My Playlist: Jackson Browne

“…The Pretender, These Days, For Every Man, I’m Alive, Fountain of Sorrow, Running On Empty, For a Dancer, Before the Deluge. Now, I know the Eagles got in first; but let’s face it it – and I think Don Henley would agree with me – these are the songs they wish they had written. I wish I had written them myself, along with Like a Rolling Stone and Satisfaction…”

The above words were spoken by Bruce Springsteen in 2004 as part of his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech for Jackson Browne. Springsteen also recalled when he first met Browne in New York City at The Bitter End, a storied Greenwich Village performance venue, he knew the singer-songwriter from California was “simply one of the best”. Coming from somebody who has written so many great songs himself and during that same speech also admitted to be “a little competitive”, I think these remarks speak volumes.

The first Jackson Browne record I listened to in its entirety was what I still consider a true ’70s gem: Running On Empty. If I recall it correctly, my brother-in-law had it on vinyl, and I initially copied it on music cassette. I was spending countless hours at the time taping music from records, CDs and certain radio programs. I still have hundreds of tapes floating around. While it’s safe to assume the quality of most is less than stellar at this time, I just cannot throw them out!

Back to Browne with whom I happen to share one fun fact: We were both born in Heidelberg, Germany, though close to 18 years apart. Browne’s dad was stationed in Germany, working for American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Two of his three siblings were born there as well. In 1951 when Browne was three years old, his family relocated to Los Angeles.

During his teenage years, Browne started performing folk songs at local L.A. venues like The Ash Grove and The Troubador Club. After graduating from high school in 1966, he joined country rockers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which would later record some of his songs. After a few months, Browne left and moved to New York City where he became a staff writer for Elektra Records’ publishing company Nina Music.

In 1967, Browne met and became romantically involved with singer Nico of The Velvet Underground. He became a significant contributor to her debut solo album Chelsea Girl. After they broke up in 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles where he met Glenn Frey soon thereafter. Before he started recording his own songs, Browne’s music was recorded by other artists such as Tom Rush, Gregg Allman, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and of course the aforementioned Nico and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

In 1971, Browne finally managed to get a deal with Asylum Records, and in January 1972, he released his eponymous debut album. Thirteen additional studio records have since appeared, as well as seven compilation and live albums and more than 40 singles. And this brings us to the most fun part of the post: Some of Browne’s music he has released during his close to 50-year recording career.

I’d like to kick things off with Song for Adam from Brown’s above noted eponymous debut album. The mournful memory of Adam Saylor, a friend of Browne who died in 1968 – possibly by suicide – was covered by various other artists, including Gregg Allman, who included a moving rendition with Browne singing harmony vocals on his final studio album Southern Blood from September 2017.

By the time Browne recorded Take It Easy for his sophomore album For Everyman, which appeared in October 1973, the Eagles had released the tune as their first single in May 1972. It gave them their first hit peaking at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of their signature songs. Originally, Browne began writing the tune for his eponymous debut album. But he got stuck with it, so played it to his friend Glenn Frey, who ended up finishing it. When Browne finally recorded the song, he also released it as a single, but it didn’t chart – perhaps it sounds pretty similar to the Eagles‘ version.

Fountain of Sorrow is a great track from Browne’s third studio Late for the Sky. Released in September 1974, it was his first top 20 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Like Take It Easy, the tune also appeared separately as a single but did not chart either.

In November 1976, Browne released The Pretender, his fourth studio album. It was his first major album chart success, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard 200, and marking his first record to chart in the U.K., where it reached no. 26. Here’s the title track, which also became the second single. It did moderately well, reaching no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 – love that tune!

Next is the album that started my Jackson Browne journey: The amazing Running on Empty from December 1977. Frankly, I could list each tune on that record, so let’s go with one that is a less obvious choice: The Road, written by American singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe. Themed around life on the road as a touring musician, Running on Empty was an unusual record featuring live recordings on stage and in other locations associated with touring, such as hotel rooms, tour buses or backstage. The first 2:28 minutes of The Road were captured in a hotel room in Columbia, Md., while the remainder was recorded live at Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., which nowadays is known as PNC Bank Arts Center and a venue where I’ve seen many great shows.

In June 1980, Browne released Hold Out, his sixth studio album. While the record received poor reviews from music critics, ironically, it became his only no. 1 album in the U.S. It also was Browne’s second record to chart in the U.K. Here’s Of Missing Persons, a beautiful tribute to Little Feat co-founder Lowell George, a collaborator and longtime friend of Browne’s who had passed away the year before. The tune was specifically written for George’s then six-year-old daughter Inara George who since became a music artist as well.

For many years, Jackson Browne has been a political activist, e.g., speaking up against the use of nuclear power and supporting environmental causes. But it wasn’t until the ’80s that political themes starting to play a more dominant role in Browne’s lyrics. The album that comes to my mind first in that context is Lives in the Balance, which came out in February 1986. Here’s the catchy opener For America. It also became the lead single and reached no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

For the next tune, I’m jumping to the ’90s, specifically to February 1996 and Browne’s 11th studio album Looking East. Like many of his previous records, it featured various notable guests, such as Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Ry Cooder and Mike Campbell. Here is Baby How Long, for which Cooder provided a great slide guitar part and Raitt sang harmony vocals, together with Australian singer Renée Geyer.

Let’s do two more from the current millennium. First up: The title track from The Naked Ride Home, Browne’s 12th studio album from September 2002, which my streaming music provider served up as a listening suggestion that in turn triggered the idea to do this post.

The final song I’d like to highlight is from Browne’s most recent 14th studio album Standing in the Breach, which was released in October 2014. Here is the nice opener The Birds of St. Marks. Originally, Browne wrote that tune in 1967 after his breakup with Nico and return from New York to California. While first released on his 2005 live album Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1., it wasn’t until this 2014 studio album that Browne properly recorded the tune. “This is a song I always heard as a Byrds song, and that was even part of the writing of the song,” Brown told Rolling Stone in an August 2014 interview. Standing in the Breach became a remarkable late-stage career chart success, reaching no. 15 on the Billboard 200 and no. 31 in the U.K.

Earlier this year, in the wake of testing positive for COVID-19 (though luckily with relatively light symptoms), Browne released A Little Soon to Say, a song from his next studio album scheduled for October 9, which I featured in this previous Best of What’s New installment. To date Browne has sold more than 18 million albums in the U.S. alone. Apart from the above mentioned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Browne has also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2007. He is ranked at no. 37 in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music I like

This is the third installment of my new series in as many weeks. While I’m not sure I can keep it up at that rate, I’m happy that lately more newly released music makes it on my radar screen. Best of all, three of the five artists featured in this post are entirely new to me, while I had not heard from one of the remaining two in 35 years. It also turns out the fifth and most famous artist and I were born in the same town in Germany.

Jackson Browne/A Little Soon to Say

It’s safe to assume Jackson Browne needs no introduction. Ever since I listened to the Running on Empty album in the late ’70s or early ’80s, I’ve loved the singer-songwriter. By the way, while researching the post, I realized Brown was born in Heidelberg, Germany, which also happens to be my place of birth. That’s where the commonalities end! 🙂 Browne released his latest song last Friday shortly after he had learned a test for COVID-19 had come back positive – yikes! While he had written A Little Soon to Say prior to the pandemic, Browne told Rolling Stone he decided, “Just put it out now while these things are so uncertain.” Fortunately, his symptoms appear to be mild and he is currently at home in quarantine.

Kendall Rucks/Bloom

From her website: With her powerful vocals and sultry sound, Kendall Rucks fuses elements of rock, blues and dream pop to create music that is both provocative and captivating. A Florida native now based in Los Angeles, Kendall has recently released her latest single SKIN THE SUN while also juggling multiple writing and recording projects. With her band, The Zodiac Mafia, Kendall is preparing for a US tour in 2020 as well as the release of multiple new singles…With artist inspirations such as Fiona Apple, Lana Del Rey, and Cat Power as well as groups like Nirvana, Radiohead and Garbage, Kendall makes music that is deep, thought-provoking and has soul with a sultry edge. Apparently, her bio is slightly outdated. Released March 6, Bloom is Rucks’ most recent single. Pretty good – reminds me a bit of Tanita Tikaram.

Cory Vincent/I’d Love to Change the World

With that title, how could I not have selected this tune during these crazy times? From Vincent’s website: What do you get when you combine the hard edged, dreary sounds of the Pacific Northwest with the soulful, southern themed voicings of the blues? The fans of Cory Vincent have appropriately coined it, “Grunge Blues.” Drawing inspiration from genre-blending trailblazers like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Jack White; Cory’s songwriting is a throwback to an era where the song was the king…Born and raised in the small town of Sedro-Woolley, Cory’s passion for music and songwriting began at young age, with a heavy influence of Country music from legends like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Garth Brooks. It wasn’t until the age of 13, when his father brought home the Stevie Ray Vaughan album “Texas Flood,” that Cory decided to pick up the guitar. Often saying that there are way too many influences to list, Cory sums up his guitar background as follows- “I play guitar because of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) changed the way I thought about guitar, and Warren Haynes confirmed it all!” All sounds good to me! I’d Love to Change the World is his latest single that came out on March 15. Written by Alvin Lee, the song was first recorded by British blues rock band Ten Years After for their sixth studio album Space in Time from October 1971.

Kings Ransome/Solo

From the band’s website: Kings Ransome started years ago as Vannare when future rock icon Porter Dowdy realized his dream of holding a guitar every day for the rest of his life. He teamed up with longtime friend, shampoo model candidate, and bassist Davis Huggins to do this band thing. Funk/fusion drummer Matt Malphrus joined the gang with a charming smile and a stellar high school football career. Not long after – enter guitarist Leo Santana. With hair that contains more rock’n’roll than most people have in their whole body, Leo upped the band’s sound and image. The guys created a kickin’ EP, but the singer quit during recording. Luckily Porter knew a guy. Trey Duncan had quit his job and was trying to pay the bills as a solo artist. Porter called him the day he told his girlfriend he needed a band to boss around, and the rest, as they say, is history. Credited to all members of the band, Solo is their most recent single that came out on January 1. Nice guitar-oriented rock – check it out!

Heinz Rudolf Kunze/Die Zeit Ist Reif

Wow, the last time I had heard from Heinz Rudolf Kunze was some 35 years ago when the German singer-songwriter and book author suddenly was everywhere on the radio with Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz (rough translation: You’re my everything). Some critics called Kunze “Oberlehrer” (secondary schoolteacher) for his often didactic lyrics. Including his 1981 debut, he has released 28 albums to date. Cowritten by Kunze and Heiner Lürig, Die Zeit Ist Reif (the time is now) is from his most recent album Der Wahrheit Die Ehre (pay attention to the truth), which was released on February 21. It’s a nice pop rock ballad.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kendall Rucks website; Cory Vincent website; Kings Ransome website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Jackson Browne/Running On Empty

Jackson Browne has been one of my favorite artists for many years. When I recently learned he is touring, I simply couldn’t resist and got a ticket for a show on May 13 in Bethlehem, Pa. I was lucky, since the concert was almost sold out, though the ticket wasn’t exactly cheap. Still, I’m completely psyched!

Running On Empty was the first song by Browne I ever heard in the late ’70s/early ’80s. The title track of his fifth album from December 1977 immediately grabbed me and still does. The entire record is amazing and is one of the best ’70s albums, in my opinion.

Apparently, the above clip was captured during a gig in Adelaide, Australia in March this year. It shows Browne’s current touring band, which consists of Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Shane Fontayne (guitar), Alethea Mills (vocals), Chavonne Stewart (vocals), Jeff Young (keyboards) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). While it is perhaps impossible to replace the amazing David Lindley, who played lap steel guitar on the original recording, it surely sounds like Leisz is doing a great job.

Browne’s current tour schedule shows some 40 dates across the country between early May and early August.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jackson Browne official website, YouTube