On This Day in Rock & Roll History: August 8

It’s been more than two months since my last installment of this recurring music history feature. And while I’ve already covered 53 different dates since I started the series in 2016, this didn’t include August 8. As always, the idea here is to highlight select events based on my music preferences, not to provide a full listing.

1964: Bob Dylan released his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Th title was appropriate, since the record marked a departure from the more socially conscious songs on predecessor The Times They Are A-Changin’ that had appeared seven months earlier in January 1964. Some critics were quick to complain Dylan was selling out to fame. But Robert Zimmerman rarely seems to care much what others think about his music. Here’s My Back Pages. The tune has been covered by various other artists, including The Byrds, Ramones and Steve Earle, to name a few.

1969: An ordinary pedestrian crossing in London’s City of Westminster inner borough would never be same after it became part of the iconic cover photo of Abbey Road, the actual final studio album by The Beatles from September 1969, even though it was released prior to their official final record Let It Be. The famous shot was taken by Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan, who was then a freelancer. For any photographers, he used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds, according to The Beatles Bible. Following the shoot, Paul McCartney reviewed the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. After the band’s breakup, Mcmillan also worked with John Lennon and Yoko Ono for several years. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that album: George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun.

1970: The third studio album by Blood, Sweat & Tears, ingeniously titled Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, following its release in June that year. After the success of their preceding eponymous second album from December 1968, which also topped the U.S. charts, the record had been widely anticipated. Here’s Lucretia Mac Evil, a great tune written by the band’s lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. The song, which was also released separately as a single, was one of just a handful of original tracks on the album, which mostly included cover versions of tunes from artists like James Taylor, The Rolling Stones and Traffic – apparently part of the reason why it received lukewarm reviews.

1987: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the second single off U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree, topped the Billboard Hot 100, marking the Irish rock band’s second no. 1 song in the U.S. after the record’s lead single With Or Without You. The Joshua Tree, which also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, catapulted U2 to international superstardom. Like all other tracks on album, the lyrics of the tune were written by Bono, while the music was credited to U2. Here’s the official video filmed in Las Vegas in April 1987 after the band’s first show in the city.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Rock; The Beatles Bible; Billboard; YouTube

Three Chords, Straight Beats And Catchy Hooks

Status Quo have stayed true to their trademark boogie rock for more than 45 years

The other day, I spotted a live album from Status Quo called Down Down & Dirty At Wacken, (a place in northern Germany of an annual open air heavy metal festival), which was released only a couple of weeks ago. While starting to listen, I was reminded what a fun live band they are and how they’ve pretty much stuck with the same formula since 1970 when they changed from psychedelic to boogie rock. This brilliant insight inspired the idea of a post and playlist!🤓

The origins of Status Quo date back to 1962 when high school mates Frances Rossi (guitar), Alan Lancaster (bass), Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key (drums) formed a band called The Scorpions in London (not related to and predating the German hard rock band Scorpions by three years). In 1965, Rossi met guitarist Rick Parfitt. They became friends and later that year started what would become a longtime collaboration until Parfitt’s untimely death in December 2016 at the age of 68. The following summer, the band, which had changed their name to The Spectres, got their first record deal, with Piccadilly Records, and released various commercially unsuccessful singles.

By 1967, the band had embraced psychedelic music, became Traffic, then Traffic Jam to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic, and eventually Status Quo in August that year. Parfitt had joined them as rhythm guitarist the previous month. January 1968 saw the release of Status Quo’s first hit single Pictures Of Matchstick Men. This was followed by their debut studio album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From Status Quo in September – gee, what a memorable title!

Status Quo
Status Quo circa 1977 (from left): John Coghlan (drums), Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar, vocals), Alan Lancaster (bass, vocals), and Francis Rossi (lead guitar, vocals)

After the release and commercial failure of Status Quo’s second album Spare Parts in September 1969, the band decided to change their musical style to straight boogie-oriented rock – a decision that is safe to assume they didn’t regret! Piledriver, their fifth studio record from December 1972, finally brought the breakthrough, peaking at no. 5 in the U.K. charts. Since then, Status Quo have released 27 additional studio albums. Their impressive catalog also includes 10 live records and nine compilations.

Given the band’s faithful adherence to the three-chord boogie rock formula, their music starts sounding repetitive after a little while. But so do Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys’ surf rock, to name two artists who spontaneously came to mind! Besides, if it’s fun, who cares! Okay, enough of the blah-blah-blah and time for some of that repetitive music!😆

While the band’s psychedelic phase was comparatively short, it’s still part of their long history, so I’d be amiss not to acknowledge it. My favorite tune I know from that phase is the above mentioned Pictures Of Matchstick Men, which was written by Rossi. It climbed to no. 7 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached the top 10 in many other European countries. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only Status Quo song that got noticed in America. In addition to its release as a single, it was also included on the band’s debut album.

Next Up: Paper Plane from the Piledriver album. The song was co-written by Rossi and Bob Young. Since 1969, Young had contributed to writing Status Quo’s music and was often called their unofficial fifth member. He frequently joined the band during live performances in the ’70s and also occasionally thereafter.

Another co-write by Rossi and Young is Caroline, which became a no. 5 hit in the U.K. in August 1973, Status Quo’s highest charting single at the time. The tune was also included on the band’s sixth studio album Hello!, which appeared in September that year.

In November 1974, Status Quo scored their first of two no. 1 singles in the U.K. with Down Down. Yet another Rossi/Young co-write, the song also appeared on the band’s eighth studio record On The Level from February 1975.

Perhaps my favorite Status Quo tune is Rockin’ All Over The World. As a boogie rock fan, how can you not love that tune, which was written and first recorded by the great John Fogerty in 1975! Status Quo released their cover as a single in September 1977. It also became the title track of their tenth studio album that came out in November the same year. Since this tune is made for live performances, I chose the following clip captured during a 1990 concert in Knebworth, England.

Whatever You Want is another Status Quo classic. It was co-written by Parfitt and keyboarder Andy Bown, who has performed on all of the band’s albums since Rockin’ All Over The World and became a full member in 1982. One of the things I’ve always liked about this tune is the cool-sounding guitar intro.

Status Quo’s biggest hit in the ’80s was their cover of Bolland & Bolland’s In The Army Now from September 1986, which topped the charts in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. In the U.K., the tune peaked at no. 2. Since I’m not particularly fond of it, I’m highlighting another cover instead: The Wanderer from October 1984. Written by Ernie Maresca, the tune was first recorded and released by Dion in November 1961. While I prefer the original, Quo’s cover isn’t bad either.

To make this playlist career-spanning, I also like to touch on Status Quo’s music beyond the ’80s. Since I’m basically not familiar with it, it’s a bit of a challenge. As such, the remaining selections for this playlist are somewhat arbitrary. Here’s Can’t Give You More from the band’s 20th studio album Rock ‘Til You Drop, which appeared in September 1991. Written by Bown, the tune is another typical Status Quo boogie rocker – if you like Quo’s ’70s music, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2002, Status Quo released Heavy Traffic, their 25th studio record, which peaked at no. 15 on the charts in the U.K. and earned them silver status there. Here’s Creepin’ Up On You, which was co-written by Parfitt and then-Quo bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. It’s shuffling along nicely!

The final studio release I’d like to touch on is called Acoustic (Stripped Bare) from October 2014. It’s a compilation of stripped down versions of previously recorded Status Quo songs. While there’s no new material here, I’m kind of intrigued by this album and will probably further explore it. The record became another success for Quo in the U.K., climbing to no. 5 on the charts and earning Gold certification there – not to shabby for a band that by then had been around for 52 years, if you include their 1962 origins; if you start counting from when they became Status Quo, it still adds up to a mighty 47 years! Here’s Again And Again, a tune credited to Parfitt, Bown and Jackie Lynton, and first recorded for the band’s 11th studio album If You Can’t Stand The Heat from October 1978. It’s got a nice Cajun feel to it!

So what’s going on with Status Quo these days? Well, it’s more three chords, straight beats and catchy boogie rock – in other words the status quo – that was clever, huh?🤓 Rossi remains the only founding member. Bown (keyboards) and Edwards (bass) are still around as well. The current lineup, pictured on top of the post, is rounded out by Leon Cave (drums) and Richie Malone (rhythm guitar), who replaced Parfitt in July 2016, after he had suffered a stroke and could no longer perform.

I already mentioned the new live album. In addition, a look on setlist.fm revealed the band has been pretty busy touring Europe since May. The current tour schedule on their website shows upcoming gigs in Lisbon, Portugal (Sep 29); Innsbruck, Austria (Oct 4); Kempten, Germany (Oct 5); and Zurich, Switzerland (Oct 6).

Sources: Wikipedia, Status Quo official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

Steve Winwood Shows He’s Still The Man And New Jersey Gives Him Some Lovin’

Singer-Songwriter Lilly Winwood opens “2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour” gig at NJPAC

While mainstream music these days generally doesn’t excite me, luckily, some great artists from my preferred decades of the ’60s and ’70s are still around and tour. Even though their number is decreasing, I couldn’t possibly see all of them. Too many rock & roll shows, too little time and not enough dough means making tough choices. This can be tricky, especially when it comes to artists I’ve seen before like Steve Winwood. In his case it didn’t take long to convince myself that another gig would be worth it. That show happened last night at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark and was a true blast, a blast from the past!

Things kicked off when a young woman walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and casually introduced herself as Lilly Winwood. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who released her debut EP Silver Stage last year, is one of Winwood’s four children. I would describe her music as folk-oriented Americana. She has a decent voice and did a beautiful job. Here’s a clip of The Hard Way, a tune from the aforementioned EP. Apparently, it was captured last April at another opening for her dad with whom she has toured for the past couple of years in this role, which also includes singing backup vocals on some of his songs.

Following Lilly’s short set and a brief intermission, it was finally Steve’s turn to take the stage. And he didn’t waste any time to remind the audience that he still is The Man with a great voice who can make that Hammond roar mightily. Winwood’s set kicked off with I’m A Man, released as a single by Spencer Davis Group in January 1967. Here’s a clip. Also, take a look at that kick ass backing band!

In addition to being a master of the Hammond, Winwood is a pretty decent guitarist – frankly, something I sometimes forget. In fact, the bio on his official website notes he also plays the mandolin. Here’s Can’t Find My Way Home, one of the two Blind Faith tunes he played. As he was performing the song, I selfishly thought that I’d be quite okay if the couldn’t find his way home and just would keep on playing all night!

While the show was billed as a journey through the more than five decades of Winwood’s music, most of the set focused on this early work with Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and of course Traffic. Here is a classic by the latter he played, Empty Pages, from the John Barleycorn Must Die album released in July 1970.

At the outset of the concert, Winwood stated they eventually would get to playing songs that are more present. After an hour or so into the set, he started to deliver on that promise. Domingo Morning is a tune from his eighth solo album About Time, which appeared in June 2003 – at least something from this century, as Winwood dryly observed. The performance featured a cool extended solo by percussionist Edwin Sanz together with drummer Richard Bailey. Here’s a clip. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s the only live footage of the track I could find on YouTube.

This was followed by the final two songs of the regular set, Roll With It and Higher Love, Winwood’s only hits that topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and 1986, respectively. For both tunes, Lilly joined on backing vocals. I actually thought Steve and her sounded really nice together. Here’s Roll With It, the title track of his fifth solo album from June 1988, my favorite among his more pop-oriented records.

The show’s encore brought three other highlights: John Barleycorn Must Die, Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin’. Since I can’t decide which of the three to select, heck, let’s just post clips for each! John Barleycorn Must Die, a traditional arranged by Winwood, is the title track from the above mentioned Traffic album. While the cameraman apparently was quite excited and his hand shook in the beginning of the clip, it gets better as the tune goes on!

Dear Mr. Fantasy is from Traffic’s debut record Fantasy, which appeared in December 1967. I thought this tune featured Winwood’s most impressive guitar work of the night.

Last but not least, Gimme Some Lovin’, the Spencer Davis Group classic from 1967. What a great tune to finish a terrific show!

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Winwood’s fantastic backing band: In addition to Bailey (drums) and Sanz (percussion), the line-up included José Neto (guitar) and Paul Booth (saxophone, flute, keyboards) – no bass! With Baily and Sanz forming a compelling rhythm section, I can’t say I was missing a bass, which somewhat pains to admit as a former bassist.

According to the schedule, The 2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour is hitting Upper Darby, Pa. tonight and will travel to Mashantucket, Conn. tomorrow. The sold out tour wraps up on March 15 in Bethlehem, Pa.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steve Winwood official website, Billboard Chart History, YouTube