The other day, Soulfire Live! popped up in my music streaming service as a listening suggestion. The excellent live album by Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul, which came out in April this year and captures their 2017 tour, is right up my alley. One of my favorite tunes on this record is Blues Is My Business.
Co-written by Kevin Bowe and Kevin Cerney, the tune was first recorded by Etta James for her 2003 album Let’s Roll. The man with the bandana is a cool dude and The Disciples Of Soul are one freaking hell of a backing band. Watching the above footage, which apparently was captured only 10 days ago, makes me want to see them again.
The Godfather of British Blues has announced a tour and a new album for 2019
What do Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce have in common? Together with Ginger Baker, they formed what perhaps was the ultimate blues rock power trio Cream. How about Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood? Well, they became part of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser? He joined Free as a 15-year-old bass player. Last but not least, Mick Taylor? He of course became a member The Rolling Stones during what is widely considered their musical peak. What else do all these top-notch artists share? They all played with John Mayall, mostly before they became famous.
As a ’60s blues rock fan, it is pretty much impossible not to come across the name of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. That being said, I’m the first to admit that oftentimes my music knowledge is still pretty insular. While I was well aware of Eric Clapton’s connection with Mayall, I didn’t know about all of the other above mentioned artists. I also had not heard much of John Mayall’s music and had not appreciated that in addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a pretty good vocalist. What finally caught my attention was a great story about him for his recent 85th birthday in German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which I spotted on Facebook the other day. It made me start listening to some of Mayall’s more recent solo albums I dug instantly, which in turn inspired this post.
John Mayall was born on November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England, and grew up in a village close to Manchester. He was first exposed to jazz and blues as a young teenager when he listened to the 78 record collection of his father Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music fan. So it certainly was no coincidence that young John initially became attracted to the guitar and guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Leadbelly. As a 14-year-old, he began to learn the basics for playing the piano. A couple of years later, he also picked up the harmonica. Not only does this mean Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also self-taught – pretty cool!
While Mayall had been playing music since his teenage years and during his twenties, it wasn’t until 1962 that he decided to make a living with music. He gave up his job as a graphic designer and moved from Manchester to London. Soon thereafter, he started The Bluesbreakers. In the spring of 1964, the band recorded their first two tracks: Crawling Up A Hill and Mr. James. Afterwards, they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour. At the end of the year, Mayall signed with Decca and recorded his debut John Mayall Plays John Mayall, a live record that appeared in March 1965, but it was not successful.
Things started cooking for The Bluesbreakers when Eric Clapton joined the band in April 1965. While initially Clapton only stood until August and left for another venture called The Glands, he returned in November. A few months later, the band recorded Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. But by the time the album was entering the charts, Clapton and then-Bluesbreakers bassist Jack Bruce had already left to form Cream. The next few years saw a succession of guitarists who came and left, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In fact, frequent line-up changes would become a constant for Mayall, yet I haven’t read anything that he was ever annoyed about it.
In 1969, Mayall moved from England to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and began playing with American musicians. Over the next three decades, he recorded many albums featuring artists like Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins and Mick Taylor. In 2008, Mayall decided to retire The Bluesbreakers name. The following year, he started touring with Rocky Athas (guitar), Jay Davenport (drums) and Greg Rzab (bass). In 2016, after Athas had been unable to attend a festival gig due to airline cancellations, Mayall was left with Davenport and Rzab. He liked the trio format and decided to keep it until May of this year, when guitarist Caroyln Wonderland joined the band.
With a recording career of more than 50 years and 60-plus albums, it’s impossible to do Mayall and his music full justice, so the following selection can only scratch the surface. Let’s start with the above mentioned Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. Here’s Double Crossin’ Time, a tune co-written by Mayall and Clapton. Apart from them, the core line-up of The Bluesbreakers at the time also included John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).
In September 1967, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers released their fourth album Crusade. It was the first record with then-18-year-old Mick Taylor. Check out this hot track called Snowy Wood, which is credited to Mayall and Taylor.
To A Princess is an unusual tune from Mayall’s 13th album Empty Rooms, which appeared in 1970. It includes a bass duet featuring band member Steven Thompson and former Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor as a guest. In addition to Mayall (vocals, harmonica, guitars, keyboards), Thompson and Taylor, other musicians on the record were Jon Mark (guitar) and Johnny Almond (saxophone, flute). Mark and Almond left right after the album’s recording to form the duo Mark-Almond.
Next up: The title track of Mayall’s 19th album Ten Years Are Gone released in September 1973. I dig the brass work on this groovy tune, which gives it a cool jazzy and soulful vibe. The musicians on the record included Mayall (piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Freddy Robinson (guitar), Victor Gaskin (bass), Keef Hartley (drums), Sugarcane Harris (violin), Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Red Holloway (saxophone, flute).
In 1975, Mayall’s 22nd album Notice To Appear came out. For the most part, it featured covers, including the following hot funky take of The Beatles’A Hard Day’s Night. The track features Mayall (vocals), Rick Vito (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Soko Richardson (drums), Jay Spell (keyboards), Don Harris (violin) and Dee McKinnie (backing vocals).
In 1988, Mayall recorded his 34th album called Archives To Eighties. It included revised versions of select tunes that originally had appeared on his 1971 release Back To The Roots. Just like the earlier record, Archives To Eighties featured Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Here’s Force Of Nature.
Wake Up Call was Mayall’s 39th album. The Grammy-nominated record from 1994 brought together many prominent musicians, including Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins and Mavis Staples, among others. Here’s the smoking hot title track with Taylor on guitar and Staples on vocals.
In 2005, Mayall released his 53rd album called Road Dogs, one of the last under The Bluesbreakers name. The band’s line-up at the time included Buddy Whittington (guitars), Hank Van Sickle (bass) and Joe Yuele (drums), in addition to Mayall (vocals, keyboard, harmonica). Following is the record’s closer Scrambling.
Here’s the title track of Mayall’s 61st record A Special Life from May 2014. It featured his then-core backing band Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass, percussions) and Jay Davenport (drums), as well as C. J. Chenier (accordion, vocals). As usually, Mayall provided vocals, guitar, harmonica and keyboards.
The last album I’d like to touch on is Mayall’s most recent, Three For The Road. Released in February 2018, it is his 66th record – unbelievable! It presents live recordings from two 2017 concerts in Germany, performed by the trio format of Mayall, Rzab and Davenport. Here’s Lonely Feelings.
Just before his 85th birthday on November 29, Mayall made two announcements. After completing a few shows in California, he is planning a 2019 tour and has started booking gigs in Europe. A look on the current schedule already reveals 22 dates starting February 26 in Tampere, Finland and stretching out to March 24 in Ancona, Italy. U.S. dates are supposed to be announced soon. Mayall also revealed a new studio album, Nobody Told Me, which is scheduled to be released on February 22, 2019. Apart from his new guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, it includes numerous prominent guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Steven Van Zandt and Alex Lifeson.
I’d like to finish this post with a few quotes posted on Mayall’s website, which I think speak for themselves:
John Mayall has actually run an incredible school for musician. (Eric Clapton)
John Mayall, he was the master of it. If it wasn’t for the British musicians, a lot of us black musicians in America would still be catchin’ the hell that we caught long before. So thanks to all you guys, thank you very much! (B.B. King)
I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ-type guy. You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say “Just check this out.” He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton – he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. (Paul McCartney)
As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world. (Walter Trout)
Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers brought Stars Align Tour to Holmdel’s PNC Bank Arts Center
As noted in a previous post, seeing Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers as part of their Stars Align Tour at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., was a spontaneous decision, based on promising reviews and YouTube clips. Another reason was my previous disappointment that Bad Company wasn’t among the special guests during Lynyrd Skynyrd’s farewell concert there in June. While Sunday night’s event wasn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, I came away a happy camper after three and a half hours of solid rock at a very reasonable cost.
As anticipated, Ann Wilson opened the night; what I didn’t expect was that she started at 7:00 p.m. on the dot, literally as printed on the ticket. I had just taken my seat – good thing I had decided against food and drink, which are completed overpriced to begin with. I can’t recall a rock & roll show I’ve been to that got underway on time!
Except for Heart’s Barracuda, Wilson presented covers, mostly from her upcoming solo album that is set to arrive September 14. Called Immortal, it honors artists who have passed away, such as David Bowie, Tom Petty and Glenn Frey.
Here’s Barracuda, one of Heart’s best known songs credited to Ann Wilson and other members of the band, including her sister and lead guitarist Nancy Wilson, guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael Derosier. The tune was the lead single from Heart’s second studio album Little Queen that appeared in May 1977.
Wilson opened and closed her set with tunes by The Who, The Real Me and Won’t Get Fooled Again, respectively. Below is a clip of the latter. Written by Pete Townshend, the song is the closer of Who’s Next, the band’s fifth studio album from August 1971. It also was released separately as the record’s lead single in June that year.
Next up was Jeff Beck, which came a bit as a surprise to me. Since I think it’s fair to say he’s the heavy weight among the three, I thought he’d close out the night. This was my second time seeing Beck, so I knew that much of his set would be instrumental. While his guitar-playing and sound are mind-blowing, I generally prefer his songs with vocals, especially with Rod Stewart on Beck-Ola. I realize true Beck fans may not be with me here.
Having said the above, the first tune I’d like to highlight here is an instrumental, a smoking hot cover of You Know You Know. Originally, the John McLaughlin tune appeared on The Inner Mounting Flame, the 1971 debut album by jazz-rock fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra. Part of the reason I chose this track is the cool extended solo by ace bassist Rhonda Smith. When I saw Beck for the first time in July 2016, his backing band also included a killer female bassist: Tal Wilkenfeld. Speaking of Beck’s excellent band, the other members were cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and vocalist Jimmy Hall. Since I missed recording it myself, I’m relying on a clip from another recent gig.
Among the songs featuring Hall on vocals was the Jimi Hendrix tune Little Wing. It was included on the second studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold As Love, which came out in December 1967. While Hall is a solid vocalist, I felt by comparison he wasn’t as top-notch as the other members of the band.
The second to last song of the regular set was a great cover of Superstition, one of my favorite Stevie Wonder tunes. Wonder included it on his 15th studio album Talking Book from October 1972. It also was released separately as the lead single that appeared a few days prior to the album.
After a two-song encore by Beck, it was on to Paul Rodgers. Of the three artists I’m most familiar with his music, so it’s perhaps not a big surprise that he was the most accessible performer to me. Except for two covers, Rodgers’ set was evenly divided between Bad Company and Free songs. I thought he was in great shape, as was his backing band featuring Pete Bullick (guitar), Ian Rowley (bass), Rich Newman (drums) and Gerard Louis (keyboards).
The first tune I’d like to call out is Feel Like Makin’ Love. Co-written by Rodgers and Bad Company guitarist and co-founder Mick Ralphs, the song appeared on the band’s second studio album Straight Shooter from April 1975. It was also released separately as the record’s second single in November that year.
One the Free tunes Rodgers played was Mr. Big. Credited to all members of the band that in addition to Rodgers included Andy Fraser, Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke, the song appeared on their third studio album Fire And Water. Among others, Rowley shines with a solo, the second extended bass solo for the night.
The last song of Rodgers’ regular set was another Bad Company classic, Rock & Roll Fantasy. Penned by him, the tune was included on the band’s fifth studio album Desolation Angels, which came out in March 1979. It also became the record’s lead single and the band’s best-selling single in the U.S. About 1:40 minutes into the song, somebody wearing a hat and playing a tambourine walked on stage, who turned out to be Steven Van Zandt. As if to prove it, he briefly took off his hat to reveal his signature bandana.
Rodgers saved Free’s signature tune All Right Now until the very end of the night as his second encore. Co-written by him and Fraser, the song was also included on the Fire And Water album and became Free’s most successful single.
Last night, The Stars Align Tour played Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh on New York’s Long Island. The remaining four dates are Nashville, Tenn. (Aug 17), Charlotte, N.C. (Aug 19), West Palm Beach, Fla. (Aug 25) and Tampa, Fla. (Aug 26).
Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Paul Rodgers website, YouTube
“Soulfire Live!” is a journey through rock history
Today, I coincidentally came across this great new live album from Steven Van Zandt and his excellent Disciples Of Soul backing band in Apple Music. I had completely missed Soulfire Live! when it appeared on April 27 on digital platforms for streaming and downloading. According to an announcement, the “surprise release” came just before Little Steven and the band embarked on a new tour through the U.S. in late April, which will last through May and be followed by dates in Europe in late June and July.
Recorded at 2017 shows in Europe and North America, the 24-track collection features original tunes by Little Steven and covers. It includes various tracks from his excellent last studio album Soulfire from May 2017, his first new record in nearly 18 years and one of my favorite albums from last year. I previously wrote about it here. And since I really dig the music, I also decided to catch Little Steven and The Disciples at one of their U.S. gigs in September last year. I also had something to say about that show here.
Soulfire Live! nicely captures the concert atmosphere. At least as intriguing as the music are some of Little Steven’s announcements, during which he provides his perspective on music and shares anecdotes from the past, reminiscent to what he does on his excellent Underground Garage radio show. But the highlight of the talking undoubtedly is Mike Stoller, who the introduced the band at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles last October – yep, The Mike Stoller who together with Jerry Leiber wrote numerous legendary tunes for artists like Big Mama Thornton (Hound Dog), The Drifters (Fools Fall In Love), Ben E. King (Stand By Me) and of course Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Treat Me Nice, etc.).
Stoller notes he was an usher at the theatre 67 years ago until got into an argument with his boss and was fired. After that he says he decided to team up with his friend Jerry Leiber to write songs, dryly adding it worked out pretty good. Listen for yourself – it’s priceless!
On to some music. Here is one of my favorite covers from this collection, which also appeared on the Soulfire studio album: Blues Is My Business, a tune co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cerney and sung by Etta James on her 2003 blues record Let’s Roll. The band is just killing it!
One of the original Little Steven tunes is Angel Eyes, which he recorded for his 1982 solo debut record Men Without Women. That tune has a nice soul groove.
Standing In The Line Of Fire is another song by Little Steven. He wrote it for Gary U.S. Bonds, and it became the title track of a studio album Bonds released in September 1984. Little Steven also co-produced the record. I like the song’s Hank Marvin-style guitar intro.
Another superb cover is the blaxploitation tune Down And Out In New York City. It was written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, and recorded by James Brown for Black Caesar, a soundtrack album for the motion picture of the same name, which appeared in February 1973. The track was also included on Soulfire, though the live version is extended.
The last tune I’d like to highlight is another cover, Groovin’ Is Easy, by American blues rock and soul band The Electric Flag. The song was written by the band’s guitarist Nick Gravenites and appeared on their debut album A Long Time Comin’ from March 1968. Based on some of their music I’ve heard, I have to check out these guys more closely.
Soulfire Live! was produced and arranged by Van Zandt, and appears on his rock and roll label Wicked Cool Records. It was mixed by heavy hitter Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and The Who, among many others. The album will also become available on CD, Blu-ray and vinyl editions this summer.
Sources: Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) press release, NJArts.net, Wikipedia, YouTube
I think it’s fair to say that soul-oriented rock isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Denmark. But this band called The Breakers did exactly that. And they sounded pretty darn well, in my opinion.
Steven Van Zandt produced some of their music on his garage rock label Wicked Cool Records and co-wrote this cool tune with the band’s guitarist Anders Bruus. On the label’s website, Van Zandt described their music as follows: “A Stax-like rhythm section, Stones-y guitars, and some of the most soulful singing I’ve ever heard, delivering songs both Smokey Robinson and Van Morrison would be proud of.” BTW, that’s the same Soulfire Van Zandt recorded as the title song of his most recent album with The Disciples of Soul.
To me singer Toke Nisted’s raspy voice sounds a bit like the early Rod Stewart. No wonder Wikipedia notes that The Faces were among the band’s influences. Sadly, it appears the band broke up in late 2012 after a 10-year run.
Sources: Wikipedia, Wicked Cool Records website, YouTube
The man with the bandana and his Disciples of Soul play historic theater in Staten Island, N.Y.
Steven Van Zandt had not been on my radar screen as a solo artist until recently. Things changed in May when he released Soulfire, his first solo album since 1999. It quickly became one of my favorite new records this year, which I previously reviewed here. When I found out he was kicking off a tour at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., that show in late May – his only scheduled U.S. gig at the time – was already sold out! So I was glad that after a European leg, he brought the tour back to the U.S. Last Thursday, I was able to see his great show at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, N.Y.
Unlike the Count Basie Theatre, the venue wasn’t sold out; in fact, I would say only half of the seats were taken, which was unfortunate. But it didn’t seem to have an impact. Little Steven and his top-notch band The Disciples of Soul delivered a powerful performance that lasted for close to two and a half hours. And while the audience wasn’t the biggest, people certainly were engaged.
The show kicked off with the soul classic Sweet Soul Music. Written by Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was first released by Conley in 1967. This was followed right away by Soulfire, the title track from Van Zandt’s above mentioned latest album. In a Rolling Stoneinterview ahead of the record’s release, Van Zandt noted he co-wrote the song with a member of Danish rock and soul band The Breakers, which first released it on their eponymous album in June 2011. Here’s a clip of Soulfire captured in Leipzig, Germany back in June.
Tunes from almost the entire Soulfire album were sprinkled throughout the show, and I have to say those were the tracks I generally liked the most. One of the highlights of the record that was also a standout of the show was Blues Is My Business, a great cover of an Etta James tune included on her 2003 album Let’s Roll. Here’s a cool clip.
Another great song from Soulfire and highlight of the set was Down And Out In New York City. Written by Bobbie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, the track was first recorded by James Brown for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. The performance showcased the band’s terrific five-piece horn section, with each musician playing solo back-to-back. Here’s a nice clip of the tune recorded at another gig earlier this month.
In addition to Soulfire, Little Steven also played songs from his earlier solo records with The Disciples of Soul, especially their debut Men Without Women (1982) and Voice Of America (1984). Among these tunes was Angel Eyes, written by Van Zandt and included on the 1982 record.
And then there was of course Van Zandt’s previous work with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He was a co-founding member and produced various of their records. The set included three tunes from that band: I’m Coming Back and I Don’t Want To Go Home, two Van Zandt tunes that also appear on the Soulfire album, and Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, which he co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen. Here is a clip of I Don’t Want To Go Home, the title track of Southside Johnny’s 1976’s studio debut. It was part of the encore.
This post would not be complete without further acknowledging the musicians of The Disciples of Soul, a mighty 14-piece and truly amazing band. The line-up includes Marc Ribler (guitar), Charley Drayton (drums), Everett Bradley (percussion, backing vocals), Lowell “Banana” Levinger (piano, mandolin), Andy Burton (organ, strings, accordion), Jak Daley (bass), Eddie Manion (baritone saxophone), Stan Harrison (tenor saxophone, flute), Clark Gayton (trombone), Ravi Best (trumpet), Ron Tooley (trumpet), and backing vocalists Jessica Wagner, Erika Jerry and YahZarah.
According to the tour schedule posted on Little Steven’s web site, the band will continue touring the U.S. throughout October. In early November, they are scheduled to return to Europe for another six weeks, with shows in England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain.
Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Rolling Stone, Little Steven’s website, YouTube
This great clip was captured Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt joined Paul McCartney on stage during the encore of McCartney’s sold out show there. These guys had so much fun that they literally did the song twice – priceless!
It doesn’t even matter that McCartney’s voice sounds a bit strained. According to setlist.fm, the back-to-back performances of I Saw Her Standing There were tracks 36 and 37, so it must have been well over two and a half hours into the show. Plus, the song that immediately preceded this was Helter Skelter. To me it is just amazing how strongly Sir Paul is still going at age 75. I saw it myself last July and posted about it here. This clip with The Boss makes me want to see him again – and while we’re at it, Springsteen as well!
Penned by McCartney and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener to Please Please Me, the studio debut by The Beatles, which appeared in March 1963. The tune was also released separately in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want To Hold Your Hand, the Fab Four’s first U.S. single that came out in December that year.