My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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A First Glance at Albums Hitting the Big 50 This Year

With a new year upon us, I thought this would be a good opportunity to preview albums that are turning 50 in 2023. Taking a closer look quickly confirmed my expectation that 1973 was yet another great year in music. Based on Wikipedia, I came up with an initial list of 40 records released that year. I’m going to touch on six of them. A Spotify playlist at the end features songs from those albums, as well as one tune from each of the remaining 34 records.

Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon (March 1, 1973)

Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album The Dark Side of the Moon remains among my favorites by the English rock band. Released in March 1973, it was primarily developed during live performances and premiered before the recording sessions began. In fact, as reported by Variety and other music outlets, last month, Pink Floyd quietly released 18 of these concerts on streaming services before the recordings hit 50 years and would have lost copyright protection. The Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album around themes like conflict, greed, time, death and mental illness, is Floyd’s best-selling record and one of the most critically acclaimed albums in music history. Here is Time, with lyrics by Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and the music credited to all members of the band, who also included David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion).

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy (July 1973)

Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown to Ecstasy, released in July 1973, was recorded when they were still a standing band. In addition to masterminds Donald Fagen (acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizer, lead and backing vocals) and Walter Becker (electric bass, harmonica, backing vocals), the line-up featured Denny Dias (electric guitar), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (electric and pedal steel guitars) and Jim Hodder (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Countdown to Ecstasy followed the departure of David Palmer and was the group’s first album where Fagen sang lead on every song. After their third record Pretzel Logic, Fagen and Becker turned Steely Dan largely into a studio project, relying on top-notch session musicians. One of my favorite tracks on Countdown to Ecstasy is My Old School, which like all other tunes was co-written by Becker and Fagen. Baxter’s guitar work shines and is among his best.

Stevie WonderInnervisions (August 3, 1973)

Innervisions, Stevie Wonder’s 16th studio album released in August 1973, is part of his so-called classic period, which spans six records, bookended by Music of My Mind (March 1972) and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” (October 1979). Following his 21st birthday on May 13, 1971, Wonder allowed his contract with Motown to expire. He returned to the Detroit label with Music of My Mind and a much more lucrative contract that also freed him from the artistic straitjacket of the past. Wonder’s lyrics changed and started to explore social and political topics in addition to standard romantic themes. Musically, he began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself. Innervisions and the excellent Living for the City perfectly illustrate these changes.

Lynyrd Skynyrd(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (August 13, 1973)

August 1973 also saw the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). And what a debut it was, featuring classics like Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and the epic Free Bird. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it, based on the album’s relatively moderate chart performance when it came out. In the U.S., it reached no. 27 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 20 in Switzerland, no. 44 in the UK and no. 47 in Canada. But over time, the picture looks better. As of July 1987, it was certified 2X Platinum in the U.S. The album also made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was ranked at no. 381 in the most recent revision from 2020. Here’s the aforementioned Free Bird, co-written by the group’s original lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins.

Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 5, 1973)

Elton John truly ruled during the first part of the ’70s. With Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a double LP and his seventh studio album, he scored his third of six consecutive chart-toppers in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Australia. It spawned four singles, which charted in different countries. In the U.S., Bennie and the Jets became John’s second no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, while the title track topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand. I decided to highlight the magnificent opening medley of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. As usual, John wrote the music to lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. What an opus!

Paul McCartney and WingsBand on the Run (December 5, 1973)

The final album I’d like to call out here is what I consider the Mount Rushmore of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles period: Band on the Run, his fifth after the break-up of The Fab Four and the third with Wings. By the time recording in Lagos, Nigeria began, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough had departed. This left Wings as a trio, which in addition to McCartney included his wife Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. As such, Paul ended up playing bass, drums, percussion and most of the lead guitar parts, with Laine providing guitars and Linda keyboards. Both also sang backing and harmony vocals. After recording the majority of the album’s basic tracks and some overdubbing in Lagos under difficult conditions, Wings returned to England and finished the album in George Martin’s AIR Studios in London. After initial modest sales, Band on the Run became the top-selling studio album of 1974 in the UK. More importantly, it revitalized the critical standing of Paul McCartney whose earlier post-Beatles records had received a mixed reception. Band on the Run’s opener and title track, credited to Paul and Linda, is a longtime favorite of mine.

