John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube

‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ Remains Compelling Rolling Stones Proposition

‘Greatest rock & roll band in the world’ delivers powerful performance at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium

Whether you agree or not with the label “greatest rock & roll band in the world” (I dig the Stones big time but still would choose The Beatles, if could only select one band), I believe it is safe to say The Rolling Stones are a unique phenomenon. For now more than 55 years, they have brought energetic blues-oriented rock to audiences around the world. And they did so again last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., during the first of two dates at that venue, as part of the previously postponed North American leg of their No Filter Tour.

At age 76, Mick Jagger remains one of the most compelling front men in rock. His voice still is in fairly decent shape. What’s even more remarkable is that he doesn’t appear to have lost any of his swagger. He is still a born show guy. He also continues to have the energy of a young man, allowing him to, well, move like Jagger. And let’s not forgot his heart valve replacement surgery only happened a few months ago. Frankly, all of this is friggin’ unreal to me. I will say that age hasn’t been as kind to other core members of the band, but together they still sounded great.

The Rolling Stones Live
The Rolling Stones (from left): Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards

I agree with everything Music Enthusiast recently noted during his review of the Stones’ gig at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. These shows ain’t cheap, but when a band puts on that kind of performance, spending big bucks is worth it, especially if you dig their music. And like Music Enthusiast, I was also surprised how fresh and dynamic Miss You sounded, certainly not my favorite Stones tune, and what a killer performance they put on for Midnight Rambler.  Last but not least, I also love Brown Sugar, actually more so than Midnight Rambler, and Jagger and co delivered on this one as well. Hell, even the overplayed second and last encore (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction sounded cool.

Since most if not all more frequent visitors of my blog also follow Music Enthusiast, I’m going to deliberately highlight other tunes. Let’s kick it off with the opener last night: Street Fighting Man. As usually credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was first released as a U.S. single in August 1968. It was also included on the Beggars Banquet album from that same year.

Next up: Tumbling Dice from Exile On Main Street, a favorite among Stones fans. Even many critics who initially were lukewarm about it changed their opinions later and concluded it’s one of the band’s best records – I guess being a critic and saying something clever is hard, and I’m definitely happy I’m not one of ’em! Co-written by Jagger and Richards, Tumbling Dice also appeared as the album’s lead single in April 1972, one month ahead of the record’s release.

Are you ready for something acoustic? Well, ready or not, here’s the second and last tune the Stones performed on the so-called B-stage. And even though as a country-oriented song it’s less typical for the band, Dead Flowers off Sticky Fingers from April 1971 is one of my favorite tracks from what has become my favorite Stones record. Again, it’s a Jagger/Richards co-write. Take me down little Susie!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is one of my other favorites from the Stones: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Recorded during the Beggars Banquet sessions, the track was released as a single in May 1968. While officially it is only credited to Jagger and Richards, according to Wikipedia, then-bassist Bill Wyman in his autobiography Stone Alone wrote that he came up with the tune’s signature guitar riff on a piano but wasn’t acknowledged by the Glimmer Twins – that doesn’t sound nice!

Here’s the setlist from last night.

Main Stage:

Street Fighting Man

Let’s Spend the Night Together

Tumbling Dice

She’s a Rainbow (audience request)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

B-Stage / Acoustic:

Sweet Virginia

Dead Flowers

Main Stage:

Sympathy for the Devil

Honky Tonk Women

Slipping Away (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Miss You

Paint It Black

Midnight Rambler

Start Me Up

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Brown Sugar

Encore:

Gimme Shelter

Play Video

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Core members Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica, guitar, percussion), Keith Richards (guitars, vocals), Ronnie Wood (guitars, backing vocals) and Charlie Watts (drums, percussion) were backed by Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards, backing vocals), Matt Clifford (keyboards, percussion, French horn), Karl Denson (saxophone), Tim Ries (saxophone, keyboards), Sasha Allen (backing vocals) and Bernard Fowler (backing vocals, percussion). In addition to Jagger, Wood stood out to me with excellent guitar work among the Stones’ core members. And while all supporting musicians were top-notch, I’d like to call out Jones for his killer bass solo in Miss You and Denson for his strong sax work, which was on display during Miss You and other tunes.

Three fun facts I learned: Jagger said last night was the first time for The Rolling Stones to play at MetLife Stadium. During band introductions, he called Charlie Watts Frank Sinatra’s favorite drummer – an allusion to Watts’ age who turned 78 in June? No idea, but I found it funny. Watts didn’t look bothered by it. Opening act The Wombats, an indie rock and power pop band from Liverpool, England, during their set mentioned that it was one of their songs, Techno Fan, to which Jagger danced during his post-heart surgery practice video that went viral on the internet. It sounded like that song choice led to outreach to the Stones and to The Wombats opening up for them last night – cool story.

The Stones are playing MetLife Stadium again on Monday, August 5. Then it’s on to Denver (Aug 10) and Seattle (Aug 14). The last North American date and I assume the end of the tour is in Miami on August 31. The No Filter Tour kicked off on September 9, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. There were a few bigger breaks throughout the two-year span. The schedule for the remaining shows is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, YouTube

With Mick Jagger Back In Full Force, Stones Kick Off Postponed ‘No Filter’ North American Tour In Chicago

If you frequently visit my blog, you may have seen I just posted on The Rolling Stones and their new live concert film/album release Bridges To Bremen. Fast forward some 21 years from that 1998 gig in Germany to last night at Chicago’s Soldier Field where the Stones finally opened their North American No Filter Tour. If you watch the enclosed clips and didn’t keep up with the news, you’d never guess anything much had changed. But apart from 21 years of water under the bridge, 75-year-old Mick Jagger underwent heart valve replacement surgery only a few months ago, so it’s fair to say last night was no ordinary kick-off date.

I don’t know how you felt, but when I first learned about Jagger’s heart issues and his then-upcoming procedure, my first thought was how crazy it is that the fittest guy in the band was ‘knocked out.’ My second thought was that if anybody from The Rolling Stones could pull off bouncing back from heart surgery, it would be Jagger. As such, with a Stones ticket in hand I had bought early this year, I selfishly was ‘glad’ the gig was postponed because of him. Coz’ let’s be honest here, had it been Charlie Watts, who earlier this month turned 78, who knows what would have happened. And while 75-year-old Keith Richards has survived many things, I’m not sure how he would have come out of heart surgery.

“This was certainly a swerve, a left-hand ball for us,” Ronnie Wood recently told U.K. tabloid Daily Mirror, commenting on Jagger’s heart surgery. “We knew it was something serious. I think he needed a bit of support, which we gave him. We thank our lucky stars.” So should the fans! While heart valve replacement is a so-called minimally invasive procedure that is not uncommon, especially in older men, I suppose there’s nothing routine about it when it affects the front man of the band you’ve been playing with for more than four decades!

Said Jagger last week: “I’m feeling pretty good. Been rehearsing a lot lately in the last few weeks. This morning a bit of gym. Nothing crazy. Then I go into rehearsal with the band.” Well, ‘nothing crazy’ may be a bit of an understatement when you watch this video of Jagger, which was posted about a month ago, only four weeks after his heart surgery. He is one beast of a guy! Anyway, let’s go back to last night and take a look at some YouTube footage.

Here’s Street Fighting Man. First released as a single in August 1968 and also appearing on the Beggars Banquet album from December that year, perhaps the Stones couldn’t have picked a more appropriate opener.

I was glad to see Dead Flowers is part of the set. I just love that tune off the Sticky Fingers album from April 1971. It’s also great to watch Jagger energetically strumming that guitar in adding to singing. What a triumphant return to the stage!

There are songs you immediately recognize after just a couple of bars, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash is one of them. If I could only pick one of Richards’ guitar riffs, this would be it, baby. The Stones first released the track as a single in May 1968. Okay, it may not be quite as compelling as the version on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, but it still sounds fucking awesome to me!

How about wrapping things up with one additional tune from Sticky Fingers? Here’s Brown Sugar, which was the final tune of the regular set. It was the album’s lead single released on April 16, 1971, just a few days ahead of the record.

Here’s the full set list:

1. “Street Fighting Man”
2. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
3. “Tumbling Dice”
4. “Sad Sad Sad”
5. “You Got Me Rocking”
6. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
7. “Angie”
8. “Dead Flowers”
9. “Sympathy for the Devil”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
11. “You Got the Silver”
12. “Before They Make Me Run”
13. “Miss You”
14. “Paint It Black”
15. “Midnight Rambler”
16. “Start Me Up”
17. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
18. “Brown Sugar”

Encore:
19. “Gimme Shelter”
20. “Satisfaction”

Am I ready for “my” August 1st gig at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey? How many days?

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Mirror, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube