New Tom Petty Box Set Works Because It’s Not A Greatest Hits Or Typical Anthology Compilation

An American Treasure focuses on previously unreleased material, including alternate takes, deep cuts and live versions

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When you see a box set being issued one year after the death of a widely beloved music artist like Tom Petty, you can’t entirely escape the cynical notion that somebody is trying to make a quick buck here. And while I’m sure Reprise Records wouldn’t mind, should An American Treasure turn out to be a hot seller, this box set is neither a greatest hits compilation nor a typical anthology, and that’s a good thing! Instead, the career-spanning collection focuses on previously unreleased alternate song versions, live performances and deep cuts. Is it going to gain Tom Petty additional listeners post mortem? Probably not. Are longtime fans going to like it? I certainly do and think others will as well.

An American Treasure, which dropped on September 28, is the first release following Tom Petty’s untimely death on October 2, 2017 at age 66 – just one week after the triumphant conclusion of his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers. I hate to sound like a broken record, but it still hurts and like so many other longtime fans, gosh, I miss him!

Tom Petty_Am American Treasure Formats

According to the official press release that announced the box set in July, Adria Petty and Dana Petty – Tom’s daughter and wife, respectively – were the key drivers behind this new collection. They teamed up with former Heartbreakers guitarist and keyboarder Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, as well as Ryan Ulyate, one of Petty’s studio collaborators. Campbell, Tench and Ulyate co-produced the box set, while Adria and Dana Petty served as executive producers.

“Everyone involved in this project chose each track with tremendous care and deep respect for the body of work Tom Petty created over the course of 40 years,” Adria and Dana Patty stated.  “He also accumulated a wealth of unreleased music in his vaults, and we have collectively uncovered one gem after another that will keep us all listening and discovering new facets of Tom’s talent for many years to come. We can’t wait to share with Tom’s fans this musical portrait of an artist who deeply affected our culture and indelibly touched the lives of fans the world over.”

Time for some music. Lost In Your Eyes is a previously unreleased single recorded during sessions in 1974 with Mudcrutch, Tom Petty’s band that preceded the Heartbreakers and included future members Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench  (keyboards). Tom Leadon (guitar and vocals), the brother of former Eagles lead guitarist Bernie LeadonJim Lenehan (vocals); and Randall Marsh (drums) rounded out the lineup. Petty was on bass and vocals.

Keep A Little Soul is a previously unreleased tune from the 1982 sessions for Long After Dark, the fifth studio album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released in November that year. It also appeared as the collection’s first single back in July when the box set was initially announced. Here’s a video featuring rare never-before-seen footage of the band.

In 1984, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded a demo with Stevie Nicks called The Apartment Song. Perhaps it was motivated by the Petty/Campbell co-write Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, which had appeared in July 1981 on Nicks’ studio debut Bella Donna, generating a U.S. hit that peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, which must have been recorded around the same time the band was working on their sixth studio release Southern Accents, did not make that album or any other records, as far as I know.

Another collaboration on the box set is King Of The Hill, a song Roger McGuinn co-wrote with Petty. It became the lead single to McGuinn’s sixth studio album Back From Rio released in January 1991. The version on the box set is an early take from November 1987 – great tune!

In April 1999, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came out with their 10th studio album Echo. One track that was recorded during the sessions for the record but not included on the album or released separately is Gainesville, an autobiographic song about Petty’s home town: Home-grown, in the headphone/Sandy loadin’ up the van/Singin’ through the speakers/You’re alright anywhere you land/Gainesville was a big town/Gainesville was a big town…

The last track I’d like to highlight is another song related to Petty’s home state of Florida: Bus To Tampa Bay, yet another previously unreleased tune. It was recorded during the sessions for Hypnotic Eye, the final studio album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released in July 2014.

An American Treasure is available in various formats: A Super Deluxe Limited Edition 4-CD set, a 6-LP Vinyl Edition and a 2-CD Standard Edition. All of the recordings have been mixed by Ryan Ulyate from transfers of the original studio multitrack masters. They have been re-mastered by Chris Bellman, a sound engineer at Bernie Grundman Mastering, who has worked with artists like Diana Ross, Neil Young, Carole King, Duran Duran and Van Halen, among others.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Petty website, YouTube

Rock The Farm Returns To Jersey Shore

Eleven-hour marathon for a cause features tributes from AC/DC to Zeppelin

While there were no barns and cows, Rock the Farm 2018 didn’t need them. The fifth annual music tribute for a great cause that took place yesterday in Seaside Heights, N.J. rocked anyway and felt even better than last year when I attended the 11-hour marathon for the first time and wrote about it here.

Rock the Farm, a.k.a. Faux-Chella, is a pretty cool idea: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process. It sort of mirrors Live Aid on a mini scale, but instead of focusing on starvation in Africa, the fund-raising supports domestic addiction recovery programs. All of the performing bands donated their time to the cause, playing for free. That’s what I call greatness in America that actually deserves the expression!

Rock the Farm 2018 Line-Up

With the U.S. being in the throes of an opioid crisis that according to a fact sheet from CNN claimed more than 63,600 overdose deaths or an average of 115 people a day in 2016, an event like Rock the Farm couldn’t be more timely. And while no amount of money is too small to help address this astonishing loss of human life in one of the richest countries in the world, a staggering $18 billion is spent in the U.S. each year as a result of the opioid crisis. And that’s just opioids, so it doesn’t include alcohol or other drugs!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the non-profit CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which was established by the Regan family in 2015, after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother Lynn Regan developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for him and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation.

According to their website, to date CFC has assisted more than 7,500 families to help overcome addiction by a loved one. Seeing founder Dan Regan and other CFC folks, and even more so, hearing from some other former addicts who had the courage to step on stage was inspiring to say the least. To me it’s the quintessential story of hope that has made America great and attracted immigrants like myself to its shores. I hope the country will never lose that!

All right, now that the “heavy stuff” is out of the way, it’s time for some great music. Since there was so much of it, I’m only going to highlight some of it.

Decade

Readers of the blog may recall I’ve covered this great Neil Young tribute band from New Jersey before. While they’ve only played together for a few years, all of the band’s members are seasoned musicians, and it shows. Decade are John Hathaway (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Herr (guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Here’s the opener of their set: A cool rendition of Star Spangled Banner a la Jim Hendrix, and Mr. Soul by Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young co-founded with Stephen Stills, Richie FurayKen Koblun and Dewey Martin in Los Angeles in 1966.

Walk This Way

This terrific tribute band to Aerosmith came all the way from Dallas to support the cause and they kicked ass. While Walk This Way mostly perform in their home state, the show history on the band’s website indicates they also travel nationally and occasionally even beyond. Walk This Way feature Ian Latimer (as Steven Tyler, lead vocals), David Semans (as Joe Perry, guitar & backing vocals), Chris Bender (as Tom Hamilton, bass), Martin Turney (Joey Kramer, drums), Eamonn Gallagher (as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein (as Russ Irvin, keyboards). I wasn’t going feature what perhaps is the expected Aerosmith tune, the epic Dream On, but when these guys combined it with Train Kept A-Rollin’, I just couldn’t resist. It was the perfect finish to their great set.

Guns 4 Roses

Walk This Way wasn’t the only band that came all the way from Dallas. They were joined by Guns N’ Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses. Unfortunately, their website and Facebook page only provides the first names of the members (what’s that all about?), and I still had to conduct a bit of research to figure things out: Laz (as Axl Rose, lead vocals), Eamonn (as Slash, guitar), Chris (as Duff McKagan, bass), David (as Dizzy Reed, keyboards), Martin (as Steven Adler, drums) and Chris (Izzy Stradlin, guitar). Hope I got it right. Here’s Sweet Child O’ Mine, one of my favorite Guns N’ Roses tunes.

TUSK

This outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, which mirrors the Rumours lineup, is another band from New Jersey. Their members include Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Like Walk This Way, TUSK is a national band, as indicated by the tour schedule on their website. Here’s Dreams and Say You Love Me from the Rumours (1977) and Fleetwood Mac (1975) albums, respectively.

Free Fallin’

Another band that took a long trip for Rock The Farm was Free Fallin’, a Minneapolis-based tribute to Tom Petty. He is yet another longtime favorite artist of mine, and with their execution of the music and Petty’s distinct vocals, I think Free Fallin’ would have made him proud. The band are Tom Brademeyer (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums), Russ Lund (as Ron Blair, bass), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals) and Craig Volke (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals). While I think looks are secondary when it comes to tribute acts, it doesn’t hurt when they have visual similarity with the artists they capture. I should add that’s also the case for at least one member of each of the other tribute bands I’ve highlighted in this post. I was tempted to feature Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, for which Kathy Phillips of TUSK joined Free Fallin’, but I just couldn’t resist highlighting my favorite Petty tune instead: Refugee, from the excellent Damn The Torpedos album (1979). Just like Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, it was spot on.

Live/Wire

What better way to close out a great all-day festival than with the hard charging rock & roll of AC/DC – and, boy, did Live/Wire kick ass! This band from New York, which has been around since 2000, includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). While most tribute acts like to call themselves the “ultimate experience” or variations of the claim, I could imagine that Live/Wire are indeed “the ultimate AC/DC experience.” Based on their current 2018 schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to span the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). While there were apparent problems with the microphone for the bagpipes, frankly, it didn’t matter much. Instructions for the clip: To be played on a decent sound system at maximum volume!😜

Yes, an 11-hour festival is a marathon, and I can’t deny by back and feet were aching when it was all over, but it was worth each and every moment. So guess what? Come next September, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be back!

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN opioid crisis fast facts (June 2018); CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; Decade Facebook page;  Walk This Way Facebook page and website; Guns 4 Roses Facebook page and website; TUSK website; Free Fallin’ Facebook page; Live/Wire website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 2: 1985-1989)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

Here is the second and final installment of my feature looking back at music and some related events in the ’80s. This part is focused on the second half of the decade. As noted in part 1, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review but instead a selection of things I find noteworthy.

1985

To me the key music event during this year and perhaps the entire decade was Live Aid. I was watching it on TV from Germany while simultaneously taping it on music cassette from the radio. Organized by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure as a fundraiser to fight starvation in Ethiopia, Africa, the benefit concert was conducted on July 13 simultaneously in the U.K. at London’s Wembley Stadium and the U.S. at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Among others, it featured Status Quo, Queen, U2, David Bowie, The Who and Paul McCartney at Wembley, while some of the performers in Philly included Joan Baez, Madonna, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and, in a less-than-stellar appearance, a reunited Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums. The concerts were watched by an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 countries and raised approximately 150 million British pounds.

Live Aid Wembley
The Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium was attended by 72,000 people

Other events that year included the official launch of VH-1 on cable TV in the U.S. (Jan 1); recording of the charity single for Africa We Are The World (Jan 28), co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by USA For Africa, who apart from Jackson and Ritchie featured Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cindy Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and numerous other top artists; release of Dire Straits’ fifth studio album Brothers In Arms, their best-selling record that among others became known for its exceptional sound quality due to its all-digital recording (May 13); Michael Jackson’s purchase of the publishing rights for most of The Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, out-bidding former artistic collaborator McCartney whose success in music publishing had inspired Jackson to increase his activities in the business (Sep 6); and Roger Waters’ announced intention to leave Pink Floyd, which marked the start of a two-year legal battle over the rights to the band’s name and assets.

The biggest hit singles of 1985 were Shout (Tears For Fears), We Are The World (USA For Africa), Take On Me (a-ha), I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner) and Material Girl (Madonna). Following is Money For Nothing, the second single from Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album, which they performed at Live Aid. Like on the studio recording, it featured Sting on backing vocals.

1986

On Jan 30, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony. The first batch of inductees included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. While over the years since, there has been much debate over who should be in the Rock Hall, the selection process, the award categories, etc., I think there is no doubt that the above artists all well-deserving inductees.

Rock Roll Hall of Fame 1986 Inductees
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1986 inductees (left to right): upper row: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino; lower row: The Everly Brothers, Buddy Hollie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley

Other events: Bob Geldorf’s knighthood award to recognize his work for Live Aid and other charity concerts for Africa (Jun 10); release of Madonna’s True Blue album, the best-selling record of year (Jun 30); and disbanding of The Clash, Electric Light Orchestra (revived by Jeff Lynne in 2000) and Men At Work.

The top-performing hit singles included Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) – the first German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), The Final Countdown (Europe), Take My Breath Away (Berlin) and West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys). The 1986 tune I’d like to highlight is Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, which was first released as a single in April. It also appeared on his fifth studio album So that came out the following month. Here’s the song’s official video, which won multiple accolades in 1987, including a record nine awards at the MTV Music Video Music Awards and “Best British Video” at the Brit Awards. It’s definitely one of the most memorable music videos of the decade.

