The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six where I’d like to present six songs from the past six decades or so. The rules are there are no rules, and pretty much any music genre goes, as long as I like the track. I suppose this means the outcomes may vary. At the end of the day, my goal is to celebrate great music, which can come in many different flavors.

Kenny Burrell/Saturday Night Blues

I’d like to start today’s mini-journey with a great bluesy jazz instrumental by American jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. Burrell started picking up the guitar in 1943 as a 12-year-old. Among his influences were jazz guitarists Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore and Django Reinhardt. Burrell’s recording debut occurred in 1951 with Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet while he was a student at Wayne State University. The first album he recorded under his own name was Introducing Kenny Burrell, released in September 1956. Subsequently, an enormous amount of additional records appeared, both featuring Burrell as a leader, as well as a sideman to many other jazz artists, especially organist Jimmy Smith. Saturday Night Blues is from Midnight Blue, a Burrell album from May 1963. Other musicians on the recording include Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Major Holley (bass), Ray Barretto (conga) and Bill English (drums). This tune may be called Saturday Night Blues, but for me, it works just as well for a Sunday morning!

Robert Palmer/Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley

British songwriter and vocalist Robert Palmer joined his first band The Mandrakes in 1964 as a 15-year-old high school student. After playing in two other groups, he co-founded soul/rock band Vinegar Joe in 1971. Follwing three albums, the group disbanded in 1974, and Palmer launched a solo career. In 1984, he formed English-American supergroup The Power Station, together with Duran Duran members Andy Taylor (guitar) and John Taylor (bass), as well as former Chic drummer Tony Thompson. The following year, Palmer left the group that subsequently disbanded to record his next solo album, the highly successful Riptide. It featured the single Addicted to Love, which became a no. 1 in the U.S. and Australia, as well as a top 5 hit in the UK, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. Palmer recorded six additional solo albums and one 1996 reunion album with The Power Station. He died from a sudden heart attack in Paris in September 2003. Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, written by Allen Toussaint, is the groovy title track from Palmer’s debut solo album that came out in September 1974.

Tracy Chapman/Give Me One Reason

For this next pick, let’s jump to the ’90s and a great tune by Tracy Chapman I recall the song somewhat surprised me coming from her at the time it appeared. The singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio burst on the scene in April 1988 with her eponymous folk-oriented debut album. Her singles Talkin’ ‘about a Revolution and especially Fast Car struck a chord with many listeners, including this blogger. Chapman has since released seven additional studio albums and two compilations. According to this website, Chapman is still in the music business but not really active lately. From a 2015 interview: “Being in the public eye and under the glare of the spotlight was, and it still is, to some extent, uncomfortable for me, but there are some ways by which everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for this career. That has made me perhaps not the ideal person for this job.” I certainly hope we’ll hear more from Tracy Chapman. For now, let’s listen to Give Me One Reason, a terrific blues tune penned by Chapman. It appeared on her fourth studio album New Beginning from November 1995.

Meat Loaf/Dead Ringer for Love

As widely reported, Meat Loaf passed away during the night of January 20 to January 21. While it’s safe to assume his operatic, heavily produced output isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, many people bought his music. How many? How about 65 million-plus records sold worldwide! Meat Loaf whose real name was Michael Lee Aday was rock opera on steroids. His bombastic productions were somewhat comparable to Queen and ELO. Altogether, the Texan released a dozen studio albums between October 1977 (Bat Out of Hell) and September 2016 (Braver Than We Are). Aday struggled with health issues, including severe back problems, which largely sidelined him since the mid-2010s. I recall reading somewhere last year that he was working on new music. Here’s one of my favorite Meat Loaf songs: Dead Ringer for Love from his sophomore album Dead Ringer that appeared in September 1981. Written by Aday’s longtime songwriter Jim Steinman, who passed away in April of last year at the age of 73, the tune features Cher on vocals. Hot patootie, bless your soul, I really loved your rock & roll!

Lenny Kravitz/The Chamber

I trust most readers have heard of American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and actor Lenny Kravitz. Following challenges in his early career, where some clever music industry officials told him he didn’t sound “black enough” (what does this even mean?!) while others opined his music embraced too many influences of terrible artists like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles (you just can’t make this stuff up!), Kravitz has established himself with more than 40 million records sold worldwide and multiple awards. I think these smartass industry folks have since shut up. Here’s a cool groovy tune called The Chamber from Kravitz’s 10th studio album Strut released in September 2014. It was co-written by Kravitz and Craig Ross, who also played guitar and handclaps on the album. The song had first appeared in June that year as the lead single. Be careful, boys and girls, the video may harm you. And, Lenny, how could you, that bass groove sounds way too much like Chic!

Parquet Courts/Watching Strangers Smile

And once again this brings me to the sixth and final pick for this installment, a tune by Parquet Courts. ‘Who?’ you might think? I kind of had a similar initial reaction when I stumbled upon this New York City-based rock band, founded in 2010 by then-University of North Texas students Andrew Savage (vocals, guitar) and Austin Brown (vocals, guitar, keyboard). Sean Yeaton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Max Savage (drums, percussion, backing vocals) completed the line-up, which remains in place to this day. Wikipedia notes the group’s music has been characterized as indie rock, post-punk, art punk and garage punk. To date, Parquet Courts have released eight studio albums. Here’s what appears to be their most recent tune, Watching Strangers Smile, a non-album single that came out on January 12 this year. I think it sounds pretty cool – check it out!

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above picks. Hope you find something that’s for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; About Tracy Chapman website; YouTube; Spotify

In Appreciation of Healthcare Professionals

Not a day goes by that you don’t see stories on TV and in other news outlets, reporting about the incredible work healthcare professionals are doing around the U.S. to care for people who are sick from the coronavirus. Last night, I caught a segment on CNN, which really got to me. For a change, I wished it was fake news, but it wasn’t!

A CNN anchor interviewed two women who are working as hospital nurses in New York City: A 20-year-old and another nurse who I guess was in her ’50s – hard to tell! Both looked extremely exhausted. The older nurse was working despite having some COVID-19 symptoms herself. Why was she still coming to work? ‘Because that’s what we do,’ she said. In the beginning, the 20-year-old tried to put on an optimistic face as best as she could, but it was obvious she was scared to death. She had just written her will and admitted she had cried a lot over the past week.

Twenty years old and feeling compelled to write her will? That’s only two years older than my son! And this is happening in America in the 21st century?

Both women pleaded with government officials that healthcare workers be provided with the protective equipment they need to continue caring for patients while reducing the risk of getting sick themselves. I have to say I never thought I would witness something like this in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world. WTF!

It’s beyond my comprehension why certain so-called leaders at the state and federal level don’t use their full authorities to help contain the spread of the virus and fight it with all means they have at their disposal. This is not a time to question scientists or view things through an ideological lens. People are dying all around us, for crying out loud!

I’ll stop the rant here to get to the essence of the post – music, more specifically songs that in a broader sense are about doctors. Admittedly, I have to stress the word “broader” here. In any case, the idea is to give a shoutout and honor the selfless work healthcare professionals are doing across the U.S. every day. Typically for lousy pay!

Steely Dan/Dr. WuDonald FagenWalter Becker; Katy Lied (1975)

Bruce Springsteen/The Lady and the DoctorBruce Springstein; Before the Fame (1997)

Jethro Tull/Doctor to My DiseaseIan Anderson; Catfish Rising (1991)

Robert Palmer/Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)Moon Martin; Secrets (1979)

Jackson Browne/Doctor, My EyesJackson Browne; Jackson Browne (1972)

Blue Öyster Cult/Dr. MusicJoe Bouchard, Donald Roeser & Richard Meltzer; Mirrors (1979)

Counting Crows/HospitalCoby Brown; Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) (2012)

Doobie Brothers/The DoctorTom Johnston, Charlie Midnight & Eddie Schwartz; Cycles (1989)

Black Sabbath/Rock ‘n’ Roll DoctorTony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward & Ozzy Osbourne; Technical Ecstasy (1976)

The Fray/How to Save a LifeIsaac Slade & Joe King; How to Safe a Life (2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Celebrating James Jamerson

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

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

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

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

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

James Jamerson 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Money For Parkinson’s Rocks

Light of Day Winterfest includes benefit concerts in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia

Listening to my favorite music live is an experience I greatly enjoy. I find it even more powerful when it also involves raising money for an important cause, such as fighting hunger, poverty or disease. Last Sunday, I attended a Light of Day Winterfest 2019 event at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. It was part of a series of regional concerts conducted between January 11 and January 21 to raise money for Parkinson’s disease and other related neurodegenerative disorders. My mother-in-law has had Parkinson’s for more than 10 years, which gave the event additional special meaning.

The annual series of concerts is the key fundraising vehicle of the Light of Day Foundation. According to its website, the New Jersey-based nonprofit funds research into possible cures, improved treatments and support for people living with Parkinson’s and related diseases and their caregivers. The foundation was established by music industry veteran and manager Bob Benjamin and some of his friends in 1998, shortly after he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Light of Day is the title of a song written by Benjamin’s friend Bruce Springsteen for a 1987 motion picture with the same name.

The annual concerts have been held since 2000. Over the years, they grew from a one-day event in Asbury Park to a 10-day series of concerts held in different locations. In addition to the Jersey shore town, which remains the main hub, LOD Winterfest 2019 includes shows in Montclair, N.J., New York City, Philadelphia and Rockland County, N.Y. Light of Day concerts have also expanded beyond the U.S. to Canada, Australia and Europe. The most recent overseas shows took place in England, Germany, Switzerland and various other European countries in late November and December 2018.

Apart from Bruce Springsteen, who has appeared at various Light of Day concerts, other performers over the years have included prominent music artists, such as Southside Johnny, Jakob Dylan and Gary US Bonds, as well as numerous lesser known local artists. To date, Light of Day has raised more than $4.5 million for its support to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

Following are some clips I captured from the event, which mostly focused on tributes. I’d like to kick it off with The Bell Bottom Blues, a Jersey band that captures music by Eric Clapton. This includes his solo career and his work in bands like Cream, Blind Faith and Derek And The Dominoes. Here’s one of my favorite Cream tunes, White Room,  from Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third studio album released in August 1968.

Bob Burger & Friends played a great Tom Petty tribute set. Burger is a singer-songwriter, who according to his website has about 40 published songs to his credit. He has opened for other artists like Meatloaf, Robert Palmer, Hootie And The Blowfish and Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes. Among others, Burger was joined by some of his band mates from The Weeklings, a tribute to The Beatles that apart from renditions plays originals inspired by The Fab Four. Here’s Refugee, which Petty recorded with The Heartbreakers for their excellent third studio album Damn The Torpedoes from October 1979.

Next up: CSN Songs, a great tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. On their website, the seven-piece band characterizes itself as the only national CSN&Y tribute show of its kind. CSN Songs does a beautiful job at replicating CSN&Y’s four-part harmony vocals. Here’s their rendition of Woodstock, the classic Joni Mitchell tune CSN&Y recorded for their second album Déjà Vu that came out in March 1970.

The last band I’d like to highlight is Best Of The Eagles (BTOE). Previously, I had seen a couple of other Eagles tribute bands. While they were pretty good, BTOE has been the best so far. According to their website, BTOE were founded in 2012 by guitarist/vocalist Joe Vadala and a group of professional New Jersey musicians. In addition to Eagles songs, they also played Don Henley and Joe Walsh solo tunes, including a blistering rendition of Rocky Mountain Way. Here’s their take of Witchy Woman from the Eagles’ eponymous debut album released in June 1972.

During the current concert series the Light of Day Foundation aims to reach the $5.5 million mark in total fundraising. The schedule of remaining LOD Winterfest 2019 events is here.

Sources: Light of Day Foundation website, Wikipedia, The Bell Bottom Blues Facebook page, Bob Burger website, CSN Songs website, Best Of The Eagles website, YouTube