Dylan’s Latest Bootleg Series Installment Is a True Revelation

Collection spans Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums that are widely considered to be the “low point” of his career

The Eighties are widely regarded as the low point of Bob Dylan’s entire career, a time when he struggled to find relevance in the MTV era and released a series of tacky, rudderless albums that were savaged by fans and critics. So reads the opening sentence of Rolling Stone’s recent review of Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985, the latest installment in Bob Dylan’s ongoing bootleg series. This pretty much reflects what I also read in Ultimate Classic Rock, Glide Magazine, Flood Magazine and other media outlets. Rolling Stone was quick to back up their statement with a quote from the maestro who in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One said, “[I was pretty] whitewashed and wasted out…I’m in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. I can’t shake it.” As I was listening to Springtime this morning, I kept thinking, ‘gee, Dylan at his worst sounds mighty good!’

Before going any further, I must reveal that while I dig many Dylan songs, there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the man’s mighty catalog. From the three albums Springtime captures – Shot of Love (August 1981), Infidels (October 1983) and Empire Burlesque (June 1985) – I had only listened to some tunes from Infidels, and all I remembered off the top of my head were Jokerman and I and I – both decent songs, in my opinion. I’m more familiar with Dylan’s records from the ’60s until the mid ’70s. I’ve also listened to his most recent work Rough and Rowdy Ways and have come to dig it.

Bob Dylan / Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985  – SuperDeluxeEdition
5-CD Deluxe Edition

The Bootleg Series Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980–1985, released yesterday (September 17), is the 14th installment in the series Dylan started in March 1991 with The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. Springtime includes previously unreleased tour rehearsals and outtakes from the three aforementioned albums, as well as various live versions. The compilation comes in three different formats, including a 2-CD standard edition, 5-disc deluxe edition, as well as 2-LP and 4-LP formats.

Let’s get to some music, based on the 5-CD edition. The rehearsal of Need a Woman is a track from disc one. Dylan first released the song on the aforementioned inaugural installment of his bootleg series as an outtake from Shot of Love. He is backed by fine musicians, including guitarists Steve Ripley and Danny Kortchmar; Carl Pickhardt (keyboards); Tim Drummond (bass); Jim Keltner (drums), as well as Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec and Clydie King who provide dynamite backing vocals and clapping.

Let’s move on to disc two and Price of Love, another outtake from Shot of Love. Not sure whether Dylan had previously released that song elsewhere. In addition to Ripley, Pickhardt, Drummond, Keltner, King and Quebec, he’s backed by Fred Tackett (guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Steve Douglas (saxophone) and Regina McCrary (backing vocals). Love this outtake!

Blind Willie McTell, a track from disc three, is another Dylan tune he first released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 as an outtake from Infidels. This is a different version of Dylan’s tribute to Piedmont blues and ragtime singer and guitarist William Samuel McTier. Known as Blind Willie McTell, he influenced The Allman Brothers Band, Taj Mahal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jack White, Mr. Zimmerman and many other artists.

Next up: An alternate take of Sweetheart Like You from disc four, a song Dylan first released on the Infidels album. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single and became Dylan’s first official music video, which you can watch here if you’re so inclined. Here’s a clip of the alternate take featuring another neat backing band: Guitarists Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor; Alan Clark (keyboards); Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Sly Dunbar (drums), of reggae production duo Sly and Robbie; and Clydie King (backing vocals). Not too shabby for an artist who supposedly was at a low point in his career – well, I suppose it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Let’s wrap up this post with two tracks from disc five. Both are my early favorites from the collection, based on what I’ve heard thus far. First is a great live version of a tune called Enough Is Enough, captured at a gig at Slane Castle in Ireland. Based on what I could find on Setlist.fm during the timeframe this latest bootleg installment covers, it looks like Dylan played the song during this 1984 concert. After some additional digging, I found Dylan’s backing band included Mick Taylor (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboards, formerly with Faces), Greg Sutton (bass) and Colin Allen (drums). Damn, this rocks!

And last but not least, here’s New Danville Girl, an outtake from Dylan’s Empire Burlesque album. According to Wikipedia, Dylan co-wrote the nearly 12-minute satirical with American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter and director Sam Shepard. Originally, the tune was intended to be an answer to Doin’ the Things That We Want To, a 1984 song by Lou Reed that had been inspired by a Shepard play. The tune would later be re-written and re-titled Brownsville Girl. Dylan included it on Knocked Out Loaded, the 1986 follow-on album to Empire Burlesque. I absolutely love this tune!

Listening to Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985 has been quite a revelation. Apart from great renditions, I really like Dylan’s singing here – something I certainly can’t say for all other songs I’ve heard. And the musicians backing him on these recordings are spectacular, though I suppose if you’re Bob Dylan, you can secure pretty much anyone. Now I’m also curious to further explore the Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Ultimate Classic Rock; Glide Magazine; Flood Magazine; Setlist.fm; YouTube

When the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band Goes Country

A playlist of country-influenced songs by The Rolling Stones

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones have been on my mind lately. When my streaming music provider served up Far Away Eyes the other day, the seed for this post was planted. In addition to rock & roll and blues, the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” has always had a thing for country, so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of country-influenced Stones songs.

“As far as country music was concerned, we used to play country songs, but we’d never record them – or we recorded them but never released them,” Mick Jagger is quoted on Songfacts. “Keith and I had been playing Johnny Cash records and listening to the Everly Brothers – who were SO country – since we were kids. I used to love country music even before I met Keith. I loved George Jones and really fast, s–t-kicking country music, though I didn’t really like the maudlin songs too much.” For all of those among us who aren’t native English speakers like myself, maudlin means “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” and “weakly and effusively sentimental,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

All featured tracks in this list were credited to Jagger and Keith Richards, as usual. One could argue most picks aren’t “pure” country and mix in elements from blues and other genres. While I suppose there isn’t much debate that a tune like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry qualifies as maudlin, it’s really hard to define what is a pure country song in the first place. After all, with all the crossover action that has been going on in country for many years, I would argue the genre has become one of the broadest in music. Should we be shattered? Does it matter?

Dear DoctorBeggars Banquet (1968)

Let’s kick off this list with Dear Doctor from Beggars Banquet. The tune featured Brian Jones on harmonica and slide guitar. Sadly, Beggars Banquet was the last Stones album that appeared during his lifetime. “The country songs, like “Factory Girl” or “Dear Doctor” on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche,” Jagger said. “There’s a sense of humor in country music, anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” The Stones clearly seemed to have fun with Dear Doctor.

Country HonkLet It Bleed (1969)

Country Honk is the country version of Honky Tonk Women. “On Let It Bleed, we put that other version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on because that’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers, ’30s country song,” Richards explained, as captured by Songfacts. “And it got turned around to this other song by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall completely.” Wikipedia notes the fiddle was played by Byron Berline in a park, who by his own account had been recommended for the part by Gram Parsons.

Dead FlowersSticky Fingers (1971)

Dead Flowers, the tune every bar band must know how to play, perhaps is the most famous country-influenced song by the Stones. I’ve really come to love it over the years. The guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor are among the very best the Stones have ever played, in my humble opinion. Here’s another quote from Jagger Songfacts provides in connection with this tune: “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Sweet VirginiaExile on Main St. (1972)

Another country-influenced Stones gem is Sweet Virginia, off what many fans regard as the band’s best album, Exile on Main St. Among others, the track features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Bobby Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, per Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.” Okay, let’s scrape that s–t right off our shoes! 🙂

Far Away EyesSome Girls (1978)

Obviously, I can’t skip the tune that triggered the brilliant idea for this post. In addition to being included on Some Girls, Far Away Eyes became the B-side to the album’s lead single Miss You. Referring to a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Songfacts includes the following quote by Jagger: “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield [Calif. – CMM] on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to.” During that same interview, Jagger also confirmed that the girl in the song was “a real girl.” Well, that’s a shocker!

The WorstVoodoo Lounge (1994)

Let’s finish this post with The Worst, one of two tunes from Voodoo Lounge Keith Richards sang. Among others, the track features Chuck Leavell on piano and fiddle and flute player Frankie Gavin, a member of De Danaan, a traditional folk group from Ireland where the Stones recorded the album. “It’s funny, but a lot of these songs were written in kitchens,” said Richards in 1994, according to Songfacts. “That one I wrote in the kitchen in Barbados, and I thought, That’s a pretty melody, but what to do with it, I really didn’t know. I guess that’s where Ireland comes in, because Ireland has its own traditional music, and it’s not country music as such, but it’s the roots of it, you know? It’s that Irish feel.” Pirate laughter – okay, I made that up, but I could just picture him do it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; 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

A Rolling Stones Classic Hits a Big Milestone

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sticky Fingers

While fans of The Rolling Stones may have different opinions which is the best album by the ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’, I think most agree Sticky Fingers ranks among their top records. If I would have to pick one, it would be this gem that was released on April 23, 1971. This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the record by a band that has existed for some 59 years and whose key songwriters became childhood friends in 1950. It’s just mind-boggling!

Sticky Fingers, the ninth British and the eleventh American studio album by the Stones, was the first they released under Rolling Stones Records. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts decided to form their own label in 1970 after the band’s recording contract with Decca Records had expired. Ten additional Stones albums appeared on that label until its discontinuation in 1992 when the Stones signed to Virgin Records.

The Rolling Stones in 1971 (from left): Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

Sticky Fingers also had a few other firsts. It became the Stones’ first studio album without any contribution from founding member Brian Jones who had been fired in June 1969 over his increasingly erratic behavior due to drug use. As we know, the story didn’t end well. Less than one month thereafter, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool – yet another great music talent tragically lost to drugs! Moreover, Sticky Fingers introduced the iconic tongue and lips logo of Rolling Stones Records, which has appeared on all Stones albums ever since.

The album’s original cover art work depicting a close up of a jeans-clad male crotch with a visible outline of a penis was conceived by none other than Andy Warhol. Unlike many fans assumed, it wasn’t Jagger’s crotch. Instead, Warhol “superstar” Joe Dallesandro claims to have been the model, though apparently this hasn’t been confirmed. Initial editions of the cover had a working zipper and perforations around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of cotton briefs. Following complaints from retailers that the zipper damaged the actual vinyl records during shipping, the zipper was slightly pulled down toward the middle of the record to minimize the problem. Later reissues eliminated the working zipper and simply showed the outer photograph of the jeans.

In terms of the music, Sticky Fingers marked a return to a more basic and traditional Stones sound that mostly relied on guitar, bass, drums and percussion provided by the band’s key members: Mick Jagger (lead vocals, percussion, rhythm guitar), Keith Richards (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Taylor (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Long-time collaborators included Bobby Keys (saxophone) and keyboarders Billy Preston, Jack Nitzsche, Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins. The album was produced by Jimmy Miller, who had started to work with the Stones for Beggars Banquet from December 1968 and produced all of their albums until Goats Head Soup released in August 1973.

Time for some music. Unless otherwise noted, all tracks are credited to Jagger and Richards. Here’s the opener Brown Sugar. Songfacts notes that while the tune comes across as “a fun rocker about a guy having sex with the black girl,” the lyrics written by Jagger are actually “about slaves from Africa who were sold in New Orleans and raped by their white masters.” The Stones recorded the tune in Sheffield, Ala. in early December 1969 and performed it for the first time live during the fateful Altamont Speedway concert on December 6 that same year. Brown Sugar backed by Bitch also became Sticky Finger’s lead single on April 16, 1971.

Wild Horses is one of my long-time favorite tunes by the Stones. Referencing the liner notes from their 1993 compilation Jump Back, Wikipedia quotes Jagger: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. [It did, in April 1970 on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ sophomore album Burrito Deluxe – CMM] Everyone always says this was written about Marianne [Faithfull – CMM] but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.” Added Richards: “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like “Satisfaction”, “Wild Horses” was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.” Wild Horses, with Sway as the B-side, was also released separately as the album’s second single on June 12, 1971.

Another highlight on Side One of Sticky Fingers is Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. At 7 minutes-plus, this is an unusually long track for the Stones. One of the song’s distinct features is a lengthy saxophone solo by Bobby Keys. Rocky Dijon and Billy Preston contribute percussion and organ, respectively. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” came out flying,” Richards said, as quoted by Rolling Stones fan site Time Is On Our Side. “I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we’re thinking, hey, this is some groove. So it was smiles all around. For a guitar player it’s no big deal to play, the chopping, staccato bursts of chords, very direct and spare.”

This brings me to Side Two of the album. The first track I’d like to highlight here is Bitch, a tune with a great guitar riff and horn line. Like many other songs on the album, the Stones recorded it at the Stargroves estate in Hampshire, England, using their mobile recording unit. Songfacts points out Mick Jagger had multiple relationships, so the tune is not about Marianne Faithfull or any other specific woman for that matter. It’s safe to assume the song’s lyrics could not be written today without triggering a political fire storm. “When we were doing Bitch, Keith was very late,” recalled recording engineer Andy Jones, according to Time Is On Our Side. “Jagger and Mick Taylor had been playing the song without him and it didn’t sound very good. I walked out of the kitchen and he was sitting on the floor with no shoes, eating a bowl of cereal. Suddenly he said, Oi, Andy! Give me that guitar. I handed him his clear Dan Armstrong Plexiglass guitar, he put it on, kicked the song up in tempo, and just put the vibe right on it. Instantly, it went from being this laconic mess into a real groove. And I thought, Wow. THAT’S what he does.”

Next up is a track I’ve come to increasingly love over the years, even though it’s not a traditional Stones rocker: Dead Flowers. Nowadays, I would go as far as calling this must-play tune for every bar band my favorite Stones song – so much for a guy who used to dismiss country as hillbilly music for the longest time! Recorded at Olympic Studios in London in April 1970, Dead Flowers was written during a time when the Stones were embracing country and Richards’ writing was influenced by his friendship with Gram Parsons. “The ‘Country’ songs we recorded later, like “Dead Flowers” on Sticky Fingers or “Far Away Eyes” on Some Girls are slightly different (than our earlier ones),” Jagger observed, per Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones, a 2013 book by Bill Janovitz. “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer – I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.” Be that as it may be. What I particularly love about Dead Flowers are the great guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor throughout the song.

Let’s wrap things with one more tune: Moonlight Mile, the album’s excellent closer! Another track recorded at Stargroves at the end of October 1970, Moonlight Mile came out of an all-night session involving Jagger and Taylor. Notably, Richards was absent for the recording of this tune, so Taylor handled all guitar work. Songfacts also calls out contributions from Jim Price (piano) and Paul Buckmaster (string arrangements). “That’s a dream song,” Jagger reportedly said in 1978. “Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time – it’s nice to come back to reality.” BTW, even though Richards was nowhere to been when the tune was recorded, it still was credited to Jagger and him.

Sticky Fingers became the first Stones album to top both the U.S. and the UK albums charts. Based on a January 2020 article by news and entertainment outlet The Talko, it is the band’s best-selling record with about 21.7 million units sold, followed by Let It Bleed (21.3 million) and Aftermath (19.6 million). Sticky Fingers was ranked at no. 63 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. While it lost some ground in the most recent revised list from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 104. Sticky Fingers was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Given the album’s significance, you might think the Stones are celebrating the 50th anniversary with a major reissue. Not so. Instead, in early December, the band announced on Twitter a Red Limited Edition LP: Introducing… the Sticky Fingers Stones Red Limited Edition LP. 500 will be available in the Stones Carnaby  Street store from Thursday Dec 3rd & 500 available online later that day at 8pm GMT / 12pm PST. Sign up for reminders: https://the-rolling-stones.lnk.to/StonesSignUpSo. More Stones Red to come! While at first sight, this may be a bit disappointing, it’s important to remember that Sticky Fingers already saw a reissue in 2015. Plus, there’s Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, a great 2017 release the Stones put out as part of their From the Vault series.

How about a little encore? Ask and you shall receive, and it’s a true gem: a killer rendition of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking from the aforementioned Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015, which captures a gig before a relatively tiny audience of 1,200 people. It marked the opening of the Stones’ two-month Zip Code Tour in 2015 and also celebrated the above noted Sticky Fingers reissue. The band was truly on fire that night. I would argue that performance reaches the level of the legendary Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. If you haven’t seen this clip before and dig the Stones, I’d highly encourage you to watch it. This is rock & roll at its best!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Time Is On Our Side; The Talko; Rolling Stones Twitter feed; YouTube

Walter Trout At Iridium: Blistering Blues Rock And Tales Of Survival

“Personally, I’m happy to be anywhere,” stated Walter Trout, as he was introducing the second tune of his set on Tuesday night at The Iridium in New York City. The 68-year-old blues veteran wasn’t referring to the storied music club in Manhattan’s Theater District, which has seen such luminaries like Les Paul, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Joe Walsh, Joe Satriani and Mick Taylor. Trout was talking about being on planet earth. It was the first of repeated references to survival he made throughout the show.

Five years ago, Trout found himself near death in a hospital with liver failure. “I was in Canned Heat,” he sarcastically remarked, referring to his four-year stint in the blues rock band from 1981 to 1985, adding he is the only survivor of their lineup at the time. Trout is alive thanks to a liver transplant he received in 1994. When he was released from the hospital, he had to learn again how to talk and how to walk – and, yes, how to play the guitar!

Noting that playing guitar was the only thing he had ever known and that he had been a guitarist since 1969, Trout said he practiced six to seven hours every day. Eventually, his skills came back. Trout’s agonizing recovery took one year. In 2015, he documented his ordeal in what he described as a very dark album: Battle Scars. And in January this year, he released what’s aptly called Survivor Blues, a covers album with tunes Trout feels are forgotten gems. I wrote about this excellent record here. In fact, it was that album that brought Trout on my radar screen, which culminated in Tuesday night’s show. And boy, what a great gig it was to watch!

Walter Trout & Band Collage
Clockwise: Walter Trout, Teddy Zig Zag, Michael Leasure, Johnny Griparic, Paul Schaffer and Anthony Grisham

For the most part, Trout played tunes from Survivor Blues, as well as his two preceding studio albums We’re All In This Together (2017) and the aforementioned Battle Scars. His great backing band included Teddy Zig Zag (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Michael Leasure (drums) and Johnny Griparic (bass). There were also appearances by two guests: Tour manager Anthony Grisham (guitar) and Paul Schaffer (keyboards).

Let’s get to some music. With a pole right in front of me, taking video was a bit tricky. The first song I’d like to highlight is Me, My Guitar And The Blues from Survivor Blues. The powerful cover of Jimmy Dawkins’ title track from his 1997 solo album was the above mentioned second tune of the set. At about 1:42 minutes into the song, Trout explains the idea behind the covers album.

Almost Gone is the opener to Battle Scars, the first album Trout recorded after his long recovery from his liver disease and transplant. Now I get the feelin’ that somethin’s goin’ wrong/Can’t help believin’ I won’t last too long/Won’t last too long, too long/Hey, I can see the writing on the wall/Hey, I believe I’m about to lose it all/I look around, I look around and everything I see/Reminds me of the way, reminds me of the way I used to be

Another track from Survivor Blues is a song written by Sunnyland Slim called Be Careful How You Vote. The title track to his 1989 studio album couldn’t be more timely, but the true highlight is the music. In addition to Trout’s guitar, the tune features great  Hammond and harmonica work by Paul Schaffer and Teddy Zig Zag, respectively – and all of it over a nice shuffling groove. If you watch one clip only, I’d recommend this one – it’s worth all of its 12 minutes and 14 seconds!

I’d like to conclude with the title track of Trout’s 2017 studio album We’re All In This Together. This tune features a guest appearance by Anthony Grisham who does a nice job on guitar, taking solo turns with Trout.

Toward the end of the show Trout, spoke passionately about organ donation. He noted in the U.S. there are currently 120,000 people waiting for an organ. Each month, time is running out for about 2,000 of them – a true national emergency, as he called it. Trout also reminded the audience that humans have eight vital organs that could potentially save eight lives, pointing to himself as living proof what organ donation can do. Since November 2015, Trout has been a patron of the British Liver Trust. He certainly is a compelling ambassador.

Tuesday’s gig at The Iridium was Trout’s third date during his ongoing U.S. tour. The next upcoming shows include Bay Shore, N.Y. (tonight), Pawtucket, R.I. (Friday) and Plymouth, N.H. (Saturday). Altogether, the U.S. leg includes 17 gigs and concludes on April 27 in Pelham, Tenn. The current schedule also shows dates in Europe in May, June, August and October.

Sources: Wikipedia, Walter Trout website, YouTube

John Mayall Has Turned 85 And No Plans For Retirement After More Than 50 Years

The Godfather of British Blues has announced a tour and a new album for 2019

What do Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce have in common? Together with Ginger Baker, they formed what perhaps was the ultimate blues rock power trio Cream. How about Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood? Well, they became part of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser? He joined Free as a 15-year-old bass player. Last but not least, Mick Taylor? He of course became a member The Rolling Stones during what is widely considered their musical peak. What else do all these top-notch artists share? They all played with John Mayall, mostly before they became famous.

As a ’60s blues rock fan, it is pretty much impossible not to come across the name of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. That being said, I’m the first to admit that oftentimes my music knowledge is still pretty insular. While I was well aware of Eric Clapton’s connection with Mayall, I didn’t know about all of the other above mentioned artists. I also had not heard much of John Mayall’s music and had not appreciated that in addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a pretty good vocalist. What finally caught my attention was a great story about him for his recent 85th birthday in German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which I spotted on Facebook the other day. It made me start listening to some of Mayall’s more recent solo albums I dug instantly, which in turn inspired this post.

John Mayall was born on November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England, and grew up in a village close to Manchester. He was first exposed to jazz and blues as a young teenager when he listened to the 78 record collection of his father Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music fan. So it certainly was no coincidence that young John initially became attracted to the guitar and guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Leadbelly. As a 14-year-old, he began to learn the basics for playing the piano. A couple of years later, he also picked up the harmonica. Not only does this mean Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also self-taught – pretty cool!

Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ca. 1966 (from left): John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Hughie Flint and John McVie

While Mayall had been playing music since his teenage years and during his twenties, it wasn’t until 1962 that he decided to make a living with music. He gave up his job as a graphic designer and moved from Manchester to London. Soon thereafter, he started The Bluesbreakers. In the spring of 1964, the band recorded their first two tracks: Crawling Up A Hill and Mr. James. Afterwards, they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour. At the end of the year, Mayall signed with Decca and recorded his debut John Mayall Plays John Mayall, a live record that appeared in March 1965, but it was not successful.

Things started cooking for The Bluesbreakers when Eric Clapton joined the band in April 1965. While initially Clapton only stood until August and left for another venture called The Glands, he returned in November. A few months later, the band recorded Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. But by the time the album was entering the charts, Clapton and then-Bluesbreakers bassist Jack Bruce had already left to form Cream. The next few years saw a succession of guitarists who came and left, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In fact, frequent line-up changes would become a constant for Mayall, yet I haven’t read anything that he was ever annoyed about it.

John Mayall 2018
John Mayall at 2018 Jazz Fest in New Orleans

In 1969, Mayall moved from England to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and began playing with American musicians. Over the next three decades, he recorded many albums featuring artists like Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins and Mick Taylor. In 2008, Mayall decided to retire The Bluesbreakers name. The following year, he started touring with Rocky Athas (guitar), Jay Davenport (drums) and Greg Rzab (bass). In 2016, after Athas had been unable to attend a festival gig due to airline cancellations, Mayall was left with Davenport and Rzab. He liked the trio format and decided to keep it until May of this year, when guitarist Caroyln Wonderland joined the band.

With a recording career of more than 50 years and 60-plus albums, it’s impossible to do Mayall and his music full justice, so the following selection can only scratch the surface. Let’s start with the above mentioned Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. Here’s Double Crossin’ Time, a tune co-written by Mayall and Clapton. Apart from them, the core line-up of The Bluesbreakers at the time also included John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).

In September 1967, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers released their fourth album Crusade. It was the first record with then-18-year-old Mick Taylor. Check out this hot track called Snowy Wood, which is credited to Mayall and Taylor.

To A Princess is an unusual tune from Mayall’s 13th album Empty Rooms, which appeared in 1970. It includes a bass duet featuring band member Steven Thompson and former Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor as a guest. In addition to Mayall (vocals, harmonica, guitars, keyboards), Thompson and Taylor, other musicians on the record were Jon Mark (guitar) and Johnny Almond (saxophone, flute). Mark and Almond left right after the album’s recording to form the duo Mark-Almond.

Next up: The title track of Mayall’s 19th album Ten Years Are Gone released in September 1973. I dig the brass work on this groovy tune, which gives it a cool jazzy and soulful vibe. The musicians on the record included Mayall (piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Freddy Robinson (guitar), Victor Gaskin (bass), Keef Hartley (drums), Sugarcane Harris (violin), Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Red Holloway (saxophone, flute).

In 1975, Mayall’s 22nd album Notice To Appear came out. For the most part, it featured covers, including the following hot funky take of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The track features Mayall (vocals), Rick Vito (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Soko Richardson (drums), Jay Spell (keyboards), Don Harris (violin) and Dee McKinnie (backing vocals).

In 1988, Mayall recorded his 34th album called Archives To Eighties. It included revised versions of select tunes that originally had appeared on his 1971 release Back To The Roots. Just like the earlier record, Archives To Eighties featured Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Here’s Force Of Nature.

Wake Up Call was Mayall’s 39th album. The Grammy-nominated record from 1994 brought together many prominent musicians, including Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins and Mavis Staples, among others. Here’s the smoking hot title track with Taylor on guitar and Staples on vocals.

In 2005, Mayall released his 53rd album called Road Dogs, one of the last under The Bluesbreakers name. The band’s line-up at the time included Buddy Whittington (guitars), Hank Van Sickle (bass) and Joe Yuele (drums), in addition to Mayall (vocals, keyboard, harmonica). Following is the record’s closer Scrambling.

Here’s the title track of Mayall’s 61st record A Special Life from May 2014. It featured his then-core backing band Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass, percussions) and Jay Davenport (drums), as well as C. J. Chenier (accordion, vocals). As usually, Mayall provided vocals, guitar, harmonica and keyboards.

The last album I’d like to touch on is Mayall’s most recent, Three For The Road. Released in February 2018, it is his 66th record – unbelievable! It presents live recordings from two 2017 concerts in Germany, performed by the trio format of Mayall, Rzab and Davenport. Here’s Lonely Feelings.

Just before his 85th birthday on November 29, Mayall made two announcements. After completing a few shows in California, he is planning a 2019 tour and has started booking gigs in Europe. A look on the current schedule already reveals 22 dates starting February 26 in Tampere, Finland and stretching out to March 24 in Ancona, Italy. U.S. dates are supposed to be announced soon. Mayall also revealed a new studio album, Nobody Told Me, which is scheduled to be released on February 22, 2019. Apart from his new guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, it includes numerous prominent guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Steven Van Zandt and Alex Lifeson.

I’d like to finish this post with a few quotes posted on Mayall’s website, which I think speak for themselves:

John Mayall has actually run an incredible school for musician. (Eric Clapton)

John Mayall, he was the master of it. If it wasn’t for the British musicians, a lot of us black musicians in America would still be catchin’ the hell that we caught long before. So thanks to all you guys, thank you very much! (B.B. King)

I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ-type guy. You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say “Just check this out.” He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton – he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. (Paul McCartney)

As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world. (Walter Trout)

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mayall website, YouTube

Music of Cream Shines at New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre

Relatives of original members pay tribute to legendary power rock trio

While I’ve seen many tribute bands over the past couple of years, Tuesday night was a first: a tribute act whose members were relatives of the original band’s musicians. Meet Music of Cream: Malcolm Bruce (bass) and Kofi Baker (drums), sons of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; and Will Johns (guitar), nephew of Eric Clapton.

The closest case I can think of is Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who pays tribute to the English rockers with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. But I’ve never seen a tribute act where the entire lineup is blood-related to the members of the original band.

Apart from being true masters of their craft, Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns also have impressive other accomplishments, as their bios on the Music of Cream website show. Malcolm is a composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and engineer. In addition to having recorded and performed with his father, he can be heard on recordings of other artists like Little Richard, Eric Clapton or Elton John. Last year, Malcolm also released his debut solo album Salvation.

Kofi first performed live with his father on the BBC TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test when he was just six years old. In addition to Jack Bruce, he has also played and toured with other rock musicians, such as Uli Jon Roth (former lead guitarist of Scorpions), UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore and Rick Derringer. He also released a solo record, Lost City, and recorded an album with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane called Abstract Logic.

Kofi, Malcolm and Will
Music of Cream (from left): Kofi Baker, Malcolm Bruce and Will Johns

In addition to Jack Bruce, Will has performed with Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. Will’s strong connection to members of The Rolling Stones is likely due to his father Andy Johns, recording engineer and producer, who apart from the Stones has worked with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Will is also the nephew of Glyn Johns who has produced for The Who, Eric Clapton and Eagles. To date, he has released three solo albums: Count On Me, Hooks & Lines and Something Old, Something New.

Yes, it’s safe to assume that all their connections haven’t hurt Malcolm, Kofi and Will, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are highly talented musicians and accomplished artists. Music of Cream’s shows are billed as a 50th anniversary tour, which was launched in Australia and New Zealand last year. Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream appeared in December 1966.

Tuesday night’s show was divided in two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission. Based on what I’ve seen on Setlist.fm, this appears to be the typical format. In addition to great music, I also thought the projection of psychedelic color patterns mixed with historical footage of Cream on the stage background was pretty cool. While the band was taking a break, documentary film footage was shown. During both sets, Kofi, Macolm and Will also shared anecdotes about Ginger, Jack and Eric.

Time for some clips! Here are two from the first set. Politician appeared on Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third album released in August 1968. It was written by Jack Bruce and lyricist and singer Pete Brown who frequently collaborated with Bruce.

Next up: Strange Brew, the opener of Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. The tune is credited to Eric Clapton, the record’s producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins.

Some of the other tunes from the first set included N.S.U., Badge and Sleepy Time Time.

The second set kicked off with I’m So Glad, followed by Crossroads. Following is a clip of the latter, a Robert Johnson tune arranged by Eric Clapton.

White Room was another tune Music of Cream performed during the second half of show. Co-written by Bruce and Brown, the song was the opener of the Wheels Of Fire album.

Some other tunes from the second sets included Born Under A Bad Sign, Sitting On Top Of The World, Toad and Sunshine Of Your Love. Here’s a clip of the latter, another track from Disraeli Gears, co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Brown. The band stretched it into an 11-minute-plus jam.

Music of Cream also threw in Spoonful as an encore. Including the intermission, the show lasted a solid three hours. Not only did Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns do a great job to capture the music of Cream, but they were also clearly enjoying themselves.

Upcoming tour dates include Baltimore, Md. (Oct 25), Greensburg, Pa. (Oct 26), Bristol, Tenn. (Oct 28) and Richmond, Va. (Oct 30). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Music of Cream website, Setlist.fm,