Candle In The Wind: Elton John; Sandy Denny; Billy Joel

Hello there! This week we will discuss the song Candle In The Wind, and the re-write of that song titled Candle In The Wind 1997 (often referred to as Goodbye, England’s Rose, after its opening words), that Elton John performed at the funeral of Diana,  Princess of Wales.

This is a song with a fascinating history. After discussing both the original song and its 1997 re-write by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, we will discuss covers by Sandy Denny and by Billy Joel.

Elton John and Candle In The Wind:

Elton John is one of our favorite rock musicians. We previously featured him in our blog post on the song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. We also discussed his song Rocket Man, also Tiny Dancer, and his cover of Pinball Wizard.  Most recently we reviewed his cover of the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody.

So here we will briefly summarize Elton John’s life and career.

Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in a suburb of London in 1947. He adopted the stage name “Elton John” as a composite of Elton Dean, saxophonist in his first band, and blues singer and mentor Long John Baldry.

At age 11, he was awarded a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Elton recalls that he was not a diligent student and was not particularly attracted to classical music. He subsequently left high school at age 17 to pursue a career in pop music.

Below is a photo of Elton John in 1973. This is the way I prefer to remember him – as the wild and crazy rocker sporting a feather boa, before his more sedate incarnation as Sir Elton John.

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A unique feature of Elton John’s career was his decades-long collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. The two were introduced in 1967 when each of them answered an ad for musicians in the British magazine New Musical Express.

Following the first big Taupin-John hit Your Song in 1970, Elton John embarked on an incredibly productive and versatile career. During the 70s he came out with one blockbuster album after another. Taupin and John produced ballads, rocking tunes and funky cross-over hits.

Candle In The Wind has had a most interesting history. The genesis of the tune occurred when Bernie Taupin heard Janis Joplin’s life compared to “a candle in the wind.” Following their unique collaborative style, Taupin wrote up a set of lyrics and mailed them to Elton John.

Elton then wrote a melody to accompany Taupin’s lyrics. The initial line “Goodbye, Norma Jean” refers to the real name of actress Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean(e) Baker. Taupin states that the song refers to
“the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people.”

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled

They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in

And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

Candle In The Wind was included in Elton John’s blockbuster 1973 double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. At left is the cover art from the album.

The cover of Elton John’s 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was written during Elton’s ‘manic phase,’ a time when he was heavily into cocaine. The upside of this otherwise dangerous period was that Elton John was incredibly productive.

Bernie Taupin wrote essentially all of the songs for the album over a three-week period. However, Elton outdid Bernie by writing all of the melodies for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road during a 3-day stay at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica!

All 18 songs on the double album were subsequently recorded at the Chateau d’Herouville in France, after problems arose with recording in Jamaica. The recording itself took only three weeks.

Candle In The Wind is too melodramatic for some. For example,
composer Gruff Rhys called itthe worst song he had ever heard.”

Furthermore, the Rolling Stone critic, Stephen Davis, found the entire Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album an
“exposition of unabashed fantasy, myth, wet dreams and cornball acts, an overproduced array of musical portraits and hard rock & roll that always threatens to founder, too fat to float, artistically doomed by pretension.”
(by the way, that album is currently ranked #91 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time!)

Contrary to Mr. Davis, I find the lyrics to Candle In The Wind poignant and touching. I especially enjoy Taupin’s description of his appreciation of Miss Monroe, who died 11 years before the song was written: “From the young man in the 22nd row, who sees you as something more than sexual, more than just our Marilyn Monroe.”

Here is Elton John in a live version of Candle In The Wind. This was performed in Dec. 1986 in Sydney, Australia.

Elton is dressed in his best Mozart look-alike regalia, complete with powdered wig and beauty mark. This version was included on his album Live In Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

This time, the song was released as a single, whereupon it shot up to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to #5 in Britain. The tune has remained one of Elton John’s signature tunes ever since.

Elton John’s costume in this video is par for the course during this period. Nothing seemed too outrageous for him – gigantic embossed glasses; oversized Doc Martens boots; ruffles and lace; you name it, Elton appeared in it. In 1988 some 2,000 items of his memorabilia were auctioned off at Sotheby’s and raised $20 million for charity.

The Song Candle In The Wind 1997:

Elton John and Princess Diana were good friends. After their mutual friend Gianni Versace was assassinated in July, 1997, Diana consoled Elton at Versace’s funeral.

So after Diana died following a car crash in August, 1997, Elton and Bernie Taupin re-wrote the lyrics to Candle In The Wind to describe Diana, her life and her influence. The song was re-titled Candle In The Wind 1997.

Here are some of the re-written lyrics.

Goodbye England’s rose
May you ever grow in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart.

You called out to our country
And you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong to heaven
And the stars spell out your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never fading with the sunset
When the rain set in

And your footsteps will always fall here
Along England’s greenest hills
Your candle’s burned out long before
Your legend ever will

I have to say that these lyrics are considerably too melodramatic for my taste. But here is Elton John performing Candle In The Wind 1997.

This took place at Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, London, on Sept. 6, 1997. As you can see, there were enormous crowds at the funeral, and millions more watched on television.

So what kind of impact did this song have? Elton John has given all proceeds from the song to various of Diana’s favorite charities. To date this is the best-selling song ever, since playlists began to count record sales.

The song has sold more than 33 million copies. It is believed that only Bing Crosby’s White Christmas has sold more. The tribute song clearly touched a nerve with the general public.

Over a nearly 50-year span, Elton John has established one of the greatest, most productive and enduring careers in rock music. He
has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. He has more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums, 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10, four No. 2 and nine No. 1. For 31 consecutive years (1970–2000) he had at least one song in the Billboard Hot 100.

Following a short marriage and subsequent divorce in the 80s, Elton came out as gay in 1988. In 1993 he began a relationship with Canadian advertising executive David Furnish, which culminated in their marriage in 2014. This relationship seems to have brought stability and happiness to Elton.

Elton John has been an outspoken and articulate advocate for the GLBT community and in particular for AIDS sufferers. He has been quite courageous about combating public prejudice in this area.

Elton was a vocal supporter of people like teenager Ryan White, who contracted and eventually died from AIDS and who was the victim of considerable prejudice. His Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research and HIV/AIDS research and education.

It would take an entire blog post just to list Elton John’s myriad honors and awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998. In addition, Elton John
has received six Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards … an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, a Disney Legend award, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.

At age 70, Elton John continues to perform today, although he has announced that his current tour will be his last. Sir Elton – one of the great rockers of all time!

Sandy Denny and Candle In The Wind:

Sandy Denny was one of the best-known female singer-songwriters in the British folk-rock community in the late 60s and early 70s. Denny was born in 1947 in a suburb of London. She studied classical piano as a young girl, but was inspired by her grandmother, who sang traditional Scottish folksongs.

Below is a photo of Sandy Denny circa 1970.

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Ms. Denny began her own career singing traditional folk ballads. In the late 60s, she wrote the song Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Judy Collins heard a demo of Denny’s composition, and included a cover of that song in an album with the same title.

Collins’ cover became a best-seller, and brought Sandy Denny her first major recognition. In May 1968, she became the lead vocalist for the British folk group Fairport Convention. Her tenure with this band lasted less than two years, but during that period Fairport Convention shifted its focus to folk-rock, and went on to become the most influential British folk-rock ensemble.

Denny left Fairport Convention in late 1969 and formed the group Fotheringay (more about that group shortly). She remained with Fotheringay only a little more than one year. After that she released solo albums for a couple of years, and then returned to Fairport Convention from 1974-75.

Here is the audio of Sandy Denny singing Candle In The Wind.

This was from Ms. Denny’s 1977 album Rendezvous, a solo effort released after Sandy and her husband Trevor Lucas had left Fairport Convention. The album performed so poorly that Ms. Denny was dropped by her record company, Island Records. This would turn out to be Sandy Denny’s last album.

Because we were unable to find a live performance of Candle In The Wind by Sandy Denny, here we present a live performance of Ms. Denny as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Fotheringay.

This was recorded for German TV in 1970, and consists of 14 minutes in concert. If you like, you can watch only the first song which lasts just under five minutes. Sandy Denny’s clear and moving vocals show why she was so highly regarded in the British folk community.

Sandy Denny’s style reminds me somewhat of Judy Collins, except that Ms. Collins had a more powerful voice and a greater range. In any case, Denny’s sweet, sad vocals are haunting and memorable.

In July, 1977, Sandy Denny gave birth to a daughter, Georgia. She then embarked on a tour to publicize her latest album. In March 1978, Sandy Denny was on vacation in Cornwall with her parents and her daughter. She fell and hit her head on concrete; the accident left her with debilitating headaches.

She was prescribed a painkiller, dextropropoxyphene, for her headaches. Apparently that drug can be fatal when mixed with alcohol. A few weeks after the accident, Ms. Denny was behaving so erratically that her husband Trevor Lucas returned to his native Australia along with their infant daughter.

On April 17, Sandy Denny collapsed and fell into a coma. She was taken to hospital, but never recovered and died there. She was 31 years old.

Sandy Denny was a folk artist with exceptional potential. She died tragically at much too young an age; she is sadly missed.

Billy Joel and Candle In The Wind:

Billy Joel is an American singer-songwriter. He has had an extraordinary career, and has emerged as one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

Joel was born in the Bronx in May 1949, and raised in Levittown, Long Island. His father was a classical pianist who emigrated from Germany after the Nazis came to power.

Billy’s mother forced him to take piano lessons as a child. Although Joel resisted this, he nevertheless became an accomplished piano player.

In high school, Billy performed at a piano bar as a means of raising some extra money. Unfortunately, this resulted in poor attendance at school. As a result, he came up short of the credits required to graduate from Hicksville High School.

Joel reports that his response to not graduating was:
‘To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there.’

Apparently Billy was inspired to pursue a career in music after watching the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Joel joined several bands, in search of fame and fortune. Although he obtained work as a session musician, initially he found no commercial success.

Here is a photo of Billy Joel with one of his fans (Joel is on the right).

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In 1969 Billy Joel joined forces with drummer Jon Small to form the duo Attila. They disbanded after Joel had an affair with Small‘s wife, Elizabeth Weber; Elizabeth eventually became Billy Joel’s first wife.

Billy landed a contract with a small record company, and began recording and touring. His first big break came when a Philadelphia DJ began playing Joel’s song Captain Jack.

Captain Jack became a popular hit on the East Coast. This led to a record contract with Columbia Records in 1972, at which time Billy moved to L.A. In order to make ends meet, Billy worked at the Executive Room piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard.

Billy Joel’s first Columbia release was the 1973 Piano Man. The title tune from that album, which became Joel’s signature tune, recounted some experiences from his tenure at the Executive Room.

Billy released a couple more albums that showed considerable promise and brought him some fame. However, he became disenchanted with L.A. and returned to New York in 1975.

At that point, Joel made two major strides in his career. First, he assembled a group of musicians who became the Billy Joel band. Second, he began to collaborate with Phil Ramone, who would produce his records for the next 11 years.

Billy Joel then proceeded to release a number of blockbuster albums. The first was the 1977 release The Stranger. That album produced four top-25 singles and reached #2 on the Billboard album charts. The album outsold Columbia’s previous best-selling record, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Billy Joel had his finger on the pulse of contemporary America. He could write beautiful sentimental ballads such as She’s Got A Way and Just The Way You Are.

Joel also provided caustic analysis of America’s social and military history in songs such as Allentown, Good Night Saigon, and We Didn’t Start The Fire.

In addition, he produced tunes that commented on American social and cultural mores, such as Only The Good Die Young, Big Shot, and The Entertainer.

Later in his career, while he was married to Christie Brinkley, Joel even harked back to his doo-wop roots with songs like Uptown Girl and The Longest Time.

Here is Billy Joel in a live performance of Candle In The Wind.

This performance took place during a joint tour by Joel and Elton John. Billy introduces the song by noting that it was not written by him, but by “the other piano player over there.” However, Billy sings it as a solo.

I really enjoy Billy Joel’s performance of Candle In The Wind. In fact, I saw him perform it on one of his Face To Face tours with Elton John. I was visiting Adelaide University in South Australia in March 1998, doing physics research, when I noted that the Elton John-Billy Joel concert would be appearing at the Adelaide Oval cricket grounds.

The ticket prices ($400 Australian and up) were out of my league. However, on the evening of the concert I wandered past the Adelaide Oval. To my great delight, a gigantic pair of video screens were mounted directly behind the stage.

Although I could not see either of the performers directly, I had a great view of them onscreen; even outside the cricket venue, the sound was terrific. I sat on the grass and thoroughly enjoyed watching Billy and Elton play selections of their own and each other’s greatest hits, and perform several duets.

A few years ago, the New Yorker ran a profile of Billy Joel titled The Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder. The article pointed out that following an extraordinary career as a singer-songwriter, Joel had not written an original hit for nearly 20 years.

However, he has embarked on many successful tours during this period. Among these were the afore-mentioned Face To Face tours with Elton John.

Since 2014, Billy Joel has been playing roughly one concert every month in Madison Square Garden. The concerts have become exceptionally popular events.

Billy Joel is currently a “living national treasure,” a singer-songwriter who wrote and performed a series of brilliant tunes over a 20-year period from roughly 1970-1990.

Thanks for the memories, Bill — “We’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feelin’ alright!”

Wikipedia, Candle In The Wind
Wikipedia, Elton John
Stephen Davis, Review: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rolling Stone magazine, Nov. 22, 1973.
Wikipedia, Sandy Denny
Wikipedia, Billy Joel
The Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder, Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker magazine, Oct. 27, 2014.

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Don’t Be Cruel: Elvis Presley; Jerry Lee Lewis; Cheap Trick.

Hello there! This week we will discuss the song Don’t Be Cruel, a great rockabilly song written by Otis Blackwell and originally performed by Elvis Presley. We will then review covers of this song by Jerry Lee Lewis and by Cheap Trick.

Elvis Presley and Don’t Be Cruel:

Elvis Presley has been one of our favorite rock artists. We first featured him in our blog post on the song Hound Dog. We next reviewed his version of Always On My Mind; later we discussed Heartbreak Hotel, and his cover of Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

We also wrote about Elvis’ covers of the songs Little Darlin’ and Long Tall Sally. In addition, we discussed his songs Jailhouse Rock and Can’t Help Falling In Love. So here we will briefly review his life and career.

In rock and roll, everyone acknowledged that Elvis was “The King.” Ever since he traveled from Tupelo, MS to Memphis to record a song for his mother, Elvis became a rock and roll star and then a legend.

Here is a photo of Elvis Presley performing to adoring fans in September, 1956 in his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi.

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In 1954, Sam Phillips recorded him in the Sun Records studios. Elvis’ rockabilly cover of Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, Mama become a big hit locally from the moment that Memphis radio DJs began featuring it.

Phillips was convinced that he could make a ton of money if he could find a white artist capable of producing ‘cross-over’ hits from rhythm and blues songs by black artists.  Memphis was a great location for such a project, as producers like Sam Phillips and Stax Records’ co-owners Jim Stewart and Estelle Axon were recording songs by both black and white artists.

During the mid-50s, Phillips produced records by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, but Elvis was his greatest discovery. And Elvis had great range – his work ranged from rockabilly classics such as Hound Dog to ballads and gospel.

The song Don’t Be Cruel was one of Elvis’ first big hits. It was written by Otis Blackwell, who sold it to Elvis’ publishers Hill and Range. It was the first song that Hill and Range presented to Elvis.

By the middle of 1956 Elvis was a breakout star, and so the deal was that Elvis was listed as a co-writer of the song and receive a percentage of the royalties, in return for a guarantee to Blackwell’s music publishers that the record would sell a million copies.

In Don’t Be Cruel, the singer asks his lover to show some kindness to him, particularly since he has reserved all of his affection for her.

You know I can be found
Sitting home all alone
If you can’t come around
At least please telephone
Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true.

Baby, if I made you mad
For something I might have said
Please, let’s forget the past
The future looks bright ahead
Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true
I don’t want no other love
Baby it’s just you I’m thinking of.

Don’t Be Cruel was produced at what must have been a marathon recording session on July 2, 1956 at RCA’s New York studios. During that evening Elvis recorded Hound Dog in 31 takes, then ran through 28 takes of Don’t Be Cruel.

In those days, Elvis was very actively involved in recording his songs. He made several suggestions about how the songs should be produced, tried out alternate versions on the piano, and suggested changes in the lyrics. In fact, various biographers claim that Elvis should have been credited with producing his early records.

Don’t Be Cruel was the “B” side of the record released on July 13, 1956 with Hound Dog as the “A” side. Hound Dog made the first big impression, rising to #2 on the Billboard pop charts. However, it was then overtaken by Don’t Be Cruel, which became Elvis’ biggest hit to that point.

Don’t Be Cruel achieved the astonishing feat of hitting #1 on the pop, country and R&B charts. And Don’t Be Cruel remained #1 on the pop charts for 11 weeks; this was the longest tenure at #1 for any pop song over the next 35 years.

Whereas Hound Dog was a hard-rocking tune, Don’t Be Cruel was a much more mellow rockabilly song. By now there are scores of covers of Don’t Be Cruel. Connie Francis issued a best-selling cover in 1959. Probably Elvis’ favorite cover was by pop star Jackie Wilson. In fact, Elvis was so taken by Wilson’s version that he adopted some of Wilson’s vocal mannerisms when subsequently performing Don’t Be Cruel.

Here is Elvis performing Don’t Be Cruel on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Taking place on Jan. 6, 1957, this was Elvis’ third and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. His first appearance in Sept. 1956 was an incredible media circus – it attracted an unheard-of TV audience of 62 million people, and was a riveting event on live television.

However, for his third appearance, the CBS censors would only allow Elvis to be shown from the waist up. Presumably Mr. Presley was so sexy that revealing his groin area would be too shocking for modest viewers.

Don’t Be Cruel was the fourth of Elvis’ seven songs on the Jan. 6, 1957 Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis is accompanied by The Jordanaires, who are arranged behind him. He gives a tongue-in-cheek performance of his rockabilly classic, deliberately exaggerating some of the vocal stylings.

At one point, when he intones “Mmmm,” young women scream with delight. Even though this excerpt of Don’t Be Cruel lasts just over a minute, it gives a vivid picture of the intensity of the Elvis phenomenon.

In any case, the “only show Elvis from the waist up” ploy basically backfired, as it only increased the mystery — what was happening off-camera that caused girls in the audience to go crazy? This performance took place one day before Elvis’ 22nd birthday.

In March 1958 Elvis was drafted into the Army, and after his tour of duty ended he struggled to regain his form. His records still sold and his movies invariably made money; however, interest in Elvis waned, and things got worse once British Invasion musicians dominated the headlines.

Elvis was close to a number of old friends who benefited from Elvis’ famous generosity; and his doctors prescribed for him an astonishing array of powerful pharmaceuticals. Over the years, Elvis gained considerable weight until near the end of his life, when he became almost grotesquely heavy.

The dashing young king of rock ‘n roll slowly but surely morphed into the shockingly bloated and over-medicated figure who died on August 16, 1977 at age 42. However, right up to the end Elvis retained his wonderful voice.

What a shame. Elvis would have been 83 in January 2018, but his music lives on.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Don’t Be Cruel:

We discussed Jerry Lee Lewis in an earlier blog post on his cover of Otis Blackwell’s song Great Balls of Fire. Blackwell was also the writer of Don’t Be Cruel, the song we are reviewing today. So here we will briefly review Jerry Lee Lewis’ career.

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the great early stars of rock and roll. He appeared suddenly in the mid-50s, and became an overnight sensation. His piano playing helped define rock ‘n roll as a new and separate musical genre. A larger-than-life performer, Jerry Lee had a career that featured a number of dramatic twists and turns.

Jerry Lee Lewis was born in 1935 in Concordia parish, Louisiana. While young, Jerry Lee and his cousins Mickey Gillis and Jimmy Swaggart became seriously interested in music. Mickey and Jerry Lee would continue in music, while Jimmy later became a famous preacher and TV evangelist.

Below is a photo of Jerry Lee Lewis performing in concert in England, May 1958.

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After Jerry Lee showed a serious interest in music, his parents, bless their souls, mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano. But while Jerry Lee was interested in R&B and country music, his parents envisioned gospel music for their boy.

In 1956 Jerry Lee moved up to Memphis, where he became a session musician for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records while he attempted to score a hit record. Jerry Lee’s distinctive piano licks can be heard on a number of Sun recordings by artists such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano style was an over-the-top version of boogie-woogie stride piano,
which is characterized by a regular left hand bass figure and dancing beat.
Jerry Lee combined this with elements he absorbed from his Southern gospel upbringing.

In Lewis’ talented hands, the results were electrifying. He was
an incendiary showman who often played with his fists, elbows, feet, and backside, sometimes climbing on top of the piano during gigs and even apocryphally setting it on fire.

Jerry Lee Lewis broke through with huge hits in the mid-50s, such as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls of Fire. The songs, and his flamboyant performing style, made Jerry Lee Lewis a super-star.

However, in 1958 his career suddenly hit the rocks. As he embarked upon a tour of England in 1958, it was revealed that Jerry Lee’s recent bride Myra Gale Brown was only 13.

To make matters worse, it turned out that Myra was Jerry Lee’s first cousin once removed. When these facts became public, Lewis was immediately enveloped in scandal. He had to cut short his British tour after just 3 shows.

Upon returning to the States, Jerry Lee’s American career also underwent a catastrophic decline. He was blacklisted from the radio, Dick Clark dropped him from American Bandstand, and his producer Sam Phillips turned on him.

Almost overnight, Jerry Lee Lewis went from headlining the top rock and roll shows, to showing up at juke joints. It took him a few years to get out of his Sun Records contract and on his feet again.

Just as his career was reviving, Jerry Lee’s comeback attempt was sidelined by British Invasion artists such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones. This was bitterly ironic, as Jerry Lee Lewis had been a major inspirational figure for British Invasion bands.

So here is Jerry Lee Lewis in a live performance of Don’t Be Cruel.

Well, Jerry Lee Lewis does not disappoint here. The crowd is in great spirits during a lovely Toronto summer day. Don’t Be Cruel is a terrific vehicle for Jerry Lee’s blend of R&B with country and western music.

His vocals are perfect for this rockabilly classic, and The Killer shows off his bag of tricks – the hard-driving stride piano thumping, followed by successive trills up and down the scales. We don’t get the most dramatic over-the-top antics, such as standing on the piano or playing with his feet or his butt, but ol’ Jerry Lee still puts on a first-rate performance.

This took place at the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. We will now take a brief detour to review this singular event. Scheduled just four weeks after Woodstock, it  was a one-day, 12-hour concert at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium.

The concert was to feature a collection of ‘roots’ rockers from the 50s, combined with late-60s acts, including
Bo Diddley, Chicago, Junior Walker and the All Stars, … Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, …Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, … and The Doors.

However, ticket sales were so slow that the event was in danger of being cancelled. In fact, the main financial backers pulled their funding on the week of the show. Desperate to salvage the event, the organizers hit upon the idea of inviting John Lennon and Yoko Ono to emcee the concert.

They figured that Lennon might attend because of his well-known admiration for ‘roots’ rockers such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. To the delight of the promoters, Lennon not only agreed to emcee the event, but insisted that he would come only if he was invited to perform.

The organizers were initially gleeful at their coup; however, they were crestfallen when Toronto media refused to believe that John Lennon was actually going to perform. At the last minute, they released a tape recording of the organizers ordering plane tickets for Lennon, Oko, Eric Clapton and bassist Klaus Voorman.

That did it – the entire stadium then sold out on the day before the event. Indeed, John and Yoko appeared and performed. The concert became the first event where people lit matches and lighters to welcome a performer.

The lighters were the brainchild of Festival MC Kim Fowley. Fowley knew that John Lennon had not performed live for a few years, and was suffering from a severe bout of stage fright. Fowley reasoned (correctly) that the gesture would be welcoming and soothing, and that it would ease Lennon’s performance anxiety.

And now back to Jerry Lee Lewis. By the late 60s, Jerry Lee experienced a roller-coaster ride from young unknown artist to worldwide superstar, and back into obscurity. However, his comeback efforts faced even more hurdles.

First, Jerry Lee Lewis was seriously conflicted about his music. He had been brought up in a deeply religious family, that believed rock and roll was “the Devil’s music.” Jerry Lee’s cousin, evangelical preacher Jimmy Swaggart, never failed to remind him of his sinful ways.

In addition, Jerry Lee had major addiction issues. He was a wild man both onstage and off. A prodigious drinker, he also took copious quantities of amphetamines to fuel his manic lifestyle.
“That was blues and yellows time…. I tell you, greatest pills ever made,” he says. … “That would keep me going. Desbutal. Man, you couldn’t beat the Desbutal. Went hundreds of miles a day on them… biphetamines [black beauties], Placidyls, up and down. I took ’em all.”

But just when Jerry Lee seemed pretty much through in rock ‘n roll, he re-surfaced as a country artist. After a couple of surprise country hits, Jerry Lee realized that his music was extremely popular with country fans.

For the past 40 years, Jerry Lee Lewis has continued as a living legend. He was one of the inaugural set of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

In May 2013 he opened a club in Memphis, and to the best of my knowledge he is still performing there. As befits the title of his 2006 album, Jerry Lee Lewis is truly the Last Man Standing. He has survived a lifetime of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and long may he thrive.

Cheap Trick and Don’t Be Cruel:

Cheap Trick is a rock quartet that emerged from Rockford, Illinois in the mid-70s. Below is a photo of the band from the late 70s. From L: lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Robin Zander; drummer Brad Carlos (who later changed his name to Bun E. Carlos); bassist Tom Petersson; and lead guitarist Rick Nielsen.

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The group spent a few years building up a regional reputation, and in 1976 they signed a record contract with Epic Records. Their first few albums found little commercial success in the States; however, Cheap Trick’s records became best-sellers in Japan. This is reminiscent of the movie This Is Spinal Tap, where the band’s reputation in the U.S. languishes, while they maintain a cult following in Japan.

In 1978, Cheap Trick embarked on a tour of Japan, where they were welcomed effusively by frenzied fans. The band performed two concerts at the Nippon Budokan. Songs from those two concerts were combined into a single album, Cheap Trick at Budokan.

The original plan was to release the album only in Japan. However, bootleg copies of the album began selling like hotcakes, so in February 1979 Epic Records released it in the U.S. That album went triple platinum in the States, and two singles from that album made the top 40 in the Billboard pop charts.

On the basis of that album, Cheap Trick became a world-renowned classic-rock band. Although they released a number of albums and had a few singles make the charts, they were best known for their live concerts.

Rick Nielsen assembled a valuable collection of unusual and rare guitars, which he often unveiled at live shows. Robin Zander has a terrific, clear voice well-suited to the group’s hard-rock hits. And Bun E. Carlos alternates massive thumps on the bass drum with rapid-fire staccato bursts on the snare.

So here is Cheap Trick in a live performance of the Elvis song Don’t Be Cruel.

This is from a show at the Houston Astrodome in 1989. As usual, guitarist Rick Nielsen dresses like a nerd (here, with a sweater that features a pattern of skulls). Nielsen also sports one of his famous collection of custom guitars – in this case, a Fender Stratocaster.

Tom Petersson appears with an ‘upright’ black-and-white checked electric bass, while drummer Bun E. Carlos whacks away on a vintage Ludwig drum kit.

As always, Cheap Trick is an extremely tight unit. Tom Petersson sounds just like an acoustic double bass, while Bun E. Carlos keeps time with his trademark drum licks. Lead vocalist Robin Zander produces great classic rock vocals, and Rick Nielsen’s high-energy guitar solos manage to convert this rockabilly gem into 70s power-pop rock ‘n roll.

For the past 40 years Cheap Trick has been producing records and touring. In 2007, the State of Illinois designated April 1 of each year as Cheap Trick Day, in honor of their local band.  So, happy Cheap Trick Day!

The membership of Cheap Trick has been remarkably constant over the years. Bassist Tom Petersson left the group for 6 years in the mid-80s, but then returned.

In 2010 Bun E. Carlos stopped touring with the band. Although it was announced that he would continue to work with the group and contribute to recording sessions, in 2013 Carlos filed suit against his bandmates, claiming that they had frozen him out of decisions and recording.

The other members of Cheap Trick filed a counter-suit, and eventually the group resolved their differences although Carlos stopped touring and recording with the band.

Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. It was nice to see Bun E. Carlos join his former mates at the induction ceremony.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Don’t Be Cruel
Wikipedia, Elvis Presley
Wikipedia, Jerry Lee Lewis
Wikipedia, Toronto Rock and Roll Revival
Wikipedia, Cheap Trick

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Rock and roll, Rockabilly | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smokin’ In The Boys Room: Brownsville Station; Motley Crue; LeAnn Rimes.

Hello there! This is another installment in our recurring series, Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies. This week we will discuss the song Smokin’ In the Boys Room, one of the great ‘bad boy’ songs.

We will first direct our attention to the original version by Brownsville Station. Next, we will discuss the movie Rock and Roll High School, where this tune was featured. We will then review covers of this song by Motley Crue and by LeAnn Rimes.

Brownsville Station and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:

The band Brownsville Station was formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969. Their leader and lead vocalist was Cub Koda. Other original members of the band were guitarist Mike Lutz, bassist Tony Driggins and drummer T.J. Cronley.

Here is a photo of Brownsville Station circa 1970. From L: T.J. Cronley; Cub Koda; Tony Driggins.

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Initially Brownsville Station focused on covers of songs from bands that inspired them. They were particularly focused on ‘roots’ rockers such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. However, they soon began writing their own material.

The song Smokin’ In the Boys Room was co-written by Mike Lutz and Cub Koda. It was initially released on the band’s 1973 album Yeah!  The tune describes a group of high school boys who are determined not to get caught while breaking the rules by smoking in school.

The song begins with an intro by lead vocalist Cub Koda. Koda addresses the listener and promises to share some of the wisdom he has absorbed from his time in school. “How you doin’ out there? Ya ever seem to have one of those days where it just seems like everybody’s gettin’ on your case? From your teacher all the way down to your best girlfriend? Well, ya know, I used to have ’em just about all the time. But I found a way to get out of ’em; let me tell you about it.”

Koda then launches into the song.

Sitting in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag
Listening to the teacher rap, just ain’t my bag.
The noon bell rings, you know that’s my cue
I’m gonna meet the boys on floor number two!

Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.

Checkin’ out the halls, makin’ sure the coast is clear
Lookin’ in the stalls, “No, there ain’t nobody here!”
My buddy Fang, and me and Paul
To get caught would surely be the death of us all.

Smokin’ In the Boys Room became one of the iconic ‘bad boy’ tunes. A salute to teenage anarchy — copping a smoke while holed up in a high school toilet — resonated with young men across the country. The irreverent attitude celebrated in Smokin’ In The Boys Room became an anthem for rebellious teenagers.

The song rose to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at the beginning of 1974, and it also hit #3 on the Canadian playlists. Smokin’ In The Boys Room went on to sell over two million records. The hit propelled Brownsville Station to stardom, and for a short while the boys cashed in on their newfound fame.

So here is Brownsville Station in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.

This took place on a Midnight Special broadcast; I believe that it aired in early 1974. Cub Koda rocks away on lead guitar and lead vocals. Koda is seen in his trademark gigantic round glasses, while he sports a shirt reminiscent of a Footlocker shoe store employee.  Meanwhile, Tony Driggins thumps away on the bass while drummer T.J. Cronley keeps time for the band.

Alas, Brownsville Station never really re-captured the magic of their one big hit. Although they placed seven songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles, no other single record scored in the top 20.

In 1977, the group released a song called The Martian Boogie. It was regularly played on “The Dr. Demento Show,” a weekly radio program that featured weird and unusual tunes (and was the show that first made Weird Al Yankovic famous). However, Martian Boogie stalled out at #59 on the Billboard pop charts.

The group issued their last album in 1978 and disbanded in 1979. After that, Cub Koda fronted a couple of other bands, but then became best known for his contributions to rock music history.

Koda had a famous collection of ‘roots’ rock music such as doo-wop, rockabilly and the blues. He was a regular contributor to the AllMusic Guide.
He also wrote a popular column (“The Vinyl Junkie”) for Goldmine magazine and co-authored the book Blues For Dummies. In addition, he hosted The Cub Koda Crazy Show for Massachusetts radio station WCGY during a period in the early 80s.

Cub Koda died of liver disease in July 2000; he was 51 years old. However, Koda’s outsize personality and ‘wild man’ image were inspirations to some later artists such as Alice Cooper, and Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band.

The Film Rock and Roll High School:

The 1979 movie Rock and Roll High School was produced by Roger Corman, the king of the low-budget film, and directed by Allen Arkush. Below left is a promotional poster for that movie.

Poster for Roger Corman’s 1979 film Rock and Roll High School.

The premise of the movie is that Vincent J. Lombardi High School keeps losing its school principals. The students in that school are obsessed with rock ‘n roll to the detriment of their academic performance; this causes one principal after another to suffer a nervous breakdown.

In this movie, Lombardi High student Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) is a fervent fan of The Ramones. Riff is ecstatic when she obtains a ticket to a Ramones concert, as she intends to present them with a song, Rock and Roll High School, that she has written for their band.

However, school principal Miss Togar (Mary Jane Woronov) throws a monkey wrench into Riff’s plans by confiscating her ticket. Next, Miss Togar convinces a group of parents to organize an event where rock records will be assembled and burned. The students protest by naming The Ramones as honorary students.

Eventually, the students take over the school but are evicted by the police. The film ends with the school blowing up.

Rock and Roll High School featured a number of hard-rock hits. Not surprisingly, most of the songs (11 in all) were by The Ramones. However, a number of ‘bad boy’ rock songs were also included, including Smokin’ In The Boys Room by Brownsville Station and School’s Out by Alice Cooper.

Interestingly, the first choices of the movie’s producers were Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren. However, both of these artists had schedule conflicts, so the Ramones got the part.

This movie was filmed at LA’s Mount Carmel High School, a school that had closed in 1976. One big advantage of utilizing an abandoned school was that the producers were able to film the actual demolition of the school, and work that into the script.

Apparently the blast was significantly stronger than had been anticipated. As a result, several people on the set were so frightened by the explosion that it took several days before they returned to work.

Here is the music video for Brownsville Station’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room.

Here, clips of Brownsville Station (I believe from the same Midnight Special performance we showed in the preceding section) are interspersed with shots of teenagers lighting up. In addition, there are a number of clips of apes smoking cigarettes.

Rock and Roll High School received generally positive reviews.  The film had an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and became one of Roger Corman’s cult classics. As a result, a sequel Rock and Roll High School Forever was filmed in 1991; and there are persistent rumors that shock-radio DJ Howard Stern’s company is planning yet another remake of the movie.

Motley Crue and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:

The heavy-metal band Motley Crue was formed in L.A. in 1981. Bassist Nikki Sixx assembled a quartet that included Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Vince Neil.

Here is a photo of Motley Crue from circa 1983. From L: lead guitarist Mick Mars; drummer Tommy Lee (back); rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Vince Neil; and bassist Nikki Sixx.

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Apparently Mick Mars was recruited to the band after the other members answered an advertisement he placed in the West Coast classifieds-only paper The Recycler that read: “Loud, rude and aggressive guitar player available”.

The band’s debut album did not sell particularly well. However, Motley Crue became notorious as a result of various incidents on a Canadian tour associated with that album. Several of those incidents were staged to provide publicity for the group – such as the confiscation of a trove of sex toys and pornographic magazines when the group passed through Canadian customs; a phony bomb threat that ended one of their concerts; and an incident where Tommy Lee threw a TV set off the top of their Edmonton hotel.

However, the group also experienced significant real-life drama. In 1984, Vince Neil was involved in a head-on car collision in which his passenger was killed. Neil eventually served 18 days in jail and was fined $2 million, for his conviction on both DUI and manslaughter charges. Motley Crue responded to the notoriety by issuing a box set titled Music To Crash Your Car To.

Then in 1987, Nikki Sixx was declared legally dead following a heroin overdose. However, a paramedic in the ambulance transporting Sixx revived him with two shots of adrenaline in his heart. Again, the group capitalized on the incident by writing a song titled Kickstart My Heart.

Motley Crue subsequently surged to the top of the heavy-metal charts. They embodied the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” lifestyle. They combined top-selling albums with prosperous tours, and remained in the public eye with their outrageous antics.

Apparently Motley Crue was accustomed to using the iconic Brownsville Station rocker  Smokin’ In The Boys Room when they carried out sound checks before a performance. They liked the song so much that they eventually decided to record it for one of their albums.

The song was included on the band’s 1985 album Theatre of Pain. Released as a single, the Motley Crue cover of Smokin’ In The Boys Room reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. It was the first top-40 pop hit for Motley Crue; the song subsequently became a popular tune in the band’s live concerts.

Here is Motley Crue in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.

This took place in Moscow’s Lenin Stadium. After starting off with a few F-bombs, Vince Neil reprises Cub Koda’s introduction to Smokin’ In The Boys Room before launching into the song.

Spectators at the packed stadium seemed delighted to experience Vince Neil’s vocals, backed by Mick Mars on guitar, Nikki Sixx on bass and Tommy Lee banging away on drums. I have to say that I am more impressed with the band’s energy than their musical talent.

This took place at the August 1989 two-day Moscow Music Peace Festival, a momentous and somewhat bizarre concert. As part of Mikhael Gorbachev’s perestroika policy, a few rock ‘n roll concerts were permitted in Russia shortly before the breach of the Berlin Wall.

Poster for the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival.

At left is a photo of a poster advertising the Moscow Music Peace Festival. This event was drenched in irony, as the Soviets had previously strongly condemned rock ‘n roll music as evidence of the decadence of the West. Of course, this only increased the demand in Russia for rock music.

But the idea of opening up the Iron Curtain to head-banging glam-rockers seemed rather outrageous, even in an era that occasionally permitted visits of rock musicians.

The Moscow Music Peace Festival was sponsored by the Make A Difference Foundation and its founder Doc McGhee, who also happened to be the manager for both Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. Those two acts were headliners in a group that also included Ozzy Osbourne and Scorpions.

One stated purpose of the concert was to combat alcohol and drug abuse. It therefore seemed paradoxical to include artists like Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne, who had a reputation as notorious abusers of drugs and alcohol. Cynics suggested that the anti-drug theme of the event, and even the creation of the Make A Difference Foundation, were merely efforts by Doc McGhee to minimize his sentence following a drug conviction.

In any case, the event drew enormous crowds, predominantly young males, to Lenin Stadium. Each of the headlining groups ran through a set of their biggest hits, and each day ended with an all-hands jam session.

As might be expected, there were also a number of disagreements among the groups. Perhaps the most bitter dispute was between Doc McGhee’s two bands Motley Crue and Bon Jovi.

The members of Motley Crue were angered by what they perceived as McGhee’s favoritism towards Bon Jovi. Part of this stemmed from the conviction by the Crue members (and the tour’s other glam-metal acts) that Bon Jovi was not an ‘authentic’ heavy-metal band, but more pop-oriented.

So the fact that Bon Jovi went on last, and their act featured pyrotechnics that had been forbidden to Motley Crue, became a source of considerable friction. Immediately following the tour, Motley Crue dropped McGhee as their manager.

Eventually, the years of drug and alcohol abuse caught up with Motley Crue.  With the exception of Mick Mars, all the band members landed in drug rehab (Mars sobered up on his own).

The last couple of decades have been marked by tension between various members of Motley Crue. Vince Neil was fired by the band in 1992, but returned in 1997. Tommy Lee quit the group at least twice, but then returned for reunions.

As far as I know, Motley Crue disbanded for good in 2015. However, over the course of its lifetime the band sold 100 million records. Only 25 million of those were in the U.S. and the rest of the sales were abroad, but their commercial success was striking.

To date, the band has been passed over for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Motley Crue were one of the best-known heavy-metal or glam-metal bands, and were (for good or ill) an inspiration for a gaggle of “big-hair” bands that followed them.

We will see whether Motley Crue makes the Rock Hall of Fame one day. If not, then “all that glitters …”

LeAnn Rimes and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:

LeAnn Rimes is a country singer who was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1982. Ms. Rimes started out as a child actor in musical theatre roles. At age eight, she appeared on Star Search where she was highly touted by Ed McMahon.

Ms. Rimes was then groomed by Dallas DJ and record promoter Bill Mack. She became a child star at the age of 13, when her debut album Blue reached #1 on the Top Country Albums charts.

Here is a photo of LeAnn Rimes performing while in her teens.

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In her debut, LeAnn was frequently compared to country legend Patsy Cline. This was in no small part because Bill Mack, the songwriter for Blue, claimed that he had originally written the song for Ms. Cline, but she died in a plane crash before recording it.

The album Blue made LeAnn Rimes an overnight sensation. In 1997 she became the youngest person ever to win Grammy Awards, for Best New Artist and Best Country Vocal Performance. In addition she was the first country performer to win the Best New Artist Grammy.

After a couple more country albums, LeAnn began issuing work that was more in the pop music or adult contemporary vein. While her shift in emphasis cost her some of her country music fans, she became exposed to a whole new audience, and her albums continued to sell like hotcakes.

Here is LeAnn Rimes in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.

This took place at a Pacific National Exposition concert in Vancouver in 2014. I really like Rimes’ take on this heavy-metal tune, which she first debuted on a Motley Crue tribute album. She gives it a very enjoyable R&B flavor, which she likens to a “strip-club sound.” The song features a couple of impressive slide-guitar solos.

I was not very familiar with Ms. Rimes prior to seeing this performance, but I am now a big fan. I can see why she was a teen-age sensation as a country singer.

In the past decade, LeAnn Rimes has produced most of her own music. She had a highly-publicized break with her father, who had produced her early records. Ms. Rimes also fought hard to gain control of record production decisions and ownership of her record catalog.

In recent years, Rimes has alternated between country music and adult contemporary, and has continued to find success in both ventures. In addition to Patsy Cline, her voice has been compared to country stars Brenda Lee and Tanya Tucker (Tucker was the only country star in living memory to achieve fame at a younger age than Ms. Rimes).

LeAnn Rimes continues to be nominated for Country Music Association awards, and she has recorded duets with heavy hitters such as Reba McIntyre and Kenny Chesney. Rimes has also written two novels and two children’s books.

In 2011 Ms. Rimes married Eddie Cibrian, an actor whom she met when the two of them were working together on a made-for-TV movie. Their relationship precipitated a rather messy divorce for Mr. Cibrian, but he and Rimes have been married for the past 7 years.

We wish LeAnn Rimes all success in her many ventures, musical and otherwise.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Smokin’ In The Boys Room
Wikipedia, Brownsville Station
Wikipedia, Rock and Roll High School
Wikipedia, Motley Crue
Wikipedia, Moscow Music Peace Festival
Wikipedia, LeAnn Rimes

Posted in Classic Rock, Heavy Metal, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Sweet It Is: Marvin Gaye; Jr Walker & the All Stars; James Taylor.

Hello there! This week we will discuss the song How Sweet It Is, a wonderful Motown soul song written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and originally performed by Marvin Gaye.

We will then review covers of this song by Jr Walker & the All-Stars and by James Taylor.

Marvin Gaye and How Sweet It Is:

Marvin Gaye is one of the greatest rock musicians of all time, and we have featured him in several earlier blog posts. We discussed his version of Heard It Through the Grapevine. We also discussed his performance of our national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. We reviewed What’s Going On, and we discussed his sexy soul tune Let’s Get It On.

So here we will briefly review Marvin Gaye’s life and career.

Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Gay, Jr. in 1939; he added an “e” to his name in the same way that Sam Cooke did. His early experience at Motown was as a session drummer, and his initial vocal singles bombed. However, he soon found commercial success and eventually became a real Motown powerhouse.

Marvin Gaye was fantastically talented. In addition to a three-octave vocal range, he also displayed amazing versatility. He could switch from baritone to tenor, adopt a raspy “tough man voice,” and even produce a lovely falsetto.

The photo below shows Marvin Gaye recording at Golden West studios in L.A. in 1973.

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What a great, great artist! From the mid to late 60s, Marvin collaborated in best-selling duets with several of the women at Motown. In particular, he had hits with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell and even a couple with Diana Ross.

His duets with Tammi Terrell were particularly successful, until Tammi collapsed into Marvin’s arms during a concert in 1967. Terrell was then diagnosed with a brain tumor, and died 30 months later at the age of 24.

The song How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) was written by the great Motown songwriting and producing trio of Lamont Dozier and the Holland brothers, Eddie and Brian. In the 60s they took Motown Records artists to unparalleled success, particularly with groups such as The Four Tops and The Supremes, for whom they were the primary songwriters.

Below is a photo of Holland-Dozier-Holland, from L: Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

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Eddie Holland had begun working with Berry Gordy even before the founding of Motown, and began his career as a solo artist. His brother Brian was the co-composer of the big girl-group hit Please Mr. Postman for The Marvelettes. And Lamont Dozier started out as a solo artist with the Anna label that was owned by Berry Gordy’s sister Anna Berry.

However, Eddie Holland suffered from severe stage fright that eventually caused him to retire from solo performances. And Holland-Dozier-Holland realized they had much more success when they wrote and produced tunes for other Motown artists.

At Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for an amazing 25 #1 hits. H-D-H wrote a number of songs for Marvin Gaye, including Can I Get A Witness in 1963 and Baby, Don’t You Do It and You’re A Wonderful One in 1964.

In the song How Sweet It Is, a man tries to express his gratitude to his lover for all of the things that she does for him and means to him.

Ooh, baby, I needed the shelter of someone’s arms
And there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs
And there you were

With sweet love and devotion
Deeply touching my emotion
I want to stop (stop) and thank you, baby
I just want to stop and thank you, baby, hey now

How sweet it is to be loved by you, oh, baby
How sweet it is to be loved by you, yes it is.

So here is Marvin Gaye in what I believe is a live performance of How Sweet It Is, in 1965.

It is possible that Marvin is simply lip-synching from the record here; although it certainly sounds live. However it really doesn’t matter, since there is no doubt that he could produce a perfect live version of this tune. Marvin Gaye was quite simply a stunning performer.

At that point in time, How Sweet It Is was Marvin’s most successful single. It reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on Billboard’s R&B Singles charts. Marvin is assisted by backup singers The Andantes, and by the terrific Motown house band The Funk Brothers.

Especially listen for the great “walking bass” lines from the incomparable James Jamerson. Jamerson, the Funk Brothers bassist, was a marvelous and creative bass player. His trademark bass lines form the backbone for many Motown hits.

After Tammi Terrell’s untimely death in 1970, Marvin was bereft. He took some time off in an attempt to get his bearings. This was a difficult period for Marvin. His marriage to Anna Gordy, Berry Gordy’s sister, collapsed, leading to an extremely messy divorce.

Gaye then experienced dire tax problems with the IRS. These were sufficiently severe that Marvin did not return to the U.S. following a European tour in 1980. In addition to his tax difficulties, he had repeating bouts of depression.

The depression may have been related to his serious cocaine addiction. Eventually, Marvin moved to Ostend, Belgium, where he finally sobered up. He then signed a new deal with Columbia Records before returning to the States.

In 1983 Marvin Gaye took part in the concert Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. This was a made-for-TV special taped in March, 1983 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

An extraordinary roster of Motown musicians was assembled for this event. However, it was not clear until the last minute whether Marvin Gaye would appear. But Marvin did show up, and gave an unforgettable performance of What’s Going On.

Following the Motown 25 show, Marvin embarked on an American tour; unfortunately, he became ill during the tour and suffered from paranoia that was triggered by cocaine. After the tour he moved to his parents’ house in L.A. to recuperate.

But on April 1, 1984, Marvin got into an argument with his father. His father grabbed a gun and shot him in the heart, and Marvin died one day before his 45th birthday.

What a tragic end to a brilliant career. Marvin Gaye was a tremendously versatile and creative singer, and left behind a stunning catalogue of work.

Jr Walker & the All-Stars and How Sweet It Is:

Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr was born in 1931 in Arkansas, although he grew up in South Bend, Indiana. He formed a band in South Bend in the 50s, while drummer Billy Nicks formed a competing band.

The two friends would sit in on each other’s gigs, and eventually they got together in an ensemble. They were inspired by early rockers such as Louis Jordan.

When Billy Nicks was drafted into the US Army, Mixon moved the group to Battle Creek, Michigan to continue with their band. In 1961, the band was signed to a contract by producer Harvey Fuqua. Fuqua recorded them on his Harvey label, and the group changed its name to the Jr Walker All Stars.

In 1964, Berry Gordy’s Motown Records took over Fuqua’s enterprise. Gordy re-named the group Jr Walker & the All Stars and signed them to his Soul Records label. Below is a photo of the band from 1965. From L: Victor Thomas, keyboards; Junior Walker, saxophone and vocals; Willie Woods, guitar; James Graves, drums.

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Junior Walker and the All-Stars had their first and biggest Motown hit in 1965 with Shotgun. That song reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B charts. The tune was written by Junior Walker and produced by Berry Gordy.

Walker followed this up with other hits such as (I’m A) Road Runner. At this point he became one of the premier Motown groups. His unique high-voltage sax solos were instantly recognizable.

Here is Jr Walker and the All-Stars performing How Sweet It Is at London’s Ram Jam Club.

I have two comments regarding the taping of this performance. First, we are grateful to French TV for appreciating the significance of groups like Junior Walker, and for taping his show for posterity.

Second, to the French DJ who insists on talking over Jr Walker’s performance – please, shut the f*** up!! It is unbelievably irritating to hear a DJ ruin a rock ‘n roll performance, assuming that his own inane comments are more interesting than the music.

Anyway, it is great to see Jr Walker’s performance of How Sweet It Is. First off, Walker is as rough as Marvin Gaye was smooth. The gap-toothed Walker, who strongly resembles former NFL player and TV host Michael Strahan, provides his gritty vocals and gives the song an entirely different feel from the Marvin Gaye original. However, the tune is still highly enjoyable.

The other feature is Junior Walker’s terrific saxophone work. Walker invariably gave power-packed performances with a highly competent rock band. I especially appreciate the drummer, who keeps the song humming along. This live footage has great historic interest.

Junior Walker continued to have Motown hits for several years. In 1969, he had a top-5 hit with What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)? This was somewhat of a surprise as it featured Walker’s singing more than his sax playing. Walker continued with a number of songs that landed in the R&B Top Ten, but did not have the same success on the pop charts.

In 1979, Junior Walker disbanded his All Stars and went solo. He then signed with the Whitfield Records label (named for president Norman Whitfield, who for many years was one of Motown’s top producers).

In 1995, Junior Walker was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Later that year, Walker died of cancer. In 2002, Junior Walker’s song Shotgun was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

And now please allow me to rant for a few moments. In the previous section I mentioned the 1983 gala Motown 25: Yesterday; Today; Forever. Produced by Suzanne de Passe, it was a star-studded celebration of the great music produced by Motown Records.

Motown 25 assembled some dynamite groups: a long-awaited reunion of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles; a “battle of the bands” between the Temptations and Four Tops; some great songs by Stevie Wonder; a triumphant performance from Marvin Gaye.

Diana Ross re-united with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong of The Supremes (although this did not go smoothly). And Michael Jackson not only re-united with his Jackson 5 brothers, but during his performance of Billie Jean, he  introduced his signature “moonwalk.”

However, there were also some jarring omissions and tone-deaf moments. First, it was disgraceful that the concert took place in Pasadena instead of Detroit (why didn’t Motown Records have the decency to change their name when they abandoned the Motor City??).

Berry Gordy treated the fabulous house band The Funk Brothers shabbily, leaving them behind without a word when he decamped for LA. Apparently the great Funk Brothers bassist James Jamerson had to purchase his own ticket to Motown 25 (from a scalper, where he sat at the back of the auditorium, un-credited!). Then when a panel (including Gordy) discussed the “Motown Sound,” they managed to avoid ever mentioning the Funk Brothers!

Finally (and back to Junior Walker – there was a point to this rant), there were egregious omissions and snubs. Some of Motown’s most notable artists, including Mary Wells, Martha Reeves and Junior Walker, were allotted 30-second spots on the show (!) On the other hand, 3rd-rate current Motown acts such as Debarge and High Inergy were spotlighted. And no-talent hacks like Adam Ant (who didn’t even record for Motown!) were featured.

How sad that Junior Walker did not get the recognition he so richly deserved at Motown 25. However, Walker did better than the following artists, who were never even mentioned on this show: The Marvelettes; The Contours; Kim Weston; Jimmy Ruffin; Edwin Starr; Gladys Knight and the Pips; and the Isley Brothers!

Oh well, Junior Walker was a terrific talent. His band invariably brought high energy and a raw excitement to his Motown Records releases.

James Taylor and How Sweet It Is:

James Taylor was born in 1948.  He was the second of five children to Isaac Taylor, a physician who became the dean of the medical school at the University of North Carolina, and Gertrude Woodard Taylor, an aspiring opera singer before she married and settled down with Isaac.

The family moved to Chapel Hill, NC when James was three. Taylor has fond memories of his family’s home in the country outside Chapel Hill. In addition, the family spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard.

On Martha’s Vineyard, Taylor met a young musician named Danny Kortchmar, and the two compared guitar styles. When James was 15, he and Danny were playing folk and blues in the summer at MV coffee houses.

In his senior year of high school, James became seriously depressed. He committed himself to a hospital where he received round-the-clock medical care and was treated with Thorazine.

In 1966, Taylor and Kortchmar recruited some of their friends to form a band called Flying Machine. They played coffee houses in Greenwich Village, and the group achieved some regional fame; unfortunately, James also developed a nasty heroin addiction. This was further complicated by James’ recurring psychological issues, and it would be decades before Taylor could kick his habit.

In the late 60s, I was a graduate student at Oxford University. Brian, one of my fellow grad students, had a friend whose father worked at Apple Records. Every now and then Brian would get copies of Apple Records albums before they were released. One of our guilty pleasures was listening to the records before the general public heard them.

In fall 1968, Brian brought over two albums. One was by Marianne Faithful, and was very disappointing. But the second was an album from an American artist we had never heard of. It seemed really promising, and we played it constantly.

As it happens, this was James Taylor’s debut album. Below is a photo of James Taylor in 1968; a cropped version was used as the cover photo for his first album.

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Taylor’s friend Danny Kortchmar had introduced James to Peter Asher, one half of the folk-pop duo Peter and Gordon. Asher had taken up producing and had been named head of A&R for Apple Records. So James Taylor became the first non-British act signed by Apple Records, and they released his debut album in Dec. 1968 in Britain and in early 1969 in the U.S.

One of Taylor’s really great songs on that album, Carolina On My Mind, reflected Taylor’s homesickness for his Chapel Hill hometown while he was living abroad in London. Taylor assembled an impressive backing band for his album – including Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison on backing vocals!

Carolina On My Mind was released as a single. Strangely enough, for a song that has become an iconic favorite over the years, that song stalled out at #118 on the Billboard pop charts. Shortly after the album was released, James resumed his drug habit and was hospitalized once again. It is possible that his inability to go on tour during this period contributed to the poor performance of his first album.

However, in 1970 Taylor released his second album, Sweet Baby James, and this became a blockbuster. The title song and his confessional masterpiece Fire and Rain both became breakout hits. Sweet Baby James is currently listed as #103 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

So here is James Taylor in a live performance of How Sweet It Is. This cover of the Marvin Gaye tune was featured on Taylor’s 1975 hit album Gorilla.

Here James is backed by his long-time band, including Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar on guitar, Lee Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, Dan Grolnick on keyboards and David Sanborn on sax.

I really like James Taylor’s cover of How Sweet It Is. It expresses the delight of the original and is a ‘feel-good’ song that is a highly popular staple at Taylor’s live concerts.

Of course, James Taylor is not Marvin Gaye and Taylor’s version is more ‘soft-rock’ than R&B, facts that offend some pop music critics. For example, Robert Christgau complained that Taylor’s cover constituted a “desecration of Marvin Gaye.”

Jeez, Robert, lighten up! This is an upbeat and bubbly expression of joyous love; it is believed Taylor intended it as a tribute to his then-wife Carly Simon. I personally enjoy both versions of How Sweet It Is, and I don’t feel that James Taylor’s version detracts from the Marvin Gaye original in any way.

Well, since he hit the big time James Taylor has become one of the most popular “soft-rock” singer-songwriters. His vocal work is very expressive, and (despite what Robert Christgau says) he gives impressive and creative renditions of both original songs and covers.

James Taylor is also a terrific guitarist. His acoustic guitar work is both technically proficient and sublime. JT’s 1976 Greatest Hits album has sold over 20 million copies, and overall Taylor has sold about 100 million records.

From 1973 to 1982, Taylor was married to fellow singer Carly Simon. The two frequently contributed to each other’s records. Since 2001, James has been married to Kim Smedvig, who was previously the director of marketing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

We are happy to report that James Taylor successfully kicked his heroin addiction and now appears to be healthy again. JT has won a slew of Grammy Awards, was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and received Kennedy Center Honors in 2016.

We wish JT all happiness and success, and we endorse the advice from one of his signature songs, “shower the people you love with love.”

Source Material:

Wikipedia, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
Wikipedia,  Marvin Gaye
Wikipedia, Holland-Dozier-Holland
Wikipedia, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever
Wikipedia, Junior Walker
Wikipedia, James Taylor

Posted in Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Soul music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Moon: Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart (Manhattan Melodrama); The Marcels; Rod Stewart

Hello there! This is another entry in our continuing series, Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies. This week’s entry is Blue Moon. This was initially a popular tune from the 30s, composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Lorenz Hart.

The song had a fascinating history, which we will review. We will then show a clip from the movie Manhattan Melodrama where Shirley Ross performs a song with the tune of Blue Moon, but different lyrics.

We will then review a cover of Blue Moon popularized by the doo-wop group The Marcels; and finally, we will discuss a “retro” version of the song performed by Rod Stewart.

Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and The History of Blue Moon:

The “Great American Songbook” actually refers to a number of different books that contain lists of important pop and jazz songs from the 20th century.

Regardless of who publishes such lists, Richard Rodgers will be prominently featured in every songbook, and generally with two different lyricists. His first long collaboration was with Lorenz Hart, and his second was with Oscar Hammerstein.

The photo below shows lyricist Lorenz Hart (L) and composer Richard Rodgers.

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Richard Rodgers was born in 1902 and began composing while an undergraduate at Columbia. He joined forces with fellow Columbia undergrad Lorenz Hart, and the two of them began writing songs for musical revues (what we now know as the “Broadway musical” was, to a considerable degree,  defined by Rodgers himself over the years).

The first couple of Rodgers-Hart attempts were sufficiently unsuccessful that Rodgers seriously considered retiring as a composer, and making a living selling children’s underwear. However, Rodgers and Hart hit it big with a 1925 Theater Guild benefit show called The Garrick Gaieties, and after that first success they never looked back.

In 1933, Rodgers and Hart were signed to a film contract by MGM Studios. Their first assignment was to write a series of songs for an MGM musical spectacular to be called Hollywood Party. That movie was never produced, so a Rodgers & Hart song titled “Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)” and intended for Jean Harlow was registered for copyright as MGM Song#225, an unpublished work.

Here are the lyrics to Song #225. To the best of my knowledge, the song was never recorded, but the tune is that of Blue Moon.

Oh, Lord,
If you ain’t busy up there
I ask your help with a prayer
So please don’t give me the air.

Oh, hear me, Lord,
I wanta see Garbo in person
With Gable when they’re rehearsin’
While some director is cursin’.

I wanta open up my eyes at seven
And find I’m standin’ in the Golden Gate
And walkin’ right into my movie heaven
While some executive tells me I’ll be great.

Rodgers and Hart were then assigned to work on a film called Manhattan Melodrama. Since Rodgers was extremely fond of the tune to Song#225, Hart re-wrote the lyrics for a song called “It’s Just That Kind of Play.” That song was cut from the picture, but here are the lyrics (again to the tune of Blue Moon).

Act One:
You gulp your coffee and run;
Into the subway you crowd.
Don’t breathe-it isn’t allowed.

Act Two:
The boss is yelling at you;
You feel so frightened and cowed.
Don’t breathe-it isn’t allowed.

The rows of skyscrapers are like a canyon,
The sun is hidden ‘neath a stony shroud,
Eight million people and not one companion:
Don’t speak to anyone-it’s not allowed.

However, MGM included a nightclub scene in Manhattan Melodrama, so Hart re-worked the lyrics for yet a third time to produce a song called The Bad In Every Man. In the movie that tune is sung by Shirley Ross. We will feature that song and its lyrics in the next section of this post.

Following that movie, Lorenz Hart was pressured to re-write the lyrics one final time.
After the film [Manhattan Melodrama] was released by MGM, Jack Robbins—the head of the studio’s publishing company —decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title.

Not surprisingly, Lorenz Hart was reluctant – after all, he had already written three different lyrics to the same song! However, Robbins promised to provide a publicity blitz if Rodgers and Hart came up with the right set of lyrics.

With his arm twisted, Hart came up with the final version, for a song titled  Blue Moon.

Blue moon
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own.

Blue moon
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for.

And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will ever hold
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked the moon had turned to gold.

It is quite amazing that Blue Moon, one of the greatest popular songs of the 20th century, became a beloved classic only on the fourth attempt!

Let’s face it, the lyrics to the first two versions stink. Once we get to The Bad In Every Man, the lyrics to are strictly OK – but in Blue Moon they are truly inspired and timeless.

Jack Robbins made good on his promise. He licensed Blue Moon to a radio show, Hollywood Hotel, and they used it as their theme song. And the song Blue Moon subsequently appeared in at least seven MGM movies.

In 1949, two different versions of Blue Moon made the pop charts. The first version was by Billy Eckstine and the second by Mel Torme. Elvis recorded Blue Moon in 1956, and Frank Sinatra recorded a classic cover in 1961 with backing from the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. However, in this post we will discuss covers by The Marcels and by Rod Stewart.

The Movie Manhattan Melodrama:

Manhattan Melodrama was a 1934 movie that was produced by MGM Studios, directed by W.S. Van Dyke, and starred Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The story centers around two boys named Blackie Gallagher (Gable) and Jim Wade (Powell) – the young boys are portrayed by child actors, one of whom is Mickey Rooney. At the beginning of the film, the boys are orphaned when a ship sinks in the East River and their parents drown.

The boys are saved by a priest, Father Joe, and they are raised by a man whose son drowned in the same ship disaster. Jim is a top student, earns a law degree and is eventually elected DA. Blackie chooses a very different path, and becomes the owner of a prosperous illegal casino.

Blackie’s girlfriend Eleanor (Loy) pleads with him in vain to give up his dangerous and illegal lifestyle. She eventually leaves him after he refuses to reform.

Here is a film clip from Manhattan Melodrama. It begins with a brief scene where Jim and Eleanor are chatting in a taxi, on their way to a Harlem nightclub. At this time, Eleanor is still Blackie’s girl. Jim and Eleanor continue to talk at the nightclub, while the singer (Shirley Ross, made up to look as though she is African-American) sings The Bad In Every Man.

In this song, Ms. Ross bemoans the fact that she is constantly falling for men, only to discover that each lover has defects that prove fatal to a permanent relationship.

Oh, Lord, what is the matter with me
I’m just permitted to see
The bad in every man.

Oh, hear me, Lord, I could be good to a lover
But then I always discover
The bad in every man.

They like to tell you that they love you only
And you believe it, so you’ll know you’re wrong
A little hall room can be awfully lonely
And the night can be so very long.

As you can see, this is the distinctive melody of Blue Moon, but the lyrics are completely different.

Some time later, Eleanor and Jim begin a relationship and get married. In the meantime, Blackie has killed a gambler, Manny Arnold, who owes him money. Although Jim suspects Blackie for the crime, it goes unsolved.

Later, Jim runs for governor. However, Snow, one of Jim’s former assistants threatens to claim (falsely) that Jim had covered up Blackie’s murder of Arnold. Upon encountering Blackie, Eleanor reveals that Jim is being blackmailed. Blackie then kills Snow in an attempt to assist Eleanor and Jim.

However, a witness identifies Blackie. Jim has no recourse but to try Blackie for the murder. Blackie is convicted and sentenced to death. Eleanor pleads with Jim to commute Blackie’s sentence, but he refuses, so she leaves Jim.

Jim finally decides that he will get Blackie’s sentence commuted. He rushes to Sing Sing prison where Blackie is scheduled for execution. There Jim meets Blackie and the prison chaplain, who by amazing coincidence is Father Joe. Jim offers to commute Blackie’s sentence, but Blackie refuses and Father Joe escorts him to the electric chair.

Jim then calls a special session of the state legislature, where he admits that Blackie’s murder of Snow helped him get elected governor. He also reveals he tried to commute Blackie’s sentence, and he resigns as governor. When Jim leaves the session, Eleanor is waiting for him and the couple re-unite.

Manhattan Melodrama had a fascinating history. First off, it was not expected to be a hit – it was written and filmed quickly and cheaply. After the film became a surprise blockbuster, William Powell and Myrna Loy were teamed up in 14 subsequent films.

The best-known of the Powell-Loy movies was the wildly successful “Nick and Nora” series. Nick and Nora Charles were fictional characters created by author Dashiell Hammett for his 1934 novel The Thin Man.

Powell and Loy played Nick and Nora, a married couple who solve crimes in their spare time while exchanging witty banter and constantly mixing and drinking alcohol. Some of their snappy repartee is also featured in Manhattan Melodrama.

Most-wanted criminal John Dillinger was watching Manhattan Melodrama at Chicago’s Biograph Theater when federal agents were tipped off that he was at the movie. When Dillinger left the theater he was gunned down by FBI agents. MGM used the notoriety of Dillinger and his death to hype their film, much to the dismay of some of the cast.

The Marcels and Blue Moon:

“Bomp ba ba bomp ba bomp ba bomp bomp, bomp ba ba bomp ba bomp ba bomp bomp, ve-dang a-dang dang, va-ding a-dong ding Blue Moon.” For anyone who has heard Fred Johnson’s bass intro to the Marcels’ cover of the Rodgers & Hart song Blue Moon, the song will never again be the same.

The Marcels were a doo-wop quintet that formed in Pittsburgh, home of many of the early doo-wop groups. Their name was a reference to the “marcel wave,” a hair style popular at the time.

Here is a photo of The Marcels taken in 1961.

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In addition to Fred Johnson on bass, the group included lead singer Cornelius Harp, Gene Bricker, Ron Mundy and Richard Knauss. The group recorded Blue Moon in 1961 when they needed three songs to finish taping an album.

The “bomp ba ba bomp …” bass intro was taken from a song that The Marcels were already using in their act. Apparently their version of Blue Moon was recorded in two takes.

A tape of the recording was given to New York pop DJ “Murray the K” Kaufman. Murray played it repeatedly on his influential show on New York’s WINS radio.

The Marcels’ Blue Moon became a smash hit. It raced up to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and also claimed the top spot on the U.K. Singles chart. Here is the audio of Blue Moon by the Marcels.

What a great doo-wop song! Fred Johnson’s booming bass solo grabs you, and the song then segues to Cornelius Harp’s lovely lead vocals. The song has an infectious beat and impressive harmonies from the rest of the Marcels. In addition, it also features a standard doo-wop falsetto ending.

All in all, The Marcels’ Blue Moon became a rock ‘n roll classic. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose it as one of their 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n Roll. I agree – and it claims a place as one of my top five “singing in the shower” songs.

One person who was NOT a fan of this cover of a popular classic was the composer, Richard Rodgers. Rodgers so disliked the Marcels’ doo-wop treatment of his melody that he took out advertisements in trade publications, urging people not to purchase the record!

Well, The Marcels were sort of “two-hit wonders.” They had one more top 40 hit, a song called Heartaches that eventually sold more than one million records.

As you can see from their photo above, The Marcels were a biracial group. Unfortunately, the group encountered significant hostility while touring in the Deep South because they had both black and white singers. At that time, the ensemble’s two white members Gene Bricker and Richard Knauss quit the group.

The Marcels then experienced a number of personnel changes. However, in 1999 all of the surviving members re-formed for the PBS Special Doo-Wop 50 (Gene Bricker had passed away in 1983).

So here are the Marcels in a live performance of Blue Moon at the 1999 concert Doo-Wop 50.

For a bunch of old performers, these guys can still bring it! Fred Johnson continues to belt out the iconic bass lines, while Cornelius Harp’s lead vocals are impressive.

The Marcels are clearly a big hit with the crowd, and it was nice to see that they were able to re-unite all of the surviving members. A perfect song to commemorate the 50th anniversary of doo-wop music!

Rod Stewart and Blue Moon:

We discussed Rod Stewart in an earlier blog post on Tim Hardin’s song Reason To Believe. So here we will briefly review Rod Stewart’s life and career.

Rod Stewart was born in 1945 in North London. His father was Scottish, and Rod’s first passion was for Scottish football (or “soccer” as we know it). Stewart was apparently fairly talented as a soccer player, and earned a tryout with a third-division English FC team.  Rod did not make the soccer team.

Like so many British Invasion artists, he was inspired by British skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan. Stewart then switched his affiliation to rock ‘n roll, after hearing recordings by Little Richard. His trademark raspy, gravelly vocals owe much to the influence of Little Richard.

In the early 60s, Stewart began performing as a vocalist and harmonica player. However, significant fame eluded Rod until 1967, when he became the lead vocalist for the Jeff Beck Group. At this time he also began writing his own songs.

Stewart’s unique vocal style gained him quite a following in Britain’s blues and soul circuit. A 1968 appearance at the Fillmore East auditorium brought him critical acclaim in the U.S. as well.

At this point, Rod met up with bass player and guitarist Ron Wood. They began an long and fruitful collaboration, and Ronnie Wood was closely connected with Stewart’s rise to fame. Below is a photo of Rod Stewart and his mate Ron Wood (L) .

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Stewart subsequently left the Jeff Beck Group and became the lead vocalist with The Faces, along with Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones. At the same time, Stewart began to issue solo albums backed by his own group of musicians.

Stewart’s big breakthrough came in 1971, when he released a cut from his first solo album Every Picture Tells a Story. However, the “B” side of that record, Maggie May, became a surprise boffo hit, rising all the way to #1 on both the US and UK pop charts.

Through the 70s Rod continued to produce a string of hits, some through his solo efforts and others with the Faces. His unique rough vocal style was effective over a wide range of tunes — blues-based songs, R&B, folk-rock efforts and the occasional ballad.

I was a big fan in the early days, but I jumped off the Rod Stewart bandwagon in the late 70s when he began dressing in spandex and singing disco songs – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and Hot Legs, ugh! More recently, Rod Stewart has reached back to favorites from his childhood, songs from the Great American Songbook.

Here is a video of Rod in a live performance of Blue Moon. This is from his One Night Only! Rod Stewart concert in Royal Albert Hall in October, 2004. In this concert Rod presented a retrospective, ranging from his first hit Maggie May up to his most recent songs.

Stewart’s performance of Blue Moon includes an introductory verse. In the 30s it was common to include such verses at the beginning of a song. As it happens, few people nowadays include this beginning verse to Blue Moon, which goes:

Once upon a time before I took up smiling
I hated the moonlight
Shadows of the night that poets find beguiling
Seemed flat as the noonlight
With no one to stay up for I went to sleep at ten
Life was a bitter cup for the saddest of all men

On this occasion, Rod is backed by a full orchestra. The audience was very appreciative of every song that he performed at this concert.

Rod Stewart’s distinctive vocals are not quite as raspy as in his youth. This is partly because of his new affinity for older pop tunes, and in part because Rod had to re-learn how to sing after operations for thyroid cancer in 2000.

Although I’m not into Rod Stewart’s “disco” phase, it’s hard to argue with the career choices of a man who has sold upwards of 100 million records. Rod Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Rod has led a very colorful life. In addition to his well-publicized love of soccer and his affinity for model trains, Stewart was nearly always in the company of actresses or other beauties. An affair with Swedish actress Britt Eckland in the mid-70s was followed by marriage to George Hamilton’s ex-wife Alana Hamilton.

While still married to Alana, Rod commenced a several-year affair with American model Kelly Emberg. Then in 1990 Stewart married super-model Rachel Hunter. Ms. Hunter, who was 24 years younger than Stewart, dumped him in 1999. For the past 11 years Stewart has been married to English model Penny Lancaster. Rod has fathered eight children (that we know about), by five different mothers.

Although Sir Roderick is apparently one of the wealthiest British musicians, it is alleged that he never carries cash and does not tip at restaurants.  Just why was he awarded that CBE, anyway?

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Blue Moon (1934 song)
Wikipedia, Richard Rodgers
Wikipedia, Manhattan Melodrama
Wikipedia, The Marcels
Wikipedia, Rod Stewart

Posted in Doo-Wop, Pop Music, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lido Shuffle: Boz Scaggs; Dukes of September; Live From Ventura Boulevard

Hello there! This week’s entry is Lido Shuffle, an R&B song from the late 70s. We will begin with the original by Boz Scaggs. We will then discuss covers by The Dukes of September and by a ‘tribute band’ called Live From Ventura Boulevard.

By the way, this blog post is dedicated to my sister Betty and her friend Michelle from Denver.  My understanding is that Boz Scaggs is their all-time favorite artist.

Boz Scaggs and Lido Shuffle:

William Royce Scaggs was born in 1944 in Canton, Ohio. His parents subsequently moved to Plano, Texas, and young Mr. Scaggs enrolled in St. Mark’s School, a private school in Dallas.

One of Scaggs’ classmates at St. Mark’s was Steve Miller. Miller, who would become famous as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, founded a band at St. Mark’s that featured Scaggs as lead vocalist. It was also at St. Mark’s that Scaggs was given the nickname “Bosley,” which was later shortened to “Boz.”

Both Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where once again they played together in various blues bands.

After graduating from college, Boz Scaggs headed to London and a musical career. He released an album that sank without a trace. So in 1967, Boz headed back to the States, his destination the West Coast. He arrived in San Francisco just when the Summer of Love was in full swing.

And once again, Boz Scaggs joined up with Steve Miller. Scaggs played guitar and sang on the first two albums released by the Steve Miller Band. Below is a photo of Boz Scaggs circa 1970.

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Boz then set sail on a solo career. He garnered a record deal with Atlantic Records and released a self-titled album in 1968. The album included backup by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and featured contributions from a then-obscure session guitarist named Duane Allman. However, the album did not sell particularly well, despite the impressive musical talent involved.

Eventually, Boz Scaggs signed with Columbia Records, and his fortunes took a turn for the better. He received some favorable reviews and his record sales improved.

The song Lido Shuffle was co-written by Boz Scaggs and his keyboardist David Paich. The tune appeared on the Boz Scaggs album Silk Degrees. That album was released in 1976, and the single Lido Shuffle was issued the following year.

The lyrics to Lido Shuffle describe a man who is traveling around and gambling.

Lido missed the boat that day
He left the shack
But that was all he missed
And he ain’t comin back.

At a tombstone bar
In a jukejoint car
He made a stop
Just long enough
To grab a handle off the top.

Next stop Chi town
Lido put the money down let em roll
He said one more job ought to get it
One last shot ‘fore we quit it
One for the road.

There seems to be some controversy regarding the precise meaning of the lyrics. My take is that Lido was a small-time criminal who kept gambling away his money. My interpretation is based on the assumption that the phrase “grab a handle off the top” at “a tombstone bar” refers to his robbing an establishment.

Lido gambles away his ill-gotten gains in Chicago, and then plans to rob one additional place before retiring (“one more job ought to get it”). However, I note that others interpret the lyrics as simply referring to a man who travels, gambles and generally has a good time.

Regardless of one’s interpretation, Lido Shuffle bounces along merrily, and is a great sing-along tune. The instrumental work is excellent, and the song features a full horn section. Lido Shuffle made it to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop songs in the U.S., and reached #13 on the U.K. singles charts.

Silk Degrees was Boz Scaggs’ most successful record. In addition to Lido Shuffle, that album also contained Scaggs’ biggest single hit, Lowdown. But when Silk Degrees was first released in 1976 it appeared to be a commercial disappointment, and the first single from the album did not chart well.

However, a DJ in Cleveland began playing the song Lowdown from the album. That song generated a lot of interest, so it was eventually released as a single and became a million-seller.  Scaggs and David Paich, his co-writer on Lowdown, were quite surprised by the success of that song, as they were convinced that it would never appeal to a wide audience.  Once Lowdown became a hit, Lido Shuffle was then released as a single.

Members of Boz Scaggs’ band on Silk Degrees included Scaggs’ songwriting collaborator David Paich, drummer Jeff Porcaro and bassist David Hungate. Those three, who had worked as session musicians for groups such as Steely Dan and Sonny & Cher, then joined forces with other musicians (particularly some of their old high school classmates) to form Toto. That band had a number of pop hits in the late 70s and early 80s.

So here is Boz Scaggs in a live performance of Lido Shuffle. This took place at a concert in 2004.

The song begins with over a minute of instrumental intro, after which Scaggs gives us a fine rendering of his hit. He is backed by a capable band complete with a horn section and backup singers. The audience gives him an enthusiastic reception.

After releasing an album in 1981, Scaggs took several years off from recording. From 1989 to 1992, Boz became a member of the New York Rock and Soul Revue. Some of his bandmates in that organization were Donald Fagen, formerly with Steely Dan, and Michael McDonald who had been with The Doobie Brothers.

The New York Rock and Soul Revue released a live album of material they had performed at New York’s Beacon Theater. That group subsequently disbanded, but in 2010 Fagen, Scaggs and McDonald re-formed as The Dukes of September.  We will review that group in the next section of this post.

Currently, Boz Scaggs and his wife Dominique own a winery in the Napa Valley. They appear to be spending quite a lot of their time and effort in the viniculture business.

However, Boz Scaggs also continues to tour. I note that on July 13, 2018 he will be appearing at Wrigley Field in Chicago, together with Jimmy Buffett, where apparently “Lido” will shuffle off to “Margaritaville.” I’ll drink to that!

Dukes of September and Lido Shuffle:

As we mentioned in the preceding section, The Dukes of September were a supergroup that formed in 2010. The band included Boz Scaggs and two members of earlier 70s bands, Donald Fagen from Steely Dan and Michael McDonald from The Doobie Brothers.

McDonald and Fagen had worked together off and on since the 70s. Back then McDonald frequently collaborated with Steely Dan, providing keyboards and vocals for some of their albums.  As previously mentioned, all three had performed in the 90s with the New York Rock and Soul Revue.

Below is a photo of the Dukes of September in concert. Far left, at keyboards: Michael McDonald; right center, at piano: Donald Fagen; far right, on guitar: Boz Scaggs.

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That group toured for a couple of years, and in Nov. 2012 they recorded a Great Performances special live concert that was released in 2014 by PBS.

The Dukes of September performed mainly covers of 70s and 80s pop songs, and in concert each of the three superstars reprised some of their most popular tunes.

So, for example Dukes of September offerings included Reelin’ In the Years and Hey Nineteen from Steely Dan, Takin’ It To the Streets and What a Fool Believes from The Doobie Brothers, and Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown.

So here are the Dukes of September in a live performance of Lido Shuffle.

Not surprisingly, the Lido Shuffle produced by the Dukes of September is remarkably reminiscent of Boz Scaggs’ original offering. However, it remains a really enjoyable and catchy blues shuffle.

Live From Ventura Boulevard and Lido Shuffle:

Apparently, Live From Ventura Boulevard are a “tribute band.” This generally refers to an ensemble that specializes in covering the music of a particular group.

For me, Elvis impersonators would constitute the original “tribute act.” Wikipedia lists 22 performers around the world who dress up like Elvis and imitate his songs.

Others credit The Beatles as being the inspiration for tribute bands. When I looked up “Beatles tribute bands” on the Web, I was led to a list of 21 such groups.

When I looked up “Tribute act” on Wikipedia, I found that many of the tribute bands appeared to focus on groups from the 70s, particularly “classic rock” acts. Thus, bands with a significant ‘tribute presence’ include
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Journey, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Styx, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Madonna, The Misfits, Queen, Alice in Chains, Grateful Dead, Van Halen, ABBA, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Cars, R.E.M., Rammstein, Neil Diamond, and Steely Dan.

Now, Live From Ventura Boulevard are somewhat different, in that they focus on the music of an entire era – specifically late 70s power pop — rather than a single band. On their Web site they list bands whose music they cover:
Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, The Doobie Brothers, Little River Band, Ambrosia, The Eagles, America, Pablo Cruise, Gino Vannelli, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, Player, The Bee Gees.

As far as I can tell, Live From Ventura Boulevard must be centered somewhere around Nashville, TN, as several of their upcoming shows take place in the Music City.

To the best of my knowledge, this band has not released an album, and I was unable to locate a photo of the entire band. But here is the group Live From Ventura Boulevard in a performance of Boz Scaggs’ Lido Shuffle.

So, what do you think? If I am correct, that is Scott Sheriff on lead vocals. The group seems to be quite professional, and their cover of Lido Shuffle is well received by the audience.

Now, in many cases a tribute band is trying to give a performance that is a very close simulation of the original record. And in this case Live From Ventura Boulevard does just that.

Of course, there are exceptions to the norm of producing a near-perfect copy of the original band. There exist several all-girl tribute bands (e.g., AC/DShe, Aerochix, Iron Maidens, Lez Zeppelin); and the group Hayseed Dixie, whom we covered in an earlier blog post, creates country-music interpretations of songs by the heavy-metal group AC/DC.

The relationships between tribute bands and the original groups are rather interesting. In a few cases, members from the original group have a friendly relationship with one of their tribute acts.  In fact, members of the original group occasionally sit in with tribute bands.  Examples would be Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose members sometimes play with their tribute group, The Saturday Night Special Band; and Deep Purple, whose drummer has played with tribute band Purpendicular.

Conversely, Bon Jovi took the opposite approach and sued the all-female tribute group Blonde Jovi for copyright infringement. And Sony Music Entertainment filed a lawsuit against the group Beatallica (who play Beatles tunes in the style of Metallica); but Beatallica won the lawsuit and continue to perform.

If you are interested in this general topic, in 2013 the cable network AXS-TV produced a series called The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.

My guess is that with a few exceptions, a tribute band is probably a tough way to make a living. I am not really into tribute bands, but am happy to hear from people who are big fans of a particular tribute act.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Lido Shuffle
Wikipedia, Boz Scaggs
Wikipedia, The Dukes of September
Live From Ventura Boulevard Web site
Wikipedia, Tribute act

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Can’t Find My Way Home: Blind Faith; Joe Cocker; John Mayer.

Hello there! This week’s entry is Can’t Find My Way Home, a terrific British Invasion blues song from the late 60s. We will begin with the original by Blind Faith. We will then discuss covers by Joe Cocker and by John Mayer.

Blind Faith and Can’t Find My Way Home:

We reviewed the British rock group Blind Faith in an earlier blog post on the Stones’ song Under My Thumb.

We have covered Blind Faith members Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton from their work with other groups. We reviewed Winwood’s early work with the Spencer Davis Group on our discussion of their song Gimme Some Lovin’, and also Winwood’s work with Traffic on the song Feelin’ Alright?

Eric Clapton has been one of our favorite rock musicians. We covered his work with Cream on the song Crossroads, his stint with Derek and the Dominoes with Layla, and solo efforts on iconic blues tunes such as Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain and later Sweet Home Chicago, and the tune Willie and the Hand Jive.

So here we will give a brief history of the short lifetime of the band Blind Faith.

In 1969, various British rock groups were disintegrating. Eric Clapton was disenchanted with his supergroup trio Cream for several reasons. For one thing, drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce loathed each other, and Clapton felt caught in the middle of their feuds.

In addition, the perfectionist Clapton believed that the group was “coasting,” often producing third-rate performances. Finally, Clapton felt overwhelmed by the adulation that both he and his band Cream were receiving from rabid fans of the group.

A couple of years earlier, Steve Winwood had left the Spencer Davis Group over creative differences – Winwood was interested in jazz-influenced progressive rock, while other members of the band favored heavy-metal blues-infused music. Winwood formed Traffic in order to pursue these new directions. However, Winwood took a temporary hiatus from Traffic in 1969, and
Winwood started to jam with his good friend Clapton in Clapton’s basement in Surrey, England. Winwood and Clapton had previously collaborated on the “Powerhouse” project.

Clapton was excited about collaborating with Winwood, but was loath to form another ‘super-group.’ It was tough when Ginger Baker was suggested as the group’s drummer, since such a group would naturally be interpreted as “Cream minus Jack Bruce.” However, eventually they settled on Baker along with Ric Grech as the bassist, and “Blind Faith” as the group’s name.

Below we see Blind Faith at the session that produced the photo subsequently used for their first album. From L to R: Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton.

Embed from Getty Images

The song Can’t Find My Way Home was written by Steve Winwood, who was also the lead vocalist. The song gives a poignant description of someone whose life has gone off course and who does not know how to get back on track.

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I’ve been waiting all these years
Somebody holds the key

Well, I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home

The line “I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home” is a succinct description of someone who is depressed because they have at least temporarily lost their way.

Blind Faith’s first public performance was a free concert in London’s Hyde Park in June 1969. Wouldn’t it be nice if your band held its first gig and 300,000 people turned up? You certainly wouldn’t have to go around taping up concert posters on lamp-posts.

Here is the video for Can’t Find My Way Home performed at the Hyde Park concert.

Isn’t this a great song? Steve Winwood contributes lead vocals and keyboards on his Hammond B-3 organ, while Eric Clapton chimes in with a tasty solo on his Fender Stratocaster. Winwood has a terrific voice. Also, take note of Ginger Baker’s impressive jazz-inspired drum licks.

Unfortunately, both the video and audio of this concert are crappy. For some reason, the main camera was set up near the ground next to the drummer, so that for the most part we see Winwood and Clapton only dimly in the distance behind Baker’s drum kit.

By the way, Blind Faith fanatics can find video of the entire Hyde Park concert here: [warning: the audio and video remain crummy throughout this historic concert.]

The Hyde Park concert was followed a month later by the release of the band’s first (and only) album Blind Faith, on the Atco label. The album immediately rocketed to #1 on the Billboard album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. The band soon set out on a U.S. tour that filled up large arenas.

Most people would have been ecstatic to experience the great demand for their music, and the public acclaim for their band. However, for Eric Clapton this was a terrible sign. People had started to refer to Blind Faith as “Super-Cream” — so much for not forming a super-group!

Even worse, Blind Faith had not yet assembled enough original material for a concert, so Cream and Traffic songs were added to fill in the gaps. Clapton also felt that the band had rushed out on tour before they had fully rehearsed. Clapton developed a serious case of déjà vu, fearing that Blind Faith was repeating exactly what he was trying to avoid.

L: controversial Blind Faith album cover; R: replacement photo of the band offered as a substitute cover.

To make matters worse, the original album cover (shown at left, along with its subsequent replacement) did not contain the name of the band. Because the album cover photo showed a nude (and possibly underage) girl, the record was banned in several countries (the woman was an adult professional model, but that was beside the point).

Clapton’s concerns, the album controversy, and the group’s meager playlist led to the band breaking up after their initial tour. A few songs that had been recorded for an intended second album were eventually released in various Clapton and Winwood collections.

Clapton and Winwood remained friends, and in the past decade have begun to appear together again. This started at Clapton’s second Crossroads Guitar Festival, where they played together with a set that included a few Blind Faith numbers.

Here are Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, backed up by Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall, performing Can’t Find My Way Home at the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival.

The audio and video are excellent, which makes up for the disappointing video from the original Blind Faith Hyde Park concert. Both Winwood and Clapton contribute understated but impressive solos on their Fender Stratocasters. Winwood is a seriously underrated guitar player.

This song has become an iconic favorite; it’s a perfect tune for anyone whose life has taken a bad turn, and who is searching to get back on track. That could explain the more than 15 million hits for this video.

The great lyrics, combined with the intricate guitar work, helps to explain why this song is so appealing to jam bands. In addition to the covers that we feature in this post, there are also impressive live performances of this song by The Allman Brothers with Sheryl Crow, and by the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

After they teamed up at Crossroads, Clapton and Winwood reunited for a limited series of concerts in the US, Europe and Japan between 2008 and 2011. I am frustrated that I never caught one of their concerts.

I have been a fan of Steve Winwood ever since I saw him perform with the Spencer Davis Group in 1966; I have seen him with Traffic and as a solo act since then.

And I have seen Clapton performing solo a few times in recent years, although as a grad student in England I spent a fair amount of time “missing Eric Clapton,” having caught the Yardbirds and John Mayall shortly after Clapton left each of those groups.

In the history of rock music, Blind Faith was simply a brief interlude in the careers of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker. Journalist Johnny Black sums up the Blind Faith saga rather succinctly:
Blind Faith was cursed almost from the outset. This was a band whose members rarely seemed to tell each other anything. A band at loggerheads with its management. A management at loggerheads with itself. A heroin addicted drummer. A guitarist who wanted out almost from the word go. A stadium tour that the keyboard player didn’t want to be on. A record cover scandal. Worst of all, though, they were mind-numbingly successful when they didn’t want to be.

After Blind Faith broke up, Baker continued on with Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Winwood re-united with Traffic, while Clapton sat in with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, then formed the super-group Derek and the Dominos before embarking on a long and distinguished solo career. I greatly enjoyed Blind Faith’s only album, and can’t help but wish they might have stayed together for a longer time.

Joe Cocker and Can’t Find My Way Home:

Joe Cocker was a British blues musician. We have discussed him in several earlier blog posts. We first encountered Cocker from his cover of the Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends. Next we reviewed his version of Many Rivers To Cross; later we discussed him in A Whiter Shade of Pale; both Cocker and Steve Winwood crossed paths in our review of Feelin’ Alright? We analyzed Cocker’s cover of Delta Lady; we wrote about Cocker’s cover of The Letter by the Box Tops; and most recently we discussed his cover of Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Joe Cocker was one of my favorite artists, despite the fact that he produced relatively few original songs. Most of his best-known hits were covers of other tunes. However, he was a terrific bluesman whose best work brought an entirely new take on a classic song.

Below is a famous photo of Joe Cocker performing at Whiskey Au Go Go. Apparently the woman directly in front of Mr. Cocker has her hand up his trousers, which may account for his emphatic response.

Embed from Getty Images

Born in 1944, as a teenager Cocker was attracted to music by the British skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan, the same artist who inspired the early Beatles.

Cocker then became interested in rock and blues. He had the good sense to pattern his vocal stylings after rockers like Chuck Berry and soul singers like Ray Charles. You can definitely detect the influence of Ray Charles in Cocker’s vocals.

Cocker worked his way through the British club circuit. Initially, he made little headway until he hooked up with Denny Cordell, the producer for British progressive-rock groups such as Procol Harum and the Moody Blues. With Cordell’s backing, Cocker was able to book larger venues and to work with more talented studio musicians.

After a couple of minor hits in the UK, Joe Cocker made the big time in 1969 with his cover of the Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends. Cocker’s cover was interesting in that it was totally different from the Beatles’ original.

Like many other young artists, Cocker’s appearance at Woodstock made him an overnight sensation. His career took off like a rocket.

Once Joe Cocker gained fame through his exposure at the Woodstock Festival and in particular as one of the stars of the Woodstock concert movie, he continued to carve out an incredibly successful career as a blues vocalist.

So here is video of Joe Cocker in a live performance of Can’t Find My Way Home.

This took place in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1996. Here, Joe is aided by fine instrumental backing from acoustic guitar, dobro and some terrific keyboard work.

It’s easy to be distracted by Cocker’s spastic arm movements, and the fact that his shirt is drenched with sweat. However, if you concentrate on his vocals you will discover a really inspired version of this Blind Faith classic from a great R&B vocalist.

Joe Cocker died from lung cancer in Dec. 2014. What a great loss; he is deeply missed.

John Mayer and Can’t Find My Way Home:

John Mayer is an American blues guitarist and pop singer. Mayer is more contemporary than most of the artists whom we cover; however in his blues efforts he is a throwback to legendary performers such as Buddy Guy and B.B. King.

We discussed John Mayer in an earlier blog post on the Ray Charles song I Got A Woman. Here we will briefly review his life and career.

John Mayer was born in 1977 and raised in Connecticut. As a teenager, his father rented him a guitar; he became hooked on the blues after hearing a Stevie Ray Vaughn cassette. Mayer then worked his way through a number of legendary blues guitarists, copying and mastering their riffs.

Below is a photo of John Mayer performing in Philadelphia in June 2010.

Embed from Getty Images

John Mayer first hit the charts in 2001 when his mainly acoustic pop songs became gigantic hits and he rapidly achieved stardom. However, following some success with pop songs like Your Body is a Wonderland and Waiting for the World to Change, Mayer moved back to his first love, the blues.

He collaborated with blues legends such as Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Since then, he has moved back and forth between pop music and more blues-based songs. In 2005 he formed the John Mayer Trio, and went on tour with songs that focused on his R&B roots.

Here is John Mayer in a live performance of Can’t Find My Way Home. This took place in Aug. 2013 at Darien Lake Ampitheater, not that far from Buffalo in western New York State.

Now, John Mayer has a perfectly fine voice, which is particularly effective on his original songs. But it really doesn’t compare to the great Steve Winwood. However, that is not the point on this song. Here, John Mayer treats us to an exceptional rock-blues guitar solo.

You can see that all of Mayer’s efforts in copying blues guitar legends have paid off in spades. This is just first-rate work: terrific fingering; impressive work on the wah-wah pedal; and a wonderfully constructed riff on the central theme from Can’t Find My Way Home.  Enjoy!

John Mayer rapidly became a pop icon, dominated awards shows such as the Grammies, and started dating A-list superstars. Unfortunately, his fame led him to give some interviews where he came off as, well, a colossal dick.

The criticism Mayer received over his personal life and his intemperate remarks escalated into claims that he had not ‘paid his dues’ as a blues musician. I strongly disagree with that point of view. To my mind, Mayer is a terrific musician and an extremely talented blues guitarist. I have seen him perform with artists such as Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton, and Mayer holds his own even in such exalted company.

Below is a photo of John Mayer with Eric Clapton at a Madison Square Garden concert in May 2015 commemorating Clapton’s 70th birthday.

Embed from Getty Images

In 2011, John Mayer became fascinated with the music of the Grateful Dead, and it began to dominate his personal playlist. Then in 2015, Mayer invited Dead guitarist Bob Weir to join him when Mayer was guest hosting the long-running Irish TV program The Late Late Show.

After that, Weir and his Grateful Dead mates invited Mayer to join them in their Fare Thee Well tour to commemorate 50 years of the Grateful Dead band. In August 2015 Weir and Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann invited Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti to form Dead & Company. The group first toured in 2015 and has continued touring up to the present.

So at the moment, John Mayer alternates between his touring with Dead & Company and releasing his own pop records. We wish him all success with both of these endeavors. We urge him to stick to his music, and stay away from social media as much as possible.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Can’t Find My Way Home.
Wikipedia, Blind Faith
Johnny Black, Blind Faith: Born Under a Bad Sign.
Wikipedia, Steve Winwood
Wikipedia, Eric Clapton
Wikipedia, Joe Cocker
Wikipedia, John Mayer

Posted in Classic Rock, Pop Music, Progressive Rock, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment