Musings of the Past

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

Last week (May 11), Eric Burdon turned 82 years. Since the first moment I heard him I’ve always thought he’s one of the most compelling white blues vocalists. It also reminded me of a post I published in February 2019. Here it is again with the added bonus of a Spotify playlist at the end. Yes, it’s a bit of a beast! 🙂

Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor

For more than 50 years, Eric Burdon has been one of rock’s most distinctive vocalists

Oftentimes, I feel the best blog ideas are inspired by a previous post. In this case, it was my writing about great covers performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which included I’m Crying by The Animals. The tune reminded me of Eric Burdon and a voice I’ve always felt was made for singing the blues. Just like many other blues artists or more generally those who started out during the ’60s and ’70s, Burdon has experienced it all, from the highest high to the deepest low and everything else in-between. Unlike many fellow artists, he’s still there, which I think makes him one of the ultimate survivors.

Eric Victor Burdon was born on May 11, 1941, in the northeastern English industrial town of Newcastle upon Tyne. His upbringing in a lower-class working family was rough. Burdon started smoking at the age of 10 and skipping school with friends to drink beer. He described his early school years as a Dickens novel-like “dark nightmare,” which included bullying, sexual molestation and sadistic teachers hitting kids with a leather strap. While his father Matt Burdon struggled as an electric repairman, this allowed the family to have a TV by the time Eric was 10. Yet again the TV sparking it all!

Seeing Louis Armstrong on the tube triggered Burdon’s initial interest in music, first in the trombone, then in singing. The next decisive stage in his life was secondary school and a teacher named Bertie Brown who helped him get into the local art college. There he met John Steele, the original drummer of The Animals. They ended up playing in a band called The Pagan Jazzmen. By early 1959, keyboardist Alan Price had joined. After a few iterations and name changes, the band evolved into The Animals in 1962.

The Animals (from left): John Steele, Eric Burdon, Hilton Valentine, Alan Price and Chas Chandler

The initial lineup featured Burdon (lead vocals), Steele (drums), Price (keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Chas Chandler (bass), who later became the manager of Jimi Hendrix. Between September and December 1963, The Animals developed a following in Newcastle by playing local clubs there. During that period, Burdon met some of his blues heroes, including John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Animals also backed Williamson during a local gig.

In December 1963, The Animals recorded their first single Baby Let Me Take You Home. It climbed to a respectable no. 22 on the UK singles chart. But it was the second single, The House Of The Rising Sun from June 1964, which brought the big breakthrough, topping the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada and Sweden. It also started the beginning of the band’s demise when the arrangement of the traditional was only credited to Price who collected all the songwriting royalties.

The band’s first studio album The Animals appeared in the U.S. in September 1964. Their British debut record followed two months later. As was quite common at the time, the track listing between the two versions differed. Altogether, the original incarnation of The Animals released five U.S. and three U.K. studio albums. Here’s the above-mentioned I’m Crying, which was included on the second U.S. record The Animals On Tour, a peculiar title for a studio album. Co-written by Burden and Price, it’s one of only a few original tracks by the band that was mostly known for fiery renditions of blues and R&B staples by the likes of John Lee HookerJimmy Reed and Ray Charles.

In May 1966, The Animals released Don’t Bring Me Down. Co-written by songwriter duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the tune became Burdon’s favorite single, he told Louder/The Blues during a long interview in April 2013. The song also became the opening track to the band’s fourth U.S. album  Animalization released in July 1966. The great tune is characterized by a distinct Hammond B3 sound played by Dave Rowberry, who had replaced Alan Price following his departure in late 1965, and Hilton Valentine’s fuzz guitar.  Burdon recalled the song’s recording in a hotel in the Bahamas. “There was an old record player in the room where we were recording and it had this strange, thin electrostatic speaker. Dave Rowberry connected it to his Hammond B3 and that’s where the sound comes from on that track.”

By September 1966, The Animals had dissipated and Burdon started work on his first solo album Eric Is Here, which wouldn’t appear until the following year. Meanwhile, in December 1966, he formed Eric Burdon & The Animals. In addition to him, the band included Barry Jenkins, who had replaced John Steel on drums during the first incarnation of The AnimalsJohn Weider (guitar, violin, bass), Vic Briggs (guitar, piano) and Danny McCulloch (bass). The band subsequently relocated from the U.K. to San Francisco. By that time, Burdon had become a heavy user of LSD.

In October 1967, Eric Burdon & The Animals released their debut. Appropriately titled Winds Of Change, it featured mostly original tracks and psychedelic-oriented rock, a major departure from the past. But, as Louder/The Blues noted, except for San Franciscan Nights, “the British public were reluctant to accept Eric’s transformation from hard-drinking Geordie bluesman to LSD-endorsing, peace and love hippy.” Three more albums followed before this second incarnation of The Animals dissolved in late 1968. Here’s Monterey, the opener to their second record The Twain Shall Meet from May 1968. Reflecting the band’s drug-infused experiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, where they also had performed, the tune is credited to all five members.

Disillusioned with the music business, Burdon went to LA to try acting. But after one year, he returned to music, fronting a Californian funk rock band that would be called War. Together they recorded two original albums in 1970. Here’s Spill The Wine from the first, Eric Burden Declares “War”, which appeared in April 1970. Credited to the members of War, the tune became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked Burdon’s last major chart success.

Burdon’s relationship with War abruptly unraveled after the band had decided to record their next album without him. It was around the same time his friend  Jimi Hendrix passed away. Burdon was devastated. “That became the end of the parade because it affected us so much,” he stated during the above Louder/The Blues interview. “It was tough for me. It was tough for everybody.” Unfortunately, one of Burdon’s answers was drugs and more drugs.

During the ’70s and ’80s, Burdon had numerous drug excesses. In 1983, this led to an arrest in Germany where he had lived since 1977. Subsequently, he returned to the U.S. Yet despite all the upheaval, Burdon still managed to continue recording albums and touring. In 1971, he teamed up with American jump blues artist Jimmy Witherspoon for a record titled Guilty! Here’s Home Dream, a great slow blues tune written by Burdon.

In August 1977, the first incarnation of The Animals released the first of two reunion albums, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, billed as The Original Animals. Despite positive reviews, the record only reached no. 70 on the  Billboard 200. Lack of promotion, no supporting tour and most importantly appearing at a time when punk and disco ruled were all factors. Here’s the great opener Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt), a tune co-written by Jerry LeiberMike Stoller and Clyde Otis.

Next up: Going Back To Memphis, a song co-written by Burdon and Steve Grant. It appeared on Burdon’s 1988 album I Used To Be An Animal. Released in the wake of his autobiography I Used To Be An Animal, But I’m Alright Now,  it was Burdon’s first new album in almost four years.

In April 2004, My Secret Life appeared, Burdon’s first new solo record in almost 16 years. Here’s the opener Once Upon A Time, a nice soulful tune co-written by Burdon and Robert Bradley.

‘Til Your River Runs Dry is Burdon’s most recent studio release, which came out in January 2013. His website calls it his “most personal album to date.” Here’s  Old Habits Die Hard, co-written by Burdon and Tom Hambridge. “This song is dedicated to the people in Egypt and Libya trying to throw off the shackles of all those centuries of brutality,” Burdon told Rolling Stone a few days prior to the record’s release. “It reminds me of Paris in 1968 when I saw the kids going up against the brutal police force or the L.A. uprising. I went through these experiences and they’re still with me today. The struggle carries on. I wrote this song so I won’t forget and to say, even though I’m older now, I am still out there with you.”

Burdon’s most recent recording is a nice cover of For What It’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and originally released by Buffalo Springfield in December 1966. He commented on his website: The whole idea of recording this song came as a result of a conversation I had with a young fan backstage, when she asked me, “Where are the protest songs today?” Right then and there, I wanted to write something about the brutality that’s going on in the world today but I couldn’t find any better way to say it than Buffalo Springfield did in “For What It’s Worth.

In 1994, Eric Burdon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of The Animals, along with the other original members of the band. He did not attend the induction ceremony. Burdon remains active to this day and uses the name The Animals for his backing band, which includes Evan Mackey  (trombone), Davey Allen (piano), Dustin Koester (drums), Johnzo West (guitar), Justin Andres (bass) and Ruben Salinas (saxophone).

While Burdon’s website currently does not list any upcoming gigs for this year, according to Consequence of SoundEric Burdon & The Animals are part of the lineup for the KAABOO Festival in Arlington, Texas, May 10-12. The band is also scheduled to perform on May 26 at Avila Beach Blues Festival in California.

Asked by Louder/The Blues during the above interview how he would sum up the past 50 years, Burdon said, “I’d been screwed by [War], I’d been screwed by The Animals. All use Burdon because he’s a great front guy and then come payday where’s the money? A lot of people had a great ride off me being on stage and I didn’t get much of it.” With a little chuckle he added, “I’m not bitter. I’m bittersweet.”

– END –

The original post, which was published on February 10, 2019, ended here. One thing that happened since then is a 2020 British TV documentary titled Eric Burdon, Rock’ n’ Roll Animal, which was written and directed by Hannes Rossacher, an Austrian film director and producer. It featured interviews with Burdon, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, George Thorogood and Patti Smith. An edited version is available here.

Other than an awkward 2022 remix of Spill the Wine, I’m not aware of any music associated with Burdon, which has appeared since the time the above post was published first. The most recent evidence of live performances I could find on Setlist.fm was from November 2019. The lack of more recent concerts could largely be explained by the pandemic. There’s an Eric Burdon website, but other than what looks like a fairly recent photo, it’s not evident whether it is active. Perhaps Eric is simply taking it easy these days, which after 60-plus years since the start of his career would be more than deserved!

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist. It features all of the above tracks except For What It’s Worth, as well as a good number of additional tunes from throughout Burdon’s recording career.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder/The Blues; Deutsche Welle; Eric Burdon website; Rolling Stone; Consequence of Sound; Eventbrite; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I hope everybody is spending a groovy Sunday. To all the mamas, Happy Mother’s Day! None of us would be here without you! And to the papas and the kids, remember mothers are superheroes working hard every day, so please do not only be kind to them today but also during the remaining 364 days of the year!

Why don’t we all, the mamas, the papas and the kids, have some fun with another music time travel trip? As always, the magical time machine will take us to six different decades to listen to six tracks in different flavors. Let’s fasten our seatbelts and go!

Lester Young/There Will Never Be Another You

Our first stop today is June 1954 and what feels like a bar late at night with some relaxing jazz music by Lester Young. The American jazz tenor saxophonist and occasional clarinetist was born in Woodville, Miss. in 1909 and grew up in a musical family. By the age of ten, he already had learned the basics of the trumpet, violin and drums and joined the Young Family Band, touring with carnivals and playing in regional cities in the southwestern U.S. He first picked up the tenor saxophone in the 1920s and left the Young Family Band at the age of 18, since he no longer wanted to tour in the racially segregated Jim Crow South. Eventually, Young settled in Kansas City in 1933 and gained prominence playing in Count Basie’s band. Over the next 10-plus years, he also was in various other bands and recorded with Billie Holiday and Nat “King” Cole. In the ’50s, Young recorded a series of albums as a leader. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 49 in March 1959 from internal bleeding resulting from alcoholism. There Will Never Be Another You, a popular song with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Mack Gordon, was included on Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio, one of two compilation albums with that title released in June 1954. They were subsequently combined with music from a third album, The President, and reissued in 1956 as The President Plays with the Oscar Peterson Trio.

