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

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

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

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! 🙂 Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked, especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono (Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody (Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV (Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists, Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain (Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

If You Can’t See The One You Love, See The One You Can

According to my good music blogger friend Music Enthusiast, who only not writes a great blog but also seems to be a pretty good guitarist, I’m the King of the Tribute Band. As such, I thought I have to live up to the kind title and do a piece on tribute bands.

In 1970, Stephen Stills wrote the lyrics, And if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Since this pretty much captures how I generally feel about tribute bands, I used a variation of Stills’ words as the headline for this post.

I know some folks are only mildly excited about the concept. While I acknowledge it’s hard to find tribute bands that sound exactly like the real artists, as long as they don’t sound terrible, I enjoy seeing them. Since I usually do some research before going to a show, I’ve yet to have a bad experience.

Here’s how I look at it. With today’s oftentimes outrageous ticket prices, I simply can’t afford to see everybody I like; and even if I could, many of my favorite artists or bands are no longer around. Some of the best tribute bands I’ve seen performed at free summer-concert-in-the-park type of events, or music festivals with very reasonable cover charges. So for little or no money I can listen to music I dig – not much of a downside here, in my opinion!

Following are some tribute bands I like and have seen over the past couple of years.

Who’s Next

Their name already pretty much says it all. Who’s Next is a tribute to The Who. Like The Who, I’ve seen them twice and thought they were dynamite. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete TownshendDave McDonald as Roger DaltreyMike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Apart from nicely capturing the sound and energy of the British rockers, these four guys also look a bit like their heroes. All of this is pretty remarkable, given the band doesn’t appear to perform frequently. For more information, check out their website. Here’s The Real Me and 5:15 I captured earlier this year during a British Invasion festival in Atlantic City.

Britain’s Finest

As a huge fan of The Beatles, of course I need to include a tribute band in this post! There are many tribute acts to the Fab Four, and I must have seen at least half a dozen myself. One of the best if not the best is Britain’s Finest. Similar to Who’s Next, their show is about both recreating the sound and the looks – they even mimic The Beatles’ humor. According to their Facebook page, Britain’s Finest were founded in Los Angeles in September 2011. Their lineup features Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). Here’s a clip of She Loves You.

The Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philadelphia. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound pretty awesome:  Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Carl Crabtree (saxophone, organ, acoustic guitar). For more information, check out their website. Here’s their rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

STARMAN: The Bowie Tribute

Formed in 2014, STARMAN is a tribute band to David Bowie. While Bowie obviously was a very well-known artist, I was still intrigued when I learned about these guys recently. Unlike The Beatles, I don’t think there are many Bowie tributes out there, which was in part why I decided to catch one of their recent gigs. In addition to Bowie’s songs, this Jersey band captures the looks and stage shows during different times of his career. STARMAN are Johwie Bowie (lead vocals), David Citron (keyboards, vocals), Tom Coughlin (saxophone, guitar, vocals), Jody Lynn Lisa (vocals, percussion), Mark Christopher (lead guitar), Dan D’Elia (drums) and Phil Liebergall (bass, vocals). Additional information can be found on their website. Here’s a clip of Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City from the above mentioned show I attended.

TUSK

TUSK, another band from New Jersey, is an excellent tribute to Fleetwood Mac I’ve seen a couple of times. While their website and Facebook page don’t mention when they were founded, it’s clear their members are longtime artists. The band, which captures Fleetwood Mac during their most commercially successful phase, features Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie NicksKim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVieScott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey BuckinghamRandy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie, and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood. According to their website, TUSK has a packed schedule and tours nationally. What struck me the most about them was how well they capture Mac’s harmony vocals. Check out this clip of The Chain.

Hotel California

To recreate the music of the Eagles, especially the harmony vocals, is a formidable task. While I’ve seen a few Eagles tribute bands, Hotel California from Toronto, Canada has been the most compelling thus far. Undoubtedly, at least in part this must be the result of their longtime experience – the band was founded in 1986. The current lineup includes  Andy Lapointe  (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals) and Kevin O’Donnell (drums, vocals). The band’s website reveals that they tour heavily throughout Canada and the U.S. Here’s a nice highlights reel. While it’s a few years old, this is how I recall they sounded when I saw them last September.

Get The Led Out

Get The Led Out, another band from Philadelphia, are an amazing Led Zeppelin tribute that got together in 2003. Rather than aiming to look like Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham or sound like they did in concert, these guys are all about bringing Zeppelin’s studio sound live to the stage. And that takes more than four musicians – six to be precise: Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond  (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals), Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion) and Adam Ferraiolo (drums, percussion). In addition, Diana DeSantis serves as guest vocalist for The Battle Of Evermore. I saw GTLO last November, and boy did they kick ass! The band’s current national tour schedule is on their website. Here’s a clip of Whole Lotta Love.

Echoes

This Pink Floyd tribute band from Delaware was founded in 1991. I’ve had the fortune to experience the real Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) twice and was really impressed how well Echoes recreated their complex music when I saw them last September. The band includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long  (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey  (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals). Here’s a highlights reel from their website.

Yes, I’ve seen many tribute bands, and the king is ready to see more! One event I particularly look forward to in this context is Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September. This annual one-day music festival features an impressive amount of tribute bands. In addition to Decade and TUSK, the 2018 lineup includes tributes to AC/DC, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses, among others. Best of all, the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which puts on Rock The Farm, leverages the event to raise money for addiction recovery programs and other related services. For more information, visit https://rockthefarmnj.com/

Sources: Who’s Next website, Britain’s Finest Facebook page; The Glimmer Twins website; STARMAN website; TUSK website; Hotel California website; Get The Led Out website; Echoes website; YouTube

Gov’t Mule Rule With Powerful Pink Floyd Set

Southern jam rockers and Avett Brothers bring their summer tour to central NJ

When I told a good friend from Germany the other day that I was going to see Gov’t Mule for a Dark Side Of The Mule show, he had the same initial reaction I had a few weeks ago: What’s a southern rock band got to with Pink Floyd? And why would such distinguished musicians with plenty of own material devote an entire gig to the British psychedelic rockers? Well, because not only does Mule dig great music, but they also like to celebrate it during their own shows. In fact, they always have done so since they were founded in late 1994, though thus far, Pink Floyd is the only band to whom they dedicated an entire show.

As I previously wrote, Mule first introduced the concept in 2008 in Boston when they added a second set to their set of original tunes, which solely consisted of Floyd covers. They repeated it at the Mountain Jam music festival in 2015. And now the band is doing this dedicated show for the third time during a short co-headlining summer tour with The Avett Brothers – something I didn’t want to miss as a huge Pink Floyd fan, especially since one of gigs was happening right in my neck of the woods at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. last night. Based on Mule’s corresponding live album, my expectations were high – and boy did they deliver!

The Magpie Salute

But first things first. The evening was opened by American rock band The Magpie Salute, which was formed in October 2016 by guitarist Rich Robinson, a co-founding member of The Black Crowes. He pretty much co-wrote all of their songs with his brother and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. I didn’t know any of the band’s songs but liked what I heard. Their remaining current lineup includes two other former Black Crows members, Marc Ford (lead guitar, vocals) and Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), as well as John Hogg (vocals, percussion), Matt Slocum (keyboards) and Joe Magistro (drums). The Magpie Salute currently have one live album out from 2017 and are set to release their studio debut High Water I on August 18, 2018. I’ll definitely keep that on my radar screen.

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers: (from left to right) Bob Crowford, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett and Seth Avett

Next came The Avett Brothers, a band that except for its name I hadn’t known. To get a sense of what to expect, I checked setlist.fm for the first date of the tour. It didn’t help much, since they made many changes to their set last night! The band’s core members include brothers and multi-instrumentalists Seth (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Scott Avett (vocals, banjo, etc.), Bob Crawford (double bass, bass, etc.) and Joe Kwon (backing vocals, cello, piano, etc.). The current touring lineup is complemented by Mike Marsh (drums) and Tania Elizabeth (violin, vocals, kazoo).

The origins of The Avett Brothers date back to the late 1990s when Seth’s high school band Margo combined with Scott’s college rock outfit Nemo. After Nemo had released three albums, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers as a side project, playing acoustic music with some friends. Eventually, this resulted in the release of an EP, The Avett Bros., in 2000. Their fist full-fledged studio album Country Was appeared in 2002. To date, the band has released eight additional studio records, three additional EPs and four live albums. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and warmth they used to deliver their music, which blends folk, bluegrass, Americana and indie rock. I didn’t record any video, but here’s a YouTube clip of a tune they did last night: Down With The Shine, from The Carpenter, their seventh studio album released in September 2012.

And then it was time for Mule to rule, and boy they certainly did! While like The Avett Brothers they mixed things up compared to the tour’s opening night, they kept the same format.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

After kicking off their set with two original songs, it was on to mighty Pink Floyd. Last night, the original tunes included Thorazine Shuffle and Banks Of The Deep End, from the Dose (February 1998) and The Deep End, Vol. 1 (October 2001) studio albums, respectively. Here’s Thorazine Shuffle, a co-write by Mule co-founding members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts.

Following their two original songs, Mule launched into a transitional instrumental that blended into One Of These Days, from Meddle. Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971 happens to be one of my favorites. All for a sudden, it felt like the band had kicked up the intensity by a few notches. The song’s bass line came across like a furious jack hammer – since I didn’t anticipate it and didn’t want to start recording after it had started, unfortunately, I missed capturing that one.

After this powerful rendition of the first Pink Floyd tune of the night, Mule kept their foot on the gas. Next came Echoes, another gem from Meddle and perhaps my all-time favorite Floyd track. Again I didn’t record that one, figuring if my arms wouldn’t fall off holding my smartphone, the device would probably run low on battery power, given the length of the tune! Next it was on to a series of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Floyd album released in March 1973. Here’s The Great Gig In The Sky, featuring Mule’s outstanding backing vocalists

In addition to Dark Side Of Moon and Meddle, Mule also heavily drew from Wish You Were Here, another Floyd gem and the follow-on to Dark Side, which came out in September 1975. Here’s Welcome To The Machine.

Before playing some additional tunes from the Dark Side and Wish You Were Here albums, Mule threw in Nile Song from More, Floyd’s first soundtrack and their third studio release from June 1969. Then it was time for the cash register to ring with Money, another track from Dark Side. Again, I thought the band did a great job with the tune, especially the saxophonist who killed it!

The epic Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) rounded out Mule’s regular set. Like on the Dark Side Of The Mule album that I previously reviewed here, this was the track where the band took the most artistic freedom, especially Haynes on lead guitar. And just like on that record, I thought he did a nice job, so the deviations didn’t bother me at all. No Pink Floyd show would be complete without Wish You Were, which the band threw in as the encore.

As mentioned at the outset, I thought Mule’s show last night was outstanding. But, as I also noted before, Dark Side Of The Mule is not a note-by-note rendition of Floyd’s music. I imagine not all hard core Floyd fans may like the artistic freedom Mule occasionally takes. As a former hobby musician, I can fully appreciate that artists want to add a little bit of their own flavor when playing covers. If you feel the same and dig Pink Floyd, this show is for you, if you live in the right corners of the country. There are only four remaining dates: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (today, Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25). But there is always hope for additional dates, though Mule’s summer 2018 tour schedule looks dense through the second half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Mule official website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Gov’t Mule/Dark Side Of The Mule

What’s a Pink Floyd fan to do these days when they want to experience the band’s amazing music live? With the death of keyboarder Rick Wright in 2008 and their final studio album The Endless River from November 2014, Floyd’s officially gone. Yes, Roger Waters is currently on an extended Us + Them world tour. And, yes, David Gilmour released Live At Pompeii last September, which included Floyd material, and told Ultimate Classic Rock around that time that he’s planning a new album, which probably also means more touring. Still, it’s not the same!

Well, as the “king of the cover band” (Music Enthusiast’s previous kind words, not mine!) – one option I can highly recommend is Floyd tribute band Echoes. I saw these guys last year at the great Rock The Farm annual festival and wrote about it here. A second option I didn’t fully appreciate until recently is Gov’t Mule – yep, the southern rock jam band founded by Allman Brothers’ members Warren Haynes (guitar) and Allen Woody (bass) in 1994 to keep busy while the Brothers were off. Both ended up leaving the band to fully focus on Mule, though Haynes returned in 2000 and stayed with the Brothers until their final show in 2014. Woody passed away in 2000.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule’s current lineup (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

Haynes and Woody both were fond of 1960s power trios, such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mule also digs many other artists like Neil Young, Free, Traffic, Little Feat and, well, Pink Floyd. What’s interesting to me is that with so much own material Mule has released over the years, they frequently have covered songs of the aforementioned artists during their sets. To date their homage to Pink Floyd certainly represents the climax in that regard. I know of no other such high caliber musicians who put together an entire set of covers from a band they obviously admire.

Dark Side Of The Mule (love that title!), which was released in December 2014 as a CD and deluxe CD/DVD set, was recorded during a three-hour gig at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on Halloween 2008. While the standard CD edition only features the Floyd portion of the show, the enhanced deluxe version also includes original material Mule performed that night. Unlike the title suggests, their Pink Floyd set goes far beyond the Dark Side Of The Moon album. Time to get to some music!

The first tune I’d like to highlight is what I would call more of a deep cut: Fearless. Co-written by Gilmour and Waters, it appeared on Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album Meddle, released in October 1971. Haynes does a particularly nice job here, both in terms of his guitar work and the vocals.

Pigs On The Wing, Pt. 2 was written by Waters and included on Animals as the closer of that record from January 1977, Floyd’s 10th studio release. I think Mule’s version of the tune illustrates what’s also true for the entire set – while they stayed pretty close to the original tracks, they didn’t copy them 100%, which I find quite okay. After all, unlike Echoes, Mule is not a Floyd tribute band.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) is one of the tunes where Mule takes a bit more artistic freedom, especially Haynes. While I really dig Gilmour’s guitar parts on the original, I have to say I also like what Haynes is playing here. The opener of Wish You Were Here, Floyd’s ninth studio effort from September 1975, was credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters. It remains one of my all-time favorite Floyd tracks after having listened to the band for some 40 years.

Next up: Time from the epic Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Pink Floyd album, which appeared in March 1973. The song was credited to all members of the band, which apart from Gilmour, Waters and Wright also included drummer Nick Mason. BTW, one of the backing vocalists Mule had, Durga McBroom, also consistently served in that capacity during Floyd’s live shows starting from November 1987, as well as on The Division Bell and The Endless River studio records.

Another track I’d like to call out is Comfortably Numb, one of my favorite tunes from 1979’s The Wall album. Co-written by Waters and Gilmour, it’s one of the relatively few songs that are not solely credited to Waters who clearly was the dominant force on the record. Again, Haynes does a great job, both vocally and playing Gilmour’s guitar parts.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the title track from the Wish You Were Here album.  No Pink Floyd set would be complete without the song, which was yet another Waters-Gilmour co-write.

To date, Mule only played one additional Floyd set, which was during the Mountain Jam music festival in June 2015. But a third Dark Side Of The Mule performance is coming up. In March, the band announced that they are joining forces with The Avett Brothers for six co-headlining summer open air gigs. The dates include Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, N.Y. (Jul 12); PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J. (Jul 13); Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25).

One of these shows is happening right in my backyard. Based on Ticketmaster, prices look relatively reasonable. Plus, I’ve been to PNC Bank Arts Center many times and like this venue. All of these facts are impossible to ignore, so needless to say that I’m very tempted. Since I’m already seeing Steely Dan & The Doobie Brothers (July 7) and Neil Young solo (July 11), adding Mule would make this a pretty intense back-to-back music experience. But is there such a thing as too much rock & roll, and don’t make three a charm? We’ll see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Roger Waters official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, Echoes official website, Gov’t Mule official website, YouTube

My Longtime Favorite Albums

Ten records I continue to enjoy after more than three decades

Earlier this week, I got nominated on Facebook to name 10 music albums that have made an impact on me and that I continue to enjoy today. The task was to post one album cover daily, and each time when doing so to nominate somebody else to do the same. Usually, I don’t participate in these types of chain activities, so initially, I ignored it. But since it was a close relative, who had nominated me, and music is my passion after all, I decided to go along. The exercise of identifying the 10 records inspired this post.

Because I found it impossible to limit myself to just 10 albums, I decided to narrow the field to only those records I started listening to as a teenager and in my early 20s. This explains why some of my favorite artists like The Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy and even The Rolling Stones are “missing.” It was only later that I started exploring them and many other artists I like today in greater detail. Without further ado, here is the list in no particular order, together with one song from each album.

As frequent readers of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their 8th studio album from May 1967, is my favorite among their records.

The Beatles_Sgt. Pepper

Here’s the great closer A Day In The Life, which except for the middle section was mainly written by John Lennon, though as usually was credited to him and Paul McCartney.

Tapestry by Carole King was one of the earliest albums I listened to when I was 10 years old or so. Back then, I didn’t understand the lyrics but liked the music. Today, I dig the record for both the music and the lyrics. There is a timeless beauty in King’s tunes, and to me Tapestry is perhaps the ultimate singer-songwriter record.

carole-king-tapestry

There are so many great songs on this gem from February 1971, so it’s hard to chose one. Here’s Way Over Yonder. King’s soulful singing and the saxophone solo are two of the tune’s features I’ve always liked.

The Eagles’ Hotel California is an album I’ve owned on vinyl since I guess the early ’80s. It was released in December 1976 as the band’s fifth studio record.

Eagles_Hotel California

Here’s a live version of the epic title song, which is included in the album’s 40th anniversary deluxe edition that appeared in November last year. The tune was co-written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The distinct extended guitar interplay at the end featured Felder and Joe Walsh. This tune just never gets boring!

It was the Born In The U.S.A. album from June 1984, which put Bruce Springsteen on my radar screen.

Bruce Springsteen_Born In The USA

Here’s Bobby Jean, one of the album’s few tunes that wasn’t also released separately as a single. On this one, I particularly love the saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons, who was such an ace player.

Deep Purple to this day remains my first choice when it comes to hard rock, and Machine Head from March 1972 is the crown jewel in their catalog. The band’s sixth studio album featured their best line-up that included Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Deep Purple_Machine Head

Here’s Pictures Of Home, which like all tracks on the album were credited to all members of the band. In addition to Lord’s great keyboard work, one of the tune’s characteristic features is a cool bass solo by Glover (starting at 3:40 minutes).

My introduction to John Mellencamp was Scaregrow, his eighth studio album from August 1995, but it was the follow-up record The Lonesome Jubilee, released in August 1987, that turned me into a fan.

John Mellencamp_The Lonesome Jubilee

Here is the great opener Paper In Fire, which also became the album’s lead single. Like all tunes except one, it was written by Mellencamp.

While it was pretty clear to me that a Pink Floyd album needed to be among my longtime top 10 records, the decision which one to pick wasn’t easy. I decided to go with The Dark Side Of The Moon but also could have gone with Wish You Were Here. I started listening to both albums at around the same time during the second half of the ’70s.

Pink Floyd_The Dark Side Of The Moon

I’ve chosen to highlight The Great Gig In The Sky. I’ve always liked the incredible part by vocalist Clare Torry.

I believe the first Steely Dan song I ever heard was Do It Again on the radio. By the time I got to Aja, I already knew the band’s debut record Can’t Buy A Thrill and, because of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, their third album Pretzel Logic. While I liked both of these records, the Aja album from September 1977 became my favorite, after a good friend had brought it to my attention.

Steely Dan_Aja

Here is Deacon Blues, which also was released separately as the album’s second single. Like all tunes on the record, it was co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

I was hooked to Live Rust the very first time I listened to it. Neil Young’s album from November 1979 pretty much is a live compilation of his greatest ’70s hits.

Neil Young_Live Rust

My, My, Hey, Hey (Out Of The Blue) is among the record’s highlights. The song was co-written by Young and Jeff Blackburn.

Led Zeppelin wasn’t exactly love at first sight. My first exposure was Led Zeppelin IV, the band’s fourth studio album from November 1971. I bought the record because of Stairway To Heaven.

Led Zeppelin_Led Zeppelin IV

I had listened to Stairway on the radio where they always faded it out before the heavy rock section at the end of the tune. I still remember the shock when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I had just started taking classic guitar lessons and was very much into acoustic guitar. I simply couldn’t understand how Zep could have “ruined” this beautiful song by giving it a heavy metal ending. Well, today it is exactly because of its build why this track has become one of my favorite tunes. But instead of Stairway, I’d like to finish this post with Going To California, a beautiful acoustic ballad co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Recreating Iconic Rock Festival That Never Was

Fourth Annual Rock the Farm brings 10 hours of rock & roll and tributes from Beatles to Young to Jersey Shore

In addition to seeing my rock & roll heroes live in action, I enjoy concerts featuring tribute bands to the music I love. While I wish I could go to shows of all the original acts, there are way too many music artists, not enough time and, let’s face it, not enough money – in particular nowadays with ticket prices oftentimes being out of control! To me tribute bands can be a great and very affordable way to address this conundrum. Yesterday, I got ten hours of exactly that, at the fourth annual Rock the Farm festival in Seaside Heights, N.J.

Also called Faux-Chella, an apparent clever allusion to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, the event brought together an impressive lineup of tribute bands: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Mike Martin & The Beautiful Mess (Johnny Cash), Decade (Neil Young), Rainbow Full of Sound (Grateful Dead), The Weeklings (The Beatles), Light My Fire (The Doors), Hotel California  (Eagles), Glimmer Twins (The Rolling Stones), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Echoes (Pink Floyd). Apart from these tribute acts, who performed on two main stages set up right next to each other, there were a few other bands playing on a side stage.

Faux-Chella 2017 Poster

The festival, which also featured food trucks and some merchandise stands, was organized by the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, a New Jersey nonprofit community organization that provides support to individuals and families struggling from addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. All festival proceeds went to the group; in fact, over the course of the afternoon and evening, they raised more than $10,000 to support their programs! So it really was all about combining great music and a great cause – what’s not to love about it?

Following I’d like to highlight four of the above bands. In June, I already posted about the Glimmer Twins, an excellent Rolling Stones tribute, which is why I’m not including them here.

Decade

This New Jersey band primarily pays tribute to Neil Young. According to their Facebook page, the group includes John Hathaway (lead vocals, 6 and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, harmonica), Joey Herr (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Hathaway, whose voice sounds remarkably similar to Young and who also has some visual resemblance, has studied his idol for the last 30 years.

Decade

“The guitar work and vocals have to be dead on or we will be dismissed as just another bunch of hacks,” Hathaway notes on the band’s Facebook page. “I want people to leave thinking they just saw the best thing next to Neil Young in person.” To this he could have added the reenactment of typical Young postures during live performances.

In addition to recreating Young’s music, Decade also plays select songs from other ’70s bands, such as America, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Eagles and The Allman Brothers. Yesterday was all focused on Young, more specifically his rock side – I assume in part because of time constraints. Some of the tunes they played included Like A Hurricane, The Loner, Ohio, Southern Men and Cinnamon Girl. To paraphrase the maestro, I was getting blown away! Here’s a clip of Decade I could find on YouTube.

Hotel California

Hotel California is an outstanding Eagles tribute band from Toronto, Canada. According to their website, they have done this for almost three decades and it definitely shows – the harmonies, the music, it’s all spot on! The current lineup includes Andy Lapointe (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Dean Young (drums, vocals) and Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals).

Hotel California

The 60-minute set was packed with Eagles gems, such as One Of These Nights, Take It Easy, In The Long Run and, of course, Hotel California including the epic double lead guitar solo. They also threw in a couple of solo tunes from Joe Walsh (Rocky Mountain Way) and Don Henley (Dirty Laundry). The following statement from the band’s website nicely sums it up: “If you love the Eagles, then welcome to the Hotel California – you’ve just found the next best thing.” Think it’s an exaggeration? Take a look at this highlights reel. This is how they sounded yesterday as well.

TUSK

Hailing from Hunterdon County, N.J., TUSK is another true tribute labor of love. Similar to Hotel California and Decade, these guys have been faithfully capturing the music of Fleetwood Mac for a long time. According to the band’s website, their five members “have been making music together in various combinations and styles, from complete originals to covers, for over 30 years themselves.” TUSK is comprised of Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie Nicks, Kim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVie, Scott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood.

Tusk

In just over an hour, the band managed to play 10 Fleetwood Mac classics like The Chain, Rhiannon, Go Your Own Way and Don’t Stop, as well as Steve Nicks’ Seventeen. I have to say, their execution was pretty impressive, especially the harmonies, making TUSK one of the festival’s standouts. Again, a picture, or I should better say a clip, is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Echoes

Echoes, “the American Pink Floyd,” is a tribute band that according to their Facebook page is from Delaware and was founded in 1991. While recreating Pink Floyd’s music must be an ambitious undertaking, to say the least, I have to say it upfront: These guys did an amazing job! The band’s current lineup includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals).

Echoes.jpg

The close to 90-minute set featured Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Welcome To The Machine, Pigs (Three Different Ones) and what I thought was an interesting, less obvious choice I had to look up, since I didn’t recall the song’s title: Keep Talking, from The Division Bell album. But the highlight of the set was a performance of the entire Dark Side of the Moon, from the first note to the last.

While everybody on that stage was shining, the true standout moment came when backing vocalist Hover launched into the wordless vocal part of The Great Gig In the Sky, sung on the original by Clare Torry. Hover’s rendition of the part literally sent shivers down my spine, and I clearly wasn’t the only audience member who was wowed. Here’s a nice highlights reel from the band’s website.

Sources: Decade Facebook page, Hotel California website, TUSK website, Echoes Facebook page and website, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 22

1967: The Pink Floyd, as they called themselves then, played The Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen, Scotland. At the time, the band was still led by Syd Barrett (lead guitar, vocals). The other members included Roger Waters (bass, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums). Famous for its dance floors, The Beach Ballroom also attracted other famous acts, such as The Beatles, Cream and The Who. While I was able to confirm the date of the performance, I could not find the set list. But given the concert happened only a few months after the band had recorded their studio debut The Piper At the Gates of the Dawn, it’s safe to assume tunes like Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Bike and Arnold Lane were part of the set. Here is a clip of Astronomy Domine, apparently captured in May 1967 on the BBC’s broadcast Look of the Week – the closest I could find.

1969: During a studio session for The Beatles’ Abbey Road, John Lennon recorded his lead vocals for Come Together. Paul McCartney did an overdub of the electric piano. Electric guitar and maracas were also overdubbed. In addition, McCartney made his next to last attempt to record the lead vocals for Oh! Darling. The final take was captured during the next day’s session, the culmination of a week-long effort. McCartney wanted his voice to sound as if he had performed the song on stage all week.

The Beatles_Abbey Road

1973: David Bowie released Life On Mars as a single, backed by The Man Who Sold the World. Both tunes were written by Bowie. Life On Mars initially appeared on his fourth studio album Honky Dory, which was released in Dec 1971. The Man Who Sold the World was the title song of Bowie’s third studio release in November 1970. Life On Mars became one of his biggest hits, climbing to no. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and charting for 13 weeks. It was one of many songs that reflected Bowie’s fascination with space. Examples of other space tunes he wrote include Space Oddity, Moonage Daydream, Starman, Hallo Spaceboy and Dancing Out In Space.

1977: My Aim Is True, the debut album from English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, was released in the U.K. According to the liner notes, “My Aim Is True was recorded at Pathway Studios, Islington in a total of Twenty four hours studio time and at a cost of 2000 pounds. As I still had my “day-job” these sessions had to take place on “sick days” and holidays during late 1976 and early 1977. The musicians were members of the Marin county band Clover, who could not be credited at the time due to contractual reasons.” My Aim Is True was the first of five Costello albums in a row that were produced by Nick Lowe. The record received many accolades. In 1997, Rolling Stone named it as one of the best albums of the year and in 2004 also ranked it at no. 168 in its 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list. Pitchfork ranked Costello’s debut at no. 37 of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2007, the album was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Here’s a clip of the record’s fourth single Watching the Detectives.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Setlist.fm; Wikipedia; Billboard; http://www.elviscostello.info: My Aim Is True (1993) Liner Notes; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 6

1957: John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. Lennon’s skiffle band The Quarrymen performed at a garden party at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. While the band was setting up for their gig, Ivan Vaughan, who occasionally played with them on tea-chest bass, introduced his school classmate 15-year-old McCartney to Lennon (16 years). They hit it off right away. McCartney showed Lennon how to tune a guitar and sang a few songs, including Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and a medley of Little Richard songs. A few weeks later McCartney joined The Quarrymen and the rest is history.

The Quarrymen

1963: Live at the Apollo by James Brown and The Flames peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Albums chart. Altogether, the amazing live album remained in the chart for 66 weeks. After the record company’s had refused to fund the recording, Brown paid for it himself. In 2012, the record was ranked no. 25 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The accompanying write-up called it “Perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded.”

1967: Pink Floyd appeared for the first time on the BBC music show Top of the Pops. They performed See Emily Play, their second single. Written by Syd Barrett, the song was also included in the band’s U.S. edition of their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. See Emily Play climbed to no. 6 in the U.K. Singles Chart. The tune is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock. It’s one of three Pink Floyd songs in the list, which includes artists alphabetically and does not rank songs. The other two are Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and Money.

1972: In another appearance on Top of the Pops, David Bowie presented his new single Starman. Written by Bowie, the song reached no. 10 on the U.K. Singles Chart. It was also included on his fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Sources: The Beatles Bible; This Day in Music.com; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: 500 Songs that Shaped Rock; Wikipedia; YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass that Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied on flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady on German TV music broadcast Rockpalast.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube