The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another trip into the beautiful and diverse world of music, six tracks at a time. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and let’s go!

Miles Davis/So What

Today, I’d like to start our journey in August 1959 with some early Miles Davis. I have to admit I find this more accessible than Bitches Brew and other of his later more experimental music I’ve heard. I guess I’m not alone. According to Wikipedia, many critics regard Davis’s Kind of Blue album as his masterpiece, the greatest jazz record, and one of the best albums of all time. In 1976, it became his first album to reach Gold certification in the U.S., and as of 2019, it has reached 5X Platinum. More importantly, the album’s influence reached far beyond jazz. None other than the great Duane Allman, guitarist of The Allman Brothers Band, said his soloing on songs like In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, “comes from Miles and Coltrane, and particularly Kind of Blue.” Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright noted the chord progressions on Kind of Blue influenced the structure of the introductory chords to the song Breathe on their 1973 gem The Dark Side of the Moon. Meanwhile, Davis ended up viewing Kind of Blue and his other early work differently. During a 1986 interview, he said, “I have no feel for it anymore—it’s more like warmed-over turkey.” Here’s the album’s opener So What composed by Davis. BTW, Davis (trumpet) was in formidable company on the album, including saxophone greats John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, as well as Paul Chambers (double bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

Christine McVie/One in a Million

For our next stop, we’re jumping 25 years ahead to January 1984. I trust Christine McVie (born Christine Perfect) doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s safe to assume most folks know her as a long-term member of Fleetwood Mac. She joined the group as keyboarder and vocalist in 1970 after her departure from blues band Chicken Shack and the release of her first solo album Christine Perfect. Following the Mac’s 13th studio album Mirage from June 1982, they went on a temporary hiatus, giving McVie the time to record her second eponymous solo album, Christine McVie. She was backed by Todd Sharp (guitar, backing vocals), George Hawkins (bass, backing vocals) and Steve Ferrone (drums, percussion) who 10 years later would join Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers. Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham (guitar) and Mick Fleetwood (drums) had guest appearances on certain tracks, as had Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. Clearly, McVie didn’t have any challenges to secure high-caliber talent for the album. Here’s One in a Million, co-written by her and Sharp. It’s one of the tunes featuring Winwood who in addition to synthesizer also provided lead and backing vocals. Nice pop-rocker!

The Moody Blues/Watching and Waiting

This next pick has been on my list of earmarked Sunday Six songs for several months – not quite sure what took me so long! Watching and Waiting is the beautiful closer of the Moody Blues’s fifth studio album To Our Children’s Children’s Children, released in November 1969. Co-written by band members Justin Hayward (vocals, guitar, sitar) and Ray Thomas (vocals, flute, tambourine, bass flute, oboe), the tune also appeared separately as a single. It didn’t chart, unlike the album, which climbed to no. 2 in the UK, no. 11 in Canada and no. 14 in the U.S. The band’s remaining members at the time were Mike Pinder (Mellotron, piano), John Lodge (bass) and Graeme Edge (drums, percussion). During a 2014 interview Hayward said, “when we heard that song in its studio beauty, we thought, “This is it! All of those people who had been saying to us for the past 3 or 4 years, “You’ll probably just do another Nights in White Satin with it” — no! We had shivers up the spine, and that kind of stuff. But when it came out and you heard it on the radio, you kept saying, “Turn it up! Turn it up!! Oh no, it’s not going to make it.” So it didn’t happen.”

Tom Faulkner/River On the Rise

On to the ’90s and Tom Faulkner, a great American singer-songwriter who isn’t exactly a household name. My former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany brought him and his excellent 1997 album Lost In The Land Of Texico on my radar screen last year, and this is the second track from that album I’m featuring on The Sunday Six. To date, Faulkner has only released two albums. His most recent one, Raise the Roof, appeared in 2002. For the most part, he has made his living with commercial music for radio and TV. According to this bio on last.fm, Faulkner has created hundreds of national jingles and scores, including some of the most memorable commercial music on television and radio. Most notably, he composed and sang the wildly popular “I Want My Baby Back” for Chili’s, a jingle that has since found its way into motion pictures (Austin Powers) and over a dozen major network TV shows. He also created the multi-award winning music theme for Motel 6 and Tom Bodett, the longest running commercial campaign in the history of advertising (23 years, 5 CLIOs, and counting). Check out River On the Rise, a nice bluesy tune!

Joe Jackson Band/Take It Like a Man

It’s time to feature a couple of songs from the current century, don’t you agree? First, let’s go to March 2003 and Volume 4, the 16th studio album by versatile British music artist Joe Jackson, released as Joe Jackson Band. For this project, Jackson (piano, organ, electric piano, melodica, lead vocals) brought back together his original backing band of Gary Sanford (guitar, backing vocals), Graham Maby (bass, backing vocals) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals). And there’s definitely some of that cool vibe from Jackson’s first three albums Look Sharp! (January 1979), I’m the Man (October 1979) and Beat Crazy (October 1980). Over his now 50-plus-year career, Jackson has touched many different genres ranging from pub rock, new wave, swing, and jazz-oriented pop to even classical music. Here’s the album’s great opener Take It Like a Man, which like all other tunes was penned by Jackson.

Candy Dulfer/Jammin’ Tonight (feat. Nile Rodgers)

And once again, it’s time to wrap up. For this final track, we’re traveling back to the present and a funky tune by Dutch jazz and pop saxophonist Candy Dulfer: Jammin’ Tonight featuring Mr. funky guitar Nile Rodgers. Dulfer, the daughter of Dutch tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer, began playing the drums as a five-year-old before discovering the saxophone a year later. Since the age of seven, she has focused on the tenor saxophone. By the time she was 11, Dulfer made her first recordings for her father’s jazz band De Perikels (the perils). Three years later, she opened up two European concerts for Madonna with her own band Funky Stuff. Two years later, in 1989, she duetted with Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) on the worldwide instrumental hit Lily Was Here, from the motion picture soundtrack of the same name. The following year, she put out her solo debut album Saxuality. The above tune Jammin’ Tonight is from Dulfer’s forthcoming album We Never Stop, which is scheduled for October 28. Funky!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something for ya!

Sources: Wikipedia; last.fm; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week flew by and I can’t believe we’re in June. Time to take a fresh look at new music releases. All of my picks for this revue are on albums released yesterday (June 3).

The Black Moods/Youth Is Wasted On The Young

Let’s kick it off with rock from Tempe, Ariz. The Black Moods, a trio of Josh Kennedy (vocals, guitar), Jordan Hoffman (bass) and Chico Diaz (drums), have been around since 2012. From their Apple Music profile: Combining a bluesy hard rock approach with a bit of grungy swagger, the Black Moods rose from regional Arizona bar band status to major-label touring act with the release of their sophomore LP, Medicine, in 2016. A classic guitar-bass-drums power trio, the band takes inspiration from a host of hard-hitting bands from Led Zeppelin to Foo Fighters, adding their own distinctive nuances to the rock & roll canon…Nicking their name from an offhand comment made by Ray Manzarek describing one of Jim Morrison’s stormy moods in a Doors documentary, they self-released their eponymous debut in 2012 and began establishing themselves as a road band, touring the country…gigs with acts like Jane’s Addiction, Shinedown, Everclear, and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger helped boost their profile over the next couple of years. This brings me to Into the Night, the fourth and latest studio album by The Black Moods and Youth Is Wast On the Young. Credited to the three members of the band and producer Johnny Karkazis, the album opener is a nice rocker!

Crobot/Better Times

Let’s throw in some more rock with Cobot who hail from Pottsville, Pa., a small city about 50 miles west of Allentown. Formed in mid-2011, the band currently includes co-founders Brandon Yeagley (lead vocals, harmonica) and Chris Bishop (guitar, backing vocals), together with Tim Peugh (bass) and Dan Ryan (drums). AllMusic characterizes their music as “rooted in groove-laden, fuzz-drenched hard rock delivered with greasy swagger and reckless abandon.” The group’s new album, their fourth, is titled Feel This. “This is the record we’ve been wanting to do ever since we started,” Yeagley stated on the band’s website. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as a live act,” he explained, adding they recorded 16 songs live in-studio in just 21 days. How about a sample? Here’s Better Times, co-written by Yeagly, Bishop and Ryan. This is fun when you’re in the mood for kickass rock!

Andrew Bird/Faithless Ghost

Time to take it down a notch. Andrew Bird doesn’t fit well into a specific genre. From his AllMusic bio: A virtuosic violinist, singer, songwriter, composer, actor, and expert whistler, Andrew Bird’s career has undergone a variety of stylistic shifts since his early days playing jazz and swing music. While folk and roots music has always played a part in his music, he’s also conversant in contemporary pop and indie rock, and he’s consistently shown a willingness to experiment, even within his more traditionally oriented projects. Bird has been active since 1992 and has released 16 studio albums to date, which includes his latest, Inside Problems. Here’s Faithless Ghost, which like all except one of the 10 other tracks on the album was penned by Bird. It’s an unusual yet catchy tune. In addition to singing, Bird also plays guitar and violin. I like the latter in particular.

Lettuce/RVA Dance

My last pick for this week is new music by American jazz and funk band Lettuce, who I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, the group was formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, the members reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, their debut album Outta There appeared. And outta there they’ve been, with seven additional albums having since appeared. This includes their latest release Unify. Check out opener RVA Dance. I could picture James Brown singing to this funky groove. But it’s pretty cool as is, sans vocals!

And, yes, before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Crobot website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Can you believe we’ve reached the first Sunday in December? Soon those who celebrate will be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ before we all kiss this dreadful second pandemic year goodbye – fuck COVID! Sorry, usually I don’t swear, but I just needed to get this off my chest! On a more upbeat note, this also means it’s time to embark on another music journey. How do you like that transition? And, yes, I’ve put together another eclectic set of six tunes. Come on, hop on board and fugetabout the stupid virus, at least for some time!

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra/Moonlight Serenade

I’d like to start with a timeless jazz classic that takes us back all the way to 1939. When for some reason, Moonlight Serenade randomly came to my mind the other day, I immediately decided the beautiful swing ballad by Glenn Miller would make for a great Sunday Six opener. According to Songfacts, the tune’s origins date back to 1935 and a song titled As I Lay Me Down to Weep, with music by Miller and lyrics by Eddie Heyman. The tune wasn’t recorded at the time, but in 1938, the music became the theme of Miller’s radio broadcasts on NBC. The following year, when Miller who by then had his own band recorded a song called Sunrise Serenade, publisher Robbins Music suggested that he pair it with Moonlight Serenade to make it a theme. Moonlight Serenade was the original As I Lay Me Down to Weep with different lyrics. Miller kept the title but decided to record the music only – smart decision! When it appeared in May 1939, Moonlight Serenade became an immediate sensation and Miller’s signature song. And here we are, 82 years later!

Meat Loaf/Bat Out of Hell

In case Moonlight Serenade put you in a sleepy mood it’s time to wake up, as we jump to October 1977. Bat Out of Hell is the title of the debut album by Michael Lee Aday known as Meat Loaf. The album was produced by Todd Rundgren and written by Jim Steinman. It was based on the musical Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan Steinman had written in 1974. Wikipedia notes the album’s musical style reflected Steinman’s fondness of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen and The Who. Not only did Bat Out of Hell become one of the best-selling records of all time, but it also marked the start of a successful long-term collaboration between Aday and Steinman. Sadly, Steinman passed away at the age of 73 in April this year. Meat Loaf’s most recent studio album Braver Than We Are dates back to December 2016. He was sidelined by back surgeries thereafter. But just last month on his Facebook, he announced a new album for 2022. Even though Bat Out of Hell like pretty much all Meat Loaf songs I’ve heard is a massive production, it’s just an incredible tune.

Percy Sledge/When a Man Loves a Woman

After Meat Loaf’s rock inferno let’s slow things down again with a beautiful soul ballad by Percy Sledge. Co-written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, When a Man Loves a Woman was first recorded by the R&B, soul and gospel singer and released in March 1966. The tune hit no. 1 in the U.S. on both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles charts. The title track of Sledge’s debut album also topped the charts in Canada and reached no. 4 in the UK. When a Man Loves a Woman became his signature song. I just don’t get tired of this tune, which is one of my favorite ballads.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Blue On Black

My next pick is by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Southern rock-flavored Blue On Black was included on the then-20-year-old blues rock guitarist and singer-songwriter’s sophomore album Trouble Is… from October 1997. It was his first record that appeared under the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band moniker. Blue On Black, co-written by Shepherd, Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, became his most successful U.S. chart hit to date, topping the Mainstream Rock chart and reaching no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In contrast, Shepherd’s records have enjoyed huge success on the Top Blues Albums chart, where eight of the nine albums he has released thus far hit no. 1. Shepherd is only 44 years old, so we can hopefully look forward to many more years of great music from him.

The Romantics/Talking in Your Sleep

I can hear the secrets that you keep/When you’re talking in your sleep…I always liked the lyrics of this song by The Romantics. The catchy pop rocker from September 1983 became the biggest hit of the American new wave band that was founded in Detroit in 1977. Credited to all of the group’s five members – Coz Canler (lead guitar, vocals), Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Pete Solley (keyboards), Mike Skill (bass, rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (drums, lead vocals, percussion) – Talking in Your Sleep was the lead single off their fourth studio album In Heat that appeared at the same time. Luckily for the talkative dreamer, she only has sweet things to say about her lover who lies right next to her in bed. The song topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the charts in Canada. It also became a top 30 hit in various other countries, including Australia (no. 14), Germany (no. 18), The Netherlands (no. 24) and Switzerland (no. 20). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar, Sill and Cole being part of the present four-piece that since 1994 has also included Brad Elvis (drums, percussion). How many other bands can you name that have been around for some 44 years with their initial line-up largely intact?

Neil Young/The Painter

And once again we’ve reached the final stop of our Sunday music time travel. Why pick a seemingly arbitrary Neil Young tune? Why not! In fact, that’s kind of the point of The Sunday Six. Anything goes anytime as long as I dig it. The Painter is the opening track of Young’s 26th studio album Prairie Wind that appeared in September 2005. The record’s acoustic-oriented sound is reminiscent of Harvest Moon (1992) and Harvest (1972), which are both among my favorite Neil Young albums. While Prairie Wind doesn’t quite match the two aforementioned records, it still became one of Young’s most successful albums in the later stage of his remarkable 58-year-and-counting career. Like all other tunes on the album, The Painter was written by Young. BTW, speaking of his longevity, Young is coming out with a new album, Barn, on December 10, which he recorded with his longtime backing band Crazy Horse.

* This post has been updated to reflect that Blue On Black was co-written by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, not Shepherd, Danny Tate and Sillers, as had been stated initially.

Source: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube