Clips & Pix: Carole King/Believe In Humanity

And I thought I had known Carole King pretty well! Yes, I had been aware of her versatility as a songwriter, especially during the ’60s with her husband Gerry Goffin. But I had not been quite prepared for the above tune, Believe In Humanity, from Live At Montreux 1973, which came out in September. This great live album captures a 1973 show at the Montreux Pavillon in Switzerland, conducted as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival.

I don’t recall having heard King as soul and funk-oriented as on this track. This is really cool! I figured some readers who may know her primarily from the iconic and very different Tapestry album, may be surprised as well.

Undoubtedly, much of Believe In Humanity’s groove has do do with King’s 11-piece backing band that featured six horn and woodwind players, among others. Originally, Believe In Humanity appeared on her fifth solo album Fantasy from June 1973, a record I had hardly known. Oh, well, now I do!

According to King’s website, the material from Fantasy “was, at the time, untested.  To up the stakes, almost everything about the new music broke with Carole’s past.  This was her first attempt at a song cycle, a format which purposely blurs the songs into an unbroken piece, starting and ending with two distinct versions of the title track.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Carole King website; YouTube

 

I Got A Name: Jim Croce

Prolific singer-songwriter’s life was cut short after his career had just taken off

…If I had a box just for wishes/And dreams that had never come true/The box would be empty/Except for the memory/Of how they were answerd by you…

The above is an excerpt from the lyrics of one of the most beautiful love songs I know, written by a great singer-songwriter whose life was tragically cut short. Time In A Bottle became one of Jim Croce’s biggest hits topping the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in January 1974, not even four months after he had died at age 30 in a plane crash.

James Joseph Croce was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia. His parents James Albert Croce and Flora Mary (Babusci) Croce were both Italian Americans. While Croce git into playing accordion at the age of 5, he did not start taking music seriously until he was a student at Villanova University in the early 1960s. At that time, he began forming bands and playing local gigs at fraternity parties, coffee houses and universities around Philadelphia, performing a broad variety of cover music.

Jim Croce & family
Jim & Ingrid Croce with their son Adrian James

In 1966, Croce self-published his debut album Facets with a $500 cash gift he had received from his parents for his wedding to Ingrid Croce (née Jacobson), an author and singer-songwriter. The two had met in November 1963 and performed as a duo since 1964. Croce’s parents had hoped their son’s record would fail and he would come to realize he should use his eduction to pursue a “respectable” profession. Instead, Croce not only managed to sell all 500 copies of the record that had been pressed but also made a profit of close to $2,500. Here’s Texas Rodeo, the album’s only tune solely credited to Croce. Despite that promising start, true success for Croce was still years away.

In 1968, record producer Tommy West persuaded Croce and his wife to relocate to New York. By that time, they had started writing their own songs. This led to the release of Croce’s second record in September 1969, the duos album Jim & Ingrid Croce. Here’s the lovely Spin, Spin, Spin, which like most songs on the record was co-written by the couple.

The music business in New York City and playing small clubs and college gigs to promote the couple’s album proved to be tough. Disullisioned they returned to Pennsylvania to live on an old farm in the countryside. Since music wasn’t bringing in enough money, Croce took on a variety of odd jobs like driving a truck, contruction work and teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he continued writing songs.

Following the birth of their son Adrian James, Ingrid became a stay-at-home-mother while Jim played concerts to promote his music. The breakthrough came in 1972 after Croce had signed a contract with ABC Records and released his third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in April that year. The record’s title track came out as a single in July and climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. By comparison, the album’s second single Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) “only” made it to no. 17 on the U.S. chart. And then ther is the above mentioned Time In A Bottle, which didn’t appear as a single until after Croce’s death and became his second of two no. 1 hits in the U.S.

In July 1973, Croce’s fourth studio album Life And Times came out. The last record released during his life time included his first Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. The great piano-driven boogie woogie tune was inspired by a guy with that name Croce had met during his short time in the National Guard. One evening the guy said he was fed up and went AWOL. When he inexplicably decided to come back at the end of the month to get his paycheck, he was caught and taken away in handcuffs.

On September 20, 1973, during the supporting tour for Life And Times, Croce was planning to fly from Natchitoches, La. after a show there to his next gig in Sherman, Texas. During takeoff, the pilot of a chartered propeller plane clipped a tree at the end of the runway, causing a crash. Croce, pilot Robert N. Elliott; guitarist Maury Muehleisen; comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese, and road manager Dennis Rast were all killed. The next day, the lead single and title track from Croce’s fifth and final studio album I Got A Name was released. Co-written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the song was one of record’s the few tunes that were not written by Croce.

After Jim’s death, Ingrid Croce among other activities released two solo albums. She also did various things to keep Jim’s legacy alive. In 1985, she started a restaurant in downtown San Diego in the same spot where in 1973 Jim had joked about opening Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar and inviting their friends and fellow artists like James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt perform there. After various expansions and opening a second restaurant in the ’80s, Ingrid closed all restaurant operations in 2016. In 1996, she wrote Thyme in a Bottle, an autobiographical cookbook with memories and recipes from Croce’s Restaurant. And in 2004, she published Time in a Bottle, a photographic memoir of Jim’s songs with lyrics and her favorite photos. Jim’s and Ingrid’s son Adrian James “A.J.” Croce also became a singer-songwriter and has released 10 albums since 1993.

A bio on Jim Croce’s website quotes Ingrid: “Jim poured everything he heard and saw into his music. He was like a sponge, soaking up experiences and – sometimes it might take him a while, ‘Roller Derby Queen’ took him two or three years to write. But sooner or later, everything would make it into a song, and people recognized that.”

I’d like to close this post with a nice clip of a 1973 live performance of Operator, showing Croce with Muehleisen. Croce had met the classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter from Trenton, N.J. in 1970. Muehleisen became a collaborator in the studio who influenced Croce’s song-writing. For 18 months, they were also frequently together on the road. He was only 24 years at the time of the crash.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jim Croce website; Ingrid Croce website; YouTube

Phil Ochs, Brilliant Yet Widely Obscure Troubador

What do Robert Allen Zimmerman and Philip David Ochs have in common? Both wrote brilliant protest songs in the ’60s. The difference? Robert changed his name to Bob Dylan and became one of the most famous music artists of our time. Philip chose to perform as Phil Ochs and remained largely obscure outside singer-songwriter circles.

Until recently, I had never heard of Phil Ochs myself. Then I saw somebody ranting on Facebook that Bob Dylan undeservedly gets all the credit for being this brilliant protest singer when the recognition should really go to Ochs. The truth is while both artists at some point were important protest singer-songwriters, none of them invented the genre. According to Wikipedia, the tradition of protest songs in the U.S. long predates the births of Dylan and Ochs – in fact going all the way back to the 18th century.

One of the important forerunners to the 1950s and 1960s protest singer-singwriters were the Hutchinson Family Singers, who starting from 1839 became well known for singing about social issues, such as abolition, war and women’s suffrage. And let’s not forget Woody Guthrie, who was born in 1912 and started learning folk and blues songs during his early teens. Over a 26-year-period as an active music artist, Guthrie wrote hundreds of political, folk and children’s songs. He was a major influence on numerous other songwriters who in addition to Dylan and Ochs included Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and many other former and contemporary artists.

Hutchinson Family Singers
Hutchinson Family Singers in 1845 painting by an unkown artist

‘I get it,’ you might think, ‘but who the hell is Phil Ochs?’ Sadly, it’s a pretty rough story, and it doesn’t have a Hollywood happy ending.

Ochs was born on December 19, 1940 in El Paso, Texas. His dad Jakob “Jack” Ochs was a physician from New York, and his mom Gertrude Finn Ochs hailed from Scotland. The two met there and got married in Edinburgh where Jack was attending medical school at the time. After their wedding, they moved to the U.S. Jack joined the army as a doctor and was sent overseas close to the end of World War II. He returned as a sick man with bipolar disorder and depression.

Jack’s health conditions prevented him from establishing a successful medical practice. Instead, he ended up working at a series of hospitals around the country and frequently moving his family. As a result, Phil Ochs grew up in different places, along with an older sister (Sonia, known as Sonny) and a younger brother (Michael). His father was distant from the family, eventually got hospitalized for depression, and passed away from a brain bleeding in April 1963. Phil’s mother died in March 1994.

Phil Ochs as teen with clarinet
Phil Ochs as a teenager playing the clarinet

During his teenage years, Ochs became a talented clarinet player. Prior to the age of 16, he was principal soloist with the orchestra at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Columbus, Ohio. Although Ochs had become an accomplished classical instrumentalist, he soon discovered the radio and started listening to the likes of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

Initially, Ochs wanted to become a journalist. Well, he of sort did, combining his interest in writing about politics with music. During his journalism studies at Ohio State University, he met fellow student, activist and future folk singer Jim Glover in the fall of 1960, who introduced him to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and The Weavers, and taught him how to play guitar. It wouldn’t take long before Ochs merged his interest of politics and music and started writing his own songs. He preferred to characterize himself as a topical rather than a protest singer.

Glover and Ochs started performing as a duo called The Singing Socialists and later The Sundowners but broke up before their first professional gig. Glover went to New York, while Ochs started performing professionally at a local fok club in Cleveland. In 1962, he went to the Big Apple as well and soon established himself in the Greenwich Village folk music scence. Ochs described himself as a “singing journalist,” explaining his songs were inspired by stories he saw in Newsweek. By the summer of 1963, he had developed a sufficiently high profile and was invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, along the likes of Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary.

Ochs’ debut album All The News That’s Fit To Sing, an allusion to The New York Times‘ slogan “All the news that’s fit to print,” appeared in 1964. Here is Ballad of William Worthy. The tune tells the story about an American journalist who traveled to Cuba despite the U.S. embargo and was forbidden to return to the U.S. Check out the brilliant lyrics of this tune – safe to assume Ochs’ words didn’t endear him to the Johnson Administration.

In 1965, Ochs’ sophomore album I Ain’t Marching Anymore came out. Here’s the excellent satirical anti-war tune Draft Dodger Rag, which quickly became an anthem of the anti-Vietnam war movement.

After Ochs’ first three albums with Electra Records had gone nowhere commercially speaking, he signed with A&M Records and in October 1967 released his fourth studio record Pleasures Of The Harbor. Unlike his first three folk music-oriented records, the album went beyond folk, featuring elements of classical, rock & roll, Dixieland and even experiental synthesized music. Apparently, the idea was to produce a folk-pop crossover. While the album included great tunes, it’s safe to say it didn’t bring Ochs commercial success. Here is Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends, which became one of Ochs’ most popular songs. The tune was inspired by the case of a 28-old woman who was stabbed to death in front of her home in Queens, New York, while dozens of her neighbors reportedly ignored her cries for help.

Tape From California is Ochs’ fifth album. Released in July 1968 on A&M Records, it continued his shift away from straight folk-oriented protest songwriting, though he was far from abandoning topical songs. The War Is Over is a tune that was inspired by poet Allen Ginsberg who in 1966 declared the Vietnam war was over. Ochs decided to adopt the idea and organize an anti-war rally in Los Angeles, for which he wrote the song.

Phil Ochs’ final studio album came out in February 1970. Weirdly, it was called Greatest Hits, even though it was not a compilation but a collection of 10 new tracks. Most of the record was produced by Van Dyke Parks, who previously had appeared on Tape From California, contributing piano and keyboards to the title track. Greatest Hits featured an impressive array of guest artists, including Clarence White and Gene Parsons, both from The Byrds; Ry Cooder; Jim Glover; and members of Elvis Presley’s backing band, among others. The album cover was an homage to Elvis, showing Ochs in a gold lamé suit reminiscent of the outfit Elvis wore for the cover of his 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong greatest hits compilation. Here is Jim Dean Of Indiana, a tune about the actor James Dean, who like Elvis was one of Ochs’ idols.

Greatest Hits was Ochs’ final attempt to connect with average Americans, who he was convinced weren’t listening to topical songs. Disillusioned by key events of 1968, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago around the Democratic National Convention and the election of Richard Nixon, Ochs felt he needed to be “part Elvis Presley and part Che Guevara,” as Wikipedia puts it. Ochs supported the album with a tour, performing in the Elivs-like suit and being backed by a rock band, singing his own songs, along with tunes by Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard. But his fans weren’t sure what to make of the “new Phil Ochs.”

Pretty much from there, things went downhill for Ochs. He developed writer’s block and slipped into depression and alcoholism. He did not release any additional records. On April 9, 1976, Ochs committed suicide by hanging himself in the home of his sister Sonny. He was only 35 years old.

I’d like to conclude this post with a few quotes I found on Life of a Rebel, a blog dedicated to Ochs. “As a lyricist, there was nobody like Phil before and there has not been anybody since,” said fellow folk singer Dave Van Ronk. “He had a touch that was so distinctive that it just could not be anybody else. He had been a journalism student before he became a singer, and he would never sacrifice what he felt to be the truth for a good line.” In a note to Ochs in 1963, Pete Seeger wrote, “I wish I had one tenth your talent as a songwriter.” And what did the mighty Bob Dylan tell Broadside magazine in 1964? “I just can’t keep up with Phil. And he’s getting better and better and better.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Life of a Rebel; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/It’s Too Late

When I saw that clip, I didn’t have to think twice about posting it: Carole King performing It’s Too Late on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. King was backed by the show’s excellent house band The Roots. Live music really doesn’t get much better!

Written by her (music) and Toni Stern (lyrics), the beautiful tune appeared on the  Tapestry album, a timeless gem and a record that after more than 40 years when I listened to it for the first time remains one of my all-time favorites.

King who turned 77 years old in February looks and sounds fantastic. Her appearance on Jimmy Fallon occured ahead of her performance at Global Citizen Festival 2019 in New York City’s Central Park on September 28. Frankly, that event had completely escaped my attention. I had all been focused on Rock the Farm, a great annual music tribute festival and fundraising event for after drug rehab programs, which also happened on September 28 and which I previously covered here.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Paul Simon/Still Crazy After All These Years

My introduction to Paul Simon happened many moons ago with Simon & Garfunkel and their second compilation Greatest Hits from 1972, which my sister owned on vinyl. I loved that record from the very beginning and still do to this day. Not long after I had heard it for the first time, I started taking guitar lessons and eventually got a songbook for that collection. I practiced hard to learn the tunes and soon found out what a formidable acoustic guitarist Paul Simon is. Eventually, I managed to figure out the finger-picking for The Boxer – haven’t tried playing that tune in 20-plus years. Anyway…

While there’s an obvious connection to Simon & Garfunkel, this post is about Paul Simon’s fourth studio album Still Crazy After All These Years, which appeared in October 1975. I would say I know a good deal of Simon’s tunes he recorded as a solo artist, but other than the fantastic Graceland from August 1986, I cannot really make the same claim for his albums. As oftentimes happens, the idea for this post was triggered when my streaming music provider served up the record as a listening suggestion. It didn’t take me long to realize this is a great album with a smooth jazz, blues and soul-influenced sound – my kind of music!

Let’s kick things off with the excellent opener and title track. Like all songs on the record, it was written by Simon, one of my favorite American singer-songwriters. It nicely sets the mood for the album. BTW, the recording features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm SectionBarry Beckett (Fender Rhodes piano), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). Also, check out that beautiful saxophone solo by Michael Brecker, which starts at around 2:12 minutes.

My Little Town reunited Simon with Art Garfunkel. The tune, which also appeared on Garfunkel’s second solo album Breakaway that was released about 10 days prior to Still Crazy, became the first single credited to the duo since America, a single off their above Greatest Hits compilation. Simon and Garfunkel may have had a complicated relationship, but they surely recorded some great music together and their voices blended perfectly with each other. While perhaps a little bit lush in the second part (hey, it’s the ’70s!), the song has a nice build.

The big hit from the album of course is 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Yes, I realize it’s perhaps an obvious choice everybody knows, but I just dig that tune way too much to skip it. I love that cool drum part played by Steve Gadd, as well as the song’s bluesy feel and clever lyrics. It became the record’s third single and Simon’s only solo song to top the Billboard Hot 100.

Next up: Gone At Last, another gem on the album with a great soul and gospel vibe. Phoebe Snow and The Jessy Dixon Singers provided dynamite guest vocals. The track also became the album’s lead single in August 1975. According to Wikipedia, Phoebe received a credit on the single. The song charted in the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Have A Good Time, which nicely sums up what I feel when listening to this record. This is another great song with a nice bluesy feel. Musically, it’s the slide guitar, as well the alto saxophone played by Phil Woods, which speak to me in particular. Check it out!

Still Crazy After All These Years was co-produced by Simon and South African born recording engineer and producer Philip Ramone. The record won Grammy Awards for Album Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1976. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 and received Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America, making it one of Simon’s most successful solo albums.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Jersey Singer-Songwriter Rick Barth Releases Acoustic Roots-Oriented Sophomore Album

I met Rick Barth in June 2018 and at the time wrote about his 2015 debut album Hand Me Down Soul. Now the singer-songwriter from Budd Lake, N.J. is out with his second record titled Fade. It’s a nice continuation of his acoustic-oriented rock, singer-songwriter ballads, as well as country and roots-oriented music.

While Barth has been performing on the New Jersey music scene as a solo artist and a member of various bands and duos for about three decades, he only decided to start writing his own music less than 10 years ago. His named influences include Butch Walker, Ryan Adams, John Lennon, Ryan Bingham, Tom Petty, Michael Trent, Jason Isbel and Parker Milsap. I can also hear traces of John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.

Let’s get to some music. I’d like to kick things off with the opener We Had Fun (Didn’t We?). Like all other tunes on the album, the song was written by Barth.

Next up is the title track featuring nice pedal steel guitar accents.

A vocal highlight on the album is Shine, in my opinion, where Barth’s voice beautifully blends with backing vocalist Louise Trezza.

Here is another tune I like: Stranger Things. Check out the nice dobro work!

The last track I’d like to call out is Change, a country song that to me is perhaps the musical highlight of the record. I dig the beautiful violin playing and the pedal steel guitar, which sound great together. This is perhaps somewhat ironical coming from a guy who used to say he doesn’t like country. Oh well, it just goes to show again that genres don’t need to define great music.

Apart from lead vocals, Barth handles guitars, bass and mandolin. In addition to Louise Trezza (backing vocals), other musicians on the album include Keith Dunham (bass), Wayne Wilson (pedal steel), Jim Reeber (keyboards), Rick Krueger (lap steel, dobro), Ralph Heiss (bass), Dawn Patrick (violin) and Rob Ot (percussion).

Fade was produced by Barth and Dunham and recorded at Rifftide Studio in Ledgewood, N.J. Dunham also served as recording engineer. The album is available on streaming platforms and since yesterday on CD through Barth’s website. By the way, the picture on the cover shows the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Pa., which during its heyday was one of the world’s largest steel producers.

Sources: Rick Barth website, ReverbNation, BandMix.com, GigMasters, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/It’s Too Late

This great clip of Carole King performing It’s Too Late is from Live At Montreux 1973, a new released film documenting her concert at the Montreux Pavillon. According to King’s website, this appearance during the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival was her first landmark show outside the United States. Watching this clip just gives me goosebumps.

As previously noted, my older sister introduced me to Carole King as an eight-year-old or so with the Tapestry album, one of the first vinyl records I ever heard. I loved King from the very beginning, even though I couldn’t understand a word she was singing. It didn’t matter. Her powerful voice and beautiful music were more than enough, though of course only add to the timeless classic. I still believe Carole King is one of the best American singer-songwriters I know.

Like most songs from Tapestry, the music for It’s Too Late was written by King. The words are by lyricist Toni Stern, who also wrote or co-wrote the lyrics for several other Carole King songs in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Live At Montreux 1973 is available on DVD, CD and LP.

Sources: Wikipedia, Carole King website, Toni Stern website, YouTube