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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Booker T and the MG's--Green Onions (1962)

    The void left as the pillars of Rock and Roll went by the wayside (1960-64) was filled by various different genres. It was the rise of the girl groups, and male singers who were mostly looks a little talent. Folk music rose up to fill the void as did Jazz. Just like in the early/mid 70's, the Billboard charts were full of different kinds of music, and it's in this environment that Booker T and the MG's not only found success, but helped laid the foundations for Memphis soul. 
     The original group consisted of Booker T. Jones (keys...and who was just 17 when the band formed), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). Steinberg was replaced by Donald "Duck" Dunn in 1965. The band was assembled to be the house band for the Stax Record company out of Memphis. During the 60's they put down the foundation for much of what you heard from Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and many others. 
      One day in 1962 during a break, the band was fooling around with a organ riff by Jones. Jim Stewart who was president of Stax at the time liked what he heard. Enough so that when it was polished up a bit, he recorded and released it as, "Green Onions". The song took off to #3 on the charts, and set the works in motion for a series of soulful instrumentals. They reached the top 40 seven times from 1962-1969. Their sound, not only for themselves, but for a myriad of other artists made Booker T and the MG's (which stands for Memphis Group) one of seminal groups of the 60's.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bon Jovi--Living on a Prayer (1986)

    Arguably, Bon Jovi is the only hair metal group to come out of the 80's with it's artistic and personal dignity in tact.  
     For almost 30 years, they have continued their winning musical formula combined with the good looks of Ritchie and Jon to give them prolonged success. One of the reasons for this is a somewhat businesslike approach to the Bon Jovi brand and do this without looking like total sellouts to the dollar (like KISS does). For instance, if they feel it's time for a break...they take it, such as the early 90's when Sambora and Bon Jovi recorded successful solo albums, or in the late 90's when the entire band took several years off. They stay out of the headlines unless it's for positive things (except for the occasional Sambora excursion into all things blond and busty).
     They are not on the top 100 charts like in the 80's or 90's, but they have a very rabid fan base, they still sell out arenas all over the world and market themselves in a way that always seems to keep them in the headlines in a way that sells the Bon Jovi name.  This during a time where their counterparts are either on an endless quest for love and breast implants (hello Bret?), or still attempting to clean up after decades of excess (calling Dr. Drew!).
     A rock star veteran at the age of 49, Jon and the band seemingly can ride on this wave as long as they choose.  I would have never thought that on seeing the following video 25 years ago...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michael Bolton--Soul Provider (1989)

     For several years in the middle and late 70's, Michael Bolotin (his real name), spent much of his time singing hard rock as a solo artist and as frontman of the group, Blackjack who at one time toured with Ozzy Osbourne.
      The early and mid-80's saw a name change, and more of a focus on songwriting with his first hit being, "How am I Supposed to Live Without You" for Laura Branigan in 1983. Much of the decade was spent writing for artists as diverse as Cher, Kenny G, Night Ranger and KISS. Finally in the late 80's, he attempted to resurrect his solo career and after a respectable showing with the 1987 album, "The Hunger", Bolton hit a home run with the album, "Soul Provider". The single itself reached the top 20, but it was his remake of the song he had written for Branigan that hit #1 and sent his solo career into orbit.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Blues Magoos--(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet (1966)

Ah...the power of a riff.

There are some riffs that are known for decades. Try to find a guitar student (ANY guitar student) who has been playing more than a few minutes and you will hear a variation of Deep Purple's, "Smoke on the Water". Musicians have been "borrowing" riffs for as long as there has been men and women writing music. Which brings us to The Blues Magoos....

The group began as "The Trenchcoats" in 1964 with a change to "The Bloos Magoos" and then "The Blues Magoos" by 1966. Along with it came a change to a Psychedelic sound, and their first single after signing with Mercury Records, "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet reached #5 late that year. 

The song begins with a very cool organ riff, which has a very similar sound to, "Summertime", the George Gershwin standard which was given the rock and roll treatment by Ricky Nelson in 1962. The Magoos' song inspired Deep Purple's, "Black Night" in 1970.

The group struggled up until 1972, when they broke up, having never achieved any of the success that this single did. Interestingly enough, the band has come back together and has a new album slated for 2012 called Psychedelic Resurrection.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blues Image--Ride Captain Ride (1970)

A short break is good at times....and thanks for continuing to read while I was on a holiday....

Blues Image was a band out of Florida in the late 60's. They got their start in Tampa in 1966, then moved to Miami in 68 where their success took them to LA and a recording contract in 1969. The 1970 album, "Open" contained the big hit, "Ride Captain Ride" which reached #4 in the spring of that year. The group recorded one more album in 1970 before breaking up. Singer-guitarist Mike Pinera went to Iron Butterfly and later to Alice Cooper,  keyboardist "Skip" Konte to Three Dog Night, singer-percussionist Joe Lala to Crosby, Stills & Nash. Before they finished as a band Pinera left and was replaced by Denny Correll who became a very popular singer in the Contemporary Christian Music genre in the late 70's. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Blues Brothers--Soul Man (1978)

     The Blues Brothers had it's genesis in a 1976  Saturday Night Live sketch. In it, "Howard and his All-Bee Band" played the song, "I'm a King Bee" with John Belushi singing and Dan Aykroyd on harmonica. They were dressed in the costumes they wore for their "Killer Bees" sketch.
     The actual development for the duo (and the movie) was done at the Holland Tunnel Blues bar where the SNL crew would go for the after show party on Saturday nights. Aykroyd had a love for the blues and soon Belushi found himself immersed in it himself, they began working out some of their favorites with a band, and debuted on SNL on April 22nd, 1978. The response was enough to encourage them, with the help of Paul Shaffer to put together a hot blues band to accompany them. That led to the release of several singles and a couple of better than average albums (more because of the band than Belushi's singing). Sam and Dave's, "Soul Man" was the second single and reached into the top 20 in 1978.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blue Oyster Cult--(Don't Fear) The Reaper (1976)

     In 1967, the group was known as Soft White Underbelly and was playing most of their gigs around Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. Music critic, road manager, and songwriter Sandy Pearlman led them through some stormy waters as the band shuffled members and band names before becoming, Blue Oyster Cult in 1971. Pearlman had designs on BOC to become the American answer to Black Sabbath. At least to my ears they reached beyond Sabbath as their lyrics were much witter and the music wasn't near as heavy handed. Of course, this made them into more of a straight ahead rock band rather than heavy metal, but at times could show those qualities
     By 1976, BOC was getting more airplay with each succeeding album. With "Agents of Fortune", the group broke through to the Hot 100 for the first time with, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". They were to have several other minor hits, most notably "Burning For You" in 1981. Both the single and album were high water marks for the band, but they continued making music that reached the album and hard rock charts until the mid to late 80's.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blue Magic--Sideshow (1974)

     Blue Magic was formed when the WMOT production company put together the distinctive voice of singer/songwriter Ted Mills with the group, Shades of Love. The group sounded good, but lack a true lead singer. Later that year of 1972, they signed with Atco Records and had a nice run of hits on the R&B charts throughout the mid'70s. The song, "Sideshow" was by far the biggest hit for them on the pop charts in 1974.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: Marcie Blane--Bobby's Girl (1962)

    Am bringing back the Sunday Morning Vault by popular demand...well, not really, just had this stack of songs that fit the mold...

     When one thinks of the gigging, recording, scraping, begging and pleading that most musicians have to do just to get heard by an audience of any size, the idea of just walking into a small studio and making a demo seems beyond belief. However, in the 50's and early 60's, more than a few stars found their way just like that. Remember Elvis? He was discovered while a truck driver just going into a studio and making a 45 for his mother.

     Which brings us to Marcie Blane. While in high school, she recorded a demo and the Seville record label released it as a favor to for a friend. The demo ended up going to #3 in the fall of 1982, but after another single that barely reached the top 100 her "career" was over. She left music for good and became a music & arts educator.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blood, Sweat, and Tears--Spinning Wheel (1969)

Keyboard player Al Kooper had a dream musically to blend rock, pop, R&B, and Jazz. To those ends, he brought together some of the best musicians in the business to form Blood, Sweat, and Tears in 1967. The intention at the time was to blend rock, pop, R&B and Jazz. However, the arraignment with Kooper at the helm since he left due to creative differences, and Canadian David Clayton Thomas was brought in as lead singer. Their second album was the one that brought about a three or four year stretch where BS&T were at the top of their game. (and the charts)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blondie--Heart of Glass (1979)

Chris Stein and Deborah Harry began working together in 1973. After shuffling of names and personal, they settled in as  Blondie by 1975. Through their regular gig at Max’s Kansas City, and CBGB, they helped lay the foundation that would lead the musical world out of disco. They had a total of four #1's before their break up in 1983, but reformed in 1999, has had another #1 in the UK, and just released an album of new material this past year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Black Sabbath--Iron Man (1972)

     Over the years there has been a lot of misconceptions about Black Sabbath, most of them false. They did not invent what is known as "heavy metal", but they took a form already there, and popularized it beyond anyone's imaginings. That is usually the way it goes in music, someone develops the style, and one person or group brings it to the public in a form that makes it easy to say they "invented" it.
     Nor are they an "occult" band. They would take occult themes at times and put them into the music, but they actually were aiming for the aural equivalent of a horror movie, and in fact has dealt with many social issues through that filter.  The band was named Earth early on, until they ran across a band with the same name. In looking for a new name, they came across a theater next to where they were doing a gig. The movie playing at the time was Boris Karloff's 1963 film, "Black Sabbath".
     Something that you might not know was that just before this name change, guitarist Tony Iommi had left the band to join Jethro Tull. It was a short lived affair however, as Iommi wasn't much for Ian Anderson's dictatorial style in leading a band. He rejoined his old band, and they put out their debut album in 1970. The album, "Paranoid" came later that year, which produced their only two songs on the top 100 and has been hailed since as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.
     "Iron Man" has been closely associated with the comic of the same name, but has nothing to do with it, although the song has been used in the movie series. The song and the album that launched it propelled Black Sabbath into the forefront of their newly found genre. The success of the group has never really waned in the UK, and still have a rabid following stateside As of November of this year, lead singer Ozzy Osbourne has rejoined the group with the idea of recording again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Black Oak Arkansas--Jim Dandy (1973)

     If you head east of Jonesboro Arkansas, out past Lake City at the intersection of Highway 18 and 158, you will find the village of Black Oak. Depending on where you are looking they have between 250 and 300 residents.
     Back in the mid-60's a group of guys calling themselves, "The Knowbody Else" were charged with larceny for stealing their first PA system. Although the initial 26 year sentence to a prison farm was commuted, they moved to a place in the northeast Arkansas hills. This gave them an opportunity to hone their style, which was southern rock with a hint of Detroit style attitude (think of a southern version of The Stooges). Their first album album stiffed in 1969, but a name change (to Black Oak Arkansas), and relentless touring helped their next recording in 1971 make some waves.
     The song, "Jim Dandy" was a cover of the 1956 R&B single by LaVern Baker, and was propelled by the vocals of Ruby Starr who joined the band after lead singer Jim Mangrum heard her in a club in Evansville, Indiana. The song reached the top forty late in 1973. Starr went on to form her own band in 1974. Mangrum is still recording and touring with the band today, although with the literally dozens of band member changes he has been the only constant throughout the years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Blackbyrds--Walking in Rhythm (1975)

     Trumpet player Donald Byrd had spent well over 20 years playing in bands. The jazz leader had a undergraduate degree from Wayne State , and then a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music. From that point on he played in various groups, and as a sideman for many of the best in the business; Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Herbie Hancock, and Art Blakley.
      He also loved to teach, and it was during his stint at Howard University that he came up with the idea of putting together his own group, made up of the best students in his class. They were signed to Fantasy records in 1973 and just two years later hit gold with the single, "Walking in Rhythm". They stayed together as a band until 1980, and has not only been an influence on a generation of jazz-funk bands, but an early generation of hip hop artists as their music has been heavily sampled. Byrd continues to teach, most recently as an artist-in-residence at the University of Delaware.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stephen Bishop--It Might Be You (1983)

   A few days ago, we featured a song that used in the movie, "Top Gun", and mentioned how that in the 80's, music and movies were blended together in way never done before. The best known example of an artist who took full advantage of this was Kenny Loggins. One that was successful in writing songs used for movies that flew under the radar was Stephen Bishop.

    Bishop's, "On and On" was a top 20 hit in 1977, but in the 80's was best known for writing music for Animal House, Roadie, The China Syndrome, Unfaithfully Yours, and the duet, "Separate Lives" which a number one hit for Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin from the movie, "White Nights". Of all of those 80's songs, this one from the movie "Tootsie" starring Dustin Hoffman reached the highest charting at
#25 in 1983.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elvin Bishop--Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976)

     Elvin Bishop was born in California, but moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma at the age of ten. He was noted in his early years not for his guitar playing, but his academics which got him a full scholarship to the University of Chicago as a National Merit Scholar finalist where he studied Physics.

     It was while in Chicago that he met Paul Butterfield and joined his band which is where he remained for the next 5 years. He went solo in 1968, and began touring the country playing with many of the best blues artists in the country. His first real recognition to me was in 1975, when his song, "Travelin' Shoes" was getting a lot of FM airplay. However, it was the next year that he hit big with, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"

      Mickey Thomas was a backup singer at the time, and since Bishop didn't think his gravelly voice did the song justice, invited Thomas to sing lead. It turned out to be #3 on the charts, and eventually lead to Thomas being asked to sing with Jefferson Starship. Bishop continues to tour and record today.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Big Country--In a Big Country (1983)

     Sometimes the term "one-hit wonder" is used in music as as somewhat derogatory, when in fact some of them have provided us with the best music of a certain decade, as in this one.

      Big Country had three chart singles in the US, although their popularity in the UK continued well into the 1990's. The only song that most anyone remembers stateside is, "In a Big Country" where the use of a MXR Pitch Transposer gave the guitars the sound of bagpipes. This, like many hits from the early 80's, was helped along with the video which included beautiful scenes of their native Scotland.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Big Brother & the Holding Company--Piece of my Heart (1968)

     Most people see Big Brother & the Holding Company as the group that launched Janis Joplin, but to do that would be limit the influence that the group had in the San Fransisco music scene...

     The band, formed in 1965 had become, along with the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the top bands in the area. For all of these groups, that was all that mattered. The idea of someone being popular outside the bay area just wasn't part of the esthetic. It was the Monterrey Pop Festival that launched these groups into the limelight...more on that another day.

     Janis was invited to try out with the band, who was considering joining Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. The rehearsal went OK, but it was obvious that there was some work to be done. Joplin's voice was geared towards folk and acoustic blues, and the band was totally into the psychedelic jams of the day.

     They began to jell as Janis began to adapt her voice to singing with a LOUD band, and the group conformed to a more structured style. The obvious problems with this began to manifest itself after Monterrey and the rush by major record labels to scoop up all of the talent. Big Brother had been used to be at the top of the heap before Joplin (at least in SF). The focus on her by the record labels and the media didn't sit well with the rest of the band.  Although time has shown them to be a good group, it was also obvious that their lead singer was in a different league.

     The union lasted until 1968 and produced two albums, the last one being the classic, "Cheap Thrills". The group had several albums that were good, but has always performed in the shadow of their former lead singer. They certainly deserved better. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The B-52's--Love Shack (1989)/Roam (1989)/Deadbeat Club (1990)

     The B-52's have to be one of the quirkiest (and best) party bands ever. Taking the best elements of a 60's dance party esthetic (in sound and style), new wave (which in my opinion was a direct result of the 60's as well) and 80's style oddness that was always danceable has allowed them to continue to be popular over 20 years after the last hit.
      That shouldn't be surprising considering for the 10 years previous to these songs they held that mantle of "party band"as well. What was interesting was the top 40 success in the late 80'sseemed to have come out of nowhere. They had a influence on the US version of  new wave in 1979--1983 with their debut, "The B-'52's", "Wild Planet", and "Wammy". But with the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson in 1985, the group went into a tailspin and it was thought for the most part that it was over. 
     During the few years they were not touring, drummer Keith Strickland began to take up guitar and writing songs. After hearing his offerings, the rest of the group began writing together what was to become, "Cosmic Thing" which spawned three top 40 hits and gave them success they could never have imagined. They still tour, and although recording sporadically, each of their last two albums reached top 20 status.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dobie Gray--Drift Away (1973)

     Was getting ready to write today's blog, when I got the word that Dobie Gray passed we reflect on his career today...

     He was born Lawrence Brown in 1940 and has had what one would call the career of a music lifer. He had two major hits, "The 'In' Crowd" in 1965, and "Drift Away" in 1973, he recorded on many small labels as well. Gray helped provide vocals on soundtracks and spent two and half years working in the Los Angeles production of "Hair". Dobie's last charting song was 1979's, "You Can Do It" which reached #35 on the charts, and was then followed by a long stretch where he concentrated on music that was more country in style. Artists such as Ray Charles, George Jones, Charlie Pride, and Don Williams recorded Gray's music, and in 1986/87, made a series of singles that made it on the country charts.

    Beyond 1990 was a time of writing and singing, with a resurgence in the spotlight in 2003 due to the success of Uncle Kracker's cover of "Drift Away". He was 71....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Berlin--Take My Breath Away (1986)

     Am not an expert on movies, but if I recall, the 80's became the first decade where the lines between popular music and film were blurred. Much of the emphasis in the decade has been on MTV and it's influence on music, but there was a great impact on movies as well. The cross pollination between the two is not unusual, as Elvis made a career of it in the 60s, but the movie was the usually the vehicle for selling the music. In the 80's, with the advent of the mini (and inexpensive) movie ads that were videos being pumped it televisions throughout the world, the music became advertisements for the movie.

     I'm not suggesting that the movies or music wouldn't have done well without the other (at the time Cruse was a red hot up and comer), but there is no doubt that the 80's were a time that's difficult to separate the music from the film that it is found on. Twenty-five years later, many think of Berlin as a one hit wonder, and it was their only #1 hit, but they had a top 40 song just two years before, and had been hitting the lower end of the charts since 1983. On the flip side, you cannot watch the movie without thinking of the song.....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brook Benton--Rainy Night in Georgia (1970)

     Brook Benton was earning a good living as a songwriter and producer in the mid-50's for artists such as Clyde McPhatter, and Nat King Cole. He was also beginning to record some himself with so-so results until 1959, when his, "It's Just a Matter of Time" reached #3 on the charts. This continues a four year period where he records a LOT of singles, and 15 of them made the top 20.
     The British invasion years were not kind to him, but he made a major comeback on the charts in 1970 after a move to Atlantic Records with, "Rainy Night in Georgia"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

George Benson--On Broadway (1978)

Happy Saturday to you!

Since 1964, George Benson has been playing his brand of jazz with that distinctive guitar and smooth vocals. He started out playing straight Bebop and as time went on began to play more in a crossover of Jazz and pop. Beginning with the album, “Breezin”, Benson went on a period where he was hitting the jazz and Billboard 100 charts. 

"On Broadway" was a cover of a hit by The Coasters from 1963, but here adds his own urgency that totally links up with the lyrics. This was not his biggest hit, but certainly one that put him on the map. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pat Benatar--I Need A Lover (1979)

    By the time of Pat Benatar's first album in 1979, she was still a relative newcomer to rock. She grew up studying classical music and theater with the initial goal of going to Jullard. Instead, she married and worked as a bank teller for several years. Seeing Liza Minnelli in concert inspired her to give music another try, and over the next several years sang and performed at different venues in Virgina, then in New York after her husband's discharge (he was in the army). She never starting singing in a rock style until 1975 and a few years later started wearing her catsuit that would soon become her trademark. She was signed to Chrysails records in 1979 and soon released her debut, "In the Heat of the Night".
     "I Need A Lover" was written by another up and comer known by his stage name of Johnny Cougar (later known by his real name, John Mellencamp) and was on his debut album, "A Biography" in 1978 which was not released in the states, and again on his first album stateside, "John Cougar".  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Bellamy Brothers--Let Your Love Flow (1976)

      David and Howard Bellamy had moved back to their home base of San Antonio, Florida after tiring of doing the bar circuit in Atlanta in the early 70’s. Their music however had caught the attention of a friend of singer/comedian Jim Stafford who recorded David's, "Spiders and Snakes" which became a top 5 hit. The money he made allowed them to move to LA to pursue their own music career, and in 1976 had a number 1 hit on the hot 100. They were one of country music's top acts during the 80's.