The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions celebrating music I dig from different genres, spanning the past 70 years or so. I think I put together another nice and eclectic set of six tracks, including jazz, heartland rock, ’60s British rock, ’80s pop, ’90s alternative rock and some kickass hard rock & roll from 2014. Let’s play ball!

Thelonius Monk/‘Round Midnight

Starting us off today is beautiful soothing jazz by Thelonious Monk. This pick was inspired by fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk, who not only impresses me with her poetry writing but her music picks she oftentimes uses to accompany her poems – like in this case, a great jazz piece by Charlie Haden and Chet Baker. When I checked out the corresponding album, I noticed another track called ‘Round Midnight. Instead of taking this rendition, I decided to go with the original composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The track has become a standard that has been recorded by many jazz musicians. Apparently, there is some debate when Monk wrote it. The earliest noted date is 1936 when he was just 19 years old. Other accounts put it to 1940 or 1941. Trumpeter Cootie Williams was the first artist who recorded the tune in August 1944. Monk’s earliest recording is on a compilation titled Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 from 1951.

John Mellencamp/A Little Night Dancin’

While it’s safe to assume most readers have heard of John Mellencamp, I imagine this may not necessarily include his pre-1980s music. My entry to the heartland artist was his 1985 Scarecrow album. Only in the ’90s did I begin to explore Mellencamp’s earlier catalog including John Cougar, his third record from July 1979. Prior to the release of Mellencamp’s debut album Chestnut Street Incident in October 1976, his manager Tony Defries had changed his name to Johnny Cougar, convinced an artist with the last name Mellencamp wouldn’t generate much interest. Mellencamp who hated the name kept “Cougar” through Scarecrow before finally adopting his real name John Mellencamp for the follow-on release The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. Here’s A Little Night Dancin’, the opener of the John Cougar album. The tune was also released in 1980 as a single but didn’t match the U.S. chart performance of I Need a Lover. While the latter reached no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100, A Little Night Dancin’ stalled at no. 105. Still, not only do I dig that tune, but I also think it’s much better than I Need a Lover. I can hear a bit of a Van Morrison vibe in this song. Fifteen years later, Mellencamp recorded an excellent cover of Morrison’s Wild Night for his 1994 studio album Dance Naked. Perhaps that’s for a future installment.

Small Faces/Sha-La-La-La-Lee

In last week’s Sunday Six, I did something I rarely do – skip the ’60s, my favorite decade in music apart from the ’70s. I vowed not to repeat it this time, so here’s a tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard it during my teenage years back in Germany: Sha-La-La-La-Lee by Small Faces. It’s from the English rock band’s eponymous debut album that came out in May 1966. The song was written by co-producer Kenny Lynch together with Mort Schuman. The band’s initial line-up included Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Ian McLagan (keyboards, vocals, guitar, bass), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Kenney Jones (drums, percussion, vocals). In March 1968, the Small Faces disbanded and Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. McLagan, Lane and Jones teamed up with former Jeff Beck Group members Ronnie Wood (guitar) and Rod Stewart (vocals) and became Faces. Small Faces reemerged in 1975 after Faces had broken up. They recorded two more albums before disbanding for good in 1978.

Madonna/La Isla Bonita

Here’s a pick that might surprise some folks who visit my blog more frequently. While I’m not a fan of Madonna, there is no denying she’s one of the most influential pop artists of our time. And, yes, while I can’t necessarily say the same for other ’80s tunes I used to dig at the time, I still like some of her songs. This includes the catchy La Isla Bonita, which always puts me in a holiday mood. The track is from Madonna’s third studio album True Blue that came out in June 1986. She co-wrote and co-produced the entire record with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard who also collaborated with Madonna on some of her other albums. La Isla Bonita also became the record’s fifth and final single and yet another major hit in the U.S. , Canada, Australia and various European countries.

