The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another week is coming to an end, and I can’t believe we’re almost in March. Before we embark on another music journey, I feel compelled to express my shock and sadness about the tragic events and human suffering unfolding in Ukraine.

Usually, I don’t discuss politics or any other topics on this blog outside of music. I also strive to keep things positive. Both are deliberate choices since I feel we’re already bombarded with so much negativity every day in traditional and social media. I want CMM to be a destination where you can forget about all the everyday crap life can throw at you. Music is a great escape hatch that has helped me more than once to keep it together.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv, a city within the city initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051

Why break my own rules now? Ukraine is different. In some regards it’s personal. In my former professional career, I worked in the UN Office in Kyiv from January 1995 through March 1997. As such, not only do I know the Ukrainian capital – well, at least how it looked at the time – but I also had the opportunity to visit many different regions of the country, such as Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014, and the so-called breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which they are now claiming to protect from neo Nazis – it’s like you’re watching an episode of the Twilight Zone!

Witnessing what looks like the re-emergence of a Russian czar who apparently wants to restore the old empire of the U.S.S.R. seems unreal in 21st Century Europe. I just hope these unprovoked and illegal actions by this warmonger can be stopped, and he eventually will have to pay a high personal price for his crimes. I’d like to dedicate this post to the people of Ukraine, including my former colleagues and their families many of whom still live there. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians, and I hope this madness will come to an end soon.

Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny)/Файне мiсто Тернопiль

In light of the above, I’d like to kick off this Sunday Six with some kickass rock by Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny), which according to Wikipedia is one of the most successful Ukrainian bands from Lviv. The largest city in Western Ukraine is located about 60 miles east of the border to Poland. Braty Hadiukiny, which means “Hadyukin Brothers”, were mainly active between 1988 and 1996. This was followed by what looks like a 10-year hiatus and a reunion in 2006. Wikipedia characterizes their music as a combination of different genres like rock & roll, blues, punk, reggae, funk and folk. Файне мiсто Тернопiль (translation: Fine city of Ternopil) is a great rock tune from the band’s 1994 album Було не любити (translation: It was not to love). Ternopil is another bigger city in Western Ukraine.

Paul McCartney/Drive My Car

In case you haven’t heard the news today about lucky me who made the grade, the news wasn’t sad and I just had to laugh. Yesterday, I got a ticket to ride for Paul McCartney on June 16 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.! While I fully anticipate there will be some differences between this show and the two previous gigs I saw, my words can’t express how excited I am. In case you’d like to check out dates for the Got Back Tour, which is scheduled to get underway in late April in Spokane, Wash. and wrap up on June 16 in Jersey, you can check on Macca’s website here. To get in the mood, here’s Paul’s opener Drive My Car, off his November 2009 live album Good Evening New York City. It captures songs performed during three nights in July 2009 to formally open New York’s Citi Field, a baseball park built to replace the legendary Shea Stadium, where The Beatles played one of their most famous shows in 1965. Primarily written by Macca with lyrical contributions from John Lennon, Drive My Car originally appeared on Rubber Soul, the second of two albums The Beatles released in 1965. Take it away!

John Miles/Music

After two uptempo rockers, it’s time to catch a breath coz, hey, I’m not exactly 16 years any longer. I’m already 26! 🙂 I literally just remembered what I feel is a great tune for the occasion by British artist John Miles. Born John Errington in April 1949, Miles was active for more than 50 years from 1970 until his death in December 2021 at the age of 72 after a short illness. His catalog includes 10 studio, two live and five compilation albums. Undoubtedly, he is best remembered for the song I picked, Music, off his debut solo album Rebel from March 1976. Solely penned by Miles, this beautiful tune was also released separately as a single that same year and became his biggest hit. It topped the charts in Switzerland, peaked at no. 3 in the UK and reached no. 4 in The Netherlands. Beyond Europe, the chart performance was more moderate, including no. 38 in Australia and no. 88 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It may be lush and monumental, but it’s an incredibly powerful orchestral rock ballad, which btw was produced by Alan Parsons.

Joey DeFrancesco/Inner Being

Under different circumstances, an instrumental like this would have been my first pick. If you’ve seen some of the previous Sunday Six installments, you probably noticed that I tend to start nice and easy, and then sometimes turn to nice and rough. Anyway, this next track takes us to March 2019 and a studio album by jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco who also plays the trumpet and the saxophone. DeFrancesco, who signed his first record deal in 1987 at the age of 16, has played with the likes of David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and George Benson, and recorded with artists, such as Ray Charles, Bette Midler and Van Morrison before he went loonie. According to Wikipedia, DeFrancesco’s discography to date includes 31 studio, one live and one studio album – they had to count them all! Inner Being, composed by DeFrancesco, opens the above-noted album titled In the Key of the Universe. The record, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, features American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Tina Turner/Nutbush City Limits

It’s funny how sometimes one thing leads to another. You may have noticed that in the description of my previous pick, I creatively borrowed from the lyrics of Ike & Tina Turner’s rendition of Proud Mary. From the moment I did this, I couldn’t get Tina out of my head. Nutbush City Limits, written by her, was first recorded as part of her duo with her ex-husband Ike Turner and became the title track of their studio album from November 1973. Nearly three years later, Tina managed to flee from Ike with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. While Ike was a talented musician he also was a psychotic abuser. Beating and verbally abusing your wife or anyone else for that matter isn’t cool and will forever tarnish you! Anyway, here’s a life version of the song from Tina’s live record and video album Tina Live. Released in September 2009, it captures a gig Tina did in March that year in The Netherlands. This must have been right before her second and permanent retirement. She was 70 years at the time and still in incredible shape working that stage and dancing in high-heeled shoes – what an amazing performer!

Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy)/З нею

I’d like to conclude this post with more rock from Ukraine. Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy) are another group from Lviv. They were formed in 1994 and apparently have been active to this day. Their present lineup features original members Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (lead vocals) and Denys Hlinin (drums, percussion), along with Denys Dudko (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Miloš Jelić (piano, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Vladimir Opsenica (guitars, backing vocals). Wikipedia lists 10 studio albums released between 1998 and 2016. Here’s З нею (translation: With her), the opening track of a 2013 album titled Земля (translation: The land).

Following is a playlist of the above tracks, as usual.

Mr. Putin, stop your reckless assault on the Ukrainian people and from going down in the history books as a war criminal! Rock & roll will never die and outlive any psychopathic emperor!

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube; Spotify

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Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube