The time has come for a bit of self-promotion, something I usually shy away from. While it’s not my personality to highlight my accomplishments, I felt the 1000th post on Christian’s Music Musings warrants an exception.
When I started the blog on June 25, 2016, I really had no idea whether I would stick with it. To me, looking back at my early posts feels funny and at times a bit embarrassing. Like with many other things I guess there’s a learning curve for blogging. I want to believe my writing and the look and feel of the blog have improved over time.
While at the end of the day my main goal is to have fun with this blog, I can’t deny receiving recognition feels reassuring. The stats WordPress provides draw a picture I find encouraging. I realize compared to other fellow bloggers my total numbers remain moderate, but thus far, the long-term trends look promising. Annual traffic of both total views and visitors has grown nicely over the past five years.
The picture is pretty similar for the numbers of “Likes” and “Comments.” The latter in particular is what I find most gratifying. I’d like to take this opportunity again to thank everybody who took the time to read and provide feedback. I enjoy exchanging facts and views, and hope you guys keep the comments coming!
My best-performing post to date is this piece from January 2018 about Bad Company’s 2016 album Live At Red Rocks. It has been seen more than 2,000 times and continues to get views – sometimes in what looks like random surges. While I’m not complaining and still stand behind the post, frankly, I don’t find anything special about it. I can safely say I invested significantly more time and effort in other posts.
Finally, since Christian’s Music Musings is a blog about a topic that has been a key hobby and passion for most of my life, this post would be incomplete without at least one song, don’t you agree? I figured the occasion calls for an upbeat tune that has the number 1,000 in the title: Land of 1000 Dances. I guess this is where my nerdy side emerged! 🙂
Written by American R&B singer and songwriter Chris Kenner, Land of 1000 Dances was first recorded and released by him in 1962. Wikipedia notes the song mentions the Pony, the Chicken, the Mashed Potatoe, the Alligator and 996 other dances. Just kidding, it’s actually 16 dances altogether – still pretty impressive!
The original has a slower tempo than the best-known version of the tune by Wilson Pickett I heard first and came to love many years ago. Recorded at the storied FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Pickett’s rendition first appeared as a single in July 1966. It was also included on his third studio album The Exciting Wilson Pickett from August of the same year. What a killer version!
And since three make a charm, let’s throw in another cover by the ultimate party group, The J. Geils Band. You just know when Peter Wolf and his bandmates take on a tune like Land of 1000 Dances it’s gotta be good! A live recording of their cover was included on the compilation Flashback: The Best of the J. Geils Band, which came out in March 1985. Here’s the official clip. It’s a perfect live song and The J. Geils Band are the perfect group to deliver it!
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.
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 Newinstallment. 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
A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes
This is the third and final part of this mini-series featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Parts I and II focused on planes and trains. This leaves automobiles.
In case you missed the two previous installments, the theme of the mini series was inspired by the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.
I couldn’t think of a better way to start this final installment of the mini-series than with a car chase told by Chuck Berry in a classic rock & roll tune. Credited to him, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed, and partially adapted from a Western swing fiddle tune titled Ida Red, the song tells the tale of a guy in a V8 Ford, chasing after his unfaithful girlfriend Maybellene who is driving a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Initially released as a single in July 1955, Maybellene became Berry’s first hit, reaching no. 1 on Billboard’sRhythm & Blues chart and no. 5 on the mainstream Hot 100 chart. The tune is an early example of Berry’s gift to write lyrics that appealed to both young African American and young white people. Maybellene also became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Rock, Rock, Rock! from December 1956, and was included on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top. The latter might as well have been titled “The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll.”
The Beach Boys/409
The Beach Boys released various car-related tunes in the ’60s. I guess hot rods and surfing made for good friends. Here’s one of my favorites: 409. Songfacts notes 409 refers to a Chevrolet Bel Air 409 sport coupé, a 360-horsepower beast that with some tuning could be boosted to more than 400 horsepower. If you’re into cars, you can view some images here. Co-written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Gary Usher, the tune first appeared in June 1962 as the B-side to the band’s second single Surfin’ Safari. It was also included on two studio albums: Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys’ debut record from October 1962, and Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth studio release that came out in October 1963 and featured car songs. Giddy up, giddy up 409!
Wilson Pickett/Mustang Sally
The first time I heard Mustang Sally and fell in love with the tune was in the 1991 music comedy picture The Commitments, which not only is hilarious but also features outstanding Stax style soul – a film I can highly recommend. Originally, the song was written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965. But it wasn’t until the following year when Wilson Pickett released a cover that popularized the song, taking it to no. 6 and no. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively. The tune was also included on Pickett’s 1967 studio album The Wicked Pickett.
Golden Earring/Radar Love
When it comes to ’70s car songs, the ones that always come to my mind first are Deep Purple’sHighway Star and Golden Earring’sRadar Love. I decided to go with the Dutch rock band, which included the tune on their ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Co-written by their guitarist and lead vocalist George Kooymans and Barry Hay, respectively, Radar Love became Golden Earring’s most successful song. It hit no. 1 in the Netherlands, reached the top 10 in the UK and various other European countries, and climbed to no. 13 in the U.S. If you’re stickler, the one thing that isn’t clear is whether the driver in the song is in a car or in a truck. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s the former. And since I’m not fooling around with any single edits, here’s the 6:26-minute LP version. It’s a hell of a rock tune that deserves to be heard in its full length.
Let finish with The Boss and what I feel is more of a deep cut from The River, especially when considering this album also includes tunes like The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Independence Day, Hungry Heart and, of course, the title track. This doesn’t change the fact that Ramrod is a great song. There’s a reason why it has remained a staple during Bruce Springsteen concerts. Springsteen originally wrote and recorded Ramrod for Darkness on the Edge of Town but didn’t use it until The River album, which was released in October 1980. I dig the tune’s 60s garage rock vibe. Let’s go ramroddin’!
Is it really Sunday again? It is. Crazy how time seems to be flying. On the upside, Sunday is fun day and time for my favorite recurring feature. I think I’ve put together another set of six tunes that celebrates the beauty of music in its different flavors. Hope you enjoy it!
Henry Mancini/The Pink Panther Theme
Long before I had ever heard of Peter Sellers, Inspector Jacques Closeau and The Pink Panther movies, I was familiar with The Pink Panther Theme. That’s because I watched the cartoon series as a child growing up in Germany. I always loved the instrumental theme, which was composed by Henry Mancini in 1963 for the first movie in the series titled The Pink Panther. When that track came to my mind the other day, I figured it would be great to feature one of the coolest jazz instrumentals I know in a Sunday Six installment. Apart from being included in the film’s soundtrack album, The Pink Panther Theme also became a top 10 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, then known as Middle Road Singles. And it won three Grammy Awards. Undoubtedly, the standout is the tenor saxophone solo played by American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson who is still alive at 89 years.
Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come
Solomon Burke may not have enjoyed the chart success of peers like James Brown, Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding, but he still is considered to be one of the founding fathers of soul music in the ’60s. Atlantic Records’Jerry Wexler called him “the greatest male soul singer of all time.” Burke was also known as “King Solomon”, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Soul”, “Bishop of Soul” and the “Muhammad Ali of Soul”. No matter what you want to call him, there’s no doubt that Burke was an amazing vocalist, and I got a powerful example to illustrate my point: His amazing rendition of A Change Is Gonna Come, which has literally brought me to tears. The tune was written by Sam Cooke and first appeared on his final studio album Ain’t That Good News from February 1966, 10 months prior to his mysterious death from a gun shot at a Los Angeles motel in December 1964. Burke who passed away in October 2010 recorded A Change Is Gonna Come as the title track of a studio album that appeared 1986. If you haven’t heard this cover, you need to check it out. It’s incredibly moving!
Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up
At the time I decided to feature the previous Solomon Burke tune, I also thought of Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. Then I saw fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured the same song earlier this week in one of his posts and considered scrapping it. When I told him, Music Enthusiast encouraged me to keep it, saying “It’s a great song that shouldn’t be forgotten and deserves the widest audience possible.” He’s right. Move On Up is the title track of Mayfield’s debut solo album Curtis, which came out in September 1970. Addressing challenges faced by many African Americans, the album was somewhat comparable to Marvin Gaye’sWhat’s Going On, except it predated Gaye’s seminal record by eight months. Move On Up, which like all other tracks on the record was written by Mayfield, appeals to listeners not to let obstacles get in the way to pursue dreams and make the best of life. As such, the tune has a more upbeat message than some of the other darker tracks on the album. Sometimes, I can get a bit impatient when it comes to long songs. Not so in this case where I love each and every second of the 8:49 minutes: The horns, the congas, the cool bass line, Mayfield’s falsetto vocals – it’s just perfect!
Jean-Michel Jarre/Oxygène (Part IV)
Let’s continue with the idea of moving up. Way up. All the way to outer space. To those who have followed my blog for a long time and have witnessed my occasional criticism of “artificial music” that is “generated by computers,” the selection of Jean-Michel Jarre may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, we’re talking electronic music that’s entirely generated by synthesizers. Not even the drums are real. So what’s up with that seemingly contradictory pick? Well, perhaps Jarre is the exception that proves my rule! 🙂 It’s simple. I’ve always had a thing for space music and Oxygène, Jarre’s third studio album released in December 1976, is exactly that. The best way to listen to this album is with headphones. The sound effects are just amazing, and before you know it, you feel like floating in space. I’ve listened to this music countless times to fall asleep. Here’s the best known track from the album, Oxygène (Part IV). It also appeared separately and became the most successful single of Jarre’s still-ongoing recording career, topping the charts in Spain and reaching the top 10 in various other European countries and in New Zealand. Happy floating!
Héroes del Silencio/Entre dos tierras
Héroes del Silencio were a Spanish rock band from Zaragoza. They were formed as Zumo de Vidrio in 1984 by guitarist Juan Valdivia and vocalist Enrique Bunbury. Bassist Joaquín Cardiel and drummer Pedro Andreu completed the line-up of the band, which in 1985 changed their name to Héroes del Silencio. The group’s debut EP Héroe de Leyenda from 1987 was followed by full-length debut album El Mar No Cesa, which came out in October 1988. The breakthrough came with sophomore studio release Senderos de traición from May 1990. It topped the charts in Spain and reached no. 17 in Germany. Altogether, Héroes del Silencio recorded four studio and various live and compilation albums before they disbanded in 1996. In 2007, as part of a 20th anniversary celebration, the band organized a 10-concert world tour. Entre dos tierras, credited to all members of the group, is the opener to their aforementioned sophomore album. While it’s the only Héroes del Silencio tune I know, I’ve always liked its amazing sound.
The Who/Success Story
I guess we’ve already reached the point again when it’s time to wrap up. Let’s do so with another rocker: Success Story by The Who. The track from their seventh studio album The Who by Numbers from October 1975 may not be the most popular or best tune by The Who. But when I coincidentally stumbled across the song the other day, I immediately earmarked it for a Sunday Six. Notably, it’s one of the few tunes written by John Entwistle. I also dig the lyrics, which Songfactscalls “a cynical autobiography of The Who.” Songfacts further notes, The line, “I’m your fairy manager” is an allusion to The Who’s gay manager Kit Lambert, who they were in the process of suing. Referring to a preacher becoming a rock musician, Entwistle also poked fun at Pete Townshend who followed Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and included spirituality in his songs. Perhaps most importantly, this song simply rocks and is bloody catchy!
The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.
Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues
Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s Newinstallment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.
John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me
Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.
Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods
Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.
Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads
Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.
Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know
Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!
Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions
Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!
Over his nearly 50-year recording career, Bruce Springsteen has amassed an enormous catalog. He could easily fill up his 3 to 4-hour shows he routinely plays with just his own songs and still not even perform half of the tunes he has written over the decades. Yet The Boss has always liked to mix up his sets with covers. Why? I think it’s because Springsteen loves great music and to honor the artists behind it.
The latest reminder is The Live Series: Songs Under Cover Vol. 2, a new album released on March 5 as part of Springsteen’s ongoing series of concert releases. It’s available via digital download at https://live.brucespringsteen.net and on music streaming services. With The E Street Band, Springsteen has the perfect group of road-tested warriors to back him. Just like Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers used to do, these guys can play anything. The new album triggered the idea to do a post on covers, B.r.u.c.e. style.
In the Midnight Hour
I couldn’t think of a better tune to kick things off than with a Stax gem. Here’s Springsteen’s version of In the Midnight Hour. Apparently, this was captured at Nassau Veterans Coliseum on Long Island, N.Y. in 1980 during The River Tour. Written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, the song was first recorded by Pickett, one of my favorite Stax artists, and appeared in June 1965. It also became the title track of Pickett’s second studio album that appeared in the same year.
Who’ll Stop the Rain
Who’ll Stop the Rain is one of my long-time favorite tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Written by John Fogerty, the track was included on the band’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory from July 1970. It’s one of the covers included on Springstreen’s new live release. This was recorded at London’s Wembley Arena in June 1981. Great version. I love the sax work by “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons – just wish his solo would have been longer!
Sweet Soul Music
Here’s an amazing version of Sweet Soul Music, another soul classic. Co-written by Sam Cooke, Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and first released by Conley in 1967. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were on fire that night in Stockholm, Sweden in July 1988. It was around the same time I saw Springsteen first in Frankfurt, Germany. I will never forget that show. Springsteen and the E Street Band belted out one cover after the other for more than one hour. Technically, I guess this was the encore. If I recall it correctly, they also played Sweet Soul Music in addition to gems like In the Midnight Hour, Land of a Thousand Dances and Shout. It was just unbelievable!
Highway 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited is another highlight from Springsteen’s latest live release. For this rendition at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in December 1990, Springsteen got a little help from his friends Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. It really doesn’t get much better! Written by Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited became the title track of his sixth studio album from August 1965. Check this out – this is to die for!
Twist & Shout/La Bamba
This fantastic medley of Twist & Shout and La Bamba was captured during the Human Rights Now! Tour, a series of 20 benefit concerts conducted in 1988 to raise awareness of Amnesty International during the year of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Twist & Shout, co-written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley, was first recorded and released by American R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961. La Bamba, a Mexican folk song, became broadly popular in 1968 through the amazing rendition by Ritchie Valens – one of the artists who died in that plane crash near Mason City, Iowa in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, together with Buddy Holly.
Rockin’ All Over the World
Let’s wrap up this post with another John Fogerty classic that became the title track for Status Quo’s 10th studio album from November 1977, and a huge hit for the British boogie rockers. Fogerty originally recorded Rockin’ All Over the World for his self-titled sophomore solo album that came out in September 1975. Bruce and the boys played the song during a gig at Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland in July 2012. As Springsteen said, “let’s do it right – alright!” Man, would I have loved to be there!
When I included the latest single by Yola in my last Best of What’s Newinstallment, I noticed her first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire received many accolades. Since the strong voice of the English singer-songwriter immediately grabbed me, I checked it out and have to say it’s a true gem, both musically and in terms of her vocal performance.
Getting to that point wasn’t exactly an easy path for Yola who was born as Yolanda Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England. According to this review in Popmatters, Yola had a tough childhood characterized by poverty and a parent who didn’t care for her and banned music. Later she lived homeless in London for some time before establishing herself as a session singer and touring with acts like DJ collective Bugz in the Attic and electronic music outfit Massive Attack.
In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. But ultimately, as her artist profile in Apple Music notes, Yola felt the need to strike out on her own. Over the next few years, she started writing her own songs that were influenced by Muscle Shoals era country-soul, R&B and classic singer-songwriter style. In 2016, she released her debut EP Orphan Offering under the name of Yola Carter.
Eventually, Yola went to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach after he had seen a video of her. Apparently, Auerbach was immediately impressed by her. “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice,” he reportedly said. “She has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” Auerbach teamed up with Yola to co-write songs, together with other writers, including Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Dan Penn.
Auerbach also assembled an impressive group of seasoned studio musicians, including Dave Roe (bass), who played with Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among others; harmonica player Charlie McCoy (credits include Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, etc.) and drummer Gene Crisman, who together with Bobby Wood was a member of the Memphis Boys. They were the house band of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn. where artists like Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield recorded. Auerbach also produced Walk Through Fire, which appeared in February 2019 on his Easy Eye Sound label.
With all of the above, it’s not surprising the album has a retro late ’60s sound. This is also matched by the cover. And yet, to me, Walk Through Fire feels like an album that will hold up well over time. It simply is a work of beauty. Let’s get to some music.
Here’s the opener Faraway Look. The track was co-written by Auerbach, McLaughin and Yola. BTW, McLaughlin’s compositions have been performed by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others. Sure, the production might be a bit on the lush side, but this is just a beautiful tune.
Ride Out in the Country is another great track. The song was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Joe Allen. Allen is a county songwriter and bassist who since the early ’70s has worked with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.
Next up is the title track, which according to Wikipedia references both a fire that damaged Yola’s home and an abusive relationship from which she escaped. The tune was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Dan Penn. Penn has co-written many soul hits of the ’60s, including The Dark End of the Street and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Cry Like a Baby.
Rock Me Gently is my current favorite on the album. It’s another Auerbach-Allen-Yola co-write.
Let’s do one more: Love All Night (Work All Day), co-credited to Wood, Auerbach and Yola.
As noted above, Walk Through Fire was very well received. The album also generated three Grammy nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song (Faraway Look) and Best New Artist. Walk Through Fire was also nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. And, yes, the album also did score a win: UK Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards.
At age 37, Yola still is relatively young. I look forward to much more great music from this talented songwriter and vocalist.
Sources: Wikipedia; Popmatters; Apple Music; YouTube
If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog, the name Mick Hayes may ring a bill. I included him and a tune from his fantastic new album My Claim to Fame in the last installment of my Best of What’s New feature. On his website, Hayes gave the record the tagline “Southern Soul Music with a California Finish.” I’m not sure I understand the California finish, but folks who are aware of my music taste know that I’m all ears when it comes to southern soul.
One of the truly remarkable things about this album is that Hayes recorded it at FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. on vintage equipment, together with musicians who backed artists like Ray Charles, Etta James and B.B. King during their recording sessions at the legendary studio. I’m mean, think about this for a moment, how friggin’ cool is that!
As I complained in my previous Best of What’s New post, Hayes doesn’t do a great job to put out some information on his background, such as a bio. Why still beats me! But at least his website has links to some reviews, and the folks who wrote them apparently got some insights from him.
Additionally, when you google Hayes, his birthday pops up as June 17, 1978, which means he’s 42 years old. Apparently, he was born in Buffalo, N.Y. A review by American Blues Scene notes Hayes became interested in the Muscle Shoals scene while browsing record stores as a young man and seeing albums by the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman and Wilson Pickett, who were recorded at FAME. So using different sources, one can kind of get at least a blurry picture of him.
The American Blues Scene review also reveals some of the above studio musicians and artists they backed: Bassist Bob Wray (Ray Charles, The Marshall Tucker Band), electric piano and organ player Clayton Ivey (Etta James, B.B. King), trumpet and flugelhorn player Vinnie Ciesielski (Gladys Knight, Lyle Lovett), saxophonist and flute player Brad Guin (Jason Isbell) and rhythm guitarist Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm). I mean, damn, let’s face it, Hayes isn’t exactly Stevie Wonder, so having gotten all these musicians is really something!
And the list continues. Also on the record are backing vocalists Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker, aka The Muscle Shoals Singers. Moreover, Hayes secured some impressive “outsiders”: Trombone player Billy Bargetzi (The Temptations, The Four Tops, The O’Jays, Bobby Vinton) and trumpet player Ken Watters (Natalie Cole, W.C. Handy Jazz All-Stars). Hayes provides lead guitar and vocals. And, as I stated in my last Best of What’s New, he co-produced My Claim to Fame with John Gifford III, who assisted with engineering Gregg Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. Okay, on to the real fun part!
Here’s opener Sweet to Me. Like all tunes on the album, it was written by Hayes. He’s definitely got soul. I also think his voice isn’t bad.
Parking Lot Romance is another great tune. It openly pays homage to Ray Charles, undoubtedly one of Hayes’ musical heroes.
Want a bit of funky soul with a message? Ask and you shall receive! Hey, hey, hey, hey, here’s Political Funk.
Next up: No Second Chances. Frankly, I could have picked any other tune. They all sound great, in my opinion!
The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Saddest Picture of Me.
You might say, ‘Hayes isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel on this record.’ That’s certainly true, but it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I feel these recordings are beautifully executed, making My Claim to Fame a joyful listening experience. I’m curious to see what Hayes is going to come up with next. I feel with this album he set a high bar for himself.
Sources: Mick Hayes website; American Blues Scene; YouTube
Time for another installment in my long-running, somewhat geeky music history feature. I still get a kick out of researching what happened on a certain date throughout the decades in rock & roll, even though it’s such an arbitrary concept. Admittedly, I’m using the term rock & roll loosely here. It pretty much includes all music genres I dig – hey, it’s my blog, so I get to make the rules. Without further ado, let’s get to March 15!
1967:The Beatles began work on Within You Without You, a song by George Harrison. According to The Beatles Bible, Harrison had written the tune at the London home of longtime Beatles friend Klaus Voormann who first had met the band in Hamburg and had shared a flat with Harrison and Ringo Starr in the British capital in early ’60s. Several musicians from the collective Asian Music Circle played traditional Indian instruments during the recording session. They were joined by Harrison and The Beatles’ then-personal assistant Neil Aspinall on tamburas. “The tabla had never been recorded the way we did it,” commented sound engineer Geoff Emerick. “Everyone was amazed when they first heard a tabla recorded that closely, with the texture and the lovely low resonances.” Within You Without You was included on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band instead of Only a Northern Song, another Harrison tune that would later appear on Yellow Submarine.
1969:Cream hit the top spot on the UK Albums Chart with their fourth and final studio album appropriately titled Goodbye. It would stay in that position for two weeks. Here’s one of the record’s tracks, Politician, which also is one of my favorite Cream tunes. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, Politician was one of three live tracks on the record that were captured on October 19, 1968, at The Forum in Los Angeles during the band’s farewell tour. By the time Goodbye came out in February 1969, Cream had already disbanded.
1975:Black Water, a classic by The Doobie Brothers, climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the first of only two no. 1 hits the band had in the U.S. The second one was What a Fool Believes in 1979. Penned by Patrick Simmons who also sang lead, Black Water first appeared on the Doobies’ fourth studio album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits released in February 1974. Interestingly, the initial single release of Black Water was as the b-side to the record’s lead single Another Park, Another Sunday. While it’s not a bad song, you still have to wonder about that decision, which seems to suggest that between the band and the record company, they hadn’t quite noticed what a gem Black Water was.
1986: The Bangles reached no. 2 on the UK Singles Chart with Manic Monday, scoring their first hit, which also peaked at no. 2 in the U.S., Australia, Germany and Ireland, and placed in the top 5 in Austria, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland. Written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher, the tune was included on the American pop-rock band’s sophomore album Different Light, which had appeared in January of the same year. I generally find listening to The Bangles fairly enjoyable. In particular, I like their harmony singing, plus they have some pretty catchy songs. Just please spare me with Eternal Flame, which at the time was hopelessly burned by overexposure on the radio back in Germany and I suspect in many other countries. BTW, The Bangles are still around in almost their original lineup. Following the band’s breakup in 1989, they reunited in 1998.
1999:Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, Dusty Springfield, Paul McCartney, The Staple Singers, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Sean Combs, Art Alexakis, Elton John, Neil Young, Lauryn Hill, Ray Charles and Bono, respectively – sounds fucking unreal to me! Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band to perform at the ceremony. Here are Bruce and the boys with Wilson Pickett, performing a scorching version of In The Midnight Hour, a Stax classic Pickett had co-written with Steve Cropper in 1965. Watching Pickett say he wants to kick Bruce in the ass but will keep it light since he’s The Boss and Bruce responding ‘Let’s give it a shot’ is priceless – damn, this wants me to go and listen to some kickass live music, so badly – fuck you, COVID-19!
Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube
I’ve written about Southern Avenue before, for example here. Together with Greta Van Fleet, this five-piece funky blues, R&B and soul band from Memphis, Tenn. is one of the very few younger contemporary music acts I’m truly excited about. I had a chance to briefly chat with guitarist Ori Naftaly and lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson at a gig in New York last August, and apart from being talented artists, they are such nice and regular people – not necessarily a given in the music world, especially for a band that appears to be received enthusiastically wherever they perform. These guys are keeping it real!
Co-written by Jackson and Naftaly, No Time To Lose is included on Southern Southern’s eponymous debut album that appeared in February 2017 on Stax Records – yep, that Stax where the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave released their music. That in and of itself is pretty cool in my book. I also think this tune rocks: great guitar riff and superb singing. The sound of the keys played by Jeremy Powell is right up my alley as well. Tierinii’s sister Tikyra Jackson on drums completes the band’s core lineup. Bassist Gage Markey is a touring member.
Speaking of touring, Southern Avenue seems to be on the road most of the time. They’re playing in many parts of the U.S. and occasionally even oversees. You can check out their current schedule on their Facebook page here. They are also scheduled to release their sophomore album later this year.
Sources: Southern Avenue website and Facebook page, YouTube