If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Los Lobos

It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.

I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.

Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!

Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport ConventionRandy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.

In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major-label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. 

Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”

In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”

Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Songfacts

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On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 3

It’s time to take another look at music history. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete account of events that happened on the select date. With that reminder out of the way, let’s take a look at February 3.

1959: Sadly, the first item here is the tragic and untimely death of early rock & roll star Buddy Holly at age 22. During a short 7-year professional career, the man from Lubbock, Texas recorded such original gems as That’ll Be the Day, Words of Love, Everyday, Not Fade Away and It’s So Easy, as well as great tunes penned by other songwriters like Peggy Sue and Oh, Boy! On January 3, 1959, Holly and his band embarked on the Winter Dance Party tour. Following a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were supposed to travel to their next show in Mason City, Iowa. After Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized for frostbites in his toes due to icy conditions on the tour bus, Holly decided to look for alternate transportation and chartered a small propeller plane. But the four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza never reached its destination. In the early morning hours of February 3, it crashed into a frozen cornfield close to Mason City, instantly killing Holly and the three other people on board: Fellow rock & roll artists Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper), as well as the pilot Roger Peterson. In 1971, the tragic event became known as “The Day the Music Died” in American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s tune American Pie.

1967: The Beatles were at Abbey Road’s EMI Studios to add overdubs to A Day in the Life, one of my all-time favorite tunes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. According to The Beatles Bible, the session began at 7:00 pm and finished at 1:15am the following morning. Each of the overdubs replaced previously-recorded parts: Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s bass and drums parts they had recorded on January 20. McCartney then overdubbed his lead vocals to correct a wrong word sung during the previous session. Starr’s drum part recorded that night became one of his most- admired upon the album’s release in May of the same year. Here’s a neat clip.

1973: Elton John hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Crocodile Rock. According to Songfacts, John said the retro tune contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including “Little Darlin'”, “At The Hop” and “Oh Carol” as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song “See You Later Alligator” – Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” even gets a mention, as that’s what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock. With music written by John and lyrics penned by Bernie Taupin, Crocodile Rock was John’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. It also topped the charts in other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, and became a top 5 hit in Australia, the UK and a few other European countries. Crocodile Rock was also included on John’s sixth studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, which had been released in January that same year.

1979: The Blues Brothers featuring comedians and actors John Belushi (“Joliet” Jake Blues ) and Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) proved they were no joke, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. with their debut Briefcase Full of Blues. Capturing a live gig in Los Angeles from September 1979, the album also featured a formidable backing band. Among others, it included guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, both formerly of Booker T. & the M.G.’s., and blues guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Buddy Guy and Etta James. Belushi, Aykroyd, Cropper, Dunn and Murphy all would appear the following year in the cult comedy picture The Blues Brothers. Here’s their rendition of the 1967 Sam & Dave classic Soul Man, a tune written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

1986: Dire Straits were on top of the UK chart with their fifth studio album Brothers in Arms. The British band’s second-to-last studio release turned out to be their most successful one. It also reached no. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various other European countries. Additionally, with more than 30 million copies sold globally, Brothers in Arms is one of the world’s best-selling albums. It also holds the distinction of being one of the first albums recorded all digitally (DDD). One could argue its extremely clean sound gave it a bit of a sterile feel. Here’s the beautiful Your Latest Trick penned by Mark Knopfler, the group’s leader and main songwriter. The stunning saxophone part was played by American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music Calendar; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; This Day In Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Great Covers, B.r.u.c.e. Style

Over his nearly 50-year recording career, Bruce Springsteen has amassed an enormous catalog. He could easily fill up his 3 to 4-hour shows he routinely plays with just his own songs and still not even perform half of the tunes he has written over the decades. Yet The Boss has always liked to mix up his sets with covers. Why? I think it’s because Springsteen loves great music and to honor the artists behind it.

The latest reminder is The Live Series: Songs Under Cover Vol. 2, a new album released on March 5 as part of Springsteen’s ongoing series of concert releases. It’s available via digital download at https://live.brucespringsteen.net and on music streaming services. With The E Street Band, Springsteen has the perfect group of road-tested warriors to back him. Just like Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers used to do, these guys can play anything. The new album triggered the idea to do a post on covers, B.r.u.c.e. style.

In the Midnight Hour

I couldn’t think of a better tune to kick things off than with a Stax gem. Here’s Springsteen’s version of In the Midnight Hour. Apparently, this was captured at Nassau Veterans Coliseum on Long Island, N.Y. in 1980 during The River Tour. Written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, the song was first recorded by Pickett, one of my favorite Stax artists, and appeared in June 1965. It also became the title track of Pickett’s second studio album that appeared in the same year.

Who’ll Stop the Rain

Who’ll Stop the Rain is one of my long-time favorite tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Written by John Fogerty, the track was included on the band’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory from July 1970. It’s one of the covers included on Springstreen’s new live release. This was recorded at London’s Wembley Arena in June 1981. Great version. I love the sax work by “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons – just wish his solo would have been longer!

Sweet Soul Music

Here’s an amazing version of Sweet Soul Music, another soul classic. Co-written by Sam Cooke, Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and first released by Conley in 1967. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were on fire that night in Stockholm, Sweden in July 1988. It was around the same time I saw Springsteen first in Frankfurt, Germany. I will never forget that show. Springsteen and the E Street Band belted out one cover after the other for more than one hour. Technically, I guess this was the encore. If I recall it correctly, they also played Sweet Soul Music in addition to gems like In the Midnight Hour, Land of a Thousand Dances and Shout. It was just unbelievable!

Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited is another highlight from Springsteen’s latest live release. For this rendition at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in December 1990, Springsteen got a little help from his friends Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. It really doesn’t get much better! Written by Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited became the title track of his sixth studio album from August 1965. Check this out – this is to die for!

Twist & Shout/La Bamba

This fantastic medley of Twist & Shout and La Bamba was captured during the Human Rights Now! Tour, a series of 20 benefit concerts conducted in 1988 to raise awareness of Amnesty International during the year of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Twist & Shout, co-written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley, was first recorded and released by American R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961. La Bamba, a Mexican folk song, became broadly popular in 1968 through the amazing rendition by Ritchie Valens – one of the artists who died in that plane crash near Mason City, Iowa in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, together with Buddy Holly.

Rockin’ All Over the World

Let’s wrap up this post with another John Fogerty classic that became the title track for Status Quo’s 10th studio album from November 1977, and a huge hit for the British boogie rockers. Fogerty originally recorded Rockin’ All Over the World for his self-titled sophomore solo album that came out in September 1975. Bruce and the boys played the song during a gig at Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland in July 2012. As Springsteen said, “let’s do it right – alright!” Man, would I have loved to be there!

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 2

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the U.S. and Canada. BTW, I heard that this morning, the groundhog emerged from its burrow and did not see the shadow, which means an early spring! February 2nd also saw the birth of a great songwriter and vocalist, the day before the music died, a recording of a masterpiece and the release of a new album by a Southern Rock staple. Let’s get to it!

1942: Graham William Nash was born in Blackpool, England. Nash, who according to Wikipedia has been active since 1958, is best known for his vocal and songwriting contributions to The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of both bands. Between May 1971 and April 2016, Nash has also released six solo albums. Here’s Myself At Last, a pretty tune from Nash’s most recent solo record This Path Tonight, which appeared in April 2016 and was his first new studio album in 14 years. Like all songs on that record, it was written by Nash and producer Shayne Fontayne. Nash who turned 78 today is planning to embark on a tour of the U.S. and Europe in early March. The current schedule is here. Long may you run!

1959: This was the day before the music died. Rock & rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, artistically known as The Big Bopper, played their last gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. It was the 11th show of the 24-date Winter Party Tour through the midwestern U.S. The next scheduled stop was 365 miles away in Moorhead, Minn. Rather than doing the entire trip by bus in freezing temperatures as the musicians had done up to this point, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, N.D., close to Moorhead. Initially, his touring bassist Waylon Jennings was supposed to be one of the three passengers (in addition to the pilot). But he gave his seat to Richardson who had fallen ill with the flu to spare him a gruesome bus trip. The V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza embarked on its fateful flight from Mason City Municipal Airport in the early morning hours of Feb 3 and the rest is history.

The_Day_the_Music_Died

1967: The Beatles were working on their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Abbey Road Studios in London, according to The Beatles Bible. While it may not be quite as popular as Jesus, this source captures the ultimate truth about The Fab Four in all of its gory details. During the recording session that evening, Paul McCartney added his lead vocals to the album’s title track, joined by Lennon John and George Harrison in the chorus. For the nerds, and yes, I like that shit, The Beatles Bible further points out their voices were captured on track four of the tape. Track three was used to overdub additional harmonies. Afterwards, a reduction mix was created to free up space on the tape. All instruments were now on track one, and all vocals were on track four. I sharply conclude this left tracks two and three to add additional overdubs. And, yes, separately I read Sgt. Pepper was still recorded in four-track since music studios in London did not start using eight-track tape recorders until late 1967.

1976: Southern rockers Lynryd Skynyrd released Gimme Back My Bullets, their fourth studio album and the second-to-last recorded with original members Ronnie Van Zandt and Allen Collins prior to the October 1977 plane crash. Peaking at no. 20 on the U.S. Billboard 200, it was less successful than Skynyrd’s two previous records. Van Zant and Collins attributed the performance to the loss of the band’s three-guitar attack that had been one of their early hallmarks. While the album didn’t match the Platinum status of the band’s other pre-crash records, it still earned a respective Gold certification in January 1981. Here’s lead single Double Trouble co-written by Van Zandt and Collins.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube