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

LeRoux’s First New Album in 18 Years Serves Tasty Gumbo of Blues, Southern Rock and Zydeco

Until Friday, I had never heard of LeRoux, aka Louisiana’s LeRoux. Then I came across their great song Lucy Anna and featured it in my latest Best of What’s New installment. The tune, which has a nice Little Feat vibe, is from the Baton Rouge-based group’s new album One of Those Days. Earlier today, I found myself in the car and spontaneously decided to listen into the album. All it really took to realize I’m going to dig this music were the first minute or two of the opener and title track – sometimes you just know right away!

Released on July 24, One of Those Days is LeRoux’s first new album in 18 years since 2002’s Higher Up. Prior to that, five of their six earlier records came out between 1978 and 1983. What evidently were the band’s most active years coincided with the period that lasted until their first breakup in 1984 after they had been dropped by their label RCA. However, they already regrouped in 1985. As explained on their website, the band took their name from “the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo,” a rich, thick soup with meat or shellfish and vegetables that’s popular in Louisiana.

LeRoux (from left): Front: Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Jim Odom (guitars); Back: Randy Carpenter (drums), Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals), Jeff McCarty (vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards)

It doesn’t look like LeRoux ever had a significant national breakthrough, at least not based on chart performance. Their most successful single, which somewhat ironically was titled Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights), peaked at no. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – to be clear, I’m not saying this makes them a bad band. After all, I wouldn’t be writing about them if I thought they suck. I’m simply stating some facts.

As you would expect from a group that has been around for more than 40 years, LeRoux have seen many changes in their line-up. Apparently, two of the co-founding members, Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards), are still around. The current line-up also features Jim Odom (guitars), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Randy Carpenter (drums), Jeff McCarty (vocals) and Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals). Except for Decker who joined in 2014, most of the other members have been with the band for at least 10 years.

Let’s get to some music. A great place to start is the aforementioned opener and title track co-written by Odom and Haselden. Here’s the official video. I just love the warm sound, the guitars and keyboard work. I can hear some Allman Brothers and some Doobies in here. What a great tune! Why aren’t these guys better known, or is it just my ignorance?

No One’s Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do) is another great tune. It was written by Dustin Ransom, who per Wikipedia is a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, arranger, music transcriber and film composer – jeez, I guess they forgot to add over-achiever! And, oh, yeah, he’s 33 years old. Man, check out these harmonies and tell me this doesn’t sound friggin’ awesome!

Next up: Don’t Rescue Me, another Odom-Haselden co-write. This one reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter what influence may be in there, it’s just a solid tune – love that opening guitar riff, and there’s more great harmony singing!

On After All, LeRoux are slowing it down a bit. Coz you gotta take a break from going full throttle every now and then after all! 🙂 The tune was co-written by Randy Sharp and Donald Anderson. According to Wikipedia, over the past 40 years, Sharp’s songs have been performed by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat and Tears, Edgar Winter and Emmylou Harris.

Here’s one more: Lifeline (Redux), a groovy rocker co-written by Odom, Haselden and McCarty. Apparently, it’s a new version of a tune the band initially recorded for their fifth studio album So Fired Up from 1983, the last release prior their first breakup.

“It’s the best combination of LeRoux’s musical palette and represents the abilities of the band better than any album we’ve probably ever done,” Haselden notes in a statement on the band’s website. “It covers a wide spectrum of blues, southern rock, and zydeco.” Now you know from where I got the inspiration for the post’s headline!

I can’t speak to other LeRoux records, but what I do know is One of Those Days is a great-sounding album I’m very happy I found. Last but not least, I should also mention some notable guests: Blues guitarist Tab Benoit; original Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball; and Bill Champlin, former longtime keyboarder and guitarist of Chicago.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Toto/The Seventh One

I fully expect Toto is going to elicit different reactions from readers, ranging from excellent to rather mediocre. Let there be no doubt where I stand: While like every band some of Toto’s songs were more compelling than others, overall, I really dig these guys for their outstanding musicianship and, yes, many of their catchy and well executed pop-rock tunes. The Seventh One from March 1988 is probably my favorite album.