1987

Some of the events in music during that year included the induction of Aretha Franklin as the first woman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 3); release of U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree (Mar 9), which topped the charts in 20-plus countries and became one of the world’s most commercially successful records, selling more than 25 million copies; Whitney Houston’s second studio album Whitney, the first record by a female artist to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Jun 27); launch of MTV Europe (Aug 1); and release of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first studio album after the departure of and legal battle with Roger Waters (Sep 7). Waters finally wrapped up his legal separation from the band later that year.

The highest-charting hit singles were La Bamba (Los Lobos), Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley); I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me (Whitney Houston), It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) and Who’s That Girl (Madonna) – I remember each of these songs like it was yesterday! Here’s Where The Streets Have No Name from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree. Credited to the band (music) and Bono (lyrics), the tune was released as the album’s third single in August 1987, five months after the record’s appearance.

1988

Some of the music events that year included the induction of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, Bob Dylan and The Supremes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 20); near-death experience for Alice Cooper on stage after one of the props, the Gallows, malfunctioned – yikes! (Apr 7); sale of legendary soul label Motown Records to MCA and financial firm Boston Ventures for $61 million (Jun 27); John Fogerty’s win of what sounds like a frivolous self-plagiarism lawsuit Fantasy Records had brought against him, claiming his 1985 comeback tune The Old Man Down The Road was too similar to Run Through The Jungle, which he had recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 (Nov 7); and final concert by Roy Orbison in Akron, Ohio (Dec 4) prior to his death from a heart attack only two days thereafter.

Leading hit singles: A Groovy Kind Of Love (Phil Collins), Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin), Always On My Mind (Pet Shop Boys),  Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle) and Take Me To Your Heart (Rick Astley). One 1988 song I like in particular is Under The Milky Way Tonight by Australian outfit The Church. Co-written by Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, it became the lead single to their excellent fifth studio album Starfish. Both were released in February that year. Here’s a clip.

1989

I can’t believe I made it to the last year of the decade! Some of the events I’d like to highlight are criticism of Madonna by religious groups worldwide over alleged blasphemous use of Christian imagery in her music video for Like A Prayer (Feb 23), which had premiered on MTV the day before; release of Bonnie Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time, one of my favorite records from her (Mar 21); release of Tom Petty’s excellent debut solo album Full Moon Fever (Apr 24); Ringo Starr’s formation of his All-Starr Band (Jul 23); opening of The Rolling Stones’ North American tour in Philadelphia to support their comeback album Steel Wheels (Aug 31), two days after the album had dropped; and release of Neil Young’s 17th studio album Freedom (Oct 2), best known for the epic Rockin’ In The Free World.

Key hit singles were Like A Prayer (Madonna), Eternal Flame (The Bangles), Another Day In Paradise (Phil Collins), The Look (Roxette) and Love Shack (The B-52s). The final ’80s tune I’d like to call out via clip is Down To London by Joe Jackson, an artist I’ve listened to for many years. He recorded the song for his 10th studio release Blaze Of Glory, which appeared in April 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Poco/Pickin’ Up The Pieces

Buffalo Springfield, who definitely deserve an own post, may well have been called “Buffalo Springboard.” After the Canadian-American folk rock band broke up in May 1968, Stephen Stills got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & NashNeil Young launched his solo career and later joined CSN; and Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar) co-founded Poco, together with Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals), Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), George Grantham (drums, vocals) and Randy Meisner (bass, vocals). Messina also served as the band’s producer. They called their debut album Pickin’ Up The Pieces, a reference to Springfield’s break-up, and boy did they live up to the title!

I rarely find myself agreeing with the editors of Apple Music, but in this case, I think they got it right. They boldly call the record “an album that’s every bit as good as anything the Springfield did.” Poco is considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. And yet, compared to records from CSN and Young that came out around the same time Poco released their debut in May 1969, the latter only accomplished moderate chart visibility. It would take the band almost a decade before scoring a commercial success with the excellent Legend, the band’s 11th studio release from November 1978. Back to Pickin’ Up The Pieces.

Poco 1968
Poco in 1968 (left to right): Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, George Grantham, Richie Furay and Rusty Young

Furay was involved in most of the writing of the album’s music, either as the sole writer or a co-writer. Various of his songs date back to the time with Springfield. In this context, Wikipedia specifically notes What A Day. While Meisner participated in the recording sessions, he was asked to leave the band prior to the record’s release over disagreements with Furay, who for some reason insisted that only he and Messina could participate in the final mixing sessions. As a result, Meisner’s vocals were re-recorded by Grantham. He was also replaced on the cover with a dog. Only this bass parts were kept – egos in rock. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned What A Day. That song grabbed me immediately with it’s powerful opening It’s a good morning and I’m feeling fine. The vocal harmonies are an absolute killer and definitely rival the magic of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I also dig the tune’s groove. Apparently, Poco didn’t release any singles from the record. I wonder how that tune would have fared as a single.

Calico Lady is another standout to me – more terrific harmony singing and nice acoustic and electric guitar work. Also, I’ve never heard a dog play such a groovy bass line! The song is credited to Furay, Messina and Skip Goodwin.

Among the tunes that sound more like straight rock is Short Changed, another track written by Furay. The rugged lead guitar is a bit reminiscent of Neil Young. I would bet this is one of the songs Furay wrote during his Buffalo Springfield days.

The album’s title track is traditional country rock. This was the first song Poco recorded and appears to be another tune Furay wrote during the Buffalo Springfield era. According to Wikipedia, commenting on the song, Furay said, “To me it summarized the attitude we wanted to convey in our music: good, wholesome & positive. There was so much negativity going on in the world in the early 70s and it needed a refreshing sound. The country rock sound we were creating would be it. We were innovators, pioneering the way for a whole new ‘Southern California sound’ that many groups who followed would capitalize on.”

The last track I’d like to call out is Grand Junction. The instrumental, yet another piece written by Furay, has a groove that is similar to The Allman Brothers’ Jessica.

From Pickin’ Up The Pieces Poco went on to record 18 additional studio albums, the most recent of which appeared in March 2013. There are also nine live records and multiple compilations. In 1974, Furay left Poco, discovered Christianity, formed Christian rock band Souther, Hillman, Furay and in 1983 became a senior pastor in Bloomfield, Colo. He continues to perform to the present day. Messina left the band in 1971, following the release of their live album Deliverin’ to focus on producing. He then hooked up with Kenny Loggins to form Loggins & Messina. Following his exit from Poco, Meisner joined the Stone Canyon Band and in September 1971 became a co-founding member of the Eagles.

Poco is still around. Rusty Young remains the only co-founding member. The current line-up also includes Jack Sundrud (guitar, bass, vocals), Rick Lonow (drums, percussion) and Michael Webb (keyboards, guitars, accordion, vocals). While at the end of 2013 Young announced his official retirement, he still tours with the band. He also released his first solo album Waitin’ For The Sun last year.

Poco is currently touring the U.S. If you happen to live in or near Melbourne or Jacksonville, Fla., you can see the guys this Thursday or Friday. There are four additional scheduled gigs for 2018, as well as three dates for February and March 2019. Based on the schedule, it doesn’t look like Poco is planning to call it quits anytime soon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Poco official website, YouTube

Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston

Solo set at Wang Theatre spans various decades

“One of my first solo shows was in the Wang Theater, then called the Music Hall,” wrote Neil Young on his website in May, talking about his 2018 solo tour that officially ended last night with the second of two dates at the landmark venue in Boston’s Theatre District. “It’s a real beauty folks – a chapel of soul and music. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then and that I do too!” While I wasn’t around when Young played Music Hall in January 1971, I saw him at Wang Theatre on Wednesday night, the first of his two concerts there, and he surely sounded amazing to me!

Wang Theatre
View of Wang Theatre auditorium from stage

Young was right. The venue is pretty impressive. Take a closer look at the above photo, and you can see the rich ornaments and decorative painting. In addition to its looks, he certainly also well remembered the Wang Theatre’s acoustic, which was great.

While it must be about 40 years ago that Young entered my radar screen with Heart Of Gold, I had never been to one of his shows. When I read about his solo tour a few months ago and noticed it would bring him to Boston, it didn’t take long for me to decide that seeing him was worth a five-hour drive from my house, especially given the tour only had six dates: Two in each Chicago and Boston, and one in each Detroit and St. Louis.

Neil Young

But before I further get to Young, I’d like to acknowledge William Prince, a folk and country singer-songwriter, who like Young hails from Canada. Punctually at 8:00 PM, he walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened the night. Prince is a member of the Pegius First Nation from Manitoba.

In 2015, he released his debut album Earthly Days, for which he won a Western Canadian Music Award for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 the Juno Award for  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. From that album, here’s Breathless. The look and feel of the performance, which apparently was captured in December, is very similar to Wednesday night. I thought his voice and guitar-playing sounded really nice. Visit his website for more information.

And then it was time for Young. To get an idea what to expect, I checked the previous shows from the tour on setlist.fm. I noticed the sets were relatively constant and included a mix of well-known songs and other tunes that at least to me were deeper cuts. A friend of mine, who is a Neil Young connoisseur and the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band, thought it was a selection for longtime fans.

The stage setup looked a little like a music workshop. It featured areas with different instruments, including an array of acoustic guitars, a semi-hollow electric guitar, two grand pianos and two organs. Young also had multiple harmonicas on hand. During the show, he shared anecdotes about most of the instruments. For example, one of the grand pianos was from the 19th century, and the bottom had been burned during a fire. Young maintained this gave it a very unique sound, adding this tour was the first time he took it on the road. He also pointed to guitars that had once been owned by Stephen Stills and Hank Williams.

Time for some music. I tried capturing some of the songs, and while the audio came out okay, the quality of the video varies quite a bit. The latter was due to challenging lighting conditions and my seat up on the balcony in the back of the theater. There was also what looked like an illuminated stripe in the background above the stage. I’m wondering whether this may have been done on purpose to discourage taking videos, which officially was strictly forbidden.

While I get they don’t want flash photography, I generally find these “no video rules” complete nonsense. Unless you walk in with a professional camera that enables you to record footage you could sell, what damage are you going to do with clips taken with a smartphone? On the contrary, in my opinion, taking and posting such clips on Facebook or elsewhere actually helps promote the artist. Okay, I’m stopping going off on a tangent now. The following is a combination of my own clips and footage from other recent solo gigs.

First up: Pocahontas, a song by Young that first appeared on the Rust Never Sleeps live album from July 1979. Initially, he recorded a version of the tune in the mid-70s for Chrome Dreams, a then-planned but unreleased album.

Ohio was the only Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Wednesday night and one of two songs Young played on the electric guitar. Written by him in the wake of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the track was released by CSNY as a single in June that year. It was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album from April 1971 and the studio compilation So Far, released in August 1974. The tune also appeared on Young’s solo compilation albums Decade (Oct 1977) and Greatest Hits (Nov 2004).

A highlight of the show and perhaps my favorite moment of the night was After The Gold Rush. Young played the title track of his third studio album from September 1970 on a pipe organ. The church-like sound was just incredible. He slightly updated the lyrics by singing, Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century/Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century. The performance was incredibly powerful and gave me the goosebumps!

Among Young’s more recent tunes was Love And War. He recorded the song for his 30th studio album Le Noise, which appeared in September 2010. This clip was captured at his June 28 show in St. Louis.

Young finished his regular set with two gems from Harvest, his fourth studio album released in February 1972: The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold. Unfortunately, the following clip of Needle, shot in Chicago on July 1, is cut in the beginning but otherwise 10 times better than my attempt to film it.

Here’s the mighty Heart Of Gold. Young may be getting old (though he sounded great!), but not the song.

Young came back for one encore: Tumbleweed, a tune from the deluxe edition of his 34th studio album Storytone from November 2014. He performed it with a ukulele. This clip is from the above St. Louis clip.

For now, Young’s second gig in Boston last night marked the final show of his solo tour. In September, he is scheduled to perform back-to-back at Farm Aid (Hartfort, Conn., Sep 22) and, together with Promise Of The Real, at another Willie Nelson event (Saratoga, N.Y., Sep 23).

Sources: Wikipedia, Neil Young official website, William Prince official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

As oftentimes seems to happen lately, this post was inspired by a coincidence – earlier this week, I spotted 4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in my Apple Music album suggestions. While I had been aware of the record (and somewhere still must have a taped recording on music cassette!), unlike Déjà Vu, it had pretty much exited my radar screen. But it didn’t even take the 34 seconds of the opener Suite: Judy Blue Eyes to remind me what a killer album it is. As such, it felt appropriate to dedicate the 50th installment of the What I’ve Been Listening To feature to this gem.

Originally released in April 1971 as a double LP, 4 Way Street captured music from a turbulent 1970 U.S. tour CSNY conducted after the release of Déjà Vu in March that year. It includes material from gigs at Fillmore East (New York, June 2-7), The Forum (Los Angeles, June 26-28) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago, July 5). CSNY were at a peak both artistically and in terms of tensions between them. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be unsustainable, and they broke up right after the recording of the album.

CSNY 1970
From left to right: Graham Nash, David Crosby, Neil Young and Stephen Stills at Fillmore East, New York, 1970

Of course, CSNY never were a traditional band to begin with, but four exceptional singer-songwriters who ended up playing together, mostly as CSN, with Young becoming an occasional fourth member. Each already had established himself as a member of other prominent bands: Crosby with The Byrds, Stills and Young with Buffalo Springfield, and Nash with The Hollies. Additionally, Crosby had released his first solo album, while the prolific Young already had two solo records out – his eponymous debut and the first album with Crazy Horse.

Given their history and egos, it’s not a surprise that CSNY wasn’t meant to last. But while it was going on, it was sheer magic. Apart from Déjà Vu, I think this live album perfectly illustrates why, so let’s get to some music!

First up: Teach Your Children, undoubtedly one of the best known CSNY songs, first appeared on the Déjà Vu album. The tune was written by Nash when he was still with The Hollies.

Triad is a song Crosby wrote while working with The Byrds on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Although they recorded the song and performed it during a live gig in September 1967, it didn’t make the record. Crosby ended up giving it to Jefferson Airplane, and they included it on their fourth studio album Crown Of Creation from September 1968. Perhaps even more intriguing than the tune is listening to Crosby’s announcement.

Chicago is a song by Nash, which he dedicated to Richard Daley, who was then the city’s powerful mayor. It’s about anti-Vietnam war and counter-cultural protests around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the ensuing federal charges against eight protesters who became known as the Chicago Eight for conspiracy to incite a riot. Nash also included the tune on his debut solo album Songs For Beginners, which was released in May 1971.

Cowgirl In The Sand is one of Young’s great early songs, which initially appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the first of many he recorded with his backing band Crazy Horse. Songfacts points out the liner notes to Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade explain that he wrote Cowgirl In The Sand, together with Down By The River and Cinnamon Girl in a single afternoon while being sick with a 103 degree temperature – it’s quite amazing what a fever can do!

The last tune on the first LP of 4 Way Street is Still’s Love The One You’re With, which also concludes CSNY’s acoustic set. The song became the lead single to Stills’ eponymous debut album from November 1970. It climbed all the way to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his biggest hit single.

The second LP of 4 Way Street captures songs from CSNY’s electric rock-oriented set. Long Time Gone is a tune by Crosby, which was included on CSN’s eponymous studio debut from March 1969. Not that Déjà Vu would have needed any additional strong tunes, but it would have been a perfect fit for that album as well!

Southern Man is another classic by Young, which he included on his third studio album After The Gold Rush released in September 1970. Together with Alabama from his follow-on record Harvest, it triggered a response by Lynyrd Skynyrd with southern rock anthem Sweet Home Alabama. While that tune explicitly tells him to take a hike, the band and Young were actually mutual fans, and there never was a serious feud between them. Young in his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream said his words in Southern Man were “accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

While with so much great material on the album I could easily go on and on calling out tunes, the last track I’d like to highlight is Carry On. Written by Stills, it’s another gem from Déjà Vu. Like Southern Man, the take of Carry On on 4 Way Street is an extended version.

4 Way Street’s musicians include Crosby (vocals, guitar), Stills (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Nash (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Young (vocals, guitar), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass) and Johnny Barbata (drums). The album was produced by CSNY. In June 1992, an expanded CD version appeared, which was produced by Nash and included four solo acoustic performances, one by each artist.

Like Déjà Vu, the record topped the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold by RIAA just a few days after its release. On December 18, 1992, U.S. sales hit 4 million certified units, giving it 4X Multi-Platinum status. Unlike Déjà Vu, interestingly, the album didn’t make Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube