Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and this means time again to take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Today’s pick falls into the latter category, and when I came across the song for the first time not too long ago, I loved it right away: Ridgetop by Jesse Colin Young.

Jesse Colin Young (born Perry Miller) is best known as a co-founder and lead vocalist of ’60s American folk-rock group The Youngbloods. During their original run from 1965 until 1972, they only scored one true hit with the beautiful Get Together, which peeked at no. 5 on the U.S. pop chart Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 after it had been re-released.

Following The Youngbloods’ dissolution in 1972, Young launched a solo career that led to a series of fairly successful albums, especially between 1973 (Song for Juli) and 1977 (Love On the Wing). Young, who on November 22 is turning 81, released his most recent solo album Dreamers in February 2019.

This brings me to Ridgetop, a track from the above-mentioned Song for Juli, Young’s fourth solo album that appeared in September 1973. The smooth and groovy tune was penned by him. In addition to his warm tenor voice, I love the saxophone work, which gives the track a jazzy flavor.

Sadly, Ridgetop wasn’t released as a single, though it’s fair to say that at just over 7 minutes, it wouldn’t have been ideal for radio. Peaking at no. 51, Song for Juli just missed the top 50 on the Billboard 200. It also became Young’s first album to chart in Canada.

Here’s a nice live version of Ridgetop, which apparently was captured in June 2017. In this case, young instrumentalist Jack Sheehan played the saxophone. According to his website, the now 26-year-old “has become a growing force on the alto saxophone, having already performed alongside artists such as Terence Blanchard and John Clayton, to name a few.” He certainly did an outstanding job here. Young’s singing is still pretty cool!

Following are some additional tidbits on Ridgetop from Songfacts:

Jesse Colin Young wrote this song about his home in Point Reyes, California (north of San Francisco) that he called “Ridgetop.” He bought it after moving to the area from New York with his band, The Youngbloods, in 1967 when their song “Get Together” caught on in the region (two years later, the song became a national hit).

Young gives rather specific details when describing the home, singing about the pine needles on the lawn and the ruts in the road. It’s the kind of place that appeals to those looking to keep in touch with nature at the cost of convenience.

In 1995, Young’s Ridgetop home burned to the ground, torched by wildfires that swept through the area. In a Songfacts interview, he talked about losing the home and what it was like performing the song after it was destroyed. “It was difficult when it first happened,” he said. “It was hell. I had to go out on the road right after the house burned down. We were in papers all over the country when that happened, so maybe audiences wanted to reminisce about it too. I still have the property and my recording studio, one of them, is there. It was built down in a gully and that fire was so hot and the trees so tall – big, 100-foot pines – that the firemen said it just sucked all the oxygen out from down low, and way down there in the gully was the recording studio.

There were five scorched boards on the deck and our four-story house was burnt down to like a foot of ash. So, what a blessing that was to save the studio. I guess as time goes on you let pain go and concentrate on the blessings.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Jack Sheehan website; Songfacts; YouTube

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of the diversity of music of the past and the present, six tracks at a time. If you’ve looked at the blog before chances are you know what’s about to unfold. In case this is your inaugural visit welcome, and I hope you’ll be back. The first sentence pretty much sums up the idea behind the weekly feature. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Gerald Clayton/Peace Invocation (feat. Charles Lloyd)

I’d like to embark on today’s journey with beautiful music by Dutch-born American contemporary jazz pianist Gerald Clayton. From his website: The four-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition...Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, John Scofield…[the list goes on and on – CMM] Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles LloydThe son of beloved bass player and composer John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. This brings me to Bells on Sand, Clayton’s brand new album released on April 1. Peace Invocation, composed by Clayton, features the above-mentioned now-84-year-old sax maestro Charles Lloyd. Check out his amazing tone – feels like he’s caressing you with his saxophone!

Billy Joel/Allentown

Next, let’s go to another piano man and the year 1982. When I think of pop and piano men, the artists who come to mind first are Elton John and Billy Joel. While John recently announced the remaining dates of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road The Final Tour, as reported by Billboard, the piano man from New York apparently has no plans to retire. Instead, he continues to sell out show after show at Madison Square Garden, even though he hasn’t released any new pop music since August 1993 when his 12th studio album River of Dreams came out. I was fortunate to see the man at MSG in the early 2000s, and it was a really great show – in terms of the atmosphere think Bruce Springsteen playing MetLife Stadium in New Jersey! The Nylon Curtain, Joel’s eighth studio release from September 1982, remains among my favorites. Here’s Allentown, his blue-collar anthem about the plight and resilience of steelworkers in the Allentown, Pa. region in the early ’80s following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure.

Buddy Guy/Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck, Keith Richards)

Hopefully, I don’t jinx myself with this next pick, but I just couldn’t help it! Undoubtedly, more frequent visitors of the blog have noticed my love of the blues, especially electric guitar blues. One of the artists I keep going back to in this context is the amazing, now 85-year-old Buddy Guy. I’m beyond thrilled I got a ticket to see him on Wednesday night at a midsize theater in New Jersey – a total impulse purchase! It would be my third time. After a near-70-year career, Guy continues to be a force of nature. Here’s Cognac, a track from his most recent studio album The Blues Is Alive and Well, released in June 2018. Co-written by Guy, Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the song features Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. It really doesn’t get much better when three guitar legends come together to play some blistering blues while taking sips of liquid gold! You can read more about the album here.

The Rolling Stones/The Last Time

Getting to The Rolling Stones from Keith Richards isn’t a big leap, but there’s more to it than you may realize. Long before Keef got together with Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck to play guitar and sip some cognac, there was a special connection between British blues rock-oriented artists, such as Eric Clapton, Beck and the Stones, and American blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy. When U.S. musical variety TV series Shindig! invited the Stones in 1965 to perform on the program, Mick Jagger agreed under one condition: They would have to let Muddy Waters on as well. Apparently, the bookers had no clue who that was. “You mean to tell me you don’t know who Muddy Waters is?”, Jagger asked in complete disbelief. Guy likes to tell the story during his shows to this day – and to express his appreciation that British acts like the Stones, Beck and Clapton played a key role to introduce white American audiences to African American blues artists. Here’s one of my favorite early Stones songs. The Last Time, which first appeared in February 1965 as a single in the UK, holds the distinction of being the first original Stones tune released as an A-side. Credited to Jagger/Richards, as would become usual, the tune was also included on the U.S. version of Out of Our Heads, the band’s fourth American studio record from July 1965.

Christopher Cross/Ride Like the Wind

Our next stop takes us to the late ’70s and Christopher Cross. Call me a softie, I’ve always had a thing for the American singer-songwriter whose eponymous debut album from December 1979 is regarded as a key release of the yacht rock genre. Perhaps it helped that one of his best-known songs was titled Sailing and appeared on that record. On a more serious note, I think Cross has written some nice songs. Here’s my favorite, Ride Like the Wind, which together with Sailing and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) became his biggest hits. Cross dedicated the catchy tune to Little Feat co-founder and leader Lowell George who had passed away in June 1979. It features Michael McDonald on backing vocals and a pretty good guitar solo played by Cross. Now 70 years old, Cross is still around and to date has released 15 studio albums. Apart from the debut I’ve only listened to his sophomore release Another Page.

Stone Temple Pilots/Plush

And once again we’ve reached the end of our journey. I’ll leave you with some ’90s alternative rock by Stone Temple Pilots. Plush, off their debut album Core, became their first single to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and one of their biggest hits. Frankly, I mostly know the band by name, but that tune seemingly was everywhere when it came out in May 1993 as the album’s second single. The song was co-written by Scott Weiland, Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo, who at the time were the Pilots’ lead vocalist, drummer and bassist, respectively. Kretz and DeLeo remain with the band’s current lineup, which also includes DeLeo’s older brother and co-founder Dean DeLeo (guitar) and Jeff Gutt (lead vocals). The Pilots’ eighth and most recent album Perdida appeared in February 2020. Excluding the group’s 5-year hiatus between 2003 and 2008, they have been around for some 28 years – pretty impressive! Perhaps I should check ’em out one of these days.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; Gerald Clayton website; Billboard; YouTube; Spotify