I’m planning dedicated posts on each of the above albums and possibly others released in 1973, timed to their respective 50th anniversaries. Last but not least, here’s the above-noted Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Variety; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final 2022 installment of The Sunday Six! I can’t believe I’m writing this. But, yep, not only is this year quickly coming to an end, but this blog will also be on a short holiday hiatus. I’m going back to Germany next week to spend Christmas with my parents and planning to resume posting shortly after my return close to the new year.

Michael Brecker/I Can See Your Dreams

Always curious to learn about new jazz saxophone players, I asked my friend Phil Armeno the other day. Phil plays saxophone in Good Stuff, a great band celebrating the music of Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli (I previously covered them here.) The first sax player Phil mentioned was Michael Brecker. The name sounded vaguely familiar and no wonder – Brecker, who was active from 1969 until his untimely death in 2007 at the age of 57, collaborated with many music artists outside the pure jazz realm, including Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon…the list goes on and on! Brecker began studying the clarinet at age six before moving on to alto saxophone in eighth grade and finally settling on what became his main instrument, the tenor saxophone, in his sophomore year. While his recording career as a sideman started in 1969, his solo eponymous debut album didn’t appear until 1987. I Can See Your Dreams is a beautiful Brecker composition included on his seventh studio album Nearness of You: The Ballad Book released in June 2001. Check out that sweet sound!

Mink DeVille/Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart

Let’s kick up the speed a bit with a great 1983 pop tune by Mink DeVille: Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart. Formed in 1974, Mink DeVille was a band to showcase the music of frontman and versatile singer-songwriter Willy DeVille. While initially associated with New York’s early punk scene, the group’s roots were in R&B, blues and even Cajun music. Between 1977 and 1985, they put out six albums. After their breakup, DeVille continued to release a series of solo albums as Willy DeVille until February 2008. In early 2009, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, followed by a pancreatic cancer diagnosis a few months thereafter. DeVille passed away in August of the same year, shortly prior to what would have been his 59th birthday. Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart, penned by DeVille, was included on the band’s second-to-final album Where Angels Fear to Tread. The tune also appeared separately and became their only single to chart in the U.S. (no. 89). While both the band and DeVille were more successful elsewhere, overall, their chart success was moderate.

The Beatles/Day Tripper

Time for a stopover in the ’60s and The Beatles with a great tune featuring what I feel is one of their best guitar riffs: Day Tripper. Written primarily by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, the non-album single was released in December 1965, paired with We Can Work It Out. According to Wikipedia, the single was the first example of a double A-side in Britain where it became the band’s ninth no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart. Elsewhere, it also passed the audition, reaching the top of the charts in The Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts notes the lyrics were Lennon’s first reference to LSD in a Beatles tune and can be viewed as him teasing Paul about not taking acid.

John Prine/Take a Look At My Heart

Our next stop is the ’90s. For the occasion, I have a perfect country rock-flavored tune I came across recently: Take a Look At My Heart by John Prine. It appears the more songs I hear from him, the more I dig his music, and the better I understand why he was held in such high esteem by many other artists and music fans. Take a Look At My Heart, co-written by Prine and John Mellencamp and featuring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, was included on Prine’s 10th studio album The Missing Years. Released in September 1991, it won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In spite of this recognition, it didn’t make the charts – incredible! But Prine’s music cannot be measured by chart success in the first place. Of course, the same can be said about other music artists!

Rainbow/Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

Fasten your seatbelt for this next kickass hard rock tune. We’re going back to April 1978 and the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. The British-American band was formed in 1975 as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow after the guitarist’s departure from Deep Purple. In addition to Blackmore, the short-lived original line-up included killer vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Micky Lee Soule (keyboards), Craig Gruber (bass) and Gary Driscoll (drums). Blackmore was extremely difficult to work with and frequently fired members from the band. By the time Rainbow recorded Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soule, Gruber and Driscoll were gone. Cozy Powell had already taken over on drums for Driscoll later in 1975. Unfortunately, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the final Rainbow album for Dio. Starting with the successor Down to Earth, Blackmore steered the group to a more radio-friendly sound that apparently was inspired by his liking of Foreigner. I’ve always loved Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, which was co-written by Blackmore and Dio.

Mudcrutch/The Wrong Thing to Do

This brings us to the final destination of our last music time travel excursion of 2022. Prior to forming the Heartbreakers in 1976, Tom Petty had another band, Mudcrutch, he co-founded in 1970 with Tom Leadon in Gainesville, Fla. With Petty on bass and vocals and Leadon on guitar and vocals, the group’s line-up also included Jim Lenehan (vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar) and Randall Marsh (drums). By the time they relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 to seek a deal with a major record label, Leadon and Lenehan had left and been replaced by Danny Roberts (bass, guitar, vocals) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). After signing with Leon Russell’s independent label Shelter Records, Mudcrutch released a single, Depot Street, in 1975. It went nowhere, and the group disbanded later that year. Petty went on to form the Heartbreakers, together with Campbell, Tench, Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Fast-forward 32 years to August 2007 when Petty decided to revive Mudcrutch. Apart from his Heartbreakers bandmates Campbell and Tench, the line-up featured original Mudcrutch members Leadon and Marsh. Off their first full-length eponymous studio album, released in April 2008, here’s the Petty-written The Wrong Thing to Do. The group’s second album, Mudcrutch 2 from May 2016, is the last studio material Petty recorded prior to his tragic death in October 2017.

Last but not here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tracks. Hope you dig it and will join me for more zigzag music journeys in 2023.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and hope you are spending a great morning, afternoon, evening, or night, in whichever timezone you are in. Let’s embark on another excursion into the great world of music. As always, we are doing this six tunes at a time.

The Sonny Stitt Quartet/Down Home Blues

Our first stop today is the year 1956 and New York Jazz, an album by American saxophonist Sonny Stitt. The bebop/hard bop player, who started his career in the early ’40s, was known for his warm tone, which can be heard on more than 100 albums. Some critics viewed him as a Charlie Parker mimic, especially during his early years, but he gradually developed his own sound and style. During the ’40s, he played alto saxophone in the big bands of Tiny Bradshaw, Billy Eckstine and Gene Ammons. He also led the Bebop Boys and Galaxy in 1946 and 1948, respectively. In the ’50s, he also played with other bop musicians, such as Horace Parlan, Bud Powell and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. This brings me to New York Jazz, one of the many albums Stitt recorded as a leader. His quartet also featured Jimmy Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Jo Jones (drums). Here is Down Home Blues, one of Stitt’s compositions.

Steely Dan/Josie

Let’s stay in the jazzy lane and add a dose of pop with a Steely Dan classic from September 1977: Josie, off what I feel is their Mount Rushmore, the Aja album. Starting with Katy Lied from March 1975, the Dan’s masterminds Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had abandoned the standing band concept in favor of recording with a revolving cast of top-notch session musicians. It certainly worked out nicely for them, though it also was an extensive effort, with Aja featuring nearly 40 musicians alongside Messrs. Becker and Faxen. Josie nicely illustrates the caliber of talent. In addition to Fagen (lead vocals, synthesizer, backing vocals) and Becker (guitar solo), the recording included Larry Carlton and Dean Parks (guitar), Victor Feldman (Fender Rhodes), Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals), Chuck Rainey (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums).

Foo Fighters/Best of You

Time to pay a visit to the current century, more specifically June 2005. That’s when Foo Fighters issued their fifth studio album In Your Honor. At that time, the rock band from Seattle around former Nirvana drummer-turned-guitarist Dave Grohl had released a string of increasingly successful albums that enjoyed international chart success. In Your Honor was no exception, topping the charts in Australia and New Zealand, reaching no. 2 in the U.S., the UK and Ireland, and placing in the top 5 in Canada, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands. The double album also featured notable guests like John Paul Jones (ex-Led Zeppelin), Josh Homme (Queen of the Stone Age) as well as singer-songwriter and pianist Norah Jones. Here’s Best of You, credited to all four members of the band, who in addition to Grohl at the time also included Chris Shiflett (lead xuitar), Nate Mendel (bass) and Taylor Hawkins (drums). The tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single on May 30, 2005. The Foos, who lost Hawkins in March this year due to his untimely death at the age of 50 and have honored their longtime drummer with a series of tribute concerts, appear to rock on.

Dire Straits/Industrial Disease

Our next stop are the ’80s with one of my favorite bands and an album for which I’ve gained a new appreciation, thanks in part to fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews. In September 1982, Dire Straits released their fourth studio album Love Over Gold. It came two years after its predecessor Making Movies, which is one of my longtime favorites by the British rock band. Love Over Gold with its outstanding sound and Mark Knopfler’s cinematic songwriting was very well received. It became the group’s most successful album at the time, topping the charts in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Austria and The Netherlands, climbing to no. 2 in France, and reaching no. 4 in Germany. In the U.S., it fared more moderately with a no. 19 on the Billboard 200. In Canada, it got to no. 6. Industrial Disease became the second of two singles in November of the same year. It couldn’t match the chart success of the lead single Private Investigations. Interestingly, the two markets in which Industrial Disease charted were Canada and the U.S. American and Canadian audiences would enthusiastically embrace Dire Straits less than three years later when they released Brothers in Arms, their most successful album.

Collective Soul/The World I Know

We haven’t paid a visit to the ’90s yet, so let’s travel there now. March 1995 saw the release of Collective Soul’s eponymous sophomore album, aka the Blue Album to distinguish it from the southern grunge rock band’s 2009 release, which was also self-titled. While I had heard The World I Know before, I had forgotten about this great tune until recently when I coincidentally came across it. The sing is credited to lead vocalist and guitarist Ed Roland and the group’s original lead guitarist Ross Childress (Roland since disputed that Childress had any role in writing it – CMM). The official video, which includes a warning because of the depiction of attempted suicide (though the individual recognizes in time it would be wrong and does not go through with it), is pretty powerful. The World I Know was the fourth of five singles the album spawned. It became the group’s only no. 1 in Canada, and in the U.S., it topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Adult Alternative Airplay charts. The single also made the top 20 in the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, it reached no. 25 in New Zealand and no. 41 in Australia. Collective Soul are still around with Roland remaining part of the present line-up. In fact, they released a new album on August 12 this year, which I haven’t heard.

The Miracles/Shop Around

Recently, I saw Motown soul legend Smokey Robinson in Philadelphia. If you’re interested, I wrote about the amazing show here. One of the songs the now 82-year-old Robinson, who still is in great vocal and physical shape, did not perform to my regret and surprise is Shop Around. I’ve always loved this tune and thought it make for a great final stop of today’s music journey. Co-written by Robinson and Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., the song first appeared as a single in September 1960 for Robinson’s vocal group The Miracles, aka Smokey Robinson and the Miracles from 1965 to 1972. It became their first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard R&B chart. and one of their highest-charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 where it climbed to no. 2. The Miracles were Motown’s first million-selling artists. Shop Around was also included on the group’s debut album Hi… We’re the Miracles, which appeared in June 1961.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist featuring all the above goodies. Hope there’s something that makes you smile.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, folks, and hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’m happy to embark on another excursion into the great world of music, “visiting” six great tracks from different decades. Hope you’ll join me.

Dooley Wilson/As Time Goes By

Today, our little journey starts all the way back in 1942 with what has to be one of the greatest motion picture soundtrack songs of all time. I actually cannot believe it took me more than six years to cover As Time Goes By, which of course was featured in what probably is the movie I’ve watched most often: Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre. The plot, the filming, the amazing cast – call me a silly sentimentalist, but they just don’t make them like this anymore! As Time Goes By was written more than 10 years earlier in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a Broadway musical called Everybody’s Welcome. The tune was first performed by Frances Williams when the show opened on October 31, 1931. The first recording by Rudy Vallée occurred in July 1931. But it was American actor, singer and musician Dooley Wilson whose performance in Casablanca (as Sam) made the song a household name. Play it, Sam, play As Time Goes By.

Steely Dan/Aja

It’s really tough to follow a timeless classic like As Time Goes By, so we have to go to arguably the best album by one of the most sophisticated jazz pop-rock bands I know: Steely Dan and their gem Aja. Released on September 23, 1977, the album recently hit its 45th anniversary. As a fan of the Dan, I’ve covered the ingenious partnership of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and music from their sixth studio recording many times, for example here and here. But this is the first time I feature the album’s title track in The Sunday Six. Like all other tracks on Aja, it was co-written by Becker and Fagen. If I see this correctly, it’s the album’s only tune that didn’t appear separately on a single at the time.

Son Volt/Drown

Alrighty, time for some rock, coz you just can’t live without it! Son Volt only entered my radar screen last year when the alternative country and Americana rock band released their latest album Electro Melodier. It was love at first sight! The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995, which I covered here. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar), Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). One of my favorite tunes on Trace is Drown, which all except one of the additional tracks on the album was penned by Farrar.

The Prisoners/Hurricane

Are you still with me? If you haven’t done so already, buckle your seatbelt, since it’s gonna get stormy and, as such, the ride could get a bit bumpy with great retro-style garage rock by The Prisoners. I have to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Max from Poper Pop, who brought the British band on my radar screen when he recently featured one of their tunes. Formed in 1980 in Rochester, England, The Prisoners released four albums during their initial run that latest until 1986. They subsequently reformed for several live gigs and issued a one-off single in 1997, which is likely their final release. Since the group broke up, their members Graham Day (vocals, guitar), James Taylor (organ), Allan Crockford (bass) and Johnny Symons (drums) played in a broad range of other bands. Perhaps most notable were The Solarflares, who featured Day and Crockford and essentially reprised the sound of The Prisoners. Here’s The Hurricane, written by Day and off The Prisoners’ 1983 sophomore album The Wisermiserdemelza – my kind of garage rock!

Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters/Cry Woman

How about some African music that sounds shall we say a bit different than what I usually feature? As far as I know, not even fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews, who in my book has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and, among others, features artists from Africa and other non-English speaking regions and countries, has covered this act. According to this review on Pan African Music, Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters are a duo comprised of Nyati Mayi, a Congolese singer who plays a stringed instrument called the lulanga, and soFa, a Belgian DJ and producer, aka the Astral Synth Transmitters and soFa elsewhere. Apparently, soFa became aware of Mayi’s music via social media and remixed one of his tracks. Their partnership evolved into Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters and their first album Lulanga Tales, which appeared last month on September 16 – I love these types of stories! Here’s a track from their debut titled Cry Woman. I find this music very relaxing, almost meditative. Check it out!

The Chambers Brothers/All Strung Out Over You

For our final stop today, let’s go back to the ’60s and some groovy psychedelic soul by The Chambers Brothers. Formed in Los Angels in 1954 as a four-piece, the group of four brothers initially focused on performing folk and gospel music throughout Southern California. They remained little known until 1965 when they started to perform in New York. American folk, blues and jazz artists Barbara Dane, who toured with The Chambers Brothers, introduced them to Pete Seeger who in turn helped them put on the bill of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. By the time they released All Strung Out Over You as a single in December 1966, the group – George Chambers (washtub bass, electric bass), Lester Chambers (harmonica), Willie Chambers and Joe Chambers (guitar) – had added drummer Brian Keenan. Written by Rudy Clark, the tune also became the opener of The Chambers Brothers’ debut album appropriately titled The Time Has Come, which appeared in November 1967. They recorded seven additional studio albums until 1975. George Chambers and Keenan passed away in October 2019 and October 1985, respectively.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig and you’ll be back for the next trip. In fact, selfishly, I hope it’s going to be before then!

Sources: Wikipedia; Pan African Music; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Supertramp

Welcome to another installment of If I Could Only Take One, where I pick one song I would take with me on a desert island. To make the selection process more interesting, it can’t just be any tune.

For first-time visitors, I have to pick one tune only, not an album. In addition, the song must be by an artist or band I’ve rarely or not covered at all yet. Last but not least, selections must be made in alphabetical order.

This week, I’m up to “s.” There are plenty of artists (last names) and bands starting with that letter. Some examples include Sade, Sam & Dave, Santana, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Small Faces, Southern Avenue, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Steppenwolf and Sting. And there’s my pick, Supertramp and The Logical Song.

Written by Supertramp co-founder Roger Hodgson, The Logical Song was the lead single of the English band’s biggest-selling sixth studio album Breakfast in America. Both appeared in March 1979. The Logical Song, one of four singles released from that album, also became Supertramp’s most successful song. It topped the charts in Canada, surged to no. 2 in France, and reached no. 6 in each the U.S. and Ireland. In the UK, the tune peaked at no. 7.

Breakfast in America topped the album charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and various European countries, including France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. In the UK, it peaked at no. 3. The record reached platinum certification in the UK, France and The Netherlands, and 4x platinum status in the U.S.

At the Grammy Awards in 1980, Breakfast in America won in the Best Album Package and Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording categories. It had also been nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Formed in London in 1969 by Roger Hodgson (vocals, keyboards, guitars) and Rick Davies (vocals, keyboards), Supertramp started out as a progressive rock band. Beginning with their third and breakthrough album Crime of the Century (1974), they embraced a more pop-oriented sound.

Hodgson left Supertramp following the tour that supported the album …Famous Last Words… and launched a solo career in 1984. Subsequent line-ups of the group were led by Rick Davies. The band folded in 1988. After an unsuccessful attempt of Davies and Hodgson to reunite in 1993, Davies ended up reforming Supertramp in 1996.

In April 2002, Slow Motion appeared, the group’s final album to date. Since then, except for a tour in 2010, Supertramp have been on hiatus. In 2015, Davies was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and his treatment forced the cancellation of a tour that had been planned for November and December that year. During an August 2018 interview, Davies said he had largely overcome his health issues, but the band has stayed on hiatus.

Over the course of a 25-year period (excluding the 8-year hiatus between 1988 and 1996) Supertramp released eleven studio albums, as well as various live and compilation albums. As of 2007, album sales had exceeded more than 60 million.

Following are a few additional insights for The Logical Song from Songfacts:

The lyrics are about how the innocence and wonder of childhood can quickly give way to worry and cynicism as children are taught to be responsible adults. It makes the point that logic can restrict creativity and passion.

Like the Lennon/McCartney partnership, most of Supertramp’s songs are credited to their lead singers Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, although in many cases one writer was entirely responsible for the song. “The Logical Song” was written by Hodgson, but it shares some themes with a song Davies wrote on Supertramp’s 1974 album Crime of the Century called “School.”

Hodgson often writes songs by singing over his keyboard riffs. He’ll try different words and phrases to get ideas for his lyrics, which is how the title of this song came about. Said Hodgson: “From singing absolute nonsense, a line will pop up that suddenly makes sense, then another one, and so on. I was doing that when the word ‘logical’, came into my head and I thought, ‘That’s an interesting word’.”

…Like another famous song from 1979, “Another Brick In The Wall (part II),” this song rails against English schooling. “What’s missing at school is for me the loudest thing,” Hodgson said. “We are taught to function outwardly, but we are not taught who we are inwardly, and what really the true purpose of life is. The natural awe and wonder, the thirst and enthusiasm and joy of life that young children have, it gets lost. It gets beaten out of them in a way.”

…At a concert appearance, Roger Hodgson said of this song: “I was sent to boarding school for ten years and I definitely emerged from that experience with a lot of questions, like What the hell happened to me? What is life about? And why a lot of the things I had been told didn’t make any sense. ‘Logical Song’ was really a light hearted way of saying something pretty deep. Which is they told me how to conform, to be presentable, to be acceptable and everything but they didn’t tell me who I am or why I m here. So, it s a very profound message and I think it really resonated with a lot of people when it came out.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Reelin’ In The Years At PNC Bank Arts Center

Steely Dan treat New Jersey audience with great show in Donald Fagen’s home state

Last night, I saw Steely Dan at PNC Bank Arts Center, a great midsize amphitheater-style outdoor venue in Holmdel, N.J. My fourth and last concert in June was dynamite, ending a busy month of live music on a high note.

Should I have been surprised that Donald Fagen and his band once again put on a stellar performance? After all, the two previous times I had seen them were both fantastic.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a 7,000-seat venue with an additional grass area capacity to accommodate about 10,500 people

The songs Fagen wrote with his longtime partner Walter Becker remain compelling. Since Becker’s untimely death in 2017, Fagen also successfully continued what had been a key ingredient to the Dan’s sound: Surround himself with top-notch musicians. And, boy, what a killer backing band he had last night!

But even with all of the above, I think one should never take a music artist for granted. And, let’s face it: At age 74, Fagen isn’t exactly any longer, hey, nineteen! I also still remember reading accounts leading up to the two previous times I saw Fagen & co. in 2018, which were less than favorable, criticizing Fagen’s singing, among others. But just like four years ago, he did it again, proving any such concerns to be unfounded!

Steely Dan in action: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards, melodica), Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals)

Before I get to Steely Dan, I’d like to acknowledge opening act Dave Stryker Trio. Until I learned and read about Dave Stryker, I had not heard of this great American jazz guitarist who has been active since the ’80s. Quoting his online bio, Whether you’ve heard guitarist Dave Stryker leading his own group (with 34 CD’s as a leader to date),  or as a featured sideman with Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, and many others, you know why the Village Voice calls him “one of the most distinctive guitarists to come along in recent years.”

Last evening, Stryker (electric guitar) was joined by Jared Gold, who I thought was terrific on the Hammond, as well as McClenty Hunter, a fine jazz drummer. They played neat jazz instrumental jam versions of songs by artists like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations.

The Hammond reminded me of the man who originally was supposed to join Steely Dan on their Earth After Hours Tour, Steve Winwood. I’m not gonna lie, seeing Winwood for the third time would have been the ultimate thrill. A short February 1 announcement on Winwood’s website cited “unforeseen circumstances” for the change in plans. Back to Dave Stryker. Here’s a cool clip of Papa Was a Rolling Stone from a 2019 performance at jazz radio station WBGO 88.3 fm – groovy with no static at all!

Okay, after seven paragraphs into this review, you may start to wonder when am I finally getting to some Steely Dan music? Alrighty then! Let’s shake it! First up is Night by Night, a tune from Steely Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic released in February 1974 – the last that featured the band’s original quintet lineup of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Unfortunately, it appears the dreadful pandemic has made audiences pretty restless. I don’t recall people getting up during shows pre-COVID as frequently as I’ve experienced it during all of my four concerts in June. Frankly, I find it pretty dreadful!

