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

Hall & Oates Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’ To Allentown Fairgrounds

Homecoming gig features duo’s hits from the ’70s and ’80s

Earlier this year, my wife saw Hall & Oates were going to tour the U.S. and suggested we get tickets. While I always liked the pop duo, especially for their smooth ’70s soul-oriented music, they weren’t exactly on my radar screen. Well, I’m glad my wife paid attention and convinced me to see them. In general, our music tastes are very different, and I end up going to most shows by myself. It’s nice when every now and then we find an act we both like. Last night was showtime at The Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pa. And, boy, I have to say Daryl Hall and John Oates, who are now in their early seventies, were in excellent shape, and we had a great time!

Christian & Frances
The music muser with his sweet wife

Before getting to Hall & Oates, I’d like to say a few words about opening act G. Love & Special Sauce. I had never heard of this trio from Philadelphia, featuring frontman Garrett Dutton, a.k.a G. Love (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Jeffrey Clemens (drums) and Jim Prescott (double bass). Wikipedia describes them as “an alternative hip hop band…known for their unique “sloppy” and “laid back” blues sound that encompasses classic R&B. Well, last night, I particularly heard and liked blues-oriented music with the occasional touch of hip hop. Playing as a trio is challenging, but these guys were really bringing it. There was even a bit of on-stage drama when Prescott broke a bass string – yikes! While he was calmly replacing the string and tuning, the two other guys carried on as a duo, as if nothing had happened. After a few songs into their set, I randomly decided to capture this tune called Shooting Hoops. It’s from their eponymous debut album released in May 1994.

On to Hall & Oates. Their gig last night was a homecoming. Daryl Hall was born in Pottstown, Pa., about 30 miles south of Allentown, while John Oates grew up in Philly suburb North Wales, which is approximately 40 miles southeast of Allentown. He was born in New York City. The duo opened their set with one of their biggest hits from the ’80s: Maneater. If I recall it correctly, that song was the first time I heard of Hall & Oates back in Germany. Co-written by John Oates, Daryl Hall and his then-girlfriend Sara Allen, it appeared on Hall & Oates’ 11th studio album H2O from October 1982. The track was also released separately as the record’s lead single and became their fifth no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100

As noted above, I particularly dig Hall & Oates’ more soul-oriented tunes. Apart from loving the genre in general, I feel this type of music perfectly fits Daryl Hall’s vocals. Here’s their great rendition of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.  Co-written by songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, together with producer Phil Spector, this classic was first recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1964 and became their first major and biggest hit topping the charts in U.S., U.K. and Canada. Hall & Oates recorded their beautiful version for the Voices album from July 1980, their ninth studio release. It also became one of four singles from that record and a top 10 hit in the U.S.

Here’s another Hall & Oates classic and perhaps my favorite: She’s Gone, from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that came out in November 1973. Co-written by John Oates and Daryl Hall, the tune was also released as a single and became their first song to chart in the U.S., peaking at no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. While making the charts for a then-young pop duo in and of itself was a significant accomplishment, I find it somewhat mind-boggling the tune didn’t climb higher. The album fared better, hitting no. 33 on the Billboard 200, which was then called Top LPs and Tapes chart. After their debut Whole Oates had failed to make an impact, this was actually a quite important early milestone for Hall & Oates – certainly a nice consolation!

After 11 songs and I would say just over an hour, it was already time for the encore – perhaps the only thing I found a bit measly about the show. But Hall & Oates made it count with four additional nice tracks. Here’s the first: Rich Girl, another ’70s tune and one of my favorites. Written by Daryl Hall for their fifth studio album Bigger Than Both Of Us from August 1976, it became the duo’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. Apparently, the song was written about an ex-boyfriend from Sara Allen who then was together in a relationship with Hall. But Hall didn’t feel rich boy sounded right, so he changed the lyrics.

The last track I’d to highlight is You Make My Dreams, the final song of the encore. Another track from the Voices album, it was co-written by Sara Allen, John Oates and Daryl Hall. It also became the album’s lead single in May 1981 and another hit, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hall & Oates were a hit machine during the first half of the ’80s, especially in the U.S. Between 1981 and 1984, they scored 10 top ten singles there, including five that reached no. 1.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Hall & Oates’ great backing band – except it’s tricky to find info on the musicians on the Internet. On the duo’s official website, there is a section about band members, which when you click on it cheerfully reveals the comment “Coming soon…” Are you kidding me? According to setlist.fm, the U.S. leg of their tour titled Real Deal 2019 kicked off August 15. When exactly are you planning to list your touring musicians, the guys that help you sound as great as you do?! Luckily, this recent story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune has some of the details.

One of the standouts to me was multi-instrumentalist Charles DeChant, who plays saxophone, flute, keyboards and guitar. In addition to Hall & Oates, DeChant’s impressive credits include Mick Jagger, The Temptations, Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Shane Theriot handled lead guitar. He used to be musical director for the TV show Live from Daryl’s House. He has also recorded or performed with many other artists like The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) and Little Feat. The backing band also included a drummer, bassist, second keyboarder (in addition to guitar, Hall played keys as well) and a percussionist. Perhaps once the touring musicians are added to Hall & Oates’ official website, I’d be happy to name them. Yes, Daryl and John you can go for that, yes can do. Just tell your website guy to fix what was probably an oversight!

Setlist
1. Maneater
2. Out Of Touch
3. Adult Education
4. Method of Modern Love
5. Say It Isn’t So
6. One On One
7. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
8. (The Righteous Brothers cover)
9. She’s Gone
10. Sara Smile
11. Is It a Star
12. I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)

Encore
13. Rich Girl
14. Kiss on My List
15. Private Eyes
16. You Make My Dreams

On a more cheerful note about the Hall & Oates website, it does list upcoming U.S. gigs, which include Reno, Nev. (Sep 12), Puyallyp, Wash. (Sep 14) and Charleston, S.C. (Sep. 19). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, YouTube