Playing for Change – Reimaging a World Connected by Music

The other day, I came across an amazing video clip featuring Robbie Robertson and a bunch of well-known and to me unknown, yet pretty talented other musicians from all over the world, playing The Weight, one of my favorite tunes by The Band. At first, I only paid attention to their great version of the iconic song and ignored the chiron at the beginning and the end of the clip that notes “Playing for Change.” Then, I noticed other video clips on YouTube, which were also put together by Playing for Change. Finally, I got curious. Who or what is Playing for Change?

It didn’t take long to find their website, which describes their story as follows: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music… Playing For Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

PFC Co-Founders
PFC co-founders Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke

In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” Roger had so much soul and conviction in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing “Stand By Me” as a Song Around the World. Roger agreed, and when Mark returned with recording equipment and cameras he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger replied, “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.” Ever since that day the Playing For Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.

Creating Songs Around the World inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey and form the Playing For Change Band. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language. Songs Around The World The PFC Band is now touring the world and spreading the message of love and hope to audiences everywhere.

I realize the above may embellish things a bit; still, PFC sounds like an intriguing concept. They also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded through donations and supports arts and music programs for children around the world. Based on the foundation’s website, it looks like a legitimate organization. That being said, this isn’t an endorsement. Let’s get back to what originally brought me here – recorded musicians all over the world performing the same song and everything being neatly put together in pretty compelling video clips. Before getting to the above mentioned Robbie Roberson clip, let’s take a look at some of PFC’s other videos.

Walking Blues (Son House)

Walking Blues was written and first recorded by delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other blues musicians recorded their own versions. This clip features Kevin Roosevelt Moore, aka Keb’ Mo’, along with other musicians from Argentina, South Africa, Spain and Morocco. Apparently, the clip was put together in honor of Johnson’s birthday. Check it out!

Soul Rebel (Bob Marley)

Written by Bob Marley, Soul Rebel is the opener to Soul Rebels, the second studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which appeared in December 1970. This clip features Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Wailers, French guitarist Manu Chao and Jamaican reggae singer Bushman, along with other musicians from Jamaica, Spain, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina and the U.S. Feel free to groove along!

Listen to the Music (Tom Johnston)

Listen to the Music is a classic by The Doobie Brothers from their second studio album Toulouse Street released in July 1972. It was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, one of the band’s founding members. Apart from Johnston and fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the clip features other musicians from Venezuela, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Japan, Argentina, Senegal, Congo, South Africa and the U.S., including a gospel choir from Mississippi. This is just a joy to watch!

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

While perhaps best known by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan. He first recorded it for John Wesley Harding, his eighth studio album from December 1967. Check out this riveting take featuring Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, John Densmore of The Doors and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, along with other musicians from Italy, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Niger, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali and the U.S. The latter include singers and dancers from the Lakota, a native American tribe that is part of the Great Sioux Nation. This is just mind-boggling to watch!

The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

And finally, here comes the crown jewel that inspired the post: The Weight written by Robbie Robertson, and first recorded for the debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink, released in July 1968. This clip was co-produced by PFC co-founder Mark Johnson and Robbie’s son Sebastian Johnson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song. And it’s quite a star-studded affair: In addition to Robertson, the clip features Ringo Starr, blues guitarist Marcus King, roots rockers Larkin Poe and country-rock guitarist Lucas Nelson, along with other musicians from Italy, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal and Jamaica – what a beautiful tribute to this great tune. Just watch the smile on Robertson’s face at the end. He knows how figgin’ awesome this came out – priceless!

PFC clearly has their go-to musicians in each country, and they’re not hobby musicians. Based on PFC’s website, all musicians are professionals who appear to be recognized within their countries. While as such one could argue PFC doesn’t seem to use amateur/ hobby musicians, it doesn’t take away anything of the concept’s beauty, in my view. Most of their videos capture songs performed by individual artists from different countries or by the PFC band. But it’s the song-around-the-world videos I find most impressive. You can watch all of PFC’s clips on their YouTube channel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Playing For Change website; Playing for Change Foundation website; YouTube

The Doobie Brothers Shine On New Live Album

Live From The Beacon Theatre presents hits and deep cuts from Toulouse Street and The Captain And Me albums

When I saw The Doobie Brothers are coming out with Live From The Beacon Theatre, I didn’t pay a lot of attention initially. At first glance, it largely looks like a greatest hits compilation played live, i.e., tunes we’ve heard many times before. Finally, I got curious yesterday, and, man, what an amazing and fresh-sounding album – if you dig the Doobies, there’s no way you’re not gonna like this!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised in the first place. After all, I saw the southern rockers last July together with Steely Dan, and they were dynamite! Just like Donald Fagen and co, after the co-headlining summer tour, the Doobies hit The Beacon Theatre in New York for special album-focused performances, which in this case included Toulouse Street (1972) and The Captain And Me (1973).

The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers (left to right): John Cowan (bass, vocals), Patrick Simmons (guitars, vocals, co-founder), Ed Tooth (drums), Marc Russo (saxophone), Tom Johnston (guitars, vocals, co-founder), John McFee (guitars, pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, vocals, core member since 1979) and Bill Payne (keyboards; not in photo)

Given the band’s sophomore and third studio records, respectively, included tracks like Listen To The Music, Rockin’ Down The Highway, Jesus Is Just Alright, Long Train Runnin’, China Grove, South City Midnight Lady and Without You, it’s really no wonder this new  album looks like a greatest hits live compilation. But there is more to picture. Plus, amazingly, even these well-known tunes sound very fresh!

The Doobies’ two concerts at The Beacon Theatre last November marked the first time they returned to the renown venue in 25 years. In addition to the above hits, the set lists included deep cuts and songs the band had never performed live before like Mamaloi, O’Connelly Corners, Ukiah and The Captain And Me. The live album is available in audio and video formats, including CD, DVD and Blue Ray. Let’s listen to some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the aforementioned Mamaloi. Written by Patrick Simmons, this tune first appeared on the Toulouse Street album. Check out the harmony vocals – these guys still sound mighty!

Here’s another great track from Toulouse Street, which I don’t believe is very well known: Cotton Mouth. This song was actually penned by Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts, a.k.a. Seals & Crofts. Listen to that beautiful horn work, which together with some funky guitar action give the tune a southern soul flair – fantastic!

Let’s jump to The Captain And Me set. Ever heard of Ukiah? Frankly, I did not recall that tune written by Tom Johnston. Another nice rocker!

Last but not least, I simply couldn’t resist highlighting one of the Doobies’ best known songs, since their Beacon performance is just so damn good and it’s available as a video clip on YouTube: the funky Long Train Runnin’, another Johnston composition. Again, check out the horns on that one – it simply is friggin’ amazing!

Here’s the album’s complete track list:

Disc One: Toulouse Street
1. “Listen To The Music”
2. “Rockin’ Down The Highway”
3. “Mamaloi”
4. “Toulouse Street”
5. “Cotton Mouth”
6. “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’”
7. “Jesus Is Just Alright”
8. “White Sun”
9. “Disciple”
10. “Snake Man”

Disc Two: The Captain And Me
1. “Natural Thing”
2. Band Intros
3. “Long Train Runnin’”
4. “China Grove”
5. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”
6. “Clear As The Driven Snow”
7. “Without You”
8. “South City Midnight Lady”
9. “Evil Woman”
10. “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”
11. “Ukiah”
12. “The Captain And Me”

Encore
13. “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)”
14. “Black Water”
15. “Listen To The Music” (Reprise)

The Doobies nicely timed the album’s release with the start of their tour with Carlos Santana. Tonight they’re playing Ridgefield, Wash. This is followed by Salt Lake City (Jul 2), Denver (Jul 3), Dallas (Jul 6) and Austin (Jul 9). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Doobie Brothers website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Doobie Brothers/Listen To The Music

With my Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan show being out less than one week, both bands are increasingly on my mind. Earlier today, I also saw on Facebook that 46 years ago today on July 1, 1972, The Doobies released their second studio album Toulouse Street, which included the above gem as the opener. Other standouts on the record are Rockin’ Down The Highway and Jesus Is Just Alright.

The Doobie Brothers 2018
(Left to right) John McFee, Tom Johnston & Patrick Simmons

Listen To The Music was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston. Together with Patrick Simmons (guitar, vocals) he remains as a co-founding member of The Doobies’ current lineup. Multi-instrumentalist John McFee, who joined in early 1979, is the band’s third permanent member. The current touring lineup also features Bill Payne (keyboards), Marc Russo (saxophone), Ed Tooth (drums) and John Cowan (bass, vocals).

Based on reviews I’ve seen, The Doobies are getting high marks for sounding great and including their best known songs in their set. That’s pretty much the same I recall from seeing them once before some 18-20 years ago. Can’t wait to listen to the music again!

Sources: Wikipedia, The Doobie Brothers official website, YouTube