When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: November 26

After more than three months, I felt it was time for another installment of my recurring music history feature I started shortly after launching the blog in June 2016. While I previously did a post about music happenings on Thanksgiving (with different dates over the years), I had not specifically covered November 26. Yes, looking at a certain date is kind of arbitrary, but I continue to find it interesting what comes up. And in theory I still have many other dates to cover to make up the full year – 310 to be precise! 🙂

1962: The Beatles recorded their second single Please Please Me during a three-hour session at Abbey Road studio two. The tune was written by John Lennon but credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usually. After capturing 18 takes, George Martin was, well, pleased, telling John, Paul, George and Ringo, “Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one.” It’s all documented on The Beatles Bible, which may not be quite as popular as Jesus but is the ultimate source of truth about The Fab Four! Please Please Me topped the lists of Melody Maker and New Musical Express and Disc and rose to no. 2 in the Record Retailer chart. When the song was released on January 11, 1963, the UK didn’t have a standard singles chart yet. By the time The Beatles‘ third single From Me to You came out, things had changed, and that tune ended up being their first no. 1 on what became the official UK Singles Chart.

1968: Cream played their final farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the second of two sold out gigs at the venue. Both concerts were captured for a BBC documentary and released on video as Farewell Concert in early January 1969. While the two concerts received more attention than other Cream concerts, supposedly, they didn’t show the band at their best. “It wasn’t a good gig,” stated Ginger Baker, according to Wikipedia. “Cream was better than that…We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off, getting it over with.” Here’s an excerpt from the film featuring Sunshine of Your Love. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, the tune first appeared on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Frankly, if this was Cream “sucking”, just imagine how amazing they must have been when they were at their best.

1969: The Band’s eponymous second album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, which means it had reached one million sold copies in only just a little over two months after its release. Also known as The Brown Album, The Band features gems like Rag Mama Rag, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up on Cripple Creek. The album peaked at no. 9 on the Billboard 200 and has been on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, reaching no. 57 in the most recent update from September this year. Here’s one of my all-time favorites, Up on Cripple Creek, written by Robbie Robertson. The tune was also released as a single on November 29, 1969 and climbed to no. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1976: The Sex Pistols released their debut single Anarchy in the U.K. Credited to all of the British punk rock band’s original members John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten (lead vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums), the song caused controversy in England over its lyrics some viewed as advocating violence against the government. The tune was also included on the band’s only studio album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – and part of the reason it almost took one year for that record to appear in October 1977. The controversy didn’t do much damage to the song. It peaked at no. 38 on the official UK Singles Chart, came in at no. 53 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music.com; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day In Rock.com; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Is Coming Up…And An Annual Rock & Roll Marathon

Will Stairway To Heaven finally be toppled from the no. 1 spot it has held for 17 straight years on Q104.3’s Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time?

When hearing Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume most folks think of family, friends, turkey and other feasts. To many it also involves travel to spend time together with their loved ones. While there’s nothing wrong with all of that, to me the upcoming holiday first and foremost means it’s time again for classic rock radio station Q104.3’s annual tradition to play the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time, as voted by listeners. I suppose the fact that I care of much about this rock & roll marathon indicates I can be quite nerdy. But when it comes to music, that’s just fine with me!

Playing 1,043 rock songs means many hours of great rock music. And, yes, each is fully played, even Pink Floyd’s epic 23-minute Echoes! In order to accommodate all that music, Q104.3 needs to start the countdown the day before Thanksgiving at 1:00 pm ET and go all the way to Sunday evening – a fantastic listening experience for any rock fan! It’s also a nice break from the 50 or so songs they tend to play all the time – just like most other radio stations do!

Collage

One of the things I find remarkable about the list, which is compiled for the 18th time this year and presented in a countdown from no. 1,043 to no. 1,  is that for the past 17 years, Stairway to Heaven has consistently captured the no. 1 spot. While I dig Led Zeppelin and, if given only one choice, may even select the tune myself as the greatest rock song ever, the reality is there are so many other outstanding classic rock tunes. As such, I feel it’s time to shake up the list! While I doubt there will be many changes in the top 10, following are my selections I submitted earlier this morning.

1. Sunshine Of Your LoveCream (78)

2. Purple HazeJimi Hendrix Experience (80)

3. LaylaDerek & The Dominoes (4)

4. TushZZ Top (865)

5. Stairway To HeavenLed Zeppelin (1)

6. While My Guitar Gently WeepsThe Beatles (29)

7. RefugeeTom Petty and the Heartbreakers (110)

8. Dead FlowersThe Rolling Stones (547)

9. SoulshineThe Allman Brothers Band (-)

10. EchoesPink Floyd (311)

The numbers in parentheses indicate the ranks of the songs in last year’s countdown. One, Soulshine by The Allman Brothers Band, didn’t make the cut – I told ya, I’m a music nerd! In case you’d like to join the fun, you can enter your submissions here. Happy voting and happy listening!

Sources: Q104.3 website

Music of Cream Shines at New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre

Relatives of original members pay tribute to legendary power rock trio

While I’ve seen many tribute bands over the past couple of years, Tuesday night was a first: a tribute act whose members were relatives of the original band’s musicians. Meet Music of Cream: Malcolm Bruce (bass) and Kofi Baker (drums), sons of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; and Will Johns (guitar), nephew of Eric Clapton.

The closest case I can think of is Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who pays tribute to the English rockers with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. But I’ve never seen a tribute act where the entire lineup is blood-related to the members of the original band.

Apart from being true masters of their craft, Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns also have impressive other accomplishments, as their bios on the Music of Cream website show. Malcolm is a composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and engineer. In addition to having recorded and performed with his father, he can be heard on recordings of other artists like Little Richard, Eric Clapton or Elton John. Last year, Malcolm also released his debut solo album Salvation.

Kofi first performed live with his father on the BBC TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test when he was just six years old. In addition to Jack Bruce, he has also played and toured with other rock musicians, such as Uli Jon Roth (former lead guitarist of Scorpions), UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore and Rick Derringer. He also released a solo record, Lost City, and recorded an album with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane called Abstract Logic.

Kofi, Malcolm and Will
Music of Cream (from left): Kofi Baker, Malcolm Bruce and Will Johns

In addition to Jack Bruce, Will has performed with Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. Will’s strong connection to members of The Rolling Stones is likely due to his father Andy Johns, recording engineer and producer, who apart from the Stones has worked with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Will is also the nephew of Glyn Johns who has produced for The Who, Eric Clapton and Eagles. To date, he has released three solo albums: Count On Me, Hooks & Lines and Something Old, Something New.

Yes, it’s safe to assume that all their connections haven’t hurt Malcolm, Kofi and Will, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are highly talented musicians and accomplished artists. Music of Cream’s shows are billed as a 50th anniversary tour, which was launched in Australia and New Zealand last year. Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream appeared in December 1966.

Tuesday night’s show was divided in two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission. Based on what I’ve seen on Setlist.fm, this appears to be the typical format. In addition to great music, I also thought the projection of psychedelic color patterns mixed with historical footage of Cream on the stage background was pretty cool. While the band was taking a break, documentary film footage was shown. During both sets, Kofi, Macolm and Will also shared anecdotes about Ginger, Jack and Eric.

Time for some clips! Here are two from the first set. Politician appeared on Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third album released in August 1968. It was written by Jack Bruce and lyricist and singer Pete Brown who frequently collaborated with Bruce.

Next up: Strange Brew, the opener of Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. The tune is credited to Eric Clapton, the record’s producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins.

Some of the other tunes from the first set included N.S.U., Badge and Sleepy Time Time.

The second set kicked off with I’m So Glad, followed by Crossroads. Following is a clip of the latter, a Robert Johnson tune arranged by Eric Clapton.

White Room was another tune Music of Cream performed during the second half of show. Co-written by Bruce and Brown, the song was the opener of the Wheels Of Fire album.

Some other tunes from the second sets included Born Under A Bad Sign, Sitting On Top Of The World, Toad and Sunshine Of Your Love. Here’s a clip of the latter, another track from Disraeli Gears, co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Brown. The band stretched it into an 11-minute-plus jam.

Music of Cream also threw in Spoonful as an encore. Including the intermission, the show lasted a solid three hours. Not only did Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns do a great job to capture the music of Cream, but they were also clearly enjoying themselves.

Upcoming tour dates include Baltimore, Md. (Oct 25), Greensburg, Pa. (Oct 26), Bristol, Tenn. (Oct 28) and Richmond, Va. (Oct 30). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Music of Cream website, Setlist.fm, 

 

Guitar Gods Re-Experienced

Jimi Hendrix and Cream tribute bands Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream recreate iconic rock history

Electric Ladyland and Wheels Of Fire have their 50th anniversaries this year – wow, that’s hard to believe! The two albums were released on October 16 and August 9 in 1968 by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, respectively. What better way to celebrate the occasion than with an evening of great music capturing the amazing artists behind these iconic rock albums. And that’s exactly what I had a chance to do last night at Monmouth University Center for the Arts’ Pollak Theatre in West Long Branch, N.J. So, did I enjoy myself? You bet!

