The Hardware: Vox Continental

Compact keyboard with characteristic sound became hit among touring bands in ’60s

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When I listened to Light My Fire by The Doors the other day, I was reminded of Ray Manzarek’s distinct keyboard on that tune, a sound I’ve always loved. It also came to me that I hadn’t done a post on important music hardware in a long time – two good reasons to write about the Vox Continental, a handy and cool-looking organ that became popular in the ’60s and can be heard on many songs released during that decade and thereafter.

For those who are visiting my blog for the first time or haven’t seen one of my previous hardware posts, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not an engineering guy; in fact, having two left hands, it’s more of the opposite! As such, one could say there’s a certain degree of irony that I write about the subject. But while I’m not exactly a techie and therefore don’t go deeply into the technical aspects, music gear can still excite me like a little child, primarily from a sound and visual perspective. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Thomas Walter Jennings
Jennings Organ Company founder Thomas Walter Jennings at his Dartford factory in Kent, England in 1964

Prior to the Vox Continental’s introduction in England in 1962, the Vox brand name had been synonymous with guitar amplifiers, especially the Vox AC30 used by The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other ’60s bands. However, as its name already indicates, the company that made the amps, The Jennings Organ Company founded by Thomas Walter Jennings in Kent, England after the Second World War and renamed Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957, started out as a manufacturer of home and church organs. Their first successful product was the Univox, an electronic keyboard similar to the Clavioline.

The Vox Continental is a so-called combo keyboard. Does it come with French fries and a Coke you might ask? Well, not quite. Combo actually is another (British) term for band. Okay, it’s a keyboard for a band, but so is a Hammond or a regular piano, so what’s the big deal? While pianos were frequently used in the recording studio, amplifying their sound during live performances was tricky. Hammond organs like the mighty B3 certainly could meet volume requirements, but they were pretty clunky. A compact combo keyboard like the Vox Continental offered a great solution. It also looked pretty cool!

Vox Continental Electronics
The electronic inside of a Vox Continental

The Vox Continental was made possible by the invention of transistors that were less heavy and smaller than the electron tubes used in big electronic organs. The handy keyboard came in two basic variations, a single manual and a dual manual. One of the Continental’s distinct visual features is its reversed colored keys: what on a regular keyboard are the white keys are black, while the traditionally black keys are white (see image on top of the post). The top part covering the electronics with its orange or grey finish stands out as well. The curving and removable chrome stand is another distinct feature. Without a bass section, no bass pedals, no percussion, no sustain and only a single-speed vibrato, the Vox Continental was fairly archaic. Yet because of its sound and the aforementioned design features, the instrument became very popular.

Initially, Vox Continental keyboards were made at two plants in Kent: JMI’s facility in Dartford and the Vox Sound plant in Erith. In 1964, Jennings signed a licensing deal with the Thomas Organ Company in the U.S. JMI and Thomas subsequently also formed EME (Elletronica Musicale Europea), a joint venture with Italian guitar and keyboard manufacturer EKO. With the advent of the Moog and other more elaborate keyboards by the early ’70s, the appeal of Vox Continental organs started to decrease, and production was phased out. While it continued to have a significant following and remains sought-after, it took until September 2017 that Vox revived the Continental with an updated version. Since 1992, the company has been owned by Japanese electronics corporation Korg.

As noted at the outset, the Vox Continental is featured in many songs released during the ’60s and thereafter. This post wouldn’t be complete without some examples.

The House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)

The version of the traditional by The Animals featuring Alan Price on keys is one of the most compelling showcases of the Vox Continental, in my humble opinion as somebody who isn’t a keyboard player. Sure, the sound isn’t as fat and growling as the Hammond B3; in fact, it’s rather thin by comparison, and yet it still sounds awesome at least to my ears!

Because (The Dave Clark Five)

Written by Dave Clark, Because was recorded for the band’s third U.S. studio album American Tour from August 1964. The song also appeared as a single and became the band’s second most successful hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of an appearance on American music variety TV program Shindig! from 1965. While it is much less dominant than in The House Of The Rising Sun, one can nicely see Mike Smith playing the organ.

I’m A Believer (The Monkees)

I’m A Believer appeared on More Of The Monkees, the band’s second studio album released in January 1967, and as the record’s lead single in November the previous year. Written by Neil Diamond, the song became the band’s most successful hit, topping the charts in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and Germany, among others. While Peter Tork had known how to play keyboards, the keyboarder on the studio recording was Stan Free. Initially formed a musical acting quartet for a TV series, all of The Monkees eventually learned how to play their instruments. Here’s a TV clip from 1966, which looks like the guys know how to play for real; if they’re faking, it’s certainly done well!

Light My Fire (The Doors)

Credited to all members of the band, Light My Fire was included on The Doors’ eponymous debut album issued in January 1967. It also became the record’s second single released in April that year. It was the first of their two no. 1 U.S. hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune is another great example where the Vox Continental is quite dominant.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the title track of Iron Butterfly’s second studio album from June 1968. It was written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Doug Ingle. Clocking at more than 17 minutes, the track makes up the record’s entire side B. Iron Butterfly also released a single version, which was shortened to just under three minutes. Here’s a clip of the track in its entire mighty.

Watching The Detectives (Elvis Costello)

After production of Vox Continental keyboards had seized, the combo organs remained popular, as previously noted. One of their champions was Steve Nieve, who among others became known as keyboarder in Elvis Costello’s backing band The Attractions. Here’s a clip of Watching The Detectives from Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, released in July 1977. Written by Costello, the tune became his first hit, peaking at no. 15 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart.

Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Do Me Like That, the last song I’d like to highlight in this post, is another post ’60s example featuring a Vox Continental, played by Benmont Tench in this case. It appears on Damn The Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from October 1979. In November that year, the song also came out as the record’s lead single. Written by Petty, it became the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Engineering And Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Combo Organ Heaven, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 5

1957: The music program American Bandstand debuted on U.S. national television. It was hosted by Dick Clark who had joined the show the previous year when it still had been known as Bandstand and aired on Philadelphia TV station WFIL-TV (now local ABC affiliate WPVI-TV). The program, which ran until 1989, featured many artists who lip-synced their latest hits. While as such it was chart-oriented, it coincided with time periods when great music was part of the mainstream. So it’s perhaps not a surprise to see which artists appeared on the show. According to Wikipedia, American Bandstand  helped introduce famous artists to Americans, such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. Some of the other acts who were on the program included The Animals, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Van Morrison, R.E.M., Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and even Pink Floyd. Here’s a clip of a 1966 appearance of Roy Orbison performing Oh, Pretty Woman, featuring one of the coolest ’60s guitar riffs that still sounds awesome to this day.

1966: The Beatles released their seventh studio album in the U.K., Revolver, which many fans consider the band’s best record. While it’s undoubtedly a great album, if I had to choose, I would go with the follow-on release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolver, apart from gems like Taxman, Eleanor Rigby and Got To Get You Into My Life, stands out for the introduction of various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings, varispeeding and, most significantly, Artificial Double Tracking (ADT). George Martin’s string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby broke conventions by blending classical and pop music. George Harrison, who took on a bigger role in the album’s songwriting, introduced another Indian instrument to pop music after the sitar on predecessor Rubber Soul: the tambura. Here’s a clip of Eleanor Rigby.

1978: The Rolling Stones hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Miss You, their eighth and last no. 1 single in the U.S. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was written by Jagger while jamming with Billy Preston during rehearsals in 1977. It became the lead single for Some Girls, the band’s 14th and 16th British and American studio album, respectively. Apparently, there is some disagreement between Jagger and Ronnie Wood who maintain the track wasn’t supposed to be a disco song, while according to Richards, “Miss You’ was a damn good disco record; it was calculated to be one.” To me it’s obvious that Richards hates the tune. In my humble opinion, there’s no question the Stones have released much better songs.

1984: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played the first of 10 gigs at Brendan Byrne Arena, now called Meadowlands Arena, in East Rutherford, N.J. during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour, Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. The show included two sets and an encore, with a total of 28 tracks. As is typical for The Boss, he went far beyond the album that the tour supported and dug deep into his catalog. He also played a number of covers. Here’s a cool clip of a 21-minute medley captured during the same tour two weeks earlier in Toronto, Canada. The medley includes Devil With The Blue Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, CC Rider, Jenny Jenny, I Hear A Train, Twist And Shout and Do You Love Me. The band is absolutely killing it – rock & roll simply doesn’t get better than this! The crazy thing is that Springsteen pretty performed with the same intensity 32 years later when I saw him last in August 2016 at MetLife Stadium, right across the highway from Meadowlands.

1992: Jeff Porcaro, best known as co-founder and drummer of Toto, passed away at the young age of 38 years. The circumstances of his death remain ambiguous. According to the band history on the official Toto website, Porcaro died from a heart attack that resulted from a severe allergic reaction to chemicals in pesticide he had sprayed in his garden earlier that day. But the Los Angeles Times reported the heart attack stemmed from atherosclerosis triggered by years of cocaine use. One thing is clear: Porcaro was an excellent, sought after session drummer, who apart from Toto worked with Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Boz Scaggs, among others. Here’s a clip of Rosanna from Toto IV, which I think features some of Porcaro’s finest drum work.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music.com; Billboard Hot 100 chart history; setlist.fm; Toto website; YouTube

If You Can’t See The One You Love, See The One You Can

According to my good music blogger friend Music Enthusiast, who only not writes a great blog but also seems to be a pretty good guitarist, I’m the King of the Tribute Band. As such, I thought I have to live up to the kind title and do a piece on tribute bands.

In 1970, Stephen Stills wrote the lyrics, And if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Since this pretty much captures how I generally feel about tribute bands, I used a variation of Stills’ words as the headline for this post.

I know some folks are only mildly excited about the concept. While I acknowledge it’s hard to find tribute bands that sound exactly like the real artists, as long as they don’t sound terrible, I enjoy seeing them. Since I usually do some research before going to a show, I’ve yet to have a bad experience.

Here’s how I look at it. With today’s oftentimes outrageous ticket prices, I simply can’t afford to see everybody I like; and even if I could, many of my favorite artists or bands are no longer around. Some of the best tribute bands I’ve seen performed at free summer-concert-in-the-park type of events, or music festivals with very reasonable cover charges. So for little or no money I can listen to music I dig – not much of a downside here, in my opinion!

Following are some tribute bands I like and have seen over the past couple of years.

Who’s Next

Their name already pretty much says it all. Who’s Next is a tribute to The Who. Like The Who, I’ve seen them twice and thought they were dynamite. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete TownshendDave McDonald as Roger DaltreyMike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Apart from nicely capturing the sound and energy of the British rockers, these four guys also look a bit like their heroes. All of this is pretty remarkable, given the band doesn’t appear to perform frequently. For more information, check out their website. Here’s The Real Me and 5:15 I captured earlier this year during a British Invasion festival in Atlantic City.

Britain’s Finest

As a huge fan of The Beatles, of course I need to include a tribute band in this post! There are many tribute acts to the Fab Four, and I must have seen at least half a dozen myself. One of the best if not the best is Britain’s Finest. Similar to Who’s Next, their show is about both recreating the sound and the looks – they even mimic The Beatles’ humor. According to their Facebook page, Britain’s Finest were founded in Los Angeles in September 2011. Their lineup features Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). Here’s a clip of She Loves You.

The Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philadelphia. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound pretty awesome:  Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Carl Crabtree (saxophone, organ, acoustic guitar). For more information, check out their website. Here’s their rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

STARMAN: The Bowie Tribute

Formed in 2014, STARMAN is a tribute band to David Bowie. While Bowie obviously was a very well-known artist, I was still intrigued when I learned about these guys recently. Unlike The Beatles, I don’t think there are many Bowie tributes out there, which was in part why I decided to catch one of their recent gigs. In addition to Bowie’s songs, this Jersey band captures the looks and stage shows during different times of his career. STARMAN are Johwie Bowie (lead vocals), David Citron (keyboards, vocals), Tom Coughlin (saxophone, guitar, vocals), Jody Lynn Lisa (vocals, percussion), Mark Christopher (lead guitar), Dan D’Elia (drums) and Phil Liebergall (bass, vocals). Additional information can be found on their website. Here’s a clip of Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City from the above mentioned show I attended.

TUSK

TUSK, another band from New Jersey, is an excellent tribute to Fleetwood Mac I’ve seen a couple of times. While their website and Facebook page don’t mention when they were founded, it’s clear their members are longtime artists. The band, which captures Fleetwood Mac during their most commercially successful phase, features Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie NicksKim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVieScott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey BuckinghamRandy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie, and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood. According to their website, TUSK has a packed schedule and tours nationally. What struck me the most about them was how well they capture Mac’s harmony vocals. Check out this clip of The Chain.

Hotel California

To recreate the music of the Eagles, especially the harmony vocals, is a formidable task. While I’ve seen a few Eagles tribute bands, Hotel California from Toronto, Canada has been the most compelling thus far. Undoubtedly, at least in part this must be the result of their longtime experience – the band was founded in 1986. The current lineup includes  Andy Lapointe  (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals) and Kevin O’Donnell (drums, vocals). The band’s website reveals that they tour heavily throughout Canada and the U.S. Here’s a nice highlights reel. While it’s a few years old, this is how I recall they sounded when I saw them last September.

Get The Led Out

Get The Led Out, another band from Philadelphia, are an amazing Led Zeppelin tribute that got together in 2003. Rather than aiming to look like Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham or sound like they did in concert, these guys are all about bringing Zeppelin’s studio sound live to the stage. And that takes more than four musicians – six to be precise: Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond  (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals), Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion) and Adam Ferraiolo (drums, percussion). In addition, Diana DeSantis serves as guest vocalist for The Battle Of Evermore. I saw GTLO last November, and boy did they kick ass! The band’s current national tour schedule is on their website. Here’s a clip of Whole Lotta Love.

Echoes

This Pink Floyd tribute band from Delaware was founded in 1991. I’ve had the fortune to experience the real Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) twice and was really impressed how well Echoes recreated their complex music when I saw them last September. The band includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long  (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey  (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals). Here’s a highlights reel from their website.

Yes, I’ve seen many tribute bands, and the king is ready to see more! One event I particularly look forward to in this context is Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September. This annual one-day music festival features an impressive amount of tribute bands. In addition to Decade and TUSK, the 2018 lineup includes tributes to AC/DC, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses, among others. Best of all, the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which puts on Rock The Farm, leverages the event to raise money for addiction recovery programs and other related services. For more information, visit https://rockthefarmnj.com/

Sources: Who’s Next website, Britain’s Finest Facebook page; The Glimmer Twins website; STARMAN website; TUSK website; Hotel California website; Get The Led Out website; Echoes website; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 28

Recently after a longer break, I decided to do a new installment of this recurring feature. Perhaps I got bitten by the rock & roll history bug, so here’s another one.

1957: Rock & roll pioneer and honky-tonk piano wizard Jerry Lee Lewis made his national TV appearance on the Steve Allen Show, a variety program that at the time aired on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM on NBC, directly competing with the mighty Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Lewis’ performance of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On took sales of the tune from 30,000 to six million copies. He returned to the program twice, but I doubt he was able to repeat that kind of sales shake-up.

1964: The Beatles topped the Official Singles Chart with A Hard Day’s Night, scoring their fifth no. 1 single in the U.K. The title track of the band’s third studio album and soundtrack to their first feature film also became a chart topper in many countries elsewhere in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. Credited as usually to John Lennon and Paul Cartney, the song was mostly written by Lennon. It’s one of those magic tunes that’s instantly recognizable by its signature opening chord. According to The Beatles Bible, there have been multiple suggestions how to describe the chord, which was played by George Harrison on his Rickenbacker 360/12. For all the guitarists out there who’ve played this sucker but never knew what the heck it is, Harrison confirmed in February 2001 that it’s called an Fadd9. If anything, I thought it was some G chord – I suppose it depends on how high you tune your guitar!

1966: Chris Farlowe hit no. 1 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart with Out Of Time. Not only was the track a cover of a Rolling Stones tune, but it was also produced by Mick Jagger. Additionally, the song appeared on Farlowe’s third studio album The Art Of Chris Farlowe. Released in November that year, the record was solely credited to him, even though he was backed by his band The Thunderbirds. The album also featured covers of three other Stones songs: Paint It Black, I’m Free and Ride On, Baby. When the Stones had initially released Out Of Time as a single in April 1966, it hadn’t charted. It would take more than nine years until September 1975 to finally do so, with a two-week run that saw the song peak at no. 45.

1969: According to police reports from Moscow, thousands of public phone booths had been vandalized in the Russian capital when people were taking parts from phones to convert their acoustic to electric guitars. Apparently, a feature in a Russian youth magazine had described how to do it. This must have slipped the censorship by the Russian authorities. One wonders what happened to the editor of this publication, as well as the censors who had missed the article. While I don’t condone vandalism, admittedly, I had to smile when I learned about this story. Rock & roll scored a rare if short victory in a totalitarian state that suppressed it. Of course, censorship continues in Russia to this day and seems to be worse than ever. Meanwhile, the leader of the free world and his supporters have come up with the concepts of alternate facts and fake news if they don’t like media coverage.

Long Live Rock 'N Roll

1973: The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was held at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway near Watkins Glen, N.Y. The outdoor music festival drew an estimated 600,000 rock fans to see The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and The Band – what a line-up! The one-day event ended up in the Guinness Book Of Word Records for “largest audience at a pop festival.” While in some regards Watkins Glen was comparable to Woodstock (upstate New York location, terrible traffic, bad weather), the latter “only” attracted more than 400,000 people. Here’s a clip of Come And Go Blues by the Allman Brothers, which apparently was recorded at the festival.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music.com, U.K. Official Singles Chart, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

At age 75, Jagger still can’t get no satisfaction

No matter whether you like him or not, I think there’s no question that Mick Jagger has to be one of the coolest rock artists on the planet. To me he’s the embodiment of rock & roll in all of its crazy shapes. Unlike the other members of The Rolling Stones, Jagger doesn’t show many signs of aging. He still has the energy and swagger he did when the Stones started out in the early ’60s.

I also don’t believe I know of any other rock artist who studied at the London School of Economics, though evidently Jagger figured out pretty quickly that Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes weren’t as sexy as rock & roll. And, dare I say it, there are many economists but there’s only one Mick Jagger!

Jagger’s biography has been told a 100 million times, so I’m not going to write yet another iteration. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Sir Michael Philip Jagger’s 75th birthday, which is today, with what he’s all about: rock & roll.

Let’s kick it off with the first officially recorded song Jagger co-wrote with his longtime partner in crime Keith Richards: Tell Me (You’re Coming Back), the only original track on the Stones’ eponymous U.K. album released in April 1964. While he tune’s early ’60s pop vibe doesn’t sound much like The Rolling Stones, I still find it charming.

Yes, it’s probably the most over-played song The Rolling Stones have ever released, but since it’s such a signature tune, how could I not include (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in this post? Plus, the song from the Stones’ third British studio album Out Of Our Heads really seems to be a perfect fit for Jagger.

She’s A Rainbow from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request may be an uncharacteristic tune by The Glimmer Twins, but I’ve always loved it.

I know many Stones fans consider Exile On Main Street or Some Girls as the band’s best studio album. If I would have to select one, I think it would be Sticky Fingers. Here’s Dead Flowers.

The song’s title sums it up perfectly: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It). It was the lead single to the Stones’ 1974 studio album It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, their 12th and 14th in the U.K. and U.S., respectively.

Here’s When The Whip Comes Down. According to Wikipedia, Jagger wrote the lyrics to the song, which first appeared on the Some Girls album from 1978, though it is credited to Jagger/Richards.

Tattoo You is considered by many folks to be the last decent album the Stones released in August 1981. The lead single was Start Me Up, which remains one of the band’s most recognizable tunes and a staple during their live concerts where they often play it as the opener. It’s a great tune and with its simple riff yet another example that less is oftentimes more in rock & roll.

I’ve always liked Steel Wheels, which the Stones released in August 1989. By that time Jagger and Richards had patched up their fragile relationship and wrote a great set of songs that are reminiscent of the Stones’ classic sound. Here’s Mixed Emotions.

To date, A Bigger Bang from September 2005 is the Stones’ most recent full studio album featuring original music. Here’s the opener Rough Justice.

I’d like to conclude this celebratory playlist with an amazing live clip: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from the Stones’ Sticky Fingers show on May 20, 2015 at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was captured in a great live album released last September as part of the band’s From The Vault series. To me, the Stones rarely sounded as fresh as they did that night!

Do Mick and the boys have enough gas for another album? In April, NME reported that Jagger was working on new material ahead of the Stones’ U.K. tour. He’s quoted as saying, “I’m just writing. It is mostly for the Stones at the moment.” Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, happy birthday!

Sources: Wikipedia, NME, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 24

While one can argue it’s a bit arbitrary to look back at what happened on a specific date in rock history, oftentimes, I find it interesting what comes up. Plus, I haven’t written about July 24. As in previous installments, this post isn’t meant to be a catch-all. Instead, it’s a selection of events involving artists I like. Here we go:

1964: The Rolling Stones were playing the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. At some point, a group of folks in the crowed started spitting at the band. After Keith Richards had spotted one of the perpetrators in front of the stage and that guy had ignored his warning to cut it out, he lost it and kicked him in the mouth. Things got out of hand quickly, and angry fans trashed the place. The Blackpool city council didn’t like the riot and banned the Stones from playing at the venue. The ban lasted a remarkable 44 years. Then, in March 2008, as reported by The Independent, Blackpool’s council leader at the time Peter Callow declared, “It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'”

Rolling Stones Blackpool Riot 1964.jpg

1965: The Byrds topped the UK Official Singles Chart with Mr. Tambourine Man, their first and only no. 1 single in the UK. Written by Bob Dylan, the tune was the title track of their studio debut that appeared in June that year. Three months earlier, Dylan had initially released the song as part of his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrd’s cover is a beautiful example of Roger McGuinn’s signature jingle-jangle Rickenbacker, a guitar sound I never get tired of.

1967: British national daily The Times ran a full-page advertisement declaring “the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” According to The Beatles Bible, it was “signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana.” The signatories included all four members of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.

Times Marijuana Advertisement July 1967

1972: Get It On by T. Rex is at no. 1 on the UK Official Singles Chart, the first of four successive weeks. The British glam rockers recorded the tune for their second studio album Electric Warrior that came out in September 1971. Like all tracks on the album, Get It On was written by guitarist and lead vocalist Marc Bolan. It became the second no. 1 for T. Rex in the UK after Hot Love, a standalone single from February 1971. Retitled Bang A Gong (Get It On) in the U.S., the song peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s most successful chart performance here.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Independent, UK Official Singles Charts, YouTube

British Invasion Returns In Full Force To Atlantic City

Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who tribute bands set stage on fire

The British Invasion may have stopped some 50 years ago, though it surely didn’t feel like it yesterday in Atlantic City. If anything, three outstanding tribute bands illustrated how the music continues to be alive and kicking to this day, and why the British rock and pop music wave of the ’60s is one of the best imports the U.S. has ever seen, except perhaps for German cars!:-)

This was my second year at the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. I greatly enjoyed the free outdoor one-day event last June when I went there for the first time, so was it worth a two-hour drive to return? You betcha, baby – if anything, I felt it was even better than last year! Britain’s Finest, The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next once again were in top shape.

Britain’s Finest

Britain’s Finest are one of the most intriguing tributes to The Beatles I know, and as a longtime Beatles fan, I’ve seen quite a few over the decades. Founded in Los Angeles in 2011, the band consists of Benny Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Ruben Amaya (John Lennon),  Robert Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis Renteria (Ringo Starr).

Like last year, they focused on the Beatles’ live period, playing songs, such as From My To You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, Help and Twist And Shout. What distinguishes Britain’s Finest from other Fab Four tribute acts I’ve seen is that in addition to a faithful execution of the music, the four guys also resemble John, Paul, George and Ringo, and assume their on-stage personas. This time for a change, I took video myself. Here are clips of From Me To YouCan’t Buy Me Love and Twist And Shout.

To further check out Britain’s Finest and their scheduled shows, visit their website. Most of their upcoming gigs are on the West Coast – given the band is based in L.A., perhaps that’s not a big surprise. They’ll be back east for a series of gigs in Miami starting in early August. But I suppose New Jersey fans may have to wait until next June when they are planning to return to Atlantic City.

The Glimmer Twins

Unlike The Beatles, I actually don’t recall having seen a tribute act to The Rolling Stones. But frankly, except for the original, I doubt it can get better than The Glimmer Twins. This band from Philly is led by Keith Call (lead vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitar), who in an incredible way bring to life Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. They are backed by excellent musicians, including Michael Rubino (guitar), Bobbie Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute) and amazing vocalist Valorie Steel.

The Glimmer Twins play Stones gems, such as Start Me Up, Dead Flowers, Sympathy For The Devil, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Paint It Black and, of course, Satisfaction. Here are three the clips from their performance last night: opener Start Me UpJumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women. The latter prominently features Steel – that lady can sing!

The Glimmer Twins have a long schedule of summer shows in the tri-state area and beyond, including gigs in Tarrytown, N.Y. (June 22); Sea Isle City, N.J. (August 4); Manchester, Vt. (August 10); Bethlehem, Pa. (August 11); and Riverhead, N.Y. (August 18). For more about the band and their upcoming concerts, visit their website.

Who’s Next

This firecracker tribute to The Who was the perfect band to close out the night. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete Townshend, Dave McDonald as Roger Daltrey, Mike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Similar to Britain’s Finest, not only do these four guys sound great, but the resemblance of each to their heroes is truly remarkable. The fact that none other than Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey acknowledged the band at a Who concert in May 2014 in Forest Hills, N.Y. speaks for itself.

Who’s Next play many of the tunes that come mind when you think of The Who: Baba O’Riley, Love Reign O’er Me, The Real Me, 5:15, Squeeze Box, Who Are You, Eminence Front, My Generation, and the list goes on and on. Below are clips of opener The Real Me/5:15 and Who Are You. I got really close for the second clip to better capture how meticulously each member plays and impersonates their part. Fortunately, they skip the destruction of equipment. As much as I can see the spectacle, watching Townshend smash his guitar always made me cringe. Instead, he should have given away the guitars to schools in underprivileged neighborhoods or something like that.

For more about Who’s Next, check out their website. At this time, it doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but I’m sure there will be more. The band already announced last night they are going to be back to Atlantic City for next year’s British Invasion Festival. While much can happen in a year, I have every intention to return as well!

Sources: Britainsfinestband.com, theglimmertwins.com, whosnexttribute.com, YouTube