Friday, January 30, 2015

Frankie Trumbauer: King of the C-Melody Sax

Frankie Trumbauer, born in Carbondale, Illinois, in 1901, is one of the first great jazz saxophonists. He became famous as a player of the rare C-melody saxophone, an instrument with a pitch that falls between an alto and tenor saxophone. Trumbauer was a saxophonist of considerable influence who is credited by many later greats of the instrument as an inspiration. Trumbauer was often referred to by the moniker, “Tram.” 

Trumbauer began his career with the Paul Whiteman Band in the early twenties. When he switched to the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, he met the great cornetist Bix Beiderbecke with whom he would later become a close friend and collaborator.

In 1927, Trumbauer formed his own orchestra and with Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang and Jimmy Dorsey produced some of the best jazz ever recorded. In a series of legendary sessions, the Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra would record, “Singing the Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade,” “For No Reason at all in C,” “Riverboat Shuffle,” Ostrich Walk,” and others. Bix Beiderbecke’s work on these recordings is considered to be his best ever work. On the brilliant side, “Trumbology,” Trumbauer delivers one of the first true saxophone tour de forces in recorded jazz. Trumbauer died in 1956.

Trumbauer’s recordings can be found on the “Chronological Classics” series of jazz compilations and his recordings with Beiderbecke were considered good enough to warrant inclusion on the venerable collection of early jazz recordings, “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz” (1973).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jelly Roll Morton: The "Inventor" of Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton is among the most important figures in the history of American popular music. He was a pianist, composer, and bandleader and one of the first musicians to play jazz music. Morton was a tireless self-promoter who actually claimed to have “invented” jazz and carried business cards that made such a claim. Of course, no individual can take credit for having invented jazz, but we do know that Morton was the first person to write it down. He was also one of the prominent musicians who bridged the gap between the ragtime music that preceded jazz and the music that jazz would become.

Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1890. Morton was a Creole who was of mixed African and Spanish heritage. Creole musicians were among the finest of the musicians in New Orleans due to the classical training that many received.

Morton began his professional career as a teenager in the notorious red light district of Storyville, in New Orleans. He told his grandmother with whom he lived, that he was working as a night watchman when he was really working as a piano player in Storyville clubs. When his grandmother discovered the truth, Morton was ejected from his home, and he began his career in earnest at age 17, traveling around the country while working as an itinerant pianist, gambler, pimp, and door to door salesman.

Morton made his first recordings, “Mr. Jelly Lord” and “Clarinet Marmalade,” with a white jazz band, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, in 1923. Later that year, after moving to Chicago, he made his first solo recordings for the Gennett label, recording very influential piano solo sides such as “Wolverine Blues” and “Tom Cat Blues.”

Morton would achieve the height of his success as the leader of the legendary recording band, The Red Hot Peppers, which recorded with Morton for the Victor label from 1926-1927. The band consisted of many ex-members of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. The Red Hot Peppers were: Johnny St. Cyr on banjo; Omer Simeon on clarinet; Kid Ory on trombone; Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Barney Bigard on clarinet George Mitchell on cornet; and Baby Dodds on drums.

Morton and the Peppers recorded some of the most original and inspired numbers in the history of jazz including, “The Chant,” “Dead Man Blues,” “Dr. Jazz,” “Smoke House Blues,” “Sidewalk Blues,” and “Black Bottom Stomp”. All these selections were performed in the New Orleans style with numerous influences brought in from various sources.

On these sides, the band displayed the improvisational flair of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, and it swung even harder. The Red Hot Pepper recordings would become some of the best-selling recordings of the day, and Morton achieved a level of financial success that allowed him to have a diamond stud fixed in his teeth. Unfortunately, Morton’s good times did not last for long as his style of jazz soon fell out of fashion.

The Great Depression and the advent of swing music had a devastating effect on Morton, and he was forced to hock his diamond and resorted to playing piano in a lowbrow bar in Washington, D.C. In 1938, Alan Lomax recorded a series of interviews and performances of Morton for the Library of Congress. Morton’s health was declining fast, and he died in 1941. Morton had blamed his declining health on a voodoo curse.

 Morton’s greatest recordings are the sides he recorded with the Red Hot Peppers, and these are available in various compilations, as is the rest of his work. The best of these compilations is probably “The Jelly Roll Morton Centennial: His Complete Victor Recordings” (1990) “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings” (2005) is also available and it serves as a fabulous document of early jazz lore.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

James Brown: Soul Brother Number One

James Brown, born in Macon, Georgia, in 1938 was known by a number of titles including “The Godfather of Soul,” “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “Soul Brother Number One,” and “Mr. Dynamite.” Brown is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of American popular music. In addition to being a major figure in the creation of funk music, Brown was a businessman and an inspirational leader in the American civil rights movement.

A number of musicians spent time in his back-up bands before finding success as solo artists including, Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, and Hank Ballard. Brown is frequently cited as an influence by hip hop artists, and he may be the single most sampled artist by hip hop producers.

James Brown was born in Barnwell, North Carolina, in 1933. He was born into abject poverty and was sent to live with an aunt. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and began working odd jobs such as shoe shining and singing for the World War Two troops that were stationed at Camp Gordon near his aunt’s home. During this time, Brown taught himself to play the harmonica and received guitar lessons from the legendary bluesman, Tampa Red.

When he saw a film of the great jump blues master Louis Jordan performing his hit, “Caledonia,” Brown resolved to pursue a professional music career. However, when he was sixteen, Brown was charged with armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center. While serving a three-year sentence in a detention center, Brown became acquainted with Bobby Byrd, a future R&B star whose family arranged for Brown’s release from the center. After stints as a semi-professional baseball player and boxer, Brown focused his attention back on music.

In 1955, Brown joined his friend Bobby Bird as a member of Byrd’s singing group, the Avons. With Brown now a member, the Avons changed their name to the Flames and signed to Federal Records. Brown’s first recording, “Please. Please, Please” would come as a member of the Flames and present him as a soul singer of great depth and intensity.

Brown would record several more singles with the Flames during the Fifties, and the group would eventually become known as “James Brown and the Famous Flames.” Among thier big hits were the songs, “I’ll Go Crazy,” “Think,” “Lost Someone,” “Night Train,” and “Caledonia.” In 1965, Brown, in the opinion of many, would invent funk music with his hit, “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag.” For its recording, Brown told his band to “play it on the one,” transforming the traditional 2/4 beat heard in R&B recordings and giving the world something new.

Brown continued recording hit singles and albums consistently until the Nineties. Among Brown’s later hits were the songs, “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Licking Stick,” “Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Cold Sweat,” “Sex Machine,” and “Living in America.”

Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006, leaving behind him an awesome catalogue of recorded work.

Among Brown’s best studio albums and compilations are: “Please Please Please” (1956), “Live at the Apollo” (1963), “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (1965), “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1966), “James Brown Live at the Garden” (1967), “I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me” (1968), “Say it Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1969), “Sex Machine”(1970), “Revolution of the Mind” (1971), “The Payback” (1974), “Love Power Peace, Live at the Olympia, Paris1971” (1992), “James Brown Soul Classics” (1972), “Solid Gold 30 Golden Hits” (1977), “In the Jungle Groove” (1986), “Star Time” (1991), and “Gold” (2005)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Charlie Poole: North Carolina Rambler

Charlie Poole was one of a handful of individuals recording country music in the days before The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made the music popular in the late Twenties. Poole and his band, “The North Carolina Ramblers,” were one of the most popular and prolific of the “hillbilly” bands to record in the mid-Twenties. Traditional country was rich and colorful, and Poole was one of the best from its early days.

Poole was born in Eden, North Carolina, in 1892. He was a banjo player, and he and his band, the North Carolina Ramblers, made their first recording, “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” in 1925. Poole wrote songs that reflected the harsh realities of life for the southern poor and his own struggles with alcoholism, a disease which would eventually kill him.

Songs such as “Can I Sleep in your Barn Tonight Mister,” “Take a Drink on Me,” and “All Go Hungry Hash House” paint vivid pictures of that life. Poole even dabbled in the political arena with his classic, “White House Blues.”

Several compilations exist with these songs and many more.
Charlie Poole (left) and the North Carolina Ramblers

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Howlin' Wolf: 300 Pounds of Joy

Of all the Chicago Bluesman who recorded for Chess Records in the Fifties and Sixties, Howlin’ Wolf may have produced the most affecting music. Howlin Wolf was a 300-pound powerhouse of a man who was known to wield his size and mean streak when he deemed it necessary. This intimidating image coupled with a ferocious, otherworldly voice is what earned him the name, “Howlin’ Wolf.”

He was born Chester Arthur Burnett in West Point, Mississippi, in 1910. He was born as one of the poorest of the Southern poor, son of a Mississippi sharecropper, who in his early adult life seemed destined for a life of sharecropping himself. In 1930, Burnett met the Mississippi Delta blues singer Charley Patton, and Patton instructed Burnett on guitar for a time. In addition to Patton, Burnett admired and drew influence from Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Blake. What would become Howlin’ Wolf’s famous howl, started as the singer’s attempt to replicate the yodeling of country singer, Rodgers.

During the Thirties, Burnett traveled through The South often in the company of other blues singers. When he was 30-years-old in 1940, he was drafted into the US Army. He stayed in the army for three years before being discharged in 1943, without having seen action. After his discharge, he returned home for a time to help with farming. He formed a band with guitarists Willie Johnson and Matt “Guitar” Murphy and began performing on the West Memphis, Arkansas, radio station, KWEM. Burnett’s performances on the station brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips of The Memphis Recording Service (later called Sun Records), the same man who would discover Elvis Presley years later.

In 1951, Burnett, now dubbed, “Howlin’ Wolf,” recorded the singles, “Moanin after Midnight” and “How Many More Years” for Chess records, and he relocated to Chicago. Wolf convinced the brilliant blues guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, to join his band in Chicago, and with Sumlin on board, Wolf would enter his classic period with terrific singles such as “Smokestack Lightning,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “300 Pounds of Joy,” and “Killing Floor.”

 In 1962, Howlin’ Wolf recorded his famous self-titled, “rocking chair” album, “Howlin’ Wolf,” a seminal and brilliant recording of Chicago blues. The album was recorded for Chess and included his tight band led by guitarist Sumlin.

Other brilliant Howlin’ Wolf albums include “The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions” (1971) and “Ridin’ in the Moonlight” (1982), and the compilations “Moanin’ in the Moonlight” (1959), “The Real Folk Blues” (1965), “Chester Burnett AKA Howlin’ Wolf’” (1972), “Change My Way” (1975), “His Greatest Sides Vol. 1” (1984), “The Chess Box” (1991), “His Best” (1997), and “The Geniune Article” (1997).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child

When guitar heroes of rock music are discussed, Jimi Hendrix’s name is often mentioned as perhaps the best of them all. Of course, the topic is highly subjective, and Hendrix status as a rock star who died while still in his twenties can prejudice any such discussion. It is clear, however, that he is among an elite group of rock guitarists, and his prodigious technical skill and showmanship rendered him the first true guitar god of rock. 

Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1942. Following a less than stellar stint in the army, he got his start in music as a session guitarist for R&B acts such as King Curtis and the Isley Brothers, and in live performances with the likes of Slim Harpo, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Knight and the Squires, and Sam Cooke. By the mid-Sixties, Hendrix had dubbed himself, “Jimmy James” and with his band, The Blue Flames, was playing the club scene in New York’s Greenwich Village.

In a fortuitous turn, Hendrix met the girlfriend of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Linda Keith, at a New York City club. Keith recommended Hendrix to the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham and Chas Chandler of the Animals. Chandler was impressed with Hendrix’s song, “Hey Joe,” and brought him to London in the fall of 1966.

Chandler brought in two Englishmen, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as Hendrix’s sidemen and named the newly formed trio, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.” Hendrix and his new band would soon make rock music history by recording three albums that would all go down in history as ground-breaking classics in the annals of rock.

The first album, “Are You Experienced,” was released in the United Kingdom in the spring of 1967, and shortly thereafter in North America. It was an instant commercial and critical success and contained the classic tunes, “Are You Experienced,” “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze.” The album is now hailed as one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

Hendrix would follow-up his outstanding debut with “Axis: Bold as Love,” also from 1967. This album contained fewer “hits,” but featured some technical innovations previously unheard on popular music recordings. The opening track, “EXP,” contains channel-switching stereo effects which have the guitar sound fading in one channel and re-emerging in the other. Hendrix also uses the “wah-wah” pedal for the first time on this recording.

For his third effort, “Electric Ladyland” (1968), Hendrix brought in Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood from Traffic and Al Kooper from The Blues Project. The ambitious double album featured the epic tracks, “All Along the Watchtower,” probably the best and most original Bob Dylan cover ever, and “Voodoo Chile (slight return).”

Hendrix and the Experience would break-up and later reunite as “They Band of Gypsys,” and a live album of the Gypsys would appear in 1970. Hendrix died of an apparent drug overdose in London, in September of 1970.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bob Dylan: Jokerman

Bob Dylan is generally regarded as the greatest songwriter in the history of pop/rock music. As an influence on the development of pop music of the last 50 years, Dylan is without peers.

Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota, in the thick of northern mining country. During his high school years, the moody and rebellious young Robert Zimmerman formed a rock and roll band called, the “Golden Chords,” featuring himself on piano. Young Zimmerman, like many his age, was taken with Elvis Presley and other early stars of rock and roll. It wasn’t until his short stint at The University of Minnesota that the young Dylan would discover the early blues, country, and folk music that would form the foundation of his early fame.

While at university, Zimmerman rarely attended classes and instead spent his time learning the guitar techniques of the early blues and country masters that he heard on recordings owned by fellow music-loving students. He even earned a reputation as a thief of music recordings when a friend noticed that his records were disappearing. It was during this time that Zimmerman had decided that he would drop out of school and go to New York City to visit his new hero, folk music legend, Woody Guthrie, who was ailing in Bellevue Hospital, and then embark on a career as a folk singer.

In early 1960, Zimmerman, who had begun to refer to himself as “Bob Dylan,” ventured off to New York City where he did manage to meet his hero, Guthrie. He fell in with the Greenwich Village bohemian crowd and began performing folk music in the coffee houses and clubs of the Village. During this time, Dylan was honing his instrumental and performance skills. He steadily developed a following and began appearing in folk music publications such as “Sing Out.” His growing reputation culminated in an appearance with blues legend, John Lee Hooker, at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village.

Several glowing reviews of Dylan’s performances in the Village brought him to the attention of Columbia Record’s John Hammond. Hammond invited Dylan to come to the Columbia Records studios for an audition. Hammond was impressed by Dylan’s command of early blues and folk styles and signed him to a contract.

In March, 1962, the 20-year-old Dylan went to the studio, and recorded his first album, “Bob Dylan.” The album was a mix of cover versions of old blues and country tunes, but did have two Dylan originals, “Song to Woody,” a tribute to his idol Woody Guthrie, and “Talking New York Blues,” a song about his struggles in New York. The album was well received and pointed to a promising future.

On his next release, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963), Dylan showed tremendous growth in his songwriting and performing and firmly established himself as a great songwriter and folk performer.  This album featured the classic songs, “A Hard Rains a Gonna Fall” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” “Freewheelin’” is widely considered the best of Dylan’s folk albums.

Dylan recorded two more folk albums, “The Times Are A’Changin’” (1964) and “Another Side of Bob Dylan” (1964), and became a hero of the left-wing protest set. Dylan never wished to be a part of any movement, and he would soon be vilified by folk music fans when he decided to abandon folk music in favour of rock and roll.

In 1965, Columbia released Bob Dylan’s fifth studio album, “Bringing It All Back Home”. The record, while containing a lot of material in the folk vein, also contained, for some, the unwanted strains of rock and roll. Notable tunes on this album include “Maggie’s Farm” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” This was Dylan’s best album to date.

 Late 1965 saw the release of an album which is widely considered as one of the best in the history of pop/rock, “Highway 61 Revisited.” On a purely musical level, this is some of the best blues ever recorded. Dylan put together an outstanding backing band for this album with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper on guitar and keyboards, respectively. Bloomfield’s guitar work on the track “Tombstone Blues” is of epic proportions and Dylan’s vocals on “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” are maybe his best ever. Everything else here is outstanding, especially the hit, “Like A Rolling Stone.” Lyrically, the songs here are highly impressionistic and often allegorical making interpretation a difficult task.

The following year, Dylan released another masterpiece, “Blonde on Blonde” (1966), an album that vies with its predecessor for the title of “Dylan’s best.” This time, Dylan had the future members of The Band backing him on several tracks. The album features more curious, impressionistic, but interesting lyrics. Musically, this album is in turns bluesy and folksy. Dylan scored minor hits with “I Want You” and “Just like a Woman” from this one.

Dylan had peaked in 1966 with the release of back to back masterworks. He continued to release fine albums between 1967 and 1975, with his best being “John Wesley Harding” (1967), “Nashville Skyline” (1968), and “New Morning” (1970). In 1975, with the release of the superb album, “Blood on the Tracks,” Dylan once again soared to the artistic heights that he had reached in 1966. “Tangled up In Blue,” and “Buckets of Rain” are standout tracks from the album.

Another classic, “The Basement Tapes,” recorded during the summer of 1967 with The Band was also released in 1975. The following year, Dylan recorded “Desire” (1976) which featured the song, “Hurricane,” about wrongly-imprisoned boxer, Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. Desire would prove to be the last truly superb album that Dylan would record during his golden period.

Shortly after recording Desire, Dylan would become a born-again Christian and release two mediocre albums of religious music, “Saved” and “Slow Train Comin.” It seemed that he had finally lost his muse. However, Dylan has continued to record and tour over the years and has periodically produced fine albums such as “Infidels” (1983), “Oh Mercy”(1989), “Time Out Of Mind”(1997), “Love and Theft”(2001), and “Modern Times”(2006).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bob Marley: Trench Town Rock

Bob Marley is the most famous figure in the history of reggae music and the first “Third World” music superstar. Marley was not the first star of the indigenous Jamaican music, reggae, but he is largely responsible for it becoming internationally-known.

Marley was born in Nine Mile, Saint Anne Parish, Jamaica, and lived in the rough Trench Town part of Kingston. At the age of eighteen, he formed the band that would forever be associated with his name, “The Wailers.” The Wailers consisted of Marley as vocalist and guitarist, Bunny Livingston as singer and percussionist, and Peter Tosh as singer and guitarist. Livingston and Tosh would leave the Wailers in 1973 to pursue solo careers and would become reggae stars themselves. The band featured numerous other supporting musicians who came and went during the subsequent years. Guitarist Junior Murvin was a notable member during the final incarnation of the band.

During the Sixties, the Wailers recorded a number of hit singles in Jamaica including “Simmer Down,” “Love and Affection,” and an early version of “One Love” that would later become an international anthem in the Seventies. When these songs were released, the term, “reggae,” hadn’t been coined, and this jaunty dance music was referred to as “ska, and was later dubbed, “rocksteady.”

During the Seventies, the Wailers began to record albums on Upsetter Records with Lee “Scratch” Perry as producer. It was under Perry’s direction that the band began to distinguish itself from its ska/reggae competitors.

In 1971, the band released its first classic album, “Soul Revolution.” Another classic album followed in 1973, with “Catch a Fire,” containing the well-known Marley song, “Stir it Up.” By this time, the Wailers had been signed to Island records. The following year, 1974, saw the release of “Burnin,’” another solid effort containing the classic songs, “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” a song that would soon become a chart hit in a version by Eric Clapton.

By this time, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh had left the band to pursue solo careers, and Bob Marley was left in full control. Marley was beginning to attract international acclaim, aided greatly by Eric Clapton’s success with “I Shot the Sheriff.” He would try to build on this foundation by adding rock record production and studio polish to his successive albums, but he never lost the gritty, soulful essence of his music. His next four albums, “Natty Dread,” Live,” “Rastaman Vibration,” and “Exodus” would see Marley at the height of his creative powers. It was during this run of albums that Marley would achieve international stardom.

“Exodus” (1977) is generally regarded as Marley’s finest original album with its catchy songs, fine arrangements, and its pop production values. Marley had practically made reggae a crossover genre with this album by rendering reggae palatable to pop music fans. Exodus contained a bevy of classic songs such as the song, “Exodus,” “Jammin’,” “Three Little Birds,” “Waiting in Vain,” and an updated version of “One Love.” Marley titled the album “Exodus” in recognition of his flight to sanctuary in England following an attempt on his life in Jamaica.

Another solid live album, “Babylon by Bus” followed in 1978, and then his final studio release, “Uprising,” appeared in 1981. “Redemption Song” from the latter album is especially haunting as it is the last song on the last album that Marley recorded.

 Marley died at age 36 in 1981.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Wild Horses

In 1968, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman were members of the Byrds and with their band had recorded the classic album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the first official “country-rock” album. Parsons and Hillman left the Byrds shortly after and with Chris Ethridge, a bassist, and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, a steel guitar player, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, the band that would spread the gospel of this new genre.

The band would produce a brilliant debut album, a decent sophomore album and then Parsons would be gone to pursue a solo career leaving Hillman to continue the band without him.

In 1969, that brilliant debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” was released. The album was a soulful synthesis of rock and country featuring aching vocal harmonies and atmospheric pedal steel work by Pete Kleinow. The album contained the unforgettable tracks “Christine’s Tune,” “Sin City,” “My Uncle,” and an utterly original take on the soul classic, “Dark End of The Street.”

The next year, 1970, saw the release of the follow-up, “Burrito Deluxe,” a solid offering with standout tracks, “Wild Horses,” “God’s Own Singer,” and “Older Guys.” In 1971, the Burrito Brothers, minus Parsons, released a fine album, “The Flying Burrito Brothers” featuring a fine version of “White Line Fever”.

The band continued to release albums throughout the Seventies with Hillman as the sole original member, but nothing they did even came close to their great debut.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth

Buffalo Springfield formed as a result of a famous chance meeting on the Sunset Strip between Neil Young and Steven Stills. After driving his 53’Pontiac hearse from Toronto to Los Angeles with his friend, bassist Bruce Palmer, Neil Young encountered Stills on that famous street. Stills was with his friend, singer and guitarist Ritchie Furay, at the time. Stills and Young had previously met in Toronto and instantly recognized each other. The four musicians stopped, chatted, and decided to form a band. Americans Stills and Furay and Canadians Young, Palmer, and drummer Dewey Martin would become famous as “Buffalo Springfield” in 1966.

Buffalo Springfield released their debut album, “Buffalo Springfield” in 1966 and found instant critical acclaim and popularity. Their music could best be described as folk-rock, but this talented assemblage of musicians played a variety of styles including folk, country, rock, and pop. “For what it’s Worth,” “Go and Say Goodbye,” Flying on The Ground Is Wrong,” and “Nowadays Clancy Can Even Sing” are all classic tracks from the debut album.

With their next effort, “Buffalo Springfield Again” (1967), the band would produce their masterpiece. This album was more consistent than the debut and featured more studio polish courtesy of producer Jack Nitzche. “Expecting to Fly” and “Broken Arrow,” two songs by Neil Young, are the albums’ highlights.

 The band would produce one more solid album, “Last Time Around” (1968), featuring outstanding tracks in “Kind Woman,” “One the Way Home,” and “I Am a Child” before disbanding.

Despite their brief run of just two years, Buffalo Springfield was a hugely influential band that spawned the solo careers of Young and Stills and future country-rock bands Poco, Manassas and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Byrds: Eight Miles High

The Byrds are among the greatest bands in the history of American pop music. The band is the original folk-rock outfit and was the first band to play country-rock. Pioneered by folk singer turned rocker, Roger McGuinn, the Byrds saw many lineup changes throughout the years, but despite the turnover of musicians, the band always produced original and inspired music. Originally called the “Beefeaters,” the Byrds formed in early 1964 with members, McGuinn on guitar; David Crosby on guitar; Gene Clark on guitar; Michael Clarke on drums; and Chris Hillman on bass.

The Byrds “jangly” sound was derived from McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. This trademark sound was in full evidence on their first album, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965). The album opens with the title track, a rocking hit version of the Bob Dylan classic. Dylan songs would be covered often by the Byrds and be infused with that unmistakable Byrds sound.

The Byrds next recorded the very solid, “Turn, “Turn, “Turn” album in 1965. The title track of this album also became a big hit.

Two excellent albums came next: “Fifth Dimension” (1966) and “Younger than Yesterday” (1967) spawning hits with “Eight Miles High” and “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star,” respectively.

It was at this point, seemingly at the peak of the band’s commercial and critical success, when Gene Clark and David Crosby departed to pursue solo careers. For their next project, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (1968), the band was reduced to a trio. No matter it seems when the listening to the result-a brilliant album of stunning experimental music. The album is inspired from start to finish, especially on numbers like, “Draft Morning,” “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” “Natural Harmony,” and “Get to You.”

Now a trio, the Byrds added new members, country-hippie Gram Parsons from the International Submarine Band and the superb country guitarist Clarence White. With the overt country influence of its new members, the Byrds produced the first true country-rock album, the excellent “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Parsons soon left the band to form the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Byrds had reached the peak of their creative powers and would continue to record until 1973, but only the “Untitled” album released in 1970 would approach the heights they achieved in the Sixties.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

George Gershwin: Classical Jazz

George Gershwin was an American pianist and modern classical composer whose contributions to popular music fall within the realm of jazz. Gershwin was the first classical musician or composer who embraced the new 20th century music of jazz and melded it with classical music.

Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New York, in 1898, to Russian/Ukrainian parents. He studied piano from age ten under the tutelage of classical pianist Charles Hambitzer, who would remain Gershwin’s mentor until Gershwin was around 20-years-old.

Gershwin began his music career upon dropping out of high school at age 15, finding work as a songwriter of pop tunes in New York City’s famed Tin Pan Alley. His first successful song was the ragtime hit, “Rialto Ripples,” in 1917. Two years later he penned the famous song, “Swanee,” which would become a huge hit for Al Jolson. Gershwin also produced piano rolls for player pianos for the Aeolian company.

Gershwin began writing jazz songs in the early Twenties with lyricist Buddy DeSylva and his brother, Ira Gershwin. The team’s early songs included “Oh, Lady Be Good” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” These classic songs were followed by “Funny Face,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Of Thee I Sing.”

In 1924, Gershwin wrote the jazz-infused modern classical masterpiece, “Rhapsody in Blue.” This famous work was introduced to the world by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in a New York City performance. Gershwin then headed to Paris with the ambition of furthering his classical training, but was rejected by several prospective mentors including Maurice Ravel. While in Paris, Gershwin penned another jazzy classical masterpiece, “An American in Paris,” which made its debut at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 1928.

In 1929, Gershwin turned his attention to Hollywood and the burgeoning film industry that required his musical talents to write scores. He wrote the score for the film, “Delicious,” in 1929, but was upset when much of the music he wrote was scrapped by the film’s producers.

Gershwin, embittered by the treatment of the Delicious score, switched his efforts back to classical music and wrote the American folk opera masterpiece, “Porgy and Bess,” which contained some of Gershwin’s most brilliant compositions including, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’,” and “Summertime.” Porgy and Bess was a commercial failure at the time, but has since become a staple of American opera and popular music.

Gershwin returned to Hollywood and wrote film scores, including the one for the Fred Astaire musical, “Shall We Dance.” In 1937, Gershwin died suddenly from the effects of a brain tumor.

Gershwin’s music is best heard on the following collections: “Rhapsody in Blue/An American in Paris (New York Philharmonic; The Columbia Symphony/ Leonard Bernstein)” (1959), ‘S Marvelous: The Gershwin Songbook” (1994) and “The Essential George Gershwin” (2003).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

BB KIng: History and Album Guide

Riley B. King was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in 1926. He is still active today as a blues performer well into his eighties. He is currently a resident of Memphis, Tennessee, the city he came to in the Forties to play music and work as a radio DJ.

King arrived in Memphis with his cousin, the country blues guitarist Bukka White, and landed a job as a disc jockey on the Memphis radio station, WDIA. It was here that he was coined “BB,” a moniker which means, “blues boy.” In 1949, he landed a recording contract with RPM Records. Many of his early recordings were produced by Sam Philips who would later found Sun Records. He also assembled a band which came to be known as the BB King Review.

During 1949, King played at a honky-tonk where a fire broke out during one of his shows. As the patrons, musicians, and King fled the bar, King realized that he had forgotten his guitar inside. He battled the flames as he reentered the burning structure in order to save his forgotten guitar. He later heard that the fight in the bar was about a girl named, “Lucille.” King named his guitar after the girl and Lucille, the guitar has been with him ever since.

By the Fifties, King had become one of the biggest names in the blues, amassing numerous hit recordings and touring almost constantly. Among his hits during the Fifties were, “3 O Clock Blues,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” Whole Lotta Love,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Ten Long Years,” and “Bad Luck.” He gained a reputation as one of the best guitarists in popular music with his economical style which featured string bending and heavy vibrato. Every rock guitarist that followed would be influenced directly or indirectly by King’s style of playing.

In late 1964, King would perform a show at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. The performance was recorded, and the resulting album, “Live at the Regal,” would be hailed as one of the best live blues or rock recordings of all-time. King had a huge hit in 1970 with the song, “The Thrill is Gone.” The song would appear on both the pop and R&B charts. By 1964, King had signed with ABC Records which would be absorbed into MCA Records and then Geffen Records, his current label.

In addition to Live at the Regal, “Live in Cook Country Jail” (1971) is an excellent live album. “Completely Well” (1969) and “Indianola Mississippi Seeds” (1970) are outstanding studio albums. Several greatest hits collections are also recommended especially for his earliest work. Among these albums are: “The Best of B.B. King” (1973), “The Best of B.B. King Volume One” (1986), “The Best of B.B. King Volume Two” (1986), “The Vintage Years” (2002), “Original Greatest Hits” (2005), and “Gold” (2006).

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Swamp Rock

Creedence Clearwater Revival, often referred to as simply, “CCR,” is among the ranks of the greatest-ever American pop/rock bands. The tremendous commercial success and critical acclaim that the band attracted during their relatively short career places the band among the elite of American rockers.

Emerging from the working-class town of El Cerrito, California, in the mid-Sixties as the “Blue Velvets” and then later, the “Golliwogs,” CCR evolved into the quintessential American band with a sound that rejected the psychedelic fashion of the day in favor of a rootsy, traditional sound heavily influenced by country and blues music. Their sound would be dubbed, “swamp rock” as it was reminiscent of Southern performers such as Dale Hawkins and Lightnin’ Slim and evoked images of the American South.

CCR was comprised of Stu Cook on bass, Doug Clifford on drums, and the Fogerty brothers, Tom and John, on guitar. John Fogerty was lead singer, lead guitarist, sole songwriter and the creative force of the band. It was his creative domination of the band that would eventually lead to resentment by the other members and eventual dissolution of the band.

John Fogerty wrote some of the greatest songs in rock history during CCR’s run and many were released as singles that reached high positions on the pop charts. “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Fortunate Son”, “Down on the Corner,” “Lodi”, “Green River,” Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and others cemented John Fogerty’s place in rock history.

CCR’s hit singles are scattered fairly evenly through their studio albums. All CCR’s albums, “Creedence Clearwater Revival”, (1968) “Bayou Country” (1969), “Green River” (1969), “Willie and the Poor Boys” (1969), “Cosmo’s Factory” (1970) and “Pendulum” (1970), are classics, save the last one, “Mardi Gras” (1972), which was an extremely spotty effort..

It was on Mardi Gras that John Fogerty encouraged his band mates, Clifford and Cook, to contribute songs. The result: several good songs by John such as “Sweet Hitchhiker” and “Someday Never Comes” and mediocre ones by the others. This album proved once and for all that CCR was really a one-man show, after all.