The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and I hope everybody is doing well. Earlier this week, the passing of David Crosby at age 81 once again reminded us we shouldn’t take music artists of his generation who fortunately are still with us for granted. One consolation is their great music will live on as long as this planet exists – that’s one of the incredible beauties of this art form. Let’s celebrate with another excursion into the amazing world of music with six tunes and, yes, Crosby will be one of our stops.

Bobby Timmons/Moanin’

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with groovy music by Bobby Timmons. The American jazz pianist and composer, who started performing during the first half of the ’50s, was best known as a member of Art Blakey’s band The Jazz Messengers, who he first joined in 1958. After his initial stint with this group, he moved on to Cannonball Adderley’s band in October 1959. Timmons was instrumental in creating soul jazz, a subgenre blending influences from hard bop, blues, soul, gospel and R&B. Several of his well-known compositions were written while he was playing with the two aforementioned bands. One is Moanin’, which first appeared as the title track on a 1958 album by The Jazz Messengers. I’m featuring a version Timmons subsequently recorded for an album released under his name in 1960, This Is Here Is Bobby Timmons. On his first album as the sole leader, Timmons was backed by Sam Jones (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

The Rainmakers/Rainmaker

Let’s jump to the ’80s for our next stop and The Rainmakers, an American pop rock band from Kansas City. When my former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany first introduced me to them with their third studio album Tornado, released in 1987, I instantly loved their jangly guitar sound. Formed in 1983 as a three-piece bar band and fronted by singer-songwriter Bob Walkenhorst, The Rainmakers have put out seven studio albums to date. While their most recent release, Cover Band, dates back to 2015, The Rainmakers still appear to be around as a touring act. After two breakup periods from 1990 to 1994 and 1998 to 2011, the band has been together in their original lineup since 2011. In addition to Walkenhorst (guitar, vocals), their current members include Jeff Porter (guitar, vocals), Rich Ruth (bass, vocals) and Pat Tomek (drums). Here’s the seductive Rainmaker, off the aforementioned Tornado album.

Little Village/Take Another Look

Little Village were a supergroup founded in 1991 by Ry Cooder (guitar, vocals), John Hiatt (guitar, piano, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals) and Jim Keltner (drums). They had worked together on Hiatt’s eighth solo album Bring the Family (May 1987) and decided to form a dedicated band during a break from their own musical projects. Like most supergroups, Little Village were short-lived and only released one eponymous album in February 1992. After a supporting tour of the U.S. and Europe, they disbanded later that same year. While the album didn’t do well commercially, it received a nomination for the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. The record also peaked at no. 23 on the UK Albums Chart. Here’s Take Another Look, credited to Little Village and featuring Lowe on lead vocals.

Grateful Dead/Shakedown Street

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s with a funky tune by the Grateful Dead. While in July 2018, I jokingly declared I had evolved to become a Deadhead from a bonehead, the reality is my knowledge of the Dead remains fairly limited and mostly includes their earlier albums. As such, I had completely forgotten about Shakedown Street, the groovy title track of their 10th studio album from November 1978, produced by the great Lowell George who is best known as the original frontman of Little Feat. Composed by Jerry Garcia with lyrics by longtime collaborator Robert Hunter, the tune also appeared separately as a single, but like most of their other singles, it was dead on arrival and didn’t chart anywhere. The album performed better, reaching no. 41 and no. 42 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I guess the Dead were never about chart success in the first place. Regardless, I dig this funky tune, which soundwise reminds me a bit of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday. That tune predated Shakedown Street by about four months.

Los Lobos/Made to Break Your Heart

Our journey continues in the current century. We’re going to September 2015, which saw the release of Gates of Gold, the 15th studio album by Los Lobos. I would argue this group blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros and norteños, is not just another band from East L.A. where they were founded in 1973 as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. They are also much more than La Bamba, their great rendition of the tune first popularized by Ritchie Valens. It became a no. 1 single for Los Lobos in the U.S. and many other countries in 1987 and remains their best-known song. They remain active to this day and released their most recent album Native Sons in late July 2021. I reviewed it here at the time. For now, let’s listen to Made to Break Your Heart. Co-written by David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez, two of the four co-founding members who are still with Los Lobos, the tune is the opener of the above-mentioned Gates of Gold.

Crosby, Stills & Nash/Long Time Gone

Time to wrap up another trip and come back to celebrate the music by David Crosby. In order to do that, let’s go back to May 1969 and the eponymous debut album by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Crosby who was a brilliant musician but had a volatile character co-founded CSN in 1968 together with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, after he had been dismissed from the Byrds. With Nash joining from The Hollies and Stills coming from the dissolved Buffalo Springfield, CSN are an early example of a supergroup. They became even “more super” when Neil Young joined them as a fourth member in August 1969, just ahead of Woodstock. Among my favorite tunes on CSN’s debut is Long Time Gone, one of the album’s two songs solely penned by Crosby. Another gem on the record, Wooden Ships, was co-written by him, Stills and Paul Kantner. Stills also joined Crosby on lead vocals for Long Time Gone.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above songs. As always, I hope there’s something that tickles your fancy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Los Lobos

It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.

I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.

Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!

Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport ConventionRandy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.

In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major-label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. 

Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”

In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”

Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Songfacts

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube