If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Velvet Underground

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song challenge. Before I can head out to the imaginary island in the sun, I need to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly feature, there are a few additional rules that guide my picks. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the song selections in alphabetical order. This means the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter, which this week is “v”.

Frankly, even after doing a bit of research, I only found a handful of bands and music artists whose names start with “v”: Van Halen; Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven; Vangelis and The Velvet Underground. Of course, there’s also the great former Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but I’m not aware of any solo music that appeared under his name.

Applying my criteria, it came down to Vangelis or The Velvet Underground. And my pick is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground. While I’ve only heard a handful of the band’s tunes and as such, it was a bit of a tricky decision, I’m quite happy with my choice!

Penned by Lou Reed, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter, Sunday Morning was the opener of their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which appeared in March 1967. It featured German vocalist Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on three tracks, at the insistence of their manager Andy Warhol who co-produced the album with Tom Wilson. Earlier in the ’60s, Wilson had produced three of Bob Dylan’s albums as well as the debut by Simon & Garfunkel.

The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 in New York City. By the time they recorded their above-mentioned debut, their line-up included co-founders Lou Reed (vocal, guitar, piano), John Cale (viola, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sterling Morrison (guitar, bass, backing vocals), along with Moe Tucker (drums) who had replaced the band’s original percussionist Angus MacLise in late 1965.

By the early 1970s, Doug Yule who had joined The Velvet Underground in 1968 to replace John Cale, was the group’s only remaining member. While there was one more album released under The Velvet Underground name (Squeeze, February 1973), essentially it was a Yule solo album he recorded together with a few backing musicians. Yule subsequently did some session and touring work for Lou Reed who had left the band in 1970 to launch a solo career.

In 1992, The Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour featuring Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker. But it was short-lived and a discussed U.S. tour didn’t materialize when Cale and Reed fell out again – the old story of egos in rock & roll! In August 1995, Morrison passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 53. Reed, Tucker and Cale reformed the group one last time in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed died from liver disease in October 2013. He was 71. In 2017, Cale and Tucker came together at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert for a performance of I’m Waiting for the Man, a tune from The Velvet Underground’s first album. They remain the only survivors of the group’s original line-up.

Following are some additional tidbits on Sunday Morning from Songfacts:

Lou Reed wrote this on a Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Andy Warhol, who helped finance the album, suggested he write a song about the paranoia associated with the effects of a drug wearing off.

Reed wrote this for Nico but then decided not to let the German ex-model sing it. Instead he impersonated her himself.

The production on this song is more lavish than the other tracks on the album. It was intended for release as a single and they wanted to make it radio friendly...

…This song is all about last-minute changes. The inclusion of the track on their first album was literally penciled in, Reed decided to take over vocals at the last minute as they walked into the studio to record it, and John Cale noticed a celesta in the studio and decided to include the instrument for the song on the spot. Cale also played the viola on the song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six zigzag journey to the beautiful world of music, six tunes at a time. While writing about music typically makes me a happy camper, I always particularly look forward to putting together another installment of this weekly feature. As long as I dig the track, these posts can include any type of music. Not being limited to a particular album or specific theme feels very liberating. Let’s do it!

Clifford Brown and Max Roach/Sandu

Today, I’d like to start our little trip in 1956. Clifford Brown was an American jazz trumpeter and composer, who during only four years of recording left an impressive legacy. Sadly, he passed away in a car accident at the age of 25 en route to Chicago for a gig, along with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy Powell who was at the wheel when their car went off the road for unknown reasons. Max Roach, a pioneer of bebop, is regarded as one of the most important drummers in history. In 1954, the two musicians formed a quintet and over the next few years recorded a series of albums. One of them was Study In Brown, which included the great Brown composition Sandu. In addition to Brown, Roach and Powell, at the time, the quintet featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone) and George Morrow (double bass). My kind of music for a Sunday morning to get in the mood…

Bruce Springsteen/Bobby Jean

I trust Herr Springsteen doesn’t need an introduction. While I’ve covered The Boss multiple times since I started penning this blog in June 2016, based on a quick search, apparently, this is only the second time I feature Bruuuuuuuuce in The Sunday Six. With so many songs Bruce Springsteen has written over nearly six decades, it’s hard to pick one. I decided to go back to June 1984 and the album that brought the New Jersey rocker on my radar screen: Born in the U.S.A. One of the tunes I’ve always loved and think would have made a good single is Bobby Jean. The story about a guy who wants to visit somebody important to him only to find out the person left is “a good song about youthful friendship”, according to Springsteen, as noted by Songfacts. Apparently, the tune was written as a farewell message to E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions decided to leave to focus on his solo career. Of course, Little Steven has been back since 1999 and is set to join Bruce and the band for a 2023 international tour. Man, it just feels so good hearing the great Clarence Clemons blowing that saxophone – nobody did it quite like the big man!

Otis Redding/(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sweet soul music. And when it comes to that genre, nowadays, my first preference tends to be Stax – you know, the real good stuff! The Memphis soul label is associated with so many great artists like Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and Kim Weston. And, of course, Otis Redding, who by the time (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released as a single on January 8, 1968, had become the label’s biggest star. Sadly, he wasn’t able to witness the huge success of the tune, which became his only no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard Hot 100. Only three days earlier, Redding had died in a plane crash at the age of 26. The song, co-written by him and Steve Cropper, the guitarist of Stax killer house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, also became the de facto title track of Redding’s seventh studio album The Dock of the Bay, which he had finished recording two days prior to his untimely death. And, yep, you guessed it correctly, the record also became Redding’s most successful on the Billboard 200. Life can be so unfair!

Dwight Twilley Band/I’m On Fire

Going from Otis Redding to the Dwight Twilley Band does seem to be a leap. Who’s Dwight Twilley anyway? But you see, to borrow from a famous Tom Hanks movie, I’d like to think of The Sunday Six like a box of chocolate: You never know what you’re going to get! BTW, had you asked me about Twilley a couple of weeks ago, I would have drawn a blank. Then Spotify served up I’m On Fire as a listening suggestion. While it perhaps didn’t set me on fire, I quite liked how this catchy tune rocks. If you don’t know it, you should give it try. It turned out I’m On Fire, first released as a single in April 1975, is one of two U.S. top 20 singles Twilley is best known for, according to Wikipedia. The other one is called Girls (1984). I’m On Fire, written by Twilley, was also included on Sincerely, his debut album released as Dwight Twilley Band. The “band” really was a duo and in addition to Twilley (guitar, piano, lead and harmony vocals) only included his music partner Phil Seymour (drums, bass, percussion, lead and harmony vocals). They released a second studio album in 1977. Each subsequently recorded solo albums. Seymour also sang backing vocals on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ tunes American Girl and Breakdown. Twilley still seems to be around. Sadly, Seymour passed away from lymphoma at age 41 in August 1993.

Sonny Landreth/Congo Square

Time for a stop-over in the ’90s before heading to our final destination. If you’re into guitar-driven blues chances are you’ve heard of Sonny Landreth. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to check out this slide guitarist from Louisiana, who has been active for nearly 50 years and released close to 20 albums under his name. Given his talent, it’s not surprising he’s played with the likes of John Hiatt, John Mayall, Mark Knopfler, Gov’t Mule and Little Feat. Congo Square, which Landreth wrote together with Roy Melton and David Ranson, is a tasty tune from his fourth studio album South of I-10. Released in February 1995, the record marked the first time Landreth collaborated with Knopfler who played guitar on Congo Square and two other tunes. Cool stuff!

Dirty Honey/The Wire

Let’s go out with a great rocker: Gypsy by Dirty Honey. If you’re a frequent reader of the blog, you may recall me raving about this contemporary rock band from L.A., founded in 2017. I just love their classic rock sound, which reminds me of groups like AerosmithLed Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. To date, they have released a self-titled EP and debut album, as well as a bunch of singles. The Wire, credited to the band, is from their first album that came out in April 2021. It was also released separately as the third single. Dirty Honey aren’t reinventing classic rock, but this is kick ass and I love it – and that’s good enough for me!

This post wouldn’t be complete without an accompanying Spotify playlist. Hope you’ll find something here you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday morning/afternoon/evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s time to resume some music time travel. Today’s six-stop journey starts in the ’60s with stop-overs in the ’90s, ’70s, ’10s and ’80s before coming to an end in the ’00s. Fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Sonny Rollins/Where Are You?

I’d like to ease us into today’s musical trip with some relaxing jazz by Sonny Rollins. Jazz connoisseurs need no introduction to the American tenor saxophone great. For more casual jazz listeners like me, Rollins is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians who over an incredible 70-year-plus career has recorded more than 60 albums as a leader and appeared on many additional records as a sideman. Rollins has played with the likes of Charlie ParkerMiles DavisDizzy GillespieThelonious MonkMax Roach and Modern Jazz QuartetWhere Are You? appeared on his 1962 studio album The Bridge, which Wikipedia notes was Rollins’ first release after a three-year sabbatical. Composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Harold Adamson, the track was written for the 1937 American comedy film Top of the Town and originally performed by Gertrude Niesen. On his rendition, Rollins was joined by Jim Hall (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Ben Riley (drums). I don’t have to be a jazz expert to love this track and neither do you. Just listen to that smooth saxophone sound! Rollins who celebrated his 91st birthday last September is still alive – bless the man!

Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May

Our next stop is the ’90s and beautiful music by Blue Rodeo, which is right up my alley. I’ve featured the Canadian country rock band on the blog before. They were formed in 1984 in Toronto by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, along with Bob Wiseman (keyboards).  Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. 5 Days in May is the opener of the band’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, which appeared in October 1993 in Canada and September 1994 in the U.S. With 6X Platinum certification in Canada, it remains their best-selling album to date. Like most other tunes on the record, 5 Days in May was co-written by Cuddy and Keelor. The harmonica and guitar action are very reminiscent of Neil Young. I also love that keyboard sound. It’s just a great song all around!

The Jaggerz/The Rapper

When I came across The Rapper by The Jaggerz the other day, I earmarked it immediately for an upcoming Sunday Six. The American rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa. was initially active from 1964 until 1977. During that period, they only released three albums. After the third, Come Again from 1975, they broke up in 1977. By that time, frontman and co-founder Dominic Ierace had already left the group and joined American funk rock band Wild Cherry, best known for Play That Funky Music, their only major single success. In 1989, The Jaggerz reunited sans Ierace with three other original founders and three new members. They have since released three additional albums, the most recent of which came out in 2014 – not an exactly overwhelming catalog! The group’s current formation, a six-piece, includes founding members Jimmie Ross (lead vocals, bass) and Benny Faiella (guitar). The Rapper became the band’s breakthrough single and only hit in January 1970, surging to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Ierace, it was included on their sophomore studio album We Went to Different Schools Together, released that same year.

Alison Krauss & Union Station/Miles to Go

For this next pick, let’s go to the current century. Miles To Go is a song from Paper Airplane, released in April 2011 by Alison Krauss & Union Station. The bluegrass and country artist, who is also a talented fiddle player, has been active since 1984. She made her recording debut in 1986 with Different Strokes, a collaboration with Jim Hoiles & Friends and Swamp Weiss. To date, Krauss has released 14 albums, most frequently together with bluegrass and country band Union Station. I’m mostly aware of Krauss because of her two collaboration records with Robert Plant. Miles to Go was co-written by Union Station bassist Barry Bales and Chris Stapleton. Krauss is a great vocalist and I also dig the band’s sound. Yesterday, in addition to further checking out Paper Airplane, I sampled Lonely Runs Both Ways, her preceding album with Union Station from November 2004. Lots of great music only between these two records!

John Hiatt/Memphis in the Meantime

Memphis, Tenn. and its amazing music history are on my bucket list. Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum surely sound like worthy sites to visit. In the meantime, I’m picking a tune about the city by John Hiatt, a great artist I’ve started to explore in greater detail over the past few years. The singer-songwriter who has been active for 50 years is best known for tunes that have been covered by the likes of B.B. KingBob DylanBonnie RaittEmmylou HarrisEric ClaptonJoe CockerLinda RonstadtRy Cooder and Nick Lowe. While Hiatt’s albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until he finally had an album that made the Billboard 200Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. Memphis in the Meantime is the opener of that great record. It also includes two tunes popularized by two of the aforementioned artists: Thing Called Love, by Bonnie Raitt; and Have a Little Faith in Me, by Joe Cocker.

The Chesterfield Kings/The Rise and Fall

Once again it’s time to wrap things up. For the final stop of our musical mini-excursion, let’s get a dose of psychedelic garage rock by The Chesterfield Kings. Founded in the late ’70s by Greg Prevost (lead vocals, multiple instruments), the band from Rochester, N.Y. was instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, according to Wikipedia. A partial discography there lists 11 albums by the group that was active until 2009. Rise and Fall, co-written by Provost and bandmate Andy Babiuk (bass and multiple other instruments), is a tune from a 2007 album titled Psychedelic Sunrise. The group’s line-up at that time also included Paul Morabito (guitars, mandolin, organ) and Mike Boise (drums, percussion). BTW, the album was produced by garage rock fan Steven Van Zandt. I could picture this tune played by The Rolling Stones during their psychedelic period.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above goodies!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: June 29

After more than three months, I thought the time was right to do another installment of my irregular music history feature. In case you’re new to these posts, the idea is to capture things that happened on a specific date in rock & roll’s past. It’s an arbitrary but fun way to look at music, since you never know what you are going to dig up. I mostly focus on the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive; in fact, they are highly selective and reflect my music taste. With that being said, let’s take a look at June 29.

1962: Motown singing group The Contours released their third single Do You Love Me. Written by the Detroit soul label’s president Berry Gordy Jr., the tune initially was intended for The Temptations. But after Gordy wasn’t able to locate them and had run into The Contours in the hallway, he spontaneously handed the song to them, confident it would become a hit. It turned out to be a good decision. While The Temptations went on and scored multiple mainstream top 40 hits, Do You Love Me became the only such chart success for The Contours, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides and climbing to no. 3 on the Hot 100 mainstream chart.

1964: The Beatles played their first of two nights at Festival Hall in Brisbane, Australia, as part of their only world tour, which also included Denmark, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and New Zealand. They performed two sold out shows on both nights, which were each seen by 5,500 people. But evidently not everybody loved The Beatles, even before John Lennon’s controversial remark about the band being more popular than Jesus. After their arrival to Brisbane from New Zealand, they were pelted with food and bits of wood by some in the crowd while riding in an open-top truck. At the concerts, eggs were thrown at the stage, though The Beatles played on, and the perpetrators were quickly ejected from the music hall. Here’s another fun fact. John, Paul, George and Ringo stood at a hotel called Lennons Hotel. The day after their second night in Brisbane, The Beatles embarked on their long trip back to England. Don’t take it from me. It’s all documented in The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the Fab Four! 🙂

Beatles fans in Brisbane – no egg throwers here!

1968: A Saucerful of Secrets, the sophomore album by Pink Floyd, appeared in the UK. The U.S. release occurred on July 27. Sadly, it turned out to be the final album with co-founder and key early songwriter Syd Barrett whose mental condition declined to a point where the group felt compelled to recruit David Gilmour to help out. Barrett left Pink Floyd prior to the album’s completion. Unlike the band’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn from August 1967, for which Barrett was the major songwriter, his role on Pink Floyd’s second album was much reduced. He only wrote one of the seven tracks and contributed some guitar work to two others. Here’s the aforementioned sole tune written by Barrett, Jugband Blues. He also sang lead vocals and provided acoustic and electric guitar.

1974: Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sundown. He was the second Canadian artist in 1974 to top the U.S. main chart following Terry Jacks with Seasons in the Sun in early March. Written by Lightfoot, Sundown is the title track from his 10th studio album that had been released in January 1974. While he was also successful with other songs, such as If You Could Read My Mind (1970), Carefree Highway (1974), Rainy Day People (1975) and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976), Sundown remains Lightfoot’s only no. 1 hit on the Hot 100.

1984: Bruce Springsteen kicked off his Born in the U.S.A Tour at St. Paul Civic Center in St. Paul, Minn. to support his seventh studio album that had come out on June 4. The tour, which ended on October 2, 1985 in Los Angeles and also included Canada, Asia and Europe, would become Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. It was the first since portions of the 1974 Born to Run tours without Steven Van Zandt who had decided to launch a solo career after Born in the U.S.A. had been recorded and was replaced by Nils Lofgren. It was also the first tour to include Patti Scialfa who became Springsteen’s wife in 1991. And then there was the filming of the video for Dancing in the Dark during the opening night, which featured then-unknown actress Courteney Cox who had been planted in the first row, looking adoringly at Springsteen before he pulled her up on stage to dance with him. It would make The Boss an MTV sensation. I wonder how he views of this today. Well, it was the ’80s…

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music Calendar; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Still Is the Boss on New Album, Backed by Mighty E Street Band

While not breaking new ground, Letter to You sounds reassuringly fresh and full of energy

Yesterday, Bruce Springsteen released his 20th studio album Letter to You and his first with The E Street Band since High Hopes from January 2014 – wow, until I read that in some reviews, it had not occurred to me it’s been more than six years! While musically speaking Letter to You doesn’t include anything we haven’t heard from Springsteen before, I just love this album!

At 71 years, The Boss demonstrates he still knows how to write great rock songs. The E Street Band sound as mighty sweet as ever and once again prove why they are the ideal backing band for Springsteen. And, yes, admittedly, when you lose a loved one and live through a seemingly never-ending pandemic, listening to great music that in many ways sounds familiar provides reassurance that some things don’t change. I take some stability during these unsettling times!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9216850a) Bruce Springsteen, center, performs with Nils Lofgren, left, and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band during their concert at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band just don’t want to leave the stage. The concert, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia lasted nearly four hours, four minutes, breaking the previous record for the group’s longest U.S. show set last week Bruce Springsteen Longest Show, Los Angeles, USA – 7 Sep 2016

“The impetus for a lot of the material was the loss of my good friend George Theiss,” Springsteen told Apple Music. Theiss was the guitarist of The Castiles, the first “serious” band Springsteen joined in 1965. According to Castiles.net, the other members were Paul Popkin (guitar, vocals), Frank Marziotti (bass) and Bart Haynes (drums). In May 1966, Springsteen had his first-ever studio session with The Castiles, during which they recorded two original songs. With the death of Theiss in July 2018, Springsteen remains the band’s only surviving member.

“There’s aging and loss of people as time goes by, and that’s a part of what the record is,” Springsteen further pointed out. “And then at the same time, you’re sort of celebrating the fact that the band goes on and we carry their spirits with us.”

But while much of Letter to You sounds familiar, there is one thing that’s new. “It was a great project for us because I don’t think we ever played live together in the studio and then kept everything that we did on the full take – all the singing, all the playing, it’s really, it’s the E Street Band really completely live. And I overdubbed a few solos and things, but it’s really, it’s really the band in one shot,” Springsteen told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview. I’ve yet to listen to all of it. You can watch it here.

The current line-up of The E Street Band features Steven Van Zandt (guitar, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, vocals), Roy Bittan (piano, vocals), Charles Giodarno (organ, vocals), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Jake Clemons (saxophone), Garry Tallent (bass, vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums, vocals). Except for Clemons and Giodarno, this line-up has been in place since 1995. Van Zandt’s, Bittan’s, Tallent’s and Weinberg’s tenures go back much further to the mid-’70s. Obviously, this is a tight band, and it shows! Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener One Minute You’re Here. “It’s unusual to start a record with its quietest song,” Springsteen commented to Apple Music. “The record really starts with ‘Letter to You,’ but there’s this little preface that lets you know what the record is going to encompass. The record starts with ‘One Minute You’re Here’ and then ends with ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ which are both songs about mortality and death. It was just sort of a little tip of the hat to where the record was going to go and a little slightly connected to [2019’s] Western Stars. It was a little transitional piece of music.”

Since I already covered the album’s great title track in a previous Best of What New installment, I’m skipping it here and go to Janey Needs a Shooter, one of three tracks on Letter to You, which Springsteen wrote prior to his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. All other songs were written more recently. “We were working on a lot of stuff that I have in the vault to put out again at some time, and I went through almost a whole record of pre-Greetings From Asbury Park music that was all acoustic, and these songs were inside them,” Springsteen said. “The guys came in and I said, ‘Okay. Today we’re going to record songs that are 50 years old, and we’re going to see what happens.’ The modern band playing those ideas that I had as a 22-year-old—and for some reason it just fit on the record, because the record skips through time.” Well, I wholeheartedly agree and love the rich sound of that tune!

Last Man Standing is a tribute to George Theiss. “That particular song was directly due to George’s passing and me finding out that out of that group of people, I’m kind of here on my own, honoring the guys that I learned my craft with between the ages of 14 and 17 or 18,” Springsteen said. “Those were some of the deepest learning years of my life—learning how to be onstage, learning how to write, learning how to front the band, learning how to put together a show, learning how to play for all different kinds of audiences at fireman’s fairs, at union halls, at CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances, and just really honing your craft.” This is the perfect tune for some sax work, and Jake Clemons makes his uncle proud.

Next up: House of a Thousand Guitars. “Every piece of music has its demands—what tone in my voice is going to feel right for this particular piece of music—and you try to meet it in the middle,” Springsteen explained. “That’s one of my favorite songs on the record; I’m not exactly sure why yet. It’s at the center of the record and it speaks to this world that the band and I have attempted to create with its values, its ideas, its codes, since we started. And it collects all of that into one piece of music, into this imaginary house of a thousand guitars.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the above noted I’ll See You in My Dreams, which together with One Minute You’re Here bookends the album. “I remember a lot of my dreams and I always have,” Springsteen said. “But that song was basically about those that pass away don’t ever really leave us. They visit me in my dreams several times a year. Clarence will come up a couple times in a year. Or I’ll see Danny. They just show up in very absurd, sometimes in abstract ways in the middle of strange stories. But they’re there, and it’s actually a lovely thing to revisit with them in that way. The pain slips away, the love remains, and they live in that love and walk alongside you and your ancestors and your life companions as a part of your spirit. So the song is basically about that: ‘Hey. I’m not going to see you at the next session, but I’ll see you in my dreams.'”

Letter to You was recorded over just four days in November 2019 at Springsteen’s home studio. The album was co-produced by Springsteen and Ron Aniello, who also produced Western Stars, and co-produced High Hopes and predecessor Wrecking Ball from March 2012. Coinciding with Letter to You is the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You, a 90-minute documentary about the making of the album. It’s available on Apple TV+. If you’re a subscriber, you can watch it here. There are also two free trailers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Castiles.net; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Releases “Songs of Summer”

Compilation is part of The Live Series and spans recordings from 1975-2016

Not that I would ever need an excuse to write about one of my all-time favorite artists like Bruce Springsteen, but typically, I do so around an occasion like a new album or a concert I visited. In this case, it’s a new compilation of live material released from Springsteen’s archives that’s available on various music platforms for streaming or downloading, such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music. The Live Series: Songs of Summer turned out to be the perfect background music while carrying out a house chore earlier today.

Organized chronologically, the collection spans from Born to Run recorded at The Roxy in West Hollywood, Calif. in October 1975 to Jungleland captured at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on August 30, 2016. The last gig has a special meaning. It was the third of a three-show run at that venue during Springsteen’s River Tour. I was there and remember it pretty well. Let’s get to some of that sweet music.

An extended eleven-and-a-half-minute version of Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), during which Springsteen introduces the E Street Band Band, is a nice way to kick things off. These guys are killing it, especially Clarence Clemons who launches into some great saxophone work at around 6:30 minutes into the tune. It all was captured at Capitol Theatre in Passaic, N.J. in August 1978. Originally, the tune appeared on Springsteen’s sophomore album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle from November 1973.

Here’s Out In The Street from The River, Springsteen’s fifth studio album released in October 1980. This live version is from September 1985 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Next up: A beautiful version of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, which features a bit of Steven Van Zandt on vocals. This is from a gig in Helsinki, Finland from June 2003. Springsteen first recorded the tune for The Rising, his post 9/11 album released in July 2002.

Girls In Their Summer Clothes is a track from The Boss’s 15th studio album Magic, which came out in September 2007. This version was captured at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston in November of the same year.

Let’s do one more. I just couldn’t help it to end with the aforementioned performance of Jungleland at MetLife Stadium. It’s just a beautiful version and frankly a great memory. Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, does an amazing job playing the part of The Big Man. Check out his extended solo starting at 4:30 minutes, making his uncle proud. Jungleland is the closer of my favorite Springsteen album Born to Run, which came out in August 1975.

Here’s the complete tracklist of the collection:

    • Born To Run [Live at The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA – 10/18/75]
    • Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) [Live at Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ – 08/19/78]
    • The Fever [Live at Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA – 12/15/78]
    • 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) [Live at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY – 12/31/80]
    • Thunder Road [Live at Wembley Arena, London, UK – 06/05/81]
    • Spirit Of The Night [Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ – 08/20/84]
    • Out In The Street [Live at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA – 09/27/85]
    • Blinded By The Light [Live at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ – 11/24/96]
    • Waitin’ On A Sunny Day [Live at Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland – 06/16/03]
    • Racing In The Street [Live at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI – 08/03/05]
    • Girls In Their Summer Clothes [Live at TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA – 11/19/07]
    • Seaside Bar Song [Live at Farm Bureau Live, Virginia Beach, VA – 04/12/14]
    • It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City [Live at Croke Park Stadium, Dublin, IE – 05/29/16]
    • Frankie [Live at CASA Arena Horsens, Horsens, Denmark – 07/20/16]
    • Jungleland [Live at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ – 08/30/16]

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube

 

 

Clips & Pix: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Last night, I saw a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, so perhaps it’s not surprising The Boss is on my mind. One of my all-time favorite tunes from him and The E Street Band is Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. The above extended version not only illustrates it’s a great song but also shows the compelling power Springsteen and his band deliver live. I think he truly plays in a league of his own!

The Springsteen song is from his breakthrough album Born To Run. The soulful tune is one of the reasons this is my favorite Springsteen record.  The footage, by the way, is from a film that captures the two final dates in New York City from the band’s 1999-2000 reunion tour, which had been their first in eleven years. What a triumphant performance!

The mighty E Street Band that night featured Roy Bittan (piano, backing vocals), Steven Van Zandt (guitar, backing vocals), Garry Tallent (bass, backing vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Nils Lofgren (guitar, backing vocals), Danny Federici (organ, accordion), Patti Scialfa (acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and, of course, the big man Clarence Clemons (saxophones). Except for Federici and Clemons, who passed away in 2008 and 2011, respectively, all of these amazing musicians remain members of the band to this day. Boy, this footage wants me to see them again so badly!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Little Steven Releases New Album Summer Of Sorcery

Van Zandt’s first studio record of new original material in 20 years features mighty backing band The Disciples of Soul

Steven Van Zandt is back in full force on Summer of Sorcery, and he’s pulling all the stops on what is his first album of new original music in 20 years. The launch activities include record release shows this evening in Los Angeles and next Wednesday in Asbury Park, N.J. Since yesterday afternoon, Van Zandt has also “taken over” SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26), where he presents vintage and classic rock tracks, as well as songs from the new album throughout the weekend. Moreover, Summer of Sorcery will be supported with an extended tour through Europe and North America.

Little Steven clearly has been reenergized as a solo artist since the May 2017 release of predecessor Soulfire and that record’s supporting tour, which was also captured on last April’s Soulfire Live! album. He cut down the time between solo record releases from almost 20 to two years – Born Again Savage, the album prior to Soulfire, came out in 1999. And why not? With Bruce Springsteen’s previous Broadway engagement and his upcoming solo album Western Stars, the timing has been perfect for the E Street Band guitarist to focus on his own music.

Little Steven Tour Banner

In many ways, Summer of Sorcery represents a continuation of Soulfire. On both albums, Little Steven is backed by the impressive 14-piece band The Disciples of Soul, and both releases represent a musical journey back to the ’60s and ’70s. If one music artist can pull this off, it is Van Zandt, who frequently showcases his encyclopedic knowledge of music history on his SiriusXM program Underground Garage. He also did so when I saw him and the Disciples in September 2017 during the Soulfire tour.

The key difference between the two records is that Summer of Sorcery features new original music, whereas Soulfire includes songs Van Zandt wrote or co-wrote throughout his career. Most of the tracks on Soulfire also did not appear under his name but were released by other artists, such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the band Van Zandt co-founded with John Lyon (“Southside Johnny”) in the mid-70s and whose first three albums he produced, and Gary U.S. Bonds. You can read more about Soulfire here. Time to get to some new music!

Here’s the opener Communion, a brassy soul rocker and one of the 10 original tunes on the album.

Next up perhaps is a bit of a surprise, at least from my perspective: a Latin song called Party Mambo! I asked my wife who is from Puerto Rico about the tune. She expressed some doubts that fellow Hispanics will like it. While it may not 100 percent authentic, I think it’s groovy.

Vortex throws in blaxploitation, a genre that Little Steven clearly seems to like. Soulfire features a cool cover of Down And Out In New York City, which James Brown first recorded for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. Unlike that tune, Vortex is an original, which sounds like an homage to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. When I’m listening to the tune, I can literally hear the backing vocalists in Shaft.

The title of the next track I’d like to call out pretty much says it all: Soul Power Twist. Another original, the soul horns-meet rock tune could have appeared on an album by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It has a Sam Cooke vibe to it.

How about some blues? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s I Visit The Blues.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track and closer. “The whole theme of the album is summed up in that song, that wizardry, that magic mixture of falling in love in the summer,” Van Zandt stated in a press release. With clocking in at over eight minutes, it’s perhaps not your typical love song.

“With this record I really wanted to travel back to a time when life was exciting, when unlimited possibilities were there every day,” Van Zandt further pointed out. “That was the feeling in the ’60s, the thrill of the unexpected coming at you. Our minds were blown every single day, one amazing thing after another, constantly lifting you up. So you kind of walked around six inches off the ground all the time, there was something that kept you buoyant in your spirit. I wanted to try and capture that first and foremost.”

Van Zandt seems to be a smart man, so I assume his above statement refers to the world of music, or he simply got carried away by excitement over his new album. The real world in America during the ’60s certainly was much more complicated, with racial segregation, the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War, to name some the events that happened during that period.

Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert (2017)

Summer of Sorcery, which was produced by Van Zandt and appears on Wicked Cool/UMe, is available on CD, digitally, and on vinyl as double LP on 180-gram black vinyl. There is also a limited edition double LP on 180-gram psychedelic swirl vinyl one can get exclusively via uDiscover. The album was mixed and mastered by veteran Bob Clearmountain, who has worked in various capacities with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Toto and many other top music artists.

In my opinion, Summer of Sorcery is a fun listening experience, even though it’s perhaps not quite as compelling as Soulfire. Like on that album, the production is a bit massive, but The Disciples of Soul are a hell of a band. Directionally speaking, I also agree with American Songwriter, which wrote the tracks “are often little more than revitalized riffs, melodies and rhythms of already existing songs retrofitted with new words and creative, even complex, rearrangements” – a little harsh, in my opinion. They added the album pulls out “all the stops to make this sonic smorgasbord explode out of the speakers with passion and clout.” I don’t think Van Zandt would claim the music represents anything new; in fact, I would argue it was his clear intention to pay homage to artists and music of the past, so the album’s retro sound isn’t surprising and doesn’t bother me.

As noted above, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul are going on the road. Following the above two album release gigs in the U.S., a 19-date European tour kicks off on May 16 in Liverpool, UK. Some of the other gigs include Berlin, Germany (May 28); Stockholm, Sweden (June 1); Brussels, Belgium (June 7) and Zurich, Switzerland (June 11), before that leg wraps up on June 23 in Paris, France. This is followed by 13 North American gigs, starting on June 29 in Syracuse, N.Y. and finishing on July 28 in Annapolis, Md. Then it’s back again to Europe until the beginning of September, before the band returns to North America with four shows in Las Vegas from September 5-8. There are plenty of additional dates during that second North American leg, including Tuscon, Ariz. (Sep 15); Austin, Texas (Sep 29); Birmingham, Ala. (Oct 3); Chicago (Oct 23); and New York City (Nov 6), the last listed gig. The current tour schedule is included in the above press release.

Sources: Wikipedia, UMe press release, Little Steven website, American Songwriter, YouTube