I think it’s safe to say many Steely Dan fans consider Aja to be Messrs. Fagen’s and Becker’s Mount Rushmore. It certainly remains my favorite Dan album. Let’s hear it for the title track. According to Songfacts, Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

For this next tune, let’s go to Gaucho, the seventh and final Steely Dan album from November 1980 before Fagen and Becker split and went on a 12-year hiatus. Becker moved to Maui, managed to overcome his longtime drug abuse, and did some occasional production work, most notably for British pop group China Crisis. Meanwhile, Fagen launched a solo career that among others yielded The Nightfly, his solo debut gem from October 1982. Back to Gaucho with Babylon Sisters with another fun tidbit from Songfacts, probably less fun for those involved: Donald Fagen made seemingly endless tweaks to this song, creating one mix after another. Someone in the studio must have been keeping count, because when he hit 250 mixes, the crew gave him a “platinum” disk they created just for him. Fagen kept going, and it was mix number 274 that finally won his approval. He took that mix home to New York, but heard a note in the bass line he didn’t like, so he returned to Los Angeles a week later and reconvened the team to fix it. You gotta shake it, baby, you gotta shake it!

I guess our memories of school can be good and not so good. Clearly, this next tune falls into the latter category. Songfacts notes My Old School, the final track of last night’s main set, is at least partially inspired by an event that occurred at Bard [Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. where Fagen and Becker met in 1967 – CMM], where both Becker and Fagen, along with their girlfriends, were arrested in a pot raid on a party that was orchestrated by an ambitious young District Attorney named G. Gordon Liddy (hence the line “Tried to warn ya about Geno and Daddy G”). Despite the fact that California has not (yet) tumbled into the sea, both Fagen and Becker have returned to Bard.

The last tune I’d like to call out, from the encore, is a song that reportedly was one of the Dan’s least favorite. Again citing Songfacts: In Rolling Stone, September 17, 2009, Donald Fagan said, “It’s dumb but effective.” Walter Becker added, “It’s no fun.” Well, Reelin’ in the Years may not have a million chord changes and breaks, but in my humble opinion, this tune, off Steely Dan’s November 1972 debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, is a terrific rocker with a dynamite guitar solo. I wonder how Fagen feels about the song these days. It surely still looks effective!

What else is there to say. Donald Fagen clearly seemed to be energized last night, saying at one point, ‘what a night!’ – and he wasn’t referring to the one in late December back in sixty-three. Playing in his home state of New Jersey, as he called the garden state at the end of the show, appeared to be a thrill. Who, knows, it may even have influenced Fagen’s decision to replace Green Earrings and Any Major Dude Will Tell You with Josie and Black Cow, respectively – two additional tracks from the above-mentioned beloved Aja album. The only thing that could have topped the set would have been Deacon Blues, my all-time favorite Dan tune. But, hey, nineteen, stop complaining! 🙂

I already briefly mentioned the exceptional band that backs Fagen on the tour. These amazing musicians, some of whom have played with Steely Dan for many years, deserve to be called out: Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals).

Here’s the setlist:
Phantom Raiders (Stanley Wilson cover)
Night by Night
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Aja
Kid Charlemagne
Home at Last
Green Flower Street (Donald Fagen song)
Time Out of Mind
Babylon Sisters
• Josie
• Black Cow
Dirty Work
Bodhisattva
Keep That Same Old Feeling (The Crusaders cover)
Peg
My Old School

Encore:
Reelin’ in the Years
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (Joe Williams cover)

The Earth After Hours Tour still is in full swing. Tomorrow night, the Dan are scheduled to play Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass., before moving on to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y. (July 3) and First Bank Amphitheater, Franklin, Tenn. (July 13). The full tour schedule is here. If you’re a fan of the Dan and still can get a ticket you can afford, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Dave Stryker website; Steve Winwood website; Steely Dan website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Neville Brothers

It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.

The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.

What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.

Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.

I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).

Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.

A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.

The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.

AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube