After Various Attempts, The Starrs Were Finally Aligned at The Beacon

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band shine at New York City’s renowned performance venue

I finally got to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Tuesday night at New York City’s storied Beacon Theatre. While as a huge Beatles fan I can’t quite explain why this didn’t happen years ago, I know one thing for sure: The night turned out to be a great memorable experience that was worth the wait!

At the beginning of the concert, which kicked off shortly after 8:00 p.m. with no opening act, Ringo noted that after various previously cancelled attempts he was glad to be back on the road. Based on the vibe he projected throughout the gig, those were honest words from a close to 82-year-old artist who still loves to perform.

The Beacon Theatre framed by construction scaffolding. And, nope, that black Mercedes wasn’t Ringo’s limousine.

One sad note: All Starr member Edgar Winter was absent. Ringo explained he had come down with COVID. Since his keyboards had been set up, I assume Winter literally must have found out just hours before the gig. But as professional musicians do, they decided the show must go on. Not only do I join Ringo who wished Winter the best, but I also hope nobody else from the band and the supporting staff got infected and the long postponed tour can go on.

Another bit of a bummer: I didn’t capture any video. You can thank the Beacon Theatre’s usher police. I’ve rarely seen ushers constantly pacing back and forth and telling people not to take photos or videos. Granted these are the official rules but, come on, regular concert visitors snapping some photos or taking some video aren’t doing this for profit.

Yes, there is a smile behind that bloody mask!

Well, other than taking a couple of pictures, I didn’t want to become a troublemaker, especially when the performer’s key motto is ‘peace and love’. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube videos captured by some other terrible violators! None of the clips was captured Tuesday night, but they are all from the current tour and feature Edgar Winter. And while he was defintely missed, the group did a great job without him.

Speaking of the All Starr Band beyond Ringo, each member had moments when they truly shined. The first two I’d like to call out are saxophonist Warren Ham, who also played flute and harmonica and sang vocals. Then there was British guitarist and bassist Hamish Stuart, a co-founder of Scottish funk and R&B group Average White Band, aka AWB. Check out their and and the band’s great rendition of AWB’s Pick Up the Pieces, off their 1974 eponymous sophomore album. And, yep, that’s Steve Lukather on bass, who occassionally traded the instrument with Stuart.

Colin Hay, best known as songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist of Aussie band Men At Work, stood out on vocals, still sounding like business as usual in the ’80s, especially on Men At Work songs. Here’s Overkill, a tune from the band’s sophomore album Cargo, released in April 1993. Check out Hay hitting high notes at around 3 minutes. Hay also perfectly nailed the high notes on Toto’s Africa, a vocal highlight of the night. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip that did the performance full justice.

Steve Lukather was great on guitar. Here here’s rocking out on Hold the Line, Toto’s debut single from October 1978, which gave them a big hit from the get-go. When anouncing the tune on Tuesday night, Lukather said he was 19 years old when Toto recorded that tune, adding in a few months he’s turning 65. I’ve always loved that song!

So where the heck is Ringo in all of this, you may wonder. Well, to begin with, he shared drumming responsibilities with Gregg Bissonette, and they both looked like they were having fun behind their kits. And then, of course, he also did some singing. Here’s Photograph, co-written by him and George Harrison, and first released in September 1973 as the lead single of Ringo’s eponymous third studio album that came out in November that year.

Following is the setlist from Tuesday night:
• Matchbox (Carl Perkins cover)
• It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr song)
• What Goes On (Beatles cover)
• Rosanna (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Pick Up the Pieces (AWB cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• Down Under (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Boys (Shirelles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• I’m The Greatest (Ringo Starr song)
• Yellow Submarine (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Cut the Cake (WAB cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• Octupus’s Garden (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo Starr song)
• Overkill (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Africa (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Work to Do (Isley Brothers cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• I Wanna Be Your Man (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Who Can It Be Now? (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Hold the Line (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Photograph (Ringo Starr song)
• Act Naturally (Johnny Russell cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• With a Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance (Beatles cover feat. Ringo; John Lennon cover)

Tuesday night’s gig was the second of three dates Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band did at the Beacon Theatre. Tomorrow night, they play Count Basie Theater, a great venue in Red Bank, N.J., before moving on to State Theater in Easton, Penn. (June 11) and Providenc PAC in Providence, R.I. (June 12). The current leg of the North American tour wraps up in Clearwater, Fla. on June 26. Part 2 starts in Bridgeport, Conn. on September 23. The full current schedule is here. If you haven’t seen Ringo yet and like his music and the All Starr Band concept, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Kick Off Long-Awaited North American Tour

15th All Starr Band features Steve Lukather, Colin Hay, Warren Ham, Hamish Stewart, Greg Bissonette and Edgar Winter

We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re gonna play some rock ‘n’ roll, that’s true/Now we’re heading down the highway to play for you...

The above excerpt from We’re On the Road Again, the opener of Ringo Starr’s 2017 studio album Give More Love, was my first thought when getting a recent email reminder for my scheduled upcoming gig by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band at New York City’s storied Beacon Theatre. This prompted me to check on the status of their tour, which had been derailed twice in 2020 and then again in 2021 due to you know what! It’s now official. Ringo and his revolving cast of prominent bandmates are back on the road, the best news I’ve heard in a long time!

