The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday music mini-excursion. I’m excited this is the first Sunday Six to feature music from my native country Germany, though admittedly you wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t told you. The trip is going to involve some contemporary jazz, blues rock, rock, blues, psychedelic garage rock and R&B. It’ll be touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the first two decades of the current century. I think it’s another pretty eclectic set of tunes that will hopefully have something for every reader. Hop on board!

Klaus Graf Quartett/Homezone

The first stop on this little journey in Germany and some great contemporary jazz by Klaus Graf Quartett. And, nope, that’s not a typo, “Quartett” is the German word for quartet. I have to give credit to my brother-in-law, who knows much more about jazz than I do and who recently brought the German alto saxophone player Klaus Graf to my attention. According to his website, Graf started playing the clarinet at the age of 10 but soon thereafter switched to the alto saxophone. He found his true love for jazz as a 15-year-old after he had joined a youth music school big band. Following his studies of the saxophone at Cologne University of Music, Graf mainly played as a sideman in various German and international jazz bands. In 2002, he founded his own quartet and released his debut album Changes in Life. In addition to him, the present line-up includes Olaf Polziehn (piano), Axel Kühn (upright bass) and Meinhard Obi Jenne (drums). Klaus Graf Quartett is one of various music projects of Graf who also teaches jazz saxophone at Nuremberg University of Music. Here’s Homezone, a composition by Graf from a 2007 album album titled Moving On. According to the credits listed on Discogs, the recording features all of the quartet’s current members, except for the bassist who on that album was Uli Glaszmann.

The Rolling Stones/Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Next we go back to May 1968 when The Rolling Stones first released their non-album single Jumpin’ Jack Flash in the UK, backed by Child of the Moon. The single also appeared in the U.S. the following month. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards only as usual, even though Bill Wyman contributed, this tune has one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. I recall reading several years ago that Richards during an interview said he still gets excited when he plays that riff – who can blame him! Speaking of Richards, according to Songfacts, he explained the tune’s title to Rolling Stone in 2010 as follows: “The lyrics came from a gray dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’ I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.” Now you know how to write an iconic rock song! After the Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was considered to be a return to their blues roots. It became a major hit, topping the mainstream charts in the UK and Germany, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S., and reaching no. 2 in France, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, as well as no. 5 in Canada. Man, this just rocks!

Steve Miller Band/Rock’n Me

On October 5, Steve Miller turned 78. Amazingly, the man still fronts the Steve Miller Band, the group he founded in 1966 as the Steve Miller Blues Band. And had it not been because of this dreadful pandemic, he would probably be out on the road. As he told Billboard earlier this year, the group had to cancel a planned 55-city tour with Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives that was supposed to kick off in June 2020. On the upside, Miller put the downtime to good use and dug into his archives. Out came a concert film, Breaking Ground concert, and a companion album, Steve Miller Band Live! Breaking Ground: August 3, 1977, which were released on May 14 this year. You can watch a trailer of the film here. And here’s Rock’n Me from the companion album. Originally, the tune was recorded for the Steve Miller Band’s ninth studio album Fly Like an Eagle released in May 1976. It also appeared separately as a single in August 1976 and became the group’s second no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the charts in Canada as well. This is neat rock & roll!

Buddy Guy/Stay Around a Little Longer (feat. B.B. King)

Next, let’s slow it down for some great blues by two of the best electric blues guitarists: Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Guy at age 85 thankfully is still with us and still playing, while King sadly passed away in May 2015 at the age of 89. This beautiful recording is from Guy’s 15th studio album Living Proof that came out in October 2010. The tune was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge and country and blues singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, who both have become frequent collaborators ever since. It’s just great to hear B.B. King sing on this tune, in addition to playing guitar. His voice sounds so good. He was 85 years at the time, Guy’s current age. I can’t deny I find this tune and clip quite emotional. That’s what great music does – it touches you!

The Fuzztones/Cinderella

After some emotional blues, it’s time to step on the gas again with a terrific tune by American garage rockers The Fuzztones. According to their profile on Apple Music, the New York City-based psychedelic/garage rock combo played a large role in the mostly underground ’60s revival during the 1980s. Led by the enigmatic Rudi Protrudi, the Fuzztones were one of the major “successes” (particularly in Europe) of the revival that flourished in 1984 and that also boasted the Chesterfield Kings, the Cynics, the Miracle Workers, and Plasticland. Their debut studio LP, Lysergic Emanations, was released in 1985. Thanks to praise from Ian Astbury of the Cult, the newly refitted Los Angeles-based Fuzztones were one of the few to get a major-label deal, and a second album, In Heat, was released by Beggars Banquet in 1989. Due to the album’s lackluster sales performance, the Fuzztones went back to the indies. That might have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Thanks to a hugely successful tour of Europe in 1985, the group built a loyal and dedicated fan base there, and one version or another of the Fuzztones has toured there regularly ever since. Here’s Cinderella from the band’s above noted 1985 debut album, which mostly featured covers, including this tune that originally was recorded by The Sonics in 1965. With that cool organ, the rendition reminds me a bit of The Animals. Founding member Rudi Protrudi (vocals, guitar, harmonica) remains with the band’s current line-up.

Ray Charles/Hit the Road Jack

Let’s conclude this mini-excursion with a tune that randomly popped up in my head the other day. When it did, I immediately thought it would be a terrific song to feature: Hit the Road Jack by the great Ray Charles. They didn’t call the singer-songwriter and pianist “The Genius” for nothing. Frank Sinatra reportedly said Charles was the “only true genius in show business.” Charles identified Nat King Cole as a primary influence. Others included Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. Hit the Road Jack, written by R&B artist Percy Mayfield and first recorded as an a cappella demo in 1960, was Charles’ second of three no. 1 mainstream hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The other two were Georgia on My Mind and I Can’t Stop Loving You. Any of them would have been great picks as would have many other tunes by Charles, but I felt like finishing with a more up-tempo song like Hit the Road Jack.

Sources: Wikipedia; Klaus Graf website; Discogs; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature where I stretch out across different genres and different decades to celebrate music I dig, six tracks at a time. This edition features blue-eyed soul/R&B, Americana rock and Stax soul, bookended by two beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals. It touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021.

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler/Hurricane Light

Kicking off this post is beautiful instrumental music by Portland, Ore.-based guitarist and composer Marisa Anderson. From her website: Marisa Anderson channels the history of the guitar and stretches the boundaries of tradition. Her deeply original work applies elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone and 20th century classical music to compositions based on blues, jazz, gospel and country music, re-imagining the landscape of American music…Classically trained, she honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands. Originally from Northern California, Anderson dropped out of college at age nineteen to walk across the US and after more than decade of wandering landed in Portland, Oregon, where she currently lives. Hurricane Light is a track from Anderson’s new album, Lost Futures, which appeared on August 27 and which she recorded together with William Tyler, a fellow guitarist from Nashville, Tenn. I find this music super relaxing. It’s got a cinematic feel to it, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Anderson’s website also notes she writes scores for short films and soundtracks.

Boz Scaggs/Lowdown

Let’s jump back 45 years to a very cool tune by Boz Scaggs. Lowdown, which features a seductive funky bassline and is smooth at the same time, is from Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees released in February 1976. Co-written by Scaggs and then-future Toto co-founder David Paich, the song also became the highest-charting single off the album, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2. It also charted in the UK and Australia. BTW, that neat bassline was played by David Hungate, another soon-to-become original member of Toto. And there was a third musician who would join Paich and Hungate to form Toto the following year, together with Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball: drummer Jeff Porcaro. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with them for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. He is still active and has released 19 solo albums to date, the most recent of which, Out of the Blues, appeared in July 2018.

Steve Earle & The Dukes/I Ain’t Ever Satisfied

When my streaming music provider served up I Ain’t Ever Satisfied the other day, I was immediately hooked. I’ve listened to some of Steve Earle’s catalog, but there is a lot left for me to explore. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, written by Earle, appeared on his sophomore album Exit 0 from May 1987, which he recorded together with his backing band The Dukes. The album placed in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts at no. 90 and no. 36, respectively, and earned Earle two 1988 Grammy nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song. Earle has released 21 studio albums to date, including collaborations with Del McCoury Band and Shawn Colvin. His most recent album J.T., a tribute to his oldest son Justin Townes Earle who passed away from a drug overdose in August 2020, was released in early January this year. I previously reviewed it here.

Son Volt/Driving the View

Alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt are a recent discovery for me. They entered my radar screen with their latest album Electro Melodier, which came out at the end of July. I featured a tune from it in a previous Best of What’s New installment. 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. 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). Here’s Driving the View, a great track from Son Volt’s third studio album Wide Swing Tremolo that appeared in October 1998.

Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour

Next we’re going back to 1965 and Memphis, Tenn. for some sweet soul music recorded at the Stax studio. By the time Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett recorded In the Midnight Hour, Stax founder Jim Stewart had signed a formal national distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that would come to haunt him when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967 and Stax would lose the rights to all Atlantic-distributed recordings between 1960 and 1967. Coming back to a happier subject, In the Midnight Hour was co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, a founding member of Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.s, who also was the label’s A&R man. M.G.s members Al Jackson Jr. (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) participated in the recording session. In the Midnight Hour, which appeared in June 1965, also was the title track of Pickett’s sophomore album released the same year. The tune became Pickett’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and his highest charting song at the time on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it reached no. 21. Just a timeless soul classic!

Robben Ford/A Dragon Tail

For the last track in this installment, we’re going back to the present time and a killer instrumental by guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford, off his new album Pure that came out on August 27. Ford, who began playing the saxophone at age 10 before he discovered the guitar as a 13-year-old, has had a remarkable career. He has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Carlton and Little Feat, among many others. His solo debut Schizophonic, a jazz album, came out in 1976. Ford has since released close to 30 additional records under his name. This doesn’t include any of his collaboration albums. While primarily being associated with blues, Ford has played many other genres, including jazz, rock and funk. He has been nominated for five Grammys and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by trade publication Musician magazine that folded in 1999. Here’s A Dragon Tail from Ford’s above mentioned new album. Check out this amazing sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Marissa Anderson website; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

This may still be a new year and we’re even in a new decade, but some things don’t change, at least not on this blog. One of them is this recurring rock music history feature. By now, I guess I must have put together more than 30 installments; but as a music nerd, this tells me I have more than 300 other dates left to cover! Let’s start with January 12 and the debut single by a then-teenaged Etta James.

1955: The first single by Etta James, The Wallflower, was released. It was co-written by James, who was only 16 years at the time, together with Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard. While due to the lyrics the song’s original version was considered “too risque” to be played on pop radio, it became a hit on the Billboard R&B Chart, which it topped for four weeks. The same year, the tune was covered as Dance With Me, Henry by Georgia Gibbs for the pop market. James released her own cover version of Dance With Me, Henry in 1958. Here’s the scandalous original tune, for which James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

1968: George Harrison recorded the origins of what became The Inner Light at a studio in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He had traveled there to record the soundtrack for Wonderwall, a psychedelic picture by Joe Massot co-starring 21-year-old Jane Birkin. According to The Beatles Bible, by January 12, Harrison had almost completed the work on the soundtrack and found himself with additional studio time he did not want to go to waste. He decided to record some additional ragas, one of which formed the basis for The Inner Light. The tune was completed at London’s Abbey Road Studios in early February of 1968 and appeared as the B-side to the single Lady Madonna. I think it’s the most beautiful Indian music-influenced tune Harrison wrote. I also love the lines, The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows. This is how I often feel when it comes to exploring music!

1969: Led Zeppelin released their mighty eponymous debut album in the U.S. The recording took place at Olympic Studios in London in September and October that year. Since the band had not secured a contract yet, the album was self-produced by Jimmy Page. He also paid the £1,782 for the 36 hours of studio time it took to complete the sessions. A key reason for the short recording time was a well-rehearsed band that had just performed as the New Yardbirds during a Scandinavian tour. Much of the music was recorded live in-studio. While Led Zeppelin initially received some poor reviews, the album was an instant chart success, peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 6 on the UK Albums Chart where it spent a total of 71 weeks. Here’s the great opener Good Times Bad Times, which is credited to Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham.

1974: The Steve Miller Band abracadabra scored their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with The Joker. Co-written by Eddie Curtis, Ahmet Ertegün and Steve Miller, the tune also was the title track of the band’s 8th studio album that appeared in October 1973. Ertegün is best-known as co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, and I admittedly had no idea he also was involved in writing classic blues and pop songs! The farther one travels…More than 16 years later in September 1990, The Joker again flew like an eagle and rose to the top in the UK, after the tune had been used in a Levi’s TV ad. According to Wikipedia, this makes it the single with the longest gap between transatlantic chart-toppers – wow, it’s amazing what people track!

1993: The eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place in Los Angeles. Honored inductees included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Etta James, Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, Ruth Brown and Cream, who reunited for the event for the first time in 23 years. And what would the spectacle be without some drama? John Fogerty refused to perform with his former CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. But fans still got to hear some CCR music. Fogerty recruited session musicians on drums and bass, and also got some help from Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Here’s Cream’s performance of Sunshine of Your Love from that night. Boy, did Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker sound mighty sweet! While apparently Bruce and Baker were interested in touring at the time, solo projects and I imagine some other issues prevented reunion shows until early May 2005 when Cream performed a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfascts Music History Calendar; YouTube