My initial introduction to Toto was Hold the Line, a track from their eponymous debut album from October 1978. It was included on a compilation titled The Rock Album – The Best of Today’s Rock Music, which came out in 1980. A friend gave it to me as a present on music cassette. Then came Toto IV from April 1982, and songs like Rosanna, Africa and I Won’t Hold You Back, which each received extensive radio play in Germany. I was hooked!

Toto’s next two albums, Isolation and Fahrenheit from October 1984 and August 1986, respectively, didn’t excite me as much. As a result, the band started fading a bit from my radar screen. And then The Seventh One was released. I dug this album right from the get-go.

Since Toto IV, the band’s line-up had changed. Lead vocalist Bobby Kimball and bassist David Hungate, who were both part of Toto’s initial members, had been replaced by Joseph Williams and Mike Porcaro, respectively. But frankly, I don’t feel this impacted the quality of the album at all. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener Pamela, co-written by David Paich (keyboards, backing vocals) and Joseph Williams. The tune was also released separately as the lead single in February 1988 ahead of the album. Apart from its catchy melody, I dig Jeff Pocaro’s drums part in particular including the cool breaks. To me, Pocaro was one of the best drummers in rock and pop. Of course, the caveat here is I don’t play the drums myself. But I suppose if you were good enough to pass the audition for perfectionists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, you must have been a bloody good drummer! Not to mention countless other top-notch artists like Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few.

Here’s a tune guitarist Steve Lukather considers to be one of his best compositions: Anna. He co-wrote the ballad with Randy Goodrum, an American songwriter, pianist and producer. In August 1988, it also became the album’s third single.

Stop Loving You with its upbeat groove just is an infectious pop song. Co-written by Lukather and Paich, the track also appeared as the album’s fourth single. While it did well in Europe, hitting no. 2 in each The Netherlands and Belgium and reaching no. 37 in Italy, it didn’t chart in the U.S. Here’s the official video.

Ready for some rock? How about that and with a little help from Linda Ronstadt on vocals and some smoking lap steel guitar by David Lindley? Here’s Stay Away, another Paich-Lukather co-write. Perhaps, they should have released that one as a single!

And since it’s so much fun, how about another pop rocker: Only the Children, co-written by Paich, Lukather and Williams.

Let’s end things on a quieter note with another ballad: A Thousand Years. I actually would have bet that Lukather had a role in writing the tune. But nope, it was co-written by Williams, Paich and Mark Towner Williams.

While Toto and Columbia Records were confident The Seventh One was one of the band’s strongest albums to date, its chart performance remained far below expectations. In part, Wikipedia attributes this to upheaval at the record company with president Al Teller’s departure right in the wake of Pamela’s release. Apparently, this led to waning promotion of the song that ended up stalling at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 – not exactly terrible, but certainly a huge difference to Africa and Rosanna, which had peaked at no. 1 and no. 2 in the U.S., respectively. Of course, chart performance is a double-edged indicator to begin with. Just look at today’s charts!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Little Steven Releases New Album Summer Of Sorcery

Van Zandt’s first studio record of new original material in 20 years features mighty backing band The Disciples of Soul

Steven Van Zandt is back in full force on Summer of Sorcery, and he’s pulling all the stops on what is his first album of new original music in 20 years. The launch activities include record release shows this evening in Los Angeles and next Wednesday in Asbury Park, N.J. Since yesterday afternoon, Van Zandt has also “taken over” SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26), where he presents vintage and classic rock tracks, as well as songs from the new album throughout the weekend. Moreover, Summer of Sorcery will be supported with an extended tour through Europe and North America.

Little Steven clearly has been reenergized as a solo artist since the May 2017 release of predecessor Soulfire and that record’s supporting tour, which was also captured on last April’s Soulfire Live! album. He cut down the time between solo record releases from almost 20 to two years – Born Again Savage, the album prior to Soulfire, came out in 1999. And why not? With Bruce Springsteen’s previous Broadway engagement and his upcoming solo album Western Stars, the timing has been perfect for the E Street Band guitarist to focus on his own music.

Little Steven Tour Banner

In many ways, Summer of Sorcery represents a continuation of Soulfire. On both albums, Little Steven is backed by the impressive 14-piece band The Disciples of Soul, and both releases represent a musical journey back to the ’60s and ’70s. If one music artist can pull this off, it is Van Zandt, who frequently showcases his encyclopedic knowledge of music history on his SiriusXM program Underground Garage. He also did so when I saw him and the Disciples in September 2017 during the Soulfire tour.

The key difference between the two records is that Summer of Sorcery features new original music, whereas Soulfire includes songs Van Zandt wrote or co-wrote throughout his career. Most of the tracks on Soulfire also did not appear under his name but were released by other artists, such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the band Van Zandt co-founded with John Lyon (“Southside Johnny”) in the mid-70s and whose first three albums he produced, and Gary U.S. Bonds. You can read more about Soulfire here. Time to get to some new music!

Here’s the opener Communion, a brassy soul rocker and one of the 10 original tunes on the album.

Next up perhaps is a bit of a surprise, at least from my perspective: a Latin song called Party Mambo! I asked my wife who is from Puerto Rico about the tune. She expressed some doubts that fellow Hispanics will like it. While it may not 100 percent authentic, I think it’s groovy.

Vortex throws in blaxploitation, a genre that Little Steven clearly seems to like. Soulfire features a cool cover of Down And Out In New York City, which James Brown first recorded for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. Unlike that tune, Vortex is an original, which sounds like an homage to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. When I’m listening to the tune, I can literally hear the backing vocalists in Shaft.

The title of the next track I’d like to call out pretty much says it all: Soul Power Twist. Another original, the soul horns-meet rock tune could have appeared on an album by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It has a Sam Cooke vibe to it.

How about some blues? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s I Visit The Blues.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track and closer. “The whole theme of the album is summed up in that song, that wizardry, that magic mixture of falling in love in the summer,” Van Zandt stated in a press release. With clocking in at over eight minutes, it’s perhaps not your typical love song.

“With this record I really wanted to travel back to a time when life was exciting, when unlimited possibilities were there every day,” Van Zandt further pointed out. “That was the feeling in the ’60s, the thrill of the unexpected coming at you. Our minds were blown every single day, one amazing thing after another, constantly lifting you up. So you kind of walked around six inches off the ground all the time, there was something that kept you buoyant in your spirit. I wanted to try and capture that first and foremost.”

Van Zandt seems to be a smart man, so I assume his above statement refers to the world of music, or he simply got carried away by excitement over his new album. The real world in America during the ’60s certainly was much more complicated, with racial segregation, the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War, to name some the events that happened during that period.

Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert (2017)

Summer of Sorcery, which was produced by Van Zandt and appears on Wicked Cool/UMe, is available on CD, digitally, and on vinyl as double LP on 180-gram black vinyl. There is also a limited edition double LP on 180-gram psychedelic swirl vinyl one can get exclusively via uDiscover. The album was mixed and mastered by veteran Bob Clearmountain, who has worked in various capacities with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Toto and many other top music artists.

In my opinion, Summer of Sorcery is a fun listening experience, even though it’s perhaps not quite as compelling as Soulfire. Like on that album, the production is a bit massive, but The Disciples of Soul are a hell of a band. Directionally speaking, I also agree with American Songwriter, which wrote the tracks “are often little more than revitalized riffs, melodies and rhythms of already existing songs retrofitted with new words and creative, even complex, rearrangements” – a little harsh, in my opinion. They added the album pulls out “all the stops to make this sonic smorgasbord explode out of the speakers with passion and clout.” I don’t think Van Zandt would claim the music represents anything new; in fact, I would argue it was his clear intention to pay homage to artists and music of the past, so the album’s retro sound isn’t surprising and doesn’t bother me.

As noted above, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul are going on the road. Following the above two album release gigs in the U.S., a 19-date European tour kicks off on May 16 in Liverpool, UK. Some of the other gigs include Berlin, Germany (May 28); Stockholm, Sweden (June 1); Brussels, Belgium (June 7) and Zurich, Switzerland (June 11), before that leg wraps up on June 23 in Paris, France. This is followed by 13 North American gigs, starting on June 29 in Syracuse, N.Y. and finishing on July 28 in Annapolis, Md. Then it’s back again to Europe until the beginning of September, before the band returns to North America with four shows in Las Vegas from September 5-8. There are plenty of additional dates during that second North American leg, including Tuscon, Ariz. (Sep 15); Austin, Texas (Sep 29); Birmingham, Ala. (Oct 3); Chicago (Oct 23); and New York City (Nov 6), the last listed gig. The current tour schedule is included in the above press release.

Sources: Wikipedia, UMe press release, Little Steven website, American Songwriter, YouTube

My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 1: The Concerts

This two-part series isn’t a traditional year-end music review. If that’s what you’re looking for, you could check out this New York Times article about the 28 best albums of 2018 or this Rolling Stone piece titled 50 Best Songs of 2018. Frankly, I don’t even know the names of the majority of artists and songs mentioned in these two articles. And without meaning to sound arrogant or judgmental, I simply don’t care! The reality is the vast majority of music that’s popular nowadays and in the charts doesn’t speak to me.

I’ve also finally accepted that classic rock won’t return to the mainstream – like the blues, it was never meant to be there in the first place, as a recent article reminded me. But, as the same article also correctly stated, just because rock no longer is in the limelight doesn’t mean it’s dead. Consider this: My most viewed blog post this year was a review of a concert by excellent Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out. My most popular Facebook post was a video clip I took of Guns ‘N Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses performing Paradise City, which got 125 shares and some 24,000 views. Trust me, I’m not particularly popular on Facebook, but rock music apparently is!

GTLO Collage Asbury Park 11 24 18

I think the above examples are anecdotal evidence of rock’s ongoing appeal outside the charts. More importantly, rock isn’t going away in my music world. To start with, I never get bored listening repeatedly to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Neil Young and The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few of my favorite artists. I also feel there’s a massive amount of 60s and 70s music I’ve yet to explore. Altogether, this adds up to more stuff I will ever be able to handle, even if I would retire from work immediately and live until age 100! And then there’s icing on the cake when occasionally I come across young bands I dig like Detroit classic rockers Greta Van Fleet, all-female New York blues rock band Jane Lee Hooker or Memphis blues, soul and R&B outfit Southern Avenue.

Music, apart from being something I deeply enjoy, has always been a welcome distraction from challenges life can throw at you. This year, I certainly had my share, so it’s probably not a coincidence that between the blog, listening to music and going to concerts, 2018 felt like my most active year in music to date. It’s also worth remembering that shit happens to everybody. I’m alive and have a job, and my family has a roof over our heads, so ultimately I should be grateful. With that being said, let’s get to part 1 of this review, which focuses on concerts I’ve visited this year, and there have been many.

John Fogerty & Billy Gibbons

Between original artists and tribute acts, I must have set a new record for myself! I’ve seen more than a dozen original artists, who in reverse order include Toto (Nov); Steely Dan twice (Oct & Jul); Southern Avenue (Aug); Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers (Aug); The Doobie Brothers (Jul, together with Steely Dan); Gov’t Mule (Jul, Dark Side of the Mule Pink Floyd show); Neil Young (Jul); Lynyrd Skynyrd (Jun); ZZ Top & John Fogerty (May); Jackson Browne (May); Buddy Guy (Apr 20) and Steve Winwood (Mar 9). I also had a ticket for Aretha Franklin for March 25, one of her very last shows that got canceled due to her illness. The concert would have coincided with her 76h birthday.

While all of the above gigs delivered, the three highlights were Steely Dan at The Beacon Theatre, New York City, Oct (review); Neil Young at Wang Theatre, Boston, Jul (review); and John Fogerty at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmel, N.J., May (review). Following is one clip from each show.

Here’s the mighty Dan with Deacon Blues. This song is a great example of a tune I can listen to over and over again, and it just doesn’t get boring. Truly masterful music never does!

Next up: Neil Young and After The Gold Rush – the combination of Neil with his shaky, almost vulnerable voice and the pipe organ’s church-like sound still give me goosebumps when I think about it!

And here’s John Fogerty with Billy Gibbons performing Holy Grail, a tune they wrote together prior to their Blues & Bayous Tour. Yes, essentially, it’s a remake of La Grange, and it certainly wasn’t the best song of the show. But it’s the only clip I took myself that night, plus watching these two rock legends together on one stage was a treat in and of itself.

Things in 2018 were also pretty intense on the tribute concert front but, hey, I suppose my good blogger pal Music Enthusiast doesn’t call me the “King of Tribute Bands” for nothing! By now I can probably claim that I’ve seen tribute acts of bands ranging from A to Z. The highlight in this context once again was Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September (review). Among others, the annual festival featured great tributes to Neil Young (Decade), Guns ‘N Roses (Guns 4 Roses), Fleetwood Mac (TUSK), Tom Petty (Free Fallin’) and AC/DC (LIVE/WIRE). Another great tribute event was the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. in June (review). Like the previous year, the line-up included tributes to The Beatles (Britain’s Finest), The Rolling Stones (The Glimmer Twins) and The Who (Who’s Next).

Outside these two festivals, I’ve seen numerous other tribute bands throughout the year. In this context, I’d like to call out the above noted Led Zeppelin tribute Get The Led Out  (review), as well as Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd” (review), and Jimi Hendrix tribute Kiss The Sky, which I saw together with Cream tribute Heavy Cream (review). Following are a few clips. First up: Get The Led Out playing the big enchilada Stairway To Heaven.

Next is a flavor of Echoes performing Time and The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon album. I still frequently listen to that record to this day, oftentimes at night and with earbuds. I really should get a decent set of headphones, especially for Pink Floyd music.

Last but not least is Kiss The Sky setting the stage on fire with Voodoo Child (Slight Return). If you’re into Hendrix, it’s really a fun show to watch.

Part 2 is going to focus on new 2018 albums that excited me. As stated at the outset, don’t expect seeing any chart toppers here! Part 2 will also take a brief look at music activities that are on my radar for 2019.

Sources: New York Times, Rolling Stone, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Steely Dan/Black Friday

While Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had a historical financial scam in mind when they wrote the lyrics for Black Friday, not the shopping frenzy after Thanksgiving, I still feel the song fits today’s occasion. They initially recorded the tune for Katy Lied, released in March 1975, and the first Steely Dan album following the breakup of the original five-piece line-up.

According to Songfacts, the inspiration for the tune was the original Black Friday on Friday, September 24, 1869, when a group of speculators headed by Jay Gould and his partner James Fisk, bought as much gold as they could on the New York Gold Exchange to drive up the price. But the government found out about the ploy and eventually released $4 million worth gold from the Treasury’s reserve into the market. This caused the gold price to nose-dive and investors to get hit.

While Black Friday, which also became the lead single from Katy Lied, was inspired by the above U.S. events, it includes the Australian town of Muswellbrook. “It was the place most far away from LA we could think of,” Fagen later explained, “and, of course it fitted the metre of the song and rhymed with book”.

…Black Friday comes
I fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book…

Katy Lied was the first Steely Dan album after Fagen and Becker had decided to stop touring and turn the band into a studio act. They also had started to increasingly rely on session musicians to record their music. Black Friday featured Michael Omartian on piano and David Paich on electric piano. The following year, Paich became one of the founding members of Toto. While Steely Dan also worked with various guitarists on the album, including Rick Derringer, Hugh McCracken and Larry Carlton, for a change, it was Becker himself who played the solo on Black Friday.

The single was a modest chart success in the U.S., peaking at no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. But Becker and Fagen never seemed to care much about chart performance. Plus, like all other Steely Dan albums, Katy Lied reached Gold certification before they went on hiatus in 1981 following the difficult recording sessions for the Gaucho album.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Toto Delivers Top-Notch Musicianship at State Theatre New Jersey

40th anniversary tour gig features career-spanning set, including big hits, deeper cuts and covers

While I have listened to Toto for more than 30 years, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. But my wife really likes them, so when I mentioned to her a couple of months ago they would play in our neck of the woods as part of their 40th anniversary tour, she suggested that we see them. I’m glad we did Wednesday night at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick, since the show was fun and definitely exceeded my expectations.

When I checked setlist.fm for the most recent gigs of the 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, initially, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see any songs from Toto’s second studio album Hydra, especially 99. I also found it interesting that they chose to include three somewhat random-looking covers in their set, though it turned out these selections weren’t coincidental. 

Toto
Core members of Toto (from left): Joseph Williams, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather

I’ve always appreciated Toto for their outstanding musicianship, which was on full display Wednesday night and a key reason why I enjoyed the show. Not only did they sound fantastic, but some of the music they played had pretty impressive complexity that nicely illustrated the band’s top-notch craftsmanship. Shockingly, to me the highlight in this context was Jake To The Bone, an instrumental from 1993. I say “shockingly” since I generally really like vocals and I’m less into instrumentals. With that, let’s get to some music.

The first time I heard about Toto must have been in the late ’70s when a friend gave me a rock compilation as a present, which included Hold The Line. I liked this tune right away and still do to this day, especially the keyboard and guitar parts. Written by keyboardist David Paich, the song first appeared on the band’s eponymous studio album from October 1978.

Next up is the above mentioned Jake To The Bone from the band’s eighth studio record Kingdom Of Desire, released in Europe in September 1992 and in the U.S. in May 1993. It was credited to all core members of the band at the time: Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Paich (piano, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals), Mike Porcaro (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion).  Unfortunately, I missed videotaping this great instrumental, so I’m relying on another clip I found on YouTube. Apparently, it was captured during the opening show of the tour’s European leg in Helsinki, Finland back in February.

Toto’s fourth studio album from April 1982, ingeniously called Toto IV, became their most successful record. Apart from top 10 chart placements in various countries, including Australia (no. 1), Canada (no. 1), U.S. (no. 4) and U.K. (no. 4), Toto IV also won a Grammy for Album Of The Year and five additional Grammy Awards in 1983. Here is the record’s lead single Rosanna, another Paich composition.

During the second half of the set, there was a sitdown section featuring shortened versions of various songs, including Holyanna, No Love, Stop Loving You and a cover of Human Nature, one of the tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Originally, that tune was written by keyboardist Steve Porcaro. The tune I’d like to feature from this section is Stop Loving You. Toto first recorded it for The Seventh One, their seventh studio album from March 1988. Co-written by Paich and Lukather, the tune also became one of the record’s six singles.

Of course, no Toto gig would be complete without Africa, another track from Toto IV. Co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the song became Toto’s most successful single. It hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to no. 3 in the U.K., and scored top 20 positions in various other countries. Africa was the last song of the regular set, and the band stretched it into a close to 13-minute jam version that featured a cool percussion and drums solo.

There was only one encore: A cover of Hash Pipe, a 2001 song by American rock band Weezer. Toto decided to record and release the tune in August 2018, after Weezer had come out with cover versions of Africa and Rosanna. While it’s nice the bands recognize each other’s music with these covers, I still found it a bit of an odd choice for the encore, especially given that was the only additional song Toto performed. To me it would have made more sense to throw in an original tune like the above mentioned 99. That being said, the entire show lasted two hours, which I felt was pretty solid.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band that performed on Wednesday night. Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro and David Paich are still part of the core line-up. The fourth core member is Joseph Williams (lead vocals). Paich is sitting out the U.S. leg of the tour. According a previous announcement, the European gigs earlier this year took a toll on his health, but Lukather assured the audience his recovery is going well. Sitting in for Paich is Dominique “Xavier” Talpin, an excellent keyboardist who among others had played with Prince. The other touring members include Lenny Castro (percussion, congas), multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (saxophone, harmonica, flute, backing vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass, backing vocals).

Upcoming tour dates include Brookville, N.Y. tonight and the closer of the American leg in Lynn, Mass. tomorrow night. The band resumes the tour at the end of December with a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, before going to Japan in February. Then they take a break and return to Europe in June and July. The last currently posted date is Salem, Germany (Jul 18). The full schedule is here. This may not be the end of the tour. The dates in Australia and Japan were announced fairly recently, and I could see additional announcements, such as a second U.S. leg. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto website, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 21

After more than two months, I thought this would be a good time for another installment of the recurring music history feature. These posts are driven by happenings that sufficiently intrigue me, which limits their number, plus I’ve already covered numerous dates. But it seems to me there is still plenty left to explore.

As on previous occasions, this post is an arbitrary selection of events, not an attempt to capture everything that happened on that date. For example, while as a parent I find child birth a beautiful thing, I don’t include birthdays of music artists’ children. However, birthdays of the artists qualify. But if you die to know, Jade Jagger, daughter of Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger, one of eight children Mick has with five women, was born on October 21, 1971 in Paris, France. With that important factoid out of the way, let’s get to some other events that happened on October 21 throughout rock & roll history.

1940: Manfred Mann was born as Michael Lubowitz in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1961, he moved to the U.K. and began his long music career. He initially became successful with a band named Manfred Mann and a series of hits in the mid to late ‘60s like Do Wah Diddy DiddySha La La and Pretty Flamingo. Immediately after that band’s breakup, Mann formed experimental jazz rock outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three. They lasted for two years and two albums before Mann found long-lasting success with progressive rockers Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. They had hits throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, especially with covers of Bruce Springsteen tunes like Spirits In The Night and Blinded By The Light. After a hiatus in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the band still appears to be active to this day. Mann has also released various solo albums. Here’s a clip of Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Mann’s first number one single released in July 1964. Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, the song was first recorded in 1963 as Do-Wah-Diddy by American vocal group The Exciters.

1941: Steve Cropper was born as Steven Lee Cropper on a farm near Dora, Missouri. An accomplished guitarist, who is ranked at no. 39 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, Cropper got his first guitar via mail order as a 14-year-old. At the time, he was already living in Memphis, Tenn. where in 1964 be became A&R man of Stax Records and a founding member of the label’s house band Booker T. & The M.G.’s. Together with the band, be backed soul legends, such as Otis ReddingSam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, and co-wrote some of their songs like (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, Soul Man and In The Midnight Hour. Booker T. & The M.G.’s also released their own music. During the second half of the ’70s, Cropper became a member of The Blues Brothers. He has also worked as a producer with many artists. Here’s a great clip of a Sam & Dave performance of Soul Man from 1974 – always loved that tune and Cropper’s guitar work on it!

1957: Steve Lukather was born as Steven Lee Lukather in the San Fernando Valley, Calif. The prolific session guitarist is best known for being a longtime member of Toto, which he co-founded with David Paich (keyboards), Steve Porcaro (keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums) in 1976. Lukather also is a songwriter, arranger and producer. He played guitar and bass on various tracks of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album from 1982. While Beat It was among those songs, he did not play the killer solo on that tune, which was performed by Eddie Van Halen. Lukather has also released seven solo records to date. He is currently on the road with Toto for their 40th anniversary tour. Here’s a clip of I Won’t Hold You Back, a ballad Lukather wrote for Toto IV, the band’s most successful album released in April 1982.

1965: As part of the recording sessions for their sixth studio album Rubber SoulThe Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios. Following an unsatisfactory attempt to record Norwegian Wood 10 days earlier, they did three additional takes on October 21, of which they ended up selecting the last. Lyrically influenced by Bob Dylan and credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the tune is an early example of a Western pop song featuring Indian instruments. In this case, it was the sitar played by George Harrison, who had been inspired by sitar maestro and his friend Ravi Shankar.

1976: Keith Moon performed his last public show with The Who at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada. It was the final gig of the band’s 1976 tour. Moon’s lifestyle had begun to impact his health and performance several years earlier. In perhaps the most infamous incident, Moon passed out on stage at Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif. during the first U.S. date of The Who’s 1973 Quadrophenia tour. Prompted by Pete Townshend who asked whether anyone in the audience was good at playing the drums, Scot Halpin, a drummer, stepped forward and played the rest of the show. Moon also faced challenges during the ’76 tour. By the end of the U.S. leg in Miami in August, a delirious Moon was treated in a hospital for eight days. When The Who performed a private show at a theater in London in December 1977 for The Kids Are Alright, a visibly overweight Moon had difficulty sustaining a solid performance. Moon passed away in September 1978 at the age of 32 from an overdose of a medication to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Here’s a clip of Moon in action with The Who during a raucous 1967 performance of My Generation. As a guitar lover, I’m glad Townshend no longer smashes his gear these days.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, YouTube