Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pix & Clips: Brit Floyd At Red Rocks

Alerted by a post on Facebook, I just bought a ticket to see Brit Floyd, an incredibly well sounding Pink Floyd tribute band, at the end of March at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa. The above clip, which clearly looks like a professional production, captures an entire Brit Floyd gig from August 2013 at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Other than the amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy, there’s hardly a cooler venue I can think of to enjoy Pink Floyd music!

Based on their Facebook page, Brit Floyd hail from Liverpool, England, where they were founded in January 2011. The band’s mighty line-up includes Damian Darlington (guitar, vocals, musical director), Tom Ashbrook (keyboards), Arran Ahmun (drums), Ola Bienkowska (vocals), Ian Cattell  (bass, vocals), Angela Cervantes (vocals), Jay Davidson (saxophones, guitars, percussion, keyboards), Roberta Freeman (vocals), Emily Jollands (vocals), Karl Penney (drums), Edo Scordo  (guitar, vocals),  Amy Smith (vocals), Rob Stringer (keyboards, vocals) and Jacquie Williams (vocals). That’s 14 people – perhaps they should have called themselves “Brit Floyd Orchestra”! 

I surely will have more to say about this impressive band once I’ve seen them myself.

Sources: Facebook, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Church/ Starfish

Australian rock band’s 1988 breakthrough remains great-sounding album to this day

Like I suspect most folks living outside of Australia, I first heard about The Church in the late 1980s when they released Under The Milky Way. The tune’s spacey sound created by combining a 12-string acoustic with an electric guitar and keyboards in the background proofed to be an immediate attraction and made me buy the album Starfish on CD, even though I didn’t know any of the other tracks. Clearly, this was in the pre-streaming age where somebody like me who wasn’t much into singles had to buy entire albums to own certain songs.

Released in February 1988, Starfish was the Australian rock band’s international breakthrough, fueled by Under The Milky Way, the lead single that got plenty of radio play in Germany. While the lyrics of this and the other tracks on Starfish are rather dark and psychedelic, the combination of great sound and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey’s distinct voice make for an album that continues to be seductive to this day. I can’t necessarily say this about many other ’80s records.

the church 1988

The Church in 1988

The Church were formed in Sydney, Australia in March 1980. The founding members included singer, songwriter and bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. Marty Wilson-Piper joined one month later as the band’s second guitarist. Later that year, The Church signed with EMI-Parlophone and recorded their debut Of Skins And Heart. It was released in Australia in April 1981 and internationally the following January as The Church with a slightly altered track listing.

Starfish was the band’s fifth studio record. By then Richard Ploog had taken over on drums for Nick Ward, who had left in early 1981. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by session musicians and producers Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi. At the time, Wachtel who more recently played in Keith Richard’s backing band X-Pensive Winos, already had worked with other heavy weights, such as Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt. Ladanyi had an impressive credits as well, including production work with the likes of Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Don Henley. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the album’s great opener Destination. The tune, which also came out separately as the record’s third single in July 1988, was credited to all four members of The Church.

Next is the aforementioned Under The Milky Way. How could I possibly skip it? The song was co-written by Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow).

According to the record’s description on Apple Music, the lyrics for North, South, East And West reflect Kilbey’s dark impressions about Los Angeles in the ’80s. Here’s an excerpt:  War’s being waged and the world’s just a stage (in this city)/The real estate’s prime, the number plates rhyme (liquidity)/Wear a gun and be proud, but bare breasts aren’t allowed (in this city)/ Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams (liquidity)…The tune was credited to all members of the band.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Spark. The song was written by guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper who also sang lead.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Reptile. Credited to all four band members, the song also was released separately as the album’s second single in April 1988. Another track featuring great interplay between the two guitars, it sounds a bit like combining a Byrdsy jingle-jangle with a U2/The Edge-like guitar sound.

Since Starfish, The Church have recorded 12 additional studio albums to date, the latest of which, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, appeared in October 2017. I previously reviewed it hereStarfish remains the band’s most successful commercial release to this day. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1992 and has sold 600,000 copies in the U.S. only.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Pink Floyd

A long overdue tribute to one of my longtime favorite bands

Pink Floyd is one of my earliest music experiences dating back to the mid ’70s when I was nine or 10 years old and still living in Germany. It all started with Wish You Here, another record my sister had on vinyl – and yet another example where she introduced me, probably largely unconsciously, to music I still dig to this day. I’ve said it before and like to say it again: Thanks, sis, love you!

While I’ve mentioned Pink Floyd numerous times since I’ve started this blog more than two years ago, and I’ve written about Govt’ Mule’s great Dark Side of the Mule show and a fantastic Floyd tribute band called Echoes, I haven’t dedicated a post to the actual band – well, I suppose better late than never! Before getting to the music, I’d be amiss not to provide some background on the British rock band. Obviously, Pink Floyd’s history has been told many times, so if you know it already, just skip it and go right to the clips, and maybe grab some headphones – there’s plenty of great music here!

Pink Floyd emerged from a band called The Tea Set in London in 1965. After noticing there was another music outfit with the same name, guitarist and lead vocalist Syd Barrett came up with the idea to combine the first names of two blues musicians who were part of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Sounds pretty arbitrary to me, but the result sure as keck was a cool-sounding band name! Initially, they performed as The Pink Floyd Sound and also included Richard (Rick) Wright (keyboards), Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums).

Pink Floyd Jan 1968
Pink Floyd in January 1968 (clockwise from the bottom): David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, Roger Waters & Rick Wright

By 1966, the band was starting to get paid gigs, mainly playing R&B standards. They dropped “Sound” from their name at the recommendation of Peter Jenner who together with his friend Andrew King had taken over the band’s management earlier that year. Gradually, The Pink Floyd’s set featured more original compositions by Syd Barrett, the band’s first artistic leader. In early 1967, The Pink Floyd signed with EMI and recorded their debut single Arnold Layne.

By the time Floyd released their first studio album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in August 1967, they had dropped “The” from their name to become Pink Floyd. Barrett had developed a serious LSD habit and, according to Mason, “became completely distanced from everything going on.” Barrett’s behavior on stage became increasingly erratic, forcing a premature end of Pink Floyd’s U.S. tour in November 1967. The following month, guitarist David Gilmour became the band’s fifth member. Essentially, the idea was that he would play the guitar parts of Barrett who would continue to write music for the band.

Pink Floyd_Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn
Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, August 1967

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and Barrett left in March 1968. The line-up that eventually would transform Pink Floyd to international super-stardom was in place! Waters effectively took over the band’s artistic direction for the next 15-plus years. During that period, they recorded ten additional albums, including two of the best-selling records of all time: The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979). By the time of the latter, Pink Floyd essentially had become a Roger Waters project. This created tension among the members and led to departures.

The first to leave was Rick Wright in the wake of the 1980-1981 tour that supported The Wall. Eventually, Waters called it quits himself in 1985 and declared Pink Floyd was “a spent force creatively.” He then engaged in a legal battle with Gilmour and Mason over the next few years, trying to prevent them from continuing to use the Pink Floyd name. While things were settled long before then, it took Waters until 2013 to publicly admit he had been wrong about the lawsuit and to regret his ill-guided actions.

Pink Floyd At Live 8
Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8 (from left): David Gilmor, Roger Waters, Nick Mason & Richard Wright

Wright returned as a session musician for A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987), Pink Floyd’s first album in the post-Waters era. The band continued to tour and recorded one additional album during Wright’s lifetime, The Division Bell (1994). On July 2, 2005, Gilmour, Mason and Wright reunited one last time with Waters and performed as Pink Floyd at the Live 8 benefit concert in London.

On July 6, 2007, Syd Barrett died at the age of 60 after he had largely lived in seclusion for more than 35 years. Rick Wright passed away from cancer on September 15, 2008. He was 65 years old. In 2012, Gilmour and Mason decided to create one final Pink Floyd album, based on music that had been recorded with Wright during studio sessions for The Division Bell. Called The Endless River, the mostly instrumental record was released in November 2014. Now let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Arnold Layne, one of my favorite early songs The Pink Floyd released as their debut single in March 1967. Like pretty much all of the band’s original music during the Syd Barrett phase, the tune was written by the guitarist and lead vocalist.

Bike from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in August 1967, is another Barrett composition. It’s both a bit weird and catchy at the same time. Two of the cool features I like are the sound collage toward the end, which resembles the turning gears of a bike, as well as the duck or geese-like sounding screams thereafter. According to Wikipedia, they were created with a tape loop of the band members laughing, played backwards and at double speed. Obviously, The Beatles weren’t the only band that effectively had started leveraging studio technology to their advantage during the second half of the ’60s.

In June 1968, Pink Floyd released their sophomore album A Saucerful Of Secrets. The early recording sessions still included Syd Barrett whose behavior and ability to perform had increasingly become less predictable. One of the tracks, for which he provided slide and acoustics guitars and background vocals is Remember A Day, a great composition by Rick Wright who also sang lead vocals, a rarity.

Next up is what over the years has become my favorite Pink Floyd track: The mighty  Echoes from the band’s sixth studio album Meddle that appeared in October 1971. Credited to all four members of the band and clocking in at more than 23 minutes, the epic tune comprises the entire second side of the vinyl LP. I realize only a hard core fan may listen to the entire clip, but that’s fine with me. I simply couldn’t leave out this one!

In March 1973, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon. With estimated worldwide sales of more than 45 million units, Floyd’s eighth studio album became their most commercially successful record. Here is The Great Gig In The Sky featuring the amazing vocals of Clare Torry, who is co-credited for the tune together with Rick Wright. This track still gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. BTW, as I wrote this, it happened to be on the radio as part of Q104.3’s countdown of the 1,043 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time. While one can argue endlessly why certain songs make the list and their ranking positions, it’s a fun listening experience. I’ve written about the radio station’s annual tradition for the Thanksgiving holiday before, most recently here. BTW, The Great Gig In The Sky came in at no. 829 – way, way, way too low!😀

Have A Cigar was Roger Waters’ biting critique of hypocrisy and greed in the music industry. It appeared on Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album, the above mentioned Wish You Were Here from September 1975. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics: I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere/The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think/Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink? The lead vocals were provided by English folk rock singer Roy Harper, making it the only Floyd tune besides The Great Gig In The Sky that wasn’t sung by one of their members.

In January 1977, Pink Floyd’s tenth studio album Animals appeared. Loosely based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the concept album criticizes the social and political conditions in the U.K. at the time – two years before the leader of the Conservative Party Margaret Thatcher would become Prime Minister and a favorite target of Roger Waters. Here’s one of my favorite tracks from that album, Sheep, which like most tunes was solely written by Waters.

Perhaps the Pink Floyd song with the most epic guitar solo is Comfortably Numb, which was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. It appeared on the band’s 11th studio album The Wall, which came out in November 1979.

In September 1987, Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, their first record of the post-Waters area. Initially, David Gilmour set out to make it his third solo album, but things changed along the way. The record featured Nick Mason and Rick Wright, who was among the many guest musicians. Wright would later return to the band as a full member. Here’s the album’s closer Sorrow, which was written by Gilmour.

The last song I’d like to highlight is called High Hopes from Pink Floyd’s 14th studio album The Division Bell. Released in March 1994, it was the band’s final record issued during the lifetime of Rick Wright. He had an active role in writing much of the music with David Gilmour, while Gilmor’s  fiancée and novellist Polly Samson co-wrote many of the lyrics. High Hopes was credited to Gilmour and Samson.

Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. They also made the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. As of 2013, they had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, not only making them one of the most influential but also one of the most commercially successful bands of all time. While I don’t believe we will see another reincarnation of Pink Floyd, I’ve not doubt I’ll continue to enjoy their music, hopefully for many more years to come.

To those who celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Thanksgiving Is Coming Up…And An Annual Rock & Roll Marathon

Will Stairway To Heaven finally be toppled from the no. 1 spot it has held for 17 straight years on Q104.3’s Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time?

When hearing Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume most folks think of family, friends, turkey and other feasts. To many it also involves travel to spend time together with their loved ones. While there’s nothing wrong with all of that, to me the upcoming holiday first and foremost means it’s time again for classic rock radio station Q104.3’s annual tradition to play the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time, as voted by listeners. I suppose the fact that I care of much about this rock & roll marathon indicates I can be quite nerdy. But when it comes to music, that’s just fine with me!

Playing 1,043 rock songs means many hours of great rock music. And, yes, each is fully played, even Pink Floyd’s epic 23-minute Echoes! In order to accommodate all that music, Q104.3 needs to start the countdown the day before Thanksgiving at 1:00 pm ET and go all the way to Sunday evening – a fantastic listening experience for any rock fan! It’s also a nice break from the 50 or so songs they tend to play all the time – just like most other radio stations do!

Collage

One of the things I find remarkable about the list, which is compiled for the 18th time this year and presented in a countdown from no. 1,043 to no. 1,  is that for the past 17 years, Stairway to Heaven has consistently captured the no. 1 spot. While I dig Led Zeppelin and, if given only one choice, may even select the tune myself as the greatest rock song ever, the reality is there are so many other outstanding classic rock tunes. As such, I feel it’s time to shake up the list! While I doubt there will be many changes in the top 10, following are my selections I submitted earlier this morning.

1. Sunshine Of Your LoveCream (78)

2. Purple HazeJimi Hendrix Experience (80)

3. LaylaDerek & The Dominoes (4)

4. TushZZ Top (865)

5. Stairway To HeavenLed Zeppelin (1)

6. While My Guitar Gently WeepsThe Beatles (29)

7. RefugeeTom Petty and the Heartbreakers (110)

8. Dead FlowersThe Rolling Stones (547)

9. SoulshineThe Allman Brothers Band (-)

10. EchoesPink Floyd (311)

The numbers in parentheses indicate the ranks of the songs in last year’s countdown. One, Soulshine by The Allman Brothers Band, didn’t make the cut – I told ya, I’m a music nerd! In case you’d like to join the fun, you can enter your submissions here. Happy voting and happy listening!

Sources: Q104.3 website

Bringing The Great Gig In The Sky To Earth And Back To The Dark Side Of The Moon

Mighty echoes of Pink Floyd blow roof off Asbury Park’s Stone Pony

My Pink Floyd journey started in circa 1976 when I first listened to Wish You Were Here, yet another gem in my older sister’s vinyl record collection at the time. Whether she did so consciously or not, once again I realize I owe her a debt of gratitude for introducing me to various great artists I continue to dig to this day, more than 40 years later.

When it comes to Pink Floyd, I suppose the closest original live experience you can get these days is Roger Waters whose Us + Them tour is set to hit South America and Mexico in October. We may also be able to look forward to more gigs from David Gilmour but the outlook is still unclear. When discussing his Live At Pompeii album in September 2017, he said he’d be very uncomfortable to do another tour without new material, adding he has several new songs close to completion.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just hop on a plane to catch Waters in South America; and frankly even if I could, I’m not even sure I would want to. The prospect of being able to see Gilmour look uncertain at this time. So what’s a Floyd fan like me to do? Enter  Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd.” It’s obvious this tribute band from Delaware doesn’t aim to look like Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason but instead is all about capturing the great music. And that they do incredibly well!

Echoes 3

I saw Echoes first a year ago at Rock The Farm, where they closed out the great annual tribute band spectacle in Seaside Heights, N.J., with an amazing performance under the stars. When I learned a few weeks ago they would come to Asbury Park, N.J. to play The Stone Pony, I didn’t think twice whether or not I should get a ticket. The show happened last night, and it truly was experiencing the great gig in the sky coming down to earth and back to the dark side of the moon. But, to also creatively borrow from Aerosmith and Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, why don’t I let some of the music do the talking?

Here is the opener of the first set, Sheep. Written by Waters, the tune appeared on Floyd’s tenth studio album Animals, released in January 1977.

In 1975, Pink Floyd recorded the above mentioned Wish You Here, their ninth studio album. Initially, this was my favorite Floyd record. Here is Echoes’ rendition of Have A Cigar, Waters’ cynical take on the recording industry. And, yes, the band was just fantastic, and that’s really what think, even though they didn’t have Pink. Clever, huh?

Another track I’d like to highlight from the first set is Hey You. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the tune for The Wall, Floyd’s 11th studio album from November 1979 – by the way, the only album I bought on vinyl at the time it came out. This was during my high school rebel days when the message Hey teacher, leave them kids alone resonated, at least when it came to some of my teachers who shall remain unnamed!

Next up is the closer of the first set and undoubtedly the highlight of the show: Time and The Great Gig In The Sky. Both gems are included on Floyd’s studio release that preceded Wish You Were Here: The Dark Side Of The Moon, from March 1973. Time was co-written by all four members of Pink Floyd, while The Great Gig In The Sky was credited to Wright and the amazing vocalist Clare Torry. If you don’t want to watch the entire clip, at least do yourself a favor and check out Echoes’ (backing) vocalist Michelle Sumler Hover, who is just absolutely killing it on Gig.

Set 2 brought more amazing music and in addition to the above albums also included material from Meddle, Floyd’s sixth studio album released in October 1971. But first here’s the epic Money and Us And Them from Dark Side, tunes that were respectively written by Waters and co-written by him and Gilmour. Check out the great work from the band’s sax player Andrew Bedell.

Another track I’d like to highlight from the second set is Run Like Hell, a co-write by Waters and Gilmour from The Wall album.

I guess no Pink Floyd tribute show would be complete without Wish You Were Here. And since Echoes apparently wanted to end their gig with a big bang, they combined it with One Of These Days. The title track of Floyd’s ninth studio album from September 1975 was penned by Waters and Gilmour, while One Of These Days, off the Meddle album, was credited to all band members.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Echoes’ impressive musicianship. Echoes feature William (Bill) Swezey (guitar, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Dan Long (keyboards, sound effects),  Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Chris Miller (bass) and Matt Urban (drums). Penny Carmack, Chris Duncan and the above mentioned Michelle Sumler Hover form Echoes’ amazing backing vocalist section cleverly called “The Crazy Diamond Girls.” Last night, Kim Walton was filling in for Duncan.

After the show, I briefly had a chance to say ‘hello’ to Bill Swezey, who looked like a happy camper. I think he certainly had plenty of good reason after a great gig! He said they want to keep Floyd’s music alive. When I asked him how long they had been doing this, he noted the band has been together since 2015. He also confirmed what was obvious to me that all of the band’s members have been professional musicians for many years.

According to their Facebook page, Echoes are scheduled to play next on October 19th at Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pa. The band’s website also lists another show for December 22nd at Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. If you dig Pink Floyd and can get to any of these places, I would highly recommend Echoes.

Sources: Wikipedia, Roger Waters official website, Echoes Facebook page and official website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Kiss The Sky/Killing Floor

If Jimi Hendrix were still alive today, he would be 75 years old, going on 76. Have you ever wondered how he might look and sound like? Enter Jimy Bleu, who according to the website of Kiss The Sky – World’s Greatest Jim Hendrix Tribute is the longest running Hendrix tribute artist in the world with more than 45 years.

Sure, nearly every tribute calls themselves the “ultimate” or “greatest” tribute of the artist they capture. But in the case of Bleu and his band, this may well be true. Just watch the above clip and tell me the shit this guy does on stage isn’t absolutely mind-boggling – the way he plays the guitar, the way he moves, the facial expressions – it’s almost creepy, making you feel you’re looking at some Jimi Hendrix reincarnation.

According to Kiss The Sky’s website, Jimy Bleu actually met Jimi Hendrix in 1968 while at Warner/Reprise records and a member of the official Hendrix fan club that got Hendrix to address an assembly at his high school of the Performing Arts in NYC. The very next year at Woodstock, Bleu was thrown one of the guitar straps Hendrix used in that famous performance and through this direct musical lineage, Jimy Bleu has carried the figurative baton of the Jimi Hendrix guitar showmanship legacy ever since.

Based on the above, you figure Bleu must have been 17 or 18 when he saw Hendrix at Woodstock, which would make him about 66 or 67 years old. So he’s a somewhat younger version of what Hendrix would be today, but close enough.

While I’m very interested in tribute bands and, as some readers of the blog know, have seen many, I rarely get as excited as I feel about Kiss The Sky – which is why I didn’t think twice and immediately bought a ticket for their upcoming October 13 gig at Monmouth University Center for the Arts, where they will perform with a Cream tribute called Heavy Cream. It promises to be an epic night!

Sources: Kiss The Sky website, YouTube

Three Chords, Straight Beats And Catchy Hooks

Status Quo have stayed true to their trademark boogie rock for more than 45 years

The other day, I spotted a live album from Status Quo called Down Down & Dirty At Wacken, (a place in northern Germany of an annual open air heavy metal festival), which was released only a couple of weeks ago. While starting to listen, I was reminded what a fun live band they are and how they’ve pretty much stuck with the same formula since 1970 when they changed from psychedelic to boogie rock. This brilliant insight inspired the idea of a post and playlist!🤓

The origins of Status Quo date back to 1962 when high school mates Frances Rossi (guitar), Alan Lancaster (bass), Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key (drums) formed a band called The Scorpions in London (not related to and predating the German hard rock band Scorpions by three years). In 1965, Rossi met guitarist Rick Parfitt. They became friends and later that year started what would become a longtime collaboration until Parfitt’s untimely death in December 2016 at the age of 68. The following summer, the band, which had changed their name to The Spectres, got their first record deal, with Piccadilly Records, and released various commercially unsuccessful singles.

By 1967, the band had embraced psychedelic music, became Traffic, then Traffic Jam to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic, and eventually Status Quo in August that year. Parfitt had joined them as rhythm guitarist the previous month. January 1968 saw the release of Status Quo’s first hit single Pictures Of Matchstick Men. This was followed by their debut studio album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From Status Quo in September – gee, what a memorable title!

Status Quo
Status Quo circa 1977 (from left): John Coghlan (drums), Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar, vocals), Alan Lancaster (bass, vocals), and Francis Rossi (lead guitar, vocals)

After the release and commercial failure of Status Quo’s second album Spare Parts in September 1969, the band decided to change their musical style to straight boogie-oriented rock – a decision that is safe to assume they didn’t regret! Piledriver, their fifth studio record from December 1972, finally brought the breakthrough, peaking at no. 5 in the U.K. charts. Since then, Status Quo have released 27 additional studio albums. Their impressive catalog also includes 10 live records and nine compilations.

Given the band’s faithful adherence to the three-chord boogie rock formula, their music starts sounding repetitive after a little while. But so do Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys’ surf rock, to name two artists who spontaneously came to mind! Besides, if it’s fun, who cares! Okay, enough of the blah-blah-blah and time for some of that repetitive music!😆

While the band’s psychedelic phase was comparatively short, it’s still part of their long history, so I’d be amiss not to acknowledge it. My favorite tune I know from that phase is the above mentioned Pictures Of Matchstick Men, which was written by Rossi. It climbed to no. 7 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached the top 10 in many other European countries. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only Status Quo song that got noticed in America. In addition to its release as a single, it was also included on the band’s debut album.

Next Up: Paper Plane from the Piledriver album. The song was co-written by Rossi and Bob Young. Since 1969, Young had contributed to writing Status Quo’s music and was often called their unofficial fifth member. He frequently joined the band during live performances in the ’70s and also occasionally thereafter.

Another co-write by Rossi and Young is Caroline, which became a no. 5 hit in the U.K. in August 1973, Status Quo’s highest charting single at the time. The tune was also included on the band’s sixth studio album Hello!, which appeared in September that year.

In November 1974, Status Quo scored their first of two no. 1 singles in the U.K. with Down Down. Yet another Rossi/Young co-write, the song also appeared on the band’s eighth studio record On The Level from February 1975.

Perhaps my favorite Status Quo tune is Rockin’ All Over The World. As a boogie rock fan, how can you not love that tune, which was written and first recorded by the great John Fogerty in 1975! Status Quo released their cover as a single in September 1977. It also became the title track of their tenth studio album that came out in November the same year. Since this tune is made for live performances, I chose the following clip captured during a 1990 concert in Knebworth, England.

Whatever You Want is another Status Quo classic. It was co-written by Parfitt and keyboarder Andy Bown, who has performed on all of the band’s albums since Rockin’ All Over The World and became a full member in 1982. One of the things I’ve always liked about this tune is the cool-sounding guitar intro.

Status Quo’s biggest hit in the ’80s was their cover of Bolland & Bolland’s In The Army Now from September 1986, which topped the charts in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. In the U.K., the tune peaked at no. 2. Since I’m not particularly fond of it, I’m highlighting another cover instead: The Wanderer from October 1984. Written by Ernie Maresca, the tune was first recorded and released by Dion in November 1961. While I prefer the original, Quo’s cover isn’t bad either.

To make this playlist career-spanning, I also like to touch on Status Quo’s music beyond the ’80s. Since I’m basically not familiar with it, it’s a bit of a challenge. As such, the remaining selections for this playlist are somewhat arbitrary. Here’s Can’t Give You More from the band’s 20th studio album Rock ‘Til You Drop, which appeared in September 1991. Written by Bown, the tune is another typical Status Quo boogie rocker – if you like Quo’s ’70s music, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2002, Status Quo released Heavy Traffic, their 25th studio record, which peaked at no. 15 on the charts in the U.K. and earned them silver status there. Here’s Creepin’ Up On You, which was co-written by Parfitt and then-Quo bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. It’s shuffling along nicely!

The final studio release I’d like to touch on is called Acoustic (Stripped Bare) from October 2014. It’s a compilation of stripped down versions of previously recorded Status Quo songs. While there’s no new material here, I’m kind of intrigued by this album and will probably further explore it. The record became another success for Quo in the U.K., climbing to no. 5 on the charts and earning Gold certification there – not to shabby for a band that by then had been around for 52 years, if you include their 1962 origins; if you start counting from when they became Status Quo, it still adds up to a mighty 47 years! Here’s Again And Again, a tune credited to Parfitt, Bown and Jackie Lynton, and first recorded for the band’s 11th studio album If You Can’t Stand The Heat from October 1978. It’s got a nice Cajun feel to it!

So what’s going on with Status Quo these days? Well, it’s more three chords, straight beats and catchy boogie rock – in other words the status quo – that was clever, huh?🤓 Rossi remains the only founding member. Bown (keyboards) and Edwards (bass) are still around as well. The current lineup, pictured on top of the post, is rounded out by Leon Cave (drums) and Richie Malone (rhythm guitar), who replaced Parfitt in July 2016, after he had suffered a stroke and could no longer perform.

I already mentioned the new live album. In addition, a look on setlist.fm revealed the band has been pretty busy touring Europe since May. The current tour schedule on their website shows upcoming gigs in Lisbon, Portugal (Sep 29); Innsbruck, Austria (Oct 4); Kempten, Germany (Oct 5); and Zurich, Switzerland (Oct 6).

Sources: Wikipedia, Status Quo official website, setlist.fm, 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

Clips And Pix: The Church/Under The Milky Way Tonight

After raving about Under The Milky Way Tonight in my previous post, I thought I might as well put up a clip of the tune. Apparently, this live performance was captured during the induction of The Church into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2010.

Steve Kilbey, the band’s songwriter and bassist co-wrote the tune with his then domestic partner Karin Jansson, guitarist of the Swedish punk band Champagne. It was included on The Church’s fifth studio album Starfish, released in February 1988. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single.

Under The Milky Way Tonight brought The Church significant mainstream success in Australia and beyond. In the U.S., the track peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed all the way up to no. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It also charted in New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and The Netherlands. While I don’t know about the German charts, I definitely recall the song got significant radio play at the time. That’s where I first heard it.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube