The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. In case you’re a first time visitor of the blog, this recurring feature celebrates the beauty of music six random tunes at a time, meaning songs from different genres and different decades. Pretty much anything goes in the same post. A jazz instrumental from the ’50s could be followed by a ’70s hard rock tune. A blues track from the ’60s could appear together with a pop song from the ’80s. My only condition is I have to like the tracks and how they work together. With that being said, let’s get to it!

John Barry & Orchestra/James Bond Theme

“Bond, James Bond.” These words started to fascinate me when I was a young teenager back in Germany. I still like the James Bond movies, as ridiculously unrealistic as they are. Especially the older pictures with Sean Connery and Roger Moore are classics in my book. Of course, part of every Bond picture is the soundtrack, including the James Bond Theme, which has been featured in every 007 film since the first one, Dr. No, from 1962. The signature theme was written by English singer and film composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, a composer and conductor of film music. Barry also wrote the scores for 11 Bond pictures between 1963 and 1987. I always loved the track’s distinct guitar part played by English session guitarist Vic Flick, using a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe electric/acoustic vintage guitar from 1939.

Al Jarreau/Take Five

I know of no other artist who had such an amazing ability to use his voice as an instrument like Al Jarreau. Perhaps the most compelling example is his rendition of jazz standard Take Five, which was included on a May 1977 live album titled Look to the Rainbow. I’ve always loved the original written by Paul Desmond and first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for the album Time Out from December 1959. But Al Jarreau took the track to a different level. I guess many folks at the time agreed. Look to the Rainbow became Jarreau’s breakthrough in Europe and the U.S. It won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Performance. If you haven’t heard this, check it out. If you already know Jarreau’s rendition, listen to it again anyway! 🙂

Joe Jackson/Down to London

Let’s jump to the late ’80s with a great tune by Joe Jackson. The British singer-songwriter first entered my radar screen in 1980, when I received his excellent sophomore studio album I’m the Man for my 14th birthday. I still own that vinyl copy. I’ve since listened on and off to Jackson, a versatile artist who has played many genres over the decades, including punk, new wave, pop, rock, jazz and Latin. He’s also fun live. I saw him in May 2019 at a mid-size theater in New Jersey. You can read about it here and watch some clips I took. Down to London is one of my favorite tracks from Blaze of Glory, Jackson’s 10th studio album that came out in April 1989. Like all other tunes on the record, he wrote the song.

The Wallflowers/6th Avenue Heartache

Next we’re on to the ’90s. I guess, I’m going chronologically this time. When The Wallflowers released their sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse in May 1996, they were still a standing roots rock-oriented band. Their origins date back to 1989 when Jakob Dylan (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) began forming a band called The Apples. Jakob is a son of Bob Dylan and his first wife Sara Dylan (nee Noznisky). After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1991 and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. Five additional studio albums appeared thereafter until 2012. Since 2013, Dylan has been the only remaining original member, relying on touring musicians for shows. A new album titled Exit Wounds is slated for July 9, the first to appear under The Wallflowers name in nine years. Apparently, it will be supported by a tour. For now, here’s 6th Avenue Heartache, written by Dylan, one of the band’s best known tunes and certainly one of my favorites.

Alicia Keys/Fallin’

Alicia Keys is an interesting artist in my book. While much of her music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I still like her. Undoubtedly, Keys’ amazing voice has a lot to do with it, but it’s also her stage presence. There’s just something about Keys that draws me in. It’s like she’s radiating – I can’t quite explain it. Anway, Fallin’ is a breathtaking tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor, which came out in June 2001. The record had a long history, which I hadn’t known until I read about it in Wikipedia. Keys, a classically trained pianist, already began writing songs for the record as a 14-year-old in 1995. She recorded the album in 1998 for Columbia Records, but the label rejected it. Eventually, it appeared in June 2001 on J Records, a new label that had been formed by Clive Davis who had sensed Keys’ talent and bought her contract from Columbia. His instincts turned out to be right. Songs in A Minor topped the Billboard 200 and won five Grammy Awards in 2002. As of 2015, the album had sold 7.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide. Fallin’ was solely written by Keys. That tune still gives me goosebumps.

Dirty Honey/Tied Up

I guess this already brings me to the last track of this Sunday Six installment. It’s time for some kickass rock and one of my new “discoveries,” Dirty Honey. I first featured this great rock band from Los Angeles a week ago in this Best of What’s New installment. The band, which has been around since 2017, features Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their classic rock-oriented sound is reminiscent of groups like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Here’s Tied Up, credited to the entire band, from their eponymous studio debut album released on April 23. This is a fun tune that nicely rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; 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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Bettye LaVette/Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.

The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.

Bettye LaVette - Soulful Detroit

While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.

Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.

Bettye LaVette Interview - Blues Matters Magazine

In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.

LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!

The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John LennonPaul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.

How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!

Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!

Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!

Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!

Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.

Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”

In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”

So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia; 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

My Playlist: The Black Crowes

The recent appearance of the previously unreleased Charming Mess by The Black Crowes, which I included in my latest Best of What’s New installment, reminded me of this great band. While I wouldn’t call myself an outright fan, I’ve always enjoyed their songs, especially their ’70s style blues rockers. This triggered the idea to put together a career-spanning post about their music.

Chris Robinson (lead vocals, guitar) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (lead guitar) formed the band in Marietta, Ga. in 1984 while they were still in high school. Initially called Mr. Crowe’s Garden after the children’s book Johnny Crowe’s Garden by Leonard Leslie Brookes, they were influenced by R.E.M., classic southern rock and ’60s psychedelic pop before embracing ’70s style blues rock.

In 1987, the band recorded their first demos at A&M Records. Two years later, they met A&R executive George Drakoulias, who signed them at Def American Recordings (now American Recordings), the label founded by Rick Rubin. Apparently, Drakoulias had an important influence, turning the band’s attention to The Faces and Humble Pie, and encouraging them to cover Rolling Stones tunes.

 Rich and Chris Robinson talk about their Black Crowes reunion
Rich Robinson (left) and Chris Robinson

By the time the band released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in February 1990, they had changed their name to The Black Crowes. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group included Jeff Cease (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass) and Steve Gorman (drums). Their line-up would frequently change over the years, with the Robinson brothers as the only constant members.

After releasing five more studio and two live albums between 1992 and 2001, The Black Crowes went on hiatus, and the Robinson brothers recorded solo albums. In early 2005, the brothers reassembled the group with a new line-up. Two studio and several live and compilation albums followed, together with more line-up changes before The Black Crowes came to an end for the second time in January 2015. Apparently, it was due to differences between the brothers regarding ownership of the band – in other words, a typical rock & roll story!

The current chapter of The Black Crowes started in late 2019 when the Robinson brothers during an interview with Howard Stern revealed they had overcome their disagreements and were planning to revive the band for a 2020 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Shake Your Money Maker album. The newly reformed group premiered on November 11, 2019 at The Bowery Ball Room New York City with a backing band comprised of Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and Raj Ojha (drums). The tour was stopped by COVID-19 and is now set to resume in Florida in late June.

Time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the excellent Jealous Again from the Shake Your Money Maker debut. Like all originals, the tune was co-written by the Robinson brothers.

Here’s another track from the same album I really dig: She Talks to Angels.

In May 1992, The Black Crowes released their sophomore record The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It topped the Billboard 200, fueled by four singles that each hit no. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s one of them: Remedy.

A Conspiracy, off the band’s third album Amorica from November 1994, features some cool wah-wah guitar action and is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, especially in the beginning.

Three Snakes and One Charm, the fourth album by The Black Crowes, appeared in July 1996. Here’s Blackberry.

On By Your Side from January 1999, The Black Crowes returned to a more straightforward approach from their debut album. According to Wikipedia, it drew praise from many reviewers while some critics dismissed it as a knock off of Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones – well, I suppose you can’t make everybody happy. Here’s the dynamic opener Go Faster.

May 2001 saw Lions, the band’s sixth studio release and the last prior to their hiatus. Apple Music calls the Don Was-produced work “the most unusual album in The Black Crowes’ catalog.” Soul Singing, which became the album’s second single, has a soul and gospel touch.

Warpaint, released in March 2008, was the first album by The Black Crowes after they had reemerged from hiatus and their seventh studio effort overall. It became their first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 since their 1992 sophomore release, peaking at no. 5. Here’s Wounded Bird, which also appeared separately as the second single in June of the same year.

This brings me to Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, the eighth and to date most recent studio album by The Black Crowes. It was recorded at The Barn, Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., before a live audience. Here’s the tasty opener Good Morning Captain.

I’d like to wrap things up with a track from Croweology, a compilation of new acoustic-based recordings of songs from The Black Crowes’ first six studio albums. Hotel Illness initially appeared on their 1992 sophomore release The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 29

Before we can finally kiss this dismal year goodbye, I wanted to squeeze in another installment of my recurring rock/pop music history feature. Without further ado, here are some of the events that happened in the music world on December 29.

1965: American rock band The Sir Douglas Quintet were busted for marijuana possession in Corpus Christi, Texas. They got probation when they appeared in court with short hair, wearing suits. “I’m glad you cut your hair,” the judge told them. “I saw your pictures in the paper when you were arrested and I don’t go for that stuff.” The episode came in the wake of the band’s best-known song She’s About a Mover, written by their founder Doug Sahm.

1966: The Beatles were at EMI Studios at Abbey Road, working on three songs during three sessions: When I’m Sixty-Four, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. None of the four mono mixes of When I’m Sixty-Four they made that day was used. The work on Strawberry Fields Forever included a tape copy of a December 22 mono mix, as well as creating the final stereo mix. I’ll skip the details, which laid out in The Beatles Bible. Paul McCartney also recorded the first takes of Penny Lane, working into the early morning hours of the following day. Here’s the magnificent Strawberry Fields Forever.

1967: Dave Mason left Traffic barely three weeks after the English rock band had released their debut album Mr. Fantasy. Only eight months earlier, Mason had been one of Traffic’s co-founders, together with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Apparently, Mason didn’t have much interest in collaborating on songs. “We all [Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood] tended to write together, but Mason would come in with a complete song that he was going to sing and tell us all what he expected us to play,” Winwood later recalled. “No discussion, like we were his backing group.” Mason would rejoin Traffic in 1968 while they were recording their eponymous sophomore album only to leave again after its release. Here’s House for Everyone, one of three tunes on Mr. Fantasy written by Mason.

1968: Led Zeppelin performed at Civic Auditorium in Portland, Ore. on their first 1968/1969 North American tour, opening for Vanilla Fudge. According to setlist.fm, their set included The Train Kept a-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, As Long As I Have You, Dazed and Confused, White Summer/Black Mountain Side and How Many More Times. Here’s a clip of Dazed and Confused from 1968, or as somebody in the comments pointed out 1969. In any case, it’s probably reasonably close to how Zep sounded that night in Portland.

1973: Time in a Bottle, one of my favorite songs by Jim Croce, hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Sadly, Croce was no longer around to witness the success. On September 20, 1973, he died at the age of 30 when his chartered plane crashed into a tree during takeoff from Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, La. All other five members on board of the plane were also killed: Pilot Robert N. Elliott, Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese and road manager Dennis Ras. Time in a Bottle became Croce’s second and last no. 1 hit in the U.S. after Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, another great tune he had first released as a single in March of the same year.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; Setlist.fm; This Day in Music; YouTube

The Year that was 2020 – Part 2 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

This is second and last installment of my two-part year in review. In case you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Celebrating new music one song at a time

With more than 150 songs highlighted since the launch of the Best of What’s New feature, I find it impossible to call out the best tunes. As I wrote in the inaugural March 21 post, While I don’t see myself starting to write about electronic dance music or Neue Deutsche Haerte a la Rammstein, I’m hoping to keep these posts a bit eclectic. I realize the characterization “best” is pretty subjective. If a song speaks to me, it’s fair game. I should perhaps have added that I don’t need to like other tunes by an artist to include them. It’s literally about the specific song.

Best of What’s New installments have featured tunes ranging from prominent artists like Sheryl Crow, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty to lesser known acts like rock bands Brother Man and Mondo Silicone and Austin, Texas-based band leader Joe Sparacino, aka. Dr. Joe. Frequently, these posts triggered new album reviews, e.g., LeRoux (One of Those Days), Mick Hayes (My Claim to Fame) and Niedeckens BAP (Alles Fliesst). Following are four songs I discovered in the context of Best of What’s New.

Dr. Joe: Believer

From Dr. Joe’s websiteBased in Austin TX but raised on a farm outside Salina, Kansas, band leader Joe Sparacino spent his early childhood learning piano from a southern gospel choir matron and listening to his family’s old vinyl collection of Ray Charles, Leon Russell and James Booker. Released on April 10, Believer was Dr. Joe’s then-latest single and it’s cooking!

The Reverberations: Under Your Spell

The Reverberations are a five-piece band from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” I’d call it psychedelic garage rock. Under Your Spell, the B-side to their single Palm Reader released May 28, features some cool Byrds-ey guitars and nice keyboard work. Did I mention it’s also got a quite catchy melody? And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art – super cool all around! For more on this great band, you can read my review of their February 2019 album Changes, their most recent full-fledged studio release.

Kat Riggins: No Sale

Kat Riggins is a blues artist hailing from Miami. According to her website, She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. The nice blues rocker No Sale, which has a bit of a ZZ Top vibe, is from Riggins’ fourth album Cry Out released on August 14. That woman’s got it!

Greta Van Fleet: Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album The Battle at Garden’s Gate, which is scheduled for April 16, 2021. I think this kickass rocker provides more evidence the young band has evolved their style, moving away from their initial Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. Looking forward to the album!

Live music in the year of the pandemic…

Except for two tribute band concerts in January, pretty measly for the ‘King of the Tribute Band,’ I didn’t go to any live gigs this year. Shows for which I had tickets, including The Temptations and The Four Tops, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and Steely Dan with special guest Steve Winwood, were rescheduled until April, June and July 2021, respectively. Perhaps with the exception of the last concert, I hope all other shows will be rescheduled a second time and moved back to the second half of the year. For somebody who loves live music and over the past 4-5 years has gotten into the habit of seeing an average 20-30 shows per year (counting lower cost tribute band and free summer type concerts), seizing live concerts it’s a bitter but necessary pill to swallow until this lethal pandemic is behind us.

I ended up watching two live concerts via Internet stream: Southern Avenue at Instrumenthead Live Studio in Nashville, Tenn. last week, and Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs at the Troubador in Los Angeles in late November. It was fun and also a nice opportunity to support music via voluntary donations in lieu of buying official tickets, but no virtual experience can replace the real deal.

Some final musings…

While my primary motivation for the blog has always been the joy I get from writing about a topic I love, i.e., music, it’s nice to see continued growth in visitor traffic, followers and feedback. Just like in 2019, the most popular post remained my January 2018 piece about Bad Company’s live CD/DVD collection from their May 15, 2016 show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; personally, I find the post average at best. By comparison, my July 12, 2020 post about the mellotron, which I’m proud of, received less than one percent of traffic than the Bad Company post. Perhaps, it was too geeky! 🙂 It’s funny how these things sometimes go.

I’d like to thank all visitors of the blog. If you’re here for the first time, you’re welcome back anytime. If you’re a regular, I hope you keep coming back. I also enjoy receiving comments, including different opinions. All I ever ask is to keep things civil.

Last but not least, I’d like to leave you with a great song by Southern Avenue they also played during the above noted virtual concert. I feel it’s a great message, especially during these crazy times: Don’t Give Up, from their eponymous debut album released in February 2017. Since I couldn’t capture footage from the above gig, here’s an alternative I can offer: a clip I recorded during a show at The Wonder Bar, a small venue in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019.

Sources: Christian’s Music Music Musings; YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again for a Rock Marathon

Next Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving, classic rock radio station Q104.3 starts their annual marathon of counting down the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time.” The list, which takes a broad definition that goes beyond classic rock in the traditional sense, is based on listener submissions of their top 10 favorite songs.

Playing the entire list from song no. 1,043 all the way down to no. 1 will take from Wednesday, November 25, 9:00 a.m. (EST) until Sunday, November 29, sometime in the evening, usually between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day at noon, the countdown is interrupted for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

This year marks the 20th time of Q104.3’s holiday tradition. Each year, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the eternal no. 1. While the station doesn’t disclose actual vote counts, each year I’ve listened they said Stairway won by a substantial margin.

Rigged voting? I don’t think so. Q104.3 plays plenty of Zep as part of their regular rotation. One of their DJs, Carol Miller, who has been on the air since 1973, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and hosts the long running segment Get the Led Out. As such, I think it’s safe to assume many folks who listen to Q104.3 dig Zeppelin. And, honestly, if I could only choose one classic rock song, I also would go with Stairway.

Admittedly, the entire exercise is a bit nerdy but quite appealing to a music nut like myself. BTW, each submission is weighted equally, so the order of the picks doesn’t matter. But think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio? Most stations tend to play a limited set of tracks over and over again.

Above is an image of my picks for this year and below are clips of the corresponding tunes. While I still dig all of my picks from last year, this time, I deliberately decided to shake things up and submit an entirely new list. And it doesn’t even include two of my favorite bands of all time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention Led Zeppelin. Here are my choices without further explanation, other than these are all songs I dig, though they aren’t necessarily my all-time favorites.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple Haze (non-album single, March 1967)

Creedence Clearwater RevivalBorn on the Bayou (Bayou Country, January 1969)

The Allman Brothers BandBlack Hearted Woman (The Allman Brothers Band, November 1969)

The WhoThe Seeker (non-album single, March 1970)

Bruce SpringsteenBobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., June 1984)

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersMary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits, November 1993)

Lenny KravitzRock and Roll Is Dead (Circus, September 1995)

Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow, September 1996)

PretendersHate for Sale (Hate for Sale, July 2020)

AC/DCShot in the Dark (Power Up, November 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

The Dirty Knobs Release Long Awaited Debut Album Wreckless Abandon

Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs finally released their debut album yesterday (November 20). Originally, Wreckless Adandon had been scheduled for March 20 but was pushed back after Campbell announced in early March he had to deal with “some health issues, which, while fully treatable, need to be addressed” and that “I’m going to be just fine,” as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock at the time. In a way, the eight-month delay was relatively minor, considering the band has been around for some 20 years.

Campbell formed The Dirty Knobs in the early 2000s as a side project to Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. In August 2001, he told Rolling Stone he had recruited original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair and the band’s drummer at the time Steve Ferrone, together with guitarist Jason Sinay. Apart from Campbell and Sinay, the Knobs’ current lineup includes Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Laug (drums). “It’s rougher-edged [than the Heartbreakers],” Campbell described their music at the time. “It’s slightly over-driven, less polished, lots of Sixties influence — the Kinks, Zeppelin, the Animals. It’s something I probably should have done a long time ago, but I didn’t ’cause I was wrapped up in the Heartbreakers.”

The Dirty Knobs were active in-between Heartbreakers tours and studio projects. They played small venues and did some recordings but weren’t looking for a record deal. “We would go and play clubs and do some recordings and it just got better and better,” Campbell said during a recent interview with Cleveland.com. “I always had in the back of my mind it would be a great project to do if the Heartbreakers ever took a hiatus or whatever. So now here we are, and I’m all fired up to do this band.” Of course, Campbell had also been pretty busy working with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Johnny Cash and many other artists and since September 2018 as an official new member of Fleetwood Mac.

The Dirty Knobs (from left): Jason Sinay, Mike Campbell, Lance Morrison and Matt Laug

While Reckless Abandon isn’t meant to sound like a Heartbreakers album, perhaps inevitably, you find yourself looking for similarities, and there are definitely some influences. After all, Campbell and Petty had a long songwriting partnership, and it’s not a coincidence Campbell earned co-writing credits for two to three songs on many Heartbreakers albums and two of Petty’s solo records.

At times, even their voices sound a bit similar. “In the beginning I realized I had a lot of Tom’s nuances in my delivery ‘cause we grew up together, so I focused hard on trying to filter that out as much as possible and find my own voice and personality,” Campbell explained to Cleveland.com. “I don’t want to sound like Tom, of course, but I do from time to time ‘cause we have the same accents and this and that. But I think I found my own self.”

Time for some music. Here’s the opener and title track that had previously been released as the album’s lead single back in January. Like all other except for two songs, it was written by Campbell. Great tune – dig Campbell’s Rickenbacker sound. Frankly, this track could be a Heartbreakers song. One difference is there are no keyboards.

Pistol Packin’ Mama features Chris Stapleton on vocals. Stapleton also contributed a tune, Fuck That Guy. Likewise, Campbell was a guest on and co-wrote two songs for Stapleton’s new album Starting Over released on November 13. “He’s a great writer, a great artist, so I’m fortunate to be able to work with him,” Campbell told Cleveland.com. “I met Chris the first time just in passing; The Heartbreakers were headlining at (Chicago’s) Wrigley Field, and he was opening. He was going to take (Dirty Knobs) out to open for him in the summer.”

Next up: Southern Boy, another nice bluesy rocker. Again, I could also picture Tom Petty singing that tune.

On Irish Girl, The Dirty Knobs take it down a few notches. Released as the album’s most recent single on November 16, it’s among the tracks I like the best so far. “Irish Girl is my favorite lyric on the record,” Campbell told American Songwriter. “It’s whimsical and more poetic than most of the Knobs’ songs. I was inspired to write it driving home late one-night listening to Van Morrison on the radio. When I got home, the song just came to me. It’s very simple musically and I love the sound of the record. It reminds me of Ireland.” Here’s the official video.

Let’s wrap it up with one more bluesy rocker: Aw Honey. Ex-Heartbreaker Benmont Tench contributes piano.

Asked by Cleveland.com whether he feels a sense of mission to continue the legacy he had with Tom Petty, Campbell said, “Well, maybe subconsciously. I don’t perceive myself as on a mission, per se; my only mission is to have fun, really, and try to make great music and try to get better. He’s not here, obviously, so now it’s up to me, and I’ve got to carry on making music the best I can. I have a legacy to live up to. I hope the stuff that I do going forward holds up against that stuff. It’s kind of a high bar, but my only mission is just to enjoy myself and keep making music. That’s what keeps this alive.”

In addition to the album, The Dirty Knobs also postponed their supporting tour. It’s now scheduled to kick off in San Bernardino, Calif on June 5, 2021 and wrap up in New Orleans on November 2. Some of the other gigs include Denver (June 25 & 26), Chicago (July 17), Gainesville, Fla. (September 10 & 11), Nashville, Tenn. (September 14), Asbury Park, N.J. (September 18), Boston (September 23 & 24), Indianapolis (October 2 & 3), San Francisco (October 15 & 16) and Austin, Texas (October 30 & 31). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; Cleveland.com; American Songwriter; The Dirty Knobs website; YouTube