The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday music mini-excursion. I’m excited this is the first Sunday Six to feature music from my native country Germany, though admittedly you wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t told you. The trip is going to involve some contemporary jazz, blues rock, rock, blues, psychedelic garage rock and R&B. It’ll be touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the first two decades of the current century. I think it’s another pretty eclectic set of tunes that will hopefully have something for every reader. Hop on board!

Klaus Graf Quartett/Homezone

The first stop on this little journey in Germany and some great contemporary jazz by Klaus Graf Quartett. And, nope, that’s not a typo, “Quartett” is the German word for quartet. I have to give credit to my brother-in-law, who knows much more about jazz than I do and who recently brought the German alto saxophone player Klaus Graf to my attention. According to his website, Graf started playing the clarinet at the age of 10 but soon thereafter switched to the alto saxophone. He found his true love for jazz as a 15-year-old after he had joined a youth music school big band. Following his studies of the saxophone at Cologne University of Music, Graf mainly played as a sideman in various German and international jazz bands. In 2002, he founded his own quartet and released his debut album Changes in Life. In addition to him, the present line-up includes Olaf Polziehn (piano), Axel Kühn (upright bass) and Meinhard Obi Jenne (drums). Klaus Graf Quartett is one of various music projects of Graf who also teaches jazz saxophone at Nuremberg University of Music. Here’s Homezone, a composition by Graf from a 2007 album album titled Moving On. According to the credits listed on Discogs, the recording features all of the quartet’s current members, except for the bassist who on that album was Uli Glaszmann.

The Rolling Stones/Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Next we go back to May 1968 when The Rolling Stones first released their non-album single Jumpin’ Jack Flash in the UK, backed by Child of the Moon. The single also appeared in the U.S. the following month. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards only as usual, even though Bill Wyman contributed, this tune has one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. I recall reading several years ago that Richards during an interview said he still gets excited when he plays that riff – who can blame him! Speaking of Richards, according to Songfacts, he explained the tune’s title to Rolling Stone in 2010 as follows: “The lyrics came from a gray dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’ I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.” Now you know how to write an iconic rock song! After the Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was considered to be a return to their blues roots. It became a major hit, topping the mainstream charts in the UK and Germany, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S., and reaching no. 2 in France, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, as well as no. 5 in Canada. Man, this just rocks!

Steve Miller Band/Rock’n Me

On October 5, Steve Miller turned 78. Amazingly, the man still fronts the Steve Miller Band, the group he founded in 1966 as the Steve Miller Blues Band. And had it not been because of this dreadful pandemic, he would probably be out on the road. As he told Billboard earlier this year, the group had to cancel a planned 55-city tour with Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives that was supposed to kick off in June 2020. On the upside, Miller put the downtime to good use and dug into his archives. Out came a concert film, Breaking Ground concert, and a companion album, Steve Miller Band Live! Breaking Ground: August 3, 1977, which were released on May 14 this year. You can watch a trailer of the film here. And here’s Rock’n Me from the companion album. Originally, the tune was recorded for the Steve Miller Band’s ninth studio album Fly Like an Eagle released in May 1976. It also appeared separately as a single in August 1976 and became the group’s second no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the charts in Canada as well. This is neat rock & roll!

Buddy Guy/Stay Around a Little Longer (feat. B.B. King)

Next, let’s slow it down for some great blues by two of the best electric blues guitarists: Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Guy at age 85 thankfully is still with us and still playing, while King sadly passed away in May 2015 at the age of 89. This beautiful recording is from Guy’s 15th studio album Living Proof that came out in October 2010. The tune was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge and country and blues singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, who both have become frequent collaborators ever since. It’s just great to hear B.B. King sing on this tune, in addition to playing guitar. His voice sounds so good. He was 85 years at the time, Guy’s current age. I can’t deny I find this tune and clip quite emotional. That’s what great music does – it touches you!

The Fuzztones/Cinderella

After some emotional blues, it’s time to step on the gas again with a terrific tune by American garage rockers The Fuzztones. According to their profile on Apple Music, the New York City-based psychedelic/garage rock combo played a large role in the mostly underground ’60s revival during the 1980s. Led by the enigmatic Rudi Protrudi, the Fuzztones were one of the major “successes” (particularly in Europe) of the revival that flourished in 1984 and that also boasted the Chesterfield Kings, the Cynics, the Miracle Workers, and Plasticland. Their debut studio LP, Lysergic Emanations, was released in 1985. Thanks to praise from Ian Astbury of the Cult, the newly refitted Los Angeles-based Fuzztones were one of the few to get a major-label deal, and a second album, In Heat, was released by Beggars Banquet in 1989. Due to the album’s lackluster sales performance, the Fuzztones went back to the indies. That might have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Thanks to a hugely successful tour of Europe in 1985, the group built a loyal and dedicated fan base there, and one version or another of the Fuzztones has toured there regularly ever since. Here’s Cinderella from the band’s above noted 1985 debut album, which mostly featured covers, including this tune that originally was recorded by The Sonics in 1965. With that cool organ, the rendition reminds me a bit of The Animals. Founding member Rudi Protrudi (vocals, guitar, harmonica) remains with the band’s current line-up.

Ray Charles/Hit the Road Jack

Let’s conclude this mini-excursion with a tune that randomly popped up in my head the other day. When it did, I immediately thought it would be a terrific song to feature: Hit the Road Jack by the great Ray Charles. They didn’t call the singer-songwriter and pianist “The Genius” for nothing. Frank Sinatra reportedly said Charles was the “only true genius in show business.” Charles identified Nat King Cole as a primary influence. Others included Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. Hit the Road Jack, written by R&B artist Percy Mayfield and first recorded as an a cappella demo in 1960, was Charles’ second of three no. 1 mainstream hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The other two were Georgia on My Mind and I Can’t Stop Loving You. Any of them would have been great picks as would have many other tunes by Charles, but I felt like finishing with a more up-tempo song like Hit the Road Jack.

Sources: Wikipedia; Klaus Graf website; Discogs; Songfacts; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Here’s the latest installment of my recurring new music feature. It nicely illustrates that great new music isn’t a matter of age. In fact, I’ve said it all along: Old guys rock! 🙂 Three of the following artists have been around for 50 years, while the remaining three represent a younger generation. There’s some blues rock, coz you rarely can go wrong with it; some prog and art rock; some post punk rock; and some indie rock and pop. Let’s get to it!

Walter Trout/Wanna Dance

Long-time blues rocker Walter Trout, who originally hails from Ocean City, N.J., is a survivor – literally. He started his music career on the Jersey shore scene in the late 1960s. After relocating to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, the guitarist became a sideman for John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex, among others. From 1981 to 1984, Trout was the lead guitarist for Canned Heat. In 1984, he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and, as he noted during a recent one-hour online chat, it was Mayall who encouraged him not to copy other previous Bluesbreakers’ lead guitarists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton but to develop his own style. Trout did, left the Bluesbreakers in 1989 and launched his solo career. He has since released more than 20 albums. In 2014, things got dicey when Trout was diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. A liver transplant saved his life just in time. After a long recovery, Trout was able to return to music, which as he has said is the only thing he could ever do. Released on June 12, Wanna Dance is a great blues rocker from Ordinary Madness, an upcoming album of all original music, scheduled for August 28. I saw Trout in New York City in April 2019 and witnessed firsthand he is a compelling, no BS artist. Really looking forward to this record!

Ohmme/Flood Your Gut

Ohmme (formerly know as Homme) are an indie rock band from Chicago formed in 2014 by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. In 2016, Matt Carroll joined the two young women on drums. Apple Music characterizes them as “an experimental indie pop band who use their striking vocal harmonies and lean, angular guitar patterns to create songs that are spare but full-bodied, making clever use of dynamics to generate a rich sound out of a small number of elements” – jeez, you wonder whether they pay reviewers by the number of words they stick in one sentence! Ohmme takes the opposite approach on their Facebook page: “An experiment with voice, guitar, and sound.” The band released their debut single in November 2015, followed by an eponymous EP in 2017. Flood Your Gut is the opener to Ohmme’s new (second) studio album Fantasize Your Ghost, released on June 5. Admittedly, the somewhat monotonous trance-inducing sound of this tune didn’t grab me immediately, but the more often I listen to it, the more I dig it – there’s something weirdly catchy about it!

Kansas/Jets Overhead

American rock band Kansas may have formed in the early ’70s, but evidently, they aren’t dust in the wind yet. Frankly, I wasn’t aware the band is still active. Granted, Kansas have gone through many lineup changes in their 50-year history; if I see this correctly, it appears guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Erhart are the only remaining founding members, who have been on all of the band’s 15 studio releases that came out between 1974 and 2016, as well as their upcoming album The Absence of Presence, scheduled for July 17. I’m mostly familiar with Kansas’ better known tunes like Carry On Wayward Son, Dust in the Wind, Point of No Return and Play the Game Tonight. I oftentimes feel rock that’s based on simple guitar riffs is best and consider the fantastic Carry On Wayward Son as an exception that proves the rule. Jets Overhead, which was written by guitarist Zak Rizvi and appeared on June 5, is the third track released ahead of the album. You rarely hear a violin solo in a rock song these days. Sounds pretty good to me!

Phoebe Bridgers/Graceland Too

Phoebe Bridgers is a Los Angeles-based 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Apple Musics characterization of her music as “folk-based” with “a dreamy and hook-filled indie pop heart” sounds right to me. Apart from her solo work, she’s also a member of indie rock band Boygenius and performs with Conor Oberst in indie rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center. In March 2014, Bridgers released her debut, an EP cheerfully titled Killer. Following what appears to be a live album, 2016 Tour CD, her first full-length studio release Stranger in the Alps appeared in September 2017. Graceland Too is a country-flavored tune from Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher, which came out on June 18. This song has a beautiful warm sound that nicely blends with Bridgers’ voice.

Elvis Costello/No Flag

Released June 5, No Flag is the first new song by Elvis Costello since Purse, an EP from April 2019, featuring four previously unreleased songs recorded with his band the Imposters. According to a news announcement, Costello recorded No Flag alone in Finland in February this year. “I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me,” he explained. “So, this is ‘The Helsinki Sound.’” The announcement also asks readers to “look out for the next installment of this story on July 10th” – perhaps a hint to a forthcoming new album? With an unsettling melody and dark lyrics like No time for this kind of love/No flag waving high above/No sign for the dark place that I live/No God for the damn that I don’t give, the timing of the release during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence.

JJ Wilde/Cold Shoulder

JJ Wilde is a singer-songwriter hailing from Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, which is located about 60 miles of Toronto. Wilde started writing and playing guitar during her teenage years. Despite a massive amount of songs and gigging, she apparently struggled in the early part of her career, and ended up working three jobs. When Wilde about to give up music professionally in 2018, she finally got a break, signing with Black Box Recordings. Last year, her debut EP Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands appeared. Ruthless, Wilde’s first full album, was released on June 12. “This album has felt like a long time coming, and no time at all,” wrote Wilde on her Facebook page. “Most of the inspiration for the album came from an apartment I lived in two years before I started this journey. I was in a dark place, and was very unsure of where my life was going. Almost 4 years later, with countless shows, tours, travelling, writing sessions, I now feel like this album is the complete first draft of an inside look into my world.” Here’s Cold Shoulder. I like this melodic rocker – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ohmme Facebook page; Kansas website; Elvis Costello website; JJ Wilde Facebook page; YouTube

Blues Veteran Walter Trout Releases Blistering New Covers Album

Survivor Blues features “obscure songs that have hardly been covered”

There’s nothing fishy about Walter Trout. For five decades, the guitarist has played and lived the blues, initially as sideman for the likes of John Lee Hooker, Joe Tax and John Mayall during the ’70s and 80s, and starting from 1989, as a solo artist. Now, Trout has released a covers album aptly titled Survivor Blues, featuring tunes he feels have been underappreciated. Since there are only so many ways you can play the blues, I think it’s all about execution. If you dig electric blues, you’re in for a trout, I mean treat!

Born on March 6, 1951 in Ocean City, N.J., Trout started his career in the Garden State in the late 1960s. In a cool video about the making of Survivor Blues, which is published on his website, Trout recalls how as a 16- or 17-year-old he met B.B. King. After spotting King in a New Jersey record store, he asked him for an autograph, saying he loved the blues and was trying to figure it out on the guitar. King ended up talking to him for more than one hour. One thing’s for sure: That conversation did not discourage young Walter Trout to pursue the blues!

walter trout
Walter Trout in 2018

In 1974, Trout moved to Los Angeles and became a sideman for R&B singer and songwriter Percy Mayfield, who among others wrote Hit The Road Jack, which became a no. 1 hit for Ray Charles in 1961. Other artists Trout backed during the 70s included  John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex. In 1981, he joined blues rockers Canned Heat as a guitarist. From 1985 until 1989, Trout was part of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, following the trail of many other blues musicians. One night, he was spotted by a Danish concert promoter who offered him to pay for a solo tour.

Trout left the Bluesbreakers, and in 1989 his solo debut Life In The Jungle came out. He has since released more than 20 additional records, initially as Walter Trout Band, then as Walter Trout and the Free RadicalsWalter Trout and the Radicals and, starting with The Outsider in 2008, simply as Walter Trout. Survivor Blues is the 10th album appearing under his name and follows the award-winning We’re All In This Together. The 2017 album of original tunes features many other blues heavyweights like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sonny Landreth, Robben Ford and Charlie Musselwhite.

“I didn’t want to do ‘Stormy Monday’ or ‘Messin’ With The Kid.’ I didn’t want to do the Blues greatest hits,” Trout commented on the new album. I wanted to do old, obscure songs that have hardly been covered…My idea was to do these songs like me, to arrange them for my band and style – not to just copy the originals note-for-note.” Trout also sought active input from his band on how to render the songs, which were mostly recorded live in study, a smart approach, in my opinion.

walter trout 2

Trout’s wife and manager Marie came up with the record’s title. ‘You’re a group of survivors,’ she told him. ‘You’ve all been through hell and you’ve come back. These songs are survivors. This album needs to be called Survivor Blues.’ In 2014, Trout received a liver transplant after he had been diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. Reflecting on the members of his band, Trout said, “Mike [Michael Leasure, drums] is in recovery. Johnny [Johnny Griparic, bass] almost didn’t make it. Skip [Skip Edwards, keyboards] has had a triple bypass. And I almost didn’t make it after my liver disease in 2014.”

Time for some music. I’d like to kick it off with the excellent opener Me, My Guitar And The Blues. Written by Jimmy Dawkins, the tune was the title track of his 1997 solo album. Trout couldn’t get enough of the electric blues guitarist’s records during his early years as an up and comer in New Jersey. “The last line – ‘Since you left me, All I have left is Me, My Guitar and the Blues’ – is one of the greatest lyrics I’ve heard in my life and I start crying just saying it,” Trout stated. The lyrics are also a perfect way to set the tone for an album titled Survivor Blues.

Please Love Me, co-written by B.B. King and Jules Taub, was the opener of King’s 1956 debut album Singin’ The Blues. Trout calls King “the greatest blues man that ever lived.” Something tells me Trout’s sentiment may reflect the above noted long conversation with his hero.

One of my favorites on the album is Luther Johnson’s Woman Don’t Lie. The track appeared on a record titled Born In Georgia, released in March 2008. On his take Trout shares lead vocals with blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford. The result is just beautiful!

Appropriately, Trout also paid homage to John Mayall with Nature’s Disappearing, a tune from his 1970 album USA Union. “I was nervous about doing it because it’s by my mentor and surrogate father,” Trout noted. “John told me he’d read an article about ecology and pollution – he put the magazine down at the end and wrote that song in five minutes. It’s even more relevant today, with all the environmental regulations being thrown out and national parks being sold off to oil companies.” I dig the groove of this cover and think the Godfather of British Blues is smiling.

On Goin’ Down To The River Trout is joined by Robby Krieger, in whose Los Angeles studio the album was recorded. The tune was written by hill country blues singer and guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell.  “There was something about the lyric,” noted Trout. “But the original is very different. I decided to take the verses that spoke to me, and then rearranged the song almost Muddy Waters-esque with that slide lick. Robby Krieger was coming in every day, listening and hanging out, so I said, ‘I’d love it if you played on this song’. So when I say ‘Play it, Robby’ – that’s Robby Krieger from The Doors. We just did that in the studio – boom, there you go.”

Survivor Blues has been produced by Trout’s long-time producer Eric Corne. It appears on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group and is available in CD and vinyl formats, as well as on iTunes, Spotify and other digital music platforms.

Trout, who fortunately seems to be in good health, is supporting Survivor Blues with an extended tour that is set to kick off in Minneapolis on January 31st. Currently, the schedule lists around 50 dates, mostly in the U.S., and stretches all the way out to August. Not listed for some reason is a gig that shows up in Ticketmaster: April 8 at The Iridium in New York City. Blues is made to be experienced live, and this show is definitely on my radar screen.

Sources: Wikipedia, Walter Trout website, YouTube