The Who Remain A Formidable Rock Force On New Album

“Although it’s been 13 years since their last LP and more than half a century since they formed, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey still know who they are” (Rolling Stone). “While Who is an album brimming with experience, emotion and ideas, it’s ultimately aimed at the fans who have always stuck with them, through thick and thin. Their best since Quadrophenia, then. Just don’t leave it so long next time, eh?” (UNCUT). “Whether Roger Daltrey is bellowing through anti-war flamenco or slagging off copycat bands, The Who have lost none of their vim and vigour. Just don’t mention Brexit.” (NME).

On Friday, The Who released WHO, their widely anticipated new studio album. From what I have seen, it has received mostly positive reviews. While I oftentimes feel music critics are desperately trying to be clever in an effort to say something memorable, I have no problem citing reviews I happen to agree with! The Who are among my favorite ’60s rock bands, so I realize there’s no way I can be completely unbiased here. After having listened to WHO various times, I have to agree with NME there is plenty of vim and vigour on this album.

The Who have now existed for some 55 years, which is incredible in and of itself. Okay, there were some breaks in-between when Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey worked on solo projects. And, yes, it is fair to say the band hasn’t been 100 percent the same since the untimely death of Keith Moon in September 1978 at age 32 – not to mention The Ox John Entwistle who passed away in June 2002. Still, The Who’s longevity is truly remarkable. Think about it, how many bands other than The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys can you name that have lasted for more than half a century?

Here’s another remarkable aspect: WHO is only the 12th studio album by The Who, and their first since Endless Wire, which came out in October 2006 – a whopping 13 years ago! And the preceding record It’s Hard dates back all the way to June 1982. That’s the one with Eminence Front, one of my favorite tunes from the band’s later-stage career – actually, from today’s perspective, it’s not even their midstage if you base it on the number of years the band has been in existence!

Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey

Back to WHO. There are various tracks on the album showing Pete Townshend still knows how to write great music. But what really stands out to me is Roger Daltrey’s singing. At age 75, he still is a formidable vocalist. “It’s a feat made all the more incredible given his brush with the Grim Reaper in 2015 following a bout of viral meningitis,” UNCUT’s above review rightly points out – and, as USA Today reported, after recurring laser surgeries Daltrey apparently needs to undergo to remove precancerous cells from his throat.

And let’s not forget about the fine backing musicians, including long-time drummer Zak Starkey, bassist Pino Palladino and keyboarder Benmont Tench. There are also Gordon Giltrap (acoustic guitar) and Gus Seyffert, who plays bass on three tracks, as well as various additional drummers: Carla Azar, Matt Chamberlain, and Joey Waronker. Last but not least, Pete’s younger brother Simon Townshend, who is also part of the band’s touring line-up, contributed one of the songs: Break The News. All other tracks except for one were written by Pete. Time for some music!

The album kicks off with three great tunes, which so far are my favorite tracks: All This Music Must Fade, Ball And Chain and I Don’t Wanna Get Wise. In addition to the music, some of the lyrics stand out as punchy. On the opener, Daltrey sings, I don’t care, I know you gonna hate this song, and that’s fair, we never really got along/It’s not new, not diverse/It won’t light up your parade/It’s just simple verse…Townshend ends the tune with the words, Yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine/And what’s mine is mine, and what’s mine is yours/Who gives a fuck?

Or take Ball And Chain, a re-recording of a Townshend solo track that initially was called Guantanamo and appeared on his 2015 compilation album Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend: …Down in Guantanamo/We still got the ball and chain/There’s a long road to travel/For justice to make its crane/Let’s bring down the gavel/Let the prisoner say his name

And here’s I Don’t Wanna Get Wise and yet another lyrics excerpt, which may be an eye-opener to some folks: …That the crap that we did/Brought us money, God bless/And those snotty young kids/Were a standing success/ Helped us conquer and rise/And we learned in this hell/We didn’t wanna get wise/(I don’t wanna get wise/I don’t wanna get wise)/Life teaches us well

While I’ll Be Back, one of the quieter songs on the album, may not be among the best tunes, it proves that Townshend still has a decent voice – and that Daltrey is a credible harmonica player.

The last track I’d like to highlight is another standout: Rockin’ In Rage, which has a bit of theatrical/musical vibe to it. Daltrey is on fire here vocally, while Townshend throws in some nice rock guitar chops.

“I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973,” said Daltrey in a statement. “Pete hasn’t lost it, he’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge”. While Quadrophenia dates back a mighty 46 years, that statement rings true to me.

Added Townshend: “There is no theme, no concept, no story, just a set of songs that I (and my brother Simon) wrote to give Roger Daltrey some inspiration, challenges and scope for his newly revived singing voice. Roger and I are both old men now, by any measure, so I’ve tried to stay away from romance, but also from nostalgia if I can.”

Without meaning to be Debbie Downer here, unless Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey rapidly accelerate their rate of releasing new records, it’s safe to assume WHO is the band’s final album. Well, if it is, I think they are going out on a high note!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; UNCUT; NME; USA Today; The Who website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Who/All This Music Will Fade

Recently, I came across the above great new tune by The Who, a single from their upcoming new album ingeniously titled WHO. Set for release on December 6, it is their 12th studio record and their first with new material in 13 years since Endless Wire from October 2006.

As frequent visitors of the blog know, I dig ’60s rock from England, and The Who are among my favorite bands. I just find it amazing Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are still recording new music, not to mention touring. Daltrey’s voice continues to sound great, and Townshend still knows how to write catchy tunes and windmill like a mad man.

According to The Who’s website, All This Music Will Fade debuted on October 3rd on the  BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Townshend describes the track as ‘A song which is dedicated to every artist who has ever been accused of ripping off someone else’s song. Seriously? Our musical palette is limited enough in the 21st Century without some dork claiming to have invented a common chord scheme’.

Fair enough. But then don’t do the Led Zeppelin thing to take and not acknowledge. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zep. I just think it’s silly to take somebody else’s work and pretend you didn’t know!

The Who_WHO

As for WHO, Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend are joined by formidable musicians. The line-up includes their long-time drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, and bassist extraordinaire Pino Palladino. There are also contributions from Simon Townshend, Pete’s younger brother, as well as Benmont Tench, drummers Carla Azar and Joey Waronker, bass player Gus Seyffert and guitarist Gordon Giltrap.

“I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973,” Daltrey confidently stated. “Pete hasn’t lost it, he’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge.”

There is also already a second song out, Ball And Chain, which I like as well. Both are available on YouTube and music streaming platforms. I certainly look forward to hearing the remainder of the album.

Sources: The Who website; YouTube

Celebrating James Jamerson

Uncredited on countless Motown songs, Jamerson was one of the most influential bass guitar players in modern music history

If you had asked me as recently as a few weeks ago to name influential bass players in pop and rock, I might have mentioned Paul McCartney, John EntwistleJack Bruce and John Paul Jones. Then I read that McCartney, one of my all-time favorite artists, noted  James Jamerson and Brian Wilson as key influences for his bass playing. Admittedly, that was the first time I had heard about Jamerson.

While given my history as a hobby bassist I’m a bit embarrassed about my ignorance regarding Jamerson, I can point to one key difference between him and the other aforementioned bassists. Unlike them, Jamerson was kind of invisible for a long time – literally. While he played on countless Motown recordings in the ’60s and early ’70s, usually, he wasn’t credited, at least at the time. That’s even more unbelievable once you realize how revered this man was among other professional bass players.

According to Bass Player magazine, which named Jamerson no. 1 on its 2017 list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, “The most important and influential bass guitarist in the 66-year history of the Fender Precision he played, South Carolina-born, Detroit-raised James Jamerson wrote the bible on bass line construction and development, feel, syncopation, tone, touch, and phrasing, while raising the artistry of improvised bass playing in popular music to zenith levels.” In addition to McCartney, many other prominent bassists have pointed to Jamerson as a primary influence, including Jones, Enwistle, Wilson, Randy Meisner, Bill Wyman, Chuck RaineyGeddy Lee and Pino Palladino, to name some.

Jamerson was born on January 29, 1936 on Edisto Island near Charleston, S.C. In 1954, he moved to Detroit with his mother. Soon, while still being in high school, he began playing in local blues and jazz clubs. After graduation, Jamerson started getting session engagements in local recording studios. In 1959, he found a steady job as a studio bassist at Motown where became part of The Funk Brothers, essentially the equivalent of Stax  houseband Booker T. & the M.G.s, except it was a much larger and more fluid group of musicians.

James Jamerson 2

During his earliest Motown sessions, Jamerson used a double bass. In the early ’60s, he switched to an electric Fender Precision Bass most of the time. Like him, most of The Funk Brothers originally were jazz musicians who had been hired by Motown founder Berry Gordy to back the label’s recording artists in the studio. For many years, the members of The Funk Brothers would do session work at the Motown studio during the day and play in local jazz clubs at night. Occasionally, they also backed Motown’s stars during tours.

Not only did the musicians make substantially less money than the label’s main artists, but they also did not receive any recording credits for most of their careers. It wasn’t until 1971 that Jamerson was acknowledged on a major Motown release: Somewhat ironically, that album was Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Eventually, Motown put Jamerson on a weekly retainer of $1,000 (about $7,200 in 2018 dollars), which enabled him and his family to live comfortably. In 1973, Jamerson ended his relationship with Motown, which had since been relocated to Los Angeles. For the remainder of the ’70s, he worked with artists like Eddie Kendricks, Robert Palmer, Dennis Wilson, Smokey Robinson and Ben E. King.

But Jamerson did not embrace certain trends in bass playing that emerged during the ’70s, such as simpler and more repetitive bass lines and techniques like slapping. As a result, he fell out of favor with many producers, and by the 1980s, sadly, he essentially could not get any serious session work. Eventually, Jamerson’s long history with alcoholism caught up with him, and he died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and pneumonia on August 2, 1983. He was only 47 years old. Time for some music featuring this amazing musician!

I’d like to kick things off with an early recording that did not appear on Motown: Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker. Written by him, it became one of his signature tunes. According to Wikipedia, apparently it was Detroit pianist Joe Hunter, who brought in Jamerson and some other members from The Funk Brothers to the recording session.

Here’s one of the many Motown tunes on which Jamerson performed: For Once In My Life, the title track of Stevie Wonder’s album from December 1968. The song was co-written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden.

Next up: The aforementioned What’s Going On, which I think is one of the most soulful Marvin Gaye songs. The title track of his 11th studio album released in May 1971 was co-written by Gaye, Motown songwriter Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson, a founding member of The Four Tops.

I also like to touch on a couple of songs after Jamerson had parted with Motown. Here is Boogie Down by Eddie Kendricks, another title track. The fourth studio album by the former vocalist of The Temptations appeared in February 1973. The groovy tune was co-written by Anita Poree, Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston.

For the last track let’s jump to November 1975 when Robert Palmer released his second studio album Pressure Drop. Here’s the great opener Give Me An Inch, which was also written by Palmer.

James Jamerson received numerous accolades after his death. In 2000, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the first inductees to be honored in the “sideman” category. In 2004, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as part of The Funk Brothers. Along with the other members of the group, Jamerson was also inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. in 2007.

I’d like to close with Paul McCartney, who during a 1994 interview with bass book author Tony Bacon said: “Mainly as time went on it was Motown, James Jamerson—who became just my hero, really. I didn’t actually know his name until quite recently. James was very melodic, and that got me more interested.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Bass Player magazine, Reverb.com, YouTube

In Appreciation of the Bass Player

While not always being fully appreciated, the bass player is an essential member of any rock band

Oftentimes, when people think about rock bands, the bass player is not the member that comes to mind first. Especially, for guitar-oriented rock, it’s usually the singer and especially the lead guitarist who get most if not all of the attention – after all, the lead guitarist is the guy who gets to play the cool solos. But while typically being less in the limelight, the bass player actually is an essential part of any rock band!

As a former hobby bass player, I’m of course completely unbiased here. But let’s face it, what would music be without a great groove? And that’s exactly where the bass player comes in, together with the drummer. These two guys form the core rhythm section of any rock band, and they better are on the same page!

Okay, so after having reiterated the importance of the bass player, now on to the fun part: yet another list, specifically of great bass players. There are actually many who come to mind. Undoubtedly, I don’t know all of them – not even close! But with a little help from Bass Player Magazine, the task becomes less daunting. So let’s get to it, in no particular order:

Paul McCartney

Of course, I have to start with somebody who is associated with The Beatles – I just can’t help it! McCartney is not a technical virtuoso, which I recall he has admitted himself in interviews. The thing that’s great about McCartney is not technique, but his beautiful melodic style. As The Beatles became more sophisticated in using recording technology in the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded the bass part as one of the last tracks of the song. That way, he could hear the other instrumental parts and truly add to the music with a nice bass melody. While Rubber Soul only represents The Beatles’ early transition to more advanced studio work, McCartney’s bass part on Drive My Car is among my favorites.

John Entwistle

In some regards, John Entwistle to me falls on the other end of the spectrum when compared to McCartney. While according to Bass Player Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All TimeEntwistle did not consider himself to be a “proper” bass player, his virtuosity was off the charts – and he played all his crazy parts in such a cool and relaxed manner! I was fortunate enough to witness this myself during a great show of The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000, less than two years prior to Entwistle’s untimely death at age 57 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Perhaps, the ultimate Entwistle part is his epic solo in My Generation.

Roger Glover

Together with drummer Ian Paice, Roger Glover forms the kick-ass rhythm section of Deep Purple. My favorite Glover part is the terrific bass solo in Pictures of Home, one of the great tunes on Machine Head; if I would have to choose one 70s hard rock album, I think it would be this record. Undoubtedly, there were other important bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but to me it’s still Deep Purple. I’m actually going to see them for the first time ever at the end of August. Three of the legendary Mark IV members, Paice, Glover and singer Ian Gillan, are still part of the mix! Glover’s solo, BTW, starts at 3:40 minutes.

Graham Maby

Graham Maby is best known for his association with Joe Jackson with whom he has worked since Jackson’s 1979 studio debut Look Sharp! One of my favorite Maby moments is his bass part on Geraldine and John, from I’m the Man, Jackson’s best album in my opinion. It’s another great example of melodic bass playing, though Maby also plays hard-pumping, punk rock-oriented bass parts on that album. I just dig the man’s sound!

Tal Wilkenfeld

This 30-year-old lady from down under simply is an amazing overachiever. Tal Wilkenfeld has worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Prince, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock – oh, and this band called The Allman Brothers. In addition, this Australian dynamo is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who fronts her own band. Is there anything she can’t do? While in 2008 Wilkenfeld was voted The Year’s Most Exciting New Player in a poll of readers of Bass Player and was also recognized by the publication in 2013 with the Young Gun Award, surprisingly, she’s not on their 100 Greatest Bass Player list – definitely an oversight! Just watch this amazing clip of Wilkenfeld with Beck and you know why. BTW, she was 20 years at the time!

Sting

Apart from being a songwriter and talented acoustic guitarist, Sting is also a great bassist. Bass Player credits him for bringing reggae influences into rock when he was still with The Police, citing tunes like Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You. One of my favorite Sting bass parts from his time with The Police is in Spirits In the Material World, from the band’s fourth studio album Ghost in the Machine, released in 1981.

Pino Palladino

To me, this exceptional session bassist will always remain synonymous with the fretless bass. And perhaps no other tune captures this better than Paul Young’s cover of the beautiful Marvin Gaye tune Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – ah, the 80s are coming back to me! For the record, at the time, I owned a fretless in addition to a regular bass, but whatever I tried, I just could never create that distinct fretless sound – not even close!

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce is considered to be one of the greatest rock bassists. When he passed away in October 2014 at the age of 71, there were countless tributes from fellow music artists. According to Rolling Stone, former Cream band mate Eric Clapton said, “he was a great musician and composer, and a tremendous inspiration to me.” The same story also recalled Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters saying in his 100 Greatest Artists tribute to Cream that Bruce was “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.” While Bruce had a serious career prior to and post Cream, he will probably always best be remembered as the singer and bassist of the rock supergroup power trio, who also co-wrote some of their best known songs like I Feel FreeSunshine of Your Love and White Room. Here’s a nice clip of Sunshine of Your Love from Cream’s 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Geddy Lee

Just like Cream, Canadian rock legends Rush are a power trio. And just like Jack Bruce was, Geddy Lee is Rush’s singer and bassist. In addition to a remarkable vocal range, Lee oftentimes uses his bass as a lead instrument. His signature style is characterized by high treble sound and furiously hard playing of the strings. Bass Player also notes his “multi-tasking chops: His ability to trigger samples, play keys, step on bass pedals, and sing vocal parts in odd time signatures while nailing Rush’s complex yet catchy bass lines…” Here’s a nice illustration of Lee’s playing – a live performance of the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone, which first appeared on Rush’s 1993 studio album Counterparts.

Stephen Oliver Jones

Who? Stephen Oliver Jones (Ojay) currently does not play in any famous band, but maybe he should. Also known as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass, he used to be a professional musician. Now it appears he’s a street musician and a YouTube sensation. During a 2015 interview with the Draper on Film blog, Jones explained he is self-taught and used to play in a rap rock band called Dust Junkys from Manchester, England. The following YouTube clip, which has more than 1.6 million views, showcases Jones’ incredible talent. When I first saw it on Facebook, I was blown away. And since this hasn’t changed, it was an easy decision to include Ojay in this list. He is going full-blown Hendrix at 2:48 minutes – unreal!

Sources: Bass Player Magazine: The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time (Feb 2017); Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Draper on Film, YouTube