Musings of the Past

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

Last week (May 11), Eric Burdon turned 82 years. Since the first moment I heard him I’ve always thought he’s one of the most compelling white blues vocalists. It also reminded me of a post I published in February 2019. Here it is again with the added bonus of a Spotify playlist at the end. Yes, it’s a bit of a beast! 🙂

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 (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 HookerJimmy 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 AnimalsJohn 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. Burdon 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 led 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 LeiberMike 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.”

– END –

The original post, which was published on February 10, 2019, ended here. One thing that happened since then is a 2020 British TV documentary titled Eric Burdon, Rock’ n’ Roll Animal, which was written and directed by Hannes Rossacher, an Austrian film director and producer. It featured interviews with Burdon, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, George Thorogood and Patti Smith. An edited version is available here.

Other than an awkward 2022 remix of Spill the Wine, I’m not aware of any music associated with Burdon, which has appeared since the time the above post was published first. The most recent evidence of live performances I could find on Setlist.fm was from November 2019. The lack of more recent concerts could largely be explained by the pandemic. There’s an Eric Burdon website, but other than what looks like a fairly recent photo, it’s not evident whether it is active. Perhaps Eric is simply taking it easy these days, which after 60-plus years since the start of his career would be more than deserved!

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist. It features all of the above tracks except For What It’s Worth, as well as a good number of additional tunes from throughout Burdon’s recording career.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder/The Blues; Deutsche Welle; Eric Burdon website; Rolling Stone; Consequence of Sound; Eventbrite; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

Versatile Jazz Artist Grover Kemble Returns to R&B and Pop Rock Roots on New Album

Until recently, I had not heard of Grover Kemble. Then a dear friend and musician, Mike Caputo, lead vocalist of Good Stuff, a great band celebrating the music of Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli, suggested that I check out Kemble’s new album I’m Serious, figuring I might dig the music. Mike was spot on and my decision to write a review came shortly thereafter. What’s more, I spontaneously reached out to Kemble who was kind enough to share some great insights about the album.

Notably, I’m Serious marks a return for Kemble to his musical roots of R&B and ’60s pop rock. For the past 40 years or so, the New Jersey singer-songwriter, guitarist and entertainer primarily has been known as a versatile jazz artist. From his website bio: Grover began playing professionally in his early teens and performed with numerous acts before touring nationally with the novel group  Sha-Na-Na. In 1983, before going solo, he fronted the highly popular New Jersey band Za Zu Zaz with whom he recorded the album “All That Zaz.”…In the late 1980s, he played in both duo and group settings with world-renowned jazz artist John Pizzarelli, and accompanied his band in 2005 at the JVC Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall.

In 2007, Grover assembled a band of accomplished musicians to showcase the music of Ray Charles in a presentation titled “Reflections of Ray.” In early 2013, Grover revamped Za Zu Zaz with a new lineup and gave this new band a strong entertainment style that encourages audiences to participate more freely. To give you an idea of Kemble’s more recent music with Za Zu Zaz, you can check clips on YouTube here and here – swings nicely!

Fast-forward to March 17 of this year, when I’m Serious was released. This album sounds very different from the music Kemble is known for. I was curious to know why this change in direction. “For the last 40 years, I’ve been regarded as a jazz artist,” he told me. “However, my roots started in R&B and the punchy pop rock from the 1960’s. I wanted to go back to those roots one more time, so I enlisted my best friend’s rocking and rolling sons to help achieve that earlier sound one more time.”

Kemble’s best friend is Harry Noble, aka Hap Noble, who is part of a multi-generational Northern Jersey family of musicians. It was Noble’s dad who showed Kemble how to play the guitar. Kemble, in turn, returned the favor and taught Hap Noble’s sons the guitar when they started out playing music. “There was always lots of music jamming in the Noble clan,” Kemble recalled.

Grover Kemble (second from left; guitar and vocals), Regan Ryzuk (far left) and The Noble Brothers, including Matt DiPaolo (drums), Bob Noble (bass) and Harry Noble (guitar and backing vocals) – August 2021

The two sons, Harry Noble (lead guitar) and Bob Noble (bass), who gained initial prominence in a country rock-oriented group called Quimby Mountain Band, are part of the fine musicians backing Kemble on the album. Matt DiPaolo (drums) and Regan Ryzuk (keyboards), with whom Kemble has played for more than 35 years, complete the line-up. Matt is a member of Harry’s and Bob’s current group, The Noble Brothers. I’d say it’s time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with the great opener Don’t Let the Morning Come. Like all of the 13 other tracks on the album, it was penned by Kemble. “I was listening to All Along The Watchtower by Hendrix early one sleepy rainy morning and wished to stay in bed and not let the sunlight in,” Kemble told me about the tune. “It crept into my brain later in the day and I morphed the two concepts into this song.” It’s got a nice rock vibe and at the same time, it’s smooth – cool tune!

The title track in Kemp’s words “is about a dude getting more serious about a relationship and not wanting to waste time on something that could possibly be more cavalier on the other person’s end….been there, done that a bunch…let’s not waste a lot of time if it’s not going anywhere.” Neat guitar work!

Things turn funky on Lovin’ On the Run, my early favorite on the album. I love the smooth jazzy guitar sound. Kemble and Harry Noble shared lead guitar work on this tune. The other musical standout for me is Bob Noble’s great bass work. Commenting on the lyrics Kemble said, “Ha- maybe the opposite of “I’m Serious”. This dude is playing around, then thinks he might have found someone more steady but then eventually returns to his old hit-and-run ways.”Lovin’ on the Run has an infectious groove – check it out!

What More Can I Say is another track I really like. It has a soulful touch and features great nylon guitar action, as well as beautiful melodic bass playing. “This is an old chestnut from way back that I wrote in the 1970’s,” Kemble explained. “I discovered it in a Za Zu Zaz (my once very popular band) song booklet I had in an old drawer. Just talking about what we all might do to lend a hand towards a better world.” Kemble may have written these lyrics in the ’70s, but the message certainly remains relevant to this day.

Let’s do one more: Make It, Take It, another smooth funky tune. “Years ago, my buddies and I played tons of schoolyard basketball,” Kemble recalled. “If your team made a basket you kept the ball for another chance until you missed or the ball was stolen or rebounded away. We called the game “Make it Take It”. The lyrics suggest the opposite realities happening in a relationship for each next line in regards to what’s happening in an unraveling relationship. The spoken word part towards the end was originally a guitar solo but changed to add something different that kind of says, ‘What are we so opposing each other for…let’s take advantage of the good stuff we could have going.'”

I certainly hope I’m Serious isn’t a one-off. While Kemble didn’t rule it out, for now he wants to continue focusing on his current recording project, which he described as “a little more smooth jazzyish.” Fair enough, though selfishly, I’d love to see more of that neat rock, R&B and funk – I’m serious!

I guess we should stay tuned. Meanwhile, for more on Grover Kemble, you can check out his website, Facebook and YouTube. I’m Serious is available on streaming and other platforms, such as Spotify, Tidal, iTunes, Deezer, YouTube, Amazon Music, etc. Following is a Spotify link to the album:

Sources: Grover Kemble website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Richard/Here’s Little Richard

After having published this blog for more than six and a half years, a post on Little Richard’s debut album may seem to come out of left field, given my previously expressed longtime love of ’50s rock & roll. Moreover, it’s not the first time I’m writing about Richard and some of the songs on that album, Here’s Little Richard. In this case, the trigger was a cover of Long Tall Sally I heard yesterday by Delbert McClinton, who was on my radar screen thanks to fellow bloggers Max (PowerPop) and Cincinnati Babyhead, aka CB. As such, blame them if you don’t like it! 🙂

McClinton’s above rendition of Long Tall Sally appears on his most recent album Outdated Emotion from May 2022, a great covers collection of old blues, rock & roll and country songs. While he does a nice job with this rock & roll classic, it made me think of the incredible original and that nobody I know has done it better than Little Richard – not even my all-time favorite band The Beatles, though I dig their rendition as well. One thing led to another, and I found myself listening to Richard’s original, followed by the entire record – and, holy cow, what an album!

When Here’s Little Richard was released in March 1957, it was advertised as “six of Little Richard’s hits and six brand new songs of hit calibre.” ‘Okay,’ you might think, ‘so it’s more of an early greatest hits record combined with a few additional tunes.’ True, though putting previously released singles on a record was quite common back in the day. Plus, in any case, this doesn’t change the fact it’s a record packed with amazing music I’m thrilled to write about!

In September 1955, Richard signed with Specialty Records after he had sent a demo there and the label’s owner Art Rupe loaned him money to buy out his contract with his current label Peacock. Rupe also hooked up Richard with producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. Wikipedia notes that apart from overseeing Richard’s early hits, Blackwell is best known as grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams and Sly and the Family Stone at the start of their music careers.

In October 1955, Tutti Frutti backed by I’m Just a Lonely Guy became Richard’s debut single for Specialty Records and his first-charting song in the U.S. Five more singles followed prior to the release of Here’s Little Richard, including three that were included on the album: Long Tall Sally/Slippin’ and Slidin’ (March 1956), Rip It Up/Reddy Teddy (June 1956) and Heeby-Jeebies/She’s Got It (October 1956). The album, which was recorded in New Orleans and Los Angeles, was Specialty’s first 12-inch LP. Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies!

First is Tutti Frutti, a song I had first heard and come to love by Elvis Presley. Written by Richards in 1955 while working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in his hometown of Macon, Ga., the tune was credited to Richard Penniman (Richard’s birth name was Richard Wayne Penniman) and Dorothy LaBostrie who had been asked by Blackwell to revise some of Richard’s original lyrics, which Blackwell felt were too racy. “Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom” was kind of his catch phrase, something he would reply to folks who asked him how he was doing, according to Songfacts.

True, Fine Mama was one of the six “brand new tunes”. Solely penned by Richard, it didn’t become a hit, as far as I know. It also wasn’t released as a single. That said, the tune’s beginning sounds exactly like Good Golly, Miss Molly, which first appeared as a single in January 1958 and became another hit for Richard. Both tunes are great examples of his frenetic piano playing. You can literally picture him beating the crap out of the piano keyboard.

On Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave, written by Leo Price, Richard sounds like Fats Domino. It’s safe to assume this wasn’t a coincidence. Richard liked Domino’s sound and also thought of him highly otherwise. In October 2027 in the wake of Domino’s death, he told Billboard that “He’s the greatest entertainer that I ever known. Black, white, red, brown or yellow, he’s a just good guy and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to know him. I love him.”

Next up is the song that inspired this post, which I simply couldn’t skip. Long Tall Sally, another tune Richard wrote during his time as a dishwasher for Greyhound, was credited to him, Blackwell and Enotris Johnson. It became his biggest hit, topping the R&B chart and climbing to no. 6 on the pop chart in the U.S., while reaching no. 3 in the UK. Songfacts notes There really was a “Long Tall Sally,” but she was not a cross-dresser as sometimes reported. Little Richard explained that Sally was a friend of the family who was always drinking whiskey – she would claim to have a cold and would drink hot toddies all day. He described her as tall and ugly, with just two teeth and cockeyed. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary, who they called “Short Fat Fanny.” John and Mary would get in fights on the weekends, and when he saw her coming, he would duck back into a little alley to avoid her. Man, that tune is cooking – I simply can’t listen to it without starting to move. And if I ever do it means I’m probably dead!

Miss Ann, credited to Penniman and Johnson, is another example of a brand new tune. According to Songfacts, Some of Little Richard’s songs are based on real experiences, and this one is about a woman named Ann Johnson. Along with her husband Enotris Johnson, Ann, who was a white woman from Macon Georgia, took in Little Richard after he was kicked out of his house for what Richard once claimed was because of his homosexuality. The Johnson’s ran the Tick Tock Club, where Richard first performed. I wonder whether the personal connection is a reason why Entrois Johnson received a writing credit for the tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is Jenny Jenny, which if I see it correctly still was new when the album appeared. It was credited to Penniman and Johnson as well. Unlike the other new songs, Jenny Jenny also became one of Richard’s highest-charting tunes, similar to Long Tall Sally. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 2 on the R&B chart and climbed to no. 10 on the mainstream chart. In the UK, it reached no. 11.

Here’s Little Richard is a breathtaking record full of energy, which still sounds great nearly 66 years after its release. I recall I previously wrote Chuck Berry’s 1959 album Chuck Berry Is On Top might as well be titled ‘The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll’. Frankly, I think Little Richard’s debut belongs in the same category. So perhaps Berry’s album could be called ‘The Greatest Hits of Guitar-Driven Rock & Roll’, while an alternate title for Richard’s debut could be ‘The Greatest Hits of Piano-Driven Rock & Roll’. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I should also call out the dynamite musicians who backed Richard on the album. Some include Lee Allen (tenor saxophone), Alvin “Red” Tyler (baritone saxophone), Edgar Blanchard (guitar), Frank Fields (bass) and Earl Palmer (drums), who were all leading figures of New Orleans rock and roll and R&B. Allen later became a member of The Blasters. Palmer was one of the most prolific session musicians who played on thousands of albums. His obituary by The Associated Press from September 2008 noted Little Richard said that Palmer “was probably the greatest session drummer of all time,” citing Richard’s autobiography and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website rockhall.com.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. Hope you dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard; Associated Press/New York Times; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Cranberries

The third installment of my weekly desert island exercise brings me to the letter “c.” Some of the artists and bands I could have selected include J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sheryl Crow. My pick are The Cranberries and Linger, a song I find exceptionally beautiful. The melody, the musical arrangement and the lyrics are all coming together perfectly.

Linger first appeared in February 1993 as the second upfront single of the Irish alternative rock band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? That album was released two weeks thereafter in March.

The Cranberries’ second single became one of their biggest hits. In addition peaking at no. 3 in their native Ireland, it reached no. 4 in Canada, no. 8 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and no. 14 in the UK, among others. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 24 weeks.

A beautiful great acoustic version of Linger was included on the band’s seventh studio album Something Else, released in April 2017. The record featured unplugged and orchestral renditions of 10 previously released singles, along with three new songs. Sadly, it would be the final album with Dolores O’Riordan who passed away on January 15, 2018, at the age of 46 years. The cause of death was determined as drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan wrote the music for this song before Dolores O’Riordan joined the band. Originally, it had lyrics written by the group’s first singer, a bloke named Niall Quinn. When O’Riordan auditioned for the band, she had some ideas for the song, and after she was hired, she wrote her own set of lyrics, turning it into a song of regret based on a soldier she once fell in love with.

The emotional, girlie sound was a huge departure for the band, but wildly successful. The song got lots of airplay from radio stations looking for an alternative to rap or grunge, and MTV put the video in heavy rotation [So did VH1 where I saw it repeatedly during my first semester as a student on Long Island, N.Y. – CMM]. The Cranberries became one of the best-selling bands of the mid-’90s.

In a Songfacts interview with Dolores O’Riordan, she described this as “a love song.” In the lyric, she describes being mistreated by her love and seeing him with another girl, yet unable to break free because he lets their relationship linger. This hardly seems the stuff of dreams, but the feeling of first love is what O’Riordan keyed in on. It brought her back to a time of innocence.

The Cranberries recorded the first version of this song in 1990 at their manager’s studio in Limerick, Ireland. It was one of three songs included on a demo they distributed to local records stores, which found their way to various record companies. Island Records signed the band, which released their first EP, Uncertain, in 1991. “Linger” was not part of that EP, as they wanted to save the song for when they built a bigger fan base.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Time for another installment of Musings of the Past, a recently introduced feature in which I repost select older content from the blog. These posts may be slightly edited and/or enhanced. The following was based on one of the best music documentaries I’ve watched to date: Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music. Thanks again to Jim at Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me in early 2018. Now that I’m reposting this, I feel like watching it again!

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Recording engineer and producer shaped sound of some of greatest music recorded during second half of 20th century

This post was inspired by Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, one of the most fascinating music documentaries I recently watched. Before getting to it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me.

Created by Mark Moormann, the documentary, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was a 2005 Grammy Award nominee, tells the fascinating story of Tom Dowd, a recording engineer and producer for Atlantic Records. Over a 50-plus-year career that started in the 1940s, this man worked with an amazing array of artists, including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.sEric Clapton, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the list goes on and on. During that period, Dowd also advanced studio techniques that would revolutionize recording.

Tom Dowd with Ray Charles

Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City. From the beginning of his life, he was exposed to music. His mother was an opera singer, while his dad worked as a concertmaster. While growing up, Dowd learned various instruments, including the piano, tuba, violin and string bass. After high school, he continued his musical education at City College of New York. During that time, Dowd also played in a band at Columbia University and became a conductor. Undoubtedly, all of this contributed to his great ear for music, which would come in handy for his later professional work in music.

Interestingly, Dowd’s path could have been very different. At 18, he was drafted into the military and through his work at the physics laboratory at Columbia University became involved in the Manhattan Project – yep that project, which developed the atomic bomb! Dowd planned to become a nuclear physicist after finishing his assignment. There was only one problem: His secret research for the military had been much more advanced than the university’s curriculum. So he decided against pursuing studies in nuclear physics and instead got a job at a classical recording studio in New York, before starting his longtime career with Atlantic Records.

Tom Dowd (left) with Jerry Wexler

In addition to helping shape the sound of some of the most amazing music recorded during the second half of the 20th century, Dowd was instrumental to drive innovation in the studio. He convinced Jerry Wexler, a partner in Atlantic Records, to install an Ampex eight-track recorder, putting the company on the cutting edge in recording technology. Dowd also popularized stereophonic sound and pioneered the use of linear channel faders on audio mixers as opposed to rotary controls. He then became a master in operating the linear channel faders, almost as if he was playing a keyboard!

Initially, various of the musicians were skeptical or even hostile when they saw Dowd. During the documentary, Eric Clapton said, “To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t interested in people like that.” Pretty much along the same lines, Gregg Allman noted, “Suddenly, you get to the studio, and there is a new guy there critiquing all this stuff, and you think, ‘where did he come from?'”

But when they realized what kind of artists Dowd had recorded in the past, how much he knew about music (likely, more than all of them combined!), and what he could do at the mixer, they listened. Heck, Dowd even managed to suggest to Ginger Baker, who undoubtedly is one of the best rock drummers but not exactly a warm fellow, the drum groove for Sunshine Of Your Love! The fact that all these musicians put their big egos aside and listened to this gentle recording engineer is truly remarkable.

Tom Dowd (second from left) and Duane Allman working on final master mix-down of Layla

Dowd passed away from emphysema at the age of 77 on October 27, 2007 in Florida, shortly after the above documentary had been finished. In 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – better late than never, I suppose! One can only speculate what would have happened to Layla by Derek and The Dominos, Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream and so many other great recordings Dowd impacted!

Following are two video clips. First up is the trailer to the documentary, which in addition to Dowd includes commentary from Ray Charles, Clapton, Allman and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Listening to the beginning of the clip when Charles is taking about the importance of sound is priceless in and of itself. I also recommend watching the remainder and hear all the other people talk about Dowd. It becomes obvious how much they revered him!

Here is how Dowd summarizes his amazing experience with artists from the ’50’s to the ’80s and the evolution of recording technology. I just find it fascinating and could listen to the man for hours!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dowd was his modesty. In the documentary, there is a scene where he notes that while he had worked with all these artists, he wasn’t a millionaire – far from it! Obviously, many albums these artists released became big-time sellers. But apparently, money didn’t matter to Dowd. Instead, it was all about the music. I think his following statement sums it up perfectly: “Music has been very kind to me over the years.” Boy, the music industry could need visionaries like Tom Dowd these days!

– End-

Below is a playlist that captures some of Tom Dowd’s impressive work both as a recording engineer and a producer.

This post was originally published on February 13, 2018. It has been slightly edited. The Spotify list is an addition.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music (Documentary, Mark Moorman, 2003), YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another week is coming to an end, and I can’t believe we’re almost in March. Before we embark on another music journey, I feel compelled to express my shock and sadness about the tragic events and human suffering unfolding in Ukraine.

Usually, I don’t discuss politics or any other topics on this blog outside of music. I also strive to keep things positive. Both are deliberate choices since I feel we’re already bombarded with so much negativity every day in traditional and social media. I want CMM to be a destination where you can forget about all the everyday crap life can throw at you. Music is a great escape hatch that has helped me more than once to keep it together.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv, a city within the city initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051

Why break my own rules now? Ukraine is different. In some regards it’s personal. In my former professional career, I worked in the UN Office in Kyiv from January 1995 through March 1997. As such, not only do I know the Ukrainian capital – well, at least how it looked at the time – but I also had the opportunity to visit many different regions of the country, such as Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014, and the so-called breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which they are now claiming to protect from neo Nazis – it’s like you’re watching an episode of the Twilight Zone!

Witnessing what looks like the re-emergence of a Russian czar who apparently wants to restore the old empire of the U.S.S.R. seems unreal in 21st Century Europe. I just hope these unprovoked and illegal actions by this warmonger can be stopped, and he eventually will have to pay a high personal price for his crimes. I’d like to dedicate this post to the people of Ukraine, including my former colleagues and their families many of whom still live there. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians, and I hope this madness will come to an end soon.

Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny)/Файне мiсто Тернопiль

In light of the above, I’d like to kick off this Sunday Six with some kickass rock by Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny), which according to Wikipedia is one of the most successful Ukrainian bands from Lviv. The largest city in Western Ukraine is located about 60 miles east of the border to Poland. Braty Hadiukiny, which means “Hadyukin Brothers”, were mainly active between 1988 and 1996. This was followed by what looks like a 10-year hiatus and a reunion in 2006. Wikipedia characterizes their music as a combination of different genres like rock & roll, blues, punk, reggae, funk and folk. Файне мiсто Тернопiль (translation: Fine city of Ternopil) is a great rock tune from the band’s 1994 album Було не любити (translation: It was not to love). Ternopil is another bigger city in Western Ukraine.

Paul McCartney/Drive My Car

In case you haven’t heard the news today about lucky me who made the grade, the news wasn’t sad and I just had to laugh. Yesterday, I got a ticket to ride for Paul McCartney on June 16 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.! While I fully anticipate there will be some differences between this show and the two previous gigs I saw, my words can’t express how excited I am. In case you’d like to check out dates for the Got Back Tour, which is scheduled to get underway in late April in Spokane, Wash. and wrap up on June 16 in Jersey, you can check on Macca’s website here. To get in the mood, here’s Paul’s opener Drive My Car, off his November 2009 live album Good Evening New York City. It captures songs performed during three nights in July 2009 to formally open New York’s Citi Field, a baseball park built to replace the legendary Shea Stadium, where The Beatles played one of their most famous shows in 1965. Primarily written by Macca with lyrical contributions from John Lennon, Drive My Car originally appeared on Rubber Soul, the second of two albums The Beatles released in 1965. Take it away!

John Miles/Music

After two uptempo rockers, it’s time to catch a breath coz, hey, I’m not exactly 16 years any longer. I’m already 26! 🙂 I literally just remembered what I feel is a great tune for the occasion by British artist John Miles. Born John Errington in April 1949, Miles was active for more than 50 years from 1970 until his death in December 2021 at the age of 72 after a short illness. His catalog includes 10 studio, two live and five compilation albums. Undoubtedly, he is best remembered for the song I picked, Music, off his debut solo album Rebel from March 1976. Solely penned by Miles, this beautiful tune was also released separately as a single that same year and became his biggest hit. It topped the charts in Switzerland, peaked at no. 3 in the UK and reached no. 4 in The Netherlands. Beyond Europe, the chart performance was more moderate, including no. 38 in Australia and no. 88 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It may be lush and monumental, but it’s an incredibly powerful orchestral rock ballad, which btw was produced by Alan Parsons.

Joey DeFrancesco/Inner Being

Under different circumstances, an instrumental like this would have been my first pick. If you’ve seen some of the previous Sunday Six installments, you probably noticed that I tend to start nice and easy, and then sometimes turn to nice and rough. Anyway, this next track takes us to March 2019 and a studio album by jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco who also plays the trumpet and the saxophone. DeFrancesco, who signed his first record deal in 1987 at the age of 16, has played with the likes of David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and George Benson, and recorded with artists, such as Ray Charles, Bette Midler and Van Morrison before he went loonie. According to Wikipedia, DeFrancesco’s discography to date includes 31 studio, one live and one studio album – they had to count them all! Inner Being, composed by DeFrancesco, opens the above-noted album titled In the Key of the Universe. The record, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, features American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Tina Turner/Nutbush City Limits

It’s funny how sometimes one thing leads to another. You may have noticed that in the description of my previous pick, I creatively borrowed from the lyrics of Ike & Tina Turner’s rendition of Proud Mary. From the moment I did this, I couldn’t get Tina out of my head. Nutbush City Limits, written by her, was first recorded as part of her duo with her ex-husband Ike Turner and became the title track of their studio album from November 1973. Nearly three years later, Tina managed to flee from Ike with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. While Ike was a talented musician he also was a psychotic abuser. Beating and verbally abusing your wife or anyone else for that matter isn’t cool and will forever tarnish you! Anyway, here’s a life version of the song from Tina’s live record and video album Tina Live. Released in September 2009, it captures a gig Tina did in March that year in The Netherlands. This must have been right before her second and permanent retirement. She was 70 years at the time and still in incredible shape working that stage and dancing in high-heeled shoes – what an amazing performer!

Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy)/З нею

I’d like to conclude this post with more rock from Ukraine. Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy) are another group from Lviv. They were formed in 1994 and apparently have been active to this day. Their present lineup features original members Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (lead vocals) and Denys Hlinin (drums, percussion), along with Denys Dudko (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Miloš Jelić (piano, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Vladimir Opsenica (guitars, backing vocals). Wikipedia lists 10 studio albums released between 1998 and 2016. Here’s З нею (translation: With her), the opening track of a 2013 album titled Земля (translation: The land).

Following is a playlist of the above tracks, as usual.

Mr. Putin, stop your reckless assault on the Ukrainian people and from going down in the history books as a war criminal! Rock & roll will never die and outlive any psychopathic emperor!

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Billy Joel

As previously noted, while I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off for more than 40 years and occasionally included him or one of his songs in some previous pieces, I had not dedicated a post to him. After more than five years of writing this blog, it’s about time to change that. It was all seeded by this recent post from fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews. In turn, this led me to include the piano man in that post, which then triggered the idea to do this profile and playlist.

Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island where he has one of his residences to this day. Ironically, Joel wasn’t into the piano initially and only took it up reluctantly after his mother insisted. To be fair, he was only four years old at the time. During his teenage years, Joel got into boxing but decided to stop after he had suffered a broken nose in his 24th boxing match.

While attending high school, Joel was playing piano at a bar to help support himself, as well as his mother and his sister. His parents had divorced when he was eight years old. When he found himself with an insufficient amount of credits to graduate, he decided to forgo his high school diploma. After he had seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Joel knew he wasn’t going to Columbia University but to Columbia Records, according to the 2006 biography Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz.

Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014

In 1965, Joel joined British Invasion cover band The Echoes and played on some of their recordings. By the time he left the group in 1967, they had gone through a couple of name changes and were called Lost Souls. Joel’s new band, The Hassles, had a deal with United Artists Records, and over the next two years released two albums and a few singles, none of which were commercially successful.

In 1969, Joel and Lost Souls’ drummer Jon Small departed, formed the duo Attila and released an eponymous debut album in July 1970. Things unraveled after Joel had started an affair with Small’s wife Elizabeth Weber Small who eventually became Joel’s first wife in 1973 and manager. Making music and getting into relationships oftentimes don’t mix well!

Joel subsequently signed with Family Productions and launched his solo career with the album Cold Spring Harbor, which appeared in November 1971. It was the first of 12 pop albums Joel released between 1971 and 1993. In September 2001, Joel came out with a classical music album, Fantasies & Delusions, his last to date and I guess by now we can safely assume is his final release of original music.

This shall suffice for background. Let’s get to some music. Following, I’ll highlight six songs that are included in a Spotify playlist, together with some additional tunes. Here’s She’s Got a Way, a sweet love song that most likely is about Joel’s above-mentioned wife Elizabeth.

In October 1974, Joel released his third studio album Streetlife Serenade. In The Entertainer, he gets cynical about the music business and being subject to changing public taste where one day an artist is in only to find themselves out the next day.

After a series of only marginally successful records, Joel scored his breakthrough in September 1977 with the release of his fifth studio album The Stranger. It was the first of four records produced by Phil Ramone who worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Here’s Only the Good Die Young. Wikipedia notes the song’s lyrics about a young man’s determination to have premarital sex with a Catholic girl stirred controversy. Pressure from religious groups to have the tune banned from radio stations turned a relatively obscure single into a highly demanded tune overnight and a top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel followed up his breakthrough album The Stranger with 52nd Street in October 1978, his first of four records to reach the top of the Billboard 200. It also earned him two Grammys. Here’s the catchy uptempo song My Life, which became the lead single. Reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also was one of Joel’s highest-charting songs at the time.

If you’d ask me to name my favorite Billy Joel album, I’d go with The Nylon Curtain from September 1982. Joel’s eighth studio album isn’t among the four previously mentioned no. 1 records, though it did pretty well, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The opener Allentown, about the plight of American steelworkers following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure, is one of my favorite Joel songs.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Joel’s most recent and likely final pop album River of Dreams, released in August 1993. At that time, I was a grad student, on Long Island of all places, and frequently listened to the album’s title track on the radio. I also got the record on CD when it was released. The song became Joel’s biggest hit of the ’80s, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, his last top 10 single. I’ve always loved the tune’s combination of pop and gospel elements.

Here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist, which includes the previously featured songs, as well as additional tunes from each of Joel’s 12 pop albums.

Billy Joel is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. During his 22-year pop recording career, he had 33 top 40 hits in the U.S., including three that topped the Billboard Hot 100. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (1999) and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Frankly, I had no idea the latter existed – always nice to learn something new when putting together posts.

While the above accomplishments are very impressive, what I find most amazing is that the piano man continues to sell out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That’s about 20,000 tickets each time. And all of that despite not having released any new pop music in close to 30 years!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 7

Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.

1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden.  Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!

1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.

1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”

1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to The Sunday Six! Can you believe the next installment will be the day after Christmas? It’s unreal to me! Though I’m not going to lie – I can’t wait for this dreadful year to be over! Let’s turn to a more cheerful topic and frankly a good distraction: Music! This time, the little journey features jazz fusion, new wave, soul, alternative rock, pop rock and garage rock, touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Let’s go!

Klaus Doldinger/Tatort

German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger, who has been active since 1953, is best known for jazz fusion band Passport, which he formed in 1971 as Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. Prior to starting Passport, he composed one of the best-known musical themes in Germany for what has become the longest-running police drama TV series: Tatort (crime scene), which has been on the air for more than 50 years. I watched it many times while growing up in Germany. One of the things I always liked about the series was the theme music, one of the coolest I know. BTW, Doldinger turned 85 earlier this year and remains active with Passport. That’s truly remarkable! Doldinger also wrote or co-wrote various other TV and film scores, most notably for World War II drama Das Boot (the boat, actually a submarine) from 1981, as well as the 1984 fantasy picture The NeverEnding Story. The original recording of Tatort from 1970 featured drummer Udo Lindenberg, who subsequently launched a solo career and became one of Germany’s most successful artists singing in German.

Tears For Fears/Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Tears For Fears has to be one of the best band names. The new wave and synth-pop group were initially formed in 1981 in Bath, England by Roland Orzabal (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Curt Smith (bass, keyboards, vocals). They had known each other as teenagers and played together in English new wave and mod revival group Graduate. Ian Stanley (keyboards, backing vocals) and Manny Elias (drums, percussion) completed the original line-up. That formation lasted until 1986 and spanned the group’s first two albums. By 1991, Orzbal was the only remaining member. Relying on collaborators, he kept the name Tears For Fears alive and released two albums. In 2000, he reunited with Smith. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the group’s sixth studio album, appeared in 2014. A new album is scheduled for February 2022, the first in nearly 18 years. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, co-written by Orzabal, Stanley and Hughes and released as a single in March 1985, became Tears For Fears’ biggest hit. It was off their sophomore release Songs from the Big Chair, their best-selling album to date. Yes, it sounds very ’80s, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Billy Preston/Will It Go Round in Circles

To folks who have watched the Peter Jackson docu-series The Beatles: Get Back, Billy Preston will be a very familiar name. The then-23-year-old keyboard player was invited by The Beatles to join their recording sessions for Get Back, which eventually became the Let It Be album. Preston’s involvement not only boosted the band’s sound but also their spirit – he may well have saved the project! The entirely self-taught Preston had first met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1962, when he was part of Little Richard’s backing band. At the time, the 16-year-old already had been six years into his performing career, which had started in 1956 to back several gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. In 1963, Preston released his debut album 16 Yr. Old Soul. Four years later, he joined Ray Charles’ band. After signing with Apple Records, Preston released his fourth studio album That’s the Way God Planned It, which was produced by George Harrison. The title track became a hit in the UK. In the ’70s, Preston remained a sought-after session musician and played on various Rolling Stones albums. He also continued to put out his own solo records. Sadly, Preston passed away in June 2006 at the age of 59. Will It Go Round in Circles, co-written by him and Bruce Fisher, is from his seventh album Music Is My Life that came out in October 1972. The funky soul tune became his first no. 1 as a solo artist in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Radiohead/Paranoid Android

Recently, I discussed Radiohead with fellow blogger Music Enthusiast. I still mostly know the English alternative rock band by name, which has been around since 1985. Remarkably, the group’s original line-up still is in place to this day: Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, orchestral arrangements), Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). Paranoid Android, credited to all members of the group, was the lead single off their third studio album OK Computer from May 1997. Reaching no. 3 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, the tune became the band’s highest-charting single to date. According to Wikipedia, the song has been compared to The Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – not sure that’s obvious to me, but it’s definitely a good tune!

Marmalade/Reflections of My Life

Next, let’s turn to one of my favorite songs from 1969: Reflections of My Life by Marmalade. The Scottish pop-rock band originally was formed in 1961 in Glasgow as The Gaylords. In 1966, they changed their name to The Marmalade, later shortened to Marmalade. The band enjoyed their greatest chart success between 1968 and 1972 when 10 of their tunes made the UK’s Official Singles Chart. One of the most successful tunes among them was Reflections of My Life, a no. 3 in the UK, and a no. 10 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, two of the group’s founding members. It appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade. A version of Marmalade continues to be active, though none of their members are co-founders. Reflections of My Life relies on a repetitive chord progression, but it’s beautifully done. I just love it!

The Sonics/Psycho

For this last tune let’s accelerate with some great ’60s garage rock: Psycho by The Sonics. The American group was formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960. The initial line-up featured Larry Parypa (lead guitar), his brother Jerry Parypa (saxophone), Stuart Turner (guitar) and Mitch Jaber (drums). Larry’s and Jerry’s parents loved music and supported the band. In fact, their mother even filled in occasionally on bass during rehearsals. In 1961, Tony Mabin joined as the band’s permanent bassist. By the time their debut album !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! came out, only the Parypa brothers were left as original members, with Larry having switched to bass. Gerry Roslie (lead vocals, organ, piano), Rob Lind (saxophone, harmonica, vocals) and Bob Bennett (drums) completed the line-up. Lind remains a member of the group’s current touring line-up. Psycho, written by Roslie, is from The Sonics’ first record. It’s a great, hard-charging, raw tune. They have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. The White Stripes have named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, “harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk.”

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube