The other day, I found myself looking at the Billboard Blues Chart, something I rarely do. That’s when I spotted Walking To New Orleans, the latest album by George Benson. While I had known the jazz guitarist had crossed over to other genres like pop, funk and R&B, I had not associated him with the blues. Intrigued by my “discovery,” I looked up the album in my music streaming service and started listening – boy, what a fun and groovy record, which celebrates the music of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry!
Before getting to the album, I’d like to give a bit of background on Benson, who was born in Pittsburgh on March 22, 1943. He started out playing the ukulele as a seven-year-old before he picked up the guitar a year later. At the age of 10, Benson recorded his first single She Makes Me Mad, which appeared on RCA-Victor under the name of Little Georgie. His debut album The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, recorded together with The Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, was released in 1964 when he was 21.
In the mid-60s, Benson worked with Miles Davis and appeared as a guest on Davis’ July 1968 studio album Miles In The Sky. Until the mid-70s, Benson recorded a series of albums mainly in the jazz domain. The release of Breezin’ in May 1976 marked his breakthrough into pop and biggest success topping the Billboard 200. Another big mainstream success was Give Me The Night, which appeared in August 1980 and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard 200. I believe this Quincy Jones-produced record was my introduction to Benson. He has since released numerous additional studio, live and compilation albums.
Walking To New Orleans, which came out last month, is Benson’s 45th album and his first new recording since Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole from June 2013. “I’m a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys,” Benson explained. “Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit.” With that said, let’s get to some music!
The Chuck Berry tune Nadine (It’s You) makes for a great opener. Berry released it as a single in February 1964. I dig the honky tonk piano and the horns, which like on many other tracks on the album give the song a great groove.
Rockin’ Chair is one of the five Fats Domino songs on the record. Co-written by Domino and Alvin E Young, it appeared as a single in 1951 – another great tune that makes you want to move and snip your fingers.
Next up: Chuck Berry classic You Can’t Catch Me. Written by Berry, the tune appeared as a single in 1956. It was also included on Rock! Rock! Rock!, a soundtrack album for a motion picture of the same name.
The last track I like to highlight is the album’s great title song, another Fats Domino tune. Written by Bobby Charles, Domino released it in June 1960 as a single. Featuring Domino’s signature rock & roll piano style, the song also appeared on his album …A Lot Of Dominos! that came out the same year.
The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Kevin Shirley, a.k.a. “The Caveman.” Shirley has worked with many artists, such as Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Rush and Led Zeppelin. Backing up Benson is a quartet of excellent Nashville musicians, including Greg Morrow (drums, music director), Rob McNelley (guitar), Kevin McKendree (piano) and Alison Prestwood (bass).
“We did have us a ball making this record,” Benson summed up. It’s exactly that sentiment that is evident throughout the album and makes it such a fun listening experience. I think it may also encourage me to pay closer attention to the Billboard Blues Chart going forward.
Sources: Wikipedia, George Benson website, YouTube
I almost would have missed Joe Jackson, just like my recent Who concert. Here’s to hoping that my apparent lack of music attention doesn’t become a trend, though it would probably not hurt my wallet! 🙂 Wait, what did I want to say? Right, the British artist who they called an “angry young man” when he broke through with his studio debut Look Sharp! in January 1979. While I don’t know whether Jackson was pissed then, he certainly doesn’t look angry to me these days! Instead, the man who once sang, “Everybody wants a happy ending,” comes across as feeling very comfortable in his skin and happy to still be making music people want to hear. I suppose that’s really all you can ask for as an artist!
By the time Jackson’s ongoing Four Decade Tour registered on my radar screen, all tickets I could afford seemed to be gone, and I just wasn’t willing to throw hundreds of bucks at some greedy reseller! Then I received an email from State Theatre New Jersey, a nice midsize venue in New Brunswick, cheerfully announcing Jackson’s gig there. I thought, ‘what the hell,’ so checked out the situation one more time. And, voila, while there weren’t many seats left, I managed to get one without losing my blue shirt. Last night was showtime – and, yes, you probably already guessed it, after 40 years as a professional recording artist, Jackson continued to look sharp and proofed he’s definitely still the man!
“So, here comes a big tour,” Jackson said in an announcement last October. “We want to celebrate the fact that this is happening after 40 years – anything else, would be like sulking in a room by yourself on your own birthday party. Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers. I can’t wait. Let’s party.”
And, boy, what a party it was! In addition to singing splendid lead vocals, Jackson played keyboards – something I read he typically didn’t do during past tours. If that’s true, it was certainly great he changed his mind this time. After all, he’s a true musician and multi-instrumentalist, who spent three years in his late teens and early twenties at London’s Royal Academy of Music, studying composition, piano and percussion. During that period, Jackson also learned jazz at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Apart from writing pop-oriented songs in genres like punk, new wave, rock, jazz and Latin, Jackson has also composed classical music. The question really becomes what the man has NOT done musically!
Once again the notion that great musicians tend to play with other great musicians turned out to be true. Jackson’s backing band was simply top-notch! The first guy I need to call out here is Graham Maby – and yes, I’m probably bassed, I mean biased. One of my favorite bassists, Maby still has a superb tone and a great sense for rhythmic and melodic basslines. Paul McCartney is who I wanna be when I grow up, but I’d also happily settle with Maby! 🙂 Jackson’s long-time friend and musical collaborator effectively drove the groove together with excellent drummer Doug Yowell, who by the way hails from New Jersey. They really breed musicians in the Garden State – just sayin’! Last but not least, Teddy Kumpel did an outstanding job on guitar. Man, what a fucking great band! Okay, I think it’s time to get to some music, shall we?
The set kicked off with Alchemy, the closer from Jackson’s great new album Fool, released this January, and then launched right into the furious One More Time, the opener from his debut Look Sharp! – a cool 40-year jump back in time, not to mention style, and a nice illustration of the band’s versatility. I thought Kumpel’s guitar-playing shined in particular during the more rock-oriented tunes. Unfortunately, my smartphone outsmarted me at the wrong time, so I’m relying on another clip I found that cut off the beginning of Alchemy, but it still gives a good impression of the tune.
Jackson’s new album featured prominently in the show with three tracks, one of which (Alchemy) was repeated at the very end, providing nice bookends to the set. I have to say the new songs absolutely held up to his older, better known material. Here’s Fabulously Absolute, a rocker that was also released as a single. Stylistically, the tune isn’t that much different from Jackson’s first two albums. Whatever genre the man plays, he always has a great ear for catchy melodies, though he never aspired to become a pop star and never did – at least not in the traditional sense.
Next is a track from an album I don’t know well: Goin’ Downtown from Laughter And Lust, released in April 1991. The tune is co-credited to Jackson and a British singer-songwriter named Drew Barfield.
My personal highlight of the evening was a medley of three songs: A cover of Rain by The Beatles, Invisible Man and It’s Different For Girls. Jackson announced it by saying they are now playing the title track from an album called Rain (January 2008). He dryly added no such track exists, so they borrowed it, deciding to change some of the chords. Invisible Man is the opener of Rain, a fantastic song I frankly had forgotten about, which reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan. Apparently, Jackson digs the Dan; in fact, later in the show, he covered King Of The World from Countdown To Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore album from July 1973. And then there’s It’s Different For Girls, featuring Jackson’s lyrics reversing the stereotypical roles of men and women when it comes to sex and love – one of two tunes he played from I’m The Man.
His sophomore release from October 1979 remains my favorite Joe Jackson album. In fact, it was my introduction to him when I received it as a birthday present in July 1980. I own the vinyl record to this day, and it’s still in perfect shape! Instead of relying on his band, Jackson treated the audience to a solo performance of It’s Different For Girls. Okay, nuff said! This is a long clip, and the video is sometimes out of focus, but, hey, it least it’s authentic! Plus, the sound is pretty decent and, most of all, the musicianship is just outstanding. What I’m trying to say in so many words is if you dig Jackson, you should watch the friggin’ clip!
Another Jackson tune I’ve always liked is You Can’t Get What You Want. It appeared on his March 1984 gem Body And Soul blending pop, jazz and Latin. Even though the horns from the studio version are “missing” and Jackson plays their fill-ins on keyboards instead, I think the band does a beautiful job capturing the tune. Check out Kumpel’s funky guitar, which is really cool!
The last track of the regular set was I’m The Man. The title track from Jackson’s sophomore album was another highlight of the evening, which once again showed this band can rock. Not surprisingly, it brought the audience up to their feet!
The regular set was followed by a three-track encore, starting with Jackson’s biggest hit: Steppin’ Out, from the Night And Day album released in June 1982. I’m not a fan of drum machines, and that aspect has always bothered me about an otherwise great tune; but I just couldn’t resist filming it, especially after Jackson noted they’re about to do something truly shocking – playing a song almost exactly the way it appears on an album! Jackson is known for altering studio tracks for live performances, which has frustrated some of his fans in the past – a fact he acknowledged during the announcement of the tune, teasingly adding he doesn’t quite get it, since it’s so much fun changing up songs.
Next a roadie walked out on stage, carrying a small box. It was the original drum machine Jackson had used for the recording. He proudly explained he got that drum machine in 1979, adding it’s pretty much impossible to get this gear nowadays. On Night And Day, Jackson played all of the instruments by himself, except for the drum snare, which doubled the drum machine’s snare, a natural task for Yowell. Jackson also explained the other instruments on the studio recording, including a Glockenspiel that last night was played by Maby. Of course, they also had the programmed synthesizer bassline – again, something else I’m less than fond of! Kumpel took over the organ part on the keyboards, while Jackson handled the electric piano. The following clip captures some of Jackson’s introductory explanations. If you’re bit of a music nerd like I am, this footage may be for you.
Joe Jackson is definitely worthwhile seeing, and I’m glad I finally did so! The ongoing second U.S. leg of the Four Decade Tour lasts until June 1. Some of the upcoming gigs include Miami (May 24), New Orleans (May 28), Houston (May 29) and Dallas (June 1). Afterwards, Jackson is returning to Europe, with shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The last date on the current schedule is Tel Aviv, Israel on July 28.
Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Setlist.fm, YouTube
At first sight, Steely Dan, Gino Vannelli, Sting and Stevie Wonder don’t seem to have many things in common. Of course, each are distinguished artists who became successful during an era when you could easily find great music, even on mainstream radio. Music that involved true craftsmanship. Music that had soul. Music that would grab you. Music that would want you to learn how to play an instrument yourself. At least, that’s what it did to me when I was in my young teens!
While I’m afraid the days when great music was part of the top 40 charts and all you really needed to do find it was switching on the radio are largely gone, there’s something very powerful about great music: It’s here to stay, in some cases even for more than 200 years, when you think about classical composers. And it should be celebrated. Enter Good Stuff, a unique tribute band to the above noted artists.
As regular visitors of the blog know, I enjoy going to tribute shows and have done so quite frequently in recent years. This has included truly outstanding bands, and I’ve written about many of them in the past. Because of that my good blogger buddy Music Enthusiast has even jokingly called me The King of Tribute Bands. And why not? After all, there’s a king of pop, a king of rock & roll, a queen of soul, etc., so wouldn’t you agree it’s appropriate to have a king of tribute bands?😀
Most tribute acts I’ve seen focus on one particular artist or band. So when vocalist Mike Caputo, whom I’ve known for a couple of years, told me he was putting together a tribute band to celebrate the music of Steely Dan, Gino Vannelli, Sting and Stevie Wonder, frankly, I was a bit skeptical at first. Steely Dan made total sense to me. Mike has been a singer, songwriter and musician for more than five decades. From his previous longtime tenure as lead vocalist of a Steely Dan tribute band, I knew he nails the voice of Donald Fagen. But adding three other artists to the mix? Well, it may not be a common concept, but Good Stuff surely pull it off beautifully. And once you listen to their setlist, you realize these songs really work well together.
Of course, it’s not only about selecting the “right” music from four different artists; it also takes great musicians to implement the concept. Which brings me to the band: Don Regan (guitar), Axel Belohoubek (keyboards), Deanna Carroll (vocals), Jay Dittamo (drums), Scott Hogan (bass), Phil Armeno (saxophones, flute) and Linda Ferrano (vocals). Linda is a recent addition to Good Stuff and alternates vocal duties with Deanna. All of these guys are professional musicians; most of them have been for more than three decades with impressive accomplishments.
For example, Alex’s credits include tour pre-production for Madonna and David Bowie. Phil was a touring backing musician for Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and The Duprees in the 70s. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley? Only the thought of playing with these rock & roll pioneers would give me acid reflux. And Phil is so moderate about it! Or take Jay. He has performed nationally and internationally with artists like The Les Paul Trio, Jose Feliciano and Keith Emerson (yep, that Keith of ELP). Scott, the youngest member of the band and a student of Don, has toured with pop group Hanson, Bernie Worrel Orchestra and The Shirelles, among others. In addition to Good Stuff, almost all members also play solo or in other bands. Not surprisingly, all this impressive experience shows!
Time to get to some music! Half of Good Stuff’s show features Steely Dan tunes. As such, the band appropriately selected a name that not only reflects the music they play but is also related to Steely Dan, or more precisely to Donald Fagen. Good Stuff is a Fagen tune from his fourth studio album Sunken Condos released in October 2012. The song I’d like to highlight here is My Old School. Co-written by Fagen and Walter Becker, the tune appeared on Steely Dan’s second studio album Countdown to Ecstasy from July 1973.
Gino Vannelli is the one artist in the mix I’m much less familiar with than the others. Among the handful of his tunes I know and dig is Brother To Brother, the title track of his sixth studio record from September 1978. It’s a jazzy and pretty complex tune, which I think measures up nicely to the Aja album, the gem in Steely Dan’s catalog.
Next up: Sting. Good Stuff has decided to focus on featuring material from the ex-Police man’s fourth solo effort: the excellent Ten Summoner’s Tales, which happens to be my favorite Sting album. Here’s Heavy Cloud No Rain. Like the majority of the album’s tracks, the tune was entirely written by Sting.
The last song I’d like to call out is Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing by Stevie Wonder. This great tune is from his 16th studio album Innervisions, which is widely considered to be one of the highlights of Wonder’s long catalog. He is one of my all-time favorite artists, and I would have loved to see him last year in Atlantic City during his short summer tour. But with ticket prices starting at $350, it was simply impossible.
It’s still relatively early days for Good Stuff. So far, they haven’t ventured beyond New Jersey. In fact, next Saturday, March 23, they will play Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, a great performance venue in Asbury Park, the hotbed of Jersey’s music scene. Mike told me he is starting to receive an increasing amount of queries from agents, including from out of state. As such, folks who do not reside in the Garden State may get a chance to see the band in the future. In case you’d like to further check them out, visit their website or Facebook page.
Steely Dan shine with special performance of Aja album and other gems
Usually, I don’t see the same music act twice in just three months, even if I dig them. There are so many other artists on my list, plus ticket prices nowadays would simply make this unaffordable. But while I was still raving about a Steely Dan show I caught in July (see review here) I learned about their October residency at The Beacon Theatre in New York City. And when I noticed it would include a special performance of my all-time favorite Steely Dan album Aja, I immedeidately knew I wouldn’t want to miss it – especially after the summer gig had convinced me that Donald Fagen is still on top of his game contrary to some less than flattering reviews I had read. Finally, Thursday night, it was time for the expanding man, and what a night it was!
To start with, I had never been to The Beacon Theatre, even though I’m a longtime music fan and would have had plenty of opportunity for the past 20 years or so – I can’t quite explain why! When I mentioned it to my friendly seat neighbors and huge Steely Dan fans – a dad and his son who had come all the way from England to see this show and another special performance tonight of Donald Fagen’s first solo album The Nighfly, the dad jokingly said, ‘you must have been very busy.’
He certainly had a point. After all, this beautiful historic venue (pictured above) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has featured many top-notch acts over the decades, perhaps most notably The Allman Brothers Band. For about two decades, the southern blues rockers had a residency there each spring. I actually recall that in ca. 1998, a former colleague and Brothers fan told he was going to see them there.
This brings me to another dark issue of my music past – gee, this starts feeling a bit like I’m writing a confession! At the time my former colleague told me about the above Brothers show, Ramblin’ Man was pretty much all I knew about the band. It really wasn’t until three years ago or so that I explored The Allman Brothers Band I greater depth and quickly became a fan – luckily in time to at least see them once in an unforgettable performance, though not at the Beacon but at PNC Bank Arts Center in Central New Jersey. Well, to both I say better late than never, plus you can’t change the past! On the show.
An excellent jazz trio featuring organ (Hammond), guitar and drums opened the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch their name. While I don’t mind listening to jazz, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. So how come I like Steely Dan you might ask? Well, because jazz is just one aspect of their music, albeit an important one, especially on Aja. Perhaps more importantly, music taste isn’t always rational. Regardless how I usually feel about jazz, these three guys really grabbed me. I guess Donald Fagen, who is known for being a perfectionist, likely wouldn’t approve of some amateurs to open his show, and amatuers these guys were definitely not! And that I can easily get mesmerized by the mighty sound of a Hammond also didn’t hurt. When that organ player held the keys in the vibrato setting and the air in the place started to pulsate, I just got goosebumps – I could have listened to him all night!
Finally, the time has come to get to Steely Dan. The first half of their set was reserved for the Aja album, which the band performed in its entirety, following the order of the tracks on the studio recording. The remainder of the show featured select gems from other Dan records, one track from The Nightfly, as well as a couple of covers. The full set list is here. The song collection was really a treat for Steely Dan fans!
Released in September 1977 as their sixth studio album, Aja remains the crown jewel in Dan’s catalog, in my opinion. Like for most of their records, all tracks were written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Fagen and his top-notch band did an outstanding job capturing Aja’s rich sound in all of its glory. Following are a few clips. Light conditions proved to be challenging, and some of the footage is out of focus, but I’d be amiss not to include some of it – sue me if I write too long!
First up: My all-time favorite Steely Dan tune, which they didn’t play back in July.
…Learn to work the saxophone/I play just what I feel/Drink Scotch whiskey all night long/And die behind the wheel/They got a name for the winners in the world/ I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues…
Next is Home At Last. Love the groove of that song. Check out the mighty four-piece horn section and the beautful backing vocals by The Danettes – it’s just perfect!
And here is the album’s closer Josie. As a former bass player, I’ve always loved the cool bassline on that tune. You may need more than my crappy labtop speakers to fully hear it!
Following are a few clips from the concert’s second half. First up: The epic Hey Nineteen from Gaucho, Dan’s seventh studio album released in November 1980. It was their last effort before they disbanded in June 1981 and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. One of the highlights in the clip is the extended trombone solo by Jim Pugh that starts at about 4:08 minutes.
Here’s The Goodbye Look, the above mentioned track from The Nightfly, which became Donald Fagen’s acclaimed solo debut in October 1982. Like all the other tracks on the record except for one, the tune with a laid back Caribbean groove was written by Fagen.
And, since all things must pass, the last song I’d like to highlight is Reelin’ In The Years. I simply couldn’t skip this classic from Steely Dan’s November 1972 debut Can’t Buy A Thrill, even though I also featured it my previous post about the July gig. I just love the great guitar work by Jon Herrington and the cool drum solo by Keith Carlock. These guys are just top-notch, demonstrating how great music can sound like! I think it’s also nice to see the traditionally reserved Fagen get animated after the end of the drum solo.
After repeatedly raving about the band, I’d like to acknowledge the members. As far as I could tell, the lineup was the same than during the aforementioned summer gig: Apart from Herrington, Carlock, Pugh and obviously Fagen, it included Freddie Washington (bass), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax), Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and The Danettes (backing vocals): La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell & Carolyn Leonhart.
In addition to the above noted show tonight, Steely Dan’s residency at The Beacon Theatre has six more dates: Oct 21: By Popular Demand: An Audience Request Night Determined By Fan Voting; Oct 24: Performing Countdown To Ecstasy Plus Select Hits; Oct 26: Performing Gaucho Plus Select Hits; Oct 27: Performing Aja Plus Select Hits (let’s pretend I didn’t see this!); Oct 29: Performing Nightfly And Select Hits; and Oct 30: Performing Greatest Hits. Afterwards, it appears Steely Dan is taking a break before resuming touring in the U.K. and Ireland in February 2019.
If you’re a fan and can make it, I’d say go and see them. And, did I mention it’s a great opportunity to visit one of New York’s iconic performance venues?
Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steely Dan website, YouTube
Almost Queen couldn’t have come up with a better a name. These four guys from New York really make you feel like you’re watching Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. While unfortunately this is no longer possible and, as such, they are almost Queen, this band is doing a true killer job. I caught their show last night at The Stone Pony in Asbury, N.J. They really blew the frigging roof off the place!
Queen has been on my radar screen on and off since the late ’70s/early ’80s. While I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan, I’m well familiar with their better known songs and like many of them. In fact, I had contemplated doing a post on the English rock band a couple of times before. Then I spotted a notification on Facebook about Almost Queen’s gig last night and watched a few YouTube clips. Since yours truly has been called the King Of The Tribute Bands, of course, I had to continue performing my duties to continue living up to the title. 🙂
Before getting to last night’s gig and of course some clips, a few words about the band. There isn’t a lot of public background information out there, so I’m quoting from their website: Almost Queen delivers a live performance showcasing signature four part harmonies and intricate musical interludes. Donning genuine costumes, Almost Queen captures the live energy and precision that is the penultimate Queen experience. Okay, you simply could have said they are a kick-ass tribute that sounds and looks pretty darn close to the real deal!
Almost Queen are Joseph Russo as Freddie Mercury, Steve Leonard as Brian May, Randy Gregg as John Deacon and John Cappadona as Roger Taylor. While I couldn’t find any bios on these guys, it’s pretty clear to me that Almost Queen isn’t their first trip to the rodeo – there’s simply too much serious musician craftsmanship going on here! Take it from a guitarist and former bassist, who may have been only moderately capable but who sure as heck knows skill when he sees or hears it! Okay, let’s get to some killer clips before we all get a sheer heart attack!
After the great opener Tie Your Mother Down, one of my favorite Queen tunes I unfortunately missed to capture, Leonard rhetorically asked, are you ready to get crazy?When the crowd unambiguously expressed their sentiments, the band appropriately kept their foot on the gas pedal with Stone Cold Crazy. The tune first appeared on Queen’s third studio album Sheer Heart Attack from November 1974 and was credited to all four members of the band. The track was also released separately as a single and became a staple of Queen’s live shows thereafter.
Next up: Killer Queen, another track from Sheer Heart Attack. Written by Freddie Mercury, the tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1974. Almost Queen did a great job with the harmony vocals here. These guys definitely can do both play and sing!
Another One Bites The Dust is from Queen’s eighth studio record The Game, released in June 1980. The funky tune was written by John Deacon and also came out separately as the album’s fourth single. Ever since I’ve heard the hilarious version by “Weird Al” Yankovic, who turned it into Another One Writes The Bus, his take is in my ears.
By the time Almost Queen got to Don’t Stop Me Now, there was absolutely no chance anything could get in their way. The crowd had fully embraced them right from the get-go of the show, and the room was cooking, fueled by the pulsating drums and pumping bass! Written by Freddie Mercury, Queen first recorded Don’t Stop Me Now for their seventh studio album Jazz from November 1978. It also became the record’s second single released in January the following year.
Next up: Fat Bottomed Girls, another track from Jazz, written by Mercury. The tune also became the B-side to the album’s lead single Bicycle Race. Almost Queen made it another vocal gem.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love is not an Elvis Presley song, as Russo reminded the crowd, but yet another great Freddie Mercury composition from The Game. The cool rockabilly tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1979.
And then the time had come for Almost Queen to pay tribute to David Bowie with Under Pressure. The collaboration with The Thin White Duke was included on Queen’s 10th studio release Hot Space from May 1982. It also appeared as the album’s lead single in October the previous year and became Queen’s second no. 1 hit in the U.K. after Bohemian Rhapsody, topping the Official Singles Chart for nine week. For Bowie it was his third no. 1 on that chart, following Ashes To Ashes and the 1975 reissue of Space Oddity. The track is credited to all members of Queen and David Bowie.
No Queen tribute show would be complete without the above mentioned Bohemian Rhapsody. In my humble opinion, it is one of the weirdest and the same time most brilliant rock songs I know. The epic track was first recorded by Queen for A Night At The Opera, their fourth studio album from November 1975. Written by Mercury and also released separately as the record’s lead single in October that year, the tune should have laid to rest any doubts anyone might ever have had that he could have been an opera singer as well. There aren’t many rock vocalists with that quality – the only other one that comes to my mind spontaneously is Roy Orbison.
And since all things must pass, including great rock & roll shows, the time had finally come for Almost Queen to wrap things up. And what better songs to choose than We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions, just like Queen did traditionally. Both songs appeared back to back as the openers on Queen’s sixth studio album News Of The World. Perhaps not surprisingly, the guitar rocker We Will Rock You was penned by Brian May, while We Are The Champions is yet another Freddie Mercury composition.
So here we are, nine clips later – can you tell somebody got a little bit excited here? I just wish the sound quality of the footage would be better, since I feel it doesn’t do full justice to the band. The audience’s ability to sing, on the other hand, is captured accurately, I’m afraid! 🙂 Oh well, ultimately live music should be about having a great time, and I highly doubt there was anyone last night walking out of the place and being disappointed.
While I obviously recorded a good deal of the show, obviously, there were many things I left out, including pretty impressive drum and guitar solos by Leonard and Cappadona, respectively. Each of the band’s guys is massively talented.
According to the tour schedule on their website, upcoming Almost Queen shows include Brooklyn, N.Y. (Sep 8), Beverly, Mass. (Sep 21) and Plymouth, N.H. (Sep 22). If you like Queen and these guys come to your neck of the woods, you should seriously consider them. Tickets are quite affordable. Take it from the King Of The Tribute Bands – Almost Queen truly is almost Queen! 🙂
After almost 60 years, Van the Man shows no signs of slowing down
Van Morrison has kept pretty busy over the past few years. Since September 2016, he has released four studio albums, the latest of which, You’re Driving Me Crazy, just appeared yesterday. Think about this for a moment, how many septuagenarian music artists do you know who are as productive as Van the Man? Of course, ultimately, it should be about quality, not quantity. After having listened to this new album, I have to say I really dig it!
So, how does Morrison’s 39th studio release compare to his other albums? Frankly, given my significant knowledge gaps about his music, I can’t give a fully informed answer. I certainly like Moondance better, but I’m not sure this comparison makes a lot of sense. Is it a good jazz record? That’s another tough question for me to answer, since I rarely listen to jazz. But while this isn’t Morrison’s first jazz album and jazz has been a key influence for his music over the decades, it’s safe to assume the Belfast Cowboy isn’t on the radar screen of most hard-core jazz fans.
Here’s the deal, as far as I’m concerned. After having listened to music for some 40 years and as a past hobby musician who still occasionally grabs a guitar, I’m confident enough to say I know good music when I hear it. To my ears, Morrison and his partner in crime Joey DeFrancesco delivered a beautiful record that is smooth and grooves nicely throughout. While recording the tracks live in the studio, they apparently also had a lot of fun – you can literally hear laughter during and after some of the songs!
The album’s 15 tunes feature a mix of reworked jazz and blues songs like Every Day I Have The Blues (Peter Chatman), The Things I Used To Do (Eddie Jones) and Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter), together with new takes of orignal Morrison tracks, such as All Saints Day (Hymns To The Silence, 1991), The Way Young Lovers Do (Astral Weeks, 1968) and Close Enough For Jazz (Too Long In Exile, 1993). Morrison shares writing credits for Evening Shadows with Bernard Stanley “Acker” Bill, an English clarinettist and vocalist who passed away in November 2014. He first recorded the tune with Bill for his 2002 studio album Down The Road.
With DeFrancesco, Morrison selected a heavy hitter. Over a now 30-year professional career, the 47-year-old American jazz organist, trumpeter and vocalist has worked with the likes of Miles Davis, David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and Ray Charles. I love DeFrancesco’s playing on the album, especially his work on the Hammond organ. According to Rolling Stone, it was also DeFrancesco who put together the backing musicians for the recording sessions: Dan Wilson (guitar), Michael Ode (drums) and Troy Roberts (saxophone). I’d say the time has come for some music!
The record opens with Miss Otis Regrets, a relaxing jazz standard composed by Cole Porter in 1934. The piece is a testament to Morrison’s apparent appreciation of old jazz.
The Way Young Lovers Do takes Morrison back all the way to 1968 and his second studio album Astral Weeks, which I understand is widely considered to be one of his best records. I think this new version presents a nice slightly smoother take, though one certainly needs to consider the whooping 50 years that separate the two recordings.
Another great cover is The Things I Used To Do. Originally, this 12-bar blues tune was written by Eddie Jones, better known as Guitar Slim, and released in 1953. By the way, the producer was then-23-year-old Ray Charles. I like how Morrison and DeFrancesco give the tune a nice jazz feel that makes you want to snip your fingers. The tune is a great example of DeFrancesco’s ace work on the Hammond. I also dig Wilson’s guitar-playing.
Close Enough For Jazz originally was recorded by Morrison as an instrumental for Too Long In Exile, his 22nd studio record from 1993. This new version is a tick faster and more immportantly adds vocals, a nice take.
Everyday I Have The Blues is a blues standard by John Chatman, also known as Memphis Slim. The American blues pianist, singer and composer first recorded the tune in 1947. In addition to Morrison, many other artists covered the song, including B.B. King, Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac during their blues days with Peter Green.
The last track I’d like to highlight is Have I Told You Lately, a Morrison tune he first recorded as a ballad for his 19th studio album Avalon Sunset, which appeared in 1989. Admittedly, until now, I only had known the Rod Stewart version from his 1993 Unplugged…And Seated album. Morrison’s new take speeds up the original and gives it a jazz groove. The updated version also uses a female backup singer whose name I haven’t been able to find. But she surely sounds great, as do the Hammond and the horns.
This post wouldn’t be complete without some commentary from Van The Man himself. During a rare phone interview with The New York Times he said, “My thing is not talking about music. It’s about doing it. Other people talk about it, and they make a living talking about it. I make a living kind of singing it and playing it. If it feels right, and it’s the right kind of vibe, then you should just go with it.” Amen to that!
Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, YouTube
Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone Join Rock Hall
I know many of the folks who may see this post have strong opinions about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Discussions about inductees and who hasn’t been inducted but should be in there are sure to continue. The selection process certainly looks less than perfect. One could even question the name of the institution. After all, rock & roll certainly doesn’t come to mind when it comes to the amazing Nina Simone, one of the 2018 inductees. So should The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be renamed to “The Music Hall of Fame?” But if that would be done, wouldn’t this imply such a broad scope that would make it an even more daunting task to identify nominees and select inductees?
While I acknowledge the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is flawed, I still like the idea of celebrating rock & roll music. And let’s be honest, being in the company of the likes of Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles, to name a few, is pretty cool. I think it’s safe to assume that many artists dream about joining such an exclusive club, whether they admit it or not.
Following are highlights from last night’s induction ceremony in Cleveland, based on Rolling Stone’s reporting. Unfortunately, most of the current clips on YouTube sound distorted. I’m actually wondering whether this is done on purpose, so people don’t widely share the material. Also, keep in mind the HBO broadcast of the festivities is still ahead on May 5. Perhaps, better quality clips will become available thereafter I could use to replace some of the current footage. We shall see.
Interestingly, the night kicked off with Bon Jovi who were inducted by Howard Stern. It’s fair to say the Jersey boys, who by far won the fan vote, were the most anticipated artists of the night. One of the questions was whether former guitarist Richie Sambora would join his former band mates – he did, unlike Mark Knopfler who was a no-show. Since ultimately it’s the fans who have made these bands successful by purchasing their music and going to their shows, it’s unfortunate when artists cannot put aside their reservations at least for one night. Knopfler’s absence meant Dire Straits did not perform, which must have been a real bummer to many of their fans!
Anyway, here is Bon Jovi’s performance of Livin’ On A Prayer from their third studio album Slippery When Wet from 1986, which catapulted them to international super-stardom and more than 130 million albums sold to date.
Next it was the turn for Dire Straits. Three former members showed up, including bassist and co-founder John Illsley, initial keyboarder Alan Clark and the band’s second keyboarder Guy Fletcher. While Knopfler was absent, I still feel somebody should have inducted the band. Here is a clip of their acceptance speech.
One of the artists I was particularly pleased to see inducted is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a true trailblazer of early rock & roll. She was inducted by Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist of Alabama Shakes. After her speech, Howard grabbed a guitar to perform That’s All, a Tharpe tune from 1938 – that’s 80 years ago! Howard was backed by a band that included Roots drummer Questlove and Paul Shaffer, among others.
Next up were the Cars, an American new wave, power pop rock band that had a string of hits between 1978 and 1988. They were inducted by Brandon Flowers, the lead singer and keyboarder of The Killers. “The Cars were the first band I fell in love with,” he noted. “And you never forget your first…They achieved greatness and left a comet trail behind them, writing and recording songs that have transcended into classics.” Here’s You Might Think, one of the band’s hits from their fifth studio album Heartbeat City, which was released in March 1984.
Nina Simone was inducted by Mary J. Blige. “Nina was bold, strong, feisty and fearless, and so vulnerable and transparent all at the same time,” she said. “Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful; I never heard anything like it. She knew who she was and she was confident in what she did and why she did it. But it was often the lack of confidence in herself that people could relate to. Nina sang for all her pain, her joy, her confusion, her happiness, her sickness, her fight. She fought through all the stereotypes. She fought for her identity. She fought for her life.”
Simone was honored with a two-part tribute. Part one was performed by the Roots and singer-songwriter Andra Day. For the second part, Lauryn Hill, formerly with the Fugees, took the stage. Here is Hill’s entire set, which consisted of Ne Me Quitte Pas, Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Feeling Good.
The last honoree of the night were The Moody Blues. They were inducted by Ann Wilson, formerly with Heart. Referring to the band’s iconic second studio album Days Of Future Past, she said, “In 1967, The Moody Blues made a record that changed the face of popular music and influenced an entire generation of progressive musicians, including Yes, Genesis, ELO and many, many others. For the first time, mellotron was introduced to the rock and roll mainstream and rock married classic orchestra. There was no progressive showboating or self-indulgent, mathematical noodling; just great, classy music that expanded your mind, sang to your heart, took you inward and lifted you higher.” Nicely said! Here’s a clip of the band’s best known song from that album: Nights In White Satin.
The evening also included tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, performed by The Killers and Wilson and Jerry Cantrell, respectively. Here are The Killers playing American Girl, throwing in some lyrics of Free Fallin’ at the end – too bad the clip’s sound sucks!
And here are Wilson and Cantrell with their rendition of Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden’s best known song. Written by Cornell, the tune appeared on the Seattle rock band’s fourth studio album Superunknown from March 1994.
Last but not least, Steve Van Zandt came on stage with a surprise announcement. “We all know the history of rock and roll can be changed with just one song, one record,” he noted. “This year, we are introducing a new category to the Rock Hall. We’re calling it The Rock and Roll Singles. It’s a recognition of the singles that shaped rock and roll, a kind of Rock Hall jukebox by artists that aren’t in the Rock Hall, which is not to say these artists won’t ever be in the Rock Hall. They just aren’t at this moment.”
The first six singles in this new category include Rocket 88 (Ike Turner’s King’s of Rhythm), Rumble (Link Wray), The Twist (Chubby Checker), Louie Louie (Kingsmen), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) and Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf) – cool choices!