If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Donovan

Once again it’s time for tough decisions, decisions. The letter “d” in my music library revealed artists I’ve featured repeatedly here like Roger Daltrey, Dion, Deep Purple, Dire Straits and The Doors, to name some. And then there’s Donovan who by comparison I’ve covered less, so Donovan Phillips Leitch shall be the chosen one for my weekly desert island exercise.

While I can’t claim to be a Donovan expert, I can safely say I know more than two songs by the Scottish singer-songwriter, so I actually had to make a true decision which one to pick. If memory serves me right, Colours and Universal Soldier were the first two Donovan tunes I encountered. At the time, I was actively playing acoustic guitar and taking lessons. Especially Colours with its three chords was easy to learn, even if you didn’t have the skill set of a Jose Feliciano or Paul Simon – and I didn’t, not even at my best!

Back to the task at hand, which is answering the existential question, if I had to move to a desert island and could only take one Donovan song, which one would I pick? I decided to go with Sunshine Superman. I’ve always loved how this tune combines folk, blues and psychedelic music. It also turned out there’s a back story behind the song I had not been aware of.

Donovan wrote Sunshine Superman in response to the break-up with Linda Lawrence at the end of 1965. After the couple had dated for a short time, Lawrence, the former girlfriend of Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones, ended the relationship, not wanting to repeat getting the attention of being a music artist’s girlfriend.

Sunshine Superman first appeared as a single in July 1966, leading up to Donovan’s third studio album with the same title, which was released the following month, except for the UK. The tune became his first big hit and his only song to top the Billhoard Hot 100 in the U.S. Due to a contractual dispute, the single didn’t appear in the the UK until December 1966. The album was pushed back as well until September that year. Sunshine Superman (the single) still did pretty well, climbing to no. 8 of the Offical Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman also proved to be popular in Australia (no. 4), The Netherlands (no. 2) and Germany (no. 7).

Following is how Donovan played Sunshine Superman in January 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. This is taken from a DVD, Donovan: Live in L.A. at the Kodak Theatre, which appeared in January 2008. It’s a more funky version – not bad!

What else is there to say? Let’s take a look at Songfacts:

It’s not a normal love song, the singer told Mojo magazine June 2011. “On the face of it, the song is about being with Linda again. But sunshine is a nickname for acid. The Superman is the person capable of entering higher states because it’s not easy to go into the fourth dimension and see the matrix of the universe in which everything is connected. The line, ‘everybody’s hustling’ referred to the pop scene at the time, where you could lose yourself very easily. Gyp (Mills – Donovan’s lifelong friend and tour manager) would always keep my feet on the ground; we had left home at 16 to busk so we could see fame for what it is.”

Donovan was good friends with The Beatles, and they were both making very innovative and trippy music at the time. Donovan’s producer Mickie Most told him not to play the Sunshine Superman album to Paul McCartney under any circumstances, because he knew McCartney would be tempted to do something similar.

Donovan, as pictured on his website

Donovan recalled to Uncut magazine: “My arse was being sued by Pye after Sunshine Superman so, my masterwork, sat on the shelves for seven months. If you date it, it was at least a year and a half before Sgt Pepper and I remember Mickie saying to me, ‘Don’t play it to McCartney’ but of course everybody was sharing with everyone else and nicking from each other.”

“I played it to McCartney anyway,” he continued. “But they were already there, anyway, and George Martin was doing something similar with The Beatles, working out arrangements from ideas they had in their heads. George Martin was The Beatles’ guy and John Cameron was my guy and they both had an appreciation of jazz which was key.” Originally, the “Sunshine Superman” single was subtitled “For John And Paul,” a reference to Lennon and McCartney.

A few additional tidbits:

A busy session guitarist called Jimmy Page played lead guitar on the recording of Sunshine Superman.

Sunshine Superman is considered to be among the first overtly psychedelic pop songs.

Apparently, the tune made The Beatles’ video for A Day in the Life, in which it supposedly can be seen to spin on a turntable. Of course, the nerd in me had to check it out. While there is very brief footage of a spinning record around the 4:00 minute mark, frankly, I find it impossible to name it. Perhaps you need to be on a controlled substance to see it! 🙂

The trippy clip also features other music artists like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. At around 38 seconds, there’s a guy on the left side, who could be Donovan, though I’m not sure – again, a mind-enhancing pill might help! 🙂

The story behind Sunshine Superman had a happy end. In October 1970, Linda Lawrence became Donovan’s wife, and they remain together to this day. How many other music artists can you name, who have been married for 50-plus years?

