The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, and the show must go on with a new explorative trip to celebrate great music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. This installment of The Sunday Six strikes out broadly, touching the ’40s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2017. Let’s do it!

Ry Cooder/I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine

I’d like to start today’s journey with some beautiful instrumental music by Ry Cooder. I believe the first time I heard of him was in connection with the great 1984 Wim Wenders motion picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score. This is some of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I’ve heard to date – if you don’t know the movie’s score, check it out! In addition to 17 film scores, the versatile Cooder has released the same amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Not surprisingly, Cooder has also collaborated with the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, David Lindley and numerous other artists. This brings me to Bop Till You Drop, Cooder’s eighth solo album from July 1979, which I received as a gift in the late ’80s from my longtime German music buddy and former bandmate. Here’s Cooder’s great instrumental rendition of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. Written by Rose Marie McCoy and Joe Seneca, the tune first appeared as a single by Ike & Tina Turner in June 1961.

The Animals/It’s My Life

After a gentle start, I’d like to step on the gas a bit with one of my favorite ’60s blues rock and R&B bands: The Animals. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered the British group’s music on various previous occasions, which among others include this Sunday Six installment and this post dedicated to their original lead vocalist Eric Burdon, one of the best British blues vocalists I can think of! It’s My Life first came out as a single in October 1965. Notably, it was penned by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. This was not the only time Brill Building songwriters wrote a tune for the group. In May 1966, The Animals released another single, Don’t Bring Me Down, co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It’s My Life was also included on the band’s first compilation The Best of The Animals, which appeared in the U.S. only in February 1966. I’ve always loved this great psychedelic-flavored tune.

Steve Winwood/Roll With It

When it comes to Steve Winwood, I generally prefer his early years with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith over his oftentimes more pop-oriented solo period. Perhaps the biggest exception is Windwood’s fifth solo album Roll With It from June 1988. While undoubtedly influenced by ’80s pop, this record is also quite soulful. It became his most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. and reaching no. 4 in the UK, with more than three million copies having been sold. Here’s the excellent opener and title track, a co-write by Winwood and Will Jennings. Subsequently, Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland received a co-credit due to the tune’s similarities publishing rights organization BMI saw to (I’m a) Roadrunner, which had been a hit in 1966 for Junior Walker & the Allstars.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe/Strange Things Happening Every Day

Next let’s turn to a trailblazer and true rock & roll pioneer, the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. While John Lennon famously said, “If you were to try to give rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” one of the genre’s early pioneers we must not forget was Tharpe. The prominent gospel singer started playing the guitar as a four-year-old and began her recording career at age 23 in 1938. She was one of the first popular recording artists using electric guitar distortion. Her technique had a major influence on British guitarists like Eric ClaptonJeff Beck and Keith Richards. She also influenced many artists in the U.S., including Elvis PresleyLittle Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Tharpe has been called “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock & roll.” Unfortunately, her health declined prematurely and she passed away from a stroke in 1973 at the untimely age of 58. In May 2018, Tharpe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence. Here’s Strange Things Happening Everyday, originally a traditional African American spiritual that became a hit for Tharpe in 1945. This recording is historic, as it’s considered to be one of the very first rock & roll songs. Tharpe’s remarkable guitar-playing, including her solos, distorted sound and bending of strings, is more pronounced on later tunes, but you can already hear some of it here. Check out this clip and tell me this amazing lady didn’t rock!

Prince/Cream

For this next pick, I’m jumping 46 years forward to 1991. Prince is an artist I’ve always respected for his remarkable versatility and amazing guitar skills, though I can’t say I’m an all-out fan. But I really like some of his songs. I must also add I’ve not explored his catalog in greater detail. It was largely my aforementioned German music buddy who introduced me to Prince. I recall listening together to his ninth studio Sign o’ the Times from March 1987. Cream, off Diamonds and Pearls that appeared in October 1991, is a tune I well remember hearing on the radio back in Germany. Based on Wikipedia’s singles chart, it looks like the song was Prince’s first big hit in the ’90s. Among others, it topped the U.S. charts, climbed to no. 2 in Canada and Australia, and reached the top 5 in France, Switzerland and Sweden. Here’s the official video. The actual tune starts at about 2:05 minutes into the clip. Sadly, we lost Prince way too early in April 2016 at age 57.

Greta Van Fleet/Safari Song

Last but not least, I’d like to turn to Greta Van Fleet, one of the contemporary bands that give me hope classic rock isn’t entirely dead yet. L.A. rockers Dirty Honey are another great example in this context. Greta Van Fleet were formed in Frankenmuth, Mich. in 2012 by brothers Josh Kiszka (lead vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitars, backing vocals) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Other than Hauck who was replaced by Danny Wagner in 2013, the band’s line-up hasn’t changed. The group has been criticized by some as a Led Zeppelin knock-off, and the tune I’m featuring here probably is part of the reason. Selfishly, I don’t care since in my book, Zep are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would also add Greta Van Fleet’s sound has evolved since their early days. To me, their most recent album The Battle at Garden’s Gate from April 2021 bears very little if any resemblance to Zep. Here’s Safari Song, Greta’s second single released in October 2017. Credited to all members of the band, it was also included on their debut EP Black Smoke Rising that had come out in April of the same year. This just rocks and I could care less about the critics!

Here’s a playlist featuring all of the above tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Steve Winwood Shows He’s Still The Man And New Jersey Gives Him Some Lovin’

Singer-Songwriter Lilly Winwood opens “2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour” gig at NJPAC

While mainstream music these days generally doesn’t excite me, luckily, some great artists from my preferred decades of the ’60s and ’70s are still around and tour. Even though their number is decreasing, I couldn’t possibly see all of them. Too many rock & roll shows, too little time and not enough dough means making tough choices. This can be tricky, especially when it comes to artists I’ve seen before like Steve Winwood. In his case it didn’t take long to convince myself that another gig would be worth it. That show happened last night at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark and was a true blast, a blast from the past!

Things kicked off when a young woman walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and casually introduced herself as Lilly Winwood. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who released her debut EP Silver Stage last year, is one of Winwood’s four children. I would describe her music as folk-oriented Americana. She has a decent voice and did a beautiful job. Here’s a clip of The Hard Way, a tune from the aforementioned EP. Apparently, it was captured last April at another opening for her dad with whom she has toured for the past couple of years in this role, which also includes singing backup vocals on some of his songs.

Following Lilly’s short set and a brief intermission, it was finally Steve’s turn to take the stage. And he didn’t waste any time to remind the audience that he still is The Man with a great voice who can make that Hammond roar mightily. Winwood’s set kicked off with I’m A Man, released as a single by Spencer Davis Group in January 1967. Here’s a clip. Also, take a look at that kick ass backing band!

In addition to being a master of the Hammond, Winwood is a pretty decent guitarist – frankly, something I sometimes forget. In fact, the bio on his official website notes he also plays the mandolin. Here’s Can’t Find My Way Home, one of the two Blind Faith tunes he played. As he was performing the song, I selfishly thought that I’d be quite okay if the couldn’t find his way home and just would keep on playing all night!

While the show was billed as a journey through the more than five decades of Winwood’s music, most of the set focused on this early work with Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and of course Traffic. Here is a classic by the latter he played, Empty Pages, from the John Barleycorn Must Die album released in July 1970.

At the outset of the concert, Winwood stated they eventually would get to playing songs that are more present. After an hour or so into the set, he started to deliver on that promise. Domingo Morning is a tune from his eighth solo album About Time, which appeared in June 2003 – at least something from this century, as Winwood dryly observed. The performance featured a cool extended solo by percussionist Edwin Sanz together with drummer Richard Bailey. Here’s a clip. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s the only live footage of the track I could find on YouTube.

This was followed by the final two songs of the regular set, Roll With It and Higher Love, Winwood’s only hits that topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and 1986, respectively. For both tunes, Lilly joined on backing vocals. I actually thought Steve and her sounded really nice together. Here’s Roll With It, the title track of his fifth solo album from June 1988, my favorite among his more pop-oriented records.

The show’s encore brought three other highlights: John Barleycorn Must Die, Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin’. Since I can’t decide which of the three to select, heck, let’s just post clips for each! John Barleycorn Must Die, a traditional arranged by Winwood, is the title track from the above mentioned Traffic album. While the cameraman apparently was quite excited and his hand shook in the beginning of the clip, it gets better as the tune goes on!

Dear Mr. Fantasy is from Traffic’s debut record Fantasy, which appeared in December 1967. I thought this tune featured Winwood’s most impressive guitar work of the night.

Last but not least, Gimme Some Lovin’, the Spencer Davis Group classic from 1967. What a great tune to finish a terrific show!

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Winwood’s fantastic backing band: In addition to Bailey (drums) and Sanz (percussion), the line-up included José Neto (guitar) and Paul Booth (saxophone, flute, keyboards) – no bass! With Baily and Sanz forming a compelling rhythm section, I can’t say I was missing a bass, which somewhat pains to admit as a former bassist.

According to the schedule, The 2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour is hitting Upper Darby, Pa. tonight and will travel to Mashantucket, Conn. tomorrow. The sold out tour wraps up on March 15 in Bethlehem, Pa.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steve Winwood official website, Billboard Chart History, YouTube