The Cranberries/Linger

Next let’s jump to the ’90s and Irish alternative pop rock band The Cranberries. Initially, the group was formed as The Cranberry Saw Us in mid-1989 by brothers Noel Hogan (lead and rhythm guitar) and Mike Hogan (bass), together with Fergal Lawler (drums) and Niall Quinn (vocals). Following Quinn’s departure in early 1990, Dolores O’Riordan joined the band as lead vocalist, completing the line-up that in April 1991 became The Cranberries. In March 1993, they released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? The record became a major success, topping the charts in Ireland and the UK, and placing in the top 20 in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. After four additional albums, The Cranberries went on hiatus in September 2003. They reunited in 2009 and recorded two more albums until the sudden death of O’Riordan in January 2018, who drowned in a London hotel bathtub due to sedation by alcohol poisoning. In April 2019, The Cranberries released their final album In the End, which featured O’Riordan’s vocals taken from demo tapes that had been recorded prior to her death. Here’s the beautiful Linger from the above mentioned debut album. It was also released as a single and became their first major hit, peaking at no. 3 in Ireland, and reaching no. 4, 8 and 14 in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, respectively.

AC/DC/Play Ball

Is it really time to wrap up things again? It is since I’d like to keep these installments to six tunes; otherwise, I could go on forever! But there’s always the next installment! I trust Australian rockers AC/DC need no further introduction. After much drama, including the death of co-founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in November 2017 and vocalist Brian Johnson’s forced departure in April 2016 during the band’s tour that year due to hearing loss, against all odds, AC/DC officially reunited in September 2020 and released their 17th studio album Power Up in November that year. There are so many great AC/DC tunes to pick from. I haven’t even mentioned Bon Scott, their original lead vocalist! I decided to go with what I consider a true late career gem: Play Ball, off AC/DC’s 16th album Rock or Bust from November 2014. It was the first record without Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia and been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. This is classic AC/DC – tight kickass rock & roll!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, this recurring feature celebrates music in many different flavors and from different eras. If you are in my neck of the woods, hope you’re staying cool coz now you’re getting some hot music on top of the heat! 🙂

Dr. Lonnie Smith/Seesaw

Is there a doctor in the house? Okay, I stole that line from Bon Jovi, who I believe frequently uses it during live shows to announce the band’s song Bad Medicine. I got a very cool doctor for you, and I’ve featured him before: Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith launched his solo career with his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967 – then still known as Lonnie Smith. At some point, he decided to become Dr. Smith and wear a traditional Sikh turban. Why? Nobody really knows but why not? Here’s a cover of Seesaw from Smith’s third album Turning Point that came out in 1969. The tune was co-written by Don Covay and Steve Cropper, and first released as a single in September 1965 by Don Coway and the Goodtimers. The song also became the title track of Coway’s sophomore album from 1966. BTW, the mighty doctor is now 78 and is still practicing. His most recent album Breathe appeared in March this year. Okay, nuff said, let’s get some of his groovy medicine!

Stealers Wheel/Stuck in the Middle With You

Warning: When I heard this tune for the first time, it got stuck right in the middle my head. The same may happen to you. But, hey, at least it’s a great song! Steelers Wheel were a Scottish folk rock band formed in 1972 by school friends Joseph Egan and Gerry Rafferty. By the time they disbanded in 1975, three albums had come out. A version of the band that included two members from the original line-up, Rod Coombes (drums) and Tony Williams (bass), briefly reformed in 2008 but only lasted for a few months. Post Steelers Wheel, Rafferty focused on his solo career. In February 1978, he released his biggest hit, the majestic Baker Street, which I featured in a previous Sunday Six installment. Sadly, Rafferty passed away from liver failure on January 4, 2011 at the young age of 63. His Steelers Wheel partner in crime Joseph Egan still appears to be alive. Stuck in the Middle With You, co-written by Rafferty and Egan and included on their eponymous debut album from October 1972, became their biggest hit. It climbed to no. 6 and no. 8 in the U.S. and UK mainstream single charts, respectively, and peaked at no. 2 in Canada. According to Wikipedia, Rafferty’s lyrics are a dismissive tale of a music industry cocktail party written and performed as a parody of Bob Dylan’s paranoia (the vocal impression, subject, and styling were so similar, listeners have wrongly attributed the song to Dylan since its release). This is one catchy tune! Aren’t you glad to be stuck with it? 🙂

Crowded House/Don’t Dream It’s Over

Since I included a new song by the reformed Crowded House in yesterday’s Best of What’s New, the Aussie pop rockers have been on my mind. In particular, it’s their biggest hit Don’t Dream It’s Over, released in October 1986 as the fourth single of their eponymous debut album that had appeared two months earlier. Crowded House were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by former Split Enz members Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, piano) and Paul Hester (drums, backing vocals), along with Nick Seymour (bass). Together with various guest musicians, who included producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards) and Jim Keltner (drums), among others, they recorded their debut album. The band first broke up in June 1996, had a couple of reunions thereafter and was reformed by Finn in December 2019 after he had finished his 2018-2019 tour with Fleetwood Mac. Including their new album Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House have released seven albums to date. Don’t Dream It’s Over was written by Neil Finn. Even though it was overexposed, I’ve always loved that song.

Joe Jackson Band/Awkward Age

For this next tune, let’s jump to the current century and Joe Jackson, a versatile British artist I’ve enjoyed listening to for many years. My introduction to Jackson was his second album I’m the Man from October 1979, which I received on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday the following year. I still own that copy! I’m the Man was recorded by Jackson’s initial band, which apart from him (lead vocals, piano) included Gary Sanford (guitar), Graham Maby (bass, backing vocals) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals). Which brings me to Awkward Age and Volume 4, Jackson’s 16th studio album released in March 2003, featuring the same classic lineup. While the sound of Volume 4 isn’t quite as raw as on I’m the Man, there are some clear similarities between the two albums. Like all other tracks on the record, Awkward Age was written by Jackson. I saw the man in May 2019 in the wake of his most recent album Fool that had come out in January that year and thought he still looked sharp.

Rod Stewart/Maggie May

For several months, I’ve wanted to feature this tune in The Sunday Six, but there was always a reason why I didn’t do it, such as avoiding to have too many ’70s songs in the same installment. Screw it, the time has come to get what is one of my longtime favorite Rod Stewart songs out of my system. Maggie May dates back to the days when the man with the smoky voice did what he does best: Performing roots and blues-oriented rock! Co-written by Stewart and British guitarist Martin Quittenton, the catchy song is from Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells a Story that came out in May 1971 – yet another great record that recently had its 50th anniversary! Quittenton was among the many musicians that backed Stewart on this record, who also included his Faces mates Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, among others. Stewart remained a member of Faces until they disbanded in December 1975, though tensions between him and the rest of the band had been brewing since the making of their final studio album Ooh La La from March 1973. Maggie May was also released separately in July 1971 as the b-side to the album’s first single Reason to Believe. Both songs became major hits, as did the album, which topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, UK and Australia.

The Beatles/If I Needed Someone

Time to wrap up this installment with my favorite band of all time. The song selection was triggered by a recent post from fellow blogger Hans at slicethelife about the top 100 Beatles songs, as voted as the listeners of The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM and presented over the recent Memorial Day holiday. While If I Needed Someone made the list, I thought the placement at no. 70 was measly and it bugged me. I happen to love this tune that was written by George Harrison and included on Rubber Soul, The Beatles’ studio album from December 1965 and the second record they released that year after Help! The track wasn’t featured on the North American release of Rubber Soul. Instead, it appeared on Yesterday and Today, the U.S. album that caused a storm over its cover showing The Beatles dressed in white coats and covered with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat. I guess you can put that one in the “What were they thinking?!” department. If I Needed Someone is a simple tune and more of a deep cut, but I still dig it. In fact, I would even go as far as calling it my favorite Beatles tune, depending on the day of the week! Ah, that jingle-jangle Rickenbacker sound did it once again! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Can you believe it’s Sunday morning again? After having done home office for about a year now and also spent most of my other time at my house, I’ve pretty much lost sense of time. On the upside, Sunday morning also means it’s time for another Sunday Six. This new installment, which btw is the sixth of the weekly recurring feature, includes jazz-oriented instrumental music, soul, blues, funky R&B, straight rock and glam rock – in other words, a good deal of variety, and that’s the way uh huh I like it!

Mike Caputo/Space and Time

Let’s kick things off with a beautiful journey through space and time. Not only does this newly produced saxophone-driven instrumental by Mike Caputo feel timely in light of NASA’s recent landing of the Mars rover, but it also represents the kind of smooth music I like to feature to start Sunday Six installments. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, Mike’s name may ring a bell. The New Jersey singer-songwriter, who has been active for more than 50 years, is best known for his incredible renditions of Steely Dan’s music, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino VannelliStevie Wonder and Sting, who have all been major influences. Like many artists have done during the pandemic when they cannot perform, Mike went back into his archives and unearthed Space and Time, which he originally had written as part of a movie soundtrack a few years ago. BTW, that amazing saxophone part is played by Phil Armeno, a member of Good Stuff, who used to be a touring backing musician for Chuck BerryBo Diddley and The Duprees in the ’70s. Check out that smooth sax tone! Vocals? Who needs vocals? 🙂

The Impressions/People Get Ready

Before Curtis Mayfield, one of my favorite artists, launched his solo career with his amazing 1970 album Curtis, he had been with doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group The Impressions for 14 years. When he joined the group at the age of 14, they were still called The Roosters. People Get Ready, written by Mayfield, was the title track of the group’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1965, about seven years after they had changed their name to The Impressions. People Get Ready gave the group a no. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs). On the mainstream Hot 100, the tune climbed to no. 14. Many other artists like Bob Marley, Al Green, Aretha Franklin and The Staple Singers have covered it. Perhaps the best known rendition is by Jeff Beck, featuring Rod Stewart on Beck’s 1985 studio album Flash. But on this one, I always like to go back to the original and the warm, beautiful and soulful vocals by The Impressions – to me, singing doesn’t get much better!

Peter Green/A Fool No More

I think it’s safe to assume Peter Green doesn’t need much of an introduction. The English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as the first leader of Fleetwood Mac, initially called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer, the band he formed following his departure from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with former Bluesbreakers members Mick Fleetwood (drums) and Jeremy Spencer (guitar), as well as Bob Brunning (bass) who was subsequently replaced by Green’s first choice John McVie. What’s perhaps less widely known outside of fan circles is Peter Green’s solo career he launched after leaving Fleetwood Mac in May 1970 due to drug addiction and mental health issues. Unfortunately, these demons would stay with him for a long time and impact his career, especially during the ’70s. A Fool No More, written by Green, is a track from his excellent second solo album In the Skies. The record was released in May 1979 after eight years of professional obscurity due to treatment for schizophrenia in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s. Yikes- it’s pretty scary what havoc LSD can cause! Considering that, it’s even more remarkable how amazing Green sounds. Check it out!

Stevie Wonder/I Wish

Let’s speed things up with the groovy I Wish, a tune by Stevie Wonder from his 18th studio album Songs in the Key of Life released in September 1976. Frankly, I could have selected any other track from what’s widely considered Wonder’s magnum opus. It’s the climax of his so called classic period, a series of five ’70s albums spanning Music of My Mind (1972) to Songs in the Key of Life. I Wish, which like most other tracks on this double-LP were solely written by Wonder, also became the lead single in December 1976 – and his fourth no. 1 ’70s hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also topped the charts in Canada, and was a top 10 in Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands and the UK. Take it away, Stevie!

John Mellencamp/Melting Pot

Here’s what you might call an out-of-left-field pick from John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists. Melting Pot is a great rocker from his 11th studio album Whenever We Wanted that appeared in October 1991. It marked a bit of a departure from Mellencamp’s two previous albums Big Daddy (1989) and The Lonesome Jubilee (1987), on which he had begun incorporating elements of roots music. Instead, Whenever We Wanted is more reminiscent of the straight rock Mellencamp had delivered on earlier albums like American Fool (1982), Uh-Huh (1983) and Scarecrow (1985). Like all other tunes except for one on the album, Melting Pot was written by Mellencamp. While Whenever We Wanted didn’t do as well on the charts as the aforementioned other albums, it still placed within the top 20 in the U.S., reaching no. 17 on the Billboard 200. The album performed best in Australia where it peaked at no. 3.

David Bowie/Suffragette City

Time to wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six. Let’s go with another great rocker: Suffragette City by David Bowie. If you’ve read my blog, you probably know I really dig Bowie’s glam rock period. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favorite. It was released in June 1972. Suffragette City also became the B-side of lead single Starman that appeared ahead of the album in February that year. Eventually and deservedly, Suffragette City eventually ended up on the A-side of a 1976 single that was backed by Stay to promote the fantastic compilation Changesonebowie. This is one kickass rock & roll song. Bowie said it best, or I should say sang it best: Ohhh, wham bam thank you ma’am!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips and Pix: The Faces/Maybe I’m Amazed

Holy cow, until I just came across a YouTube clip, I had not known The Faces covered Maybe I’m Amazed. I really dig their version. Musically, it’s similar to the original, but what stands out to me is Rod Stewart’s voice, which sounds perfect for this tune.

Maybe I’m Amazed was written by Paul McCartney and first appeared on his debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. I know I’ve said this before, the live version that appeared in December 1967 on Wings Over America is much better.

The Faces included their cover, which is also a live recording, on their second studio album Long Player that was released in February. The performance had been captured at Fillmore East in November 1970.

BTW, the guy who starts on lead vocals before Stewart takes over is Ronnie Lane, the band’s bassist. He later comes back to sing harmony. In addition to him and Stewart, The Faces included Ronnie Wood (guitar, vocals), Ian McLagan (keyboards) and Kenny Jones (drums). Man, what a fantastic band – I guess I have to listen to some more!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: The Black Crowes

The recent appearance of the previously unreleased Charming Mess by The Black Crowes, which I included in my latest Best of What’s New installment, reminded me of this great band. While I wouldn’t call myself an outright fan, I’ve always enjoyed their songs, especially their ’70s style blues rockers. This triggered the idea to put together a career-spanning post about their music.

Chris Robinson (lead vocals, guitar) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (lead guitar) formed the band in Marietta, Ga. in 1984 while they were still in high school. Initially called Mr. Crowe’s Garden after the children’s book Johnny Crowe’s Garden by Leonard Leslie Brookes, they were influenced by R.E.M., classic southern rock and ’60s psychedelic pop before embracing ’70s style blues rock.

In 1987, the band recorded their first demos at A&M Records. Two years later, they met A&R executive George Drakoulias, who signed them at Def American Recordings (now American Recordings), the label founded by Rick Rubin. Apparently, Drakoulias had an important influence, turning the band’s attention to The Faces and Humble Pie, and encouraging them to cover Rolling Stones tunes.

 Rich and Chris Robinson talk about their Black Crowes reunion
Rich Robinson (left) and Chris Robinson

By the time the band released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in February 1990, they had changed their name to The Black Crowes. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group included Jeff Cease (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass) and Steve Gorman (drums). Their line-up would frequently change over the years, with the Robinson brothers as the only constant members.

After releasing five more studio and two live albums between 1992 and 2001, The Black Crowes went on hiatus, and the Robinson brothers recorded solo albums. In early 2005, the brothers reassembled the group with a new line-up. Two studio and several live and compilation albums followed, together with more line-up changes before The Black Crowes came to an end for the second time in January 2015. Apparently, it was due to differences between the brothers regarding ownership of the band – in other words, a typical rock & roll story!

The current chapter of The Black Crowes started in late 2019 when the Robinson brothers during an interview with Howard Stern revealed they had overcome their disagreements and were planning to revive the band for a 2020 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Shake Your Money Maker album. The newly reformed group premiered on November 11, 2019 at The Bowery Ball Room New York City with a backing band comprised of Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and Raj Ojha (drums). The tour was stopped by COVID-19 and is now set to resume in Florida in late June.

Time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the excellent Jealous Again from the Shake Your Money Maker debut. Like all originals, the tune was co-written by the Robinson brothers.

Here’s another track from the same album I really dig: She Talks to Angels.

In May 1992, The Black Crowes released their sophomore record The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It topped the Billboard 200, fueled by four singles that each hit no. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s one of them: Remedy.

A Conspiracy, off the band’s third album Amorica from November 1994, features some cool wah-wah guitar action and is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, especially in the beginning.

Three Snakes and One Charm, the fourth album by The Black Crowes, appeared in July 1996. Here’s Blackberry.

On By Your Side from January 1999, The Black Crowes returned to a more straightforward approach from their debut album. According to Wikipedia, it drew praise from many reviewers while some critics dismissed it as a knock off of Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones – well, I suppose you can’t make everybody happy. Here’s the dynamic opener Go Faster.

May 2001 saw Lions, the band’s sixth studio release and the last prior to their hiatus. Apple Music calls the Don Was-produced work “the most unusual album in The Black Crowes’ catalog.” Soul Singing, which became the album’s second single, has a soul and gospel touch.

Warpaint, released in March 2008, was the first album by The Black Crowes after they had reemerged from hiatus and their seventh studio effort overall. It became their first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 since their 1992 sophomore release, peaking at no. 5. Here’s Wounded Bird, which also appeared separately as the second single in June of the same year.

This brings me to Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, the eighth and to date most recent studio album by The Black Crowes. It was recorded at The Barn, Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., before a live audience. Here’s the tasty opener Good Morning Captain.

I’d like to wrap things up with a track from Croweology, a compilation of new acoustic-based recordings of songs from The Black Crowes’ first six studio albums. Hotel Illness initially appeared on their 1992 sophomore release The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Since the sudden death of my beloved mother-in-law Carmen Anaya Acevedo last week, I essentially took a break from blogging, including Best of What’s New. It just didn’t feel right. Meanwhile, new music didn’t pause, which is good news. This week’s installment could have easily been longer, but I’d like to keep these posts to four to six songs.

I’m particularly excited about new music by Stevie Wonder, one of my favorite artists, who last July announced he needed a kidney transplant. The surgery happened in December, and apparently Wonder, who turned 70 in May, is doing well. There’s also new music by Tom Petty, Americana rockers Cordovas, as well as three additional artists including a German alternative rock band. Let’s get to it!

Tom Petty/Leave Virginia Alone

Leave Virginia Alone is a tune from Wildflowers & All the Rest, the substantially enhanced reissue of Tom Petty’s second solo album, which came out on October 16. Written in 1995, the song was first recorded by Rod Stewart for his 17th studio album A Spanner in the Works from May that year. While Stewart’s version, which I hadn’t heard before until now, isn’t bad, I much prefer Petty’s take. The track also appeared separately as a single on October 1. I really miss Tom Petty, and it’s great to hear his voice.

Cordovas/Destiny

Cordovas are an Americana rock band from Memphis, Tenn. formed in 2011. The members are vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Firstman, Sevans Henderson (keyboards), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals) and Toby Weaver, another vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Destiny is a track and the lead single of the band’s new album Destiny Hotel released on October 16. According to the band’s website, the album expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. I covered it here at the time.

Stevie Wonder/Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate (feat. Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes)

Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate is one of two new tunes Stevie Wonder released on October 13, coinciding with the 36th birthday of his oldest son Mumtaz Morris. He is joined by hip hop artists Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes, which definitely makes this a song that’s outside my core wheelhouse. But I actually love it! Lyrically, it’s almost a present day version of You Haven’t Done Nothin’ or Living For the City, both tunes Wonder recorded in the ’70s. “In these times, we are hearing the most poignant wake-up calls and cries for this nation and the world to, please, heed our need for love, peace and unity,” he stated, as reported by Jambase. According to Billboard, Wonder will also release a new full-length album to be titled Through the Eyes Of Wonder. His last such album A Time to Love dates back to September 2005.

Jeremy Ivey/Hands Down in Your Pocket

Jeremy Ivey is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. According to Apple Music, he established himself in the early 2010s as a member of the country-soul band Buffalo Clover alongside his wife, singer/songwriter Margo Price. When Price’s career took off in 2016, Ivey served as her guitarist and sideman before signing a deal with Anti- and launching a solo career of his own with 2019’s The Dream and the Dreamer. Hands Down in Your Pocket is a tune from Ivey’s sophomore solo album Waiting Out the Storm, which was produced by Price and came out on October 9. “I think that having the opportunity to put out my own records, I’ve got a lot of pent-up inspiration,” Ivey told Apple Music. “Because there are just certain freedoms that I can take when I’m singing the song that I can’t take when I’m writing it for someone else to sing.”

Yola/Hold On (feat. Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby & Jason Isbell)

Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, is an English singer-songwriter from Bristol, England. She was the lead vocalist of English country and soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two albums with them in 2008 and 2012. In February 2016, she released her solo EP Orphan Offering. A full-length debut album Walk Through Fire followed in February 2019. Yola has also sung backing vocals for numerous artists, including Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Iggy Azalea. In addition, she was a guest on the 2019 eponymous debut album by country super group The Highwomen, together with Sheryl Crow. Yola’s latest single Hold On, released October 9, features Crow on piano, Jason Isbell on guitar, as well as The Highwomen’s Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby on backing vocals. As reported by Pitchfork, a portion of the tune’s proceeds will benefit MusiCares and the National Bailout Collective.

Die Happy/Story of Our Life (feat. Daniel Wirtz)

I’d like to wrap up this post with new music by alternative rock band Die Happy, formed by Czech singer Marta Jandová and guitarist Thorsten Mewes in 1993 in Ulm, Germany. The current line-up also includes Ralph Rieker (bass) and Jürgen Stiehle (drums). Die Happy’s debut album Better Than Nothing appeared in 1994. They have since released 13 additional albums including their most recent Guess What from April this year. Story of Our Life featuring Daniel Wirtz, a German rock singer-songwriter, is on the bonus version of the album and was released as a single on September 18.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cordovas website; Jambase; Billboard; Apple Music; Pitchfork; YouTube

23-Year-Old Southern Rock Guitarist Marcus King Shines On Soulful Solo Debut

Two weeks ago, I blogged about Playing For Change and that organization’s incredible videos produced with musicians from all over the world, covering well-known songs. One of the clips I highlighted was The Weight, featuring Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr and professional musicians from eight other countries. The first thing I thought was, ‘how cool is it that Robertson and Starr are in the video. My second thought: ‘The young dude playing guitar and singing is killing it on vocals with his soulful voice. That guitarist was 23-year-old Marcus King. Earlier today, I listened to his solo debut album El Dorado and have to say I’m pretty blown away!

King who hails from Greenville, S.C. is not a newcomer. In fact, he has performed for a whopping 15 years! After beginning to play guitar at a very young age, already as an eight-year-old he started to be on stage with his father Marvin King, a professional blues guitarist. In 2013, as a 15-year-old, he formed the Marcus King Band. In October 2015, their debut album Soul Insight appeared. They have since released two additional records and two EPs. El Dorado, which came out on January 17 this year, was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Let’s get to some music!

Here’s the beautiful opener Young Man’s Dream. Spill Magazine called it reminiscent of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush era. With King’s high pitched vocals and the tune’s sound, I think that’s not too far-fetched. Co-written by King, Auerbach and Nashville singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin, the track also has some early Rod Stewart feel. It’s just cool!

The Well, a nice blues rocker that’s right up my alley, was co-written by King, Auerbach and Ronnie Bowman, a bluegrass vocalist and songwriter. I dig the main guitar riff and sound of that tune. Check it out!

Next up is Wildflowers & Wine, another co-write by King, Auerbach and Bowman. I really find it impressive how much soul the 23-year-old has in his vocals. That’s three great songs in a row, which already make it worthwhile to listen to this album.

There’s more. How about some country? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s Sweet Mariona, yet another tune co-written by King, Auerbach and Bowman. Listen to that sweet-sounding pedal steel guitar!

Another soul gem with a dose of country flair is Beautiful Stranger. I also love the gospel type backing vocals. To write this song King and Auerbach teamed up with country singer-songwriter Paul Overstreet.

The last track I’d like to call out is Too Much Whiskey, another co-write by King, Auerbach and Overstreet. It’s a great mix of blues and country.

In addition to King (lead vocals, guitar) and Auerbach (bass, guitar, backing vocals), other musicians on El Dorado include Gene Chrisman (drums), Matt Combs (strings), Paul Franklin (steel guitar), Chris St. Hillaire (percussion), Russ Pahl (guitar), Ray Jacildo (Glockenspiel, keyboards), Dave Roe (bass), Mike Rojas (keyboards), Billy Sanford (guitar), Bobby Woods (keyboards), as well as backing vocalists Ashley Wilcoxson and Leisa Hans.

Deservedly, El Dorado has received great reviews. Rolling Stone called it “excellent” and King “one of the most exciting guitarists to break through in years.” NPR’s rock critic Ken Tucker characterized the record as “a real beauty — and a turning-point for King.” Last but not least, Spill Magazine opined the album is a “musical masterpiece.”

King seems to be happy with the result as well, as he should be. “I’m really proud of it,” he told Rolling Stone. And what did Auerbach, who has produced for other artists like Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne and The Pretenders, have to add? “It’s staggering how good he is, how crazy-good his vocals are, how he can go anywhere on guitar.” I think that nicely sums up my sentiments.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spill Magazine; Rolling Stone; NPR; AllMusic; YouTube

Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Yes, You’re Gonna Be a Star!

Since my recent post about Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman, the above creatively borrowed and somewhat adjusted phrase had been stuck in my head, just like the catchy song. The first part of the statement is true, the second half is perhaps debatable. But while this British rock band only had one real hit, there’s no doubt in my mind Thunderclap Newman was more than just a one-hit-wonder.

As a fan of The Who, I’m intrigued by Pete Townshend’s role in the band’s history – in fact, without Townshend, there would have been no Thunderclap Newman. He brought the band’s core members together in late 1968/early 1969: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Speedy Keen (born John David Percy Keen), Dixieland jazz pianist Thunderclap Newman (born Andrew Lawrence Newman) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (born James McCulloch). They are pictured in that order from left to right in the above photo.

Something in the Air Single

Interestingly, prior to the band’s formation, Keen had been The Who’s chauffeur and shared an apartment with Townshend. He also had written Armenia In the Sky, the opener to The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Apparently, Townshend was impressed with the songwriting talents of Keen who had played in different bands since 1964, so he decided to introduce him to Newman and McCulloch. Townshend was also instrumental in getting the band a contract with Track Records, an independent label established by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

The first song Thunderclap Newman recorded was their big hit Something in the Air written by Keen. The sessions took place at Townshend’s home studio. He also produced the single and played bass on the recording under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Released in May 1969, Something in the Air topped the UK Singles Chart only three weeks after its appearance, replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko. The tune’s original title was Revolution, but it was changed because The Beatles already had a song with that title, which had come out in 1968.

Thunderclap Newman_Hollywood Dream

Following the success of Something in the Air, an initially reluctant Thunderclap Newman agreed to go on the road. They brought in Jim Pitman-Avery (bass) and Jack McCulloch (drums), Jimmy’s older brother, to support Deep Purple on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland from July to August 1969. After the tour, Pitman-Avery and Jack McCulloch exited and formed country-rock band Wild Country, leaving Thunderclap Newman with their three core members. Keen, Newman and McCulloch went back into the studio and recorded Hollywood Dream, their only studio album.

Like Something in the Air, Townshend played a key role, producing Hollywood Dream and again playing bass under the name of Bijou Drains. And while the final track Something in the Air undoubtedly is the hit, there are other gems on this album. Let’s kick things off with the nice opener Hollywood #1, which like most of the other tracks was written by Keen.

Here’s Open the Door Homer, a great cover of a Bob Dylan song. If I see it correctly, Dylan did not release the tune until 1975 when he included it on The Basement Tapes, a collection of tracks he had recorded in 1967, mostly with backing by The Band. In particular, I dig Keen’s singing on this tune.

Next up: Accidents, another original tune written by Keen. There’s a lot going on in this more than nine-minute track, including some great piano and guitar work. In fact, as much as I dig Something in the AirAccidents is the album’s tue standout to me. A shorter version was released separately and peaked at no. 46 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1970, becoming Thunderclap Newman’s only other single to make the charts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. To readers who know my affection for vocals, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I chose to highlight an instrumental. Well, it’s not that I don’t like instrumentals – after all, I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ’70s albums that are filled with instrumental parts. But after a while, I simply feel the need to hear some vocals! In part, I also chose Hollywood Dream since it was co-written by the McCulloch brothers, making it the only original that wasn’t penned by Keen. BTW, Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 years when he recorded this tune with the band.

In early 1971, Thunderclap Newman brought in Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass) to create a new touring lineup. This was followed by another tour with Deep Purple that included Sweden, Norway and Denmark. And then it was suddenly all over for the band. Why? Referencing a 1972 interview Newman gave to the New Musical Express (now known as NME), Wikipedia hints to personal friction between Newman and Keen. It’s unfortunate when egos clash, but certainly not unheard of, especially in music!

Keen went on to record two solo albums, Previous Convictions (1973) and Y’ Know Wot I Mean? (1975), and also played as a session musician with Rod Stewart, The Mission and Kenny G. Sadly, he passed away from heart failure at the age of 62 on March 12, 2002.

Newman also recorded a solo album, Rainbow, which appeared in 1971. Other than that he was “was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. In addition to Newman, the band’s new line-up featured Tony Stubbings (bass), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend (rhythm guitar and vocals). Shortly thereafter, the band released Beyond Hollywood, an album of studio and live tracks of old Thunderclap Newman songs. In 2011, they toured the UK with Big Country. The last two gigs listed on the band’s official website are from 2012. Newman died on March 29, 2016 at the age of 73.

Jimmy McCulloch formed his own group in October 1971 and also played guitar in various other bands, most importantly Paul McCartney’s Wings, which he joined in August 1974. After exiting Wings in September 1977, McCullogh joined the reformed Small Faces. Another own band and a few additional stints followed. On September 27, 1979, McCulloch was found dead, apparently having died from a heart attack attributed to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was only 26 years old.

This post was updated on September 18, 2021 to note that Thunderclap Newman’s second tour with Deep Purple in 1971 included Sweden, Norway and Denmark, not England and Scotland, as had previously been stated.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian; YouTube