Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fleetwood Mac

                                                                                                                                         In the history of rock music, probably no one band has gone through not only the number of personnel changes, but also the number of musical style changes, not to mention the number of personal life upheavals (all of this in a single band,mind you) and still have been able to steadily through it all rise to the level of superstardom as have a band called Fleetwood Mac. Navigating this group through drug addiction, marriages,divorces,imposters, and even a presidential campaign...from the group's birth to this very day have been two men...drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.

The band was formed in 1967 in London By guitarist Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood , both former members of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. The pair desperately wanted Mayall's current bassist at the time, John McVie to join the band, but McVie had no wish to give up the steady employment of Mayall's outfit. They instead got Bob Brunning on bass with the understanding that he would vacate the spot should McVie ever agree to join up.After recruiting talented slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, the band began gigging and weeks after their debut performance at the Windsor Jazz Festival later that year, John McVie finally decided to come on board. The band was then named "Fleetwood Mac at Green's suggestion after the group's rhythm section.

The first album, "Fleetwood Mac" was released in 1968 as well as two singles, "Black Magic Woman",which later became a hit for the band Santana, and "Need Your Love So Bad". Shortly after the release of theur second album, "Mr.Wonderful" later that same year, (yes they worked fast in those days!) they added Danny Kirwan. A talented,self taught guitarist with a signature vibrato and unique style, Kirwan added another dimension to an already complete group.  The band proceeded to become well known as a no-frills authentic blues act that got the opportunity to record an album on the legendary Chess Records label with Chicago blues giants such as Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Ots Spann in 1969.

Though a highly popular band in Europe at the time, Peter Green began to suffer ill health. Green was one of the top blues guitarists to come out of England, in my opinion in the top three along with Eric Clapton and Savoy Brown's Kim Simmonds. B.B. King, never the humblest of souls, was quoted thus, "Peter Green has more talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body". A bit exaggerated, perhaps, but obvious proof of Green's specialness nonetheless. Unfortunately his experimentation with LSD contributed to the onset of his schizoprenia. His last hit with the group was "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown), and his last Fleetwood Mac performance was in 1970,after which he left the band due to his deteriorating condition.
Christine McVie, wife of bassist John joined the band later in 1970 on keyboards and vocals. She formerly performed those duties in the band Chicken Shack as Christine Perfect (her maiden name) and had a fairly successful solo career.
While on tour in 1971, guitarist Jeremy Spencer went out to "get a magazine" and never returned.  After a frantic search it was discovered several days later that he had joined a religious group called the Children of God. Peter Green stood in to finish the tour, atfer which the group held auditions for a replacement. This resulted in American guitarist Bob Welch joining the band. The subsequent albums, "Future Games" and "Bare Trees", showed a very different sound from anything the band had done previously due to the vocal and songwriting contributions of Welch and Mrs. McVie . At the same time Fleetwood Mac's popularity in the States began to increase.

Danny Kirwan developed an alcohol dependancy that resulted in missed performances and numerous quarrels with the rest of the group.He was finally asked to leave. This was 1972 .Over the next three years the band was challenged by almost constant personnel changes, the McVies'  dissolving marriage, and the band's former manager Clifford Davis putting together a fake "Fleetwood Mac" claiming he had ownership rights to the name. After this was settled, Bob Welch left due to touring fatigue. His departure was an amicable one,  and while in the group contributed greatly to the group's musical and business direction.

 Engineer Keith Olsen played a track from an album called "Buckingham-Nicks" called "Frozen Love" for Mick Fleetwood. Fleetwood liked the song and was subsequently introduced to Lindsey Buckingham, one of the duo. Buckingham was asked to join the group as Welch's replacement. Buckingham was willing on the condition that Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks be allowed to join him.Fleetwood agreed , and the band's most successful period had begun.

This success unfortunately was accompanied by the dissolution of the McVies' marriage as well as that of Mick and Jenny Fleetwood. Also split were Buckingham and Nicks. Members struggled with drugs and alcohol, as well as the personal tensions new-found riches can bring. Not to mention even more personnel changes. The band withstood it all, and managed to win a Grammy Award for the album "Rumours", Three American Music Awards, A Diamond Album for Rumours,selling over 40 million units worldwide, induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998, and performed at president Bill Clinton's first Inaugural Ball in 1993, the band's song "Don't Stop" as the theme for his campaign.

Starting as a humble, blues-purist club band to become a decades-spanning, multi- platinum, Hall Of Fame pop giant, all the while withstanding enough drama to break up a dozen bands, and ending up looking and sounding not one bit like the band when it was formed...a pretty neat trick, people...that only Fleetwood Mac could pull off.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soul Singers of the '60s - a list

 In the sixties we had a  number of male soul singers  hitting the charts regularly. There were a few however, that stood out clearly from the rest. Each one possessing their own unique style, they not only were great performers, but they influenced many other singers from their time and for generations to follow. The artist that claims the #1 spot on this list of the five greatest of that era to me is obvious. to follow are the men whom I feel are the remaining my humble opinion, of course.

#5) Wilson Pickett                                         

#4) Joe Tex

#3) Otis Redding

#2) Jackie Wilson

Now if you really don't know the artist that sits at the top of this list, Please, Please, Please ask somebody! Here's a hint :


Here's another intriguing rock and roll term..."supergroup". It's pretty much like Superman... you know, like a regular man but better. And we all know what makes him better ; flying, really strong, x-ray vision, and so on. But what makes a supergroup better than a regular group?  It seems that a supergroup is made up of members that have achieved fame and sometimes fortune while previously playing in regular groups. Examples include Cream with Eric Clapton (Yardbirds,Bluesbreakers) , Jack Bruce (Manfred Mann,Graham Bond) and Ginger Baker (Graham Bond) , and Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) , Dave Grohl (Nirvana,Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age). These types of groups tend to be short-lived or sporadicly regrouping. The word "supergroup" itself has its roots in the release of the album "Super Session" in 1968 which featured Al Kooper (Blood Sweat And Tears) Mike Bloomfield (Electric Flag) and Steve Stills (Buffalo Springfield) performing as one. In 1969 Rolling Stone then-editor Jann Wenner proclaimed that the aforementoned Cream were the first supergroup.

The definition of supergroup has however has been stretched a bit . It has also been used to describe a band whose member or members gained acclaim after the band came into existence, such as Free or Genesis. other times a supergroup is considered a group who takes one or  more famous artists into its ranks while keeping the original group's name, as did Van Halen with Sammy Hagar or The Eagles with Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt. And sometimes  bands that simply create an extreme amount of revenue ,such as Led Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac are christened "supergroups"

I, myself have my own opinion of what makes a supergroup. First of all, at least two members must have achieved acclaim through their past work. Secondly, the group must give itself a new name. (using the names or initials of the members is permitted,but not encouraged). Moreover , no more than two members can be from the same former group (I'm sorry, Velvet Revolver is merely Guns 'N' Roses with Stone Temple Pilots' singer...Black Sabbath did the same thing more often and with better vocalists,and nobody called them a supergroup). Lastly,the members have to have some actual individual fame (sorry, no Captain Beyond, no Tinted Windows).

The videos in this post are of acts that I feel are true supergroups. Included are Cream and Them Crooked Vultures as well as Crosby Stills Nash And Young (Buffalo Springfield, The Hollies, The Byrds), Humble Pie (The Small Faces, Spooky Tooth, The Herd), Lucy Pearl (En Vogue, Shalamar, A Tribe Called Quest), The Traveling Wilburys (George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne), Emerson, Lake and Palmer (The Nice, King Crimson, Atomic Rooster), LSG (Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat,
and Johnny Gill) and Bad Company ( Mott The Hoople, Free and King Crimson).


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chaka Khan and Rufus

Born Yvette Marie Stephens , raised Catholic ,she became a member of the Black Panther Party after befriending party member Fred Hampton in 1967. soon after she was given the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by an African shaman. Dropping out of high school in 1969 , she began performing with the band Lyfe which included her boyfriend, bassist Hassan Kahn, whom she would later marry. Afterwards she was asked to replace the late Baby Huey in his band Baby Huey and The Babysitters after his untimely death in 1970. The band broke up soon after and she was approached by two members of a band known as Rufus to fill the lead vocalist position. She accepted and adopted the stage name Chaka Kahn. It was 1973.
 At this point, I cannot in good conscience fail to explore the fortunes of the band called Rufus . This worthy group of musicians were tragically stricken with a malady known as talented-charismatic-female-vocalist-leaves-band-by-the-side-of-the-road-itis , a disease that has claimed such bands as No Doubt , The Fugees ,Big Brother And The Holding Co. and others. The Black Eyed Peas are desperately battling this disease as we speak...but seem to be surviving.
At any rate ,Rufus was a funk band whose origins lie with The American Breed ,who had a top ten hit called "Bend Me,Shape Me in 1967. After the departure of a few f the members , remaining members Kevin Murphy and Al Ciner recruited replacements and carried on under the name Smoke . Paulette McWilliams was added on vocals and the band changed their name this time to Ask Rufus. (famed session bassist Willie Weeks was a member during this time). Drummer Andre Fischer returned to the band and singer McWilliams ,as stated earlier, got eighteen -year-old Chaka Khan to replace her. The group's name is then shortened to Rufus. The band's first album, titled "Rufus" tanked. Their sophomore release , "Rags To Rufus" , marked by an emphasis on Kahn's Voice and the personnel changes that brought guitarist Tony Maiden and bassist Bobby Watson to the band resulted in a platinum album and two hits , "You Got The Love" and "Tell Me Something Good" , which by the way,got them their first Grammy Award.
From then on, most of the group's tracks would feature Chaka Kahn and in short order she became one of pop music's most popular and critically acclaimed artists ,not to mention a bonafide sex symbol. Next stop , solo career.
To Chaka's credit , however she did maintain ties with her former band and occasionally re-united with them for gigs and recordings. And her solo success was well-deserved as was evident on her solo debut,which featured her soaring , Aretha Franklin-influenced range and power. The album included the crossover hit , "I'm Every Woman",an Ashford and Simpson composition that helped the album go platinum in 1978. The Rufus reunion "Masterjam" came in 1979 ,followed by 1982's jazz oriented "Echoes Of An  Era" and a funk-pop self titled release that contained the jazz-inflected "Bebop Medley" that showed off her impressive jazz and scatting chops ,won a Grammy and earned praise from venerable jazz legend Betty Carter.
During this somewhat experimental period in Kahn's artistic endeavors, she received much critical praise, however commercially there was a noticable drop-off. It was in 1984 with the release of her sixth studio album, I Feel For You that her career underwent a major resurgence. The album's title track was a Prince composition that featured a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder and an intro by Grandmaster Melle Mel. It went to #3 in the Billboard top 100 and remained on the charts for 26 weeks, well into 1985,  when it netted a Grammy Award for Prince as Best Song. Chaka Kahn herself has won 10 Grammy Awards , the BET Life Achievement Award , 2 Soul Train Awards , and many other well-deserved items of recognition. She also plays drums as evidenced in the following vid:
Chaka Kahn is my personal favorite r&b female singer ,and in my opinion no contemporary artist has matched her combination of chops, power,and diversity . A vocalist like her is a rare breed these days.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Hosted for the most part by L.A. disc jockey Jimmy O'Neil , and occasionally by celebrity guest hosts , Shindig was a musical variety show that aired from September 16,1964 to January 8,1966. O'Neil was also the show's co-creator along with his wife , Sharon Sheehy and production executive Art Stolnitz.
 There were other pop music shows during the sixties , but Shindig remains the best example of the sheer diversity of music that would routinely be presented week to week . One show would have an all-Motown line-up , the next might feature British invasion acts , a week later an hour of West Coast psychedelia, James Brown ,Nancy Sinatra , the Rolling Stones , Sonny And Cher , Johnny Mathis , The Four Tops - if it was even remotely pop , on they went . Not to mention a house band , The Shindogs , that featured young men such as Glen Campbell , Billy Preston , Leon Russell , James Burton , Delaney Bramlett and others. We will see in this blog an occasional mix of the more intriguing clips from this ground-breaking show , the likes of which we'll never see again.To follow are some samples of the show's offerings starting with Howlin' Wolf with the Rolling Stones rightfully at his feet, performing the not-yet-stolen-by-Led Zeppelin song,"How Many MoreYears" with a pompadoured young Billy Preston on piano.

The truly demented dancing of the great Roy Head!

Earth Wind And Fire

Earth ,wind and fire...the classical , if not chemical elements of the world...but hold on...full stop,mate...aren't there four of them? What happened to water? Well it turns out that group founder Maurice White's astrological sign is Sagittarius and this sign has the primary elemental quality of fire , and the seasonal qualities of earth and air. Hence, no water. Get all that? Good. As it turns out, the name Earth Wind And Fire is sufficiently long enough that we will herein refer to the band as EWF , and given the fact that the group's former name was The Salty Peppers , I think we all can appreciate Mr. White's wise decision.

EWF is a band that uses a potent combination of African , Latin , jazz , and r&b styles to create a distinctive funk sound aided further by the raspy tenor of Maurice White , the falsetto of vocalist/percussionist Philip Bailey , and the heavy use of the kalimba , a hand held piano-like instrument originating from the African continent.Added to this is a dynamic horn section giving them an impressive sonic arsenal. The band was first formed in Chicago and later relocated to Los Angeles.

The band's line up during what I consider their prime period was former Ramsey Lewis Trio drummer and founder Maurice White on lead vocals,percussion and Kalimba , bassist and brother Verdine White , lead vocalist/percussionist Philip Bailey , guitarists Johhny Graham , Al McKay and Roland Bautista (at various times individually and together) , Andrew Woolfolk on woodwinds , keyboardist Larry Dunn , and drummer Ralph Johnson . Saxophonist Ronnie Laws and former Friends Of Distinction vocalist Jessica Cleaves were also members of the group early on.  

Starting out on the Warner Brothers label , EWF later signed with Columbia Records , where on that label and later their own Columbia-distributed ARC label , they have been ever since. During their career the group has received eight Grammy Awards , five American Music Awards , induction into the NAACP Hall Of Fame in 1994, induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2000,and numerous other items of recognition. They performed on the  soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song" . Also movie-wise , EWF filmed a motion picture , "That's The Way Of The World" starring themselves and Harvey Keitel. When the band screened the finished product , they came to the conclusion that the film basically stunk. In what was probably one of the top five best decisions ever made by a band , they decided instead to release the soundtrack . It was their biggest selling album , making them the first r&b group to top Billboard's album and singles charts.

For a look at the classic EWF line up in an early killer performance, go here:
You won't be sorry.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Hollies

One of the more prominent bands in the early sixties British Invasion , The Hollies were originally lead vocalist Allan Clarke , guitarist-vocalist Graham Nash , Don Rathbone on drums , bassist Eric Haydock , and Vic Steele , also on guitar and vocals. The group's name arose from their admiration for Buddy Holly , according to Graham Nash. Their first U.S release The band's first U.S. single release was "Look Through Any Window" in 1964.

The Hollies became known for their distinctive bright vocal harmonies . By the time the group broke in the States , Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott had replaced Vic Steele and Don Rathbone on guitar and drums , respectively. They relied heavily on cover songs in the beginning , eventually moving towards made-to-order original tunes by writers such as future 10cc member Graham Gouldman. Soon thereafter, the in-house songwriting trio of Clarke ,Nash and Hicks took over the compositional chores.

Feeling limited by the group's pop identity , and wanting to write songs of a more personal and reflective nature , Graham Nash departed the group in 1968 and soon after relocated to San Francisco where he joined ex-Byrds David Crosby and ex-Bullalo Springfield Steven Stills to form one of the earliest "super groups",Crosby,Stills and Nash . Like John Lennon and George Harrison , he grew tired of the band's songs being drowned out by screaming audiences. He also took issue with the Hollies plan to record an album entirely of Bob Dylan songs.

Nash was replaced by former Swinging Blue Jeans guitarist-vocalist Terry Sylvester . During all this, Tony Hicks emerged as the main musical force of the band , and to this day remains one of the more underrated guitarists to come from the British Invasion , easily on a par with George Harrison and Brian Jones. His lead vocals were also featured heavily in the group's songs.

The band's single "Carrie Ann" is one of their best known songs,released in 1967 and reaching #9 in the U.S. pop charts. Actress Carrie Ann Moss disclosed that she was named after the song , having been born when the song was on the charts. Their most identified and perhaps signature tune is "He Ain't Heavy,He's My Brother",featuring a young Elton John on piano and written ironically, by Bob Dylan. This release went to #3 in the U.S. in 1969 . The Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" remains their most successful release , going to #2 in the U.S. pop charts.
The Hollies were Inducted into the RockAnd Roll Hall Of Fame March 15, 2010 . The band still tours with almost-original members Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stevie Wonder

Born May 13,1950  as  Steveland Hardaway Judkins . Shortly after signing with Motown to the company's Tamla Label at the age of 11, his surname was legally changed to Morris. The stage name , Little Stevie Wonder" was given to him by producer Clarence Paul as a reference to the Seven Wonders Of The World. In 1963 he recorded "Fingertips Pt.2"
featuring himself on vocals , bongos and harmonica , along with a young Marvin Gaye  on drums. The song hit  #1 on the U.S. pop and  r&b charts. He was 13 years old . He was born blind. He was exactly what one means when one uses the term "child prodigy". And he was barely getting started.

Dropping the "Little" from his stage name , he went on to record a number of hits during the mid sixties, as well as working in Motown's songwriting department supplying songs for other label artists , such as "Tears Of A Clown" for Smokey Robinson's Miracles. (writing a song for one of the greatest songwriters in pop accomplishment indeed!)

He subsequently co-wrote and played several instruments on The Spinners' hit , "It's A Shame", and independently recorded two albums virtually single handedly. This made it clear that his talent was simply too huge to be part of the Motown machine , and enabled him to negotiate a precedent-shattering (for Motown) deal which left him with complete creative control and rights to all of his music as well as a higher royalty rate than anyone on the label had ever commanded . The aforementioned albums, "Music Of My Mind" and "Talking Book" were both released in 1972.

While going on to produce a massive catalog of classic music, Stevie Wonder won 22 Grammy Awards (the most by any artist) , an Academy Award for best song ("I Just Called To Say I Love You"-1985), induction in both the Rock And Roll and Songwriters Halls Of Fame, ten #1 pop and twenty #1 r&b singles, and quite a few other items of recognition.

He also participated in political activism , most notably at the forefront of the successful campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. He raised funds and recognition for the plight of Haitian earthquake victims, and was honored by President Barack Obama with the Gershwin Award For Lifetime Achievement .

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Seventeen year old guitarist Paul Kossoff was at a club called The Fickle Pickle in London's Fisbury Park.  While there he saw an r&b band called Brown Sugar and was impressed by their singer,eighteen year old Paul Rodgers. Along with his buddy Simon Kirke ,a drummer also eighteen years of age and a member of Kossoff's band Black Cat Bones, approached the singer with the idea of forming a band. Rodgers took them upon it, and the three of them recruited Andy Fraser, who at fifteen years of age had been playing with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. They played their first gig at the Nag's Head in Battersea
as Free.It was April 19,1968.
Later that year they released an album,"Tons Of Sobs" and the following year a second album entitled "Free" , both on Island Records to lukewarm response. The band's third lp , "Fire And Water",however was different.

This album contained a song called "Alright Now", which in reaching #1 on the UK singles charts and #4
on Billboard's top 100, turned them into one of the definitive bands of the late '60s blues-rock boom and a classic rock staple to this day.
The band broke up in early 1973 . Andy Fraser put together his band Sharks while Paul Kossoff formed Back Street Crawler. But it was Rodgers who would prove the most successful .Armed with one of the most iconic voices in rock history , he formed along with Kirke Bad Company, which had even more commercial success than Free. His career subsequently led him to The Firm with Jimmy Page, a solo career,and currently to the lead vocalist spot in Queen. Paul Kossoff ,for his part is considered one of rock's most influential guitarists. He died of a drug-related heart attack March 19,1976. The band name,"Free" was suggested to the band by veteran British blues man Alexis Korner,who also recommended  bassist Andy Fraser for membership.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Hit Wonders # 2 - The Spiral Starecase

Another one of those one-hit wonders (indeed,where would rock music be without them?), The Spiral Starecase took their name from a movie of the same name with the title deliberately misspelled. Their hit,"More Today Than Yesterday" was released in 1969 , hit #12 in the Billboard Hot 100,and was awarded a gold record for 1 million units sold. The song has been covered by many artists,including Diana Ross , was featured in the 1991 film "My Girl", the 1998 film "The Waterboy", and the tv series "Ally McBeal".
The band consisted of Pat Upton on guitar and vocals , Harvey Kaye on keyboards, Dick Lopez on saxophone, Vinny Parelli on drums, and doing his best attempt at James Brown - style footwork in the video , Bobby Raymond on bass guitar (playing notably, a Fender hollow bodied bass!).

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Rolling Stones Top Five
1) Satisfaction (studio version)
Richards' Gibson Maestro Fuzztone sounded like nothing else at the time.Also note the  contributions of one Jack Nitzche, whose tambourine triplets and subliminal driving piano propel this classic.
2) Jumping Jack Flash (studio version)
Many bands have played this song,and made the unforgivable mistake of doubling the guitar riff on the bass (Yes,I'm talking to you, Peter Frampton!). This robs the song of the massive groove present in the original recording. The bass line is there for a reason,people!
3)Monkey Man
Watts and Wyman provide a killer groove , Wyman also plays vibes,but the inimitable Nicky Hopkins' piano on the coda makes this song the memorable outing that it is.
4) Sway
The most gifted guitarist the band ever had , Mick Taylor, kicks much ass on this haunting composition.
5) Under My Thumb
An irresistable hook provided by the sorely missed duo of Bill Wyman (bass) and Brian Jones (xylophone) make this song a high point in their catalog.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

attention all guitarists...know this song or die!

       Even if you know nothing else my axe-slinging brothers and sisters...

...thou must know this!