Another Turkey Day Brings Another Rock & Roll Radio Marathon

I’m not much of a radio guy, not even in the car, where despite having access to Sirius XM,¬†I prefer listening to music from my streaming provider most of the time. An exception for the past few years has been a massive four and a half-day countdown of songs New York classic radio station Q104.3 does around each Thanksgiving. Ingeniously, they call it the Top 1043 Classic Rock Songs of All Time.

To come up with the list, the station asks listeners to submit their top 10 songs in no particular order, which each counting as one vote. They then tally the submissions, determine the 1043 songs with the most votes, and play all of them in one shot, starting with the tune that got the least votes. The only interruption happens at noon on Thanksgiving, when they play Arlo Guthrie classic Alice’s Restaurant in its entire 18 minutes plus. The whole thing lasts from 1:00 pm ET on Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving until sometime on Sunday evening after the holiday!

Q104.3 Countdown

This year marks the 19th annual annual countdown. Wow, that’s what I call devotion – and smart marketing/audience engagement! Remarkably, each year Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the most popular song. And while the station does not reveal actual vote totals, the hosts have said in the past the tune has always won by many votes.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig Stairway – big time. In fact, if I could only choose one rock song, it probably would be that Zep classic, even though The Beatles generally remain my all-time favorite band. There are other tunes that usually make the top 10, such as Hey Jude and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these songs and I like them as well.

But the recurrence of the above tracks makes the countdown predictable. To me this means it’s not as much fun as it could be. As I noted before, I think it’s time to shake things up a bit. Following is the set of tunes I submitted. I almost would have forgotten about it and literally did so at 3:00 am this morning when I went to the bathroom and remembered – okay, call me a loony! Here are my choices in no particular order.

Of course, it’s unlikely my selections will change much if anything. On the other hand it’s like elections. If everybody thought they couldn’t impact the outcome, nobody would vote. And that would indeed guarantee that nothing would ever change! So here’s to hoping for a new number one this year. How about Hey Jude?ūüėÜ

Sources: Q104.3 website; Wikipedia; YouTube

 

 

 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Returns With Great New Album

Kenny Wayne Shepherd first entered my radar screen about two years ago with the release of his eighth studio album Lay It On Down, which I covered here at the time. Now, the Louisiana guitarist is back with The Traveler. While Shepherd’s music remains anchored in blues rock, his latest release also offers flavors of country, Southern and straight rock. No matter how you characterize it, this record simply presents fun music by a great guitarist who also proves he’s a pretty talented songwriter.

For quick background on Shepherd, I’m quoting from his website: “In a 20-year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues…At 16 years old, he signed his first record deal and burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights…In 2013, Shepherd further expanded his musical horizons by teaming with veteran rockers Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg to form THE RIDES, whose first album Can’t Get Enough helped to expand Shepherd’s audience as well as his musical resume.”

Released last Friday, May 31, The Traveler is the Shepherd’s ninth studio album. Eight of the ten tracks are originals written by Shepherd. In addition to playing guitar, he shares lead vocals with Noah Hunt, who has been part of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band since 1997. The other members include drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, a co-founding member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble; Joe Krown¬† and Jimmy McGorman (both keyboards) and Scott Nelson (bass). The Traveler¬†appears on Concord Records and was co-produced by Shepherd and Marshall Altman¬†with whom Shepherd also worked on his previous two albums. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Woman Like You, a catchy blues rocker with some nice horn accents, featuring Hunt on lead vocals.

Long Time Running is another great rock tune with horns and Hunt singing lead.

I Want You combines a classic blues riff, great horn fills and a more contemporary drum sound. Here, Shepherd is also handling lead vocals. It is one of the few tunes where he is playing a more extended guitar solo, something that is largely absent on the other tracks.

On Tailwind, a Southern rock style, acoustic-oriented tune, the band is slowing things down. Once again, Hunt is providing lead vocals

The Traveler also includes two covers: Joe Walsh’s Turn To Stone and Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul written by Neil Young. As a big Neil fan, I couldn’t resist the latter. With the dominant horns, it’s a pretty cool version, in my opinion.

“I like albums to have their own identity, and I don’t want to be one of those artists where you know what it’s going to sound like before you even hear it,” Shepherd stated. “I want the new material to be original and give the listener something different. A lot of these songs represent stories I‚Äôve picked up on the road, and the experiences we‚Äôve had along the way.”

“The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows,” Shepherd further pointed out. “We’re a live band, and when people listen to our records, I want them to hear what we sound like when we play live. As far as my playing goes, I’m still refining my approach, and learning that it’s not about showing off or how flashy you can play. It’s about serving the song and playing what’s right emotionally. I want to move people in the depths of their souls, and to stir my own spirit. The only way I know how to do that is to get everyone recording together in the same room, and everyone’s making eye contact. That’s how spontaneous moments happen.”

Shepherd and his band are busy touring the U.S. and Europe for the remainder of the year. Most of the U.S. dates are with Buddy Guy – damn, this should be an awesome show! Some of the upcoming gigs include Flagstaff, Ariz. (Jun 8); Cincinnati (Jun 16) ; Red Bank, N.J. (Jun 18) – dangerously close to my house – and East Providence, R.I. (Jun 21). Starting toward the end of the month, Shepherd is playing a series of concerts in Europe before returning to the U.S. in late July. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kenny Wayne Shepherd website, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Facebook page, Glide Magazine, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Jimmie Vaughan/Baby, Please Come Home

Lately, I’ve been listening to blues music quite a lot. In part, it’s thanks to fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast and his recent New Music Review that featured two excellent artists, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram¬†and¬†Big Daddy Wilson. The other part is my own curiosity, which led me back to the Billboard Blues Albums chart where the other day I had spotted a surprising entry: a collection of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry covers by¬†George Benson. This time, I came across Baby, Please Come Home, another great covers album by an old hand of Texas blues: Jimmie Vaughan.

Other than the fact that Jimmie is the older brother of electric blues dynamo Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my long-time favorite blues guitarists, admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Jimmie, so had to read up a little. But that happens to be one of the aspects I particularly enjoy about music blogging – learning about new artists and their music. Yes, this can be time-consuming, but I’m not in a hurry. Most importantly, it would be far less fun if I would only write about stuff I knew!

Jimmy Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan was born on March 20, 1951 in the Dallas area, about three and a half years prior to his brother Stephen Ray. He started playing the guitar as a child and in fact inspired his younger brother to pick up the instrument as well. At the age of 19, Jimmie moved to Austin and played in different blues bar bands for some time. In 1972, he formed his own group,¬†The Storm, which backed many touring blues artists. Two years later, he co-founded The Fabulous Thunderbirds with harmonica player Kim Wilson. While the T-Birds gained a strong fan base in Texas, their first four albums didn’t sell well, and by the end of 1982 their record company Chrysalis had dropped them.

Meanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughan broke through and became a dominating force in the Texas and national blues scene. It took the T-Birds until 1986 to score a success with their fifth studio album Tough Enuff. The record featured more of a mainstream sound, an approach the band replicated on their next two albums. Unhappy about the commercial direction the T-Birds had taken, Jimmie left in 1990 and recorded an album with his brother, Family Style. It came out one month after Stevie Ray’s untimely death in a helicopter crash under the name The Vaughan Brothers.

Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimmie Vaughan (left) with his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie’s solo debut¬†Strange Pleasure¬†appeared in 1994. He hasn’t been exactly prolific since then, sometimes leaving many years in-between releasing new studio records and focusing on touring and¬†guest-appearing on albums by other artists. Baby, Please Come Home, which was mostly recorded at Fire Station Studio in San Marcos, Texas, came out on May 17 on the Last Music Co. label. It features deeper cuts from a variety of different artists, such as¬†Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed. Let’s get to some music.

Here is the opener and title track of the album. The tune was written by Lloyd Price and released as a single in 1955. Often called “Mr. Personality,” after his 1959 million-seller Personality, the R&B singer from Louisiana is also known for Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a song he recorded in 1952, featuring Fats Domino on piano. I just dig the horn section and the cool retro sound on Baby, Please Come Home, which is present throughout this 11-tune collection.

No One To Talk To (But The Blues) is a song by country music singer-songwriter Lefty Frizzell, which he recorded in 1957 as a single with country and rockabilly vocalist  Shirley Caddell, who later became known as Shirley Collie Nelson. From 1963 until 1971, she was married to Willie Nelson.

Another great tune, and frankly I could have selected any other track, is What’s Your Name?¬† That song was written by blues, R&B and rock & roll singer Chuck Willis and appeared as a single in 1953.

Next up: I’m Still In Love With You by T-Bone Walker, one of Vaughan’s guitar influences. Co-written by Walker and Charles Glenn, the ballad was released by Walker with Marl Young And His Orchestra in 1945. From what I have heard thus far, Jimmie is more of an old-style pre-Jimi Hendrix type blues guitarist whereas his younger brother clearly embraced the virtuosity and sound of Hendrix.

The last track I’d like to highlight is So Glad by Fats Domino, which first appeared on his 1963 album Walking To New Orleans. The song was co-credited to Domino and his musical collaborator Dave Bartholomew.

In addition to playing guitar, Vaughan is also handling all lead vocals, something I understand he hasn’t always done. While I think it’s fair to say he’s a better guitar player than a singer, his vocals go well with the music. Vaughan is backed by outstanding musicians, with some of whom he has worked for a long time:¬†George Rains (drums), Ronnie James (bass), Billy Pittman (rhythm guitar), Mike Flanigan (Hammond B3), T. Jarrod Bonta (piano), Greg Piccolo (tenor saxophone), Doug James (baritone saxophone), Randy Zimmerman (trombone) and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet), as well as the Texas horns: Kaz Kazanoff (tenor saxophone), John Mills (baritone saxophone) and Al Gomez (trumpet). The record also features guest vocalists Georgia Bramhall and Emily Gimble.

Commenting on the eclectic mix of tracks, Vaughan told Guitar World, “When I was young, I didn’t really pay much attention to categories of music. I just heard what I liked and decided to explore that. And that‚Äôs really what I‚Äôm still doing.‚ÄĚ The result is a great-sounding. old style blues record I find very enjoyable. I also agree with one review I read that it was not Vaughan’s goal to make a hit record but simply play music he loves. That being said, the album is currently at no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. No. 1, by the way, is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his eponymous debut – that 20-year-old blues guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Miss is just dynamite!

Vaughan is going on the road starting June 19 in Atlanta, and playing what mostly look like smaller venues. Now, that could be fun – I know I’ve been saying I need to restrain myself investing in concerts, but seeing Vaughan up and close in some intimate venue probably would be a great experience!¬†Some of the other dates include Cleveland (Jun 26); Austin, Texas (Jul 6); Boston (Jul 16); Washington, D.C. (Jul 20); Los Angeles (Aug 7); and San Francisco (Sep 11). The last current gig is in Dallas on Sep 21. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Jimmie Vaughan website, Guitar World, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Tin Pan Alley

Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the greatest blues rock guitarists who ever walked on the surface of the planet. Tin Pan Alley is one of my favorite Vaughan renditions and perhaps the coolest slow blues I know.

The above clip of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble was captured during an August 1984 open air festival at Lorelei, a famous steep slate rock in Germany on the bank of the river Rhine. The festival was conducted as part of Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German music TV program and concert series I previously covered here.

According to Wikipedia, Tin Pan Alley was originally credited to Robert Geddins; later credit was given to James Reed. Vaughan recorded the tune for his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand The Weather, released in May 1984.

While this live take is busier and more aggressive than the studio version, and I generally think less is more when it comes to the blues, it still gives me goose bumps, and I just find it amazing to watch. It’s also not a coincidence I’m featuring the song.

After more than 25 years since my band days as a bassist, I decided to buy an electric bass guitar and a small amp (both for house use and nothing fancy). My first experience playing with other guys was in a blues band, and Tin Pan Alley was one of the first songs I learned on the bass after I had joined them. I’ve always thought the bass part on this track is really cool. As such, I was happy I still know how to play it, though it’s definitely gonna take time to get comfortable again with the instrument.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rockpalast website, YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and¬†company associates¬†George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While¬†Les Paul¬†built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured.¬†By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and¬†forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster¬†with its squared-off body that dug into the player‚Äôs body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature,¬†Hank Marvin,¬†lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later,¬†Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied of flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly¬†was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin¬†reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a¬†Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time,¬†was using that model. ‚ÄúWe loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That‚Äôs how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.‚ÄĚ

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The¬†guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady.

Mark Knopfler, another big¬†Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ‚Äô61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat¬†during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell¬†the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube

 

 

What I’ve Been Listing to: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Couldn’t Stand the Weather

Vaughan’s second studio album remains an electric blues gem more than 30 years after its release

I’ve always admired Stevie Ray Vaughan for his incredible guitar skills and cool sound. He is right up there with¬†Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton¬†and Buddy Guy.¬†In fact, he oftentimes reminds me of Hendrix.

The first time I was introduced to Vaughan’s music was in my early twenties after I had joined a blues band as a bassist. Among the songs I had to learn was Tin Pan Alley, one of the tunes on Couldn’t Stand the Weather.¬†Vaughan’s second studio album with Double Trouble¬†was released in May 1984. I bought the CD shortly thereafter. It remains one of my favorite blues albums to this day.

The record kicks off with Scuttle Buttin’, an instrumental Vaughan shreds at breakneck speed. It is one of two instrumentals on the album and one of four tracks written by him. Here’s a nice clip of a live performance of this incredible tune.

Next up is the record’s fantastic title song, another Vaughan composition. A cool mix of blues and funk, the tune features Vaughan’s brother Jimmie Vaughan on rhythm guitar. Here is a clip of the official music video, which according to Wikipedia received regular play on MTV – a pretty remarkable feat, given the song sounded very differently from the music that dominated the charts at the time. I imagine the funky grove had something to do with it.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather also includes an amazing version of the Hendrix classic Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It nicely showcases Vaughan’s virtuosity and his impeccable command of the wah-wah pedal – just like the maestro himself! Here’s a great illustration.

Another tune from the record I’d like to highlight is Cold Shot, which was co-written by the “Godfather of Austin Blues” Wesley Curley Clark and Michael Kindred. Here’s a pretty hilarious clip of what apparently is the song’s official video.

And then there is of course Tin Pan Alley, written by James Reed. Vaughan’s version is perhaps the best electric slow blues I know. It literally makes the hair in my neck stand up. Here’s an epic clip.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather was recorded in just 19 days at the Power Station in New York City (now called Avatar Studios). Other major artists, such as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, David Bowie, Neil Young and Sting, have worked at that studio. The record was produced Vaughan and Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon, bass; and Chris Layton, drums), Richard Mullen and Jim Capfer. John Hammond was the executive producer.

Following on the heels of his 1983 debut Texas Floods,¬†the album was another success for Vaughan, climbing to no. 31 on the Billboard 200, and selling one million copies in just five weeks – a remarkable showing for a blues album. Couldn’t Stand the Weather is part of Vaughan’s impressive recording legacy.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan no. 12 in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, saying he “was recognized as a peer by the likes of B.B. King (no. 6 on the list) and Eric Clapton (no. 2 on the list) and despite his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, he’s still inspiring multiple generations of guitarists, from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to John Mayer and rising young star Gary Clark Jr.”

Another inspired¬†young blues guitarist is¬†Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He¬†told Rolling Stone in 1999, “Stevie Ray Vaughan was the whole inspiration for me picking up the guitar.¬†I got to hear him play for the first time when I was seven years old, in Shreveport, Louisiana…It’s weird to think that a seven-year-old child can have such a spiritual experience, but it affected the rest of my life. Six months later, I got my own guitar.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone

Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan

Today 26 years ago, the world lost one of the best blues guitarists.

As I have previously written on this blog, Stevie Ray Vaughan was an amazing blues guitarist. On August 26, 1990, he died in a helicopter crash at the age of 35.

To remember this incredible artist Guitar World posted a great¬†YouTube video on their web site. It shows Stevie and his band Double Trouble in January 1986 during a sound-check. They‚Äôre playing Scuttle Buttin, one of my favorite Vaughan tunes, Ain‚Äôt Gone ‚Äėn‚Äô Give Up on Love and Say What!

As they say, a picture, or in this case a clip, speaks more than a 1,000 words!