Donovan, now 75 years old, is still active and maintains a website, where you can listen to his most recent single Gimme Some of That, which came out in October 2021.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Donovan website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 7

Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.

1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden.  Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!

1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.

1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”

1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning, at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer and spot the occasional fox. Or watch the squirrels chasing after one another. And did I mention Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and that other guy many of you aren’t fond of (though 100 million fans can’t be wrong!) are Jersey boys, as is Walter Trout (at least originally)? Okay, this is starting to sound like a silly ad for the Garden State, so let’s move on to the business of the day: Six tunes of music of the past and the present.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do

Speaking of the present, let’s start today’s musical journey with some groovy organ jazz by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, an act I’ve previously featured. Founded in 2015, the trio includes self-taught Hammond B-3 organist Delvon Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Dan Weiss. From their website: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio—or as it is sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music.” The ingredients of this intoxicating cocktail include a big helping of the 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 sprinkles Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. It’s a soul-jazz concoction that goes straight to your heart and head makes your body break out in a sweat – in other words, it’s some pretty cool shit! Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do is an upfront single that was released on January 6, 2022, from DLO3’s upcoming fourth studio album Cold As Weiss scheduled for February 11 – my kind of music!

The Fabulous Thunderbirds/Wrap It Up

Let’s keep groovin’ and movin’ and slightly pick up the speed. This next tune takes us back to 1986 and a tasty tune by The Fabulous Thunderbirds: Wrap It Up. Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote that song for Stax soul duo Sam & Dave who included it on their fourth studio record I Thank You from 1968. The Thunderbirds did a beautiful job with it, recording it for Tuff Enuff, their fifth studio album that appeared in January 1986. If I see this correctly, it became one of the Texas blues rock-oriented band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 50 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who were founded in 1974, remain active. Their current line-up includes original member Kim Wilson (vocals, harmonica), along with Johnny Moeller (guitar), Kevin Anker (keyboards), Steve Gomes (bass) and Nico Leophonte (drums).

The Merry-Go-Round/Live

Time for a dose of ’60s psychedelic rock. Frankly, I don’t recall how The Merry-Go-Round ended up on my list of earmarked tunes for a Sunday Six installment. I can confirm I wasn’t flying eight miles high on some controlled substance! I suspect it must have been a listening suggestion by my streaming music provider. Anyway, The Merry-Go-Round were a short-lived American band from Los Angeles formed in the summer of 1966 by singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes, along with his friends Gary Kato (lead guitar), Bill Rinehart (bass) and Joel Larson (drums). Inspired by contemporaries like The Beatles, The Byrds and The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round only released one eponymous album in November 1967. It barely made the Billboard 200, reaching no. 190. After various subsequent non-charting singles and an attempt to record a sophomore record, the group disbanded in 1969. Here’s Live, their first and most successful single from 1967, which peaked at no. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also was the opener of the album. Nice tune!

Fastball/The Way

Probably, this has happened to you as well. Suddenly out of nowhere, you recall a great tune you hadn’t heard in years. That’s exactly what prompted this next pick by Fastball and their January 1998 hit The Way. It probably saved the American alternative rock band’s career after their first single and debut album had gone nowhere. Fueled by The Way and a second tune, Out of My Head, Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy went Plantium within six months of its March 1998 release. It also yielded two Grammy and one MTV award nomination. Written by group member Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), The Way was inspired by a story he had read about an elderly Texas couple who had gone missing and eventually were found dead in their car hundreds of miles away from their original destination. The song’s great cinematic story-telling would make a good episode for The Twilight Zone. Fastball are still around in their original line-up, which in addition to Scalzi includes Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Sadly, as is all too common in the tough music business, the band never managed to come anywhere close to replicating the success of their second album. And, based on sampling songs from some of their other records, it wasn’t because of lack of decent music!

Johnny Cash/Give My Love to Rose

Initially, I had planned to feature Johnny Cash’s incredible rendition of John Lennon’s In My Life, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs from their second 1965 album Rubber Soul. Then I started listening from the beginning of American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s studio record from November 2002, the last released during his lifetime. It was also the fourth in his “American” series, which were produced by Rick Rubin and marked a late-stage career resurgence for “The Man in Black.” When I got to Give My Love to Rose, I simply couldn’t resist picking this powerful tune over In My Life, as much as I love the latter. Written by Cash, the song has incredible story-telling, and it’s a tearjerker. Originally, he had composed and recorded the tune with the Tennessee Two at Sun Records in 1957. It first appeared that same year as the B-side of the single Home of the Blues. Cash’s sparse and vulnerable rendition on American IV won him a Grammy in 2003, just days before his 71st birthday. Cash passed away in September of the same year.

Led Zeppelin/Custard Pie

After this powerful tearjerker, I’d like to finish this post on a kickass ’70s rock note. On we go to Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s sixth double-LP studio release from February 1975. It combined eight new songs and some previously unreleased tracks the group had recorded during the sessions for the Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy albums. Here’s the opener Custard Pie, one of the new tunes, credited to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Songfacts notes the song is based on various American blues recordings, including Blind Boy Fuller’s 1939 “I Want Some Of Your Pie” and Brown McGhee’s 1947 “Custard Pie Blues. An influence on this song is “Drop Down Mama,” a 1935 blues song by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon…[It also] includes a snippet from “Shake ’em On Down” by the blues musician Bukka White. In typical Zep fashion, you wouldn’t know any of this from looking at the credits, and I’m making this remark as a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I just wish they would have given credit to the artists whose work they apparently borrowed. It wouldn’t have diminished this great rocker by one iota, at least not in my eyes. The cool clavinet was played by John Paul Jones, while Plant provided some neat harmonica action. As usual, John Bonham’s drumming is outstanding. Dynamite tune all around!

Not to forget, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above picks:

Sources: Wikipedia; Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of 2022 and once again Happy New Year! Frequent visitors of the blog know what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll be back for more. The Sunday Six is a weekly recurring feature celebrating music in different flavors from the past 70 years or so, six tunes at a time I typically present in a zig-zag fashion. Ready to embark on my first music mini-excursion of 2022? Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Regina Spektor/New Year

Since it’s the beginning of 2022, I thought why not kick off this installment with a song titled New Year. It’s a nice ballad by Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Spektor, who was born in 1980 in Moscow, then the Soviet Union, has lived in the U.S. since 1989 when her parents emigrated to New York. After studying classical piano until she was 17, Spektor started to become interested in other music, including hip-hop, rock and punk. She initially gained prominence as part of New York’s so-called anti-folk scene. According to Wikipedia, anti-folk emerged in the 1980s to protest the mainstream music scene with mocking and clever lyrics. In July 2001, Spektor self-released her debut album 11:11, a jazz and blues-influenced record. New Year is a bonus track from her seventh and most recent studio album Remember Us to Life that appeared in September 2016.

Miles Davis Quintet/Airegin

Next, let’s turn to a great jazz standard composed in 1954 by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The tune was first recorded in June that year by the Miles Davis Quintet for a 10″ LP titled Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins. In addition to Davis (trumpet) and Rollins (tenor sax), the musicians included Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Rollins also made four additional albums with Davis, in addition to 50-plus studio and live records as a bandleader over a 60-year recording career, as well as more than 20 albums as a sideman. The latter included The Rolling Stones’ 1981 studio album Tattoo You.

Bronski Beat/It Ain’t Necessarily So

While I’ve never been a synth-pop fan, I’ve always loved It Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. The timing of featuring this tune isn’t coincidental. Sadly, the trio’s co-founder Steve Bronski passed away on December 7, 2021, at the untimely age of 61. Bronski who due to a stroke in 2018 had limited mobility, reportedly died from smoke inhalation due to a fire at his apartment in London, England. In addition to him (keyboards, percussion), Bronski Beat also included Jimmy Somerville (vocals) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, is from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Bronski Beat recorded the tune for their debut album The Age of Consent released in October 1984. Here’s the official video – such a cool rendition!

The Yardbirds/For Your Love

English blues rock group The Yardbirds are best known for featuring three of the top British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Clapton replaced the band’s first lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham in October 1963. When Clapton left in March 1965, he recommended Jimmy Page as his replacement. But Page declined and Jeff Beck took over on lead guitar. Page ended up joining the group on bass in 1966 and switched to lead guitar after Beck’s departure in November that year. The Yardbirds split in 1968 and reformed in 1992, including original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). They are still around with McCarty remaining the sole founding member in the current line-up. For Your Love, first released as a single in the UK in March 1965, became the band’s first hit. It marked a departure from their blues roots to a more commercial sound, which was the key reason for Clapton’s departure. For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman who subsequently co-founded 10cc. That harpsichord played by organist Brian Auger and the different sections of the song are just cool!

Smash Mouth/Walkin’ on the Sun

Retro group Smash Mouth were formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1994. The initial line-up consisted of Steve Harwell (lead vocals), Greg Camp (guitar), Paul De Lisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums). By the time they recorded their debut album Fush Yu Mang, Michael Klooster had joined on keyboards. Released in July 1997, the album included Walkin’ on the Sun, the band’s debut single. Written by Camp, the tune surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 3 in Canada and reached no. 7 in Australia. It also became a top 20 hit in the UK (no. 19) and charted in various other European countries – smashing!

10cc/Dreadlock Holiday

I’d like to end this first 2022 Best of What’s New installment on a groovy note with Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Released in July 1978, this catchy funky tune was the lead single of the English band’s sixth studio album Bloody Tourists that appeared in September of the same year. Co-written by two of the group’s founding members, Eric Stewart and the above-mentioned Graham Gouldman, Dreadlock Holiday was based on real events Stewart and Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward had experienced in Barbados, and Gouldman had encountered in Jamaica. The tune was a no. 1 in the UK and also became 10cc’s first no. 1 hit outside the UK, topping the charts in Belgium, The Netherlands and Australia. I recall this song got lots of play on my favorite mainstream pop FM radio station in Germany at the time. 10cc remain active and with Gouldman still have an original member. The current line-up also includes Paul Burgess (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rick Fenn (guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, keyboards) who already were around for Dreadlock Holiday. The group has announced a UK tour starting in March 2022. I love it (Eh!).

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes. Hope you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

At 50, Led Zeppelin IV Continues to Shine

Another 1971 gem in my book is hitting the big anniversary. Today, 50 years go, Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin IV, an album that to me hasn’t lost any of its magic. And it’s not just because of Stairway to Heaven. I will add, and I’ve said this before, Led Zeppelin and even the song that would be my choice if I could only pick one rock tune were an acquired taste.

The 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV certainly deserves to be celebrated, so let’s go back to November 8, 1971. Actually, let’s make that 11 months earlier. Zep’s fourth studio album was recorded between December 1970 and February 1971 at Headley Grange, a historic 18th-century three-story stone workhouse in the southern English county of Hampshire, which was a popular recording and rehearsal venue in the ’60s and ’70s for artists like Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, Genesis and Led Zeppelin.

Not only did the informal setting inspire the band to try different musical arrangements in various styles, but the absence of any bar or other leisure facilities allowed them to stay focused. “…there was no, ‘Let’s get stoned or go to the pub and get pissed.’,” Jimmy Page told Mojo in a recent interview for a cover story, as reported by Louder. He also said, “It’s like there was a magical current running through that place and that record. Like it was meant to be.”

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Headley Grange

Apparently, not all of Zep’s members were quite as enthusiastic about the place. “Headley Grange was cold, damp, dirty, smelly,” noted John Paul Jones in the same Mojo story. Page was quick to dismiss the comment, saying, “Why is John complaining? We were there to work.” Yet implicitly, Page seemed to least somewhat agree with Jones, adding, “I don’t want to say anything to embarrass Mrs. Smith, the lady in charge. Headley was a bit austere.”

To make the album Led Zeppelin were using The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, along with engineer Andy Jones who had just worked on engineering the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, one of my other favorite albums from 1971. Zep also had assistance from Stones co-founder and keyboarder Ian Stewart who played piano on the record’s tune Rock and Roll. And, speaking of other artists, Sandy Denny, the vocalist of Fairport Convention was another guest.

Headley Grange wasn’t the band’s first choice. In fact, recording sessions had started at Island Records’ Basing Street Studios in London in December 1970. Zep also had considered recording at Mick Jagger’s home and recording location Stargroves but felt it was too pricey! I guess the band had yet to make big bucks, or perhaps they were a bit skittish about cost, given the lukewarm reception of Led Zeppelin III by critics.

Once the basic tracks were in the can, Zep added overdubs at Island Studios in February. Initial mixing was done at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. But the group wasn’t happy with the outcome, so following a tour in the spring and early summer, Page remixed the entire album in July 1971. Further delays occurred over discussions about whether Led Zeppelin IV should be a double album or be released as a set of EPs.

Nuff said – it’s time to turn to some music. Side one kicks of with Black Dog, a great rocker with a cool guitar riff. According to Songfacts, Jones got the idea for the song after he had listened to Electric Mud, a 1968 album by Muddy Waters: He wanted to try “electric blues with a rolling bass part,” and “a riff that would be like a linear journey.”…When they started putting the album together, Jones introduced this riff, the song started to form. The first version Jones played was comically complex. “It was originally all in 3/16 time, but no one could keep up with that,” he said.

The Battle of Evermore is a great example of Zep’s outstanding acoustic songs. As noted by Songfacts, it holds the distinction of being the band’s only tune that featured a guest vocalist: Sandy Denny, an excellent choice! Robert Plant’s lyrics were inspired by a book on Scottish history he had read. The music was written by Page using a mandolin he had borrowed from Jones. “The band was sitting next to the chimney in Headley, drinking tea, when Jimmy grabbed a mandolin and started playing,” Andy Jones recalled. “I gave him a microphone and stuck a Gibson echo on his mandolin. Jimmy had brought this stuff before and had asked me to take a look at it. Suddenly Robert started singing and this amazing track was born from nowhere.” What a mighty tune indeed!

Of course, no homage to Led Zeppelin IV would be complete without the big enchilada that’s closing out side one. Sadly, in addition to being one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Stairway to Heaven will always be remembered because of the copyright infringement litigation it triggered. Much has been written about this. All I will say is only a deaf person could possibly conclude that Page’s opening acoustic guitar arpeggios weren’t pretty much identical to Spirit’s 1968 instrumental Taurus whether done deliberately or not. By the way, again referring to Mojo, the above Louder piece notes the working title for Stairway was Cow And Gate – something I’m sure you always wanted to know but never dared to ask! That working title was inspired by Robert Plant who had recently bought a farm. I also found Cow & Gate was the name of a British dairy products company. Apparently, today the name lives on as a specialist baby food brand owned by a Dutch company.

On to side two. Similar to side one, it starts with a cool rocker, Misty Mountain Hop co-written by Page, Plant and Jones. “It’s about a bunch of hippies getting busted, about the problems you can come across when you have a simple walk in the park on a nice sunny afternoon,” Plant explained, as noted by Songfacts. “In England it’s understandable, because wherever you go to enjoy yourself, ‘Big Brother’ is not far behind.” Seems like somebody had some beef here! BTW, there are Misty Mountains in Wales.

Going to California is another acoustic gem I’d like to highlight. Songfacts explains the Page-Plant co-write was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s California: Mitchell lived in the musically fertile but earthquake-prone Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles; “California” finds her recalling her adventures on a trip to Europe but looking forward to a return home. In “Going To California,” Plant plays the part of a guy who’s looking to leave his no-good woman behind and make a fresh start in California.

This leaves me with the album’s excellent closer When the Levee Breaks. The song’s original lyrics are based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and were written by Memphis Minnie. The tune was first recorded as a country blues by Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929. Plant who had the record in his collection kept most of the original lyrics while Page rearranged the music. Zep’s version is credited to the entire band and Minnie.

Unlike its predecessor, Led Zeppelin IV was widely praised by music critics. Fans liked it as well. The record topped the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria and Italy, and also strongly performed in many other countries. Additionally, it became Led Zeppelin’s most commercially successful album with more than 37 million copies sold worldwide, and one of the best-selling albums in the U.S.

Last but not least, Led Zeppelin IV is included in many lists, such as Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (no. 58 in 2020) and Colin Larkin’s All Time 1000 Albums (no. 42 in 2000). In June 2004, Pitchfork also ranked it at no. 7 on their list of Top 100 Albums of the 1970s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: September 3

My last installment in this recurring irregular feature dates back to late June, so I thought it would be a good moment to do another post. In case you’re a first-time visitor of the blog or haven’t seen these types of posts before, the idea is to explore what happened on a specific date in music history. It’s not my intention to provide a comprehensive listing of events. Instead, the picks are quite selective and closely reflect my music taste. With these caveats being out of the way, let’s take a look at September 3.

1964: The Beatles played State Fair Coliseum in Indianapolis as part of their 30-date U.S. tour in August and September that year. It was the same tour during which they had met Bob Dylan in New York in August. According to The Beatles Bible, their Indianapolis engagement included two gigs that were attended by a total of 29,337 people – they had to count them all! The Beatles performed their standard 12-song set of Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. Prior to the first show, Ringo Starr decided to have some fun driving a police car around a nearby race track. Unfortunately, he completely forgot to check his watch and made it to the Coliseum just minutes before he and his bandmates were scheduled to go on stage. The Beatles Bible also notes the two concerts earned them $85,231.93, after $1,719.02 was deducted as state income tax. Be thankful they didn’t take it all!

Poster for The Beatles at State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis, 3 September 1964

1966: Donovan hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sunshine Superman. The single, which also became the title track of his third studio album from August that year, had been released in the U.S. on July 1. Due to a contractual dispute, it did not appear in the UK until December 1966, where it reached no. 2 on the Official Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman remained Donovan’s only no. 1 and no. 2 hit in the U.S. and the UK, respectively. Sunshine Superman is an early example of psychedelia. The backing musicians, among others, included Jimmy Page (electric guitar) and John Paul Jones (bass), who were both busy session players at the time. They ended up playing together in the New Yardbirds the following year, the band that became Led Zeppelin.

1971: Fleetwood Mac released their fifth studio album Future Games. The record, the first with Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) who at the time was still married to John McVie (bass), falls into an interesting transition period for the band. Their blues days with Peter Green were a matter of the past, and their classic period that started with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and the Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was still a few years away. Future Games also was the first of five records to feature guitarist Bob Welch. The band’s remaining line-up at the time included Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) and Mick Fleetwood (drums, percussion). Welch immediately left his mark, writing both the title track and this song, Lay It All Down.

1982: The first of two Us Festivals (with Us pronounced like the pronoun, not as initials) kicked off near San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The festivals were initiated by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who partnered with rock concert promoter Bill Graham. The idea of the extravagant event, which Wozniak bankrolled with $8 million to pay for the construction of the open-field venue, was to celebrate the passing of the “Me” Decade (1970s) and encourage more community orientation and combine technology with rock music. Performing acts at the first three-day Us Festival included Talking Heads, The Police, Santana, The Kinks, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, among others. A second (four-day) Us Festival took place nine months later around Memorial Day weekend 1983. Here’s Santana’s performance of the Tito Puente classic Oye Cómo Va at the 1982 event.

2017: Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker passed away at the age of 67 from esophageal cancer at his home in New York City. Together with his longtime partner Donald Fagen, who he had met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1971 where both were students, Becker had formed the core of the group. By the time of Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied from March 1975, Becker and Fagen had turned the group into a studio band, relying on top-notch session musicians to record their albums. After their seventh studio album Gaucho, Becker and Fagen split to pursue solo careers. They reunited in 1993, recorded two more albums and toured frequently until Becker’s death. Fagen has since continued to carry on the Steely Dan torch. Here’s Black Friday from Katie Lied, a nice example of Becker’s guitar chops. Oftentimes, he stepped back to let other musicians handle guitar duties – not so in this case where he did some killer soloing, using the guitar of Denny Dias, Steely Dan’s original guitarist during their early stage as a standing band. Dias appeared as a guest musician on the Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and Aja albums

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. Can you believe we’re already in August? It feels like July came and went before we knew it – crazy how time seems to fly these days! So what’s in store for this installment? In a nutshell six tracks representing different flavors of rock, a dose of Americana, and some classic rock & roll, spanning the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and the current decade. Ready to embark on another unpredictable music excursion? Let’s do it!

Spirit/I Got a Line on You

Kicking it off today are Spirit, and I’m not talking about liquor. The American rock band perhaps is best remembered for writing the signature acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Let me rephrase that. Somehow, Jimmy Page unconsciously got inspired by Spirit’s instrumental Taurus after Led Zeppelin had opened up for Spirit during their first American tour. Evidently, Messrs. Page and Robert Plant also had better lawyers, leading to a favorable verdict in a copyright infringement lawsuit the estate of Taurus composer Randy California had brought several years ago. To be clear, I love Stairway to Heaven and have come to dig Led Zeppelin big time. I just wish they would have given credit where credit was clearly warranted – nuff said! Let’s get to what I really wanted to highlight: I Got a Line on You, Spirit’s second single released in October 1968 and another tune written by California. The great song also appeared on the band’s second album The Family That Plays Together, which came out in December of the same year.

Beki Hemingway/Cost Me Everything

Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kirkman are an Americana wife and husband duo based in the Americana hot spot of Dundalk, Ireland. Shout-out to fellow blogger Darren Johnson who through his recent review of Hemingway’s latest album Earth & Asphalt brought the duo on my radar screen. For some additional context, following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s online bio: Her long and varied career has found her singing in several bands, including comical punk-rockers This Train, as well as singing live and studio backup vocals on everything from industrial to inspirational music. Things really clicked when she started collaborating with Randy Kerkman in the late 1990’s, releasing 5 CDs on the Minneapolis-based indie Salt Lady Records, performing up to 150 shows per year, and sharing the stage with nationally and internationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters such as Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and Duke Special. After several years on hiatus living a “normal life” as a tour guide and Deputy Sheriff in Denver, Beki and Randy released a 6-song ep entitled I have big plans for the world and followed up with 2017’s Whins and Weather. Since the fall of 2016, Hemingway and Kirkman have lived in Ireland. Here’s Cost Me Everything, a tune from the aforementioned Earth & Asphalt album that was released in December 2020. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Neil Young/Like a Hurricane

I trust Neil Young doesn’t need an introduction. A couple of weeks ago, my streaming music provider served up Hangin’ On a Limb, and I was going to feature this nice deep cut from Young’s 17th, 1989 studio album Freedom that’s best known for the anthemic Rockin’ in the Free World. Things changed on Thursday when my family and I found ourselves seeking shelter in our basement for two hours after a tornado warning had been issued for my area. Of course, tornadoes are pretty common in certain regions of the U.S. but in friggin’ central New Jersey? While there were several confirmed tornadoes that caused significant damage in other areas of the state, luckily, we were spared. It was a surreal and pretty humbling experience, and it wasn’t the first time. With getting blown away on my mind, I suppose Like a Hurricane wasn’t much of a leap. Appearing on American Stars ‘n Bars, Young’s eighth studio album from May 1977, the track also happens to be my all-time favorite among his crunchy rock songs.

ZZ Top/Heard It on the X

Sadly, longtime ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72. I think it’s fair to say guitarist Billy Gibbons has gotten most of the attention when it comes to the Texan rockers. That’s because he has played the cool guitar riffs and solos and has done most of the lead vocals. While I’ve enjoyed ZZ Top’s music since their 1983 Eliminator album and hits like Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, I’m far from being an expert on the band. In fact, until the news about Hill’s untimely death, I had not realized it was actually Hill who sang lead on my favorite ZZ Top tune Tush. Well, he did! And here’s another track from the Fandango! album, featuring Hill on vocals – in this case sharing duties with Gibbons. When that record appeared in April 1975, the difference between their voices wasn’t as pronounced as in later years. Check out this cool clip from Live from Texas released in various video and audio formats in June 2008. It captured ZZ Top’s November 1, 2007 gig at Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas. Makes you wonder a bit why Hill didn’t get to sing more often.

The Kinks/Sunny Afternoon

The other day, fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life picked Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks as part of his ongoing fun 2021 song draft. Not only did this remind me of the great tune but also that The Kinks are among my longtime favorite British rock bands, together with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Cream, to name a few others. When it comes to the group from Muswell Hill, I’m mostly familiar with their ’60s and early ’70s output. I still love You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Got My Feet On the Ground, A Well Respected Man, Till the End of the Day, Dead End Street…The list of great tunes that were mostly written by Ray Davies goes on and on. One of my favorite songs by The Kinks is Sunny Afternoon, yet another track penned by Ray. It first appeared as a single in the UK in June 1966, yielding the band’s third and final no. 1 hit there. In the U.S., where it was released the following month, Sunny Afternoon peaked at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also included on The Kinks’ fourth studio album Face to Face that came out in October and December 1966 in the UK and U.S., respectively. According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while recovering from a challenging period of group tensions and lawsuits. The song’s success “did bring Davies out of his funk for a while.”

Elvis Presley/Jailhouse Rock

And once again this brings me to the last tune for this installment. Elvis Presley was my childhood idol and, come to think of it, my only idol. Usually, I don’t idolize people, not even The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. Well, when I adored Elvis and would do crazy stuff like trying to impersonate him in front of a mirror I was pretty young – 12 years or so. Anyway, while I no longer idolize Elvis, I still think he was one of the most compelling music artists I know, especially during his early phase before he entered the U.S. Army. Here’s an absolute classic rock & roll gem: Jailhouse Rock, one of many great tunes co-written by the songwriting and record-producing duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. First released as a single in September 1957, Jailhouse Rock also became the title track of the third movie starring Elvis Presley. While Elvis movies are generally pretty dismal, this picture will forever be remembered for its amazing dance routine. In some regards, this feels like looking at an early version of a Michael Jackson video. The choreography is pretty stunning. Come on Spider Murphy, play that tenor saxophone, and Little Joe, blow that slide trombone!

Sources: Wikipedia; Beki Hemingway website; Songfacts; YouTube

My Top 5 Studio Albums Turning 50

The other day while driving in my car, I caught a cool program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) titled the “Top 50 Albums Turning 50.” Hosted by former Doors guitarist and drummer Robby Krieger and John Densmore, respectively, it was a countdown of records that came out in 1971, as voted by listeners. Once again, this reminded me what an outstanding period the early ’70s were for music, and I’m not only talking about classic rock. The radio show also triggered the idea for this post. While I don’t want to call this a series, I have a funny feeling I’ll do more about 1971, now that I’ve been bitten by the bug.

The amount of great albums released in 1971 is mind-boggling, especially from today’s perspective. It’s a true gold mine! Some artists and bands like Johnny Cash, Carole King, Faces and Yes released even more than one record. Following are my top five albums turning 50 this year. I’m not great at ranking, so I’m listing my picks in no particular order. Live records and debuts are excluded, since I’m contemplating separate posts for these categories. I guess it’s another way to admit that if you love early ’70s music, summing up 1971 with just five albums is mission impossible!

The Who/Who’s Next

As my favorite album by The Who, including Who’s Next in this short list was a no-brainer. The fifth studio album by the British rockers appeared on August 14, 1971. It came out of Lifehouse, another rock opera Pete Townshend had conceived as a follow-up to Tommy. Eight of the nine songs from Who’s Next had initially been written for Lifehouse. Additional tracks from the abandoned project were subsequently released as singles and appeared on other Who and Townshend (solo) records. Except for My Wife, which was penned by John Entwistle, Townhend wrote all tracks. I pretty much could have highlighted any song from the album. Here’s Bargain, which according to Songfacts is an homage to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment, which also influenced songs like Baba O’Riley and See Me, Feel Me. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment.

Carole King/Tapestry

Folks who follow the blog or know me otherwise won’t be shocked by this pick. When it comes to the singer-songwriter category, Carole King will always remain one of my all-time favorite artists. Tapestry, released on February 10, 1971, is her Mount Rushmore in my book. A couple of months ago, leading up to the 50th anniversary date, I devoted a 10-part series to the album (“Ten Days of Tapestry”, see final part here, which includes links to all previous installments). Therefore, I’m keeping it brief here. Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move was solely written by King, like most other tracks on the album.

Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway to Heaven marked the start of my Led Zeppelin journey. While they were an acquired taste, Led Zeppelin have become one of my favorite rock bands. To me, their fourth studio album, which came out on November 8, 1971, remains one of the most exciting ’70s rock albums, though I’ve also come to really dig their other records. Instead of the obvious tune Stairway, which I would select if I could only choose one classic rock song, let’s do Rock and Roll. It’s the record’s only tune credited to all four members of the band. In addition to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Rock and Roll features Rolling Stones co-founder Ian Stewart on keyboards.

The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers

Speaking of the Stones, Sticky Fingers is another must-include on my top five short list of the greatest albums released in 1971. You can read more about my favorite Stones album in this recent post I published a few days ahead of the April 23 50th anniversary date. Here I’d like to highlight a track I did not call out in that post: Sway, which also became the b-side of the album’s second single Wild Horses, released on June 12, 1971. The slower blues track features some sweet slide guitar action by Mick Taylor. Another factoid worthwhile noting is the song marked Mick Jagger’s first electric guitar performance on a Stones album. Oh, and there were some notable backing vocalists: Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces) and Billy Nichols, an American guitarist and songwriter who first came to prominence during the ’60s for his work with Motown.

Pink Floyd/Meddle

With so many great albums that were released in 1971, it’s tricky to keep this list to five, but that’s what I set out to do, at least for now. Meddle was the sixth studio album by Pink Floyd, which appeared on October 31, 1971. It foreshadowed the band’s mid ’70s masterpieces The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, especially on the 23-minute-plus track Echoes. While I was tempted to feature this epic track, I think it’s safe to assume very few readers would listen. Instead, let’s go with the opener One of These Days. The characteristic pumping bass line was double-tracked, played by bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. The instrumental is credited to all members of the band, which in addition to Waters and Gilmour included Richard Wright (organ, piano) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion). The only spoken line in the song, the cheerful and digitally warped “One of these days I’m gonna cut you up into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

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