Musings of the Past

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

Last week (May 11), Eric Burdon turned 82 years. Since the first moment I heard him I’ve always thought he’s one of the most compelling white blues vocalists. It also reminded me of a post I published in February 2019. Here it is again with the added bonus of a Spotify playlist at the end. Yes, it’s a bit of a beast! 🙂

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

For more than 50 years, Eric Burdon has been one of rock’s most distinctive vocalists

Oftentimes, I feel the best blog ideas are inspired by a previous post. In this case, it was my writing about great covers performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which included I’m Crying by The Animals. The tune reminded me of Eric Burdon and a voice I’ve always felt was made for singing the blues. Just like many other blues artists or more generally those who started out during the ’60s and ’70s, Burdon has experienced it all, from the highest high to the deepest low and everything else in-between. Unlike many fellow artists, he’s still there, which I think makes him one of the ultimate survivors.

Eric Victor Burdon was born on May 11, 1941, in the northeastern English industrial town of Newcastle upon Tyne. His upbringing in a lower-class working family was rough. Burdon started smoking at the age of 10 and skipping school with friends to drink beer. He described his early school years as a Dickens novel-like “dark nightmare,” which included bullying, sexual molestation and sadistic teachers hitting kids with a leather strap. While his father Matt Burdon struggled as an electric repairman, this allowed the family to have a TV by the time Eric was 10. Yet again the TV sparking it all!

Seeing Louis Armstrong on the tube triggered Burdon’s initial interest in music, first in the trombone, then in singing. The next decisive stage in his life was secondary school and a teacher named Bertie Brown who helped him get into the local art college. There he met John Steele, the original drummer of The Animals. They ended up playing in a band called The Pagan Jazzmen. By early 1959, keyboardist Alan Price had joined. After a few iterations and name changes, the band evolved into The Animals in 1962.

The Animals (from left): John Steele, Eric Burdon, Hilton Valentine, Alan Price and Chas Chandler

The initial lineup featured Burdon (lead vocals), Steele (drums), Price (keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Chas Chandler (bass), who later became the manager of Jimi Hendrix. Between September and December 1963, The Animals developed a following in Newcastle by playing local clubs there. During that period, Burdon met some of his blues heroes, including John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Animals also backed Williamson during a local gig.

In December 1963, The Animals recorded their first single Baby Let Me Take You Home. It climbed to a respectable no. 22 on the UK singles chart. But it was the second single, The House Of The Rising Sun from June 1964, which brought the big breakthrough, topping the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada and Sweden. It also started the beginning of the band’s demise when the arrangement of the traditional was only credited to Price who collected all the songwriting royalties.

The band’s first studio album The Animals appeared in the U.S. in September 1964. Their British debut record followed two months later. As was quite common at the time, the track listing between the two versions differed. Altogether, the original incarnation of The Animals released five U.S. and three U.K. studio albums. Here’s the above-mentioned I’m Crying, which was included on the second U.S. record The Animals On Tour, a peculiar title for a studio album. Co-written by Burden and Price, it’s one of only a few original tracks by the band that was mostly known for fiery renditions of blues and R&B staples by the likes of John Lee HookerJimmy Reed and Ray Charles.

In May 1966, The Animals released Don’t Bring Me Down. Co-written by songwriter duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the tune became Burdon’s favorite single, he told Louder/The Blues during a long interview in April 2013. The song also became the opening track to the band’s fourth U.S. album  Animalization released in July 1966. The great tune is characterized by a distinct Hammond B3 sound played by Dave Rowberry, who had replaced Alan Price following his departure in late 1965, and Hilton Valentine’s fuzz guitar.  Burdon recalled the song’s recording in a hotel in the Bahamas. “There was an old record player in the room where we were recording and it had this strange, thin electrostatic speaker. Dave Rowberry connected it to his Hammond B3 and that’s where the sound comes from on that track.”

By September 1966, The Animals had dissipated and Burdon started work on his first solo album Eric Is Here, which wouldn’t appear until the following year. Meanwhile, in December 1966, he formed Eric Burdon & The Animals. In addition to him, the band included Barry Jenkins, who had replaced John Steel on drums during the first incarnation of The AnimalsJohn Weider (guitar, violin, bass), Vic Briggs (guitar, piano) and Danny McCulloch (bass). The band subsequently relocated from the U.K. to San Francisco. By that time, Burdon had become a heavy user of LSD.

In October 1967, Eric Burdon & The Animals released their debut. Appropriately titled Winds Of Change, it featured mostly original tracks and psychedelic-oriented rock, a major departure from the past. But, as Louder/The Blues noted, except for San Franciscan Nights, “the British public were reluctant to accept Eric’s transformation from hard-drinking Geordie bluesman to LSD-endorsing, peace and love hippy.” Three more albums followed before this second incarnation of The Animals dissolved in late 1968. Here’s Monterey, the opener to their second record The Twain Shall Meet from May 1968. Reflecting the band’s drug-infused experiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, where they also had performed, the tune is credited to all five members.

Disillusioned with the music business, Burdon went to LA to try acting. But after one year, he returned to music, fronting a Californian funk rock band that would be called War. Together they recorded two original albums in 1970. Here’s Spill The Wine from the first, Eric Burden Declares “War”, which appeared in April 1970. Credited to the members of War, the tune became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked Burdon’s last major chart success.

Burdon’s relationship with War abruptly unraveled after the band had decided to record their next album without him. It was around the same time his friend  Jimi Hendrix passed away. Burdon was devastated. “That became the end of the parade because it affected us so much,” he stated during the above Louder/The Blues interview. “It was tough for me. It was tough for everybody.” Unfortunately, one of Burdon’s answers was drugs and more drugs.

During the ’70s and ’80s, Burdon had numerous drug excesses. In 1983, this led to an arrest in Germany where he had lived since 1977. Subsequently, he returned to the U.S. Yet despite all the upheaval, Burdon still managed to continue recording albums and touring. In 1971, he teamed up with American jump blues artist Jimmy Witherspoon for a record titled Guilty! Here’s Home Dream, a great slow blues tune written by Burdon.

In August 1977, the first incarnation of The Animals released the first of two reunion albums, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, billed as The Original Animals. Despite positive reviews, the record only reached no. 70 on the  Billboard 200. Lack of promotion, no supporting tour and most importantly appearing at a time when punk and disco ruled were all factors. Here’s the great opener Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt), a tune co-written by Jerry LeiberMike Stoller and Clyde Otis.

Next up: Going Back To Memphis, a song co-written by Burdon and Steve Grant. It appeared on Burdon’s 1988 album I Used To Be An Animal. Released in the wake of his autobiography I Used To Be An Animal, But I’m Alright Now,  it was Burdon’s first new album in almost four years.

In April 2004, My Secret Life appeared, Burdon’s first new solo record in almost 16 years. Here’s the opener Once Upon A Time, a nice soulful tune co-written by Burdon and Robert Bradley.

‘Til Your River Runs Dry is Burdon’s most recent studio release, which came out in January 2013. His website calls it his “most personal album to date.” Here’s  Old Habits Die Hard, co-written by Burdon and Tom Hambridge. “This song is dedicated to the people in Egypt and Libya trying to throw off the shackles of all those centuries of brutality,” Burdon told Rolling Stone a few days prior to the record’s release. “It reminds me of Paris in 1968 when I saw the kids going up against the brutal police force or the L.A. uprising. I went through these experiences and they’re still with me today. The struggle carries on. I wrote this song so I won’t forget and to say, even though I’m older now, I am still out there with you.”

Burdon’s most recent recording is a nice cover of For What It’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and originally released by Buffalo Springfield in December 1966. He commented on his website: The whole idea of recording this song came as a result of a conversation I had with a young fan backstage, when she asked me, “Where are the protest songs today?” Right then and there, I wanted to write something about the brutality that’s going on in the world today but I couldn’t find any better way to say it than Buffalo Springfield did in “For What It’s Worth.

In 1994, Eric Burdon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of The Animals, along with the other original members of the band. He did not attend the induction ceremony. Burdon remains active to this day and uses the name The Animals for his backing band, which includes Evan Mackey  (trombone), Davey Allen (piano), Dustin Koester (drums), Johnzo West (guitar), Justin Andres (bass) and Ruben Salinas (saxophone).

While Burdon’s website currently does not list any upcoming gigs for this year, according to Consequence of SoundEric Burdon & The Animals are part of the lineup for the KAABOO Festival in Arlington, Texas, May 10-12. The band is also scheduled to perform on May 26 at Avila Beach Blues Festival in California.

Asked by Louder/The Blues during the above interview how he would sum up the past 50 years, Burdon said, “I’d been screwed by [War], I’d been screwed by The Animals. All use Burdon because he’s a great front guy and then come payday where’s the money? A lot of people had a great ride off me being on stage and I didn’t get much of it.” With a little chuckle he added, “I’m not bitter. I’m bittersweet.”

– END –

The original post, which was published on February 10, 2019, ended here. One thing that happened since then is a 2020 British TV documentary titled Eric Burdon, Rock’ n’ Roll Animal, which was written and directed by Hannes Rossacher, an Austrian film director and producer. It featured interviews with Burdon, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, George Thorogood and Patti Smith. An edited version is available here.

Other than an awkward 2022 remix of Spill the Wine, I’m not aware of any music associated with Burdon, which has appeared since the time the above post was published first. The most recent evidence of live performances I could find on Setlist.fm was from November 2019. The lack of more recent concerts could largely be explained by the pandemic. There’s an Eric Burdon website, but other than what looks like a fairly recent photo, it’s not evident whether it is active. Perhaps Eric is simply taking it easy these days, which after 60-plus years since the start of his career would be more than deserved!

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist. It features all of the above tracks except For What It’s Worth, as well as a good number of additional tunes from throughout Burdon’s recording career.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder/The Blues; Deutsche Welle; Eric Burdon website; Rolling Stone; Consequence of Sound; Eventbrite; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday, and I hope you’re in the mood to accompany me on another zig-zag trip with the magical music time machine. As always, the journey shall include six stops in different decades, featuring music in different flavors. But this time, I’d like to shake things up a tiny bit. Let’s go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Lenny

Today, our first stop is June 1983, which saw the release of electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut album Texas Flood. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna hit you over the head (yet) with some hard-charging Jimi Hendrix-style blues rock. Instead, we’re gonna do it nice and easy with a relaxing jazzy instrumental, Lenny, the album’s closer. Just listen to that brilliant guitar tone and you know why I love Vaughan as much as I do. He was backed by Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris Layton (drums), who were known as Double Trouble. Initially, they were a five-piece (including SVR) Vaughan had formed in 1978, and after some line-up changes evolved into a power trio. Sadly, the career of Vaughan, one of the most talented guitarists I can think of, was tragically cut short in August 1990 when he died in a helicopter crash, along with the pilot and three other passengers on board.

Buzzcocks/Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

Okay, time to wake up in case you nodded off during the previous track – now we’re gonna kick some butt! This next tune takes us to September 1978. That’s when English punk rockers Buzzcocks came out with their sophomore album Love Bites. And I’m not talking about some fast and loud music and screaming vocals by some guys who can barely play their instruments. This is punk with catchy pop hooks and decent vocals – in other words, my kind of punk! The Buzzcocks were formed in Bolton, England in 1976 by singer-songwriters Pete Shelley (vocals, guitar) and Howard Devoto (lead vocals). Devoto already departed after the release of the group’s debut EP Spiral Scratch (Jan 1977) to form Magazine, an early post-punk band. By the time Love Bites appeared, the remaining line-up of Buzzcocks included original members Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals), Steve Garvey (bass) and John Maher (drums). Buzzcocks who are still around have since seen multiple changes. Shelley remained until his death of a suspected heart attack in December 2018. Diggle is still around. To date, Buzzcocks have released 10 studio albums, most recently Sonics in the Soul, which came out in September 2022.

The Platters/The Great Pretender

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you’ve probably noticed I dig great singing. A lot! As such, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I like certain vocal groups. One of the first such formations I heard are The Platters. I can’t quite remember whether it was Only You (And You Alone), their first hit single from July 1955, or the follow-on, which I decided to feature here. Released in November 1955, The Great Pretender became an even bigger chart success, their first single to top the U.S. pop charts. Written by Samuel “Buck” Ram, who also was a prominent music producer and arranger, The Great Pretender was a no. 1 in The Netherlands as well and reached no. 5 in each the UK and Belgium. Amazingly, a touring version of The Platters exists to this day, though none of their founders are still around. The one constant member from the group’s inception in 1952 until his death in 2012 was Herb Reed. And, sure enough, The Platters are on the road and have a pretty busy schedule throughout the year. So, let’s hear it for The Great Pretender – what a marvelous classic!

Nirvana/Smells Like Teen Spirit

Our next stop is the ’90s, the decade where I began to largely tune out from contemporary music unless it was by a band or artist I had started to follow in the late ’70s or ’80s. I realize this time and again when fellow bloggers post about ’90s music. There were a few notable exceptions – thank goodness! One I initially wasn’t crazy about were Nirvana. It took me a few times until I fully appreciated the brilliance of Smells Like Teen Spirit, the opener and lead single of their sophomore album Nevermind, released September 10 and September 24, 1991, respectively. The tune was primarily penned by frontman and main songwriter Kurt Cobain with inputs from the band’s bassist and drummer Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, respectively. The title was derived from the phrase “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit,” which his friend Kathleen Hanna, lead vocalist of punk band Bikini Kill, had written on his wall. Cobain thought it was some revolutionary slogan. However, Hanna referred to the deodorant Teen Spirit, which she and Cobain’s then-girlfriend Tobi Vail had discovered during a trip to the grocery store. The dynamic changes in this haunting tune are just incredible!

The Rolling Stones/Child of the Moon

We’re four stops into this trip and haven’t visited the ’60s yet. This must be corrected immediately by setting our music time machine to May 1968. On the 24th of that month, The Rolling Stones released Jumpin’ Jack Flash as a non-album single in the UK. It also came out in the U.S. one week later. Since it appeared, the Stones have played Jumpin’ Jack Flash during each of their tours – I mean, it’s a dynamite tune, so who can blame them! By comparison, I think it’s fair to say the single’s B-side, Child of the Moon, has largely remained obscure, even though it’s a great tune as well. It got my attention the other day when I came across the cool official video. As noted by ABKCO Music & Record when posting the clip on YouTube, Filmed in 1968, this surrealist promotional film features all five original band members and Emmy Award-winning actress Dame Eileen June Atkins. Shot on a farm near Enfield, outside north London, the eerie music video for “Child of the Moon” is an early example of the narrative approach, when the format was in its infancy, over a decade before the advent of MTV.

Artemis/Lights Away From Home

And once again, this brings us to the sixth and final stop. You may wonder what happened to the “usual jazz track”. I told you things would be a bit different this time, though my first pick by blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan was jazzy. Here comes a second instrumental with a more traditional jazz sound, except it’s by a contemporary New York all-female sextet, Artemis, and it’s brand new. From their website: The brainchild of pianist and composer Renee Rosnes, Artemis is a powerful ensemble of modern masters. Named for the Greek goddess of the hunt, the multinational, multigenerational band was founded in 2017 under the banner of International Women’s Day. Artemis’ performance at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival was so dynamic, Blue Note Records President Don Was signed the group to the label. Tour dates across Europe and North America followed, including performances at such iconic stages as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, SFJAZZ, Chicago Orchestra Hall, as well as at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Saratoga Jazz Festival, and the Monterey Jazz Festival among others. Off their sophomore and new album In Real Time, which was released on May 5, here’s Lights Away From Home, a composition by the ensemble’s bassist Noriko Ueda. According to this review by Glide Magazine, this groovy track was inspired by watching a meteor shower. BTW, in addition to their involvement with Artemis, each of these six amazing ladies is leading their own band!

Of course, I won’t leave you without a link to a Spotify playlist featuring each of the above goodies. Hope you enjoyed our trip and will be back for more. And, who knows what may be in store next. Perhaps, I’ll throw in some yodel music! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Artemis website; Glide Magazine; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop featured Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry, and we started exchanging comments about Berry’s importance in shaping early guitar-driven rock & roll. When I heard the iconic intro to Johnny B. Goode for the first time as a young cat, I wanted to be able to play like that. Once I got my first electric guitar at around 14 or 15, I tried very hard, but my fretting fingers just wouldn’t cooperate very well.

Berry’s playing was actually pretty crude, but it just sounded cool. And what a terrific showman he was. Only much later did I realize how great his lyrics were. I also learned that like many of my music heroes, Berry was no angel. All of this made me think of a post I first published in August 2017. Instead of writing about Berry’s original recordings, I thought it would be fun to feature great covers of his songs performed by other artists. So, here is that post again, slightly edited and with a Spotify playlist added as a bonus.

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

A list of covers from AC/DC to The Yardbirds

A few days ago, I coincidentally came across a previously created iTunes playlist I had completely forgotten about: Covers of Chuck Berry classics performed by other music artists. I thought it would be fun to develop a post around this theme.

While no one artist can claim they created an entire genre of music, there is a reason why Berry was known as Mr. Rock & Roll. In any case, the number of other artists who covered his tunes sure as heck is impressive.

Maybelline/Foghat

English blues and boogie rock band Foghat included a killer version of  Maybelline on their 1972 eponymous album. The tune was written and recorded by Berry in 1955, and first released as a single in July that year. It also appeared on his 1959 iconic third study album Chuck Berry Is On Top, which also included many of his other major hits. Here’s a great clip of the tune from a Foghat live performance.

School Days/AC/DC

AC/DC recorded a cool cover of School Days for their second Australian studio album T.N.T., which appeared in December 1975. Originally, Berry released the song as a single in March 1957, two months ahead of his debut studio album  After School Session.

Too Much Monkey Business/The Yardbirds

Too Much Monkey Business is the first track on Five Live Yardbirds, the band’s terrific debut live album from 1964. Berry released the song as his fifth single in September 1956. It was also included on the After School Session album.

Sweet Little Sixteen/John Lennon

John Lennon recorded a nice Memphis soul-style cover of Sweet Little Sixteen for Rock ‘n’ Roll, his sixth studio album from 1975. Berry released the track as a single in January 1958. It was also included on his second studio album One Dozen Berries, which appeared in March 1958.

Rock & Roll Music/The Beatles

Rock & Roll Music is among my favorite rock & roll covers by The Beatles. They included it on their 1964 fourth studio album Beatles For Sale. Berry initially released the tune as a single in September 1957. It also appeared on the One Dozen Berrys studio album. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the Beatles’ studio version, so here is a live performance captured from a 1965 performance in Paris. [Actually, nothing unfortunate about it. Rock & Roll Music is now available on YouTube, but I decided to keep that live clip – CMM]

Carol/The Rolling Stones

I’ve always loved the cover of the song The Rolling Stones recorded. Initially, they included it on their 1964 eponymous debut album, but my favorite version appeared on the fantastic 1970 live record Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!. First released in 1958 as a single, Carol is also one of the gems from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Here’s a great clip of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out version. [Damn, I’ve said it before and I say it again, the Stones never sounded as great as on that live album – CMM]

Johnny B. Goode/Jimi Hendrix

If I only had one classic rock & roll tune to choose, it would be Berry’s 1958 gem  Johnny B. Goode, which first appeared as a single in March that year and is yet another highlight from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Who could possibly do a better cover of it than Jimi Hendrix? Here is a great clip of Hendrix absolutely killing it live – not sure whether it is the same performance that was also captured on  Hendrix in the West, a 1972 posthumous live album. [Kind of funny how Hendrix asks the audience whether his music is too loud! – CMM]

Little Queenie/The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

Frankly, I do not quite remember how I came across this cover of Little Queenie  when I put together the above iTunes playlist, but I find it pretty awesome. It’s performed by country and southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters featuring Johnnie Johnson, a jazz, blues and rock & roll pianist, and was included on a 2015 release titled Meet Me In Bluesland. Originally, Berry released Little Queenie as a single in 1959, another tune from Chuck Berry Is On Top.

Roll Over Beethoven/Electric Light Orchestra

It’s safe to say this is one of the most unique covers of the track performed by Electric Light Orchestra. Blending elements of classical music with rock & roll and other styles of rock, ELO is one of the weirdest ’70s bands, in my opinion. While most of their productions were bombastic and completely over the top, I still have to admit there is something intriguing about their music. Their 8-minute-plus cover of Roll Over Beethoven was included on their eponymous second studio album, which was released in 1972. Berry first recorded the tune as a single in May 1956. It also appeared on Chuck Berry Is On Top. The following clip is an abbreviated live version of the song, captured from a 1973 performance on The Midnight Special, an American late-night music variety show that aired during the 1970’s and early ’80s.

Memphis/The Hollies

This cover from The Hollies was included on the band’s debut album Stay With The Hollies, which appeared in the U.K. in January 1964. The track was also included on the U.S. version of the album titled Here I Go Again, released in June that year. Berry first recorded Memphis as a single in 1959.

– END-

The original post, which was published on August 26, 2017, ended here. Man, this is classic rock & roll, and I hope you guys had as much fun revisiting these tunes as I did! Following is the aforementioned Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Highway 61 Have Arrived After 30 Years With Phenomenal Debut Album

L.A. blues and rock & roll band’s “Driving South” took global pandemic, near-fatal cancer episode and death of mentor to materialize

A band named Highway 61 was bound to get my attention. It also didn’t hurt the four-piece from Los Angeles deliver music they rightfully describe as mixing doses of The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty with dashes of The Black Crowes and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Last but not least, there’s a truly inspiring background story behind their excellent debut album Driving South, which officially will be released on April 7 and is already available digitally on streaming platforms as of last Friday (March 24).

Before getting to some great music, I like to touch on the group’s history, especially for readers who didn’t catch my most recent Best of What’s New installment. Highway 61 originally were founded in the early ’90s. While they managed to establish themselves on the Southern California club circuit, they didn’t secure a record deal. “We were young and committed to constantly rehearsing, writing, promoting, and playing stellar shows,” recalls drummer Mike Knutson in the band’s official bio, which was kindly provided to me by their manager Gregg Bell of Wanted Management. “…but eventually we got burnt out, the scene changed, and we split up.”

That split happened in 1993. But while they went their separate ways (most notably, guitarist and vocalist Frank Meyer formed award-winning punk band The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs), they remained friends and occasionally worked with each other. Fast-forward to 2020 when the world found itself in the throes of the global COVID pandemic and guitarist Andy Medway was confronted with a life-changing experience – a diagnosis with leukemia. After a year of chemotherapy, Medway ended up undergoing a bone marrow transplant. This required more than a year of recovery and resulted in a series of complications and setbacks.

“Frank was great about staying in touch with me during my recovery and encouraging me to play music even when I didn’t know if I would ever be able to play again,” says Medway in the band’s bio. “Music truly is the great healer.” Not only that it turned out. Here’s more from Highway 61’s bio: Inspired by the challenge, Medway started firing off ideas. Soon he and Meyer had written several songs, including the Driving South track “Black Magic,” which led to the reunion with Knutson and [bassist and vocalist Russell] Loeffler.

In summer 2022, the foursome reconvened for the first time in decades at Kitten Robot Studios in Los Angeles with producer Paul Roessler (The Screamers, 45 Grave, Nina Hagen) to make Driving South, which mixes doses of The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty with dashes of The Black Crowes and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The band ripped through the entire album over a few weeks, finally tracking fan favorites like “Baby, Where’s You Stay Last Night” and “Supernatural Monkey Child,” alongside brand new song “Black Magic.”

Driving South also salutes Highway 61 mentor Alan Mirikitani, a.k.a. blues guitar master BB Chung King, who sadly passed away in 2015. “Walk on Water” and “Breath Away” feature unreleased solos Mirikitani recorded with the band in 1992. In an incredibly emotional reunion, “Walk on Water” also features Mirikitani’s daughter Alana Mirikitani on backing vocals joining the two artists on an album for the first time.

Time to get some music! Let’s start at the very beginning with the aforementioned Walk on Water, the great opener that nicely sets the mood for the album and is a perfect illustration of what Highway 61 is all about – kickass rock & roll that makes me smile. Frank Meyer explains the song is “about evangelists, dirty politicians, and police brutality written around the time of the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. Riots. It’s nuts to me that we were writing about heady topics at such a young age.”

On Baby Where You’d Stay Last Night Highway 61 slightly slow down the tempo, but this tune still rocks as nicely as the previous opener.

Next is Black Magic. Unlike the other nine tunes the band wrote when they were still in their teens and early 20s, Black Magic is the only new song on the album.

Midnight Train has a cool funky sound. Check it out!

Let’s do one more: Supernatural Monkey Child, another neat funky rocker. It’s got a bit of a Jimi Hendrix vibe! I can also hear a dose of Stevie Ray Vaughan in here – damn!

“The crazy thing about this album is that with the exception of “Black Magic,” all of this material was written when we were still teenagers and in our early 20s,” observes Meyer. “Yet somehow these songs sound incredibly mature to me now.”

Adds Loeffler: “Thirty years is a long time, and during that time the music we created still resonated in me. While continuing to write and play music, I always wondered what the others were doing. We spent an enormous amount of time together, rehearsing, writing, traveling for shows, and becoming a family. When Frank called me about finishing what we started, I didn’t hesitate.”

Well, as they say, sometimes good things take time. Highway 61 have delivered what in my book is a fabulous debut. I also think I’m not alone in hoping that we won’t have to wait another 30 years for their next album. I’ll leave you with a Spotify link to Driving South, so you can check out the remaining tracks.

Sources: Highway 61 press materials; YouTube; Spotify

Joe Louis Walker’s New Album “Way of the World” is a Winner

Longtime singer-songwriter and guitarist delivers rich collection of blues, soul, funk and jazz

It only took listening to the first few bars of Weight of the World, the title track of Joe Louis Walker’s new album, to get a feeling I would love the music. It turns out my gut was right. Weight of the World, released on February 12, is a warm-sounding and rich collection of original songs, including soul, funk, blues and jazz.

If you happened to catch my latest Best of What’s New installment from Saturday, you may recall I highlighted one of the album’s tracks, Is It a Matter of Time? As I noted in the post, while I had featured Walker once before in June 2020, I hadn’t explored him any further then. Well, I’m glad I paid more attention this time!

From Walker’s website; photo by Mickey Deneher

Before getting to the album, I’d like to provide some background on Walker who picked up the guitar as a child and already started performing during his young teenage years in the mid-’60s. It appears for the first two decades as a professional musician, Walker was a sideman before launching a recording career in the mid-’80s.

From his current web bio: Walker has recorded with Ike Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, and Steve Cropper, opened for Muddy Waters and Thelonious Monk, hung out with Jimi Hendrix, Freddie King, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and was a close friend and roommate of Mike Bloomfield.

Walker’s 1986 debut album Cold Is the Night on HighTone announced his arrival in stunning fashion, and his subsequent output for Verve, Alligator, HighTone, and others only served to further establish Walker as one of today’s leading bluesmen. The New York Times raved, “Walker is a singer with a Cadillac of a voice. His guitar solos are fast, wiry, and incisive, moaning with bluesy despair.” Rolling Stone calls him “ferocious.” 

From Walker’s website; photo by Joe Del Tufo

Walker, who is in the Blues Hall of Fame and has won various blues awards, is primarily known as an electric blues guitarist. But his latest album demonstrates his influences extend beyond the blues. Time to take a closer look!

I’d like to kick things off with the great aforementioned title track The Weight of the World. The beautiful soul tune was penned by album producer Eric Corne who shared writing duties with Walker and provided guitar and backing vocals. Corne is a Canada-born and Los Angeles-based producer, engineer and singer-songwriter. His bio reveals impressive recording credits, including John Mayall, Glen Campbell, Kim Deal (The Pixies), Lucinda Williams and Walter Trout, among others.

I’m skipping the previously noted Is It a Matter of Time? and go right to Hello, It’s the Blues. The soulful ballad was written by Walker. Beautiful!

Don’t Walk Out That Door is another standout on the album and may in fact be my early favorite. This gem, which was co-written by Walker and Gabriel Jagger, sounds like sweet “old-fashioned” soul you could picture having come out of Stax – so good!

Next things turn funky on Count Your Chickens. This is another track written by Corne -groovy stuff!

How ’bout some kickass rock & roll? Look no further than Blue Mirror, penned by Walker. Yeah, baby, it’s only rock & roll but I like it. Check out the neat guitar and honky tonk piano action!

Let’s do one more. Did I mention jazz? Here’s the album’s fun closer You Got Me Whipped, another track written by Walker.

Weight of the World, which appears on Forty Below Records, was recorded “just outside of Woodstock, NY.” This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the fine musicians who backed Walker. In addition to Corne, they include Scott Milici (keyboards), Marc Pender (trumpet), David Ralicke (saxophone), Eric Gorfain (violins), Gia Ciambotti (backing vocals), Geoff Murfitt (bass), Eddie Jackson (bongos) and John Medeiros Jr. (drums).

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

Walker is supporting the album with a tour that is kicking off this Friday (February 24) in Beacon, N.Y. After a few additional dates in Woonsocket, R.I.; Northhampton, Mass. and Boston, Mass., he’s going to Europe, including France, Switzerland and Norway. The current schedule is here. I would love to see him, but unfortunately, none of the current dates work for me. I’m hoping for a second U.S. leg later this year or catch him some other time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Joe Louis Walker website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All featured tracks are on brand-new albums that appeared yesterday (February 17).

Inhaler/Just to Keep You Satisfied

My first pick is a tune from the latest album by Inhaler, an Irish indie pop rock band from Dublin I first featured in July 2021. Initially founded as a trio in 2012, they adopted the name Inhaler in 2015 and shortly thereafter became a four-piece. The current line-up includes co-founders Elijah Hewson (lead vocals, guitar), Robert Keating (bass, backing vocals) and Ryan McMahon (drums), together with Josh Jenkinson (guitar) who has been with the group since 2015. And, yep, Hewson is one of the sons of U2 frontman Bono. In 2018, the band self-released their debut single I Want You. Inhaler were voted no. 5 in BBC’s “Sound of 2020” poll and were also included in the NME 100: Essential New Artists for 2020 list. Just to Keep You Satisfied is the pleasant opener of their new sophomore album Cuts & Bruises. The song is credited to British musician and composer Antony Genn and all four members of the band. My initial impression of Inhaler hasn’t changed: While they don’t sound like U2, there’s definitely some Bono in Elijah’s vocals.

Screaming Females/Morning Dove

Screaming Females are an indie rock trio right from my backyard of New Brunswick, N.J. From their AllMusic bio: New Jersey’s Screaming Females combine scorching guitars, straightforward but melodic tunes, and a clever approach to dynamics with a firmly D.I.Y. approach to create their own brand of punk-infused indie rock. Mixing equal parts Dinosaur Jr. and Sleater-Kinney, the Brunswick trio of Marissa Paternoster (guitar/vocals), Michael Abbate (bass), and Jarrett Dougherty (drums) strive to embody the spirit of indie rock in its purest form, pringing their guitar-driven rock to the people without compromise. The straightforward swagger of their first album, 2007’s Baby Teeth, would give way to more ambitious structures and greater guitar heroics from Paternoster by the time of 2012’s Ugly, 2018’s All at Once, and 2023’s Desire Pathway showed that trickier song structures and more full-bodied production didn’t sap their passion and energy. Off their eighth and latest album, here’s Morning Dove, credited to all three members of the band – pretty good tune!

Grade 2/Fast Pace

Grade 2 are a British punk rock band. From their website: 50 years after the genre turned the music world upside-down, Grade 2 bring the raw power of old school punk to a new generation…Formed on their native Isle of Wight when they were just 14 years old, Jack Chatfield (guitar & vocals), Jacob Hull (drums) and Sid Ryan (bass & vocals) honed their craft covering punk pioneers before creating a sound uniquely theirs: ten years on, the eponymous ‘Grade 2’ is their magnus opus. From the complex rhythms and brutal two-note guitar of opening track ‘Judgement Day’, the record grabs by the scruff of the neck and never lets up. With a commitment to the cause, lead single ‘Doing Time’ is a thunderous hardcore punk track…Intertwined are upbeat bangers (‘Under the Streetlight’, ‘Celine’), classic pop-punk (‘Don’t Stand Alone’, ‘Fast Pace’), and savage old-school grit (‘Parasite’, ‘Gaslight’). The result is a bone-crunching 35-minutes that agitates, intoxicates and liberates in equal measure. Here’s Fast Pace, credited to the group – my kind of punk combining hard-charging rock with a decent melody!

Joe Louis Walker/Is It a Matter of Time?

My last pick for this week is another artist I featured previously, in June 2020: Joe Louis Walker. From his previous web bio: Joe Louis Walker, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Blues Music Award winner celebrates a career that exceeds a half a century…A true powerhouse guitar virtuoso, unique singer and prolific songwriter, he has toured extensively throughout his career, performed at the world’s most renowned music festivals, and earned a legion of dedicated fans…Born on December 25, 1949 in San Francisco, at age 14, he took up the guitar. Just two years later, he was a known quantity on the Bay Area music scene, playing blues with an occasional foray into psychedelic rock. For a while, he roomed with Mike Bloomfield, who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. If my math is correct, the above means Walker has been performing since the mid-’60s. Yet it wasn’t until 1986 that he released his debut album Cold Is the Night. Since then he has recorded more than 20 additional albums. Apple Music tags his latest, Weight of the World, as R&B and soul. While it also has some blues, I would agree with that characterization. Here’s Is It a Matter of Time? penned by Walker – love this!

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist of the above tracks and a few additional songs by the featured bands and artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Grade 2 website; YouTube; Spotify

Yearend Musings Part 2

A look back on new albums released in 2022

For the last time this year, I’d like to wish everybody a happy Saturday. I’m back from my short Christmas hiatus with the second installment of my two-part year-end review of new music released in 2022. Part 1 focused on new songs. In this post, I’m taking a look back at my six favorite albums of the year.

Altogether, I reviewed approximately 20 albums that were released over the course of the past 12 months. This count doesn’t include reissues like Neil Young’s nice Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition or other new releases of old music, such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Live at the Fillmore (1997), an excellent box set I can highly recommend checking out. Mirroring the approach I took for 2022 new songs, I’m doing this in chronological order.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Cold As Weiss

Kicking off this year-end revue with an all-instrumental album may seem to come a bit out of left field, given I’m a huge fan of vocals, but Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and their groovy Hammond-driven jazz was love at first sight. Plus, if you’re a more frequent visitor of my blog, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that instrumental music no longer is a rarity on these pages. Cold As Weiss, released on February 11, is the third studio album by this great trio, who apart from Delvon Lamarr (Hammond organ) features Jimmy Jones (guitar) and Dan Weiss (drums). Aka. DLO3, the trio has been around since May 2015 and describes their music as a “soul-jazz concoction”, blending 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkling Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. Let’s listen to Get Da Steppin’. My full review of this fun album is here.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Classic rock may no longer be in the mainstream, but it sure ain’t dead. Just ask Goodbye June from Memphis, Tenn., who have been helping carry the torch since 2005. The band is a family affair, comprised of cousins Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar). On February 18, their fourth studio album See Where the Night Goes came out. The group’s sound, which is reminiscent of AC/DC, is a great listening experience. Check out the neat opener Step Aside below and my full review of the album here. Goodbye June truly rock!

Spotify album link:

Bonnie Raitt/Just Like That…

Frequent visitors of the blog and folks who know my music taste otherwise probably won’t be surprised to see Bonnie Raitt in this year-end post. I think her 21st studio album Just Like That…, which appeared on April 21, may well be her best to date in a now 51-year-and-counting recording career. If I would have to name my 2022 album of the year, Raitt’s first new release in more than six years would be it! Since this amazing lady first entered my radar screen with the outstanding Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve really come to dig her smooth slide-guitar playing, her voice and, of course, the songs most of which are renditions of tunes written by other artists. Here’s the Stonesy Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which Raitt wrote the lyrics to music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. Here is my full review of the album, a true gem that is a must-listen-to for Bonnie Raitt fans.

Spotify album link:

Jane Lee Hooker/Rollin’

Shortly on the heels of Bonnie Raitt, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ on April 29. I first experienced the great New York-based blues rock-oriented band during a free summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017 when they still were an all-female group and was immediately impressed by their infectious energy. All members remain, except for original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston who departed in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo. Earlier this year, I saw Jane Lee Hooker during a release party in New York City for the new album and can confirm the band’s only gent is a great fit. Rollin’ offers their familiar hard-charging electric guitar-driven blues rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. A great illustration of the band’s more refined sound is the beautiful soul-oriented rock ballad Drive. My review of the full album is here.

Spotify album link:

Tedeschi Trucks Band/I’m the Moon

I’m the Moon, a four-album series, is the most ambitious studio project to date by Tedeschi Trucks Band and probably of 2022 overall. Each of the four installments, released individually between June and August, had a 30-minute-plus companion film. The entire project, which features 24 songs, became available as one collection on September 9. I’m the Moon was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem – intriguingly the very same poem that also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. You can read my two-part review of this impressive project here and here. Following I’d like to highlight Hear My Dear, the lead track of the first album. This gem was written by the group’s co-leaders and wife and husband Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, along with the band’s keyboarder Gabe Dixon who is also one of their vocalists.

Spotify album link:

Buddy Guy/The Blues Don’t Lie

I’d like to wrap up this post with one of my absolute blues guitar heroes, Buddy Guy, who at 86 years young can still rock with the ferocity of Jimi Hendrix. On September 30, Guy released his 19th studio album The Blues Don’t Lie. The date coincided with the 65th anniversary of the legendary guitarist’s arrival in Chicago from Louisiana. Once again produced by longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the album features guest appearances by Mavis StaplesJames TaylorElvis CostelloJason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Most importantly, The Blues Don’t Lie truly fires on all cylinders. You can find my full review here. Perhaps the song that best sums up Buddy Guy is the opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking, a cowrite by Guy and Hambridge. Damn, check this out!

Spotify album link:

Last but not least, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading my blog and taking the time to comment, and would like to wish all of you a Happy, Safe and Healthy New Year! And let’s keep on bloggin’ in the free world in 2023!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Those Were the Days: My Favorite Year in Music

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Music fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day has a great recurring feature, Turntable Talk, for which he invites other bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time, he called it “Those Were the Days My Friend,” I guess a nod to the tune popularized by Mary Hopkin in 1968. Or as he summed it up: Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.” Following is my contribution, which first ran on Dave’s blog yesterday. For this post, I added some clips, as well as a Spotify playlist at the end.

Here we are with another great topic for Turntable Talk – thanks for continuing to host the fun series, Dave, and for having me back.

Interestingly, when prompted to think about what I feel is the best year in music, I instantly had the answer – or so I thought until I started having second thoughts.

Admittedly, this is typical for me who oftentimes tends to overthink things. That’s why I also keep emphasizing that I’m “ranking-challenged.” Anyway, after careful agony, guess what happened? I stuck with my initial spontaneous choice: 1969 – what an amazing year in music!

From an overall perspective, the year saw two epic moments and a less-than-glorious event: The first was the three-day Woodstock festival in mid-August with an incredible line-up of bands and artists, such as Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix. Can you imagine a music event of that caliber these days?

At the same time, I don’t want to romanticize things either and will add it was probably a near-miracle Woodstock didn’t end in complete disaster, given the overcrowding and horrible sanitary conditions. Also, let’s not forget the three lives that were lost: two drug overdoses and another fatality when a 17-year-old sleeping in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor.

Then there was that other concert by one of the bands who would decline to perform at Woodstock: On January 30, 1969, The Beatles played an impromptu gig on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in London. Commonly known as the rooftop concert, it became their final public appearance as a band.

Speaking of concerts, again, I’d be remiss in not to least briefly acknowledging The Rolling Stones’ performance at Altamont Speedway in California on December 9, 1969. The gig became infamous for its violence, including a fan who was stabbed to death by members of the biker gang Hells Angels who had been hired to provide security for $500 worth of beer. I guess you can put this mind-boggling arrangement into the ‘you can’t make up this stuff’ and ‘what were they thinking?’ departments!

Next, I’d like to highlight some of the great albums that were released in 1969. Looking in Wikipedia, I easily came up with 20-plus – obviously way too many to cover in this post. As such, I decided to narrow it down to five. I’m briefly going to touch on each in the following, in chronological order. I’m also picking one track from each I like in particular.

January 5: Creedence Clearwater Revival released their sophomore album Bayou Country, the first of three(!) records they put out in 1969. Here’s Proud Mary, which like all other songs except one was written by John Fogerty.

May 23: The Who put out their fourth studio album Tommy, Pete Townshend’s first rock opera. While the production oftentimes feels unfinished, the double LP is a gem. One of my favorite songs has always been We’re Not Gonna Take It. Like most of the other tunes, it was solely penned by Townshend.

September 23: Of course, it was a forgone conclusion any favorite year in music while The Beatles were still together would include one of their albums. In this case, it’s Abbey Road, which actually was their final record, even though it appeared prior to Let It Be. Two of the best tracks on the album were written by George Harrison. Here’s one of them: Something.

August 22: Santana’s eponymous debut album was released in the wake of the band’s legendary performance at Woodstock. Here’s the amazing instrumental closer Soul Sacrifice.

October 22: Last but not least, on that date, Led Zeppelin released their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their January 12 debut. One of my all-time favorite Zep tunes is Whole Lotta Love, initially credited to all members of the band, with the subsequent addition of Willie Dixon. Once again, unfortunately, it took litigation to give credit where credit was due!

In the final section of this post, I’m going to look at a few additional great songs that were released as singles in 1969.

First up are The Rolling Stones and Honky Tonk Women, a non-album single that appeared on July 4. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was the first of two versions of the song. The second version, Country Honk, which has slightly different lyrics, appeared on the Stones’ Let It Bleed album that came out on December 5 of the same year.

Suspicious Minds is one of my all-time favorite tunes performed by Elvis Presley, which was released on August 26 as a single. Written and first recorded by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, Suspicious Minds topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving Elvis his first no. 1 on the U.S. pop chart since 1962, helping revive his chart success in America, following his ’68 Comeback Special, a concert special that had aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The song also was a major hit in many other countries.

Let’s do two more: First up is Reflections of My Life by Scottish band Marmalade, a song I loved from the very first moment I heard it on the radio back in Germany many moons ago. Co-written by the group’s lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, this gem was first released as a single in the UK on November 14 and subsequently appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade.

I’d like to close out this post with what remains one of my favorite David Bowie songs to this day: Space Oddity. Written by Bowie, the tune was first released as a single on July 11. It also was the opener of his sophomore eponymous album, which subsequently became commonly known as Space Oddity because of the song and to distinguish it from Bowie’s 1967 debut album, which was also self-titled. Bowie’s tale of fictional astronaut Major Tom was used by the BBC during its coverage of the Moon landing.

I can hardly think of another year in music that was as rich as 1969. That said, I was considering 1971. And 1972 didn’t look shabby either. Now that I think about it, let me go back to further reflect!😊

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes from 1969.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify