What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Perfectly Good Guitar

John Hiatt is a great artist I’ve been aware of for many years. I’m glad his excellent recent collaboration album with Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings, brought the acclaimed singer-songwriter back on my radar screen. It finally made me start exploring some of Hiatt’s other albums in their entirety, including Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio release that appeared in September 1993. I’m sure Hiatt aficionados are well aware of it; if you’re not and dig heartland and roots-oriented rock, you’re in for a treat.

Hiatt who was born in Indianapolis had a difficult childhood. After the death of his older brother and his father, he used watching IndyCar races and listening to music by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and blues artists as escape mechanisms. At the age of 11, Hiatt learned to play guitar and started his music career as a teenager in Indianapolis, playing local venues with the a variety of bands.

When he was 18, Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tenn. where he landed a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company. He also continued local performances, both solo and with a band called White Duck. Hiatt got his break in June 1974 when Three Dog Night turned his song Sure As I’m Sitting Here into a top 40 hit. His original version he had released as a single in February that year had gone nowhere.

In July 1973, Hiatt recorded his debut album Hangin Around The Observatory, which came out the following year. While it received favorable reviews, the album was a commercial failure. When the same thing happened with his sophomore release Overcoats, his label Epic Records was quick to drop him. Meanwhile, other artists kept covering Hiatt’s songs. Unfortunately, the story pretty much kept repeating itself until Bring the Family from May 1987, finally giving Hiatt his first album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 107.

Bring the Family featured the gems Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Willy DeVille, and the list goes on and on.

To date, Hiatt has released 28 albums, including two live records and two compilations. In 1991, he also formed the short-lived group Little Village together with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Previously, Hiatt had worked with each of the three artists on Bring the Family. After issuing a self-titled album in February 1992 and a short supporting tour the group disbanded.

Let’s get to some music from Perfectly Good Guitar. Here’s the great opener Something Wild. Like all other tracks except one, the tune was solely written by Hiatt. I dig the nice driving drum part by Brian McLeod. With the recent death of Charlie Watts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Satisfaction came to mind right away!

The title track perfectly captures my sentiments when I see footage of Pete Townshend trashing his guitar at the end of a Who gig; or Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire for that matter. Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars/ Smashing a perfectly good guitar/I don’t know who they think they are/Smashing a perfectly good guitar…Yes, of course, it was all for show and I believe Townshend at least glued some of his smashed guitars back together. And while I certainly don’t support jail sentences for guitar-smashing, destroying instruments still rubs me the wrong way! Instead, make some kid happy and give it to them! Who knows, you might even change their trajectory!

Another nice track is Buffalo River Home. I really like the guitar work on that tune.

Another track that got my attention, primarily because of the drum part, is Blue Telescope. McLeod’s drum work reminds me a bit of Steve Gadd’s action on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I have no idea whether Gadd’s unique drum part served as an inspiration here. Regardless, it sure as heck sounds cool to me!

The last track I’d like to call out is Old Habits, which has a great bluesy vibe. It’s the one song on the album Hiatt co-wrote with somebody else: Female singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. Similar to Hiatt, it appears her songs have been covered by many other artists, such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Irma Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d to acknowledge the other fine musicians on this great album. In addition to Hiatt (guitar, vocals, piano, organ) and MacLeod (drums, percussion), they include Michael Ward (guitar), Ravi Oli (electric sitar; Ravi Oli is a pseudonym of David Immerglück), Dennis Locorriere (harmony vocals) and John Pierce (bass guitar).

Perfectly Good Guitar was Hiatt’s last studio album with A&M Records. Once again, another great record failed to meet the commercial expectations of the label, though ironically, it became Hiatt’s most successful record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date, peaking at no. 47 on the Billboard 200. Hiatt subsequently signed with Capitol Records, which released his next two studio albums, including the Grammy-nominated Walk On from October 1995.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Clips & Pix: Toto/Pamela

I realize this is the second Clips & Pix post in a row about a tune I already covered previously, but when I spotted this live rendition of Pamela by Toto on YouTube, I simply couldn’t resist publishing it. This was recorded during a one night special event on November 21, 2020, featuring Toto’s new line-up. And, boy, do they sound awesome!

After the end of Toto’s 2018-2019 40 Trips Around the Sun Tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary, it looked like they were done. Not so! The above event was the first time the band performed with their new formation. In addition to long-time members Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals), Joseph Williams (vocals) and David Paich (keyboards, vocals), Toto’s 15th incarnation includes Steve Maggiora (keyboards, backing vocals), Dominique “Xavier” Taplin (keyboards), Warren Ham (saxophone, percussion, backing vocals), John Pierce (bass) and Robert “Sput” Searight (drums).

Fifteen line-ups sounds like awfully many. And as bands go through multiple changes, things don’t necessarily get better. It can take time to become a true unit. In this case, all of the above musicians not only sound top notch but also do a nice job playing together. In my opinion, the standout is Searight. While I’m not a drummer, to me, he has great rhythmic feeling and is simply a joy to watch. Pay particular attention to him!

Pamela, co-written by Paich and Williams, first appeared on The Seventh One, Toto’s seventh studio album released in March 1988 – one of their best, in my view. Sadly, it was the last studio album with Jeff Porcaro, the band’s fantastic original drummer. It certainly can’t be easy to fill his shoes, but Searight looks like he’s the guy to do it!

Toto has already announced a major new tour. I guess there are still many fans out there, and it’s probably also lucrative for them to go on the road. The Dogz of Oz World Tour is scheduled to kick off in Germany in July 2022. If they come to my neck of the woods, I will seriously consider seeing them again.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This has been an extremely busy week on the work and family fronts, which hardly left any time to listen to music and reading posts written by my fellow music bloggers – not to mention writing something myself. Time to start catching up! A great place to begin is to take a look at newly released music. And I found some really good stuff, mostly by bands I had not heard of before. There’s also a nice collaboration single by former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather.

South of Eden/The Talk

South of Eden, formerly known as Black Coffee, are a four-piece rock band from Columbus, Ohio: Ehab Omran (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Justin Young (lead guitar, vocals), Tom McCullough (drums) and Nick Frantianne (bass). According to their website, the band has already performed alongside everyone from the Foo Fighters to System of a Down, and invite you to join them on their journey of looking at rock ‘n’ roll through a modern lensOriginally from the country of Jordan, Ehab primarily listened to the Arabic music his parents would play, in addition to superstars like Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and James Brown. After coming to America, he was introduced to a wider range of music that inspired him: eighties and nineties rock including Guns N’ Roses and notably QueenEhab and Nick performed together in various bands (channeling Iron Maiden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Alice In Chains) and eventually joined Justin and Tom who had been working on their own band (influenced by Van Halen and Black Sabbath). The Talk is the title track of the band’s debut EP, which came out yesterday (August 21). Credited to Omran, Young, McCullough and producer Greg Wells, this nice rocker reminds me a bit of Greta Van Fleet. While it’s more on the aggressive side, it’s got a catchy melody. Check it out!

The Lemon Twigs/Hell on Wheels

The Lemon Twigs are a rock band from Long Island, N.Y., fronted by brothers and multi-instrumentalists Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario. Brian and Michael, who had significant stage experience as children, formed The Lemon Twigs in 2014 when they were still in high school. The band’s touring line-up also includes Daryl Johns (bass), Tommaso Taddonio (keyboards) and Andres Valbuena (drums). Their first release was a cassette, What We Know, issued as a limited edition in 2015. This was followed by the debut studio album Do Hollywood from October 2016. They have since released two additional albums, an EP and various singles. Co-written by the brothers, Hell on Wheels is the opener of the band’s new studio album Songs for the General Public, which appeared yesterday (August 21). I think it’s a catchy tune.

Steve Lukather/Run to Me

Last October, following Toto’s final show in Philadelphia to wrap up their 40th anniversary tour, Steve Lukather told Pennsylvania local newspaper The Morning Call the gig marked “certainly the end of this configuration of Toto.” But apparently Lukather already had other plans. He was supposed to join Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band for a tour earlier this year, which of course didn’t happen and has been postponed until 2021. Now he’s out with a new song, Run to Me, the first single from an upcoming solo album, which as reported by Rolling Stone, is set for release sometime next year. The tune was co-written by Lukather together with his former Toto band mates David Paich and Joseph Williams. In addition to Paich and Williams, it features Ringo Starr and Huey Lewis and the News bassist John Piece. “This is a happy summer single for less than happy times,” commented Lukather on his website. “It just seemed like this was the right time to release the song…A little out of character for myself, but fun.  Inspired by my youth…” There’s definitely a ’60s vibe in this melodic tune, which came out on August 20. Here’s the official video.

Sea Girls/Forever

Let’s wrap up this new music installment with some indie rock from England. Sea Girls, formed in London in 2015, feature Henry Camamile (vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Noswad (bass) and Oli Khan (drums). The band’s debut single Call Me Out appeared in June 2017. This was followed by various additional singles and three EPs, which were all self-released. Last year, the band managed to get a deal with Polydor Records. After a few more singles and another EP, Sea Girls recorded their full-fledged studio debut Open Up Your Head, released on August 14. It includes the above tune Forever, which was written by Young. I really dig the guitar-driven sound of this tune – pretty catchy song!

Sources: Wikipedia; South of Eden website; The Morning Call; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What’s My Name…Ringo!

Starr’s new album is full of energy and features impressive friends

Last Friday, Ringo Starr released What’s My Name, his 20th studio album. After having listened to it a few times, I’m quite excited about the record. Admittedly, as a huge fan of The Beatles, I may not be entirely objective here – so be it! I said it before and I say it again: While Ringo isn’t the greatest vocalist and songwriter and perhaps even not the most sophisticated drummer, he is one of the coolest musicians in my book. I just dig the man who at age 79 remains pretty vibrant and just delivered what may be his best work in many years.

Appearing on UMe, What’s My Name was produced by Starr, with longtime collaborator Bruce Sugar handling recording and mixing. The album was recorded at Ringo’s home studio known as Roccabella West. “I don’t want to be in an old-fashioned recording studio anymore, really,” Starr pointed out on his website. “I’ve had enough of the big glass wall and the separation.  We are all together in here, whoever I invite over. This is the smallest club in town. And I love it, being at home, being able to say hi to Barb [referring to his wife, actress Barbara Bach], it’s just been good for me and the music.”

Ringo Starr

The album features an impressive array of other artists, including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Dave Stewart, Benmont Tench, Steve Lukather, Nathan East, Colin Hay, Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel, among others. Most of the songs on this record are collaborations between Ringo and others. Let’s get to some music!

Previously, I already featured the album’s nice title track, so here I’d like to kick things off with the opener Gotta Get Up to Get Down. The nice mid-tempo rocker was co-written by Starr and his brother-in-law and guitarist extraordinaire Joe Walsh. In addition to Ringo (drums, vocals) and Walsh (guitar, vocals), the tune features Edgar Winter (clavinet, synthesizer, vocals), Nathan East (bass), Bruce Sugar (synthesizer) and backing vocalists Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel.

The most remarkable song on the album is Ringo’s version of Grow Old With Me, one of the last tunes written by John Lennon. It was recorded as a demo in Bermuda in 1980 and later appeared on his first posthumous album Milk And Honey from January 1984. The inspiration for Ringo to cover the song came during an encounter with Jack Douglas, the producer of Double Fantasy, the 1980 studio album by Lennon and Yoko Ono, and the last released by Lennon during his lifetime. “Jack asked if I ever heard The Bermuda Tapes, John’s demos from that time,” Ringo recalled. “And I had never heard all this. The idea that John was talking about me in that time before he died, well, I’m an emotional person. And I just loved this song.”

“I sang it the best that I could,” Ringo went on. “I do well up when I think of John this deeply. And I’ve done my best. We’ve done our best. The other good thing is that I really wanted Paul [McCartney] to play on it, and he said yes. Paul came over and he played bass and sings a little bit on this with me. So John’s on it in a way. I’m on it and Paul’s on it. It’s not a publicity stunt. This is just what I wanted. And the strings that Jack [Douglas] arranged for this track, if you really listen, they do one line from “Here Comes The Sun.” So in a way, it’s the four of us.” Apart from Ringo (drums, vocals) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the recording features Walsh (guitar); Jim Cox (piano); Rhea Fowler and Bianca McClure (violin); Lauren Baba (viola); Isaiah Gage (cello); and Allison Lovejoy (accordion).

Another nice track on this album is Magic, which was co-written by Starr and Steve Lukather.  “I wrote that with Steve Lukather, who is magic,” commented Ringo. “I made a mistake of telling Steve, “You’re my last best friend,” and so that how we’re live now. And he’s a beautiful guy. He sometimes puts out a hard shell, but he is so soulful. We work well together. And he’s even better when he’s not playing a thousand notes a minute – which he can. He’s the man. I love the man. Don’t tell him. Sometimes Steve’s so happy playing with me, I say, “You’re having too much fun.” In addition to Ringo (drums, percussion, vocals) and Lukather (guitar, piano), other musicians on the recording include John Pierce (bass), Bruce Sugar (synthesizer), as well as Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel on backing vocals.

Money (That’s What I Want) is the second cover on the album. I always liked this tune, which was co-written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. Initially recorded by Barrett Strong in 1959, it became the first hit for Motown. In addition to Ringo, the song has been covered by many other artists including The Beatles in 1963. This latest cover features Starr (drums, percussion, vocals), Lukather (guitar), East (bass), Sugar (piano, organ, synthesizer), as well as Maxine Waters and Julia Waters on backing vocals.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Better Days written by songwriter Sam Hollander. “He [Hollander] had written a song out of things I said in an interview in Rolling Stone,” noted Starr. “I loved the sentiment of it – he had one verse about spending too much time in hospitals, but I didn’t want to even sing that verse – the pity verse. Sam came over and I put the vocals on, and said, `You produce this one,’ but Sam said, “Well, you’re going to do drums.” So, I went in and played it through twice.” I like two takes. And he took “Better Days” away and did it.” Performing on Better Days are Starr (drums, percussion, vocals), Grant Michaels (piano), Peter Levin (organ), Kaveh Rastegar (bass), Pete Min (guitar), James King (horns), as well as Zelma Davis and Garen Gueyikian (backing vocals).

The last word shall belong to Ringo. “When I was a teenager, my mom always said, “Son, you’re at your happiest when you’re playing.” And it’s still true to this day. I’m blessed. I had a dream back when I was thirteen, and just last night I played with all my friends at the Greek, and I’ve been putting together All-Starr bands for 30 years. And it’s still a thrill.” Well said. And it shows!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ringo Starr website, YouTube