The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, July 3 and a long holiday weekend for folks in the U.S. Perfect timing to embark on another mini-excursion to celebrate music from different decades, six tunes at a time. If you don’t have anything better to do, hop on; if you’re busy, hop on anyway – most things go better with great music! ūüôā

Lettuce/Insta-Classic

Usually, I start these trips with a jazz instrumental from the past. This time, let’s get underway with music from the presence by Lettuce, a neat American jazz and funk band I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What‚Äôs New installment. Initially, this group came together in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, they reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, Lettuce released their debut album Outta There. They have been pretty productive since then with seven additional albums. Insta-Classic is a cool-sounding track from their latest release Unify, which appeared on June 3.

Keith Richards/Take It So Hard

I trust guitarist Keith Richards doesn’t need an introduction. Obviously, Keef is best known as co-founder of The Rolling Stones and for his longtime writing partnership with Mick Jagger. But, of course, no good rock & roll story is without big egos and drama, and the Glimmer Twins are no exception. By the time Richards’ solo debut Talk Is Cheap came out, his relationship with Jagger was, well, on the rocks. The Stones were in their third decade. While Jagger wanted to stay hip and follow music trends, Richards wanted to preserve the band’s roots. After Jagger had released two solo albums in relatively short order (She’s the Boss, 1985; and Primitive Cool; 1987) and appeared to be more interested in continuing his solo career, Keef decided to strike out by himself as well. The result was the above-mentioned Talk Is Cheap, his first of three solo efforts to date. Let’s check out Take It So Hard, which Keef wrote with co-producer Steve Jordan who also provided bass and backing vocals – good traditional Stonesy tune I frankly take any day over Undercover of the Night.

Elvis Presley/Blue Suede Shoes

While I haven’t watched the new Elvis biopic, I can’t deny the movie is the reason why Elvis Presley is on my mind again these days. I’ve mentioned before I adored Elvis when I was a young kid. It all goes back to the start of my music journey. Soon after I got my first turntable (must have been around the age of 10 – frankly, I don’t remember), I received a 40 greatest hits sampler as a Christmas present. The 2-LP set had pink discs, which I thought was pretty cool. While I’ve since matured (at least that’s what I want to believe) and no longer idolize Elvis or anybody else for that matter, I still get a kick out of the King of Rock and Roll. In particular, I keep going back to his ’50s classic rock & roll tunes he recorded and performed with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. One of my favorites remains their rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, which also features D.J. Fontana on drums. The classic was written and first released by Carl Perkins in January 1956. Elvis’ version, which appeared in September of the same year, surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – almost matching Perkins who scored his only no. 1 with Blue Suede Shoes on the same chart. Let’s go, cats!

Dr. Feelgood/She Does It Right

Let’s slightly slow it down but keep rockin’ and rollin’ with a killer tune by Dr. Feelgood. I guess the first time I heard of the English pub and blues rockers was in the late ’70s when they scored their biggest hit with Milk and Alcohol, a tune I loved from the get-go. Dr. Feelgood were formed on Canvey Island, England in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals), who soon added John Martin (drums). That line-up remained in place until 1977 and recorded the group’s dynamite debut album Down by the Jetty (January 1975), as well as two additional records. Dr. Feelgood are still around, though their current line-up hasn’t included any founding members since 1994. She Does It Right, penned by Johnson, is a tune off Down by the Jetty. Man, I love their raw sound!

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

Alrighty, after a series of rockers the time has come to really take it down. Gregg Allman is another artist I trust doesn’t need an introduction. For the longest time, the only tune I had known by The Allman Brothers Band had been Ramblin’ Man. Finally, eight or nine years ago, I decided to explore what has since become one of my favorite groups – just in time to see them once in New Jersey in the summer of 2014, a few months prior to their final curtain at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Soon my exploration of the Brothers also led to Gregg Allman’s solo work. Even though he started releasing albums by himself early, in 1973, his solo catalog is relatively moderate, featuring seven studio albums, two live recordings and a few compilations. My Only True Friend, co-written by Allman and guitarist Scott Sharrad, is the great opener of Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. It was released in September 2017, four months after his death at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer. Sharrad who also served as musical director had been a member of Allman’s backing band since 2008. Gosh, I love this tune and album!

Lenny Kravitz/Always On The Run

And once again, another Sunday Six excursion is coming to an end. For this last pick, let’s go back to April 1991 and Mama Said, the sophomore album by Lenny Kravitz. It came less than two years after his debut Let Love Rule, which he wrote and produced nearly all by himself and on which he played nearly all instruments. For Mama Said, he got a little help from some friends, including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Kravitz has since released nine additional studio albums, with the most recent being Raise Vibration in September 2018. I previously reviewed here. Back to Mama Said and the album’s great lead single Always On The Run. Kravitz wrote the tune together with Slash, who also played guitar including a cool solo – just a great funky rocker!

Before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

A Southern Peach Turns 50 And Remains As Tasty As Ever

“Generally, conditioned peaches will last for 3-4 days on the counter, slightly longer in the fridge, and they can be frozen for an extended time,” according to The Peach Truck. Yep, that’s a thing, and it came up when I typed, ‘what is the average shelf life of a Georgia peach?’ into my search engine. Of course, the peach I’m talking about here isn’t edible, though it certainly remains just as sweet as a fully ripe peach as it was when it first appeared today 50 years ago.

Eat a Peach, a double LP part-studio, part-live album, was the fourth record by The Allman Brothers Band, released on February 12, 1972. It came on the heels of At Fillmore East, the group’s commercial breakthrough, and perhaps the best live album ever recorded, at least when it comes to southern rock and blues rock. But while the Fillmore album had turned the Allmans into a commercially viable act, the group faced enormous challenges.

By the time they started work on the new album at Criteria Studios in Miami, much of the band was in the throes of heroin addiction. Their newly found wealth from the commercial success of Fillmore probably was a double-edged sword. In October 1971, band leader Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, along with two of the group’s roadies, checked themselves into a drug rehab clinic in Buffalo, N.Y.

If I interpret the background I read correctly, following the above drug rehab, the Allmans went on a short tour. The day after Duane Allman had returned to Macon, Ga., he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24. “We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane?” said drummer Butch Trucks, according to Wikipedia citing a 2014 Allmans bio by Alan Paul. “But then we realized: how could we stop?”

In the wake of Duane’s death lead guitarist Dickey Betts essentially stepped into his shoes and took over the group’s leadership. In December 1971, the Allmans returned to Miami’s Criteria Studios to finish the album. Like At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach was produced by music genius Tom Dowd who had also served in that capacity for part of their sophomore album Idlewild South.

Among Dowd’s many prior accomplishments was the production of rock gem Layla that had brought together Eric Clapton and Duane Allman for one of the most memorable collaborations in rock. You can read more about Dowd and an amazing documentary titled Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music here.

Eat a Peach gatefold: The elaborate mural was drawn by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes

BTW, the record’s title came from a quote by Duane who had said, “You can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution … Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” I’d say the time is ripe for some music.

Let’s start with Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, which opens Side one. The tune was written by Gregg Allman shortly after the death of his brother Duane and was Gregg’s attempt to come to terms with the tragic event. The song also became the album’s lead single in April 1972, backed by Melissa. Betts does a great job on slide guitar. He had big shoes to fill!

Closing out Side one is Melissa, another tune penned by Gregg Allman. In fact, he wrote it in 1967 prior to the formation of the Allmans. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘OK, here we go,” Allman said during a 2006 interview, as captured by Songfacts. “And about 200 songs later – much garbage to take out – I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.’ And I had everything but the title.” The title would come to Gregg one night in a grocery store when he watched a Spanish woman telling her active little girl, Melissa, to stop running away. Melissa was a favorite of Duane’s. It also became the A-side of the record’s second single in August 1972.

I’m skipping all of Side two, which is the first part of Mountain Jam, a track that more appropriately should have been titled marathon jam. I realize this may not exactly endear me to die-hard fans of the Allmans or Grateful Dead, for that matter. While I recognize Mountain Jam features great musicianship, which among others includes an amazing bass solo by Berry Oakley I have to acknowledge as a retired hobby bassist, 19:37 minutes followed by 15:06 minutes on Side four simply is too much of a jam for me.

Instead, I’d like to highlight Trouble No More, the second track on Side three. Like Mountain Jam, it was leftover material from the group’s 1971 Fillmore East performances. Credited to Muddy Waters, he first recorded the upbeat blues in 1955. Wikipedia notes it’s a variation on Someday Baby Blues, a tune Sleepy John Estes had recorded in 1935.

Next up is Blue Sky, written by Dickey Betts about his then-native Canadian girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. Notably, this was the first Allmans song that featured Betts on lead vocals. He also sang lead on Ramblin’ Man, the group’s biggest hit from 1973, a no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Blue Sky also was Duane Allman’s final recording with the band. The country-flavored tune features beautiful harmony guitar action and alternating solos by Allman and Betts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track of Side three: Little Martha. The lovely acoustic instrumental is the only tune on the record solely credited to Duane Allman (Duane received a co-credit for the aforementioned Mountain Jam). Songfacts notes, Duane wrote it for Dixie Lee Meadows, a girl with whom he was having an affair. “Little Martha” was a nickname Duane called her. According to Scott Freeman’s Midnight Riders: The Story of The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman claimed this came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix showed him how to play the song using a sink faucet in a hotel room. Duane woke up and started playing it.

Eat a Peach was both a chart and a commercial success for The Allman Brothers Band. It reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, becoming their second-highest charting record. Successor Brothers and Sisters, which featured Ramblin’ Man, made it all the way to no. 1. Eat a Peach also did well in Canada where it reached no. 12. In Australia, the album peaked at no. 35.

In December 1995, Eat a Peach reached Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Together with At Fillmore East and Brothers and Sisters, this makes it one of the group’s three albums with certified sales of at least one million units.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Peach Truck; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Crimson Tide Sways The Beacon During Night Of The Expanding Man

Steely Dan shine with special performance of Aja album and other gems

Usually, I don’t see the same music act twice in just three months, even if I dig them. There are so many other artists on my list, plus ticket prices nowadays would simply make this unaffordable.¬†But while I was still raving about a¬†Steely Dan show I caught in July (see review here) I learned about their October residency at The Beacon Theatre in New York City. And when I noticed it would include a special performance of my all-time favorite Steely Dan album Aja, I immedeidately knew I wouldn’t want to miss it – especially after the summer gig had convinced me that Donald Fagen is still on top of his game contrary to some less than flattering reviews I had read. Finally, Thursday night, it was time for the expanding man, and what a night it was!

To start with, I had never been to The Beacon Theatre, even though I’m a longtime music fan and would have had plenty of opportunity for the past 20 years or so – I can’t quite explain why! When I mentioned it to my friendly seat neighbors and huge Steely Dan fans – a dad and his son who had come all the way from England to see this show and another special performance tonight of Donald Fagen’s first solo album The Nighfly,¬†the dad jokingly said, ‘you must have been very busy.’

Beacon Theatre Interior

He certainly had a point. After all, this beautiful historic venue (pictured above) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has featured many top-notch acts over the decades, perhaps most notably The Allman Brothers Band. For about two decades, the southern blues rockers had a residency there each spring. I actually recall that in ca. 1998, a former colleague and Brothers fan told he was going to see them there.

This brings me to another dark issue of my music past – gee, this starts feeling a bit like I’m writing a confession! At¬†the time my former colleague told me about the above Brothers show, Ramblin’ Man was pretty much all I knew about the band. It really wasn’t until three years ago or so that I explored The Allman Brothers Band I greater depth and quickly became a fan –¬†luckily in time to at least see them once in an unforgettable performance, though not at the Beacon but at¬†PNC Bank Arts Center in Central New Jersey.¬†Well, to both I say better late than never, plus you can’t change the past! On the show.

An excellent jazz trio featuring organ (Hammond), guitar and drums opened the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch their name. While I don’t mind listening to jazz, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. So how come I like Steely Dan you might ask? Well, because jazz is just one aspect of their music, albeit an important one, especially on Aja. Perhaps more importantly, music taste isn’t always rational. Regardless how I usually feel about jazz, these three guys really grabbed me. I guess Donald Fagen, who is known for being a perfectionist, likely wouldn’t approve of some amateurs to open his show, and amatuers these guys were definitely not! And that I can easily get mesmerized by the mighty sound of a¬†Hammond¬†also didn’t hurt. When that organ player held the keys in the vibrato setting and the air in the place started to pulsate, I just got goosebumps – I could have listened to him all night!

Steely Dan_Aja

Finally, the time has come to get to Steely Dan. The first half of their set was reserved for the Aja album, which the band performed in its entirety, following the order of the tracks on the studio recording. The remainder of the show featured select gems from other Dan records, one track from The Nightfly, as well as a couple of covers. The full set list is here. The song collection was really a treat for Steely Dan fans!

Released in September 1977 as their sixth studio album, Aja remains the crown jewel in Dan’s catalog, in my opinion. Like for most of their records, all tracks were written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Fagen and his top-notch band did an outstanding job capturing Aja’s rich sound in all of its glory. Following are a few clips. Light conditions proved to be challenging, and some of the footage is out of focus, but I’d be amiss not to include some of it – sue me if I write too long!

First up: My all-time favorite Steely Dan tune, which they didn’t play back in July.

…Learn to work the saxophone/I play just what I feel/Drink Scotch whiskey all night long/And die behind the wheel/They got a name for the winners in the world/¬†I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues…

Next is Home At Last. Love the groove of that song. Check out the mighty four-piece horn section and the beautful backing vocals by The¬†Danettes – it’s just perfect!

And here is the album’s closer Josie. As a former bass player, I’ve always loved the cool bassline on that tune. You may need more than my crappy labtop speakers to fully hear it!

Following are a few clips from the concert’s second half. First up: The epic¬†Hey Nineteen from Gaucho, Dan’s seventh studio album released in November 1980. It was their last effort before they disbanded in June 1981 and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. One of the highlights in the clip is the extended trombone solo by Jim Pugh that starts at about 4:08 minutes.

Here’s The Goodbye Look, the above mentioned track from The Nightfly, which became Donald Fagen’s acclaimed solo debut in October 1982. Like all the other tracks on the record except for one, the tune with a laid back Caribbean groove was written by Fagen.

And, since all things must pass, the last song I’d like to highlight is¬†Reelin’ In The Years. I simply couldn’t skip this classic from¬†Steely Dan’s¬†November 1972 debut Can’t Buy A Thrill, even though I also featured it my previous post about the July gig. I just love the great guitar work by Jon Herrington and the cool drum solo by Keith Carlock. These guys are just top-notch, demonstrating how great music can sound like! I think it’s also nice to see the traditionally reserved Fagen get animated after the end of the drum solo.

After repeatedly raving about the band, I’d like to acknowledge the members. As far as I could tell, the lineup was the same than during the aforementioned summer gig: Apart from Herrington, Carlock, Pugh and obviously Fagen, it included Freddie Washington (bass), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax), Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and The Danettes (backing vocals):¬†La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell & Carolyn Leonhart.

Steely Dan Collage
Current lineup of Steely Dan: Upper row (left to right): Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax) and Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax). Lower row (left to right): Jim Pugh (trombone), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and The Danettes La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell & Carolyn Leonhart. Far right: Donald Fagen

In addition to the above noted show tonight, Steely Dan’s residency at The Beacon Theatre has six more dates: Oct 21: By Popular Demand: An Audience Request Night Determined By Fan Voting; Oct 24: Performing Countdown To Ecstasy Plus Select Hits; Oct 26: Performing Gaucho Plus Select Hits; Oct 27: Performing Aja Plus Select Hits (let’s pretend I didn’t see this!); Oct 29: Performing Nightfly And Select Hits; and Oct 30: Performing Greatest Hits. Afterwards, it appears Steely Dan is taking a break before resuming touring in the U.K. and Ireland in February 2019.

If you’re a fan and can make it, I’d say go and see them. And, did I mention it’s a great opportunity to visit one of New York’s iconic performance venues?

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steely Dan website, YouTube