On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 3

It’s time to take another look at music history. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete account of events that happened on the select date. With that reminder out of the way, let’s take a look at February 3.

1959: Sadly, the first item here is the tragic and untimely death of early rock & roll star Buddy Holly at age 22. During a short 7-year professional career, the man from Lubbock, Texas recorded such original gems as That’ll Be the Day, Words of Love, Everyday, Not Fade Away and It’s So Easy, as well as great tunes penned by other songwriters like Peggy Sue and Oh, Boy! On January 3, 1959, Holly and his band embarked on the Winter Dance Party tour. Following a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were supposed to travel to their next show in Mason City, Iowa. After Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized for frostbites in his toes due to icy conditions on the tour bus, Holly decided to look for alternate transportation and chartered a small propeller plane. But the four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza never reached its destination. In the early morning hours of February 3, it crashed into a frozen cornfield close to Mason City, instantly killing Holly and the three other people on board: Fellow rock & roll artists Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper), as well as the pilot Roger Peterson. In 1971, the tragic event became known as “The Day the Music Died” in American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s tune American Pie.

1967: The Beatles were at Abbey Road’s EMI Studios to add overdubs to A Day in the Life, one of my all-time favorite tunes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. According to The Beatles Bible, the session began at 7:00 pm and finished at 1:15am the following morning. Each of the overdubs replaced previously-recorded parts: Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s bass and drums parts they had recorded on January 20. McCartney then overdubbed his lead vocals to correct a wrong word sung during the previous session. Starr’s drum part recorded that night became one of his most- admired upon the album’s release in May of the same year. Here’s a neat clip.

1973: Elton John hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Crocodile Rock. According to Songfacts, John said the retro tune contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including “Little Darlin'”, “At The Hop” and “Oh Carol” as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song “See You Later Alligator” – Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” even gets a mention, as that’s what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock. With music written by John and lyrics penned by Bernie Taupin, Crocodile Rock was John’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. It also topped the charts in other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, and became a top 5 hit in Australia, the UK and a few other European countries. Crocodile Rock was also included on John’s sixth studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, which had been released in January that same year.

1979: The Blues Brothers featuring comedians and actors John Belushi (“Joliet” Jake Blues ) and Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) proved they were no joke, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. with their debut Briefcase Full of Blues. Capturing a live gig in Los Angeles from September 1979, the album also featured a formidable backing band. Among others, it included guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, both formerly of Booker T. & the M.G.’s., and blues guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Buddy Guy and Etta James. Belushi, Aykroyd, Cropper, Dunn and Murphy all would appear the following year in the cult comedy picture The Blues Brothers. Here’s their rendition of the 1967 Sam & Dave classic Soul Man, a tune written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

1986: Dire Straits were on top of the UK chart with their fifth studio album Brothers in Arms. The British band’s second-to-last studio release turned out to be their most successful one. It also reached no. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various other European countries. Additionally, with more than 30 million copies sold globally, Brothers in Arms is one of the world’s best-selling albums. It also holds the distinction of being one of the first albums recorded all digitally (DDD). One could argue its extremely clean sound gave it a bit of a sterile feel. Here’s the beautiful Your Latest Trick penned by Mark Knopfler, the group’s leader and main songwriter. The stunning saxophone part was played by American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music Calendar; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; This Day In Music; YouTube

John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 21

After more than two months, I thought this would be a good time for another installment of the recurring music history feature. These posts are driven by happenings that sufficiently intrigue me, which limits their number, plus I’ve already covered numerous dates. But it seems to me there is still plenty left to explore.

As on previous occasions, this post is an arbitrary selection of events, not an attempt to capture everything that happened on that date. For example, while as a parent I find child birth a beautiful thing, I don’t include birthdays of music artists’ children. However, birthdays of the artists qualify. But if you die to know, Jade Jagger, daughter of Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger, one of eight children Mick has with five women, was born on October 21, 1971 in Paris, France. With that important factoid out of the way, let’s get to some other events that happened on October 21 throughout rock & roll history.

1940: Manfred Mann was born as Michael Lubowitz in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1961, he moved to the U.K. and began his long music career. He initially became successful with a band named Manfred Mann and a series of hits in the mid to late ‘60s like Do Wah Diddy DiddySha La La and Pretty Flamingo. Immediately after that band’s breakup, Mann formed experimental jazz rock outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three. They lasted for two years and two albums before Mann found long-lasting success with progressive rockers Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. They had hits throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, especially with covers of Bruce Springsteen tunes like Spirits In The Night and Blinded By The Light. After a hiatus in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the band still appears to be active to this day. Mann has also released various solo albums. Here’s a clip of Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Mann’s first number one single released in July 1964. Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, the song was first recorded in 1963 as Do-Wah-Diddy by American vocal group The Exciters.

1941: Steve Cropper was born as Steven Lee Cropper on a farm near Dora, Missouri. An accomplished guitarist, who is ranked at no. 39 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, Cropper got his first guitar via mail order as a 14-year-old. At the time, he was already living in Memphis, Tenn. where in 1964 be became A&R man of Stax Records and a founding member of the label’s house band Booker T. & The M.G.’s. Together with the band, be backed soul legends, such as Otis ReddingSam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, and co-wrote some of their songs like (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, Soul Man and In The Midnight Hour. Booker T. & The M.G.’s also released their own music. During the second half of the ’70s, Cropper became a member of The Blues Brothers. He has also worked as a producer with many artists. Here’s a great clip of a Sam & Dave performance of Soul Man from 1974 – always loved that tune and Cropper’s guitar work on it!

1957: Steve Lukather was born as Steven Lee Lukather in the San Fernando Valley, Calif. The prolific session guitarist is best known for being a longtime member of Toto, which he co-founded with David Paich (keyboards), Steve Porcaro (keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums) in 1976. Lukather also is a songwriter, arranger and producer. He played guitar and bass on various tracks of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album from 1982. While Beat It was among those songs, he did not play the killer solo on that tune, which was performed by Eddie Van Halen. Lukather has also released seven solo records to date. He is currently on the road with Toto for their 40th anniversary tour. Here’s a clip of I Won’t Hold You Back, a ballad Lukather wrote for Toto IV, the band’s most successful album released in April 1982.

1965: As part of the recording sessions for their sixth studio album Rubber SoulThe Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios. Following an unsatisfactory attempt to record Norwegian Wood 10 days earlier, they did three additional takes on October 21, of which they ended up selecting the last. Lyrically influenced by Bob Dylan and credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the tune is an early example of a Western pop song featuring Indian instruments. In this case, it was the sitar played by George Harrison, who had been inspired by sitar maestro and his friend Ravi Shankar.

1976: Keith Moon performed his last public show with The Who at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada. It was the final gig of the band’s 1976 tour. Moon’s lifestyle had begun to impact his health and performance several years earlier. In perhaps the most infamous incident, Moon passed out on stage at Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif. during the first U.S. date of The Who’s 1973 Quadrophenia tour. Prompted by Pete Townshend who asked whether anyone in the audience was good at playing the drums, Scot Halpin, a drummer, stepped forward and played the rest of the show. Moon also faced challenges during the ’76 tour. By the end of the U.S. leg in Miami in August, a delirious Moon was treated in a hospital for eight days. When The Who performed a private show at a theater in London in December 1977 for The Kids Are Alright, a visibly overweight Moon had difficulty sustaining a solid performance. Moon passed away in September 1978 at the age of 32 from an overdose of a medication to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Here’s a clip of Moon in action with The Who during a raucous 1967 performance of My Generation. As a guitar lover, I’m glad Townshend no longer smashes his gear these days.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, YouTube