29 December 2011

Guitar Slide Right in Your Pocket: Mance Lipscomb - "Jack of Spades"

Son of an ex-slave born in 1898 in Navasota, Texas and relatively little known outside serious blues circles, Mance Lipscomb is the blues pioneers' pioneer.

I've seen a lot of make-shift slides over the years, but a folding knife used as a guitar slide is a new one on me.

Enjoy this "transition" blues -- from the music of the 19th century to that of the churning 20th.

24 December 2011

Just too Good for the Basement (from 2008 post, reworked): "The River 's Gonna Run" (2006)

Four years ago last Thursday, four years after Vol. No. 1 of Gold Coast Bluenote, this was the post of the day. I ran across the two weeks ago, and it blew me away, again.

Sam Bush on mandolin and lead vocal, Emmylou Harris covering duet and harmony -- with Emmylou reminding us she can play sultry chanteuse with the best of them. (As to her real life, she made it clear at a gig I saw that dressing up was nice but she likes the comforts of home: dog poop scoopin' for her private, back yard, stray dog refuge / home placement facility.)

Ms. Harris is quite a spiritual and kind woman -- I meet her once briefly but semi-privately (so we could talk) after her first gig at Tampa's most historic, restored and quite unique roaring 20s-era movie palace.

Another artist I recognize on this track and video is master guitarist Buddy Miller -- the only other musician on stage with Emmylou that magical night that I saw her at the Tampa Theatre. Oh, and Buddy Miller wrote this song.

This track gets my mojo workin'; how about giving her a spin?

Sam Bush's video for The River's Gonna Run

16 December 2011

"All I Want for Christmas is a Rock n' Roll Electric Guitar": Chuck Berry, "Run Run Rudolph" (1958)

Though covered by more than one of my favorite artists, Chuck Berry's original still stands head and shoulders above the rest. So, for the playlist at your Christmas party this year, let's all help our counting-the-days little ones: Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down. A one, two -- one, two, three, four ....

12 December 2011

Dion, Live and in the Groove: "Nadine" (2007)

Dion covering Chuck Berry's Nadine, live

Dion, a signature voice of early 1960's rock n' roll (Runaround Sue, The Wanderer), is still making the scene and sharing his magic. I heard his 2007 studio version of Nadine recently and it grabbed my attention. He tore it up. This live clip, featuring Jools Holland, isn't quite as hot, but it's clear evidence that he is not residing in the dustbin of rock history. He's out there doing first rate rock n' roll.

I missed him the first go round 'cause I was just a youngin', but I know quality when I hear it. So, my friends, dig this.

07 December 2011

The Occupy Movement's Soundtrack, Part II: Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth"

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Confront NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Before Planned Eviction from Zuccotti Park (December 5, 2011;
photo credit: J.B. Nicholas, Splash News)

Here's another cut from back in the day that plugs in right here -- history with a soundtrack:

02 December 2011

The Birth of Blues/Rock: Robert Johnson, "Terraplane Blues"

Don't get wrapped up in the lyrics just yet; that will take some time. Just dig Johnson's guitar and vocal art. It doesn't get any more important, or any better, than this obscure masterpiece.

This is embryonic acoustic blues/rock from 1936, my friends. Rock wasn't even invented until the 50s -- the 40s if you count Louis Jordan. It's no wonder Robert Johnson's legend and musical legacy have lasted.

28 November 2011

"I'm Back in The Saddle Again" - Gene Autry

Home from a long trip through the Carolinas searching for imspiration and respite. Now, dear readers, I'm back in the saddle, again.

See you very soon with a brand new post.
For now pards, "Happy Trails!"

19 November 2011

An Essential Album: Bruce Springsteen, and any guy with the guts to fall in love, need to be "Tougher than the Rest"

Editor's Note: My computer crashed; my warranty uncrashed it. My bad; sorry, mates; nuff said. We Are Back!

In the "official video", below, Mr. Springsteen (hereinafter "Bruce") sticks to his trademark visual simplicity. For with Bruce, as with a long tradition reaching back to Lao Tsu, less is more. The songwriter lures us back to a time -- a time in the 1950s and early 60s -- when carnival rides capture the part of our love lives now filled by the automobile back seat.

So let's take the ride with Bruce, see how the transition, for him, from supermodel wife to soul and band member Patti Scalfia (duet and harmony vocals here).

Tunnel of Love (1987) is Bruce's advice diary on the sublime finding a partner and losing a wife. In other words, life.

Tougher than the Rest is a how-to win-the-girl-with-your-blue-collar-cool track that teaches us everything we need to know about if you are gonna win that girl of your dreams across the bar:
.... Well it aint no secret Ive been around a time or two
Well I dont know baby maybe youve been around too
Well theres another dance all you gotta do is say yes
And if youre rough and ready for love honey Im tougher than the rest ...

Another Note: Personally I'm not crazy about the plodding arrangement of the studio version of the song on Tunnel of Love. Not only is this live video better, but Emmylou Harris and Everything Thing But the Girl have also done essenially definitive covers.

This song, my friend, is gonna last. And gives you a taste of why this album is essential.

03 November 2011

Lou Ann Barton Brings Back a Classic: "Hip Shake" (1982)

"With a Texas drawl as thick as the August humidity,
Lou Ann Barton stepped into the role of chanteuse and never looked back. ...."
-- Margaret Moser, The Austin Chronicle (2011)

A founding member of SRV's band Double Trouble, Lou Ann Barton's Hip Shake on her solo debut is a Texas roadhouse blues masterwork.

Lou Ann's Hip Shake is a cover of seminal Slim Harpo song I discovered on The Oxford American Southern Sampler (1999). (I spent a year listening to the tune thinking Barton was black. Nope. This is blue-eyed soul here, through and through.) The song was re-popularized by the Stones with its release in 1972 on Exile on Main St.

Hip Shake, Lou Ann brings new life to this deep album cut from Exile, and it's still alive and shakin' 20 years after Lou Ann cut her version and 40 years after the Stones version.

I've been meaning to get Lou Ann's album Old Enough (1982; album cover shown above) ever since I discovered it. I may just break down and get that album soon. I can eat noodles and Halloween candy for a few days.

Now, just stand still, "don't move your hands" and "Just Shake Your Hips!"

Hip Shake, Lou Ann Barton (1982)

27 October 2011

Occupy and Stay! -- "The Revolution Starts Now!"

This one goes out to my brothers and sisters on the front lines of the Occupy Movement.

The Revolution Starts Now! (2004) -- Steve Earle

Addendum: One reader reported having a problem with the track player above. You can find a lower fidelity but fine copy of Steve's protest anthem on YouTube at: Steve Earle, "The Revolution Starts Now!"

22 October 2011

Hot Tuna: "Highway Song" -- An "Echoes in the Wind"

I'm gonna borrow a moment in time, peace, and "a little help from my friends". Re-channelling a recent "Saturday Single" at Echoes in the Wind -- from the 1969 Jefferson Airplane / San Francisco stew pot -- comes a side project that turned out to be ambrosia: Hot Tuna. Thanks for the roadmap whiteray.

Hot Tuna, Highway Song, from the album Burgers (1972)

14 October 2011

Talent Rising (R&B/Soul): Johnny Rawls' "I'm a Bluesman" (2009)

Johnny Rawls, Ace of Spades (album, 2009)

I first heard Johnny Rawls' 2009 song I'm A Bluesman on cable radio (Music Choice blues channel) last week. It took a while to track a copy down, but success came "with a little help from me friends." I had immediately fallen in love with the track the first time I heard it, so scoring a copy was a major coup. Gotta watch the pennies without letting it hurt the music.

So, to help get the word out on this mature, rising, classic R&B talent, here's Johnny Rawls' album cut of I'm a Bluesman (2009).

Johnny Rawls' I'm a Bluesman (2009)

"Rawls is a true soul-blues renaissance man..." Allmusic Guide (online). Damn right!

09 October 2011

Caught in the Dark Fires of Love: "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning" -- Gram Parsons (with Emmylou Harris, 1973)

While wrestling yesterday with both my new post research and also, invariably, my powerlessness over the sublime but often uncontrollable darker side of love, I found a shining glimmer of insight in my music collection yesterday. From Gram Parson's first solo album, GP (1973), here's We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning (written by Joyce Allsup; harmony vocal by Emmylou Harris).

This song makes me feel a little less alone, a little less like I'm the only guy who ever traveled this burning highway. Gram, Emmylou & Co. surely helped yesterday, as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Lou Reed, Dylan, and Johnny Cash (with June) have helped me steer through this "Ring of Fire" before.

We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning (Gram Parsons, GP, 1973)

04 October 2011

Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli: "Minor Swing"

Here a hot little tune that made the mix during a recent online discussion of films with jazz performances. I was discussing the tribulations of being the second best guitar player in the world -- always behind Django -- as lovingly illustrated by Woody Allen in his fine film Sweet and Lowdown (1999). This isn't a song from the film, but rather a great Django & Stéphane recording that easily qualifies as "sweet and lowdown".

28 September 2011

R.E.M.: Requiem for a Heavyweight Band

I was listening to Lucinda Williams from her 1993 Live at the Filmore (West) yesterday morning early, watching the birds out my back door. I was on one of my reveries, this one about lyrics, Lucinda's Reason to Cry and Fruits of My Labor.

And then the news I'd caught by accident a few days earlier hit home: R.E.M. was gone.

The band announced via its website that as of September 21, 2011, the band would "calling it a day as a band". (Hilton, Robin (September 21, 2011). "R.E.M. Calls It A Day, Announces Breakup" NPR.org.)

A year ago. The end of carrying on since Bill left for his farm in 1997. And all this time I thought they might be hunkered down in a studio. The obits pile up too quickly these days

Think of it this way. We were shiny, happy people in our glory days.

R.E.M. & Kate Pierson rehearse Shiny Happy People - 1991 (for SNL)

And some of us are angry:

Orange Crush (live in Germany, 2003)

And often reflective, as I was sitting yesterday morning, having my coffee and watching the birds in the early morning light.

Nightswimming (Michel Stipe vocals, Mike Mills piano;
Undated, Live in Jool, Netherlands)

Yeah, reflective, like the mood I'm in now. Michael, Peter, Mike and Bill -- to your band R.E.M., Requiescat in Pace.

21 September 2011

Rory Block "Burns It Up" Covering Robert Johnson's 1925 Recording of "Crossroad Blues"

Acoustic Bottleneck Slide Blues Master Rory Block

Wow! Check this out. Somebody's been down to The Crossroads on a "Bad Moon Rising" night.

Rory's an acoustic bottle neck slide wonder -- some very special mojo.

A lot of blues and rock era guitarists can tear down the house with an electric guitar. In the blues / rock world, only a select few can do that with an acoustic guitar (e.g. Son House, T-Bone Walker, Muddy, Django, Jimi, Eric, Duane, Buddy Guy, SRV, The Edge -- and their spiritual brothers and sisters.)

But Rory Block could be the first white Son House.

15 September 2011

"I Wanna Love You but I'm Getting Blown Away": Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" (1977)

It's hurricane season down here in Florida. As politically incorrect as this is, I can't help but let my mind wander back to the early 60s and all the fun we had teasing women about storms that they shared a first name with. You see, back then feminism hadn't gotten more than a little start progress that that kicked in during the early 70s. Hurricanes not only had women's names but also were referred to, even by TV meteorologists, as "she".

I remember one wicked storm back around '62 named Hurricane Carla -- a storm that shared her name with my dad's best friend's wife. Carla and her ole man got no end to the teasing they had to endure from close friends as that storm battered the Florida west coast. I even fictionalized all this once, shifting both the characters and also the time frame around. Here's an excerpt from my unpublished short story Wrist Shake (in press):
.... Preparing for the [fly rod fishing for tarpon] trip, four of us sat in the living room working on tackle: me, my dad, his comedian/fishing partner Jerry, and my brother Henry.

Jerry was on a roll, teasing as always. My girl Carla and I were fighting, so Jerry had plenty of fresh material. ...

Jerry started in on me. “So what’s the matter, lover boy, Hurricane Carla blow you ashore this evening?”

“Cut me some slack, Jer,” I half pleaded and half barked.

“Lay off him,” Henry said, “he can’t make tackle and weather Carla’s swirling gusts all at the same time.”

Now Jerry starts to croon, “When you’re down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand …

“Please,” now I was pleading, “leave Carole King’s insights out of this.” I struggled to recover, “Don’t you have some shopping to do? That fine new white sport coat in your closet just cries out for a pink plastic carnation for the lapel.”

Dad decided it was time to move things along. We all reacted to the authority in his eyes and his voice: “If you gentlemen can wrap this up, we can still catch the 10:30 [pm] high tide.” We were immediately back on task. ....
Flash forward to the late 70s. Sexism had begun it's slow death and the iconoclastic Neil Young had come up with a worthy follow-up to his power ballad Cortez the Killer (1975), Like a Hurricane (1977) -- a song whose lyrics compared lovin' a woman to enduring a hurricane. Moreover, Neil's trademark power chords and lead riffs between verses do a fine job, metaphorically turning electric guitar solos and chord crashes into what it's like to be in a hurricane. And almost every live album Neil did after '77 contains a version of this song. (The acoustic live versions were even done on a giant antique pump-style pipe organ.)

'Nuff said. Here's Neil Young and Crazy Horse performing the original album cut of Like a Hurricane from Neil's 1977 American Stars 'n Bars album.

09 September 2011

Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" (1931)

I first heard this song in 1983, during the "Big Band and Nostalgia" show on Tampa's community radio station, WMNF. I never forgot one of my favorite lyric verses from this recording: "I'll be standin' on the corner high, when they bring your body by, I'll be glad when you're dead you rascal you."

I lost track of what song that was from until I heard another version by Satchmo, without my beloved verse, in a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon of the same name that a friend had in her collection.

Now, all these years later, my understanding of Louis Armstrong's music and influence vastly deeper, I love everything about this song. I hope you dig it, too.

(Editor's Note: Don't bother with the visuals in the clip, other than to check out the 78's record label -- the loop-editing may get annoying. On a more important matter, noted by DRC in the first comment below, is the fine sound quality in the clip. My bet is that, while the clip shows a 78 playing, the audio actually comes from one of the CD reissues of the compilation album Louis Armstrong (1928-1931) (1991), on which this cut appears.)

04 September 2011

The Ronettes: "Paradise" (recorded 1965) -- A Magnificient Rare Master from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" Era

I discovered the song Paradise many years ago on a box set -- Phil Spector's Back to Mono (1958-1969) (1991) -- that belonged to a now-departed friend. Dear Dana, thanks again!

The Wikipedia contributors, at The Ronettes discography, tell the back story to Paradise concisely:
The Ronettes recorded many songs for producer Phil Spector which were not released until after the group disbanded in 1967. Today, some of their originally unreleased songs are just as critically applauded as their biggest hits. Paradise was not released until after the group broke up [-- on an earlier Spector collection, Phil Spector Wall of Sound, Vol. 5: Rare Masters Vol. 1 (1976)] ....
And let me share just one anecdote, again from the Wikipedia contributors, about when Ronnie met Keith Richards for the first time on The Ronettes first tour of the U.K. in 1964:
On their first night in England, The Ronettes were brought to a party at Tony Hall's house where they were introduced to The Beatles. ... But for Ronnie, one of the biggest thrills was meeting Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who were the opening act for The Ronettes opening act on their UK tour. ... Richards, who wrote of his relationship with Ronnie: "The first time I ever went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn't get any better than that."
There is no better way to learn more about Phil Spector's groundbreaking "Wall of Sound" than to listen to the original recordings. So give this clip a few virtual spins and you will get a little taste of Paradise -- you may never want to come back.

29 August 2011

Jimmy Cliff: "Many Rivers To Cross" (1972)

Here's the incomparable Jimmy Cliff performing a definitive studio version of his classic Many Rivers to Cross, from the soundtrack album of the reggae break-out film The Harder They Come (1972).

The soundtrack album changed my life in more ways than one. When I dragged my first wife to see the film, I loved it and she hated it. You can't changed your taste, but wives, well, let's just say I still love the album and she's long gone.

So here's Many Rivers to Cross, a heavily gospel influenced song Cliff wrote in 1969.

24 August 2011

"Get Low" (2009): A New Classic Film from Robert Duvall and Company

You want to see a contemporary film masterpiece you haven't seen: check out "A True Tall Tale" of a real American in 1938, Get Low (2009), starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek -- a new addition to the canon of great American films.

A colleague, the Paullinator, recommended the film to me for the music by The Steeldrivers, Alison Krauss, and Jerry Douglas -- as well as the film itself. Robert Duvall was one of the producers, working with Dean Zanuck, the third generation of the Zanuck family film production dynasty. Bill Murray and Lucas Black co-star in fine supporting roles.

The story is loosely based on the real life tale of Appalachian eccentric
Felix Breazeale --"Felix Bush" as played by Robert Duvall -- who wants to have his funeral "party" before he dies, for a very special reason. The film left me entertained and spiritually moved to tears. A female friend of mine was was equally moved, identifying strongly with Sissy Spacek's character Mattie -- a strong woman who in maturity must recalibrate her life's compass because of past events and a lost love surging to the surface of her life.

Indeed, I've talked to 4 people about this film and all were deeply moved. As the Paullinator put it, "
What I think is refreshing about the film is that it deals so frankly with the human condition – with humility." Another couple was not only spiritually moved but also mystified as to why this film had never made it big at the box office. In my view, Get Low will certainly find its audience with it's good word-of-mouth and stirring, heartfelt themes.

This film is everything a classic should be -- entertaining, rich is detail right down to the visuals, excellent writing and acting, incredible music, and it's stirring, understated themes. In short, a new essential with a moving story that will move most anyone with a heart.

19 August 2011

"Ordinary Man" - Christy Moore Live at The Point (2006)

Here is Christy Moore with a very talented friend performing Ordinary Man -- a song originally written in the mid-80s by Peter Hames. This clip is from 2006, live at The Point, an Irish concert venue in the Docklands section of Dublin; this venue ran from 1988 to 2007.

My old running buddy the Big Gallute sent me this while touring Irish pubs working on his guitar playing and beer drinking skills. This Chicago native noted that the song was "accented by heavy nihilism." I respectfully disagree. This isn't nihilistic, it's the modern employment world for the "ordinary man." Christy tells us what he thinks as he introduces the song in the clip below. But what do you think?

15 August 2011

One Mo' Time

Back in the day, we used to listen to 45s constantly, with 10 or so in heavy rotation. These are the songs I can still remember the lyrics to 40 years later. I've fallen into that kind of pattern with the Gina Sicilia clip of her song Before the Night is Through below. I already have a good bit of it memorized.

I'm gonna exercise a little editorial discretion and leave that clip up for a short while. It deserves to be in a heavy rotation playlist for 40 weeks, at a real rock n' roll station, but that kind of radio died 25 years ago.

So here's Gina, from her 2011 album Can't Control Myself. I'm giving her some more top-of-the page exposure here. You've got to give artistic greatness a chance for, in this case, her audience to find her.
Grazie, mille -- Gina Sicilia, buona fortuna.

11 August 2011

Talent Rising: Gina Sicilia, "Before the Night is Through" (2011)

First time I heard Before the Night is Through, I was sure it was a cover of an old '60s pop song. And I was wrong. Singer / songwriter Gina Sicilia, a brand new voice on the American blues / crossover scene, wrote this song herself for her 2011 album Can't Control Myself. But this young artist is certainly paying attention to the roots of her music -- blues and otherwise.

My ear tells me Gina's song owes a lot, lyrically and musically, to Save the Last Dance for Me (Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman), originally recorded by The Drifters (with Ben E. King) in 1960. (I put a couple of the many covers of this classic up on the red jukebox in the left column.) Gina, however, creates her own song here, first with her variation on the Save the Last Dance lyrical theme and melody, and then with her personal vocal style, the early New Wave variation on a ska rhythm, and the Mediterranean elements that lace the tune. If she can keep writing like this, we may have a modern day Brill Building songwriter on our hands.

That's what first caught my ear, anyway. I posed this question to a knowledgeable colleague of mine. Before the Night is Through reminded him of a mid-'60s Drifters hit, Under the Boardwalk. Your thoughts on the roots of Gina's song would be greatly appreciated.

I have reached one personal conclusion about Gina's Before the Night is Through: no respectable jukebox should be without this song.

Addendum 12 August 2011: One of the commenters, Shannon Eric Peevey, notes that the solo guitar work at the instrumental break and the end is very much in the style of Django Reinhardt. Damn right, and fine Django style work it is. Thanks Shannon Eric.

05 August 2011

Great Dylan Cover: Guy Davis, "Sweetheart Like You" (2009)

Ever since I discovered it back in the mid-'80s, Bob Dylan's Infidels (1983) album has been a favorite of mine. The songs are nearly all gems. There's one verse I even stole -- not my first offense here -- modified, and added to my flirting repertoire: 'Honey, I'd crawl across cut glass to see you again.' Shameful I know, but there it is. That's a variation of a line from Dylan's Sweetheart Like You from Infidels. The other day I heard what some folks call the definitive cover of this song -- and I'm not gonna argue -- by Guy Davis from his 2009 album Sweetheart Like You. To my ear, Davis captures all the poignancy of Dylan's delivery and a little something extra. First time I heard it, I loved this cover. I hope you do too.

30 July 2011

"Bullets Over Broadway" (1994): One of Woody Allen's Best

I try to keep up with every new Woody Allen film that comes out. It all started when friends who knew my taste started telling me I would love Annie Hall (1977), Allen's watershed romantic comedy where he began exploring more serious themes without missing a step on the comedy.

I do still love Annie Hall to this day; for me, it never gets old. If I had to pick a handful of Allen's best films of the three decades since Annie Hall, one would certainly be his 1994 comic drama Bullets Over Broadway. Set in 1928, a heyday for Broadway, the mob, and Greenwich Village cafe' intellectuals, Allen and co-writer Douglas McGrath blend these three worlds seamlessly. And as with Annie Hall, Woody's trademark wit and charm make this film one fun ride. So take the dive and see this witty exploration art, love and life in Roaring Twenties New York -- you'll want to break out the good bathtub gin. (For a peak inside the film, check out the trailer below.)

24 July 2011

Tracing Roots: "Cowboy Junkies" do Patsy Cline

Banyan Street, Boca Grande, Florida

I'm back from a South Florida beach vacation high that just won't let go. Boca Grande is simply full of memories that go back generations. Every time I visit I come back with more stories about family, friends, storms, fishing and fisherman.

Just running on instinct, when I got back I put on the first thing that popped into my head: The Cowboy Junkies 1988 album The Trinity Session. So, sticking with my half-developed theme of rediscovering roots, here's a cover of Margo and the boys doing a beautiful blues arrangement of the Patsy Cline classic Walking after Midnight (1957), released 54 years ago this year.

14 July 2011

"In Love and Art and Rock n' Roll, the Whole Had Better Equal Much More Than the Sum of the Parts"

(Repost from 2008 for while I'm away. Catch you next week.)

In 2005, U2 was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. I remember hearing the induction speech by Bruce Springsteen during a broadcast of the ceremonies to this day. It's one of the best essays on the meaning of rock n' roll I've ever heard, succinctly covering the essence of both U2 and also rock n' roll generally as an artistic force.

The speech captured just how cosmic the reach of great rock n' roll can, should, and arguably must, be. The speech is also brilliant, as my brother noted, in its simplicity. Further, Springsteen makes it personal. And I'm sure every reflective rock fan can tell you how they relate on a personal level to their favorite artists -- how this music touches their lives.

My mid-Atlantic correspondent, the Paullinator, recently found a transcript of the speech on The U2 Station News Blog. Though I here break my rule about the maximum length of a post, judge for yourself whether or not I made a good call. (For clarity, I've added a several links on one song and a few of the record industry folks referred to.)

Bruce Springsteen Inducts U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

(text by Bruce Springsteen)

Uno, dos, tres, catorce. That translates as one, two, three, fourteen. That is the correct math for a rock and roll band. For in art and love and rock and roll, the whole had better equal much more than the sum of its parts, or else you're just rubbing two sticks together searching for fire. A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.

It's embarrassing to want so much, and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens -- the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run -- whoops, I meant to leave that one out (laughter) -- the Sex Pistols, Aretha Franklin, the Clash, James Brown...the proud and public enemies it takes a nation of millions to hold back. This is music meant to take on not only the powers that be, but on a good day, the universe and God himself -- if He was listening. It's man's accountability, and U2 belongs on this list.

It was the early '80s. I went with Pete Townshend, who always wanted to catch the first whiff of those about to unseat us, to a club in London. There they were: A young Bono -- single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet; (laughter) the Edge -- what kind of name was that?; Adam and Larry. I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof.

We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish! Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command -- which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing, their greatest theme -- their search for God intact. This was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too.

Now, they're a real band; each member plays a vital part. I believe they actually practice some form of democracy -- toxic poison in a band's head. In Iraq, maybe. In rock, no! Yet they survive. They have harnessed the time bomb that exists in the heart of every great rock and roll band that usually explodes, as we see regularly from this stage. But they seemed to have innately understood the primary rule of rock band job security: "Hey, asshole, the other guy is more important than you think he is!" They are both a step forward and direct descendants of the great bands who believed rock music could shake things up in the world, who dared to have faith in their audience, who believed if they played their best it would bring out the best in you. They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you're doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all, and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They're keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.

The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. (applause) He is a rare and true guitar original and one of the subtlest guitar heroes of all time. He's dedicated to ensemble playing and he subsumes his guitar ego in the group. But do not be fooled. Take Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Pete Townshend -- guitarists who defined the sound of their band and their times. If you play like them, you sound like them. If you are playing those rhythmic two-note sustained fourths, drenched in echo, you are going to sound like the Edge, my son. Go back to the drawing board and chances are you won't have much luck. There are only a handful of guitar stylists who can create a world with their instruments, and he's one of them. The Edge's guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes. It is a thrilling and a heartbreaking sound that hangs over you like the unsettled sky. In the turf it stakes out, it is inherently spiritual. It is grace and it is a gift.

Now, all of this has to be held down by something. The deep sureness of Adam Clayton's bass and the rhythms of Larry Mullen's elegant drumming hold the band down while propelling it forward. It's in U2's great rhythm section that the band finds its sexuality and its dangerousness. Listen to "Desire," "She Moves in Mysterious Ways," [sic] the pulse of "With or Without You." Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom -- the one below the earth and below the belt -- that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without.

Now Adam always strikes me as the professorial one, the sophisticated member. He creates not only the musical but physical stability on his side of the stage. The tone and depth of his bass playing has allowed the band to move from rock to dance music and beyond. One of the first things I noticed about U2 was that underneath the guitar and the bass, they have these very modern rhythms going on. Rather than a straight 2 and 4, Larry often plays with a lot of syncopation, and that connects the band to modern dance textures. The drums often sounded high and tight and he was swinging down there, and this gave the band a unique profile and allowed their rock textures to soar above on a bed of his rhythm.

Now Larry, of course, besides being an incredible drummer, bears the burden of being the band's requisite "good-looking member," (laughter) something we somehow overlooked in the E Street Band. (laughter) We have to settle for "charismatic." Girls love on Larry Mullen! I have a female assistant that would like to sit on Larry's drum stool. A male one, too. We all have our crosses to bear.

Bono...where do I begin? Jeans designer, soon-to-be World Bank operator, just plain operator, seller of the Brooklyn Bridge -- oh hold up, he played under the Brooklyn Bridge, that's right. Soon-to-be mastermind operator of the Bono burger franchise, where more than one million stories will be told by a crazy Irishman. Now I realize that it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it, but don't quit your day job yet, my friend. You're pretty good at it, and a sound this big needs somebody to ride herd over it.

And ride herd over it he does. His voice, big-hearted and open, thoroughly decent no matter how hard he tries. Now he's a great frontman. Against the odds, he is not your mom's standard skinny, ex-junkie archetype. He has the physique of a rugby player...well, an ex-rugby player. Shaman, shyster, one of the greatest and most endearingly naked messianic complexes in rock and roll. (laughter) God bless you, man! It takes one to know one, of course.

You see, every good Irish and Italian-Irish front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus. So hold the McDonald arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross -- there's no getting out of it. He is gifted with an operatic voice and a beautiful falsetto rare among strong rock singers. But most important, his is a voice shot through with self-doubt. That's what makes that big sound work. It is this element of Bono's talent -- along with his beautiful lyric writing -- that gives the often-celestial music of U2 its fragility and its realness. It is the questioning, the constant questioning in Bono's voice, where the band stakes its claim to its humanity and declares its commonality with us.

Now Bono's voice often sounds like it's shouting not over top of the band but from deep within it. "Here we are, Lord, this mess, in your image." He delivers all of this with great drama and an occasional smirk that says, "Kiss me, I'm Irish." He's one of the great front men of the past twenty years. He is also one of the only musicians to devote his personal faith and the ideals of his band into the real world in a way that remains true to rock's earliest implications of freedom and connection and the possibility of something better.

Now the band's beautiful songwriting -- "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "One," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Beautiful Day" -- reminds us of the stakes that the band always plays for. It's an incredible songbook. In their music you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless he's in your heart? In your desire? In your feet? I believe this is a big part of what's kept their band together all of these years.

See, bands get formed by accident, but they don't survive by accident. It takes will, intent, a sense of shared purpose, and a tolerance for your friends' fallibilities...and they of yours. And that only evens the odds. U2 has not only evened the odds but they've beaten them by continuing to do their finest work and remaining at the top of their game and the charts for 25 years. I feel a great affinity for these guys as people as well as musicians.

Well...there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things -- I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years (laughter) and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys!

Oh, my God! They sold out!

Now...what I know about the iPod is this: It is a device that plays music. Of course their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily. Smart. Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. (laughter) You can see my problem. Woe is me.

So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau -- or as I refer to him, "the American Paul McGuinness" -- and I say, "Did you see that iPod thing?" And he says, "Yes." And he says, "And I hear they didn't take any money." And I said, "They didn't take any money?!" And he says, "No." I said, "Smart, wily Irish guys." (laughter) Anybody...anybody...can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money...that's smart. That's wily. I say, "Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: A red, white, and blue iPod signed by Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don't take it!" (laughter)

At any rate...at any rate, after that evening, for the next month or so, I hear emanating from my lovely 14-year-old son's room, day after day, down the hall calling out in a voice that has recently dropped very low: Uno, dos, tres, catorce. The correct math for rock and roll. Thank you, boys.


This band...this band has carried their faith in the great inspirational and resurrective power of rock and roll. It never faltered, only a little bit. They believed in themselves, but more importantly, they believed in "you, too." Thank you Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry. Please welcome U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

© Bruce Springsteen, 2005

09 July 2011

Dusty Springfield: "Breakfast in Bed" (1969)

Repost from the summer of 2011:

Think back, it's 1969 and the R&B wizards at Atlantic Records are wrapping the Memphis sound around an extraordinarily talented British pop singer, Dusty Springfield. And the product couldn't fit in less with the times in America. So the tracks must age and then resurface.

They don't write 'em and record 'em like this anymore. Damn shame, too. This one gets more soulful and just plain gutsier the more you think about all the rules the lyrics break. But the sound, that Memphis sound wrapped around Dusty's blue-eyed soul voice -- it's still not politically correct, but that's not what's important here. Listen and you will find out what I mean.

Addendum: By coincidence, a song of Dusty's related to this one came up at Echoes in the Wind today. Here's the relevant part of what I wrote as a comment:
A sidebar regarding Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”, in that No. 5 slot [on the US pop singles chart this week in 1966]. A few years later, Muscle Shoals songwriters Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts used that song line in the chorus of a new song for Dusty’s 1969 album “Dusty in Memphis”. My lead post this week at Gold Coast Bluenote, by coincidence, is about that song, “Breakfast in Bed”.
Groovy coincidence, eh?

03 July 2011

"U2": "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" ("Rattle and Hum" film, 1988)

In my heart I always knew this was a gospel song. Here's the proof, but Edge tells it better than I ever could. This recording is only used in the film Rattle and Hum (1988) -- a different live version is used on the companion album. That version doesn't touch this one.

26 June 2011

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: "So Excited" (1985)

The Sky is Crying is a posthumously released (1991) compilation studio album containing songs spanning most of SRV's career. This record is one I discovered on a jukebox in a little bar and grill I used to frequent. I wasn't drinking so the little money I had went into the jukebox and tip jar rather than to pay a beer tab. I used to take requests and one of the best I even got was from a hard working cook in the kitchen. It was for a SRV song I didn't know at the time, So Excited (recorded, 1985), but came to love so much I'd play it anytime he was working. My friend the cook would turn my grouper sandwiches into platters and he'd get all the music I thought he'd like.

To my mind, Texas blues rock instrumentals just don't get any better than this. It's only competition I know of is another SRV classic, Stevie Ray's cover of Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing, first released on The Sky is Crying album. But enough back story -- I'm gonna let Stevie Ray and his Statocaster do the rest of the talkin'.

21 June 2011

The E Street Band's "Big Man" Passes On

(top to bottom) Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen

Clarence Clemons, or "Big Man" as Bruce Springsteen used to call across the stage to cue Clarence for one of his trademark sax solos, died last Saturday at 69 due to complications from a stroke. I'm still a bit stunned, so I'm gonna let Clarence tell the story of how he became part of both American cultural and also rock 'n' roll history. While on stage, Bruce often told the story of how he and Clarence met in 1971. Here's the story, retold in various interviews, by Clarence himself:
One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.
Rest in Peace, Clarence. You touched more lives than you could have ever known.

15 June 2011

Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf Have Got "True Grit" (2010)

U. S. Marshall "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) on the Trail

There's a theory that while primarily men settled the American west, it was women that civilized the new territories. If films are any evidence at all for this theory -- which most classic westerns aren't -- the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit (2010) certainly is.

A discussion of this film broke out recently among the Classic Westerns group members at The Golden Age of Hollywood networking site, comparing this new version to the 1969 original starring John Wayne, here's part of my contribution to the discussion.
Maybe it's a generational thing, but The Coen Brothers' 2010 True Grit is the one for me. The dialog is so crisp, the locations so real -- even the soundtrack built out of old English church hymns -- and "Leaning" as Mattie's theme -- are great. I love this movie. And I think Jeff Bridges does a fine job. But never let it be said that the Duke (John Wayne) doesn't deserve the respect that [another commenter] shows him. I think we can agree, it's one great story.
And here's another commenter, a little younger than I, who knows both films and also the book.
It was a fun film to see in the theater, the crowd just loved it, they were eatin' it up and it's a WESTERN by golly! I thought the dialog crackled along pretty good and you could sense people's recognition of repeated lines from the book and earlier film...The 3 leads on the trail played off each other really well -- the girl was the best thing. ... The locations were better this time. I travel the very same area of Oklahoma and Arkansas where the story is set twice a year so I know. [Another commenter noted that the film was shot in New Mexico and parts of Texas.]
Let me close by giving the film my strongest recommendation and, to paraphrase my colleague above, it's a classic modern western by golly -- a rare thing indeed.

Here's the trailer with one note: the great Johnny Cash song used in the trailer is not in the film.

09 June 2011

MusiCares 2010 Person of the Year: Neil Young

I caught the MusiCares broadcast of exerpts from it's 2010 award gala on VH1-Classic last week -- a show honoring Neil Young for his career as a performer, songwriter and philanthropist. Before I get to a one of the gala's highlights below, here's the MusiCares mission statement.
MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares' services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community.
I want to do my part by showing you this clip and encouraging you, if you can, to make a donation here.

Now to a highlight -- my favorite was John Fogerty, Booker T., and Keith Urban covering Neil's Rockin' in the Free World ...

Let me mention two other performances I loved and can't find clips of: Dave Matthews doing Needle and the Damage Done and Elvis Costello beautifully reinventing The Losing End.

Congratulations Neil, you earned it, man.

04 June 2011

Nobody Can Sit Still When "Oye Como Va" is Playing

Great Youtube mining by a friend gave me a little more "evidence" for my theory that nobody can sit still when I'd play Oye Como Va by Santana -- or the original by Tito Puente -- at parties. See what you think when "Laurel and Hardy Meet Santana".

(Note: For anyone who wants to avoid the years that I spent finding a translation of the lyrics to English, see here.)

29 May 2011

Memorial Day 2011: " .... What if what you do to survive, Kills the things you love ..."

Moral ambiguity is the price modern combat soldiers pay to serve our country. I never heard this captured better in a song than Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust (2005).

24 May 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turns 70 today so I thought I send him, indirectly, a small remembrance. Here's one I hope he will like: Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris performing In My Hour of Darkness from Gram's last album, Grievous Angel (1974).

Happy Birthday Bob -- many happy returns of the day!

19 May 2011

"Can't Forget the Motor City", Part II: "Nowhere to Run" in a Ford Plant

When I used to substitute teach, I used to keep an emergency kit in my shoulder bag. The kit consisted of one video tape: a collection of promotional films -- what would come to be know as videos -- made in the early 60s for primarily Motown songs. The emergency they treated was an out-of-control classroom. I used the music to calm them down and then try again to get some teaching done. It pretty much worked too. I got one class of troubled young girls singing along with Chapel of Love. I guess their moms taught them that one.

One gem I found on that tape was the short film for Nowhere to Run (1965) by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In the first clip below, Martha Reeves and two of her Motown colleagues describe the making of one of what would become one of the first videos ever. As this classic single plays, the ladies are filmed jumping in and out of a Ford assembly line in Detroit. As many of you already know, the '65 Mustangs on that line would became the iconic car of the era. The song is vintage Motown that has me dancing in my chair as I write this.

Here's the full promotional film discussed above.

12 May 2011

"... Can't Forget the Motor City ...": Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Streets" (1964)

For my money, there are two rock 'n' roll performances by women that go straight straight to my heart just thinking about them. One is Merry Clayton's duet vocals with Mick Jagger on the Stones' Gimme Shelter (1969, album version), but that's another story for another time. The other is Martha Reeves and the Vandellas 1964 international hit and signature song Dancing in the Street.

I'd encourage anyone interested in early Motown history to check out some of the background information on this song's development at Wikipedia or the Songfacts website. Here's one little tidbit. One of the mega-talents at Berry Gordy's "Hitsville, U.S.A." studios in Detroit, Marvin Gaye, was a co-writer and drummer on this track. Co-writer Ivory Joe Hunter -- well, let me quote Songfacts on this one:
Ivory Joe Hunter had a few hits of his own but felt more at home producing records. Hunter liked everything about the song except the drum track - it needed more "bump and grind." An idea hit him and he excused himself, went to his car, and brought back a crow bar. He sat on a concrete floor and said: "Roll tape." They went through the song one more time while Ivory Joe Hunter slammed the tire tool against the concrete floor on the downbeat ...
And there you have it: one of the most danceable percussion tracks in '60s rock 'n' roll gets its "bump and grind" from a crowbar.

Let me close by giving Martha Reeves herself -- still recording and performing all these years later -- the last word, "I’m going to sing as long as I’m able; I’m going to dance as long as I can. And age 69 feels real good." You go girl!

06 May 2011

Aretha: "R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Find Out What It Means to Me."

Written and released originally by Otis Redding in 1965, Aretha Franklin flipped the genders and produced a timely feminist statement, her signature song, and one of the greatest R&B crossover songs ever with her 1967 cover version.

One note on the lyrics: the chorus of Aretha's version has some '60s black-culture slang that Wikipedia helped me decode. The chorus goes:
Find out what it means to me
Take care ... TCB
"TCB" means "Taking Care (of) Business." Now check out one of the great songs of the last half-century.

30 April 2011

Don't Sell My Culture!

One of the things that drives me crazy is important rock songs showing up in TV commercials. I went through the roof in '87 when the classic Beatles song Revolution turned up in a Nike commercial. I have not and will not buy another Nike product, ever. And it's not just me; George Harrison spoke on this issue in October of '87 with more authority than I ever could:

If it's allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women's underwear and sausages. We've got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it's going to be a free-for-all. It's one thing when you're dead, but we're still around! They don't have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives. (George Harrison, as quoted in J. Doyle, 2009)

And the free-for-all George predicted is upon us. I've been gritting my teeth for years as the practice of using classic popular songs in commercials has somehow become acceptable. Well, it's not acceptable to me. So before you stumble across a new commercial that has me cursing at the TV screen now and again, here's a chance to listen to another classic, from another era, that is being transformed into a lame product endorsement. This is the single that lead me to buy the monumental first Pretenders album. Here's their break-out single (with its old-school video), Brass in Pocket (1979). Revolution survived, but it's a truly timeless song. The jury is still out on whether Brass in Pocket can survive.

24 April 2011

Following Threads: Little Walter, "Mean Old World" (1952)

A short while back I made a big fuss here about a classic blues track covered during the 1970 Layla sessions but left off the original 1970 double album, Mean Old World. Originally recorded by T-Bone Walker in 1942, the version of Mean Old World recorded by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman during the Layla sessions is a based on blues harmonica virtuoso Little Walter's Chicago blues style version recorded in 1952. One of the reasons blues rockers looked to Little Walter for inspiration is that he was arguably "the first musician of any kind to purposely use electronic distortion."

Well, enough out of me -- check out the incomparable Little Walter in the clip above performing Mean Old World.

17 April 2011

My First Record: "Evil Ways" (1969), The Original Santana Band

Evil Ways by was my first single, first favorite song, and Santana my first favorite band back when I got my first stereo for Christmas back when I was 13. And the firsts keep coming. Santana, on their first national tour in support of their above pictured first album was my first concert. They tore the house down that night and I was hooked.

And one side note: I got my first chance to see the Woodstock documentary the following summer of 1970 -- at a drive-in. The film was rated R and with me being 13, that presented a logistical problem. Just picture the front seat of my mother's car, her in the driver's set, my girlfriend in the middle and me riding shotgun simply glued to the screen and the music coming out of that tiny metal speaker hanging on the car window. I am blessed to have a great mom.