On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 5

It’s been four and a half months since the last installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History, a feature that has appeared irregularly since the very early days of the blog. What tends to happen is I remember the feature, do a few installments based on dates I haven’t covered yet, and then it kind of drops off the radar screen again.

Whenever I come back to it, usually, I find it intriguing what turns up by looking at a specific date throughout music history. Typically, my time period of reference for these posts are the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Without further ado, following are some of the events that happened on July 5.

1954: Elvis Presley recorded his first single That’s All Right at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. The song was written by blues singer Arthur Crudup who also first recorded it in 1946. Some of the lyrics were traditional blues verses Crudup took from Blind Lemon Jefferson, recorded in 1926. Presley’s cover of That’s All Right came together spontaneously when during a break in the studio Elvis started to play an uptempo version of Crudup’s song on guitar. Bill Black joined in on string bass and they were soon joined by Scotty Moore on lead guitar. When producer Sam Phillips heard them play, wisely, he asked them to start over, so he could record. That’s All Right appeared on July 19, 1954, with Blue Moon of Kentucky as the B-side. While the tune gained local popularity and reached no. 4 on the Memphis charts, it missed the national charts.

1966: Chas Chandler, who at the time was the bassist for The Animals, saw Jimi Hendrix for the first time at Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was awestruck by the 23-year-old guitarist’s performance. Hendrix was playing with a band and they called themselves Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. One of the songs Hendrix performed that day was Hey Joe. Coincidentally, When Chandler had heard a version of the tune by folk singer Tim Rose a few days earlier and immediately was determined to find an artist to record it after his return to England. Shortly after the Café Wha? gig, Chandler became Hendrix’s manager and producer and took the guitarist to London. Chandler brought Hendrix together with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. They became the Jimi Hendrix Experience, recorded Hey Joe and released the tune as their first single in December of the same year. And the rest is history.

1969: The Who released I’m Free, the second single from Tommy, their fourth studio album. Like most of the rock opera album, the tune was written by Pete Townshend. Backed by We’re Not Gonna Take It, the single didn’t chart in the UK. In the U.S., it reached no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did best in Germany and the Netherlands where it climbed to no. 18 and no. 20, respectively. The relatively moderate performance is remarkable for a tune that is one of the best-known tracks from the album. Townshend has said the song was in part inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man.

1974: Linda Ronstadt recorded You’re No Good at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, working with renowned producer Peter Asher. Written by Clint Ballard Jr., You’re No Good was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Ronstadt’s rendition became her breakthrough hit and the most successful version, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 7 on the Canadian mainstream chart. Elsewhere it climbed to no. 15, no. 17 and no. 24 in Australia, The Netherlands and New Zealand, respectively. You’re No Good actually also turned out to be, well, pretty good for Heart Like a Wheel, helping Ronstadt’s fifth solo record to become her first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200.

1981: A performance of The Cure at the annual Rock Werchter in Belgium was cut short when the English gothic rock and new wave band was told they had to wrap up so Robert Palmer could begin his set. “This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ’cause everybody wants to see Robert Palmer,” Cure vocalist Robert Smith told the crowd before the band defiantly launched into an extended 9-minute version of A Forest. While they were wrapping up, bassist Simon Gallup grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck Rock and Roll!” Apparently, the festival organizers forgave The Cure who returned several times in subsequent years. By contrast, Robert Palmer’s 1981 performance at Rock Werchter remained his only appearance at the festival.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 10

A look on the calendar revealed January 10 was a date I had not covered yet as part of my recurring music history feature that has become a bit more regular over the past few months. Not sure yet whether this is going to remain the case. For now, let’s look at some of the events that happened on January 10 throughout rock history.

1958: Jerry Lee Lewis topped the UK Official Singles chart with Great Balls of Fire, one of his best-known songs. Co-written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, the rock & roll classic had been recorded on October 8, 1957, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., and released on November 11 that year. The tune also became a big hit in the U.S. where it topped the Billboard country and R&B charts and peaked at no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The song was also featured in the American rock & roll picture Jamboree from 1957. “The Killer” remains alive at age 86.

1964: The Rolling Stones released their eponymous debut EP in the UK. It came on the heels of their second single I Wanna Be Your Man in November 1963, a cover of a Beatles tune that had yielded the first top 20 hit for the Stones in the UK. The EP featured four other covers of tunes written by Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, Arthur Alexander and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Here’s the Alexander song You Better Move On, which also became the Stones’ fourth single in January 1964. Unlike I Wanna Be Your Man, You Better Move On did not make the British charts, though it charted in Australia at an underwhelming no. 94. I’ve actually always liked this rendition.

1969: George Harrison quit The Beatles while they were at Twickenham Film Studios, where their rehearsals for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were being captured on camera. If you watched the Peter Jackson documentary The Beatles: Get Back, you could see that George’s frustration about the tensions within the group had been building up. When they broke for lunch, he had had it and told his bandmates, “I think I’ll be leaving, I’m leaving the band now.” Asked by John Lennon, “When?”, Harrison replied, “Now. Get a replacement.” His last words before walking out were, “See you ’round the clubs.” A few days later, he returned after he had received assurances the concert The Beatles had planned would be canceled and that his other wishes would be respected. Fortunately, things turned out to be different with the famous roof concert, though if you watched the above documentary, you saw it was up in the air until the very last minute.

1977: American blues legend Muddy Waters released Hard Again, the first of his final three studio albums that were produced by electric blues guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. That’s pretty much all the facts you need to have to know this has got to be great. The album, which was recorded live in-studio in just three days, won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Here’s The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2, co-written by Waters (credited as McKinley Morganfield, his real name) and Brownie McGhee.

2016: David Bowie passed away from liver cancer in New York at the age of 69. He had received his diagnosis 18 months earlier and decided not to make it public. Just two days earlier, his 26th and final studio album Blackstar had been released. The recording had taken place in secret at a studio in New York. Co-producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s “parting gift” for his fans before his death. While I understand many fans like Blackstar, admittedly, it’s not my cup of tea. I much prefer Bowie’s first decade, in particular his glam rock period. Here’s one of my favorites, Suffragette City, off his fifth studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars from June 1972. To quote the instruction on the back cover, “To be played at maximum volume”! 🙂

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

The Mule Rule on Their New “First-Ever Blues Album”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, guitarist, songwriter and producer Warren Haynes doesn’t strike me as an artist who does things half-ass. Still, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I saw Gov’t Mule came out with what the Southern jam rockers billed as their “first-ever blues album.” In fact, I don’t follow the group closely, so had missed when they had first announced the record back in September. Well, I suppose, based on this post’s headline, you already figured out that I’m pretty excited about Heavy Load Blues, which was released last Friday, November 12.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the album was recorded live in-studio at Power Station New England. The MuleWarren Haynes (guitar, lead vocals), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Matt Abts (drums) – recorded the tracks to analog tape, using vintage equipment. Clearly, this was all done to create an authentic sound, and the result is sweet! The album, which was co-produced by Haynes and John Paterno, covers tunes by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Junior Wells, and includes some original songs written by Haynes.

Govt Mule Press September 2021
Gov’t Mule (from left): Matt Abs, Danny Louis, Jorgen Carlsson and Warren Haynes – Photo by Jay Sansone

“For me, personally, it’s kind of been on my list of things to do for years,” Haynes said in a statement on Gov’t Mule’s website. “I didn’t know if it was gonna be a solo album or a Gov’t Mule record,” he further noted. “We play some traditional blues on stage from time to time and although it’s usually never more than a few songs per show, our approach to the blues is unique and based on our collective chemistry as a band. This album gave us a mission.”

Well, let’s get to some of the goodies. Kicking off the album is a great rendition of Blues Before Sunrise, which I believe was first recorded in 1934 by blues guitar and piano duo Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. Interestingly, Gov’t Mule’s clip lists Elmore James and Joe Josea as the tune’s composers. I found a recording by James from 1955, credited to him and Josea, which implies they couldn’t have written the original song. Perhaps they changed it up a bit and subsequently claimed it as their own – not unheard of, especially when it comes to the blues. In any case, I love The Mule’s shuffling rendition. Haynes’ slide guitar sounds great, as does his voice, which reminds me a bit of Gregg Allman.

Hole In My Soul is one of the original tunes written by Haynes, and it’s a true beauty. The horn section of Pam Fleming (trumpet), Jenny Jill (tenor saxophone) and Buford O’Sullivan (trombone) sounds beautiful, adding a nice soul vibe to the track. Danny Louis’ Hammond in the background gives me goosebumps – admittedly, a Hammond does that to me pretty frequently! Again, Haynes is doing a great job on guitar and vocals.

One of the album’s highlights is a medley blending Snatch It Back and Hold It, a 1965 tune by Junior Wells, and Hold It Back, a jam credited to The Mule. Check out the official video. Seeing these guys in action in the studio is really cool! Yes, at close to 8 minutes, it’s on the longer side, but what do you expect from jam rockers? BTW, long tracks are one of the reasons why I’m not an all-out fan of jam rock. However, in this case, it doesn’t bother me since I dig the blues, plus the band doesn’t overdo it by playing millions of notes during their solos!

Some people said it was cocaine/Some people said it was gin/But I know the name of the motherfucker that did my brother in//They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill/They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill…You know a song that starts out that way just has to be good. Co-written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Clyde Otis, Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt) was recorded by The Animals for their 1977 reunion album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. On Discogs, I also found a 1964 version by The Honeyman, an alias of Charles Otis, a drummer who performed with the likes of Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke.

Here is the album’s de facto title track Heavy Load, another Haynes composition, and one of two acoustic blues songs on the record. During an extended webcam interview with Musicoff – Where Music Matters, Haynes explained he used a 1929 Gibson L-1, the same type of guitar delta blues legend Robert Johnson played, while Danny Louis performed on a ’60s Gibson Hummingbird. For folks who are into music gear and recording, the 21-minute interview includes a wealth of additional information. Meanwhile, check out this tune, which sounds really neat!

The last track I’d like to highlight is I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline), a song written by Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf. The tune appeared on his 1959 debut album Moanin’ in the Moonlight. The Mule’s rendition is quite heavy and funky. In the above Musicoff interview Haynes explained he wanted to maintain and capture the “nastiness and darkness” of the original while giving it a distinct musical feel. This sounds really raw!

I think this statement from Haynes nicely sums up Heavy Load Blues: “Although in some way it was ‘anything goes,’ we wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blues in a traditional sense. It’s not a blues/rock record – it’s a blues record. We wanted it sonically to sound different from a normal Gov’t Mule record.”

Speaking of a Gov’t Mule record, in the above Musicoff interview, Haynes noted that during the pandemic he had written a lot of new material for the group. When they decided to make a blues album, Haynes suggested recording it along with a new Gov’t Mule album. Apparently, that’s what they did after they had been able to find a studio that allowed them to set up in two different rooms: a small room with a low ceiling where they were close to each other, like performing on a stage in a small music club, and a big room where they could set up for a “normal” Gov’t Mule recording. Again, check out the interview for additional insights.

My takeaway from the Musicoff interview is that in addition to Heavy Load Blues fans of The Mule can also look forward to an original album in the not-so-distant future. I’m actually surprised the interviewer didn’t ask Haynes about it, even though Haynes brought it up. Perhaps it had been agreed that discussing the details was off-limits at this time not to distract from the blues album. I guess for now fans will have to wait and see.

Double LP Back Cover

Heavy Load Blues comes in a standard 13-track version and an expanded deluxe edition. The latter features eight additional studio and live bonus tracks, including one more Haynes original and renditions of tunes by Savoy Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. Following are the track listings of each edition.

Standard Edition Track Listing:
1. Blues Before Sunrise
2. Hole In My Soul
3. Wake Up Dead
4. Love Is A Mean Old World
5. Snatch It Back and Hold It – Hold It Back – Snatch It Back and Hold It
6. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
7. (Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt
8. Make It Rain
9. Heavy Load
10. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
11. If Heartaches Were Nickels
12. I Asked Her For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
13. Black Horizon

Bonus Tracks on Deluxe Version:
1. Hiding Place
2. You Know My Love
3. Street Corner Talking
4. Have Mercy On The Criminal
5. Long Distance Call
6. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Extended Version)
7. Need Your Love So Bad (Live)
8. Good Morning Little School Girl with Hook Herrera (Live)

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Gov’t Mule website; Discogs; Musicoff – Where Music Matters; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. Can you believe we’re already in August? It feels like July came and went before we knew it – crazy how time seems to fly these days! So what’s in store for this installment? In a nutshell six tracks representing different flavors of rock, a dose of Americana, and some classic rock & roll, spanning the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and the current decade. Ready to embark on another unpredictable music excursion? Let’s do it!

Spirit/I Got a Line on You

Kicking it off today are Spirit, and I’m not talking about liquor. The American rock band perhaps is best remembered for writing the signature acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Let me rephrase that. Somehow, Jimmy Page unconsciously got inspired by Spirit’s instrumental Taurus after Led Zeppelin had opened up for Spirit during their first American tour. Evidently, Messrs. Page and Robert Plant also had better lawyers, leading to a favorable verdict in a copyright infringement lawsuit the estate of Taurus composer Randy California had brought several years ago. To be clear, I love Stairway to Heaven and have come to dig Led Zeppelin big time. I just wish they would have given credit where credit was clearly warranted – nuff said! Let’s get to what I really wanted to highlight: I Got a Line on You, Spirit’s second single released in October 1968 and another tune written by California. The great song also appeared on the band’s second album The Family That Plays Together, which came out in December of the same year.

Beki Hemingway/Cost Me Everything

Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kirkman are an Americana wife and husband duo based in the Americana hot spot of Dundalk, Ireland. Shout-out to fellow blogger Darren Johnson who through his recent review of Hemingway’s latest album Earth & Asphalt brought the duo on my radar screen. For some additional context, following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s online bio: Her long and varied career has found her singing in several bands, including comical punk-rockers This Train, as well as singing live and studio backup vocals on everything from industrial to inspirational music. Things really clicked when she started collaborating with Randy Kerkman in the late 1990’s, releasing 5 CDs on the Minneapolis-based indie Salt Lady Records, performing up to 150 shows per year, and sharing the stage with nationally and internationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters such as Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and Duke Special. After several years on hiatus living a “normal life” as a tour guide and Deputy Sheriff in Denver, Beki and Randy released a 6-song ep entitled I have big plans for the world and followed up with 2017’s Whins and Weather. Since the fall of 2016, Hemingway and Kirkman have lived in Ireland. Here’s Cost Me Everything, a tune from the aforementioned Earth & Asphalt album that was released in December 2020. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Neil Young/Like a Hurricane

I trust Neil Young doesn’t need an introduction. A couple of weeks ago, my streaming music provider served up Hangin’ On a Limb, and I was going to feature this nice deep cut from Young’s 17th, 1989 studio album Freedom that’s best known for the anthemic Rockin’ in the Free World. Things changed on Thursday when my family and I found ourselves seeking shelter in our basement for two hours after a tornado warning had been issued for my area. Of course, tornadoes are pretty common in certain regions of the U.S. but in friggin’ central New Jersey? While there were several confirmed tornadoes that caused significant damage in other areas of the state, luckily, we were spared. It was a surreal and pretty humbling experience, and it wasn’t the first time. With getting blown away on my mind, I suppose Like a Hurricane wasn’t much of a leap. Appearing on American Stars ‘n Bars, Young’s eighth studio album from May 1977, the track also happens to be my all-time favorite among his crunchy rock songs.

ZZ Top/Heard It on the X

Sadly, longtime ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72. I think it’s fair to say guitarist Billy Gibbons has gotten most of the attention when it comes to the Texan rockers. That’s because he has played the cool guitar riffs and solos and has done most of the lead vocals. While I’ve enjoyed ZZ Top’s music since their 1983 Eliminator album and hits like Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, I’m far from being an expert on the band. In fact, until the news about Hill’s untimely death, I had not realized it was actually Hill who sang lead on my favorite ZZ Top tune Tush. Well, he did! And here’s another track from the Fandango! album, featuring Hill on vocals – in this case sharing duties with Gibbons. When that record appeared in April 1975, the difference between their voices wasn’t as pronounced as in later years. Check out this cool clip from Live from Texas released in various video and audio formats in June 2008. It captured ZZ Top’s November 1, 2007 gig at Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas. Makes you wonder a bit why Hill didn’t get to sing more often.

The Kinks/Sunny Afternoon

The other day, fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life picked Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks as part of his ongoing fun 2021 song draft. Not only did this remind me of the great tune but also that The Kinks are among my longtime favorite British rock bands, together with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Cream, to name a few others. When it comes to the group from Muswell Hill, I’m mostly familiar with their ’60s and early ’70s output. I still love You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Got My Feet On the Ground, A Well Respected Man, Till the End of the Day, Dead End Street…The list of great tunes that were mostly written by Ray Davies goes on and on. One of my favorite songs by The Kinks is Sunny Afternoon, yet another track penned by Ray. It first appeared as a single in the UK in June 1966, yielding the band’s third and final no. 1 hit there. In the U.S., where it was released the following month, Sunny Afternoon peaked at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also included on The Kinks’ fourth studio album Face to Face that came out in October and December 1966 in the UK and U.S., respectively. According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while recovering from a challenging period of group tensions and lawsuits. The song’s success “did bring Davies out of his funk for a while.”

Elvis Presley/Jailhouse Rock

And once again this brings me to the last tune for this installment. Elvis Presley was my childhood idol and, come to think of it, my only idol. Usually, I don’t idolize people, not even The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. Well, when I adored Elvis and would do crazy stuff like trying to impersonate him in front of a mirror I was pretty young – 12 years or so. Anyway, while I no longer idolize Elvis, I still think he was one of the most compelling music artists I know, especially during his early phase before he entered the U.S. Army. Here’s an absolute classic rock & roll gem: Jailhouse Rock, one of many great tunes co-written by the songwriting and record-producing duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. First released as a single in September 1957, Jailhouse Rock also became the title track of the third movie starring Elvis Presley. While Elvis movies are generally pretty dismal, this picture will forever be remembered for its amazing dance routine. In some regards, this feels like looking at an early version of a Michael Jackson video. The choreography is pretty stunning. Come on Spider Murphy, play that tenor saxophone, and Little Joe, blow that slide trombone!

Sources: Wikipedia; Beki Hemingway website; Songfacts; YouTube

That’s Why I Go For That Rock and Roll Music

It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it

Earlier today, I found myself listening to Beatles For Sale. The Beatles were still learning about musical arrangements and how to use the studio to their full advantage when they recorded this album in 1964. While as such it’s less sophisticated than their later records after they stopped touring, Beatles For Sale once again reminded me how great The Beatles were at playing classic rock & roll.

I recall reading somewhere that John Lennon during an interview after The Beatles had disbanded said the rock & roll they played during their early years at clubs in England and Hamburg, Germany prior to Beatlemania was their best music. Of course, Lennon had a tendency to be pretty dismissive about the band, especially during the early years after their breakup.

While The Beatles wrote some of the best original recorded pop music of all time, there’s no doubt in my mind they also knew how to rock and roll. As such, I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist of classic style rock & roll tunes performed by The Fab Four, including covers and some originals.

I Saw Her Standing There (Lennon/McCartney – Please Please Me, 1963)

Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Burt RussellPlease Please Me, 1963)

Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck BerryWith the Beatles, 1963)

You Can’t Do That (Lennon/McCartney, A Hard Day’s Night)

Rock and Roll Music (Chuck BerryBeatles For Sale, 1964)

Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller/Little Richard)

Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Larry WilliamsHelp!, 1965)

One After 909 (Lennon/McCartney – Let It Be, 1970)

Boys (Luther Dixon & Wes FarrellLive at the Hollywood Bowl/Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, 2016)

Long Tall Sally (Enotris Johnson, Little Richard & Robert BlackwellLive at the Hollywood Bowl/Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, 2016)

And there you have it, boys and girls!

The Beatles Bow GIF - TheBeatles Bow PaulMccartney GIFs

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Donald Fagen/The Nightfly

The other day, I found myself listening to Donald Fagen’s excellent solo debut album The Nightfly. More frequent visitors of the blog know I dig Steely Dan big time, so one wonders what took me so long to write about this record released in October 1982. Well, to my defense, I included The Nightfly in a previous post about Fagen’s 70th birthday in January 2018 but haven’t dedicated an entire piece to this gem. Until now.

In many ways, The Nightfly mirrors previous Steely Dan albums. To start with, the producer was Gary Katz, who also had produced all of the Dan’s seven records that had appeared by then. Driven by Fagen’s and Katz’s perfectionism and some technical challenges, The Nightfly took eight months to record, about on par with the Aja album, though shorter than Gaucho, Steely Dan’s final album prior to their 20-year recording hiatus. Like previous Steely Dan records, The Nightfly featured an army of top-notch session musicians. Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jeff Porcaro (drums), Rick Derringer (guitar) and many other of these guys had played on Steely Dan albums.

Donald Fagen_The Nightfly Back Cover

But one musician was absent: Fagen’s long-time collaborator Walter Becker. While initially, Fagen thought he could easily handle the song-writing by himself, there came a point when he began to struggle. After the album’s release, he developed a full-blown writer’s block. It would take more than 11 years for his second solo album Kamakiriad to come out. That record was produced by Becker and was the first time he and Fagen collaborated since their breakup in 1981. Another key difference compared to Steely Dan albums were the largely autobiographical lyrics. Many of the songs incorporated topics from Fagen’s childhood in suburban New Jersey. Unlike most Steely Dan albums that were recorded live, for The Nightfly, Fagen opted to overdub each part separately.

Let’s get to some music. I was going to skip the excellent opener I.G.Y., since it was included in my above-mentioned post on Fagen’s 70th birthday. But as one of the album’s standouts, I simply couldn’t resist. I.G.Y, which stands for International Geophysical Year, captures America’s widespread optimistic vision about the country’s future in the late 1950s. The song includes concepts like undersea rail, solar-powered cities and public space travel – and a good dose of sarcasm. I.G.Y. also became the album’s lead single. It peaked at no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is Donald Fagen’s only solo top 40 single on that chart.

According to Wikipedia, the title of the next song Green Flower Street was inspired by the jazz standard On Green Dolphin Street. During his childhood, Fagen became a huge jazz fan. It’s no coincidence that the album’s cover pictures him as a radio DJ with a turntable and a copy of 1958 jazz album Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

Ruby Baby is the only cover on the album. Co-written by music songwriting machine Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the tune was first recorded by The Drifters in 1956. Fagen’s take is jazzier than the original doo-wop version. It also was released as the record’s third and final single.

Another great tune is New Frontier. The title was taken from a quote by John F. Kennedy, who said during his acceptance speech for the Presidential nomination in 1960: “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.” The lyrics are about teenage romance, which prompted a Wall Street Journal reporter to speculate the title may be a humorous metaphor to sex and adulthood. Here’s the song’s official video clip, which combines animation and live action, and is considered an early classic played on MTV. The tune also appeared separately as a single.

I’m Lester the Nightfly
Hello Baton Rouge
Won’t you turn your radio down
Respect the seven second delay we use

This is the first verse from the album’s title track, which captures Fagen’s fascination with jazz during his teenage years and his dream to become a late-night radio DJ. It’s the final tune I’d like to call out.

During a British radio segment about The Nightfly, which apparently aired around the time of Fagen’s 70’s birthday and featured archive interview soundbites of him from 1982, he commented: “I guess I’m 34 now, and I started to think back about how I came to be a musician. And in exploring that, I started thinking about the late ’50s and early ’60s when I first started listening to jazz and rhythm and blues and that kind of music. And that’s the kind of music that formed a lot of my attitudes at the time, not only the music but the whole culture connected with jazz and late-night radio and hipster culture and all those things, which I thought of as an alternative to the rather bland life I was leading out in the suburbs near New York City. So that theme runs through most all of the songs in the album.”

The Nightfly was not only a standout musically, but also technologically. It is one of the earliest fully digitally recorded albums. In fact, it brought to a successful conclusion Fagen’s and Katz’s previous experimentation with digital recording on Steely Dan’s Gaucho, which ended up being an analog record. But it wasn’t an easy feat and led to various challenges with the digital recording machines. In a 1983 story by Billboard magazine, Fagen said, “I was ready to transfer to analog and give it up on several occasions, but my engineering staff kept talking me into it.”

The album was positively received by music critics. It was also nominated for seven Grammy Awards in 1983. While performing worse commercially than Dan’s Gaucho, The Nightfly still was certified platinum in the U.S. and the UK. It climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard 200, making it Fagen’s second-best chart performing solo album after Kamakiriad, which peaked at no. 10 on that chart.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard Magazine; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Elvis Presley/Santa Claus Is Back In Town

When I recently wrote about the formidable songwriting partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, I had come across this song they wrote for Elvis Presley. While I selected what I feel is the much better Jailhouse Rock for that post, Santa Claus Is Back In Town isn’t a shabby rock & roll Christmas tune. Plus, it obviously fits the occasion.

Presley recorded it in September 1957 as the opener for Elvis’ Christmas Album. According to Wikipedia, that record is America’s and the world’s best-selling Christmas/holiday album of all time. Including its various reissues, it has sold at least 17 million copies in the U.S. and more than 20 million worldwide.

Leiber and Stoller also produced the track. In addition to Elvis on lead vocals, it features his core backing musicians at the time, Scotty Moore (guitar), Bill Black (bass) and D.J. Fontana (drums), jazz musician Dudley Brooks on piano, as well as The Jordanaires, his frequent backing vocals group. The tune was also released separately as a single that appeared together with the album on October 15 that year.

Happy Holidays!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

Leiber-Stoller, Songwriting Partnership Extraordinaire

I believe Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller first entered my radar screen as a 13-year-old when I got an Elvis Presley songbook for guitar. It was shortly after I had started taking lessons and was able to play a few chords. Elvis was my idol at the time. What I didn’t know then and frankly didn’t fully appreciate until conducting some research for this post was the enormous scope of Leiber-Stoller’s work, which goes far beyond some of the best-known early classic rock & roll tunes.

For some time, I had contemplated writing about important songwriting partnerships including Leiber-Stoller, but once I noticed how many songs these guys wrote and how many artists they worked with, I felt they warranted a dedicated post. I also decided to largely exclude their production work and primarily focus on their writing during the ’50s and early ’60s, which is their most exciting period, in my opinion.

Lyricist Jerry Leiber was born as Jerome Leiber on April 25, 1933 in Baltimore, Md. Composer Michael Stoller, who later changed his legal fist name to Mike, was born on March 13, 1933 in Belle Harbor, Queens, N.Y. In addition to being born the same year to Jewish families, Leiber and Stoller also shared a love for blues, boogie-woogie and black culture. They met in Los Angeles in 1950, while Leiber was a senior in high school and Stoller was a college freshman.

Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
Mike Stoller (l) & Jerry Leiber in 1980

According to an extended interview Lieber and Stoller gave to NAMM Oral History Program in December 2007, Leiber had written some lyrics and knew he wanted to be a songwriter. What he didn’t know was how to write music. A drummer referred him to piano player Mike Stoller. Once they met and Stoller looked at some of Leiber’s lyrics, he noticed they were 12-bar blues. He said, “I love the blues” and started playing the piano, with Leiber singing along. And Stoller said, “Mike, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Okay, I made up that last quote, borrowing from one of my favorite black and white movies of all time. What is true is that day the two men agreed to form a partnership that would generate some of the best-known songs of the ’50s and ’60s.

The first artist who recorded a Leiber-Stoller composition was Jimmy Witherspoon, one of the blues singers the duo followed to help them develop their “black style” of writing music and lyrics. Real Ugly Woman appeared as a single in 1951. The words are just as lovely as the title! 🙂 A little excerpt: Well, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yeah, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yes, and every time she comes around/she runs all my friends away

The following year in 1952, Leiber and Stoller scored their first hit with Hard Times, which was recorded by Charles Brown. The tune climbed to no. 7 on the Billboard R&B Chart.

1952 also saw one of Leiber and Stoller’s best-known songs, Hound Dog, which was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton. It was also the first time the duo produced music, though the production credits went to Johnny Otis, who was supposed to lead the recording session but ended up playing the drums on the tune. Released in February that year, it sold more than half a million copies and topped the Billboard R&B Chart. Three years later, Elvis Presley turned Hound Dog into a mega-hit. I like his version but have to say Thornton really killed it, so here’s her original.

Another early rock & roll classic penned by Lieber-Stoller is Kansas City, which according to Wikipedia is one of their most recorded tunes with over three hundred versions – they had to count them all! Initially, the tune was titled K.C. Loving and recorded by American boogie-woogie pianist and singer Little Willie Littlefield. It appeared in August 1952. While the song had some regional success, it didn’t chart nationally. That changed in April 1959 when Wilbert Harrison released his version, which became a no. 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts. Here’s the original. Feel free to shuffle along!

Going back to Elvis, while Leiber and Stoller didn’t mind having written a million-seller with Hound Dog, they weren’t particularly fond of Presley’s cover. But it led to writing more songs for Elvis, including one of my favorite ’50s rock & roll tunes of all time: Jailhouse Rock. Released in September 1957, is was the title track of the Elvis motion picture that came out in November of the same year. Leiber-Stoller played a prominent role in the making of the film’s soundtrack. Apart from Jailhouse Rock, they wrote three other tunes and worked with Elvis in the studio. Of course, I had to take a clip from the picture, which has to be one of the most iconic dance scenes ever captured on film. Doesn’t it feel a bit like watching an early version of a Michael Jackson music video?

Blues and rock & roll represent the early years of Leiber and Stoller’s songwriting. Beginning in the mid-’50s after they had started working for Atlantic Records, the duo branched out and became more pop-oriented. Among other artists, they wrote a number of songs for The Drifters and The Coasters. Here’s Ruby Baby, a great soulful, groovy, doo-wop tune from 1956. More than 25 years later, Donald Fagen became one of the other artists covering the song, when he included it on his excellent debut solo album The Nightfly from October 1982.

Next up: Yakety Yak by The Coasters. The song was released in April 1958 and topped the Billboard Pop Chart, Billboard R&B Chart and Cash Box Pop Chart. The track was also produced by Leiber-Stoller and became the biggest hit for The Coasters.

The last Leiber-Stoller tune I’d like to highlight is Stand By Me, which they co-wrote with Ben E. King. He first recorded it in April 1961, a year after he had left The Drifters to start a solo career. In addition to writing, once again Leiber-Stoller also produced the beautiful track, which remains one of my favorite ’60s songs to this day.

Asked during the above NAMM interview to comment on the fact that “nice Jewish boys didn’t really write a whole lot of hit records for blues singers at that point” (in the early ’50s), Stoller said, “Actually, they did later on, or at least later on we did know…It was considered to be somewhat peculiar at the time.” Added Lieber: “Black people always thought we were black until they came in contact with us and saw that we weren’t.” BTW, if you’re into rock & roll history, you may enjoy watching the entire interview, even though it’s close to 90 minutes. Again, you can do so here.

Altogether, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote or co-wrote 70-plus chart hits. According to lieberstoller.com, their songs have been performed by more than 1,000 artists, who in addition to the above include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Joe Williams, Tom Jones, Count Basie, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin and even Edith Piaf, among others – wow, it almost poses the question which artists did not sing their songs!

Leiber-Stoller’s work has extensively and rightly been recognized. Accolades include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and 1985, respectively, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Songwriters in 1996. As reported by The New York Times, Jerry Leiber died from cardio-pulmonary failure on August 22, 2011 in Los Angeles at the age of 78. Mike Stoller is 86 years old and still alive. He can be heard introducing Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul on their great 2018 Soulfire Live! album for a gig at the Orpheum Theatre in New York – priceless!

Sources: Wikipedia; NAMM; Leiberstoller.com; The New York Times; YouTube

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

For more than 50 years, Eric Burdon has been one of rock’s most distinctive vocalists

Oftentimes, I feel the best blog ideas are inspired by a previous post. In this case, it was my writing about great covers performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which included I’m Crying by The Animals. The tune reminded me of Eric Burdon and a voice I’ve always felt was made for singing the blues. Just like many other blues artists or more generally those who started out during the ’60s and ’70s, Burdon has experienced it all, from the highest high to the deepest low and everything else in-between. Unlike many fellow artists, he’s still there, which I think makes him one of the ultimate survivors.

Eric Victor Burdon was born on May 11, 1941 in the northeastern English industrial town of Newcastle upon Tyne. His upbringing in a lower class working family was rough. Burdon started smoking at the age of 10 and skipping school with friends to drink beer. He described his early school years as a Dickens novel-like “dark nightmare,” which included bullying, sexual molestation and sadistic teachers hitting kids with a leather strap. While his father Matt Burdon struggled as an electric repairman, this allowed the family to have a TV by the time Eric was 10. Yet again the TV sparking it all!

Seeing Louis Armstrong on the tube triggered Burdon’s initial interest in music, first in the trombone, then in singing. The next decisive stage in his life was secondary school and a teacher named Bertie Brown who helped him get into the local art college. There he met John Steele, the original drummer of The Animals. They ended up playing in a band called The Pagan Jazzmen. By early 1959, keyboardist Alan Price had joined. After a few iterations and name changes, the band evolved into The Animals in 1962.

The Animals
The Animals (from left): John Steele, Eric Burdon, Hilton Valentine, Alan Price and Chas Chandler

The initial lineup featured Burdon (lead vocals), Steele (drums), Price (keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Chas Chandler (bass), who later became the manager of Jimi Hendrix. Between September and December 1963, The Animals developed a following in Newcastle by playing local clubs there. During that period, Burdon met some of his blues heroes, including John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Animals also backed Williamson during a local gig.

In December 1963, The Animals recorded their first single Baby Let Me Take You Home. It climbed to a respectable no. 22 on the UK singles chart. But it was the second single, The House Of The Rising Sun from June 1964, which brought the big breakthrough, topping the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada and Sweden. It also started the beginning of the band’s demise when the arrangement of the traditional was only credited to Price who collected all the songwriting royalties.

The band’s first studio album The Animals appeared in the U.S. in September 1964. Their British debut record followed two months later. As was quite common at the time, the track listing between the two versions differed. Altogether, the original incarnation of The Animals released five U.S. and three U.K. studio albums. Here’s the above mentioned I’m Crying, which was included on the second U.S. record The Animals On Tour, a peculiar title for a studio album. Co-written by Burden and Price, it’s one of only a few original tracks by the band that was mostly known for fiery renditions of blues and R&B staples by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Ray Charles.

In May 1966, The Animals released Don’t Bring Me Down. Co-written by songwriter duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the tune became Burdon’s favorite single, he told Louder/The Blues during a long interview in April 2013. The song also became the opening track to the band’s fourth U.S. album Animalization released in July 1966. The great tune is characterized by a distinct Hammond B3 sound played by Dave Rowberry, who had replaced Alan Price  following his departure in late 1965, and Hilton Valentine’s fuzz guitar.  Burdon recalled the song’s recording in a hotel in the Bahamas. “There was an old record player in the room where we were recording and it had this strange, thin electrostatic speaker. Dave Rowberry connected it to his Hammond B3 and that’s where the sound comes from on that track.”

By September 1966, The Animals had dissipated and Burdon started work on his first solo album Eric Is Here, which wouldn’t appear until the following year. Meanwhile, in December 1966, he formed Eric Burdon & The Animals. In addition to him, the band included Barry Jenkins, who had replaced John Steel on drums during the first incarnation of The Animals, John Weider (guitar, violin, bass), Vic Briggs (guitar, piano) and Danny McCulloch (bass). The band subsequently relocated from the U.K. to San Francisco. By that time, Burdon had become a heavy user of LSD.

In October 1967, Eric Burdon & The Animals released their debut. Appropriately titled Winds Of Change, it featured mostly original tracks and psychedelic-oriented rock, a major departure from the past. But, as Louder/The Blues noted, except for San Franciscan Nights, “the British public were reluctant to accept Eric’s transformation from hard-drinking Geordie bluesman to LSD-endorsing, peace and love hippy.” Three more albums followed before this second incarnation of The Animals dissolved in late 1968. Here’s Monterey, the opener to their second record The Twain Shall Meet from May 1968. Reflecting the band’s drug-infused experiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, where they also had performed, the tune is credited to all five members.

Disillusioned with the music business, Burdon went to LA to try acting. But after one year, he returned to music, fronting a Californian funk rock band that would be called War. Together they recorded two original albums in 1970. Here’s Spill The Wine from the first, Eric Burden Declares “War”, which appeared in April 1970. Credited to the members of War, the tune became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked Burdon’s last major chart success.

Burdon’s relationship with War abruptly unraveled after the band had decided to record their next album without him. It was around the same time his friend Jimi Hendrix passed away. Burden was devastated. “That became the end of the parade because it affected us so much,” he stated during the above Louder/The Blues interview. “It was tough for me. It was tough for everybody.” Unfortunately, one of Burdon’s answers was drugs and more drugs.

During the ’70s and ’80s, Burdon had numerous drug excesses. In 1983, this lead to an arrest in Germany where he had lived since 1977. Subsequently, he returned to the U.S. Yet despite all the upheaval, Burdon still managed to continue recording albums and touring. In 1971, he teamed up with American jump blues artist Jimmy Witherspoon for a record titled Guilty! Here’s Home Dream, a great slow blues tune written by Burdon.

In August 1977, the first incarnation of The Animals released the first of two reunion albums, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, billed as The Original Animals. Despite positive reviews, the record only reached no. 70 on the Billboard 200. Lack of promotion, no supporting tour and most importantly appearing at a time when punk and disco ruled were all factors. Here’s the great opener Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt), a tune co-written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Clyde Otis.

Next up: Going Back To Memphis, a song co-written by Burdon and Steve Grant. It appeared on Burdon’s 1988 album I Used To Be An Animal. Released in the wake of his autobiography I Used To Be An Animal, But I’m Alright Now,  it was Burdon’s first new album in almost four years.

In April 2004, My Secret Life appeared, Burdon’s first new solo record in almost 16 years. Here’s the opener Once Upon A Time, a nice soulful tune co-written by Burdon and Robert Bradley.

‘Til Your River Runs Dry is Burdon’s most recent studio release, which came out in January 2013. His website calls it his “most personal album to date.” Here’s Old Habits Die Hard, co-written by Burdon and Tom Hambridge. “This song is dedicated to the people in Egypt and Libya trying to throw off the shackles of all those centuries of brutality,” Burdon told Rolling Stone a few days prior to the record’s release. “It reminds me of Paris in 1968 when I saw the kids going up against the brutal police force or the L.A. uprising. I went through these experiences and they’re still with me today. The struggle carries on. I wrote this song so I won’t forget and to say, even though I’m older now, I am still out there with you.”

Burdon’s most recent recording is a nice cover of For What It’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and originally released by Buffalo Springfield in December 1966. He commented on his website: The whole idea of recording this song came as a result of a conversation I had with a young fan backstage, when she asked me, “Where are the protest songs today?” Right then and there, I wanted to write something about the brutality that’s going on in the world today but I couldn’t find any better way to say it than Buffalo Springfield did in “For What It’s Worth.

In 1994, Eric Burdon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of The Animals, along with the other original members of the band. He did not attend the induction ceremony. Burdon remains active to this day and uses the name The Animals for his backing band, which includes Evan Mackey (trombone), Davey Allen (piano), Dustin Koester (drums), Johnzo West (guitar), Justin Andres (bass) and Ruben Salinas (saxophone).

While Burdon’s website currently does not list any upcoming gigs for this year, according to Consequence of SoundEric Burdon & The Animals are part of the lineup for the KAABOO Festival in Arlington, Texas, May 10-12. The band is also scheduled to perform on May 26 at Avila Beach Blues Festival in California.

Asked by Louder/The Blues during the above interview how he would sum up the past 50 years, Burdon said, “I’d been screwed by [War], I’d been screwed by The Animals. All use Burdon because he’s a great front guy and then come payday where’s the money? A lot of people had a great ride off me being on stage and I didn’t get much of it.” With a little chuckle he added, “I’m not bitter. I’m bittersweet.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Louder/The Blues, Deutsche Welle, Eric Burdon website, Rolling Stone, Consequence of Sound, Eventbrite, YouTube

Little Steven Captures 2017 Tour In Great Live Album

“Soulfire Live!” is a journey through rock history

Today, I coincidentally came across this great new live album from Steven Van Zandt and his excellent Disciples Of Soul backing band in Apple Music. I had completely missed Soulfire Live! when it appeared on April 27 on digital platforms for streaming and downloading. According to an announcement, the “surprise release” came just before Little Steven and the band embarked on a new tour through the U.S. in late April, which will last through May and be followed by dates in Europe in late June and July.

Recorded at 2017 shows in Europe and North America, the 24-track collection features original tunes by Little Steven and covers. It includes various tracks from his excellent last studio album Soulfire from May 2017, his first new record in nearly 18 years and one of my favorite albums from last year. I previously wrote about it here. And since I really dig the music, I also decided to catch Little Steven and The Disciples at one of their U.S. gigs in September last year. I also had something to say about that show here.

Soulfire Live! nicely captures the concert atmosphere. At least as intriguing as the music are some of Little Steven’s announcements, during which he provides his perspective on music and shares anecdotes from the past, reminiscent to what he does on his excellent Underground Garage radio show. But the highlight of the talking undoubtedly is Mike Stoller, who the introduced the band at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles last October – yep, The Mike Stoller who together with Jerry Leiber wrote numerous legendary tunes for artists like Big Mama Thornton (Hound Dog), The Drifters (Fools Fall In Love), Ben E. King (Stand By Me) and of course Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Treat Me Nice, etc.).

Stoller notes he was an usher at the theatre 67 years ago until got into an argument with his boss and was fired. After that he says he decided to team up with his friend Jerry Leiber to write songs, dryly adding it worked out pretty good. Listen for yourself – it’s priceless!

On to some music. Here is one of my favorite covers from this collection, which also appeared on the Soulfire studio album: Blues Is My Business, a tune co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cerney and sung by Etta James on her 2003 blues record Let’s Roll. The band is just killing it!

One of the original Little Steven tunes is Angel Eyes, which he recorded for his 1982 solo debut record Men Without Women. That tune has a nice soul groove.

Standing In The Line Of Fire is another song by Little Steven. He wrote it for Gary U.S. Bonds, and it became the title track of a studio album Bonds released in September 1984. Little Steven also co-produced the record. I like the song’s Hank Marvin-style guitar intro.

Another superb cover is the blaxploitation tune Down And Out In New York City. It was written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, and recorded by James Brown for Black Caesar, a soundtrack album for the motion picture of the same name, which appeared in February 1973. The track was also included on Soulfire, though the live version is extended.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is another cover, Groovin’ Is Easy, by American blues rock and soul band The Electric Flag. The song was written by the band’s guitarist Nick Gravenites and appeared on their debut album A Long Time Comin’ from March 1968. Based on some of their music I’ve heard, I have to check out these guys more closely.

Soulfire Live! was produced and arranged by Van Zandt, and appears on his rock and roll label Wicked Cool Records. It was mixed by heavy hitter Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and The Who, among many others. The album will also become available on CD, Blu-ray and vinyl editions this summer.

Sources: Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) press release, NJArts.net, Wikipedia, YouTube