As some readers of the blog may recall, I posted about Jimi Hendrix tribute band Kiss The Sky and their amazing guitarist Jimi Bleu a month ago after I had seen an ad on Facebook. That’s when I also learned about last night’s gig and immediately decided to get a ticket. But before I get to Kiss The Sky, let’s start with Heavy Cream. And, as you probably guessed, it’s not what you may put on top of certain beverages, though the music they play surely as heck sounds sweet to me!

Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream Poster

Heavy Cream is a tribute to the rock power trio of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Cream were often called the world’s first successful “supergroup.” Frankly, I don’t care much about these labels. To me it all comes down to a simple question: Do I like the music? And when it comes to Cream, the answer is a clear ‘hell yes!’

While Heavy Cream are on Facebook and ReverbNation, there is relatively limited information on this band hailing from Philly. Their usual lineup includes Billy Thoden as Eric ClaptonDion Paci as Jack Bruce; and Steve Iannetonnt as Ginger Baker. Last night JT Curtis and John Hummel filled in for Thoden and Iannetonnt, respectively.

Let’s get to some music. Due to light conditions and where I was seated, capturing the action on my smartphone was challenging, and at times the video footage is out of focus. But I still prefer using my clips to keep things more authentic. Overall, I think the came out pretty well. Here’s the opener of Heavy Cream’s set: White Room. Composed by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, the tune also is the first track on the Wheels Of Fire album. Note I moved to a better recording position for the other clips that follow.

In addition to tracks from Wheels Of Fire, Heavy Cream also played a few other songs, such as Badge and the set closer Sunshine Of Your Love. A Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton co-write with lyrics by Pete Brown, Sunshine Of Your Love appeared on Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears from November 1967.

After a short intermission, Kiss The Sky hit the stage. According to his online bio, Jimy Bleu met Jimi Hendrix in 1968 as a young teenager at Warner/Reprise Records. He also was a member of the official Hendrix fan club that managed to convince Hendrix to speak at an assembly at Bleu’s high school in New York City. How cool is that? The following year, Bleu attended Woodstock and got one of the guitar straps Hendrix used during his performance there. How mega-cool is that?

Bleu went on to attend Berklee College of Music, as Hendrix had recommended to him, and became a Columbia/Def Jam recording artist and accomplished session musician. He is a recognized Hendrix historian and even produced and starred in his own off-Broadway play on the life of Jimi Hendrix. Watching Bleu last night, it was obvious how closely he has studied Hendrix and that he has paid tribute to his music for more than 45 years. Not only did he perfectly adopt Hendrix’s way to play right-handed guitars turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing, but also nailed stunts like playing with his teeth, playing guitar behind his back and pointing the instrument at the audience like a gun. Frankly, to me it really felt like the maestro himself had returned!

Jimy Bleu
Jimy Bleu in action

I would also like to acknowledge Bleu’s excellent backing musicians. Just like him they have plenty of experience and it simply shows. Members of The Experience tribute include bassist A.J. Hager as Noel Redding and drummer Ted Edwards as Mitch Mitchell. The Band of Gypsys tribute features Jay Powerz as Billy Cox (bass) and James Jaxon as Buddy Miles (drums).

Kiss The Sky played three sets. Kicking off their show was a recreation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. That legendary performance put them on the map in the U.S., which at the time already had gained popularity in the U.K. In fact, it was Paul McCartney who recommended the band to the organizers of the festival where they were introduced by The Rolling Stones’ co-founding member Brian Jones. Kiss The Sky also paid homage to Band of Gypsys and the Electric Ladyland album with two separate sets.

Here’s Foxey Lady from the Monterey Pop set. The song was written by Hendrix and first appeared on Are You Experienced, the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from May 1967.

Following are two other tunes from the Monterey Pop set, which was my favorite section of the show last night: Purple Haze and the closer Wild Thing. And while, yes, things got wild, I’m happy to report that no guitars were harmed in the process. As much as I understand showmanship, I always cringe when I see musicians destroy their instruments. Please don’t do that – instead, give your equipment to some kid who wants to learn how to play but can’t afford the gear! Written by Hendrix, Purple Haze was the opener of the U.S. edition of the Are You Experienced album. Wild Thing is a tune written by American songwriter Chip Taylor, which was made popular by English garage rock band The Troggs.

Following the Monterey Pop set, Kiss The Sky played some tunes from Band of Gypsys. Here’s Machine Gun, a Hendrix Vietnam War protest jam from 1970. It appeared on their eponymous live album, their only Band of Gypys record released during Hendrix’s lifetime. It appeared in March 1970, six months prior to his death.

The last song I’d like to highlight is another iconic Hendrix composition, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), the closer of the third set, which featured select tracks from Electric Ladyland.

While when it comes to tribute bands I generally care first and foremost how well they capture the music, I’d be amiss not to acknowledge how impressed I was with the close attention Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream paid to other aspects, including the Marshall stacks and other equipment they used, as well as the outfits they wore. In addition, Bleu’s visual resemblance to Hendrix is stunning. He looks like he could be his younger brother!

Based on their Facebook pages, Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream are taking their Guitar Gods 50th Anniversary Tour next to Sellersville, Pa. on December 19, where they will perform at Sellersville Theatre & Washington House Hotel & Restaurant. If you dig Jimi Hendrix and Cream and can get there, I’d highly recommend this show. Prior to this, Hendrix fans can also see Kiss In The Sky at Cafe WHA in New York City on November 26 and THS Shrine in Tulsa, Okla.

Note: This post was updated on March 23, 2019, after Heavy Cream manager Mike Gotch kindly got back to me to answer a couple of questions I had about the band’s lineup for the above gig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Heavy Cream Facebook and ReverbNation pages; Kiss The Sky Facebook and website; YouTube

Damn Right, Buddy Guy Still Got The Blues

81-year-old Chicago blues legend shined at New York’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

Boy, had I been full of anticipation of this show, and Wednesday night it finally happened – Buddy Guy at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in the heart of New York City. It was just as amazing if not even better as the first time I had seen the Chicago blues legend at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center in July 2016. Undoubtedly, one factor was the more intimate club setting where I was seated much closer to the stage. And then, of course, there was the man himself, who at age 81 still delivers the blues with a Jimi Hendrix-like intensity.

From the very beginning with the excellent opener Damn Right, I Got The Blues, Guy left no doubt why he had come to the Big Apple. As I usually do, I didn’t take any videos with my smart phone. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube clips to recreate some of the show’s highlights with the caveat that the footage was captured at different gigs. Written by Guy, Damn Right, I Got The Blues is the title track of his seventh studio album from 1991. Here’s a nice clip of the blues rocker from 2016.

Guy followed up his set’s fiery start with a 12-minute-plus version of the classic I’m A Hoochie Coochie Man combined with She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both tunes were recorded by Muddy Waters, who became a major influence on Guy after he had moved from his native Louisiana to the windy city of Chicago in 1957. The following clip from a concert earlier this month nicely illustrates the onstage persona of Guy who likes to tease his audience by cursing like a sailor. It also showcases his killer piano player Marty Sammon.

Another highlight of the set was Five Long Years, which Guy also recorded for his Damn Right, I Got The Blues album. The tune was written and first recorded by blues pianist Eddie Boyd, who scored a no. 1 hit with it on the Billboard R&B Chart in 1952. Guy’s rendition featured more hilarious cursing and a crazy solo by his guitarist Ric Jaz Hall, who mostly played rhythm but proved he can shred as well, if given the opportunity. The following clip from July 2017 nicely illustrates all of that. Check out Hall’s solo starting at about 2:25 minutes into the tune.

Yet another great moment occurred when Guy performed Skin Deep, the title track of his 14th studio album from 2008. He was joined on stage by his long-time producer Tom Hambridge who co-wrote the beautiful ballad with Guy and Gary Nicholson. I just loved Guy’s soulful singing in that tune.

Apart from singing and playing great blues tracks like the above, Guy also credited white British blues artists, especially his friend Eric Clapton, with introducing black blues artists to broader, white audiences. He also threw in a bit of Hendrix. Here’s a cool clip of a medley including Voodoo Chile and Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love.

A few words about Guy’s excellent backing musicians, The Damn Right Blues Band. In addition to Sammon and Hall, the members include Orlando Wright (bass) and Tim Awesome Austin (drums). All of these artists are veterans of the Chicago blues scene and have been touring with Guy for more than a decade.

Also, the show had an excellent opening act, The Ben Miller Band. I had never heard of these guys before, who have been around since 2005. They play a dynamite mix of blues, country and bluegrass, using homemade instruments and other unusual equipment. Among others, this includes a one-string washtub bass played by Scott Leeper who is also the band’s drummer. In addition to a standard microphone, lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Miller uses a microphone from an old telephone that creates a unique distorted sound. Rachel Ammons (violin, cello, guitar) and Bob Lewis (bass, guitar, percussion) are also part of the current line-up.

I was very intrigued by this band and plan to check them out more closely. One of the tunes they played last night was a cool cover of Black Betty. Probably the best known version of this traditional African-American work song was released in 1977 by American one-hit rock band Ram Jam.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the sad fact that Wednesday night’s concert was one of the final shows at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. After 18 years, the place is closing down at the end of the month. Guy will return to headline the final show on April 29. A note “To Our Valued Patrons” stated, “As a result of escalating rent, we are being forced to close our doors at the end of April” – what a shame! It was added the club is in the process to select a new location in Manhattan, so at least there appears to be a silver lining here.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube