Thursday, October 30, 2014

Clarence Carter

Clarence Carter is usually remembered as a soul singer who recorded a few hits for the great R&B/soul label, Atlantic, during the Sixties and Seventies. However, Carter was much more than that. He was a bluesman and a talented blues guitarist and songwriter. Carter was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1936.

Carter’s versatility was on full display on his debut album, “This is Clarence Carter” (1968). The album contained disparate tracks including the funky hit, “Looking for a Fox,” and the pure soul of “Slip Away.”

Carter’s sophomore effort, “The Dynamic Clarence Carter” (1969), was another fine eclectic collection of songs with numbers as diverse as the soul ballad, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and a cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” Testifyin’” (1969) was another strong album. In 1970, Carter scored another big pop hit with the title track of his next album, “Patches.”

Carter has continued to record, but has produced nothing to compare with his first four albums for Atlantic.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Camel is a progressive rock band from Guildford, England. The band came together in 1971, and had guitarist Andrew Latimer, bassist Doug Ferguson, drummer Andy Ward, and keyboardist Peter Bardens as original members.

Their first album, the fine “Camel” was released in 1973. The debut album was a very solid example of progressive rock with tightly performed selections relying heavily on keyboards and lengthy tracks that allowed the musicians space to solo and improvise. “Slow Yourself Down” and “Mystic Queen” are standout tracks from this one.

Camel’s second album, “Mirage” (1974), proved to be the band’s masterpiece with inspired arrangements, playing and songs. “Free Fall,” “Supertwister,” and “Lady Fantasy” are the highlights here. The album is one of the all-time classics of progressive rock.

Camel’s next two albums, “The Snow Goose” (1975) and “Moonmadness” (1976) were both stellar efforts, and come close to reaching the heights achieved on Mirage. The former album is an instrumental showcase for the more brilliant arrangements and ensemble playing, and is conceived as a concept album about the life cycle of the snow goose. The latter album is more keyboard-driven, but is just as memorable. Camel’s outstanding live album, “A Live Record” (1978), with its spot on live renditions of studio material amply demonstrated the brilliance of this band’s individual members.

After falling on hard times in the Eighties, Camel bounced back in the Nineties with several solid albums including, “Harbor of Tears” and “Rajaz.”

Peter Bardens passed away in 2002.

Camel in concert

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bob Seger: Old Time Rock 'n Roll

Bob Seger was one of the most popular and mainstream of the rock singers of the Seventies. Seger, born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1944, had, in his initial incarnation, been a blues-rock/soul singer in a band called “The Bob Seger System.” This band came together in 1968 and played gritty blues rock and R&B. The band’s debut album, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (1969), was a fine effort that had the title track become a minor hit. The band would record two more albums before folding in 1970.

Seger would reemerge as a solo artist, and several early Seventies albums were released under his name that garnered little commercial or critical attention. That would all change with Seger’s next supporting outfit, “The Silver Bullet Band.” Seger and his new backing band came together in 1974, and Seger would finally find the commercial and critical success that he had long been striving for. The first release of Seger and The Silver Bullet Band was a superb live album, “Live Bullet,” from 1976. The album features the new band playing a number of Seger’s older songs in inspired performances.

The band’s next release, “Night Moves,” (1976) would be the breakthrough that would turn Seger into an overnight success more than a decade after his career had begun. The album consisted of hard rock gems such as “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “Come to Poppa,” and “The Fire Down Below,” but it was the folk-flavoured title track, “Night Moves,” that would become a massive hit. Another fine track, “Mainstreet” would become a minor hit.

Seger would follow-up one classic album with another with the release of “Stranger in Town” (1978). Like its predecessor, this album was a huge commercial and critical success thanks to outstanding tracks such as, “Hollywood Nights,” “Still the Same,” “Feel Like a Number,” and the hit ballad, “We’ve Got Tonight.”

Seger would record several more solid albums such as “Against the Wind” (1980) and “Nine Tonight” (1981) before drifting from the spotlight.

Bob Seger in 1977

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Beatles: History and Classics

The Beatles are almost universally regarded as the greatest act in the history of post-war popular music, and that claim is hard to deny when one considers their status as the biggest selling musical act in history, their universal critical acclaim, and the never duplicated hysteria that surrounded the band during the height of “Beatlemania” in the Sixties. The cult of the Beatles is alive and well around the world more than 40 years after the band’s demise.

The group got its start in Liverpool, in the Fifties, as a John Lennon-led skiffle band called the “Quarryman.” Lennon was a rebellious Liverpool youth who had been introduced to rock and roll music from the recordings brought across the Atlantic and into Liverpool by English merchant sailors. It was from these recordings that Lennon and his generation in England were first introduced to the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and other early fathers of the music. Eager to emulate his new heroes and make a name for himself, Lennon recruited some schoolmates to join him in his new band. Members would come and go until the band settled with a lineup of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best, a drummer.

The band changed their name to the Silver Beetles for a time and then finally settled on “The Beatles.” The band acquired an avid local following in Liverpool and became a fixture at the Cavern Club, where they performed inspired sets on a regular basis. While the band was playing clubs in Hamburg, Germany, Sutcliffe fell in love with a German girl and decided to stay behind, leaving the Beatles a four man outfit. Sutcliffe would die of a brain hemorrhage at age 21 in 1962.

The group made its first recording as the backing band for singer Tony Sheridan on the single, “My Bonnie,” which received airplay in Liverpool area. The popularity of this record inspired Liverpool record shop owner Brian Epstein to attend one of the Beatles’ Cavern shows, and when Epstein witnessed the wild reaction of the audience, he convinced the group to take him on as their manager. Epstein convinced the band to drop drummer Pete Best from the group in favor of Ringo Starr from a rival Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The final roster of the Beatles was set with Lennon and Harrison on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass, and Ringo Starr on drums. The group would record the moderately successful single, “Love Me Do,” before the end of 1962.

Epstein then began to search for a record label to sign his band. After numerous rejections, the band was finally signed by the Parlophone label. The Beatles recorded their first album for the label, “Please Please Me,” in 1963. The album was recorded in a single day, apparently to capture as close as possible the immediacy of their live shows. Although Epstein had trouble finding a U.S. label to sign the band, he managed to get the Beatles booked on the Ed Sullivan TV Show in April, 1964. New York disc jockey, Murray the K, hyped the Beatles upcoming TV appearance, setting the stage for the birth of Beatlemania. The Beatles appearance on the Sullivan show was a sensation seen by millions of Americans, and the Beatles become international superstars overnight.

The Beatles thus began an exhausting two years of near constant recording and touring. The early Beatles records were released separately in the U.S. and U.K., sometimes with different titles. For example, “Please, Please Me,” the band’s first U.K. album was released in the U.S. as “Meet the Beatles.” The names of the albums don’t matter much as everything this band recorded is essential, and any collection of Beatles music is guaranteed to be of high quality. Titles to look for from the 1964 albums are:” With the Beatles,” “Twist and Shout,” “A Hard Days Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” and “Beatles 65.” The Beatles’ music would soon change from light poppy love songs to darker and more introspective fare as the group attempted to expand its musical horizons.

With the release of the album, “Help” (1965), the Beatles began the process of reinventing themselves. The title track, “Help,”  “Yesterday,” and the very Dylanesque, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” saw the group moving into previously uncharted territory. Their songs were still just as catchy, the harmonies still as sweet, but the material had become darker and more intriguing.

This artistic growth continued on the next album, “Rubber Soul” (1965), and for the next five albums. This string of albums represents the Beatles’ best work and some of the best albums of popular music ever recorded. On Rubber Soul, the band begins to experiment musically with the inclusion of sitar on “Norwegian Wood,” and several songs such as “Michelle,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “In My Life” which could easily be classified as “folk rock.” 

The Beatles’ following studio release, “Revolver” (1966), sees the Beatles at the peak of their powers. Revolver is an astonishing collection of songs representing a myriad of styles from the art rock of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Good Day Sunshine” to the hard rock of “Taxman” and full blown psychedelic experimentation in “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

The release of Revolver coincided with the band’s retirement from live performances. Freed of life on the road, the Beatles would dedicate themselves to experimentation in the recording studio. With the able support of their producer, George Martin, the group would again reach new heights of creativity in the studio with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). This album’s overt experimentation was an attempt by John Lennon and Paul McCartney to outdo the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson who had raised the studio bar with his work on the Beach Boys’ classic recording, “Pet Sounds,” during the previous year. “Sgt. Pepper,” which is often cited as the Beatles’ magnum opus, is every bit as thrilling as Revolver with epic songs such as “Lovely Rita,” “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “She’s Leaving Home,” and ‘A Day in the Life.”

The Beatles kept rolling with the double album simply titled, “The Beatles” (1968). Its unadorned, solid white cover earned it the nickname, “The White Album,” among fans. The album is amazingly eclectic and contains nary a bad tune amid its myriad of tracks. Among the album’s classic tunes are, “Blackbird,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Revolution,” “Back in The USSR,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

In 1969, The Beatles would release their last true studio album, “Abbey Road.” Group in-fighting that had lasted for several years was becoming intolerable and Paul McCartney was tiring of holding things together. McCartney would later signal the demise of the band by releasing his first solo album in 1970. Abbey Road was another brilliant effort that contained classic tracks such as “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and most impressively, the medley of short, connected songs that finishes the album.

“Let It Be,” which was recorded prior to Abbey Road, would be released in 1970 with the title track, “Let it Be,” and Lennon’s “Across the Universe” as standout tracks.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Bobby Fuller Four: I Fought the Law

The Bobby Fuller Four was one of the best American rock and roll bands from the early to mid-Sixties-a time when good rave-up rock and roll was in short supply. The band formed in Baytown, Texas, in 1961, with Bobby Fuller on guitar and lead vocals. Fuller’s brother Randy served as the band’s bassist.

The band started its recording career as a surf rock combo and had the song, “King of the Beach” as its first single. The band found its sound with the fine hit single, “Let Her Dance” in 1965. The band’s next single, “I Fought the Law,” was an instant classic and stands today as one of the all-time greatest rock and roll singles. 

Both of the aforementioned hit singles can be found on the album, “I Fought the Law” (1966). This album and a number of compilation albums are recommended.

Bobby Fuller was found dead in his car outside his Hollywood home during the summer of 1966.Foul play has always been rumoured in Fuller's demise, but no solid evidence has ever come to the fore.

Randy Fuller tried to continue the band after Bobby’s death, but ultimately failed.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fats Domino: The Fat Man

Fats Domino was one of the most successful of the founding fathers of rock and roll. Domino hailed from New Orleans and started his career as a New Orleans R&B performer. He is forever remembered for the early rock and roll hits, “Blueberry Hill,” “The Fat Man,” I Want to Walk You Home,” “Walking to New Orleans,” “Ain’t it a Shame,” “Blue Monday,” and “I’m in Love Again.” The man was one of the giants of the Fifties, scoring almost three times as many hits as either Chuck Berry or Little Richard.

Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. in New Orleans, in 1928. After spending time in the Dave Bartholomew band as pianist, he made his first recordings in 1950 with “The Fat Man” and “Detroit City Blues.” “The Fat Man” was an important recording in the development of what was to become rock and roll. The song was co-written, as were most of Fats' big hits, with trumpeter, Bartholomew. The song became a huge R&B hit, and it is one of the most successful debut singles in pop music history.

By the time rock and roll emerged in the mid-1950s, Domino was already an established R&B star, and his transition to rock and roll was an easy one. In 1955, he scored his first hit on the pop charts with “Ain’t it a Shame,” the song that introduced him to white audiences and turned him into one of the first rock and roll stars.

Domino’s best recordings can be most easily found via compilation. Among the best Domino compilations are “Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino” (1956), “Fats Domino Swings 12, 000, 000 Records” (1958), “The Fantastic Fats Domino-20 Original Hits” (1977), and “My Blue Heaven-The Best of Fats Domino” (1990).
Photo by Heinrich Klaffs

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'

Jazz singer/songwriter/pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller was born in New York City, in 1904. While he is not a household name to the extent of fellow jazz legends, Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, and Goodman, Fats Waller was no less important or influential. In the opinion of his fellow musicians, especially Louis Armstrong, he was a giant among giants.

As a youth in New York City, Waller sought out the Harlem stride piano legend, James P. Johnson, and became the great pianist’s understudy. Soon thereafter, Waller was one of the best stride pianists in the city. The stride style is sort of the jazz version of boogie-woogie, and as such, it is quite palatable to the ears of rock music fans. Waller would eventually become one of the very best pianists that jazz ever produced. Only the likes of Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Oscar Peterson could match his virtuosity.

In addition to being one of the finest musicians in early jazz, Waller was one of the best and most prolific songwriters in jazz, penning the standards, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain't Misbehavin.” Many of Waller’s compositions are humorous, and display his penchant for writing clever lyrics laden with double-meanings.

Waller’s first recording was made as early as 1922, with the sides, “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues” recorded for the General Phonograph Company. After a few more recording sessions in 1923, Waller’s recording career would begin in earnest in 1927 with a solid string of classic sides that would continue until his death in 1943.

Waller’s first big hit, “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” appeared in 1929, and was followed by scads of others including, “African Ripples,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Viper’s Drag,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” “S’Posin’,” “You’re Feets Too Big,” “All That Meat and No Potatoes,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” and “A Good Man’s Hard to Find.”

These recordings and more can be found on several excellent compilations of Waller’s music such as the multi-volume “The Complete Fats Waller,” “The Very Best of Fats Waller” (2000), and “The Centennial Collection” (2004).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer

Lewis’s musical journey started in his hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana, where he was born on September 29, 1935. Lewis was a cousin of television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart and country singer Mickey Gilley. Lewis studied the piano from the age of ten, and his mother enrolled him in a bible college in Texas.

According to a famous story, Lewis was thrown out of the school on his first day for performing a raucous version of “My God Is Real”. It is stories such as this one and Lewis’s fervent performances that earned him the moniker, “The Killer.”

At 21, Lewis auditioned for Sun Records, and Sam Phillips signed him as soon as he heard the tape of the audition. His first single, “Crazy Arms,” was a minor hit, and. Phillips believed that Lewis could become another Elvis Presley. Accordingly, Phillips poured out money for the promotion of Lewis’s follow-up, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

The record was banned on many radio stations across America, but it went to be a huge hit on the country, R&B and pop charts. His next single, “Great Balls of Fire,” became his trademark song, and another release, “Breathless,” made for three huge Lewis hits in a row. In the meantime, Lewis was also gaining a reputation as a live performer unequalled in intensity.

Lewis had secretly married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the daughter of his bass player and uncle, J.W. Brown. While on a trip to England, the British press found out about the marriage and ripped him to shreads, causing Lewis to retreat to the U.S. His career went into rapid decline as a result.
Smash Records signed Lewis, and he began recording country music in his own style, and due to the label’s bargaining with country music disc jockeys, Lewis became a star again.

After overcoming a series of personal problems with drugs and alcohol and a divorce from Myra Gale, Lewis became one of the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. In 1989, Lewis was the subject of the film, “Great Balls of Fire,” which told his life story. Lewis re-recorded all of his old hits for the film, and has continued to record and play live since.

Several fine compilations of Lewis’ early hits are available, including the three-volume, “Original Golden Hits” (1969) and “Original Sun Greatest Hits” (1983).

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jackie Wilson: Mr. Excitement

Jackie Wilson was among the first soul singers who followed in Ray Charles footsteps after Charles created the music in the mid-Fifties. Wilson, also known as “Mr. Excitement,” for his ebullient performing style, was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1934. Wilson was a boxer and gymnast prior to the start of his music career. Wilson was known for his temperamental nature and willingness to use his boxing skills.

Wilson originally came to prominence in 1953, as a member of the vocal R&B group, Billy Ward and the Dominoes as a replacement for Clyde McPhatter who had left the group to form the Drifters. Wilson would serve as the Dominoes lead singer for the next three years. Upon leaving the Dominoes, Wilson soon found solo success with the hit single, “Reet Petite,” in 1957.

Throughout the remainder of the Fifties and Sixties, Wilson recorded numerous R&B hits and the occasional pop hit. Wilson’s biggest pop hit came in 1958 with “Lonely Teardrops.” In 1967, Wilson would again score a huge hit with the song, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”

Wilson’s best studio albums include “Soul Time” (1965), “Whispers” (1966), and “Higher and Higher” (1967). His best compilations include “The Jackie Wilson Story” (1983) and “The Very Best of Jackie Wilson” (1987). Wilson died in 1984.