The tour kicked off on May 27 in Canada at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario. An announcement on Ringo’s website notes the show marked the fifth time the band launched a tour at that venue after 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2014. The large casino, hotel and entertainment complex is located on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band perform at Casino Rama on Friday, May 27, 2022. PHOTO BY DARREN EAGLES /PHOTO

“It’s loose,” Ringo told the Toronto Sun when describing the atmosphere at Casino Rama and explaining why the band chose the venue yet again to kick off another tour. “For a week we live here and we just go to the same stage. It’s good being in the same vicinity as where we’re rehearsing.”

Following are some clips taken by concert attendees of both the initial May 27 show and the second Rama date of May 28. First up: It Don’t Come Easy, which has always been one of my favorite Ringo tunes. The song, which he co-wrote with George Harrison who also produced it, first appeared as a non-album single in April 1971. It was Ringo’s second solo single. The tune may be titled “it don’t come easy”, but you don’t get the sense performing it posed any bigger challenge to Ringo who is turning 82 in July and seems to be in superb shape!

While Ringo undoubtedly is central to the All Starr Band, the idea behind the live “rock supergroup”, which he founded in 1989, has always been to go beyond Ringo’s songs and showcase tunes by the band’s members. Now in its 15th iteration, the group features longtime members Steve Lukather (of Toto), Colin Hay (formerly of Men At Work), Warren Ham, Hamish Stuart (formerly of Average White Band) and Gregg Bissonette, as well as alumni Edgar Winter whose first tenure was from 2006 to 2011. Speaking of Edgar, here’s Free Ride, a song written by Dan Hartman and originally recorded in 1972 by the Edgar Winter Group. Yeah, baby, this rocks!

How ’bout some Aussie music. Ask you shall receive. Here’s Colin Hay with Men at Work’s Down Under. One of the band’s best-known tunes, Down Under appeared on Business As Usual, the group’s debut album released in November 1981. Hay’s proposition of the vegemite sandwich still sounds pretty tasty.

Three clips in, you may wonder, and no Beatles? Agree, this borders on a crime. Here’s Octopus’s Garden, one of two songs Ringo not only sang but also wrote for the band. The second one was Don’t Pass Me By. He penned Octopus’s Garden during a boating trip with his family in Sardinia after he had walked out on The Beatles during The White Album sessions in 1968. Of course, we know the rest of the story. When Ringo returned, he found his drum kit covered with flowers, thanks to George, and Octopus’s Garden ended up on Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles album, even though it was released in September 1969, eight months prior to Let It Be.

Let’s do one more: With a Little Help From My Friends combined with a snippet of Give Peace a Chance, the show finale. With a Little Help From My Friends, off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was among the final songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney truly wrote together. Give Peace a Chance, recorded May 31, 1969 at a “bed-in” Lennon staged with Yoko Ono in a room at Queen Elizabeth’s Hotel in Montreal, was Lennon’s first solo hit.

Here’s the setlist from the May 27 show, as reported by the Toronto Sun:
• Matchbox
• It Don’t Come Easy
• What Goes On
• Free Ride
• Rosanna
• Pick Up the Pieces
• Down Under
• Boys
• I’m The Greatest
• Yellow Submarine
• Cut the Cake
• Overkill
• Africa
• Work to Do
• I Wanna Be Your Man
• Johnny B. Goode
• Who Can It Be Now
• Hold the Line
• Photograph
• Act Naturally
• With a Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance

“I can’t wait to get back out on the road and play,” Ringo said in the above statement that was issued in February. “This is the longest I’ve been off the road in years – up until 2020 I was touring every year with the All Starrs – and I’ve really missed it. Making music in the studio has been great, and it certainly saved me during the pandemic, but nothing beats playing live with great musicians in front of an audience. I love my fans and they love me and it’s going to be wonderful to be peace and loving and playing for them again.” That’s the spirit!

Tonight, Ringo and His All Starr Band are playing CMAC in Canandaigua, N.Y., before moving on to Boston’s Wang Theater on June 2 and Hanover Theater in Worcester, Mass. on June 3. The full tour schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ringo Starr website; Toronto Sun; Songfacts; YouTube

My Playlist: Fastball

When I recall a song I haven’t heard in ages, I tend to revisit the band or artist who performed it, especially if I don’t know them well beyond a tune or two. That’s what happened with Fastball when I remembered The Way the other day and included the cool tune in my last Sunday Six feature. After sampling a bunch of other songs from different albums by the American alternative-rock-turned-power pop band, I liked what I heard and decided to put together this profile and playlist.

Fastball were formed in 1994 in Austin, Texas by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). After Shuffield had introduced Zunigo to Scalzo who had been with California group The Goods, the three of them decided to start their own group.

Following a series of names, including Star 69, Magneto, Magneto USA, Ed Clark’s Business Bible and Starchy, they decided on Fastball. What appears to be a baseball metaphor is definitely more memorable than some of the other names they had considered. Fastball managed to quickly gain popularity in the Austin music scene. After a local journalist had seen them perform, they brought them to the attention of Hollywood Records, which led to a record deal soon thereafter.

Up to that point, Fastball’s story almost looked like a fairytale. Other bands struggle for years to sign with a label if they ever get that far. But the Texas group’s ride wouldn’t be without bumps. While their debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996 yielded a win in the “Best Pop Band” category at the Austin Music Awards (tied with The Wannabes, another Austin group), the record sold poorly (about 5,500 copies as of April 1998). Suddenly, the future was wide open, to creatively borrow from Tom Petty, and all of the band’s members felt compelled to keep their day jobs.

Then came their break – again, something many music artists never get. And it was a big one. In February 1998, Fastball released the above-mentioned The Way, the lead single of their then-upcoming sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy. The Way, which only was the group’s second single, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, as well as in Canada on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts. Overseas, it also reached no. 7 in Sweden and no. 21 in the UK.

By September, only six months after its release, All the Pain Money Can Buy had sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, thus reaching Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Interestingly, the album “only” reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 18 and also charted in a few European countries. Fastball had arrived. But their commercial and chart performance would be short-lived – again, an all-too-familiar playbook in the brutal music business.

In September 2000, Fastball’s third album appeared. It was appropriately titled The Harsh Light of Day. While it received positive reviews, once again, it turned out to be a record that didn’t sell well. As of January 2004, sales totaled a mere 84,000 copies – definitely a harsh drop compared to the predecessor’s million units sold in just six months! It also was the group’s last album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 97.

Despite lacking chart and commercial success, Fastball managed to soldier on. They remain active to this day in their original line-up and have since released four additional studio albums. Their catalog also includes two live records and a compilation. I’d say the time has come to take a closer look at some of their songs. And there’s definitely more to this band than The Way.

I’d like to do this in chronological order starting with Fastball’s debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996. Compared to their sophomore record, the songs on their debut effort sound a bit rawer and remind me a little of Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie. Here’s the title track, written by Scalzo.

Turning to Fastball’s hugely successful second album All the Pain Money Can Buy, I’m skipping The Way, since I just covered it (though the tune is included in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to highlight Out of My Head, the only other song that had sounded vaguely familiar when checking out the band’s music. Penned by Scalzo, the song also became the third single off the album and the last to make the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 20 – interestingly outperforming The Way, which missed the U.S. mainstream chart but as noted above was pretty successful elsewhere.

You’re an Ocean is a catchy pop-rock tune from Fastball’s third album The Harsh Light of Day, the last appearing on the band’s original label Hollywood Records. Once again, the song was written by Scalzo. The record featured some notable guests, including Billy Preston and Brian Setzer.

In June 2004, Fastball released their fourth album. Previously, they had signed with new record label Rykodisc. The record was mixed by Bob Clearmountain who is known for having worked with major acts like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Toto and Bon Jovi. Two tracks, Someday and Red Light, were produced by Adam Schlesinger who among others founded Fountains of Wayne. Here’s Someday written by Miles Zuniga – nice power pop! The album did not chart.

The Beatlesque The Malcontent (The Modern World) is from Fastball’s fifth studio album Keep Your Wig On that came out in April 2009. The band had switched labels, and the record appeared on MRI/RED Distribution. It was co-produced by Miles Zuniga and CJ Eiriksson, with mixing once again done by Bob Clearmountain.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Friend or Foe, the opener of Fastball’s seventh and most recent studio album The Help Machine from October 2019. The song was written by Zuniga. The record appeared on the group’s own 33 1/3 label.

It’s a pity Fastball have largely been under the radar screen for the past 20 years or so. I find their melodic rock and power pop that oftentimes is reminiscent of The Beatles and Badfinger enjoyable. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes by the group.

“When I look at our catalog, there’s not a bad record in there,” notes drummer Joey Shuffield in the band’s online bio, “We’ve been through our ups and downs, but I think we’ve really found our groove over the last few years.”

“We spent a lot of time on a major label, so initially the transition back to being an indie band was a little bumpy,” Shuffield further points out. “But now it feels comfortable being responsible for everything ourselves, because that way we’re more likely to get it right. We’re all so into the music now, and I think you can hear that on the last couple of albums.”

Adds Tony Scalzo: “It’s only natural that you get better at what you do as you get older and more experienced. But you can’t always figure that out when you’re in your 20s. Now that we’re on our own label, the pressure’s all on us, and that’s fine. All I ever really wanted was a consistent creative outlet, and we’ve got that now.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Fastball website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, and this means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. All featured tracks in this post appear on releases that came out yesterday (September 24). Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Third Eye Blind/Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen

Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band founded in San Francisco in 1993. In the early 1990s, singer-songwriter and guitarist Stephan Jenkins set out to start the group. He worked on early material with bassist Jason Slater that resulted in the band’s first demo. In their early years, Third Eye Blind experienced frequent line-up changes. After Slater’s departure, guitarist Kevin Cadogan joined with whom Jenkins developed a songwriting partnership. In June 1996, the group signed with Elektra Records. Despite significant challenges, Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut album finally appeared in April 1997. It reached no. 25 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, also charted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has sold more than six million copies, becoming the band’s best-selling album to date. Third Blind Eye have since since released six additional records including their latest, Our Bande Apart. Here’s the nice opener Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen penned by Jenkins who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s remaining tracks.

Jesse Malin/Greener Pastures

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jesse Malin started his career in 1980 when he was only 12 years old as frontman of New York hardcore group Heart Attack. In 1991, he co-founded D Generation, a glam punk band, in which he continues to perform as lead vocalist to this day. After the group’s break-up in 1999 (they reunited in 2011), Malin launched a solo career. Influenced by Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, he changed his sound. His solo debut The Fine Art of Self-Destruction first came out in the UK in October 2002 before it appeared in the U.S. in January 2003. Eight additional solo albums by Malin have since been released. Here’s Greener Pastures, a beautiful tune from Malin’s new Americana-oriented album Sad and Beautiful World.

Mac McCaughan/The Sound of Yourself

According to his profile on Apple Music, Mac McCaughan wears multiple hats. He is a co-founder of the seminal indie band Superchunk, founder and leader of Portastatic, a former member of Seam and Go Back Snowball, and co-owner of Merge Records, one of America’s most successful and influential independent labels. Despite his success, McCaughan has strayed little from his punk rock principles in terms of both music and business, and after more than 25 years of making records, he opted to launch a belated solo career in 2015 with the release of the synthy Non-Believers...While Superchunk continued releasing albums of the high-energy fuzz pop they were known for, McCaughan furthered his deepening fascination with synth sounds, collaborating with ambient harpist Mary Lattimore on a series of improvisations that was released in 2019 as the New Rain Duets album by the Three Lobed label. This brings me to his latest solo release, The Sound of Yourself. Here’s the title track. I like it!

Ringo Starr/Let’s Change the World

Only six months after Zoom In, Ringo Starr is out with another EP, Change the World. Of course, I couldn’t ignore it! Just like the previous EP, the four tracks were recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West studio, according to a recent announcement on his website. “I’ve been saying I only want to release EPs at this point and this is the next one,” he commented. “What a blessing it’s been during this year to have a studio here at home and be able to collaborate with so many great musicians, some I’ve worked with before and some new friends.” Guest artists include Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather, both from Toto, as well as Joe Walsh and Nathan East, among others. Here’s the title track co-written by Williams and Lukather. Backing vocals were provided by Amy Keys, Zelma Davis, Billy Valentine and Darryl Phinnessee. Let’s Change the World perfectly fits the hope and optimism Ringo Starr continues to radiate at age 81 – I just love the man!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature where I stretch out across different genres and different decades to celebrate music I dig, six tracks at a time. This edition features blue-eyed soul/R&B, Americana rock and Stax soul, bookended by two beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals. It touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021.

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler/Hurricane Light

Kicking off this post is beautiful instrumental music by Portland, Ore.-based guitarist and composer Marisa Anderson. From her website: Marisa Anderson channels the history of the guitar and stretches the boundaries of tradition. Her deeply original work applies elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone and 20th century classical music to compositions based on blues, jazz, gospel and country music, re-imagining the landscape of American music…Classically trained, she honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands. Originally from Northern California, Anderson dropped out of college at age nineteen to walk across the US and after more than decade of wandering landed in Portland, Oregon, where she currently lives. Hurricane Light is a track from Anderson’s new album, Lost Futures, which appeared on August 27 and which she recorded together with William Tyler, a fellow guitarist from Nashville, Tenn. I find this music super relaxing. It’s got a cinematic feel to it, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Anderson’s website also notes she writes scores for short films and soundtracks.

Boz Scaggs/Lowdown

Let’s jump back 45 years to a very cool tune by Boz Scaggs. Lowdown, which features a seductive funky bassline and is smooth at the same time, is from Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees released in February 1976. Co-written by Scaggs and then-future Toto co-founder David Paich, the song also became the highest-charting single off the album, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2. It also charted in the UK and Australia. BTW, that neat bassline was played by David Hungate, another soon-to-become original member of Toto. And there was a third musician who would join Paich and Hungate to form Toto the following year, together with Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball: drummer Jeff Porcaro. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with them for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. He is still active and has released 19 solo albums to date, the most recent of which, Out of the Blues, appeared in July 2018.

Steve Earle & The Dukes/I Ain’t Ever Satisfied

When my streaming music provider served up I Ain’t Ever Satisfied the other day, I was immediately hooked. I’ve listened to some of Steve Earle’s catalog, but there is a lot left for me to explore. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, written by Earle, appeared on his sophomore album Exit 0 from May 1987, which he recorded together with his backing band The Dukes. The album placed in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts at no. 90 and no. 36, respectively, and earned Earle two 1988 Grammy nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song. Earle has released 21 studio albums to date, including collaborations with Del McCoury Band and Shawn Colvin. His most recent album J.T., a tribute to his oldest son Justin Townes Earle who passed away from a drug overdose in August 2020, was released in early January this year. I previously reviewed it here.

Son Volt/Driving the View

Alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt are a recent discovery for me. They entered my radar screen with their latest album Electro Melodier, which came out at the end of July. I featured a tune from it in a previous Best of What’s New installment. The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar),  Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). Here’s Driving the View, a great track from Son Volt’s third studio album Wide Swing Tremolo that appeared in October 1998.

Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour

Next we’re going back to 1965 and Memphis, Tenn. for some sweet soul music recorded at the Stax studio. By the time Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett recorded In the Midnight Hour, Stax founder Jim Stewart had signed a formal national distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that would come to haunt him when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967 and Stax would lose the rights to all Atlantic-distributed recordings between 1960 and 1967. Coming back to a happier subject, In the Midnight Hour was co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, a founding member of Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.s, who also was the label’s A&R man. M.G.s members Al Jackson Jr. (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) participated in the recording session. In the Midnight Hour, which appeared in June 1965, also was the title track of Pickett’s sophomore album released the same year. The tune became Pickett’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and his highest charting song at the time on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it reached no. 21. Just a timeless soul classic!

Robben Ford/A Dragon Tail

For the last track in this installment, we’re going back to the present time and a killer instrumental by guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford, off his new album Pure that came out on August 27. Ford, who began playing the saxophone at age 10 before he discovered the guitar as a 13-year-old, has had a remarkable career. He has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Carlton and Little Feat, among many others. His solo debut Schizophonic, a jazz album, came out in 1976. Ford has since released close to 30 additional records under his name. This doesn’t include any of his collaboration albums. While primarily being associated with blues, Ford has played many other genres, including jazz, rock and funk. He has been nominated for five Grammys and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by trade publication Musician magazine that folded in 1999. Here’s A Dragon Tail from Ford’s above mentioned new album. Check out this amazing sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Marissa Anderson website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Toto/Pamela

I realize this is the second Clips & Pix post in a row about a tune I already covered previously, but when I spotted this live rendition of Pamela by Toto on YouTube, I simply couldn’t resist publishing it. This was recorded during a one night special event on November 21, 2020, featuring Toto’s new line-up. And, boy, do they sound awesome!

After the end of Toto’s 2018-2019 40 Trips Around the Sun Tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary, it looked like they were done. Not so! The above event was the first time the band performed with their new formation. In addition to long-time members Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals), Joseph Williams (vocals) and David Paich (keyboards, vocals), Toto’s 15th incarnation includes Steve Maggiora (keyboards, backing vocals), Dominique “Xavier” Taplin (keyboards), Warren Ham (saxophone, percussion, backing vocals), John Pierce (bass) and Robert “Sput” Searight (drums).

Fifteen line-ups sounds like awfully many. And as bands go through multiple changes, things don’t necessarily get better. It can take time to become a true unit. In this case, all of the above musicians not only sound top notch but also do a nice job playing together. In my opinion, the standout is Searight. While I’m not a drummer, to me, he has great rhythmic feeling and is simply a joy to watch. Pay particular attention to him!

Pamela, co-written by Paich and Williams, first appeared on The Seventh One, Toto’s seventh studio album released in March 1988 – one of their best, in my view. Sadly, it was the last studio album with Jeff Porcaro, the band’s fantastic original drummer. It certainly can’t be easy to fill his shoes, but Searight looks like he’s the guy to do it!

Toto has already announced a major new tour. I guess there are still many fans out there, and it’s probably also lucrative for them to go on the road. The Dogz of Oz World Tour is scheduled to kick off in Germany in July 2022. If they come to my neck of the woods, I will seriously consider seeing them again.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Here we are on another Sunday to explore the diversity of music six tunes at a time. Today marks the official start of summer and, boy, it’s certainly hot in my neck of the woods! But I take sun and heat over a dark and cold winter day any day. Regardless of the weather in your area and how you may feel about it, I hope you find something you enjoy among my picks for this new installment of The Sunday Six.

Jesse Colin Young/Song for Juli

Starting us off this time is a beautiful, largely instrumental track by Jesse Colin Young, co-founder and lead vocalist of The Youngbloods. When I stumbled across Song for Juli the other day, I immediately felt it would make for a nice Sunday Six opener. If you’ve read some of the weekly feature’s previous installments, you may have noticed my preference to start these posts on a softer note. After the dissolution of The Youngbloods in 1972, Jesse Colin Young (born Perry Miller) resumed his solo career he had first started in the early ’60s. That pre-Youngbloods phase had yielded two solo albums: The Soul of a City Boy (April 1964) and Young Blood (March 1965). Song for Juli is the title track of Young’s fourth solo album, a folk rock-oriented record that appeared in October 1973. The tune about his first child Juli was co-written by Young and the child’s mother Suzie Young, Young’s first wife. Young who last November turned 79 remains active and has released 13 additional albums to date. His most recent one is titled Dreamers and came out in February 2019.

The Turtles/Wanderin’ Kind

Every time I hear a song by The Turtles, I’m amazed by their great harmony singing. That being said, their biggest hit Happy Together, which I featured in a previous Sunday Six installment, is the only tune I’ve known by name, though I’ve heard some of their other songs. Well, now I can add Wanderin’ Kind, the opener of The Turtles’ debut album It Ain’t Me Babe from October 1965. The tune is one of the record’s four original tracks that were all written or co-written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Howard Kaylan. Fun fact from Wikipedia: Since at the time The Turtles recorded their first album their members were still underage, they required written permission from their parents to pursue the project. During their original five-year run from 1965 to 1970, The Turtles released six studio albums. In 1983, Kaylan and Turtles co-founder and guitarist Mark Vollman revived the band and have since toured as The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie. They remain active and are planning to go on the road in the U.S. later this summer as part of the Happy Together Tour 2021.

Toto/Pamela

The other day, fellow blogger Music Enthusiast included Toto in an ’80s post, reminding me of a band I’ve listened to on and off since 1982 when they released their hugely successful fourth studio album Toto IV. Pamela is the opener of The Seventh One, which is, well, Toto’s seventh studio album that came out in March 1988. The tune was co-written by keyboarder David Paich and lead vocalist Joseph Williams. Among the features I’ve always dug about Pamela are Jeff Porcaro’s drumming and the cool breaks. Sadly, it turned out to be Porcaro’s final regular studio album with Toto. He died on August 5, 1992 at the age of 38 from a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease resulting from cocaine use. Following Toto’s second hiatus that started in October 2019 after the end of their last 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, they are back in business as of October 2020. A live album titled With a Little Help From My Friends, which captures a special lockdown performance from November 2020, is set to appear on June 25. Toto have also announced their next tour, The Dogz of Oz World Tour. Currently confirmed dates are for Europe starting in Bonn, Germany in July 2022. Paich and Williams are still part of the band’s current line-up, as is guitarist Steve Lukather, Toto’s only founding member who has continuously played in all of their incarnations.

Lord Huron/Mine Forever

Kudos to fellow blogger Angie from The Diversity of Classic Rock, who recently did a great feature on new music that includes Lord Huron, one of her picks that got my immediate attention. The indie folk rock band was initially founded in Los Angeles in 2010 as a solo project of guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider. After recording and releasing a few EPs all by himself, Schneider started adding members for support during live shows and Lord Huron’s first full-length album Lonesome Dreams from October 2012. Apart from Schneider, the band’s current line-up features Tom Renaud (guitar), Miguel Briseño (bass, keyboards) and Mark Barry (drums, percussion). Mine Forever, written by Schneider, is a track from their new album Long Lost released on May 21. The tune perfectly illustrates what attracted me to Lord Huron, which is their amazing moody sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb. It has a cinematic feel to it. Check it out!

Bob Marley and the Wailers/Is This Love

The first time I heard of Bob Marley must have been on the radio during my teenage years back in Germany. I assume it was Could You Be Loved, his hit single from 1980, which got lots of play on the airways. What I remember much better is how I further got into his music. It was the excellent live album Babylon by Bus, which my best friend had gotten around the same time. Released in November 1978, the double LP captured performances by Bob Marley and the Wailers, mostly from three concerts in Paris in late June 1978. One of my favorite tracks from that album has always been Is This Love. Written by Marley, the tune first appeared on Kaya, the tenth studio album by Marley and his band, which came out in March 1978. There’s just something infectious about reggae. That groove automatically makes me move. Unfortunately, Bob Marley passed away from cancer on May 11, 1981 at the age of 36.

U2/Vertigo

The time has come again to wrap up another Sunday Six. As has kind of become tradition, I’d like to do so with a rocker: Vertigo by U2. I first got into the Irish rock band in the mid-’80s with their fourth studio album The Unforgettable Fire. From there, if I recall it correctly, I went to the live album Under a Bloody Red Sky, which in turn led me to U2’s earlier records. My favorite The Joshua Tree from March 1987 was still nearly three years away. After the follow-on Rattle and Hum, released in October 1988, I became more of a casual U2 listener. I think they have had decent songs throughout their career. Vertigo, the lead single from the band’s 11th studio album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb from November 2004, was an acquired taste. The Edge’s more straight hard rock playing was quite a departure from what I consider his signature sound on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree album. At the same time, I respect that U2 don’t want to do the same music over and over again. While Vertigo hasn’t become my favorite U2 tune, I’ve come around and think it’s a pretty good song.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Turtles website; YouTube

My Playlist: Steely Dan

Together with a handful of other bands and artists I’ve dug for many years, I couldn’t think of a better group to dedicate the first playlist of 2021 than to the amazing Steely Dan. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve put together a career-spanning playlist.

Before getting to some music, as usual, I’d like to provide a bit of background, for which I’m going to borrow from previous posts. The original masterminds behind Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.

The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a “bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops.” Becker was playing bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later. When they met Dias, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.

Donald Fagan & Walter Becker
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for each of the band’s following seven studio albums: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).

Steely Dan: The Very Best Of | Music | Entertainment | Express.co.uk
Steely Dan in 1972 (from left): Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Walter Becker, David Palmer, Denny Dias, Donald Fagen and Jim Hodder

In June 1981, Fagen and Becker disbanded and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career.

In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited for an American tour in support of Fagen’s second studio album Kamakiriad, which had appeared in May that year and had been produced by Becker. While Fagen and Becker continued Steely Dan tours, it took until February 2000 before their next new album Two Against Nature appeared. One more album followed: Everything Must Go from June 2003.

UPDATED] Walter Becker Estate Issues Statement Regarding Donald Fagen  Lawsuit
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

After the release of Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat in March 2006, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. On September 3, 2017, Becker passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 67.

At the time of Becker’s death, Donald Fagen said on his Facebook page, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” And that’s exactly what he has been doing until COVID-19 hit. I was fortunate to see him twice in 2018 and wrote about it here and here. I’m currently scheduled to see him again open air in early July together with Steve Winwood – keeping fingers crossed. Time for some music!

I’d to kick things off with the aforementioned Dallas, Steely Dan’s first single. Like all tracks in this post, the song was co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sung by drummer Jim Hodder, the county-flavored tune was not included on Steely Dan’s debut album but appeared in 1978 on a compilation titled Steely Dan.

Perhaps my favorite early Dan tune is the rocker Reelin’ In the Years, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill from November 1972. It also became the album’s second single in March 1973. The song’s kickass guitar solo was played by session musician Elliott Randall, which none other than Jimmy Page called his favorite guitar solo of all time.

Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore release from July 1973, was the band’s first album without vocalist David Palmer that saw Donald Fagen sing lead on every tune. Here’s the album’s second single My Old School. While the record didn’t have a hit and couldn’t match the debut’s chart success, it was well received by critics at the time, and My Old School became a fan favorite.

Pretzel Logic, Dan’s third studio album released in February 1974, was the last to feature the full core lineup of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Baxter and Hodder. It also included contributions from many prominent LA musicians, such as future Toto members David Paich (piano, keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), then-Poco bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals) who would later join the Eagles, and session bassist Chuck Rainey. Here’s opener Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which also became the lead single in April 1974.

By the time Steely Dan’s next album Katy Lied came out in March 1975, most of their original members had left. The band essentially became Becker and Fagen who continued to hire top-notch musicians to support their recording sessions. In addition to Paich and Porcaro, the latter included Rick Derringer and Michael McDonald. Katy Lied also became the first Dan album to feature amazing session guitarist Larry Carlton. Here’s Doctor Wu. The alto saxophone solo was played by jazz saxophonist Phil Woods.

Next up: Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s fifth studio album. Both appeared in May 1976. The funky tune features the above noted Larry Carlton whose guitar solo was ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in May 2008. I also dig Chuck Rainey’s bass work on that tune.

This brings me to Aja, which to me is Steely Dan’s Mount Rushmore. Released in September 1977, this album is pure perfection. While I could have selected any track, I simply couldn’t ignore my all-time favorite Dan tune: Deacon Blues. Even after having listened to it countless times, I still get excited about this song. I think it represents a perfect blend of jazz, pop and rock, and I love the smooth sound. BTW, Becker played bass on this one. But the real standout are the horns.

Steely Dan’s next album Gaucho from November 1980 proved to be a huge challenge to make, which ultimately resulted in the above breakup in June 1981. Driven by Fagen’s and Becker’s perfectionism, the recording sessions used at least 42 musicians and took more than a year. In January 1980, Becker’s girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley died of a drug overdose at his home. Her family subsequently brought a $17.5 million lawsuit, charging he had introduced her to drugs. The case was settled out of court. Shortly after Stanley’s death, Becker was hit by a taxi shattering his right leg. During his six-month recovery, he and Fagen collaborated via phone. Here’s the album’s lead track Babylon Sisters.

February 2000 saw the release of Two Against Nature, Fagen’s and Becker’s first new Steely Dan studio album in 20 years since Gaucho. It became one of their most successful albums. In addition to earning a Platinum certification in the U.S., Two Against Nature won four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year. Here’s the groovy Cousin Dupree, which won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track of Steely Dan’s ninth studio album Everything Must Go, the final with Walter Becker, released in June 2003. I think Apple Music correctly notes the lyrics sound like the song is a permanent sign-off: Guess it’s time for us to book it/Talk about the famous road not taken/In the end we never took it/And if somewhere on the way/We good a few good licks in/No one’s ever gonna know/Cause we’re goin’ out of business/Everything must go.

If Everything Must Go indeed signaled Steely Dan’s final studio album, it wasn’t a total sign-off. Fagen and Becker continued to tour as Steely Dan almost every year thereafter until 2017. Becker’s final performance was on May 27 that year at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Conn.

Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Steely Dan at No. 15 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

In Memoriam: Carmen Anaya-Acevedo

Meet Carmen Anaya-Acevedo, one of the countless women who raised her children by herself. Three of them including my dear wife Frances. Putting food on the table. Buying them clothes. Giving them shelter. Making sure they get an education. It wasn’t easy, but she pulled it off. Carmen passed away on Thursday evening.

What does all of this have to do with music? Carmen wasn’t some famous music artist, but to me she was a true rock star. She was like a second mother; in fact, I used to call her “mami.” Carmen was an integral part of my family. She lived with us for many years until we could no longer safely care for her. For the past six years, she was in a nursing home. It was one of the hardest decisions we needed to make.

In April this year, Carmen’s already compromised health unfortunately took a turn to the worse. She had a series of setbacks that required various hospitalizations. While it appeared her condition had stabilized as of last Wednesday and her treating physician told us she was an incredibly strong lady, given what she had gone through, things suddenly deteriorated on Thursday afternoon. Within less than an hour, she was gone.

Her heart gave up. Or perhaps she was too tired to keep fighting and decided to check out. If it was the latter, I couldn’t blame her. She had been through so much. Carmen was a woman of faith and believed death eventually will lead to something good. I really hope she’s right about that.

Carmen was a happy person who liked to talk a lot and socialize with other folks. She also loved music and dancing. While raising her children in Puerto Rico, she listened to lots of ’80s music. My wife told me one of her favorite tunes from that era was Africa by Toto. Every time that song was playing on the radio, it would make her happy. Carmen may be gone, but she’ll always be with me in my heart. This is for you!

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This has been an extremely busy week on the work and family fronts, which hardly left any time to listen to music and reading posts written by my fellow music bloggers – not to mention writing something myself. Time to start catching up! A great place to begin is to take a look at newly released music. And I found some really good stuff, mostly by bands I had not heard of before. There’s also a nice collaboration single by former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather.

South of Eden/The Talk

South of Eden, formerly known as Black Coffee, are a four-piece rock band from Columbus, Ohio: Ehab Omran (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Justin Young (lead guitar, vocals), Tom McCullough (drums) and Nick Frantianne (bass). According to their website, the band has already performed alongside everyone from the Foo Fighters to System of a Down, and invite you to join them on their journey of looking at rock ‘n’ roll through a modern lensOriginally from the country of Jordan, Ehab primarily listened to the Arabic music his parents would play, in addition to superstars like Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and James Brown. After coming to America, he was introduced to a wider range of music that inspired him: eighties and nineties rock including Guns N’ Roses and notably QueenEhab and Nick performed together in various bands (channeling Iron Maiden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Alice In Chains) and eventually joined Justin and Tom who had been working on their own band (influenced by Van Halen and Black Sabbath). The Talk is the title track of the band’s debut EP, which came out yesterday (August 21). Credited to Omran, Young, McCullough and producer Greg Wells, this nice rocker reminds me a bit of Greta Van Fleet. While it’s more on the aggressive side, it’s got a catchy melody. Check it out!

The Lemon Twigs/Hell on Wheels

The Lemon Twigs are a rock band from Long Island, N.Y., fronted by brothers and multi-instrumentalists Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario. Brian and Michael, who had significant stage experience as children, formed The Lemon Twigs in 2014 when they were still in high school. The band’s touring line-up also includes Daryl Johns (bass), Tommaso Taddonio (keyboards) and Andres Valbuena (drums). Their first release was a cassette, What We Know, issued as a limited edition in 2015. This was followed by the debut studio album Do Hollywood from October 2016. They have since released two additional albums, an EP and various singles. Co-written by the brothers, Hell on Wheels is the opener of the band’s new studio album Songs for the General Public, which appeared yesterday (August 21). I think it’s a catchy tune.

Steve Lukather/Run to Me

Last October, following Toto’s final show in Philadelphia to wrap up their 40th anniversary tour, Steve Lukather told Pennsylvania local newspaper The Morning Call the gig marked “certainly the end of this configuration of Toto.” But apparently Lukather already had other plans. He was supposed to join Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band for a tour earlier this year, which of course didn’t happen and has been postponed until 2021. Now he’s out with a new song, Run to Me, the first single from an upcoming solo album, which as reported by Rolling Stone, is set for release sometime next year. The tune was co-written by Lukather together with his former Toto band mates David Paich and Joseph Williams. In addition to Paich and Williams, it features Ringo Starr and Huey Lewis and the News bassist John Piece. “This is a happy summer single for less than happy times,” commented Lukather on his website. “It just seemed like this was the right time to release the song…A little out of character for myself, but fun.  Inspired by my youth…” There’s definitely a ’60s vibe in this melodic tune, which came out on August 20. Here’s the official video.

Sea Girls/Forever

Let’s wrap up this new music installment with some indie rock from England. Sea Girls, formed in London in 2015, feature Henry Camamile (vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Noswad (bass) and Oli Khan (drums). The band’s debut single Call Me Out appeared in June 2017. This was followed by various additional singles and three EPs, which were all self-released. Last year, the band managed to get a deal with Polydor Records. After a few more singles and another EP, Sea Girls recorded their full-fledged studio debut Open Up Your Head, released on August 14. It includes the above tune Forever, which was written by Young. I really dig the guitar-driven sound of this tune – pretty catchy song!

Sources: Wikipedia; South of Eden website; The Morning Call; Rolling Stone; YouTube