The Tragically Hip/Bobcaygeon

Next, we set our time machine to July 1998 and music by alternative rockers The Tragically Hip. Max from PowerPop recently featured the celebrated Canadian band, who in turn had been brought to his attention by Canadian fellow bloggers Dave from A Sound Day and DeKE from deKe’s Vinyl Reviews & More… – lots of cross-pollination happening in our blogger community, which is an important reason why I dig music blogging as much as I do! The Tragically Hip, formed in Kingston, Ontario in 1984, were the best-selling band in Canada between 1996 and 2016, yet they were much less recognized in the U.S. And, yes, you can call that a tragedy! During their 33-year run, which ended in October 2017 after the death of vocalist Gord Downie, the group released 13 studio albums, one live album, one compilation album, two video albums, two extended plays and a boxed set – Wikipedia had to count them all! There were also 54 singles. Nine of the Hip’s studio albums topped the Canadian charts and eight reached Platinum or multi-Platinum status there, not to mention Canada’s Walk of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame, multiple Juno Awards and all the other accolades they received – a truly extraordinary record! Bobcaygeon is a great track off the Hip’s sixth studio album Phantom Power, which appeared in July 1998. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became one of the album’s five singles and is among their most enduring and beloved signature songs.

Cream/Outside Woman Blues

On with the trip to the ’60s and music by what may well have been the best power trio of all time. In November 1967, Cream released their sophomore album Disraeli Gears, less than a year after their debut Fresh Cream. During their short, less than 2.5-year recording career, Jack Bruce (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar) and Ginger Baker (drums) released four albums. By the time their final release Goodbye came out in February 1969, they already had disbanded. Given the oftentimes violent fights between Bruce and Baker, it’s actually a miracle they lasted as long as they did and all came out alive. In case you wonder why, you can watch the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, which I did again the other day. It’s a fascinating and pretty sad film! Let’s hear Outside Woman Blues, written by folk-blues guitarist Arthur Reynolds who also first recorded it in 1929 as Blind Joe Reynolds. Mr. Slowhand did a nice job rearranging the tune for Cream.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Change of Heart

Time to pay a visit to the ’80s and one of my favorite artists of all time, who sadly has been gone for five-and-a-half years: Tom Petty. It’s safe to assume most if not all readers have heard about the guitarist and vocalist who hailed from Gainesville, Fla. where in 1976 he formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, together with Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Campbell and Tench had been members of Petty’s previous group Mudcrutch, which he had started in 1970. At the time, they only released one poor-selling single before disbanding in late 1975. Petty ended up reviving Mudcrutch more than 30 years later and releasing two albums with them, Mudcrutch (2008) and Mudcrutch 2 (2016). Petty passed away in October 2017. His death was subsequently declared as “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity.” Only a week earlier, Petty, who had been on potent painkillers for knee problems and a fractured hip and was also battling other health issues, had finished the final show of the Heartbreakers’ 40th-anniversary tour at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Change of Heart, written by Petty alone, appeared on Long After Dark, the fifth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released in November 1982. The tune also became one of three singles. Here’s a terrific live version I couldn’t resist using!

The Staple Singers/I’ll Take You There

For our next stop in the ’70s, we don’t need to set our time machine and instead can rely on The Staple Singers to take us there. Our specific destination is February 1972. That’s when the gospel, soul and R&B vocal group put out Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, which became their second-charting album, hitting no. 19 and no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and Soul charts (today known as Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums). At that time, the family group already had existed for 24 years and issued close to 20 albums. Be Altitude: Respect Yourself featured family patriarch Pops Staples and his children Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples and Yvonne Staples. All have passed except for Mavis Staples, an amazing lady who remains active at 83 years and just embarked on a summer tour with dates until mid-September, mostly in the U.S. and a few in Europe! I’ll Take You There, written by Alvertis Isbell, became one of two no. 1 singles the group scored on the Billboard Hot 100, beating Respect Yourself, the other hit single from that album, which “only” reached no. 12 on the pop chart. Take us there!

The Lone Bellow/Gold

We have time for one more stop. Let’s finish our trip in the present, specifically in November 2022. The Lone Bellow are an Americana and roots trio that began as a song-writing project for Zach Williams (guitar, lead vocals). Following his wife’s temporary paralysis that resulted from an accident, Williams started writing a journal to cope with the situation. Urged by friends, he picked up the guitar and turned his journal entries into songs. After performing as a solo act in New York City, he joined with Brian Elmquist (guitar, vocals) and Kanene Donehey Pipkin (mandolin, bass, keyboard, vocals). In January 2013, the trio released their eponymous debut album. Fast-forward nearly 10 years to Love Songs for Losers, their fifth and most recent album. Here’s Gold, a roots rock tune with a dose of pop – quite catchy music and neat harmony singing!

This Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a link to a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something that tickles your fancy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Mavis Staples website; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Lucinda Williams

Ever since I saw Lucinda Williams open up for Bonnie Raitt in Philadelphia last June, I’ve been wanting to take a deeper dive into her music. This post is a first attempt to further explore the singer-songwriter who has been active since 1978. Over a 45-year-and-counting career, Williams has released 14 studio albums with no. 15, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, scheduled to drop June 30. I recently featured the excellent lead single New York Comeback in a Best of What’s New installment.

Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide some background. From Williams’ website: Lucinda Williams’ music has gotten her through her darkest days. It’s been that way since growing up amid family chaos in the Deep South, as she recounts in her candid new memoir, Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I told You [Crown, April 25, 2023 – CMM].

Over the past two years, it’s been the force driving her recovery from a debilitating stroke she suffered on November 17, 2020, at age 67. Her masterful, multi-Grammy-winning songwriting has never deserted her. To wit, her stunning, sixteenth studio album, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, brims over with some of the best work of her career. And though Williams can no longer play her beloved guitar – a constant companion since age 12 – her distinctive vocals sound better than ever.

“I’m singing my ass off,” she told Vanity Fair in February, following her first European tour since 2019. The love emanating from audiences and her musical family onstage and in the studio exemplify the healing power of music, says Williams. In 2020, she spent a week in intensive care, followed by a month in rehab before returning home. The blood clot on the right side of her brain impaired the left side of her body’s motor skills, forcing her to relearn some of the most basic of activities, like walking.

In July 2021, she played her first gig, opening for Jason Isbell at Red Rocks. She began seated in a wheelchair, but soon she was upright. “Just the energy of the audiences being so welcoming and warm and the band playing so great and being so supportive gave me so much strength,” Williams relates. “I figured, ‘Hell, all I have to do is stand up there and sing. How hard can that be?”

Williams got into songwriting and music at an early age. She started writing as a six-year-old and was playing guitar by the time she was 12. Five years later, she found herself on stage in Mexico City for her first live performance, together with her friend and banjo player Clark Jones. This was followed by gigs in Austin and Houston, Texas in her early 20s. In 1978, a then-25-year-old Williams move to Jackson, Miss. and recorded her debut album Ramblin’ on My Mind, which appeared the following year.

Williams first gained critical acclaim with her third, eponymous studio album from 1988, which was voted the 16th best album of the year in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. Lucinda Williams has since been viewed as a leading work in the development of the Americana movement. In 1998, Williams broke through into the mainstream with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Her fifth album topped the aforementioned Pazz & Jop poll and won the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It also became her first album to chart on the Billboard 200, climbing to no. 68.

Time for some music! I’m going to highlight six tunes, followed by a Spotify playlist featuring these and additional songs from all of her albums. Kicking it off is a great rendition of Robert Johnson’s Ramblin’ on My Mind, the title track of Williams’ above-mentioned 1979 debut album, which she recorded together with guitarist John Grimaudo.

After two blues, country and folk-oriented albums, Lucinda Williams started to embrace a more Americana and roots rock-oriented sound on her third, eponymous album. Here’s Changed the Locks, which also became the album’s first single. Like all except one tune, it was penned by Williams. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers covered this song on their 1996 soundtrack album She’s the One.

This brings me to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Williams’ acclaimed fifth album. It featured guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle who in addition to Williams served as one of the producers, along with Ray Kennedy who was working with Earle at the time, as well as Roy Bittan, best-known as longtime keyboarder of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. While the recording process was drawn out, in part due to some tensions between Earle and Williams who ended up bringing in Bittan to finish the album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road overall became her most successful album to date. Here’s the great opener Right in Time – love the guitar sound on that cut!

Next, let’s jump to October 2008 and Little Honey, Williams’ ninth studio album. It featured guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Sweet and Charlie Louvin. Little Honey earned a nomination for the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, the category’s inaugural year, which was won by Levon Helm for Electric Dirt. Here’s the excellent opener Real Love, which also appeared separately as a single. Penned by Williams, with backing vocals by Hoffs and Sweet, the roots rocker was also featured in the 2007 American comedy-drama The Lucky Ones.

In September 2014, Williams released her 11th studio record Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, the first on her own label Highway 20 Records. The double album debuted at no. 13 on the Billboard 200, becoming one of Williams’ highest-charting on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also won the 2015 Americana Music Award for Album of the Year. Once again, there were various guests, including Jakob Dylan, Tony Joe White, Ian McLagan and Elvis Costello, among others. Here’s the great Burning Bridges, penned by Williams.

Fast forward to April 2020 and Good Souls Better Angels, Williams’ 14th and most recently released studio album. Another widely acclaimed album, it earned Williams yet another Grammy nomination, for Best Americana Album. Here’s When the Way Gets Dark. Like all except one other track on the album, it was co-written by Williams and Tom Overby who also served as producer, along with Williams and Ray Kennedy.

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist featuring the above and some other Lucinda Williams tunes. This artist is a true treasure! Hope you have as much fun listening to her music as I had putting together this post. I’m really looking forward to her new album, which based on the lead single sounds very promising.

Sources: Wikipedia; Lucinda Williams website; YouTube; Spotify

The Follow-Up: Pete Townshend & Jake Thistle

Short takes on two new singles

This is only the second installment of my recently launched feature intended to supplement my weekly new music revue, which runs Saturdays, and I’ve already decided to adjust the rules. Going forward, The Follow-Up will be a catch-all of new music I “missed” for Best of What’s New. It could be albums or singles, and I also don’t necessarily want to limit these posts to two items. One thing I continue to envisage is keeping each shorter than standalone reviews.

Pete Townshend – Can’t Outrun the Truth

Can’t Outrun the Truth is a new song by Pete Townshend released last Friday (March 24). It also is The Who guitarist and key songwriter’s first new solo single in 29 years! According to his website, the track was composed and produced by [his wife] Rachel Fuller under her nom de plume Charlie Pepper, and all proceeds from vinyl sales plus at least 10p from every download will go to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

The song was inspired by the difficulties everyone had encountered emotionally due to the lack of human interaction caused by the pandemic. It also occurred to Rachel that young people undergoing cancer treatment may identify with these feelings of isolation. You just gotta love this. And it sounds pretty good!

Pete Townshend “The pandemic years were terrible for charities; the Teenage Cancer Trust was created in order to take the money from a series of concerts at the Albert Hall every year and various other things and that had all dropped out. So, the idea of doing this, which is it’s something that has sprung out of lockdown about mental illness, but also for this particular charity. If you’ve got a scenario in which somebody in your family or a teenager has got cancer, they’re being treated, lockdown hits, and you’re not allowed to go and visit them. There’s a poignancy to the whole thing about the song.”

Summing up the song Rachel says, “I think one of the things about the song is that it felt like we drew a line, and it was, okay, back to normal. Nobody’s really talking about Covid anymore. There aren’t stories in the papers, and no one wants to talk about those two years. And I think for so many people, there is a long tail, people really, really struggled and just because people are saying let’s move on. I think a lot of people are still finding it really hard.”

Jake Thistle – The Dreamer

Jake Thistle is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who first entered my radar screen on Facebook in 2021. Last summer I saw him perform a Jackson Browne tribute show at a free summer outdoor concert. Subsequently, I reviewed his then-new debut CD Down the Line, released in June 2021.

Thistle has been into music for most of his young life. It all started in 2008 one month prior to his fourth birthday when he watched Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during the Super Bowl halftime show. This led him to watch videos of Petty on YouTube and become a music fan. At the age of nine, he picked up the guitar and subsequently started posting his own videos on YouTube. None other than Tom Petty spotted Thistle’s videos and was impressed enough to send him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. to see and meet him and the Heartbreakers. This says a lot about Tom!

Thistle played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson BrowneStevie NicksFoo FightersEddie VedderRoger McGuinnSteve Earle and Tom Morello. It almost sounds like a fairytale, especially if you consider Thistle only graduated from high school in 2021!

This brings me to The Dreamer, Thistle’s newly released single that came out on Friday as well. Here’s a clip of an acoustic guitar rendition. I really find it quite impressive how mature he comes across as a songwriter. I’ve said it before I can hear some Jackson Browne in Thistle’s writing! Vocally, he reminds me a bit of Bryan Adams.

And here’s a Spotify link to the official piano-driven single. I encourage you to check it out!

Sources: Pete Townshend website; Jake Thistle website; YouTube; Spotify

First Time’s the Charm

A debut album I really dig – a “Turntable Talk” contribution

This post originally appeared on A Sound Day by Dave as part of the most recent round of his great recurring feature Turntable Talk, for which he invites fellow blogger to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. In Dave’s words: This month, our topic is First Time’s The Charm. We’ve asked our guests to pick a debut record by an artist that really impressed them…and maybe let us know if they feel the artist kept up the quality and momentum with subsequent works.

Following is my submission, which I reformatted to fit the template of my blog. I also added the Spotify link to the album at the end.

Thanks, Dave, for fearlessly continuing your fun series Turntable Talk and, of course, for inviting me back to share some additional thoughts.

When I saw the topic for this round, I immediately had an idea which debut album that really impressed me I would cover. Then, as oftentimes happens once I start reflecting on stuff, I had second thoughts, so I decided to get inspired by Mr. Google.

One of the first hits I got was Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time, published on July 1, 2022. While the list includes fine debuts, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Doors’ The Doors (1967), Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced? (1967), Lynyrd Skynyrd’s (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (1973) and Pretenders’ Pretenders (1979), it excludes gems like Jackson Browne’s Jackson Browne (1972), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976) and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! (1979).

Of course, no list can be perfect. When I realized Rolling Stone also didn’t feature the album that had come to my mind first I thought, ‘screw it, I go with my initial pick’ – The eponymous debut album by Dire Straits, released in June 1978!

When I first heard Sultans of Swing as a teenager in the late ‘70s, I was immediately hooked on the British group and Mark Knopfler’s cool sound he got out of his Fender Stratocaster. Since German radio would always fade out the song, which drove me nuts, I needed to own that tune myself. So I bought the vinyl album that includes Sultans of Swing, not realizing I could have gotten the single instead. I’m glad I did what I did since I would have missed out on great music otherwise, at least at the time!

Sultans of Swing, the album’s best-known tune, is the first song on the B-side. The single was first released in the UK in May 1978. In the U.S., it came out in January 1979. It climbed all the way up to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 8 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart. But there’s definitely more to the album than Sultans of Swing.

Let’s start with side A and the great opener Down to the Waterline. Like Sultans of Swing and all other tracks on the album, it was penned by Mark Knopfler. Mark’s brother David Knopfler, the band’s first rhythm guitarist, has said the song was based on Mark’s teenage memories walking along a river at night under the lights with his girlfriend.

Another tune on side A I’ve always liked is Water of Love, which also became the album’s second single. Knopfler created a cool sound on that song, playing a so-called resonator guitar. Some critics noted the song’s style is reminiscent of J.J. Cale’s blues approach. I think that’s fair. I also don’t have a problem at all that Knopfler was inspired by another great guitarist. In fact, I would argue great musicians getting inspiration from other great musicians happens all the time!

Moving on to side B, I’m skipping the above-mentioned Sultans of Swing and go right to Into the Gallery. Sure, you could say Knopfler’s electric guitar sound is more of the same. I just happen to love it, so I don’t mind getting more of it!

Let’s do one more: Wild West End. Songfacts explains the title refers to an area in London (West End) where Knopfler enjoyed walking around, “always with an eye on the ladies”. Apparently, this particular tune recalls “a particularly attractive young woman in Shaftesbury Avenue.” Interestingly, the official video only shows the band performing the song on a stage and doesn’t include any footage of the West End.

To me and I guess to most other Dire Straits fans, most of the band’s appeal came from Mark Knopfler and his melodic and sparing way to play the guitar. An important aspect of his technique is the use of his fingers on the strumming hand instead of a pick, which creates a very transparent and distinct sound. Knopfler was a pretty good writer as well, which would become more obvious on the group’s later works, especially Making Movies, their third studio album released in October 1980.

While it is fair to say that Mark Knopfler was Dire Straits’ dominant force, a band is never just one guy. So this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the other musicians on the album: Mark’s aforementioned brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, vocals), John Illsley (bass, vocals) and Pick Withers (drums).

Undoubtedly, Dire Straits are best remembered for their 1985 studio album  Brothers in Arms and the mega hit single Money For Nothing. While I won’t deny it’s a good album, I will always prefer their 1978 debut, along with Making Movies. Thanks to fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews, I’ve also gained new appreciation for Love Over Gold, the September 1982 predecessor to Brothers in Arms.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Yearend Musings Part 2

A look back on new albums released in 2022

For the last time this year, I’d like to wish everybody a happy Saturday. I’m back from my short Christmas hiatus with the second installment of my two-part year-end review of new music released in 2022. Part 1 focused on new songs. In this post, I’m taking a look back at my six favorite albums of the year.

Altogether, I reviewed approximately 20 albums that were released over the course of the past 12 months. This count doesn’t include reissues like Neil Young’s nice Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition or other new releases of old music, such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Live at the Fillmore (1997), an excellent box set I can highly recommend checking out. Mirroring the approach I took for 2022 new songs, I’m doing this in chronological order.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Cold As Weiss

Kicking off this year-end revue with an all-instrumental album may seem to come a bit out of left field, given I’m a huge fan of vocals, but Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and their groovy Hammond-driven jazz was love at first sight. Plus, if you’re a more frequent visitor of my blog, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that instrumental music no longer is a rarity on these pages. Cold As Weiss, released on February 11, is the third studio album by this great trio, who apart from Delvon Lamarr (Hammond organ) features Jimmy Jones (guitar) and Dan Weiss (drums). Aka. DLO3, the trio has been around since May 2015 and describes their music as a “soul-jazz concoction”, blending 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkling Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. Let’s listen to Get Da Steppin’. My full review of this fun album is here.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Classic rock may no longer be in the mainstream, but it sure ain’t dead. Just ask Goodbye June from Memphis, Tenn., who have been helping carry the torch since 2005. The band is a family affair, comprised of cousins Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar). On February 18, their fourth studio album See Where the Night Goes came out. The group’s sound, which is reminiscent of AC/DC, is a great listening experience. Check out the neat opener Step Aside below and my full review of the album here. Goodbye June truly rock!

Spotify album link:

Bonnie Raitt/Just Like That…

Frequent visitors of the blog and folks who know my music taste otherwise probably won’t be surprised to see Bonnie Raitt in this year-end post. I think her 21st studio album Just Like That…, which appeared on April 21, may well be her best to date in a now 51-year-and-counting recording career. If I would have to name my 2022 album of the year, Raitt’s first new release in more than six years would be it! Since this amazing lady first entered my radar screen with the outstanding Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve really come to dig her smooth slide-guitar playing, her voice and, of course, the songs most of which are renditions of tunes written by other artists. Here’s the Stonesy Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which Raitt wrote the lyrics to music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. Here is my full review of the album, a true gem that is a must-listen-to for Bonnie Raitt fans.

Spotify album link:

Jane Lee Hooker/Rollin’

Shortly on the heels of Bonnie Raitt, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ on April 29. I first experienced the great New York-based blues rock-oriented band during a free summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017 when they still were an all-female group and was immediately impressed by their infectious energy. All members remain, except for original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston who departed in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo. Earlier this year, I saw Jane Lee Hooker during a release party in New York City for the new album and can confirm the band’s only gent is a great fit. Rollin’ offers their familiar hard-charging electric guitar-driven blues rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. A great illustration of the band’s more refined sound is the beautiful soul-oriented rock ballad Drive. My review of the full album is here.

Spotify album link:

Tedeschi Trucks Band/I’m the Moon

I’m the Moon, a four-album series, is the most ambitious studio project to date by Tedeschi Trucks Band and probably of 2022 overall. Each of the four installments, released individually between June and August, had a 30-minute-plus companion film. The entire project, which features 24 songs, became available as one collection on September 9. I’m the Moon was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem – intriguingly the very same poem that also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. You can read my two-part review of this impressive project here and here. Following I’d like to highlight Hear My Dear, the lead track of the first album. This gem was written by the group’s co-leaders and wife and husband Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, along with the band’s keyboarder Gabe Dixon who is also one of their vocalists.

Spotify album link:

Buddy Guy/The Blues Don’t Lie

I’d like to wrap up this post with one of my absolute blues guitar heroes, Buddy Guy, who at 86 years young can still rock with the ferocity of Jimi Hendrix. On September 30, Guy released his 19th studio album The Blues Don’t Lie. The date coincided with the 65th anniversary of the legendary guitarist’s arrival in Chicago from Louisiana. Once again produced by longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the album features guest appearances by Mavis StaplesJames TaylorElvis CostelloJason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Most importantly, The Blues Don’t Lie truly fires on all cylinders. You can find my full review here. Perhaps the song that best sums up Buddy Guy is the opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking, a cowrite by Guy and Hambridge. Damn, check this out!

Spotify album link:

Last but not least, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading my blog and taking the time to comment, and would like to wish all of you a Happy, Safe and Healthy New Year! And let’s keep on bloggin’ in the free world in 2023!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

New Live Box by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Is Triumphant Celebration of Rock & Roll

Live at The Fillmore (1997) is packed with covers and original tunes captured during 20-show run at storied San Francisco venue

In 1997, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played 20 shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Now Live at the Fillmore (1997), a long-anticipated box set that appeared on November 25, captures highlights from the band’s residency in the city by the bay. And what a truly amazing celebration of rock & roll it is!

“We’re musicians and we want to play,” Tom Petty told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the 20-show run, as noted in a statement on Petty’s website, which announced the box set back in September. “We’ve made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be.”

Six-LP format of the box set, which is also available in various other vinyl, CD and streaming configurations

Here’s more from the above press release: The shows at the Fillmore ended up being some of the most joyful, honest, inspirational and prolific experiences of the band’s career, creating a unique bond between the group and their fans. This album features more covers than originals, paying tribute to the artists and songs that shaped Petty’s love of music as he was growing up—before he became a legendary songwriter and performer in his own right.

Highlights include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and more from The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The collection also features special performances with The Byrds’ front man Roger McGuinn and blues legend John Lee Hooker. Other standouts include extended versions of original tracks “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “It’s Good To Be King.”

The Fillmore was a laboratory for the band. The captivating sold out performances were such a hit, the Heartbreakers were even nicknamed the “Fillmore House Band.” At the final show, Petty noted as he took the stage: “We all feel this might be the highpoint of our time together as a group… It’s going to be hard to get us off this stage tonight.”

Added Mike Campbell: “Playing the Fillmore in 1997 for a month was one of my favorite experiences as a musician in my whole life. The band was on fire and we changed the set list every night. The room and the crowd was spiritual… AND… we got to play with some amazing guests. I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration.” Here’s a nice short film about the residency.

You can find a lot more background on the residency in the liner notes here, which were written by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin. I’m also including a Spotify link to the box set at the end of the post. Now I’d say it’s time to take a look at some of the goodies.

Kicking it off is a great cover of a tune by the man about who John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”. Around and Around first appeared as the B-side to Chuck Berry’s March 1958 single Johnny B. Goode. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, released in July 1959 – an album that in my book you could title the greatest hits of classic rock & roll.

I’ve always loved J.J. Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. Evidently, so did Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Call Me the Breeze first appeared on Cale’s debut album Naturally, which came out in October 1971. Check out this great cover. Man, this is swinging! Here’s the neat official video.

Did I mention The Rolling Stones previously? Let’s check out Time is on My Side. Written by Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym Norman Meade, the tune was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his orchestra in 1963. The Stones recorded two versions of the tune in 1964. The first, which is a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro, appeared as a U.S. single in September of the same year and was also included on their second American album 12 X 5, released in October 1964. The second version, a tighter arrangement with a guitar intro, was included on The Rolling Stones No. 2, their second UK album from January 1965.

After three tracks into this review, you might wonder about originals. Frankly, I could easily focus on covers only, since there are so many excellent renditions. But of course, this box set also features plenty of Tom Petty songs. Here’s a nice take of I Won’t Back Down, the lead single of his first solo album Full Moon Fever, released in April 1989.

Let’s throw in a cool instrumental – a great rendition of Green Onions, a tune by Booker T. & the M.G.’s I’ve always loved. The group served as the house band of Stax Records. Green Onions was mostly written by keyboarder Booker T. Jones when he was 17 years old. Also credited to the other three members of the MG’s, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), the tune first appeared as a single in 1962 and also became the title track of the group’s debut album that came out in October of the same year. Heartbreakers keyboarder Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell do a great job with it.

The last track I’d like to call out features a cool guest appearance by John Lee Hooker. Here’s Boogie Chillen, which Hooker wrote and first recorded in 1948. Buddy Guy has cited the tune as a key reason why he picked up the guitar and became a blues guitarist. Prompted by Hooker, this sizzling close to 8-minute version features neat harp and keyboard solos by Petty and Tench, respectively.

I easily could go on and on featuring additional tunes. Instead, I leave you with a Spotify link to the entire collection. If you dig Tom Petty and The Live Anthology, a November 2009 box set with a similar concept combining live renditions of covers and originals, I have no doubt you’re going to like Live at the Fillmore (1997).

Live at the Fillmore (1997), which appears on Warner Records, is available in 3-LP, 6-LP and 6-LP Uber Deluxe formats (exclusively via Tom Petty web store), 2 and 4-CD sets, and on major streaming platforms. The compilation was meticulously curated by producers Ryan Ulyate and Mike Campbell. Serving as executive producers were Benmont Tench, as well as Adria Petty, Annakim Petty and Dana Petty, Tom’s daughters and wife, respectively, who manage the Tom Petty estate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – jeez, it only feels like yesterday since I put together the previous installment. For newbies to the blog, this weekly feature celebrates great music over the past six decades or so, six tunes at a time. I’d like to think of it as going on an imaginary time travel to visit music of different eras. Hope you join me for the ride!

Elmo Hope/It’s a Lovely Day Today

Today, our journey shall start in 1953 with some groovy music by American jazz pianist, composer and arranger Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1923, Hope started playing the piano as a 7-year-old. His recording career began in 1953 with an album that originally appeared as Elmo Hope Trio. It subsequently was packaged with his second record Elmo Hope Quintet, Volume 2, and released as Trio and Quintet in 1989. Tragically, Hope’s life was cut short in May 1967 when he passed away in New York City from heart failure, a few weeks after he had been hospitalized for pneumonia. During his active period, Hope recorded about 20 albums, counting both releases as a leader and as a sideman. Among others, he played with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. It’s a Lovely Day, composed by Irving Ball, is from Hope’s above-mentioned first album. He was backed by Percy Heath (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) – my kind of music to get me in the mood on a Sunday morning!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/Bad to the Bone

Our next stop is August 1982 to catch some b-b-b-b-b-b-bad music, a song that’s b-b-b-b-b-b-bad, bad to the bone – coz that’s how we roll here! It’s the title track of the fifth studio album by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Bad to the Bone. Thorogood began his career in the early ’70s as a solo acoustic performer in the style of Robert Johnson and Elmore James. In 1973, he formed the Delaware Destroyers, who subsequently dropped Delaware from their name. The group’s eponymous debut album appeared in October 1977. Thorogood has since released 14 additional studio albums with the group and one solo record. He remains active to this day and is currently on what looks like an extensive tour of Europe, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada, with dates booked all the way to May 2023. Catching a show with him should f-f-f-f-f-f-fun! Meanwhile, let’s enjoy this classic from August 1982!

James Brown/I Got You (I Feel Good)

It’s kind of tough to follow George Thorogood. Perhaps it does take who was known as “Mr. Dynamite” and the “hardest working man in show business”: Jaaaaaaaaames Brown! And we’re not stingy here. The year was 1965 and the month was October when James Brown released I Got You (I Feel Good) as a single. Initially, the tune had been recorded for his ninth studio album Out of Sight that came out in September 1964. But the song wasn’t included and the version that appeared as a single a year later was an alternate take. Penned by Brown, I Got You (I Feel Good) peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his highest-charting tune on the U.S. pop chart. It also became his third single to top the R&B chart after Try Me (October 1958) and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (June 1965). Man, all I can say is I would have loved to see James Brown live!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Swingin’

I trust Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time, needs no introduction. Not only did this man write so many great songs, but he also had a true appreciation of music by other artists. And with the Heartbreakers, he had a terrific band. These guys could simply play anything. If you haven’t listened to it, check out the terrific box set The Live Anthology and you’ll know what I mean. Let’s turn to Swingin’, a track from the 10th studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Titled Echo, it was released in April 1999. It didn’t enjoy the same chart and commercial success as Damn the Torpedoes (October 1979), Hard Promises (May 1981) and Into the Great Wide Open (July 1991), or his solo albums Full Moon Fever (April 1989) and Wildflowers (November 1994), for that matter. But Petty didn’t care much about chart success and sales anyway. It was always about the music. Swingin’, written solely by him, also became one of five singles from Echo. Sadly, we lost Tom Petty way too early in October 2017. He was only 66 years old!

The Guess Who/Dancin’ Fool

For our second-to-last stop on today’s journey let’s jump back to 1974 and a tune I had earmarked several weeks ago for a Sunday Six: Dancin’ Fool by The Guess Who. When I heard It was a Saturday night without a whole lot shakin’/Ooh my, ooh my, I was bored, I thought, ‘ooh my, ooh my, that would be a cool tune to feature!’ And here we are. Co-written by the Canadian rock band’s Burton Cummings (lead vocals, keyboards) and Domenic Troiano (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dancin’ Fool became the opener of The Guess Who’s 13th studio album Flavours. By that time, Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were the only remaining original members. The present version of the group, which no longer includes any founding members, is currently touring the U.S. It looks like that line-up also recorded the most recent Guess Who album When We Were Young, released in September 2018.

AC/DC/Play Ball

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six. Let’s make it count with what I feel is a late-career gem by epic Australian rockers AC/DC. I’ve written about them and their long and tragic history multiple times, for example here, so I’m not going to repeat myself in this post. Play Ball is the terrific opener of AC/DC’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. It was the band’s first album recorded without co-founding member and long-term rhythm guitarist and song co-writer Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire earlier that year due to dementia. He passed away from the disease in November 2017 at the age of 64. Notably, all tunes on the album were constructed largely by lead guitarist Angus Young from material he and his brother had worked on during the recording sessions of previous records. As such, Play Ball and all other songs on Rock or Bust are credited to Angus Young and Malcolm Young.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something there you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; George Thorogood website; The Guess Who website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jake Thistle/Down the Line

Young New Jersey singer-songwriter with incredible story looks like star in the making

As a music lover for 40-plus years, I enjoy coming across young talented artists. I also love a great story. New Jersey singer-songwriter Jake Thistle represents both. It’s safe to assume most of my readers haven’t heard of the recent high school graduate. My gut tells me this may change, and I’m not only referring to this post.

If I recall it correctly, I first came across Thistle about a year ago on Facebook where he’s pretty active and has amassed some 14,000 likes. The other day, I saw him at a free summer outdoor concert, performing a Jackson Browne show – a perfect fit, in my view, since he reminds me of Browne. During the gig, Thistle casually mentioned a CD. Before getting to that, I’d like to touch on his cool story.

The following is based on an interview the then 14-year-old Thistle gave to New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 four years ago. One month prior to his fourth birthday, he watched the 2008 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It turned out to be a life-changing moment for the little boy. I guess you could call it the equivalent of seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Jake Thistle at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Bitten by the Tom Petty bug, Thistle began watching videos of the man from Gainesville, Fla. on YouTube. The platform soon also suggested other similar artists and before long, the young boy became a classic rock fan. Listening to great music eventually turned into picking up the guitar at the age of nine; and starting to post his own videos on YouTube. And then something really incredible happened.

Tom Petty saw one of Thistle’s videos and sent him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Not only did Thistle get to see one of his music heroes, but he also met the man and the Heartbreakers backstage. It sounds like Mike Campbell was instrumental in all of this happening. Thistle told Q104.3 host Jim Kerr he does an annual fundraiser for Rock the Dogs, an animal charity co-founded by Campbell, who wanted to meet the young musician.

Thistle has also played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle and Tom Morello – not bad for a young cat who just graduated high school!

Jake Thistle with Steve Ferrone, former drummer of the Heartbreakers

This brings me to Down the Line, Thistle’s first CD that came out in June 2021. It was not what he initially had envisaged. “I’ve been wanting to get more original music out for a long time,” he explained in a Q&A on his website. “I had a deal in place with a major studio for a full, professionally-produced EP that I was going to record with some great musicians in the Spring, and I had some amazing offers to record at other studios with some of my heroes that I was looking forward to—then COVID happened, and those things had to be put on hold for now.”

But Thistle still wanted to put out some of his music, so he recorded the album at his home studio, using instruments he knew how to play himself. “I’ve never been one of those musicians who likes to sit in front of a computer—I like to play music— so I bought a new soundboard that allowed me to record and mix tracks right on the board…In addition to arranging and recording every instrument myself, I didn’t use any computer-based enhancements, instruments or sounds.”

After eight graphs into this post, I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s kick it off with the album’s opener and title track. When I listened to the tune for the first time, I was immediately struck by how mature Thistle sounds – certainly not your usual high school student. To be clear, I love when high school students get into music, so it’s not meant in a disparaging way. But just check out the remarkable songwriting and Thistle’s voice – so good!

In addition to the guitar, Thistle also managed to pick up the piano. Here’s a beautiful example: Frontier of Time. I could totally picture Jackson Browne playing this song. In fact, as I mentioned at the outset, if there’s any particular artist Thistle reminds me of it’s Browne. The slight occasional rasp in his voice is a bit reminiscent of Bryan Adams.

Another gem on the album is Lines On the Road. Check out the lyrics: Well I’m hypnotized by lines rushing by on the road/Measuring a time in song, feeling the highway below/I’m not worried about figuring out my life/No one ever seems to make it out alive/No I’m just seeing how long I can survive… This is mature singer-songwriter material. “The inspiration was from that sense of serenity and hope I’d get when taking long road trips, often for gigs in other states,” a then-16-year-old Thistle told American Songwriter in December 2020. “I’m a year away from being able to drive myself, so I have a lot of time to look out the window.”

Let’s do one more: Hometown, another neat piano-driven track. While it would be interesting to hear more produced renditions of the album’s 12 tunes, I actually find Thistle’s stripped-down approach pretty engaging. He certainly did a remarkable job leveraging the means he had to his full advantage. I couldn’t find a clip off the album, so here’s a live version from what looks like Thistle music cave at home. Some nice stuff hanging on the wall behind him, including what looks like a Rickenbacker 360/12.

So what’s next for Thistle? Apparently, he still has plans to record in the studio, which would be the logical next step. “Yes, the offers I had are still open, but we need to wait for the effects of the pandemic to get better,” he noted in the above Q&A. “I have a wide range of songs, and some I think would better for a full band with a studio. I write all the time, and I’m very much looking forward to getting in the studio for the next album even as I’m just releasing this one.”

I feel a full band and studio production would also allow Thistle to record some more uptempo rock-oriented songs a la Running On Empty, to stay with Jackson Browne. In the meantime, take a listen to Thistle’s CD below. It’s also available on Apple Music and on Amazon. Or you can purchase it for download on Thistle’s website here.

I think Jake Thistle is on an exciting path. There’s no question he’s both a very talented songwriter and a pretty solid musician. And, again, think about it: He’s only 18 and already so good! The remarkable relationships he has built with other music artists also look like great opportunities. My gut tells me we may well be looking at a classic singer-songwriter star in the making. I certainly look forward to hearing more music from him!

Sources: Jake Thistle website; Q104.3; YouTube; Spotify