week leading up to the show, I had listened to her music pretty much whenever I got a chance to get in the mood. And with a 45-year professional career and 17 studio albums, there is a lot to listen to!

A good friend of mine who has been to various Bonnie Raitt concerts over the years had highly recommended that I go see her. He was right – the show was absolutely amazing!

Bonnie presented a mix of new and old songs, including a few of her previous hits. She started off with her cover of the INXS song Need You Tonight, which appears on her latest excellent album, Dig In Deep. Throughout the show, she also played various other songs from that album including Unintended Consequence of Love and Gypsy In Me. Another cover included Burning Down the House, the 1983 hit from the Talking Heads. In my opinion, it’s even better than Need You Tonight.

Perhaps the best known hit songs she played were Something To Talk About and the beautiful ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me, both from Bonnie’s 1991 album, Luck of the Draw. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that she didn’t play material from Nick of Time, such as Thing Called Love, the title song and Love Letter. At least I didn’t recognize any songs from the 1989 Grammy Award winning album. She did perform one of my other favorite songs, Can’t Get Enough (from 1982’s Green Light). 

As I had expected, Bonnie’s slide guitar playing was superb! But I have to say I was even more intrigued by the songs she played on acoustic guitar. The highlight in this context and perhaps of the entire night was Angel from Montgomery, from her fourth studio album Streetlights, released in 1974. BTW, Bonnie’s voice live sounds just as great as recorded. I would also like to acknowledge her fantastic band: Ricky Fataar (drums), George Marinelli (guitars), James Hutchinson (bass) and Mike Finnigan (keyboards).

Another shout-out is in order for Bonnie’s opening act, Richard Thompson Trio. Thompson, a founding member of the Fairport Convention, is an outstanding British electric and acoustic guitarist. I have to admit I’m not familiar with his music, but I certainly enjoyed what I heard! The drummer and bassist who performed with Thompson were excellent as well.

Notably, Bonnie asked Thompson to come back to the stage and play a song with her. You could clearly see the admiration she has for him. I think the gesture also shows what a class act Bonnie Raitt is when it comes to acknowledging other artists.

Here’s a clip of Raitt’s entire gig.

Set List

Need You Tonight (INXS cover)

Used to Rule the World (Randall Bramblett cover)

No Business

All Alone with Something to Say

Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes (Los Lobos cover)

Not the Only One (Paul Brady cover) (with Richard Thompson)

Round and Round (J.B. Lenoir cover)

I Feel the Same (Chris Smither cover)

Hear Me Lord (Oliver Mtukudzi cover)

Something to Talk About

The Comin’ Round Is Going Through

Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)

Don’t Answer the Door (B.B. King cover) (Mike Finnegan, vocal)

Gypsy in Me

Unintended Consequence of Love

I Believe I’m in Love With You (The Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)

What You’re Doin’ to Me

Encore:

I Can’t Make You Love Me (Mike Reid cover)

Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)

Louise (Paul Siebel cover)

Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes

Note: This post was updated on November 15, 2020 with above clip and setlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube