What I’ve Been Listening to: Michael Jaskewicz/Crooked Tree

Crooked Tree is the debut solo album by Michael Jaskewicz, a singer-songwriter from New Jersey. I met him sometime in 2019 while he was performing at a bar with Cosmic Jerry Band (now called Cosmic), which then mainly was a tribute to the Grateful Dead that has since evolved into focusing on original music. In fact, they just came out with their own debut album Bloom on December 27. I finally got to listen to Crooked Tree and really dig the warm, bare bones acoustic sound.

As Jaskewicz notes in a blog post on his website, in addition to Jerry Garcia and the Dead, his influences include Warren Haynes, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Trey Anastasio. In an interview with Music Life Now, he also noted Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, among others. Listening to the album before I had seen that interview Taylor came to my mind as well, as did Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Marc Cohn, who is best known for his 1991 signature tune Walking in Memphis. Jaskewicz’s voice occasionally reminds me a bit of Cohn.

Under normal circumstances, Crooked Tree could have appeared last April. But as Jaskewicz pointed out in the above blog post, COVID-19 and his struggle with depression and anxiety delayed things. “I spent a lot of time wrestling with the demons in my head trying to figure out why it seemed every imaginable roadblock to my success in music was being placed before me,” he explains. “Getting ready to step out into the world with songs, only to have the world hold a giant red stop sign in front of my face was pretty much a surefire way to send my mind straight into the darkness. And boy did it ever.”

Time for some music. Here’s the opener and title song, which was inspired by Jaskewicz’s infatuation with oddly shaped trees, as well as the terminal cancer of a close friend. “As I thought of his pain and suffering aligned with the intense light of a human being he was, he became the Crooked Tree in my mind and the words started flowing, ” he told Music Life Now. “I wanted to paint a picture of how beautiful he was, how life had taken its toll on him, and how in reality we are all Crooked Trees. Our flaws make us beautiful. We should not bear shame for the mental and physical scars we have from enduring life.”

In What Is a Life Jaskewiciz muses about the factors that oftentimes limit life. In a separate blog post on his website, he explained, “The absurdity of the verses in What Is A Life are an homage to imagination. Wishes on a feather, bury the clouds and sow seeds of whim, windows of time on a golden swing…. All just random musings of the mind eventually pushed into some corner of your mind to die. Without opening your imagination, you never can truly see the beauty of things, you can’t paint the canvas of your life.”

War That Can’t be Won is a dark, powerful tune. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics: …Future’s falling from a poison sky/Future’s calling with a look in her eyes/Blood is flowing over government gold/Seeds of vengeance will grow no more…

I’d like to call out one more track: Falling in Your Eyes, the album’s beautiful closer.

“I am so proud to have released Crooked Tree,” Jaskewicz stated. “In a past life I would have been so content with just that, but the truth is I’m already working on the follow up and my goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.”Jaskewicz appears to be on a roll. At the time of his aforementioned statement, he already had 46 completed songs. On November 30, he released a new single titled Stars In Our Eyes.

I think Jaskewicz is off to a great start and I look forward to his sophomore album.

Sources: Michael Jaskewicz website; Music Life Now; YouTube

The Forgotten Fogerty

Even though he led the band that would become Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Fogerty always stood in the shadow of his younger brother

The idea for this post was triggered by a conversation with fellow blogger Badfinger20 about John Fogerty’s solo tune Rock and Roll Girls, which he covered here. When we turned to Creedence Clearwater Revival, he asked me whether I had ever heard John’s brother Tom Fogerty sing, adding they sounded so much alike. Since I actually had not, I started sampling a few songs from Tom’s eponymous debut album. Not only did I notice the vocal similarity but actually liked what I heard. So I continued. While Tom’s vocals and songs may not have been on par with John’s, I find his music pretty enjoyable and definitely feel it is underrecognized.

Before getting to a playlist with some of Tom’s music, providing some background is in order. Tom Fogerty was born on November 9, 1941 in Berkeley, Calif., about three and a half years prior to John. The brothers began playing music in high school, with each heading their own bands. After Tom’s band had broken up, John’s group The Blue Velvets started backing Tom who eventually joined them and became their leader. The Blue Velvets included future Creedence Clearwater Revival members Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums).

The Golliwogs
The Golliwogs (from left): Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, John Fogerty and Stu Cook

Between 1961 and 1962, The Blue Velvets recorded three singles with Tom on lead vocals. By the middle of the decade, they had changed their name to The Golliwogs – and John had started sharing lead vocal roles with Tom. In 1968, the group changed their name again, to Creedence Clearwater Revival. By that time, John had evolved to become the band’s sole lead singer and main songwriter. Tom essentially was relegated to playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vocals.

While Tom continued to write songs, only one tune ever made it onto a CCR album: Walk on the Water, which he originally had written for The Golliwogs. It was included on CCR’s eponymous debut from May 1968. Not surprisingly, Tom increasingly resented the lack of opportunity to record his songs and the dominance his younger brother exerted over the band. After CCR had finished the recording sessions for their sixth studio album Pendulum, Tom had enough and left to start a solo career.

Tom & John Fogerty
Tom Fogerty (left) with John Fogerty

In April 1971, he released his debut solo single Goodbye Media Man, which became one of his most successful songs relatively speaking – chart success largely eluded Tom Fogerty. His eponymous debut album came out the following year. During his lifetime, Tom had four additional solo records and, between 1976 and 1984, three albums with rock band Ruby. In 1988, Tom also recorded an album with former Ruby guitarist and keyboarder Randy Oda, Sidekicks, which wasn’t released until 1992 after Tom’s death.

While the Fogerty brothers shared the stage together with Cook and Clifford two more times after CCR had broken up – in October 1980 at the reception for Tom’s marriage to Tricia Clapper and three years later at a school reunion – sadly, they did not reconcile. There was simply too much bad blood between them. In his 2015 autobiography Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, John claimed he had tried to reconcile with Tom, according to a published excerpt from the book in Rolling Stone. Obviously, Tom can no longer speak for himself, and I don’t want to further get into what seems to have been a very complicated relationship between the two brothers.

Tom Fogerty in the studio
Tom Fogerty in the ’80s

On September 9, 1990, Tom Fogerty passed away at the age of 48 from tuberculosis that had been brought on by AIDS. Apparently, his HIV infection was caused by a transfusion with unscreened blood, which he received when undergoing back surgery during the ’80s – sounds pretty mind-boggling! Time for some music.

Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Walk on the Water from CCR’s 1968 eponymous debut album. This version of the tune, which initially was titled Walking on the Water when it was first recorded by The Golliwogs, was co-credited to both Fogerty brothers.

Here’s Tom’s debut solo single Goodbye Media Man from April 1971. Technically, it’s part 1. The B-side of the single featured part 2. This easily could have been a CCR tune. The use of the Hammond organ is quite reminiscent of CCR’s Pendulum album. Keyboarder Merl Saunders did a great job – nothing like a roaring B3!

This brings me to Tom’s eponymous debut album and Lady of Fatima. I really dig this tune, especially the bass work by John Kahn who like Merl Saunders frequently worked with Jerry Garcia.

In April 1974, Tom’s third album Zephyr National appeared. It actually featured contributions from all former CCR members. They even all played together on one song, aptly titled Joyful Resurrection, though John recorded his part separately from the others. While the tune was among the minor successes for Tom, I’d like to highlight the album’s soulful opener It’s Been a Good Day.

And I Love You is a great rocker from Tom’s fourth solo album Myopia from November 1974. I can hear a clear John Fogerty vibe in that guitar riff. Plus, Cook and Clifford played on the record, so it’s not surprising the tune has a CCR feel to it. Check it out!

Next up is a track from the eponymous debut album by the above mentioned Ruby, released in 1976. Other than the fact that Tom was part of that four-piece rock band, I don’t know anything about the group. The members included Randy Oda (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Anthony Davis (bass, vocals) and Bobby Cochran (drums, vocals). Here’s a nice funky tune called Running Back to Me, co-written by Oda, Fogerty and Cochran – pretty groovy with some great harmony guitar work!

Deal It Out was Tom’s final solo album released during his lifetime. It came out in 1981. Here’s the nice opener Champagne Love, which he co-wrote with Clifford. Whoever was playing slide guitar on that tune did a great job. Frankly, I could see that song on a John Fogerty album!

Let’s do one more, from Sidekicks, the posthumously released album in 1992 Tom had recorded with Randy Oda in 1988. Apparently, the two had developed a close friendship while working together in Ruby. During the recording sessions, Tom developed pneumonia and subsequently was diagnosed with AIDS. He recovered sufficiently to resume work on the album, which also features his son Jeff Fogerty on bass and backing vocals and Randy’s brother Kevin Oda on drums and percussion. It’s probably not a coincidence the sound of the record is more mellow than Tom’s previous work. Here’s We’ve Been Here Before.

As I said at the outset, while Tom Fogerty wasn’t quite as talented as his younger brother, his overall body of work is pretty solid and fun to listen to. I think Tom didn’t get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, which is unfortunate. His torturous relationship with his younger brother is outright sad. Tom was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 as a member of CCR.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Tedeschi Trucks Band/Angel From Montgomery & Sugaree

I coincidentally came across the above excellent clip of Tedeschi Trucks Band and didn’t have to think twice about posting it here. Apparently, the footage captures the group at Sunshine Blues Festival in Boca Raton, Fla. in January 2013, playing a great medley of Angel From Montgomery and Sugaree.

Angel From Montgomery was written by John Prine and originally appeared on his eponymous debut album from 1971. It was covered by various other artists, most notably Bonnie Raitt who recorded it for her 1974 studio album Streetlights – the version that came to my mind immediately when hearing Susan Tedeschi’s amazing vocals. Another highlight is the flute work by Kofi Burbridge.

The song neatly blends into Sugaree, a Jerry Garcia song with lyrics by long-time Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Garcia recorded it for his first solo album Garcia, which appeared in January 1972. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s version features a blistering solo by Derek Trucks. What a kick-ass band. I definitely need to do more on them!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

From Bonehead To Deadhead

My late discovery of the Grateful Dead

For a guy who has listened to music for now more than 40 years, I have to make a somewhat embarrassing admission: Until a few days ago, essentially, I hadn’t known anything about the Grateful Dead. Then, fellow blogger Intogroove, who had done a two-part series on the Dead, was kind enough to give me a few recommendations to start my long overdue exploration of the band. While after two days of fairly intense listening to some of their albums I certainly haven’t become a Dead expert, I’m ready to boldly declare myself a Deadhead – even if all the music I’ve yet to hear (and there is plenty left!) should turn out to be horrible, which I highly doubt!

So why the hell did it take me so long to realize how grate, I mean great, these guys are? For some reason, I always thought that with their marathon concerts and endless instrumental jams, the Dead would be a hard-to-acquire taste. Sure, some may find a 15-minute-plus jam of Fire On The Mountain on their Cornell 5/8/77 live album a bit heavy, and I know there are even longer tunes, but I don’t find anything terrible about it – on the contrary, I actually love that song! And then, of course one needs to realize there’s a significant difference between the studio Dead and the live Dead.

Grateful Dead Press Kit for 1967 Debut Album
Press kit for Grateful Dead eponymous 1967 studio album. From left to right: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, Ron McKernan and Phil Lesh

At least I had been aware of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), who together with Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron McKernan (keyboards, harmonica), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) founded Grateful Dead in the San Francisco area in 1965. I’m not going to recap their history here. I had first heard of Garcia in connection with the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu, one of my all-time favorite records, for which he played pedal steel guitar on Teach Your Children Well. According to Wikipedia, in exchange CSNY helped the Dead with their harmony singing on their albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Both are among the Dead records I’ve listened to and come to dig immediately.

Following is a playlist of Dead songs I like, based on what I’ve heard thus far. Obviously, this is by no means meant to be complete. Considering the band’s prolific output, I don’t think it’s even possible to come up with a playlist that’s completely representative, unless perhaps one does the equivalent to some of their live jams! So here we go.

One thing I noticed is that in addition to original tunes, the Dead had some great covers. One I like in particular is Good Morning, Little School Girl from their debut The Grateful Dead released in March 1967. The tune, which has been covered by many artists, was written and first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937.

Casey Jones is from Dead’s forth studio album, the above mentioned Workingman’s Dead, which appeared in June 1970. The track was co-written by Garcia (music) and Robert Hunter (lyrics), who frequently worked with the band. I was also happy to realize that I had heard the tune before.

The follow-on album to Workingman’s Dead was American Beauty from November 1970. Two records released with barely six months in-between is pretty amazing, especially by today’s standards! Anyway, here’s the seductive, groovy Truckin’, which is credited to Gracia, Lesh, Weir and Hunter.

Now, I’m going to make a big jump to July 1987, when Dead released what became their most commercially successful studio album In The Dark. Among others, it includes the catchy Touch Of Grey, another song I had heard before, which made it into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 9 – the Dead’s only top 40 single. I also had known Throwing Stones. The tune I like to highlight here is Black Muddy River, which was co-written by Garcia and Hunter. Gregg Allman covered this beautiful song on his final studio album, which is where I had heard it initially.

Since I realize no Dead playlist could be called as such without any live material, I’d like to include two tracks. The first is from Europe ’72, a triple album released in November 1972: Jack Straw, a co-write by Hunter and Weir.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the epic Fire On The Mountain. This is the version from Cornell 5/8/77, which appeared in May 2017. Initially, the song was included on Shakedown Street, Dead’s 10th studio album from November 1978. It is credited to Mickey Hart, who became a member of the band in September 1967 as an additional drummer, and Hunter.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Hardware: Gibson Les Paul

Just like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul is one of the defining electric guitars

As Jim, who writes the excellent Music Enthusiast blog, pointed out a couple of weeks ago after I had published my post about the Fender Stratocaster, I could just as well have called the Gibson Les Paul the model that embodies the electric guitar. I couldn’t agree more; in fact, I had planned all along to do a post on the Les Paul as well, so let’s get to it!

Obviously, the legendary guitar is closely associated with American guitarist, songwriter and inventor Les Paul. The origins of the electric guitar that would bear his name date back to 1940 when Paul built the so-called “Log” at the Epiphone guitar factory. The crude instrument, which consisted of a 4″ × 4″ chunk of pine wood with strings and a pickup, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars. To improve the look, Paul took the wings of an Epiphone archtop body and added them to the pine body.

Les Paul Log

When Paul offered his idea to the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1941, they initially turned him down. That changed when rival Fender started marketing their Esquire model in 1950, a solid-body electric guitar that later turned into the Broadcaster and eventually the Telecaster.

After Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty realized the enthusiasm about the Esquire and the Broadcaster, he asked Paul to become a consultant to the company. In 1951, Paul, McCarty and his team started developing a solid-body. While apparently there are differing recollections who contributed what, the result was the first Gibson Les Paul, introduced in 1952. Paul used it for the first time in public in June that year during a live performance at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

Gibson Les Paul 1952

The initial Les Paul featured a mahogany body and neck, two P-90 single coil pickups and a one-piece, trapeze-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under a steel stop-bar. In 1953, a second Les Paul model called the Les Paul Custom was introduced. A more important development happened in 1957, when Gibson introduced humbucker pickups on the Les Pauls. According to Wikipedia, a humbucker is a double-coil pick-up to cancel out the interference picked up by single-coil pickups, i.e., bucking the hum.

While the Les Paul models were formidable instruments, they were pretty heavy, which is why initially they weren’t widely embraced by guitarists. As a result, in 1961, Gibson introduced the Gibson SG, a lighter solid-body guitar that became the company’s best-selling model of all time. The company also stopped producing the traditional Les Paul.

Gibson SG 1961

Initially, Gibson launched the SG as the new Gibson Les Paul. But since the model had been developed without Paul’s knowledge and he was unhappy with the design, he requested that his name be removed from the headstock. Gibson agreed and Paul remained as a consultant with the company. Personally, I’ve always found the SG is a really cool looking guitar.

Ironically, a few years after production had been discontinued, Les Paul models started to become en vogue when guitarists like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton discovered and began using them. Other guitarists followed, such as Mike Bloomfield from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Again reacting to popularity trends, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul single cutaway guitar in July 1968. While there have been some tweaks over the years, the model remains in production to this day.

As indicated above, many guitarists have used Les Pauls. Following is a list of some of them.

Duane Allman

The legendary session musician and lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band has used various Les Paul models. Here’s a great clip of the band’s epic live performance of Whipping Post at the Fillmore East in 1970. I believe Allman was playing a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop.

Eric Clapton

While Clapton is better known for Fender Stratocaster guitars, he has also used Gibson models, including a 1960 sunburst Les Paul and a 1957 goldtop Les Paul Custom. In 2010, Gibson announced the Clapton 1960 Les Paul Standard signature model, also known as the “Beano Burst.” Here’s a clip of Clapton playing his 1960 Les Paul.

Jimmy Page

Page has used various Les Paul models, including from 1959 and 1973. He also owned a modified 1960 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty,” which was stolen in 1970 and has never been found. Gibson has produced three Jimmy Page signature models. In this clip from Led Zeppelin’s live performance of We’re Gonna Groove at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, Page can be seen using a Les Paul.

Slash

Slash has used many different Les Paul models including his own custom shop Les Paul. Altogether, he has collaborated with Gibson on eight signature models. Here’s a clip of a 1988 Guns N’ Roses’ live performance of Sweet Child O’ Mine, featuring Slash on a Les Paul.

Joe Perry

The Aerosmith lead guitarist has used many Gibson guitar models, including various Les Pauls. Gibson has released two Joe Perry signature Les Pauls, the first in 1996, the second in 2004. The latter is known as the Boneyard Les Paul. In the following clip of a live performance of Toys In the Attic, Perry is playing the Boneyard.

Gary Moore

Moore played a Les Paul Standard. There were also two Gibson Gary Moore signature Les Pauls. Here’s the blues rocker and his Les Paul in action live with Walking By Myself.

Pete Townshend

Among other Gibson models, The Who guitarist used various customized Les Pauls from 1973 to 1979. In 2005, Gibson introduced three Townshend signature Les Paul Deluxe guitars, based on his heavily customized “#1” Wine Red 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, “#3” Gold top 1976, and “#9” Cherry Sunburst 1976. Here is a great clip of a 1978 live performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again, which became the closing scene of The Kids Are Alright rockumentary, in which Townshend plays one of his customized Les Pauls. Sadly, one of the most iconic moments in rock also captured the last performance of Keith Moon, who died in September that year.

Of course, this post would not be complete without a clip of the maestro himself, Les Paul. Not only does it show Paul perform one of his biggest hit singles, How High the Moon (1951), but he also demonstrates one of his inventions called Les Paulverizer. According to Wikipedia, the little device attached to his guitar allowed Paul to access pre-recorded layers of songs during live performance, so he could replicate his recorded sound on stage.

Sources: Wikipedia; Premier Guitar; YouTube