Playing for Change – Reimaging a World Connected by Music

The other day, I came across an amazing video clip featuring Robbie Robertson and a bunch of well-known and to me unknown, yet pretty talented other musicians from all over the world, playing The Weight, one of my favorite tunes by The Band. At first, I only paid attention to their great version of the iconic song and ignored the chiron at the beginning and the end of the clip that notes “Playing for Change.” Then, I noticed other video clips on YouTube, which were also put together by Playing for Change. Finally, I got curious. Who or what is Playing for Change?

It didn’t take long to find their website, which describes their story as follows: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music… Playing For Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

PFC Co-Founders
PFC co-founders Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke

In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” Roger had so much soul and conviction in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing “Stand By Me” as a Song Around the World. Roger agreed, and when Mark returned with recording equipment and cameras he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger replied, “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.” Ever since that day the Playing For Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.

Creating Songs Around the World inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey and form the Playing For Change Band. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language. Songs Around The World The PFC Band is now touring the world and spreading the message of love and hope to audiences everywhere.

I realize the above may embellish things a bit; still, PFC sounds like an intriguing concept. They also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded through donations and supports arts and music programs for children around the world. Based on the foundation’s website, it looks like a legitimate organization. That being said, this isn’t an endorsement. Let’s get back to what originally brought me here – recorded musicians all over the world performing the same song and everything being neatly put together in pretty compelling video clips. Before getting to the above mentioned Robbie Roberson clip, let’s take a look at some of PFC’s other videos.

Walking Blues (Son House)

Walking Blues was written and first recorded by delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other blues musicians recorded their own versions. This clip features Kevin Roosevelt Moore, aka Keb’ Mo’, along with other musicians from Argentina, South Africa, Spain and Morocco. Apparently, the clip was put together in honor of Johnson’s birthday. Check it out!

Soul Rebel (Bob Marley)

Written by Bob Marley, Soul Rebel is the opener to Soul Rebels, the second studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which appeared in December 1970. This clip features Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Wailers, French guitarist Manu Chao and Jamaican reggae singer Bushman, along with other musicians from Jamaica, Spain, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina and the U.S. Feel free to groove along!

Listen to the Music (Tom Johnston)

Listen to the Music is a classic by The Doobie Brothers from their second studio album Toulouse Street released in July 1972. It was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, one of the band’s founding members. Apart from Johnston and fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the clip features other musicians from Venezuela, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Japan, Argentina, Senegal, Congo, South Africa and the U.S., including a gospel choir from Mississippi. This is just a joy to watch!

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

While perhaps best known by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan. He first recorded it for John Wesley Harding, his eighth studio album from December 1967. Check out this riveting take featuring Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, John Densmore of The Doors and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, along with other musicians from Italy, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Niger, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali and the U.S. The latter include singers and dancers from the Lakota, a native American tribe that is part of the Great Sioux Nation. This is just mind-boggling to watch!

The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

And finally, here comes the crown jewel that inspired the post: The Weight written by Robbie Robertson, and first recorded for the debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink, released in July 1968. This clip was co-produced by PFC co-founder Mark Johnson and Robbie’s son Sebastian Johnson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song. And it’s quite a star-studded affair: In addition to Robertson, the clip features Ringo Starr, blues guitarist Marcus King, roots rockers Larkin Poe and country-rock guitarist Lucas Nelson, along with other musicians from Italy, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal and Jamaica – what a beautiful tribute to this great tune. Just watch the smile on Robertson’s face at the end. He knows how figgin’ awesome this came out – priceless!

PFC clearly has their go-to musicians in each country, and they’re not hobby musicians. Based on PFC’s website, all musicians are professionals who appear to be recognized within their countries. While as such one could argue PFC doesn’t seem to use amateur/ hobby musicians, it doesn’t take away anything of the concept’s beauty, in my view. Most of their videos capture songs performed by individual artists from different countries or by the PFC band. But it’s the song-around-the-world videos I find most impressive. You can watch all of PFC’s clips on their YouTube channel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Playing For Change website; Playing for Change Foundation website; YouTube

My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 2: New Music & 2019 Preview

Part 1 of this 2-part series looked back on the concerts I was fortunate to catch this year. Another significant aspect of my 2018 journey was listening to music, both familiar and new. While most of the music that’s coming out these days isn’t my cup of tea, I still ended up reviewing 24 new releases this year. About half (13) are studio albums, while the remainder is a mix of reissues, vault type releases and live records. Even if you only consider the new studio releases, 13 albums over the course of one year, or an average of approximately one per month, isn’t so bad for somebody who almost entirely lives in the past when it comes to music.

From the above studio albums, I’d like to call out the following: John Mellencamp, Other People’s Stuff, Dec 7 (review); Greta Van Fleet, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, Oct 19 (review); Paul McCartney, Egypt Station, Sep 7 (review); Buddy Guy, The Blues Is Alive And Well, Jun 15 (review); Roger Daltrey, As Long As I Have You, June 1 (review); and Sting & Shaggy, 44/876, Apr 20 (review). Following are some clips.

Teardrops Will Fall, a ’60s tune co-written by Gerry Granaham and Marion Smith, was first recorded by John Mellencamp for his June 2003 album Trouble No More. But it actually sounds he could have taken the tune from his 1987 gem The Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp’s first record where he moved away from straight rock toward a more roots-oriented sound.

While Greta Van Fleet will probably need to find a more original style to ensure their longevity, selfishly, I can’t deny getting a kick out of their Led Zeppelin-style rock. The Cold Wind from their new album is a great example. I don’t know of any other band that sounds like the mighty early Zep. One thing is for sure: Robert Plant can no longer deliver vocals with this degree of intensity.

Egypt Station is Paul McCartney’s 17th solo study album. Here’s I Don’t Know, a classic McCartney piano-driven pop song. Yes, Macca’s voice has noticeably changed since New from October 2013, but I actually think it goes pretty well with his latest songs. Based on YouTube clips I’ve watched, I’m less sure about Beatles tunes. Many are in high keys and as such tough to sing, so Macca may have to make some adjustments.

Moving on to Buddy Guy, who at age 82 shows no signs of slowing down. One of the highlights of his latest record is Cognac, where he trades guitar licks with Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. If you’re a guitarist with basic blues skills, you just feel like grabbing your instrument and joining in!

As Long As I Have You is Roger Daltrey’s first solo album in close to 26 years. Here’s the excellent title track, a cover of a tune that initially was recorded by soul singer Garnet Mimms in 1964. The Who also played it in their early days.

Last but not least in the new studio album category is what at first sight may look like a somewhat odd pairing: Sting & Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy. But they actually blend quite well, and here’s some pretty groovy evidence: Just One Lifetime.

This year also saw various great reissues and songs from the vault type albums. The two releases I’d like to highlight here are the reissue of The Beatles’ White Album (review) and Songs For Judy, an excellent Neil Young compilation of live solo performances from his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse (review).

To me the true revelation of the Beatles’ reissue are the so-called Esher Demos, early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the White Album. They were all recorded at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. Here’s the Esher demo of Revolution.

The song I’d like to call out from Neil Young’s recent vault release is The Needle And The Damage Done. It remains one of my favorite tunes from Harvest, Young’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1972.

I also would like to acknowledge two Jimi Hendrix releases: The reissue of Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Both Sides Of The Sky, the third in a trilogy of posthumous albums after Valleys Of Neptune  (2010) and People, Hell and Angels (2013).

The last category of 2018 albums I’d like to touch on are live releases. I already noted Neil Young’s record. Three others that deserve to be called out are Bruce Springsteen’s Springsteen On Broadway (review), Sheryl Crow’s Live At The Capitol Theatre (review) and Soulfire Live (review) by Little Steven and The Disciples of SoulSpringsteen On Broadway is one of the best new albums I’ve heard this year. While Bruce Springsteen as a great music performer wasn’t any news to me, I had not fully appreciated his compelling verbal story-telling capabilities. There’s a bit of that on the Live/1975-1985 box set where Springsteen talks about how he was drafted for Vietnam and that his dad was happy they didn’t take him. Springsteen on Broadway takes his story-telling to another level. In fact, Springsteen’s monologues that precede his songs are almost more compelling than the music performances. Here’s part 1 of the introduction to My Hometown.

Next up: Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy is one of my favorite Crow tunes from her eponymous second studio album released in September 1996. On the new live album, she starts off with another unidentified song I don’t recognize, before launching into Happy.

On to Little Steven. Soulfire Live captures his 2017 tour with The Disciples of Soul in support of his excellent Soulfire album, one of my favorite new records from that year. Among the live album’s highlights is a terrific cover of the Etta James tune Blues Is My Business. In addition to Steven demonstrating that he can be more than just a side-kick,  The Disciples of Soul prove what a terrific backing band they are.

So what’s in store for my music journey next year? On the concert front the only thing I can say for sure is I’m thrilled I got a ticket for The Rolling Stones on June 13 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It will only be my second time to see the Stones. Three other artists who are currently on my radar screen are John Mellencamp, John Mayall  and Paul McCartney.

Mellencamp has a series of gigs in New Jersey and New York at the end of February. I’d definitely enjoy seeing him again! Mayall has started booking dates in Europe for February and March. I’ve never been to one of his shows and hope he’ll add a U.S. leg to the tour that includes at least one logistically feasible concert. As for McCartney, his current tour schedule shows U.S. gigs between late May and mid-June. Unfortunately, none of them are within reasonable reach, so hopefully there will be additional dates closer to my location.

To frequent visitors of the blog it won’t come as a shock that I have every intention to continue seeing tribute bands. In fact, I already have a ticket for Neil Young tribute Decade for January 11 in Asbury Park, N.J., where they are going to recreate Young’s MTV Unplugged concert from 1993 – should be pretty cool! On February 23, I’m hoping to see Good Stuff, a great new tribute to Steely Dan, Gino Vannelli, Sting and Stevie Wonder. I’m planning to do more about these guys in the near future. Assuming the above British Invasion and Rock The Farm festivals will happen again in 2019, I certainly want to return to both events. Undoubtedly, there will also be plenty of other tribute opportunities.

2019 Outlook

Before finally wrapping up this post, I also would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the current status of the blog. I’m generally pretty happy where things stand at this time. Sticking with it wasn’t necessarily a given when I started out in late June 2016. While I’ve always emphasized I’m doing this because of my passion about the subject of music, not to become “famous,” I cannot deny that getting recognition in the form of comments, likes and followers is encouraging. I’m happy traffic has multiplied from 2017 and to date includes visitors from more than 70 countries.

I’d like to thank all readers, especially those who keep returning and leave comments. Apart from learning new stuff about music, feedback can also help me gain new perspectives. Whether you’re a fist-time visitor or one of the regulars, I’d like to wish you a great and peaceful Holiday season. And if you’re a fellow music blogger, to borrow creatively from Neil Young, keep on rockin’ in the blogosphere!

Christian

Rocking Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

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

Jimi Hendrix’s “Both Sides Of The Sky” Is Fully Released

Last album in trilogy of posthumous records

While I’m not a Jimi Hendrix expert, I don’t detect any no new revelations on Both Sides Of The Sky. In fact, if anything, I’d say it pretty much reflects what I’ve heard from Hendrix before. And that’s quite alright with me. After all, we’re talking about possibly the best rock guitarist who has ever walked the planet. So more of the same really means more of the same brilliance. In my book that’s not a reason to complain. Plus, I have to say, this album also provides a nice occasion to rediscover Hendrix.

The record, which was fully released yesterday (March 9), is the third in a trilogy of posthumous albums after Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell and Angels (2013). It captures studio recordings Hendrix made between 1968 and 1970. All three albums were co-produced by Eddie Kramer, Hendrix’s go-to recording engineer for all records that appeared during his lifetime. The full release was preceded by three upfront singles: The Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy, as well as the Hendrix compositions Hear My Train A Comin’ and Lover Man, which I covered in previous posts.

Here are clips of Mannish Boy, a nice take of the Waters classic, and Lover Man, which Hendrix modeled after B.B. King’s Rock Me Baby.

“He used the studio as a rehearsal place,” Kramer told NPR, commenting on the transitional period for Hendrix this collection from the vault captures. These recordings happened shortly after the final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland had appeared and before he would record his last and only album with Band Of Gypsies at Fillmore East in January 1970. “Thank goodness that was happening because the tape was running, and he would bring in different musicians to try to figure out what he was gonna do with his musical direction.”

These different artists included Stephen Stills, Johnny Winter and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood, who appear on different tracks of the album. The collaborations with Stills include his original tune $20 Fine and a great pre-Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young  recording of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. Winter joins Hendrix on Things I Used To Do, a great electric slide guitar blues. Youngblood provides strong vocals and a killer saxophone solo on Georgia Blues. On that tune, I also dig what sounds like a Hammond in the background – no idea who was playing it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find YouTube clips for any of these tunes, but the entire album is still available for free streaming on NPR here. It’s also on regular streaming platforms, including Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify.

Eddie Kramer

“Sometimes, a song would take him nine months to bring to completion, and a lot of these songs are that,” Kramer explained during the above NPR interview. “They are the takes prior to it being completed, which makes them very exciting.” The NPR segment further reported that according to Kramer, the Hendrix vault has pretty much been exhausted when it comes to unreleased studio recordings but still includes plenty of additional live material. Some 47 years after Hendrix’s death, one does indeed wonder how much unreleased material could possibly be left.

Asked whether working on Hendrix music is still meaningful to him, Kramer said, “Oh my goodness, yes, I love working on this stuff. I get so excited just putting the tapes up and hearing his voice. I wanna keep doing Jimi Hendrix for the rest of time.”

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Jimi Hendrix/Hear My Train A Coming

The above clip is the second tune released yesterday (February 15) in advance of Both Sides Of The Sky, a posthumous album by Jimi Hendrix, set to come out March 9. Written by Hendrix and first recorded in London in 1967, Hear My Train A Coming became a staple during Hendrix live shows but didn’t appear on any of his albums until now.

According to a USA Today story, this version of the blues shredder was recorded in New York in April 1969 and was partially inspired by Muddy Waters, one Hendrix’s influences. It is one of the last songs recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which in addition to Hendrix included bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Michell.

“I love the feeling of being life in the studio ,” commented Eddie Kramer, recording engineer for every Hendrix album during the guitarist’s life, during a video interview posted on the official Hendrix Facebook page. “This is an absolutely right-on performance from Jimi,” added Kramer who co-produced the record with John McDermott and Jimi’s sister and Janie Hendrix, head of the Hendrix estate. See clip below for entire interview.

While this new tune is cool, I think I prefer the previous upfront release of Mannish Boy. The forthcoming record also features various collaborations that sound intriguing, including with Stephen Stills on the Joni Mitchell tune Woodstock, and Johnny Winter on Things I Used to Do, a blues track written and released by New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim in 1953.

Sources: Wikipedia, USA Today, Jimi Hendrix Facebook page, Rolling Stone, YouTube