What I’ve Been Listening To: Booker T./Note By Note

I guess I really should consider subscribing to a music magazine. The thing is, based on what I’ve seen, these publications mostly write about contemporary stuff that rarely interests me. If anyone has a great recommendation, please let me know. Why am I bringing it up? Because here’s another recently released album I completely missed. And while it only includes two new songs, I was immediately hooked when I started listening to the music a couple of days ago: Note By Note by Booker T. Yep, I’m talking about the man from Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s.

To start with, I think Booker T.’s love of music isn’t only obvious but also truly infectious. That’s why I dig the man! Witnessing him in action playing the keys of his Hammond B3 frequently gives me goosebumps. In case you haven’t watched it yet, check out Booker T.’s demo of the iconic organ I previously covered here. If you’re a music lover and curious about exploring instruments, tell me how you can not feel like wanting to have a friggin’ Hammond and, in case you don’t know how to play keyboards, figuring out yourself how to create these magic sounds or take lessons after watching this – heck, if I could afford it, I would even put a B3 in my living room as a beautiful piece of furniture!

Booker T

By the way, Booker T. has something else I admire: The man is a multi-instrumentalist. Two instruments (guitar, electric bass) was all I could handle to learn many moons ago and, frankly, while I guess I was on okay player when I was at my best, I was far away from mastery! According to Wikipedia, apart from his signature Hammond B3, Booker T. also knows how to play the oboe, saxophone, trombone and double bass. And let’s not forget about the piano, though one could say that’s perhaps less of a surprise, considering the organ, despite the significant differences between those two instruments. In fact, as you can learn from the above noted clip, it was the piano and lessons Booker T. took as a child with his teacher in Memphis, Tenn., which led him to discover the mighty Hammond. Great story, by the way, and one of various anecdotes he tells during the demo. Have I whetted your appetite to watch? 🙂

Released on November 1, Note By Note is a companion album to Booker T.’s memoir Time Is Tight, which was published by Little, Brown and Company and appeared on October 29. According to a press release, Note By Note celebrates and revisits a number of integral musical moments throughout Jones’ life – from playing with Mahalia Jackson at age 12, to his pivotal role as bandleader, performer and songwriter at Stax, to his focus on production through his work with Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana. The tracks largely mirror the chapter titles of the book. The memoir certainly sounds intriguing, and you can check out a review in The New York Times here. In this post, I’d like to focus on the music, so let’s get to it!

Booker T. 2

While I didn’t see any clips on YouTube, luckily, the album is available on Soundcloud. Here’s the excellent opener Cause I Love You, the first single released by Carla Thomas in 1960, a duet with her father Rufus Thomas, who also wrote the lyrics of the song. It also featured her brother Marvell Thomas on keyboards and, yes, you perhaps guessed it, Booker T. A 16-year-old high school student at the time, he played the tune’s opening notes on a borrowed barritone saxophone – his very first studio recording! The single was released by Satellite Records, which eventually became the legendary Stax Records. The cover on this album features Evvie McKinney and Joshua Ledet, two young talented vocalists who sound smoking hot!

While it’s very well known, I simply could not leave out Born Under A Bad Sign, the blues classic first recorded by Albert King at Stax in May 1967, and co-written by Booker T. and William Bell. It’s the only track on the album, featuring Booker T. on lead vocals. That’s a bit of a pity, in my opinion, since he has a quite soulful voice. Check it out! By the way, that nice guitar work comes from Booker T.’s son Ted Jones.

Another tune I have to call out is Precious Lord. Written by the Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey, the gospel tune was recorded by Mahalia Jackson in March 1956 and became her signature song. The original complete title was Take My Hand, Precious Lord. As noted above, Booker T. got to perform with the famous gospel singer as a child – it’s not hard to see how that must have made a lasting impression on a 12-year-old! Check out the album’s powerful version featuring vocalist Sharlotte Gibson. Her voice together with the sparing instrumentation led by Booker T.’s Hammond is just beautiful! It makes me want to do a post to gospel music – so many powerful tunes in that genre!

So how about some Otis Redding? Ask and you shall receive! These Arms of Mine was written by Redding and initially released as his first single for Stax in October 1962. The song was also included on his debut album Pain In My Heat that appeared in March 1964. Redding, of course, was one of many Stax recording artists who were backed by Booker T. and the M.G.’s. This cover of the slow-tempo soul tune, which includes a piano part that reminds me a bit of Fats Domino, features Ty Taylor, another great vocalist who hails from New Jersey and is the leader of a soul rock band called Vintage Trouble. 

Next up: Havana Moon, a song written by Chuck Berry and first released in November 1956 as the B-side to his single You Can’t Catch Me. The tune also became the title track of a 1983 studio album by Carlos Santana, who appropriately gave it more of a Latin feel. That recording featured Booker T. The take on Note By Note is much closer to the Santana version than Berry’s original. In fact, Ted Jones’ guitar work is reminiscent of Santana – nicely done!

The last track I’d like to highlight is Maybe I Need Saving, one of the album’s two new tracks; the second one is called Paralyzed. Both were co-written by Ted Jones and feature him on vocals. I could not find information on who else was involved in writing these songs. At first, I was a little surprised about their inclusion on the album. Sure, Ted is Booker’s T.’s son, which is an obvious connection. But initially, I felt the more contemporary sound of these tracks created a bit of a disconnect to the other, older tunes. Yet, after fter having listened a few times, I actually think they are worthy tunes. Maybe I Need Saving has a nice bluesy touch, which once again features great guitar work by Ted, who has impressive guitar chops, and yet another illustration of Booker T.’s beautiful Hammond.

In addition to Ted Jones, Booker T.’s backing musicians on Note By Note include Steve Ferrone on drums (Average White Band, Tom Petty) and his longtime bandmate Melvin Brannon on bass. Booker T. is currently on the road to support the book and the record. Had I known about all of this a week earlier, perhaps I could have seen him at Le Poisson Rouge, a live music venue in New York City’s Greenwich Village – definitely a missed opportunity! Unfortunately, any of his remaining gigs are nowhere close to my location and include Salt Lake City (tonight), Phoenix (Jan. 8 & 9), Tucson (Jan. 10) and Nashville (Jan. 16). The schedule of all outstanding currently scheduled shows is here.

But not all may be lost. Booker T., who less than two weeks ago turned 75, is aging admirably and seems to be in decent health. So there still could be an opportunity for me to see the man – I would definitely love to, and preferably so at a small venue. Maybe he’ll read this and add some dates to his current tour that are within reasonable geographic reach! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Shoe Fire Media press release; New York Times; Booker T. website; Soundcloud

Clips & Pix: Sheryl Crow Featuring Bonnie Raitt & Mavis Staple/Live Wire

I came across this great bluesy tune from Sheryl Crow a few days ago. Called Live Wire and written by Crow, the track features Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples – quite a female power trio! It is the second single from Crow’s upcoming studio album Threads, which is scheduled for August 30th.

“Mavis Staples means so much more to me than any words I could write about her,” Crow told Rolling Stone. “I feel like, in many ways, she is the Godmother to Bonnie Raitt. To say that having both of these soulful women on ‘Live Wire’ is a treat would be a huge understatement.”

Threads is a collaboration album, which in addition to Raitt and Staples features many other heavyweights like Stevie Nicks, Eric Clapton, Sting, Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Don Henley and Joe Walsh. Additionally, it includes a posthumous duet with Johnny Cash, Redemption Day, which appeared as the lead single in April. There is also already a third single out, Prove You Wrong, a collaboration with Nicks and Maren Morris.

As reported by Madison.com, Crow talked about the album at the CMT Music Awards in early May, saying it could be her last. “It may be my final album, so I am going out big. I grew up in the age where people made albums. But now, I think people do playlists and they will only hear one of two songs off a full-length album that you tried to make a full artistic statement. I kind of like the idea now of just putting out songs.”

Apparently, Crow is not planning to retire from music, just stop making full-fledged albums and instead focusing on singles and EPs. If that’s true, it certainly looks like it’s going to be compelling final album.

Sources: Wikipedia, Sheryl Crow website, Rolling Stone, Madison.com, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Jimmie Vaughan/Baby, Please Come Home

Lately, I’ve been listening to blues music quite a lot. In part, it’s thanks to fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast and his recent New Music Review that featured two excellent artists, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Big Daddy Wilson. The other part is my own curiosity, which led me back to the Billboard Blues Albums chart where the other day I had spotted a surprising entry: a collection of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry covers by George Benson. This time, I came across Baby, Please Come Home, another great covers album by an old hand of Texas blues: Jimmie Vaughan.

Other than the fact that Jimmie is the older brother of electric blues dynamo Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my long-time favorite blues guitarists, admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Jimmie, so had to read up a little. But that happens to be one of the aspects I particularly enjoy about music blogging – learning about new artists and their music. Yes, this can be time-consuming, but I’m not in a hurry. Most importantly, it would be far less fun if I would only write about stuff I knew!

Jimmy Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan was born on March 20, 1951 in the Dallas area, about three and a half years prior to his brother Stephen Ray. He started playing the guitar as a child and in fact inspired his younger brother to pick up the instrument as well. At the age of 19, Jimmie moved to Austin and played in different blues bar bands for some time. In 1972, he formed his own group, The Storm, which backed many touring blues artists. Two years later, he co-founded The Fabulous Thunderbirds with harmonica player Kim Wilson. While the T-Birds gained a strong fan base in Texas, their first four albums didn’t sell well, and by the end of 1982 their record company Chrysalis had dropped them.

Meanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughan broke through and became a dominating force in the Texas and national blues scene. It took the T-Birds until 1986 to score a success with their fifth studio album Tough Enuff. The record featured more of a mainstream sound, an approach the band replicated on their next two albums. Unhappy about the commercial direction the T-Birds had taken, Jimmie left in 1990 and recorded an album with his brother, Family Style. It came out one month after Stevie Ray’s untimely death in a helicopter crash under the name The Vaughan Brothers.

Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimmie Vaughan (left) with his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie’s solo debut Strange Pleasure appeared in 1994. He hasn’t been exactly prolific since then, sometimes leaving many years in-between releasing new studio records and focusing on touring and guest-appearing on albums by other artists. Baby, Please Come Home, which was mostly recorded at Fire Station Studio in San Marcos, Texas, came out on May 17 on the Last Music Co. label. It features deeper cuts from a variety of different artists, such as Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed. Let’s get to some music.

Here is the opener and title track of the album. The tune was written by Lloyd Price and released as a single in 1955. Often called “Mr. Personality,” after his 1959 million-seller Personality, the R&B singer from Louisiana is also known for Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a song he recorded in 1952, featuring Fats Domino on piano. I just dig the horn section and the cool retro sound on Baby, Please Come Home, which is present throughout this 11-tune collection.

No One To Talk To (But The Blues) is a song by country music singer-songwriter Lefty Frizzell, which he recorded in 1957 as a single with country and rockabilly vocalist  Shirley Caddell, who later became known as Shirley Collie Nelson. From 1963 until 1971, she was married to Willie Nelson.

Another great tune, and frankly I could have selected any other track, is What’s Your Name?  That song was written by blues, R&B and rock & roll singer Chuck Willis and appeared as a single in 1953.

Next up: I’m Still In Love With You by T-Bone Walker, one of Vaughan’s guitar influences. Co-written by Walker and Charles Glenn, the ballad was released by Walker with Marl Young And His Orchestra in 1945. From what I have heard thus far, Jimmie is more of an old-style pre-Jimi Hendrix type blues guitarist whereas his younger brother clearly embraced the virtuosity and sound of Hendrix.

The last track I’d like to highlight is So Glad by Fats Domino, which first appeared on his 1963 album Walking To New Orleans. The song was co-credited to Domino and his musical collaborator Dave Bartholomew.

In addition to playing guitar, Vaughan is also handling all lead vocals, something I understand he hasn’t always done. While I think it’s fair to say he’s a better guitar player than a singer, his vocals go well with the music. Vaughan is backed by outstanding musicians, with some of whom he has worked for a long time: George Rains (drums), Ronnie James (bass), Billy Pittman (rhythm guitar), Mike Flanigan (Hammond B3), T. Jarrod Bonta (piano), Greg Piccolo (tenor saxophone), Doug James (baritone saxophone), Randy Zimmerman (trombone) and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet), as well as the Texas horns: Kaz Kazanoff (tenor saxophone), John Mills (baritone saxophone) and Al Gomez (trumpet). The record also features guest vocalists Georgia Bramhall and Emily Gimble.

Commenting on the eclectic mix of tracks, Vaughan told Guitar World, “When I was young, I didn’t really pay much attention to categories of music. I just heard what I liked and decided to explore that. And that’s really what I’m still doing.” The result is a great-sounding. old style blues record I find very enjoyable. I also agree with one review I read that it was not Vaughan’s goal to make a hit record but simply play music he loves. That being said, the album is currently at no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. No. 1, by the way, is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his eponymous debut – that 20-year-old blues guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Miss is just dynamite!

Vaughan is going on the road starting June 19 in Atlanta, and playing what mostly look like smaller venues. Now, that could be fun – I know I’ve been saying I need to restrain myself investing in concerts, but seeing Vaughan up and close in some intimate venue probably would be a great experience! Some of the other dates include Cleveland (Jun 26); Austin, Texas (Jul 6); Boston (Jul 16); Washington, D.C. (Jul 20); Los Angeles (Aug 7); and San Francisco (Sep 11). The last current gig is in Dallas on Sep 21. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Jimmie Vaughan website, Guitar World, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: May 5

This is the 40th installment of my recurring feature on rock music history. While I generally enjoy doing research for the posts and seeing what comes up for a specific date, sometimes it feels I already must have covered most dates of the year. But this little milestone means I still have more than 300 other potential installments left! 🙂

Without further ado, let’s take a look at May 5:

1956: Elvis Presley for the first time topped the Billboard Hot 100, with Heartbreak Hotel, which also became his first million-selling single. It’s one of my all-time favorite tunes by Elvis who interestingly received a credit for singing it. Nashville steel guitarist  Tommy Durden wrote the lyrics. They were inspired by a newspaper article about a man who ended his life by jumping out of a hotel window, leaving a note behind that said, “I walk a lonely street.” The music was composed by Nashville songwriter Mae Boren Axton. Heartbreak Hotel is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In my opinion, the track is perhaps the coolest Elvis song. It has also been covered by Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and other artists, and is included in Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

1966: Manfred Mann reached the top of the British charts with Pretty Flamingo. Written by American songwriter and record producer Mark Barkan, the song became the band’s second no. 1 in the U.K. after Do Wah Diddy Diddy in 1964. The tune fared less well in the U.S., where it peaked at no. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late August – still not too shabby! The recording of Pretty Flamingo featured Jack Bruce, who briefly became a member of Manfred Mann before co-founding Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in July 1966. Bruce was replaced by another prominent artist: German musician, record producer and graphic artist Klaus Voormann, who remained the band’s bassist until 1969.

1967: The Kinks released Waterloo Sunset, the lead single to their fifth British studio album Something Else by The Kinks, which appeared in September that year. Written by Ray Davies, it reached no. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart, marking the band’s 10th Top 10 single. According to Songfacts, Davies called the tune “a romantic, lyrical song about my older sister’s generation.” Widely considered as one of The Kinks’ most acclaimed tunes, notably, the single did not chart in the U.S. It is ranked at no. 42 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list from 2004.

1969: The Beatles released Get Back in the U.S. Notably, their first single of 1969 was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston, the only time such credit appeared on any release by the band. The U.S. single came out nearly a month after it had appeared in Britain. According to The Beatles Bible, this “may have been due to a last-minute remix ordered by Paul McCartney on 7 April 1969, four days before the official U.K. release date.” The delay didn’t hurt the single’s performance in America where it topped the Billboard Hot 100, just as it did in the U.K. Canada, Australia and many other countries.

1973: David Bowie started a five-week run for Aladdin Sane on the Official Albums Chart in the U.K. Bowie’s sixth studio album, which was the follow-up to breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, became his first of six records to top that chart. With Ziggy Stardust being my favorite Bowie album I may be biased here, but I’m actually somewhat in disbelief that it was outperformed by Aladdin Sane. Well, I suppose Rolling Stone seems to agree with me that Ziggy Stardust is the better record: While both albums are included in their 2003 version of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, Ziggy Stardust is at no. 35, while Aladdin Sane is ranked at no. 277. Without meaning to get too much carried away with chart positions, Bowie’s next two albums following Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups (October 1973) and Diamond Dogs (May 1974), also hit no. 1 in Britain. I can’t imagine there are many other artists with three no. 1 albums in a row. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are among them. One final fun fact: According to This Day In Music, Aladdin Sane is a pun on “A Lad Insane.” That definitely deserves extra points for creativity! Here’s the insane lead single The Jean Genie.

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