Welcome Back: Edsel Reissues John Sebastian’s Reprise Catalogue, Adds Previously Unreleased Live Concert DVD
Edsel is saying “welcome back” to John Sebastian with the recent release of a quartet of albums in one deluxe package: John B. Sebastian, The Four of Us, Tarzana Kid and Welcome Back. Edsel has bundled these releases, representing the Lovin’ Spoonful founder’s complete Reprise studio recordings, with a live concert DVD making its very first appearance anywhere. In Concert: John Sebastian Sings John Sebastian was broadcast by the BBC in October 1970, months following the release of John B. Sebastian.
New York native Sebastian fused pop and folk when he joined with Zal Yanovsky, Steve Boone and Joe Butler as The Lovin’ Spoonful, and as their chief songwriter penned the era-defining hits still in rotation on oldies radio today: “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” (with Boone), “Summer in the City” (with brother Mark Sebastian and Boone). A solo career might have seemed inevitable, and indeed, in 1968, Sebastian left the group. He didn’t remain idle for long, though. He wrote songs for Murray Schisgal’s Broadway play Jimmy Shine starring Dustin Hoffman and Rue McClanahan, and in 1969, his impromptu solo set at Woodstock became a festival highlight. But few at Woodstock knew that Sebastian’s first solo album was already completed and awaiting release.
A contractual snafu led MGM Records to claim ownership of the album, and in fact MGM released a version of the John B. Sebastian album in 1970. Reprise, to whom Sebastian felt he was rightfully signed, was forced to sue MGM. When the smoke cleared, the Reprise edition of John B. Sebastian prevailed, eventually becoming Sebastian’s best-selling solo record. On the album, Sebastian revisited his first solo single “She’s a Lady” as well as The Spoonful’s “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and welcomed a variety of guests including all three members of Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as CSN drummer Dallas Taylor, Buzzy Linhart on vibes and The Ikettes on backing vocals.
Another studio recording arrived in 1971, The Four of Us. It was a concept album chronicling Sebastian’s meeting with, courtship of, and marriage to his wife Catherine, culminating in the 16-minute epic title track. Produced like its predecessor by Paul A. Rothchild of Doors fame, Sebastian enlisted Dallas Taylor, Mountain’s Felix Pappalardi, CSNY bassist Greg Reeves, The Turtles’ Johnny Barbata and the Esso Trinidad Steel Band to play on The Four of Us. In addition to his new songs, the album featured a traditional tune (“Well, Well, Well”) arranged by Josh White and a cover of Clifton Chernier’s “Black Snake Blues.”
Following a hiatus to raise a family, Sebastian returned to Reprise with 1974’s Tarzana Kid. The LP also reunited him with Lovin’ Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen. Jacobsen and Sebastian co-produced this set featuring contributions from Toto’s David Paich, Little Feat’s Lowell George, Ry Cooder, Buddy Emmons, Emmylou Harris, David Lindley, The Pointer Sisters and even Phil Everly. On Tarzana Kid, Jacobsen and Sebastian revisited The Spoonful’s “Sportin’ Life” and “Wild About My Lovin’,” both of which had appeared on the Spoonful’s first long-player, as well as Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.” Alas, Tarzana failed to chart, and Sebastian found himself at odds with Reprise. That would soon change.
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By the point The Mills Brothers’ new anthology Cab Driver: The Dot and Paramount Years: 1958-1972 begins in 1958, Herbert, Harry and Donald Mills had already been superstars for nearly thirty years. Known for their tight harmonies and sophisticated scatting as much as for their ability to mimic musical instruments with their voices, The Mills Brothers scored their first U.S. No. 1 hit in 1931 on the Brunswick label with “Tiger Rag,” an oldie from 1917 (!). Hollywood stardom followed at Paramount and Warner Bros., and the brothers broke a barrier for African-American entertainers when they played a command performance before the King and Queen of England in 1934. Tragedy threatened to derail the group in 1936 when founding member John Jr. died of pneumonia, but they pressed on with father John Sr. until 1957, singing with luminaries like Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong along the way. Through this entire period, The Mills Brothers were Top 40 mainstays. In late 1957, they left the venerable Decca label for relative upstart Dot, which is where this new 28-track compilation from Cherry Red’s Poker Records imprint picks up.
Cab Driver: The Dot and Paramount Years: 1958-1972 explores in depth this rarely-anthologized period of The Mills Brothers’ long recording career. This is the period in which the jazz/swing vocal greats came to terms with rock and roll, sometimes addressing it and other times ignoring it, but always remaining true to their singular vocal sound. Cab Driver concentrates on the group’s Dot single releases rather than on the albums which were frequently themed by concept: an album of re-recorded old hits (some things never change!), a country album, a Hawaiian album, a Latin album, etc. On singles, the brothers had more of an opportunity to stretch and show their vocal versatility. They flirted with doo-wop (a cover of The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” which opens this collection), country (a fine cover of Skeeter Davis’ melancholy “The End of the World”), Broadway (the title song from Bob Merrill’s musical comedy Take Me Along), pop (a reworking of Nat “King” Cole’s hit “Dance, Ballerina, Dance”) and jazz (the Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh standard “Don’t Blame Me”), and even created a blues-bossa hybrid (!) with Fats Waller’s (!!) “Honeysuckle Rose Blues Bossa Nova” in 1966.
As of 1968 – the year of The Graduate, White Light/White Heat, Music from Big Pink and The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) – The Mills Brothers hadn’t seen a chart hit since 1959. That changed with the release of “Cab Driver,” from “Something Stupid” songwriter (and brother to Van Dyke) C. Carson Parks. The twangy, country-meets-classic pop ballad struck a chord, going all the way to the Top 25 of the Pop chart and Top 5 Adult Contemporary. The Mills Brothers went “once more ‘round the block” with its follow-up, “My Shy Violet” from the team of Earl Shuman and Leon Carr (“Hey There, Lonely Girl”). Its barbershop quartet-inspired harmonies earned the brothers another Top 5 AC hit, and a none-too-shabby No. 73 Pop placement. “Cab Driver” and “My Shy Violet” started a run of chart hits on the Pop, AC and Country charts for the still-eclectic trio.
After the jump: more on Cab Driver, including the complete track listing with discography, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
Everybody Loves Somebody: Legacy Acquires Dean Martin’s Reprise Catalogue, Launches Reissue Campaign
Dean Martin is said to have once observed that the two smartest decisions he ever made were partnering with Jerry Lewis…and breaking up with Jerry Lewis. When the split occurred, Martin was 39 years old, but convinced that a successful solo career was still ahead of him. Was he ever right! The former Dino Paul Crocetti was among the lucky few to have a successful second act in showbiz, and his career as just Dean Martin even eclipsed the first act as one-half of the beloved Martin and Lewis team. Martin first took flight as a singer at Capitol Records beginning in 1948, eight years before dissolving his partnership with Lewis. He remained at the Tower through 1961, making his final recordings there in December of that year. On February 13, 1962, he entered United Western Recorders on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard to begin his tenure alongside pal Frank Sinatra as one of the flagship artists for the Chairman’s Reprise Records label. Over the years, Martin’s Reprise catalogue has changed hands numerous times, and last week, it was officially announced that its new home will be Sony’s Legacy Recordings.
In partnership with The Dean Martin Family Trust, Legacy has begun remastering titles from Martin’s Reprise (1962-1974) and Warner Bros. (1983) periods for an ongoing reissue campaign. The first title to emerge under the Legacy deal was the recent Playlist: The Very Best of Dean Martin, which was newly remastered by Vic Anesini. The Reprise period, of course, includes many of Martin’s most enduring hits. He famously took on The Beatles – and triumphed! – in 1964 when Ernie Freeman’s contemporary arrangement of “Everybody Loves Somebody,” a 1947 song by Sam Coslow, Irving Taylor and Martin’s frequent collaborator Ken Lane, knocked the Fabs’ “A Hard Day’s Night” right off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 at the height of Beatlemania! Despite Dino’s protestation that “I do not like rock singers, rock is out with me, I can’t stand rock,” Freeman’s heavy rock-influenced backbeat gave Martin the edge to introduce his laid-back croon to a new generation.
More major hits followed including “I Will,” “The Door is Still Open to My Heart” and Lee Hazlewood’s “Houston,” and by the beginning of 1966, Martin had notched seven Top 40 pop hits and six Top 40 albums – in addition to juggling the demands of his popular variety show! Dino remained with Reprise for most of the rest of his recording career. Even considering the seismic shifts in musical styles as the sixties continued, Martin’s hits hardly waned, with “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” and “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” both going Top 40 in 1967. When Reprise issued two greatest-hits collections in 1968, both achieved gold status. In 1971, he re-signed with the label for another three-year contract, and in 1974, he would record his final music for the House That Frank Built although legal wrangling would prevent the songs’ release until 1978. Martin gracefully bowed out of the recording business, smartly refusing to subject himself to disco and other styles that affected the music of so many of his contemporaries. Not that Martin completely avoided pop and rock in his years at Reprise; quite to the contrary. He recorded songs by Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, The Bee Gees, Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford, Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and even Smokey Robinson. Martin also built up a considerable catalogue of country music at Reprise.
Dino continued to appear on television and onstage during his retirement from the recording studio, and in 1980 purchased back his Reprise recordings from the label (which had itself purchased fourteen albums from Dean in 1971). Yet most of these albums remained incredibly difficult to find in the CD era until the release of Bear Family’s definitive complete Dean Martin series of box sets (four, in total, with two each dedicated to Capitol and Reprise) and Collectors’ Choice’s series of Reprise two-fers.
In 1983, Martin was coaxed by his longtime producer Jimmy Bowen, head of Reprise parent Warner Bros.’ Nashville division, to record one more album. My First Country Song became a respectable No. 49 entry on the Country Albums chart, and its title track – a duet with Conway Twitty – also became a Top 40 country hit. Though the album would turn out to be Martin’s last, he did record one last song, “L.A. is My Home,” which was released in 1985 on the MCA label. (It was also the closing theme song to the television show Half Nelson on which Dean appeared.) There’s no mention of whether “L.A.” is included in the current Legacy deal.
What can you expect from Legacy’s Dean Martin series? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
Rock’s back pages are littered with “creative differences.” Such differences split Paul Revere and the Raiders into two warring factions – Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay on one side; Phil “Fang” Volk, Mike “Smitty” Smith and Drake “The Kid” Levin on the other. The Volk-Smith-Levin triumvirate bristled at the more pop direction that the onetime garage band had been taking, and were none too pleased with the studio musicians being enlisted to beef up the Raiders’ recordings. In early 1967, the trio departed the band, leading to litigation and acrimony. But both parties soldiered on. Revere and Lindsay were joined in The Raiders by Freddy Weller, Joe Correro, Jr. and Keith Allison, and Volk, Levin, and Smith formed The Brotherhood. But while Revere continued to notch hits, The Brotherhood wasn’t quite so lucky. Its small three-album discography for RCA has gone all but forgotten in the ensuing years. Luckily, Real Gone Music has found this missing link in Raiders history. Brotherhood’s The Complete Recordings (RGM-0220, 2014) brings together all three of these fascinating LPs in one deluxe 2-CD set.
With a new label and newfound autonomy, bassist Volk, guitarist Levin and drummer Smith took few cues from their old band when they formed Brotherhood. Organist Ron Collins rounded out the group which tried to live up to its name; on the first album, every songwriting credit was shared by the three core members. Brotherhood’s first, self-titled long-player from 1968 began hopefully with the sound of applause, but despite the wealth of possibilities in its twelve tracks, a listener could be forgiven for wondering, “Just who are these guys?” The versatile talents of Brotherhood failed to create a cohesive album for their debut, but succeeded in showing off the many musical styles they had mastered, gleefully jumping from genre to genre – at times in the same song! The opening track “Somebody” veers from snarling garage rock to showbiz brassiness with a dash of reggae for good measure, but it gets even stranger from there. Levin’s “Pastel Blue” is a gently wistful bossa nova tune, while “Lady Faire” is a decidedly Parisian cabaret jaunt. “Box Guitar” is a slightly twee soft-shoe vaudeville track with enjoyable tack piano from Collins, but none of these tracks could have satisfied expectations of a new band built around the talents of the Raiders’ rhythm section.
Despite the smiling faces on the album cover, darkness permeates much of Brotherhood, too. One rocking track pleads to “Close the Door” (“before they find us…”), and the specter of Vietnam looms over the tense, slow and lysergic “Doin’ the Right Thing (The Way),” featuring Levin on sitar. (Volk’s brother Capt. George Francis Volk of the U.S. Army was killed in Vietnam in 1967.) “Love for Free” begins on an ominous note before ceding to harmony-psychedelia. The band indulged its baroque, impressionistic sensibilities on “Seasons” (with a guest cello spot) and the lyrically-cryptic “Ice Cream.” Brotherhood was an album in search of a single, as the band was aware. They settled on “Jump Out the Window,” with the LP’s most straightforward and enjoyable pop-rock melody. The lyric urges the title act as a kind of liberation, and most of it is innocuous enough: “I’m a hip Mary Poppins/I fly so naturally/I go where the wind blows/And the wind knows I’m free…” But the plea to jump out the window likely didn’t help it climb the pop charts. Bill Kopp’s comprehensive liner notes find Phil Volk confessing that he found the song’s message “irresponsible.” By the time of the album’s finale, the hypnotic, Moog-splashed “Forever” as sung by Levin, it was still difficult to discern what kind of band Brotherhood was, and wanted to be.
Where did the band head next? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
In past years, Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers series has taken adventurous listeners along to hear Ladies from the Canyon, Guitar Soli and Lonesome Heroes, drawing on rare or privately-pressed folk music and casting it in a new light. With its latest release, however, Numero is traversing even more unexpected territory. The punningly-titled Warfaring Strangers volume entitled Darkscorch Canticles will immerse listeners in a world of mystics and mages, devils and demons, and yes, dungeons and dragons. The 16-track anthology, due in stores today on CD, LP and MP3, is a first-of-its-kind compilation of fantasy-based hard rock from the 1970s. But more unbelievably, it will soon also become available in one of the most unusual box set configurations we’ve seen in our four-plus years here at The Second Disc: as a bona-fide role playing game!
If you’ve never heard of Triton Warrior, Stone Axe, Stoned Mace, Hellstorm, Medusa, or (doing Medusa one better) Gorgon Medusa, you’re not alone. But you might not forget them after spinning Darkscorch Canticles. “This music hails from an occluded realm, somewhere just beyond the pot-addled minds of its creators,” Numero explains. Those young minds were likely listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin – and maybe Camel or even early, pre-glam Tyrannosaurus Rex – while exploring new worlds in Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game that first appeared in 1974 to spearhead the RPG genre. “In this collection,” Numero states, “medieval Bonham thunk and febrile Iommi guitar leads crowd out the bluesy Americana that foregrounded [Zeppelin and Sabbath], replacing hippie pastoralism with mythology, armored conflict, sorcery, and doom.” This is garage rock from a world in which wizards, elves, dwarves, monsters and wizards might be hiding next door to the garage in question.
Hit the jump for much more on Darkscorch Chronicles – the CD and the role-playing game – including the complete track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
The careers of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin have been inextricably linked since Franklin entered New York’s Atlantic Studios on Valentine’s Day, 1967, with producer Jerry Wexler to record Redding’s “Respect.” Even before that pivotal moment, however, the two artists shared a label in Atlantic Records (distributor of Redding’s Stax records) and an ability to invest any song with raw honesty and unvarnished emotion. Atlantic and Rhino Records have recently issued two newly remastered 4-CD retrospectives dedicated to Redding and Franklin: respectively, The King of Soul and The Queen of Soul.
“Respect” was originally cut by the soul shouter supreme and producer Steve Cropper at Stax’s Memphis, Tennessee studios in July 1965, and became his second-biggest pop hit to that point. In Redding’s original, he’s insistent as he addresses his woman. His intensity is as blazing as the song’s horns are frantically bleating. She can do him wrong, do what she wants to, take his money – but he demands “a little respect” when he comes home. It’s what he wants, sure. But moreover, it’s what he needs. It’s no surprise that Redding’s urgent entreaty to maintain his pride and self-worth took on greater depth against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Redding’s personal plea had universal resonance.
When Franklin approached “Respect,” she turned it on its ear. Whereas Redding asked, “What you want? Honey, you got it! What you need, baby you got it!,” Aretha taunted with equal measures of command and sass, “What you want? Baby, I got it! What you need? You know I got it!” Franklin and Wexler fleshed the song out, adding an instrumental bridge courtesy of saxophone great King Curtis, and dialing up the funk but relaxing the frenetic tempo. Aretha, with her sisters/background singers Erma and Carolyn, also personalized the song, throwing in some indelible ad libs (“Sock it to me,” “Take care, T.C.B.!”) and demanding her “propers.” She might give her man all her money, but there’s no doubt of who’s in control. The anthemic quality already inherent in Otis’ “Respect” came to the fore in Aretha’s empowered reading, which was crowned by one final, key touch – the spelling out of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Her electrifying reinvention went to the top of both the Pop and R&B (Black Singles) charts, prompting Redding to kiddingly stammer that it was the song “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, this girl, she just took this song!”
“Respect,” of course, features on both box sets – twice on Redding’s collection, once in the studio and once in a live setting. But that immortal song is just the tip of the iceberg for these compilations. In addition to offering a wealth of some of the most sublime soul music ever recorded, The King of Soul and The Queen of Soul serve as affordable, no-frills primers for those who don’t own all of the artists’ individual Atlantic albums on compact disc. The Redding set is particularly valuable in this regard; while most of Franklin’s CD releases are still in print, Rhino’s reissues of Redding’s Stax/Volt/Atco catalogue are considerably more difficult to find.
The King of Soul (Atlantic/Rhino R2 541306, 2014) coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the late legend’s debut album, 1964’s Pain in My Heart. Over its 92 tracks, these four discs trace Redding’s meteoric rise to superstar status, spanning the fast and furious period between 1962 and his tragic passing in 1967. King of Soul draws on both studio and live recordings, including key singles and tracks from such landmark albums as 1965’s Otis Blue, 1967’s Carla Thomas duets set King and Queen, and 1968’s posthumously-released The Dock of the Bay. Every one of Redding’s original studio albums through 1970 is represented here, and compiler Reggie Collins has also drawn upon the 1968 various-artists album Soul Christmas and 1993’s lavish, now out-of-print Rhino box set Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding. (Collins was credited as the “research director” on that box.) As Redding’s catalogue is limited in size, some albums are nearly-complete here, such as 1965’s torrid Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul. Ten out of the original LP’s eleven tracks are reprised. (The lone omission is Redding’s version of the Sam Cooke hit “Wonderful World.”) As Stax did not begin recording in stereo until 1965, the majority of the first three CDs are in mono; the fourth disc is nearly all-stereo.
After the jump: more on Otis, plus the lowdown on Aretha’s Queen of Soul! Read the rest of this entry »
If there’s some truth to the importance of being in the right place at the right time, Johnny Winter might attest to it. The slide guitar virtuoso came up in the ranks of show business when blues-rock was rising in popularity. He embodied an American alternative to Clapton, Page or Mayall, and offered a grittier take than Hendrix, more of the earth than the cosmos. Since debuting in 1969, Winter has rarely strayed from his signature style even as he’s stretched its boundaries, remaining True to the Blues. And that’s the entirely-fitting title chosen for Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings’ new large-scale retrospective of his still-strong career. Over four CDs and 58 tracks, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story stands a testament not just to the soul and inspiration of its subject but to the durability of the blues idiom itself. If stylistic diversity isn’t one of the strong suits of True to the Blues, its subject’s artistic consistency is certainly one of its hallmarks.
Following an incendiary guest spot at New York’s Fillmore East, the Mississippi-born, Texas-raised albino scored what was reportedly the biggest-ever sum paid to a new signing to Columbia Records: $600,000.00. (Remember: that’s in 1969 dollars!) Mike Bloomfield (subject of another recent, engrossing box set from Columbia/Legacy) introduced his friend Winter at the Fillmore East in December, 1968 as “the baddest motherfucker,” adding an understated “This cat can play!” for good measure. Coming from the great Bloomfield, that was no small compliment. The proof is in the pudding, a scorching 11-minute jam on B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault.” It’s just one electrifying moment for blues-rock devotees here.
The chronologically-sequenced (in order of recording, not release) box set draws on 27 albums originally released on labels including Liberty/Imperial, Columbia, Blue Sky/Epic, Alligator, Point Blank/Virgin, Friday Music, Collectors’ Choice Music, Megaforce and Legacy. It traces his development as an artist both in studio and live settings, accompanied by a number of greats including Bloomfield and Al Kooper, Dr. John, Derek Trucks, Booker T. Jones, Muddy Waters and even Vince Gill. Though Winter’s licks were torrid, an underlying, infectious joy in sharing this music often permeated his approach.
His swaggering attitude was exemplified on Second Winter, his sophomore Columbia studio effort from 1969 (and that rarest of creatures, a double-LP set with only three sides of music!). Winter kicked Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” up a notch via a startlingly-reinvented, rip-roaring take, with his near-spoken delivery as idiosyncratic as Dylan’s own. If Winter’s singing voice might have kept him from greater success – the same was often said of Bloomfield – his harsh, throaty yelp was never less than wholly authentic. (For comparison’s sake, the box set also makes room for a 1993 blazing live version of “Highway 61” from Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, on which the still-fiery Winter is backed by Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, plus G.E. Smith and session vets Anton Fig and Jim Keltner.) The inclusion of Dylan, Percy Mayfield (“Memory Pain”) and Little Richard (“Miss Ann,” with a tasty saxophone solo from Edgar) covers alongside his own material like the breakneck “Hustled Down in Texas” on Second Winter typified Winter’s catholic tastes. His style enlivened R&B, rock and roll, rockabilly and soul, all of which are represented on True to the Blues. And as for that vocal instrument? Winter is almost sweet on a 1977 cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” from his White, Hot and Blue album.
Unsurprisingly, each of the four discs contains a substantial amount of live material, as Winter’s rawest performances have been among his finest. True to the Blues heats up early with “Leland Mississippi Blues” from Woodstock (backed by brother Edgar on keyboards, plus Tommy Shannon on bass and “Uncle” John Turner on drums). So powerful was Winter’s performance at Yasgur’s Farm that the band sounds much larger than its actual size. His guttural growl and strutting guitar pyrotechnics upped the rock quotient and certainly must have brought some of the audience members down to earth from a heightened level of consciousness!
Just as good are three previously unreleased performances from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, with Johnny backed once again by Edgar, plus two members of The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy,” “Fever”) – Rick Derringer and Randy Hobbs. With Derringer, Hobbs and Rick’s brother Randy Zehringer, Johnny formed the band Johnny Winter And. Fellow guitarist Rick spurred Winter on to even more creativity when their axes were pitted in battle. The band’s 1970 eponymous studio album introduced Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” the most commercial song Winter had recorded to that point. The vocals were a bit clearer, the musical interplay a little tighter, but the raw power and searing guitar pyrotechnics and flair still intact. Heavy metal thunder courses through the psychedelic “Guess I’ll Go Away” while Winter’s rapport with Derringer is evident on the drawling “Out on a Limb.” High-octane covers in the muscular, fluid power-blues manner are highlights throughout True to the Blues; he even out-performs The Rolling Stones on their own “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in a 1971 performance with his band “Johnny Winter And” from the long-shuttered Florida amusement park Pirate’s World. But Winter’s own ample contributions to the blues-rock songbook are also plentiful.
After the jump, we have much more on Johnny! Read the rest of this entry »
Talk about fusion! For “Hands Down,” the opening cut of his 1979 album Relight My Fire, Dan Hartman enlisted rock and roll great Edgar Winter to weave his alto saxophone licks throughout the Latin-flavored disco track, and Stevie Wonder to provide his instantly recognizable harmonica. Hartman wasn’t just a dilettante, but a regular musical renaissance man. A veteran of the Johnny Winter Band and the Edgar Winter Group, he wrote the latter’s smash hit “Free Ride,” and successfully completed the transition to solo stardom with 1978’s “Instant Replay,” a No. 1 Disco hit that also reached the Pop Top 30. In the eighties, he revitalized James Brown’s career with “Living in America” and gave blue-eyed soul a contemporary makeover with “I Can Dream About You.” The title song of “Relight My Fire,” on which Hartman was joined by Salsoul queen Loleatta Holloway, proved that he could capture the disco magic twice, as the song remained atop the Billboard dance chart for six weeks. In 1993, it became a hit all over again for Take That and Lulu. Now, thanks to Hot Shot Records, Hartman’s Fire has once again been relit.
Over just six tracks – all written by Hartman, who also played keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and percussion on the album – Relight My Fire pulsates with the energy of the era as filtered through Hartman’s pop sensibility. It was a catholic sensibility that made the musician and songwriter adaptable to pop, rock and soul settings. For the album centerpiece “Vertigo/Relight My Fire,” Hartman traveled to Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios and enlisted veteran Norman Harris (Blue Magic, The O’Jays) to arrange and conduct. Harris brought his sublime orchestrated style to the introductory “Vertigo” as well as to the main body of the sizzling, catchy “Relight My Fire,” with a typically passionate duet vocal from Loleatta Holloway. (Harris had also frequently produced Holloway at Salsoul.) Whether in the original, nearly 10-minute album version of “Vertigo/Relight My Fire” or the 3+-minute single edit of “Relight” (among the six bonus tracks on Hot Shot’s reissue), Hartman and Holloway’s musical invitation can’t be denied.
“Just for Fun” (“Just do what makes you feel all right…If you’re hungry for some good times now, don’t be late, let me show you how!”) is lyrically in the good-time, hedonistic vein expected of a disco record, and the singer’s enthusiasm is infectious, as is his boogie piano solo. (The piano has a bit of the flavor of another disco anthem, Peter Allen’s “I Go to Rio.”) The same goes for the bubbly “I Love Makin’ Music,“ which flows out of “Just for Fun” and epitomizes what could have been Hartman’s personal credo throughout his all-too-short 43 years. “Love makin’ music, love makin’ love,” the female background vocalist coo during the track, but on Relight My Fire, the two acts seem synonymous. Hartman’s disco remake of his own “Free Ride” is surprisingly effective. If it doesn’t replace the original, it succeeds on the strength of the song’s abundant melody, signature riff and energetic performance here.
After the jump, we have more on Relight My Fire, plus a look at Hot Shot’s rediscovery of actress-singer Sheryl Lee Ralph’s foray into contemporary R&B! Read the rest of this entry »
Chances are if you’re reading these words, you’re intimately familiar with at least one performance by Tom Scott. The saxophonist played the part of the titular “Jazzman” on Carole King’s 1974 No. 2 single of the same name, helped take Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said” all the way up to No. 1 in 1975, and lent support to Whitney Houston as she professed to be “Saving All My Love for You.” But the Grammy-winning Scott was also a prolific recording artist, both solo and with his band The L.A. Express. Australia’s Raven Records has recently reissued three vintage Scott albums originally released between 1974 and 1977 on two CDs with four later bonus tracks added for good measure. Master of Funk: The Essential Albums includes Tom Scott and The L.A. Express’ self-titled Ode debut, its follow-up Tom Cat, and Scott’s solo release New York Connection.
That the Los Angeles-born Scott would pursue a career in music must have seemed like a given; his mother Margery was a pianist and his father Nathan a prolific television composer with a reported 850+ credits including music for Dragnet, Lassie and The Twilight Zone. Tom began his career as a leader before he was twenty years of age. On his debut, 1967’s Impulse! release The Honeysuckle Breeze, he was joined by personnel including pianist Mike Melvoin and drummer Jim Gordon for an eclectic array of pop songs including “Mellow Yellow, “Never My Love” and “She’s Leaving Home” as well as more off-the-beaten-path selections like John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Today.” Breeze was followed by another Impulse! long-player as well as couple of LPs for producer Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label and the aptly-named Great Scott! for A&M. But Scott was also making his name as a first-call session musician, drawing attention for his work with Joni Mitchell on her classic For the Roses and Court and Spark albums. Before the seventies were out, Scott would play with Rod Stewart, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, The Carpenters, Tom Waits, Steely Dan, and just about everybody else!
It was in 1973 that Lou Adler signed Scott to his Ode label for Tom Scott and The L.A. Express featuring leader Scott, keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist Max Bennett, guitarist Larry Carlton and drummer/percussionist John Guerin. Scott’s accessible pop-jazz fusion set even made room for another Coltrane cover (“Dahomey Dance”) but is likely best-remembered for the funky “Sneakin’ in the Back” which has become a staple of sampling; it’s appeared on songs by artists from Madonna to Wu-Tang Clan. Following this debut, Sample and Carlton departed to concentrate more fully on their other group, The Crusaders (formerly The Jazz Crusaders). Scott drafted Larry Nash and Robben Ford into the band, and took the group on the road with Joni Mitchell, resulting in her Miles of Aisles live LP. Subsequent work followed with three-fourths of The Beatles, but before long, The L.A. Express returned to the studio for Tom Cat. Guerin guested on the album, as did Mitchell on the vocal refrain of “Love Poem.” Sticking to the same funky fusion vein as its predecessor, Tom Cat was rewarded with a Top 20 placement on Billboard’s Jazz and R&B charts.
Soon, though, Scott and The L.A. Express decided to go their separate ways. For 1975’s New York Connection, the final album on Raven’s set, Scott assembled an A-list session crew whose names will be familiar to anyone who was reading LP sleeves in the seventies, including Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Steve Gadd (drums), Eric Gale (guitar), Richard Tee (keyboards), Gary King (bass) and Bob James (electric piano). The new band was no less inspired than the old band, and in fact, Scott is quoted in Ian McFarlane’s new liner notes as admitting, “Although the L.A. Express certainly showed me some of the combinations that are possible in terms of rhythmic interaction, the New York Connection thing was rhythmic interaction and rhythmic subtlety to the nth degree.” New York Connection included tunes written by Scott and Tee as well as by Michel Colombier and the team of Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. A certain “Quiet Beatle” even dropped by the sessions to add slide guitar to Scott’s composition “Appolonia (Foxtrata).”
After the jump: details on Raven’s bonus tracks, the complete track listing with discography, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen Issues “High Hopes” Outtakes For RSD, MusiCares Tribute Hits DVD and BD
When Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this January, the iconic artist earned his eleventh chart-topping album. That was enough to make him the No. 3 all-time champ in that department, just behind The Beatles (19) and Jay-Z (13). The eclectic recordings used to assemble High Hopes divided many of Springsteen’s devotees, as did the contributions of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. But par for the course with any Bruce-related release, the songs heard on High Hopes were culled from a larger group, leaving outtakes behind. On April 19’s Record Store Day, you’ll have the chance to hear some of those tracks on a new four-song, 12-inch vinyl EP entitled American Beauty. And that’s not all coming from the prolific singer-songwriter-bandleader. A little less than a month earlier, on March 25, Columbia Records will release A MusiCares Tribute to Bruce Springsteen on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download, on which many of The Boss’ fans and contemporaries salute him in song for his philanthropy.
American Beauty premieres three songs from the same sessions that yielded much of the material on High Hopes. “Mary, Mary,” “Hey Blue Eyes” and “American Beauty” all feature Morello’s blistering guitar. Details have not been provided regarding the fourth track, “Hurry up Sundown,” though speculation has already run rampant among Springsteen fans. The Guardian speculates that “Sundown” may be the same song recorded by the garage rockers Balloon Farm in 1967. The Laurie Records single was co-written by the band’s Mike Appel…the same Mike Appel who famously managed Springsteen and produced his first albums. As High Hopes featured a number of diverse covers, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that another cover version would feature on the Record Store Day EP.
After the jump, we’ll take a look at A MusiCares Tribute to Bruce Springsteen! Read the rest of this entry »