CULT CLASSIC: ART BLAKEY AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS-ROOTS AND HERBS.

Cult Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Roots and Herbs.

Nowadays, many music historians believe that The Jazz Messengers made their live debut in 1954 and a year later recorded At the Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 on November the ‘23rd’ 1955. It featured the original lineup of drummer Art Blakey, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Horace Silver and a front line of trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. However, this lineup would evolve over the next six years.

On February the ‘18th’ 1961, Art Blakey and the latest lineup of The Jazz Messengers journeyed to the original Van Gelder Studio, in Hackensack, New Jersey. It featured  none of the original lineup. The Jazz Messengers’ lineup had been fluid since then and would continued to be right through until 1990.

One of the new recruits was tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter who had written six new compositions for the Roots and Herbs’ sessions. This included Ping Pong, Roots and Herbs, The Back Sliders, United, Look At The Birdie and Master Mind. They would be recorded by Art Blakey and the incarnation of The Jazz Messengers.

Joining drummer Art Blakey in the rhythm section was double bassist Jymie Merritt. Two pianists were used Bobby Timmons and Walter Davis Jr and the front line featured trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. They were about to record two albums The Freedom Rider and Roots and Herbs and were joined by engineer Rudy Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. Soon, the Roots and Herbs’ sessions were underway.

Five tracks that showcased Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ unique brand of hard bop were recorded that day. Bobby Timmons played piano on two tracks, Ping Pong and Look At The Birdie. Then Walter Davis Jr played on Roots and Herbs, United and Master Mind. By the end of the day Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ had nearly finished the album.

There was just one track to be recorded, so on May the ‘27th’ 1961 so Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers made the return journey to Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. That day, they recorded The Back Sliders with Bobby Timmons on piano. Roots and Herbs was completed and bandleader Art Blakey must have been hoping that Blue Note Records would release the album later in 1961.

Sadly, lightning struck twice for Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers when Blue Note Records decided to shelve the release of The Freedom Rider and Roots and Herbs. This was not uncommon at Blue Note Records where releases were often postponed or shelved. However, it was frustrating for artists. Especially when this happened several times.

It had happened to the same lineup of Art Blakey and the same lineup of The Jazz Messengers the previous year. They had entered Van Gelder Studio on the ‘7th’ of August 1960 to record two albums, The Freedom Rider and Like Someone In Love. They were completed on August the ‘14th’ 1960, and bandleader Art Blakey was looking forward to their release.

The classic album A Night In Tunisia was released in 1961. However, Like Someone In Love was shelved and wasn’t released until 1964. Now it was happening all over again.

When an album was shelved for a number of years artists often worried that the music wouldn’t be relevant. Music was constantly changing and jazz was no different. 

By the late-sixties jazz was no longer was popular as it had been a decade earlier. Comparisons were being drawn with the blues which was no longer as popular and was struggling to stay relevant. Many clubs that had once hosted blues musicians now promoted concerts by rock bands. Meanwhile, a number of well known blues musicians were struggling to make a living and some had even gone back to the 9 to 5 grind. Jazz needed a saviour.

It found it in fusion. The genre was developed in the late-sixties when mucicians experimented with jazz harmony and improvisation with rock music, funk, and R&B. Soon, electric guitars, banks of keyboards and later, synths were used by the pioneers of fusion. By 1970, fusion had grown in and transformed jazz and may well have saved the genre from becoming irrelevant.

Despite the transformation of jazz since 1967, and fusion continuing to grow in popularity, Blue Note Records decided to release Roots and Herbs in October 1970. This was an album of hard bop that had been recorded nine years earlier in 1961. It was a snapshot in time and a reminder of how jazz used to sound.

When Roots and Herbs was released in October 1970, the album wasn’t the commercial success that Blue Note Records had hoped. It seemed to slip under the musical radar. However, the critics that reviewed the album realised that Roots and Herbs was one of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ finest album and a reminder of his inimitable brand of hard bop circa 1961.

That’s no surprise given the quality of the personnel that features on Roots and Herbs. Each member of this all-star band seamlessly unleash stunning solos and deliver a series of energetic performances. Meanwhile, bandleader Art Blakey’s playing was fluid and powerful as his swing beat provides the heartbeat throughout Roots and Herbs. 

There’s no ballads on the album which is bristling with energy as Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers work their way through the six Wayne Shorter compositions. They’re a tantalising taste of what was to come from this talented composer and a reminder of one of the best lineups of The Messengers. 

It’s ironic that Roots and Herbs was shelved by Blue Note Records and never surfaced until October 1970 as the album features a series of peerless performances. So much so, that choosing the highlights isn’t easy. However, Ping Pong, Roots and Herbs, Look At Birdie and Master Mind feature Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at their very best. 

By the time Roots and Herbs was released, the lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had changed a number of times. Bandleader and cofounder Art Blakey wanted to play alongside the best up-and-coming jazz musicians and new names joined the band and others left. This included the five musicians that featured on Roots and Herbs who were hugely talented and all went on to enjoy successful careers. 

There’s no doubt that their time as members of The Jazz Messenger was an important part of their career and they improved as musicians. Art Blakey had high standards and wouldn’t settle for second best. That’s apparent through on Roots and Herbs where they constantly reach new heights. 

Sadly, though, Blue Note Records waited too long to release Roots and Herbs. If it had been released in 1960 or 1961 when hard bop was much more popular it might have been a bigger success than it was when it was released in October 1970. By then, fusion was King and hard bop was seen by many jazz fans as yesterday’s sound. As a result, Roots and Herbs passed many record buyers by and it never found the wider audience it deserved. 

Fifty years later and that’s starting to change. Roots and Herbs was until relatively recently one of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers’ least well known albums, but this oft-overlooked and lost hard bop classic is belatedly starting to find a wider a wider and appreciative audience . 

Cult Classic: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Roots and Herbs.

CULT CLASSIC: ROLAND HAYNES-2ND WAVE.

Cult Classic: Roland Haynes-2nd Wave.

Forty-five years ago in 1975, Roland Haynes released his debut album 2nd Wave on the Detroit-based Black Jazz Records. The label was founded by Gene Russell and Dick Schory and released twenty albums between 1971 and 1975. 2nd Wave was the label’s penultimate release and it folded later in 1975. By then, the label had released a number of important, influential and innovative albums including 2nd Wave. 

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1971, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Fittingly, Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

In their first year, Black Jazz Records also released Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys, Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain, Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse and Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq. By the end of 1971, the new label had released six albums in its first year. Other labels must have looked on enviously.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records, which was a successful country and western label which  was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour, In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

By 1972, Black Jazz Records was adding new artists to their roster and signed Henry Franklin who released his album The Skipper later that year. So had another new signing The Awakening, who released Hear, Sense and Feel.

In between albums from Henry Franklin and The Awakening Doug Carn released his sophomore album. This was Spirit Of The New Land which featured his wife Jean Carn, and was the label’s most successful release of 1972.

1973 was Black Jazz Records’ busiest year. Familiar faces returned with new albums including Gene Russell’s Talk To My Lady and Rudolph Johnson’s The Second Coming. However, Black Jazz Records were still signing new artists.

Their latest signing was Kellee Patterson who released her debut album Maiden Voyage in 1973. It was the twelfth album that the label had released in two years.

The other three albums released during 1973 were from familiar faces and included Walter Bishop, Jr’s Keeper Of My Soul, Doug Carn’s Revelation and The Awakening’s Mirage. Again, Doug Carn was responsible for Black Jazz Records’ most successful album.

Doug Carn returned in 1974 with Adam’s Apple which was the label’s biggest selling album that year. Black Jazz Records only released two more albums during 1974 Henry Franklin’s The Skipper At Home and Calvin Keys’ Proceed With Caution! 1973 wasn’t a busy year for Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s label which would release just two more albums.

The first album Black Jazz Records released in 1975 was Roland Haynes’ 2nd Wave. It was also the keyboardist’s debut album.

When Roland Haynes signed to Black Jazz Record very little was known about him. He hadn’t played on any other albums as a session musician, but his talent was undeniable and that was why he was about to record his debut album.

Although  Roland Haynes was primarily a keyboardist, he could also play the bass. This meant he had a lot in common with Henry Franklin who was booked to play on the sessions for 2nd Wave. He remembers the session and Roland Haynes: “It was a lot of high energy, it was fun cause Roland was a high energy guy.” That was evident in the music he was about to record.

Roland Haynes led a quartet during the 2nd Wave sessions. It featured drummer Carl Burnett, bassist Henry Franklin and Kirk Lightsey whose wah-wah-fuelled Fender Rhodes proved to be the  perfect foil to Roland Haynes’ keyboard playing as the band recorded six of his compositions.

When 2nd Wave was finished and ready for release it was an album that was described as “fresh and today” on the cover. It was also an album that musically was ahead of its time. Soul-jazz, fusion and jazz-funk featured on the six tracks on that was later compared to John Patton’s 1969 album Accent, Herbie Hancock’s classic album Head Hunters and Miles Davis’ seventies band that featured Chick Correa, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Keith Jarrett. However, when 2nd Wave was released it was a familiar story.

Just like a number of other albums released by Black Jazz Records since 1971, commercial success eluded Roland Haynes’ debut album 2nd Wave. The album sunk without trace and passed critics and record buyers by. They missed out on one of the hidden gems in the Black Jazz Records discography.

Opening 2nd Wave is the ballad Eglise, where the inimitable lush sound of the Fender Rhodes plays a leading role and combines with the rhythm section who underpin the arrangement. Especially Carl Burnett’s drums and his hi-hats which are an important addition. However, it’s the deliciously dreamy floaty keyboards that provide the perfect foil to the Fender Rhodes during this breathtaking ballad.

Carl Burnett’s drumming on Second Wave is uber funky and upbeat and urgent. He’s joined by wah-wah-fuelled keyboards and a fleet-fingered Fender Rhodes solo. The band play with urgency combining jazz-funk and fusion. They also seem to have drawn inspiration from Blaxploitation soundtracks and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters during this spellbinding jam.

Straight away, Kirstin’s Play heads in the direction of fusion. Again, the keyboards and shimmering, chiming, chirping Fender Rhodes are to the fore as the drums power the arrangement along. It’s as if they’ve been asked to score a high speed car chase, and in doing so, combine fusion and jazz-funk to create what’s one of the album’s highlights and one of the hidden gems from Black Jazz Records’ back-catalogue.

After taking a back seat on previous tracks bassist Henry Franklin enjoys the opportunity to showcase his considerable talents on Aicelis. His bass accompanies a shimmering Fender Rhodes as drummer Carl Burnett plays slowly taking care to not overpower the rest of Roland Haynes’ beautiful, languid and sometimes slightly dramatic arrangement. It sounds as if it’s been partly inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Descent features both the keyboards and Fender Rhodes to the fore as the arrangement races along. It’s driven along by the rhythm section, but the keyboards to take centrestage. The funky Fender Rhodes is played with speed, power and accuracy and is matched every step of the way by the other keyboards. Meanwhile, Carl Burnett pounds on the cymbals which augment the myriad of keyboard on this high speed jam. This eight minute epic sounds as if it’s been influenced by Miles Davis’ seventies band, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Jan Hammer and even Bill Bruford.

Closing 2nd Wave is Funky Mama Moose. It’s another funky track with the quartet getting into the groove as the Fender Rhodes and keyboards combine with the rhythm section. Soon, Roland Haynes chants: “Funky Mama Moose.” Then when it drops out this allows the band to unleash one of their funkiest performances on a track that DJs, dancers and sample hungry producers will love.

After the release of 2nd Wave in 1975, Black Jazz Records released just one more album later that year. This was Cleveland Eaton’s Plenty Good Eaton. Not long after this, the label closed its doors for the last time and Gene Russell started a new label Aquarican Records.

It was the end of an era as Black Jazz Records had set out to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. This was all very admirable, but only the Doug Carn albums enjoyed any degree of success. The sales although relatively small were good for an independent label. However, maybe they would’ve fared better if released on a bigger label?

The same can be said about Roland Haynes’ 1975 debut album 2nd Wave where he combined funk, fusion, jazz-funk and soul-jazz on six tracks. They were inspired by everything from Bill Bruford and Blaxploitation soundtracks to Herbie Hancock’s classic album Head Hunters, Jan Hammer, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis’ fusion band. These influences shine through on 2nd Wave which was one of the oft-overlooked albums released by Black Jazz Records and nowadays is regarded  as a mini masterpiece.

Cult Classic: Roland Haynes-2nd Wave.

KOHSUKE MINE-FIRST.

Kohsuke Mine-First.

Label: BBE.

Format: CD.

Nowadays, the most important period in the development of  J-Jazz is between late-sixties through to the early eighties. That’s regarded as a crucial period in the development of modern jazz in Japan. During that period, many Japanese composers and musicians and bands released ambitious and innovative music that astounded those who heard it. 

When critics, cultural commentators and record buyers heard the albums that were being released they were amazed just how far Japanese jazz had come in such a short space of time.

Just over twenty years earlier Japanese music fans were banned from listening to jazz during World War II. However, after Japan’s defeat and unconditional surrender in August 1945 the wartime ban on jazz was lifted. 

Jazz fans were now able to hear jazz on the radio and watch the allied forces bands play jazz in concert halls across Japan. Some of the bands featured some of the top American jazz musicians who were serving their country. Sometimes, these musicians spent time collaborating with local jazz musicians who were keen to learn from some of the names they had only heard on the radio. 

By the time  the allied forces left Japan in 1952 and returned home, musicians like Frank Foster, Harold Lamb and Oliver Nelson had formed firm friendships with local jazzers. They had played an important part in the cultural rebirth of Japan.

Left to their own devices, a new era began for Japanese musicians who were determined to make up for lost time. Musically there had been no winners after six years of war. While jazz had been banned in Japan during the war, many British and American jazz musicians had been called up and were serving their country. Many jazz musicians had spent the war in army bands where they were usually out of harm’s way. Now they had returned home, and like their Japanese counterparts were making up for lost time.

By the mid-fifties, a jazz scene had developed in Japan, during what was later referred to as the “funky period.” However, much of the jazz music being made in Japan had been influenced by American jazz and particularly the West Coast cool jazz and East Coast hard bop. Many Japanese musicians were collecting albums on Blue Note and Prestige which heavily influenced them. It would only be later that some would find their own voice. 

Meanwhile, many of the top American jazz musicians no longer serving in the US Army, and had returned home. Some joined new or existing bands while some musicians put together new bands. Initially, they returned to their local circuit where they tried to pickup where they had left off. This changed a few years later.

In the late-fifties and early sixties, many of these musicians who had played in Japan during World War II were keen to return to a country where so many loved and appreciated jazz music. They made the long journey to Japan where they were reunited with some old friends.

During this period, Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and  Horace Silver all made the long journey to Japan where they received a warm and enthusiastic welcome. Whether any of these legendary musicians were aware at the time, they were playing a part in the cultural rebirth of Japan. Soon, many Japanese jazz musicians weren’t just content to copy Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver sonically, but were determined copy them stylistically. Before long, Japanese  jazz musicians were soon sporting the same preppy Ivy League clothes as their American counterparts. 

Despite many people enjoying the visits of American jazz musicians, the Japanese authorities heard that some musicians had been arrested on drugs offences. They tightened the law as they didn’t want musicians with drug convictions visiting the new Japan and corrupting their youth. However, with the laws tightened, much fewer American jazz musicians visited Japan. Those that visited, played in packed concert halls and continue to influence Japanese jazzers. 

However, not all Japanese jazz musicians were inspired by their American counterparts by the mid-sixties as homegrown musicians were making their presence felt. This continued as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

In 1970, twenty-six year old saxophonist Kohsuke Mine released his sophomore album Mine on the Three Blind Mice label. By then, he was already an experienced musician.

Kenji Wakabayashi aka Kohsuke Mine was born in Yushimo, Ueno on February the ‘6th’ 1944. With the country at war, he was evacuated to Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, which was home until his first year of elementary school. During that time, he didn’t hear much music. 

This changed when Kohsuke Mine returned to Tokyo. By the time he was seven or eight he was given a radio. He also heard his father sing rokyoku which is a kind of Japanese narrative music. However, it wasn’t until he joined the school choir that the young Kohsuke Mine began to participate in music. This was just the start.

Soon, he decided that he wanted to learn to play an instrument. The chance came when started high school and joined a brass band. Not long after this, he decided to learn the clarinet which he studied during his second year of college. That was still to come.

One day at high school, Kohsuke Mine was playing his clarinet when he one of his friends heard him and invited him to a local jazz cafe. Soon, the two friends were heading to Mama, a jazz kissa in Yarakucho on a regular basis. This was where Kohsuke Mine discovered jazz and this was the start of a lifelong love affair.

By the time he was in the second year of college, Kohsuke Mine was studying clarinet. At the time, there was a big cabaret scene and he joined a dance band. It turned out that the bandleader also loved jazz music and would influence the new recruit who soon had switched to alto saxophone which he preferred the sound of. 

The only problem was that Kohsuke Mine couldn’t read music. In a dance band there’s no room for improvisation and everyone has to stick to the “script.” Soon, he was able to read music and could seamlessly switch between different genres of music including Latin and swing which was music people could dance to.

Jazz was still the music that Kohsuke Mine loved and he remembers listening to Tory’s Jazz Game on the radio. The first record he bought was Paul Desmond’s With Strings. However, he also was listing to Art Blakey, Donald Byrd and Horace Silver.  This was all part of Kohsuke Mine’s musical education.

Having switched to alto saxophone he decided not to take lessons and had to find a place to practice. He couldn’t practise at home  and ended up sitting in the changing rooms of the clubs he was playing in practising. It wasn’t ideal but he soon improved and got his first job playing alto saxophone.

This was in Ashikaga and Gunma and only lasted a month. However, this was how he Kohsuke Minei met Kinoshita Circus and he played with them. After this, he was part of the band backing singer Akira Matsushima. All this was good experience for a young aspiring musician.  

By the time Kohsuke Mine was eighteen he had joined Hisashi Kato’s band and played in a Club Milan, in Milanza in Shinjuku. It  was around this time he became friendly with the leader Kato-san.

After a gig in a club in the Pony jazz cafe in Shinjuku Mr Kato arrived at the club and explained he was looking for an alto saxophonist. Kohsuke Mine played Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee at the audition and got the job in Kato-san’s band.

This was the start of a six year spell with the band where Kohsuke Mine matured and evolved into a versatile musician. He left the band around 1968.

It was around this time that Kohsuke Mine met Takehiro Honda who had a weekday residence at the Pitt Inn. The two men became friends and played three gigs including at the Pitt Inn, the US Air Base and the Nido nightclub in Niroo. Soon, it was time to move on and join a prestigious band. 

After this, there was a spell with Kikuchi’s band. This coincided with a period when Japanese jazz was modernising between 1968 and 1969 with the arrival of fusion. 

It was around this time that Kohsuke Mine made the move from sideman to bandleader. He made his debut on Live In Tokyo was recorded on the ‘30th’ of August 1969 and featured a variety of artists. It was released by Nippon Columbia. The following year he released his debut album on Phillips. 

This was First which features six tracks. The only Kohsuke Mine composition is Morning Tide. Four tracks were written by band members. Keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi wrote Love Talking and Little Abbi while drummer Lenny McBrowne contributed Bar’ L’ Len and bassist Larry Ridley penned McPhee. There was also a cover of Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser. 

First was recorded at Victor Studio on the ’17th’ and ‘18th’ June 1970. Bandleader and alto saxophonist Kohsuke Mine is joined by the American rhythm section of drummer Lenny McBrowne and bassist Larry Ridley who were joined by virtuoso keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi on electric piano.  Producing twenty-six year old Kohsuke Mine’s debut album was Masaharu Honjo.

When First was released by Phillips later in 1970 only a small amount of albums were pressed. The album was well received but they didn’t realise the importance of this groundbreaking release. It found Kohsuke Mine and his band combining contemporary jazz,  fusion and modal over six tracks.

The album opener Morning Tide was written by bandleader Kohsuke Mine. He delivers a breathtaking performance on alto saxophone. His playing is emotive, imaginative and full of enthusiasm. Not to be outdone bassist Larry Ridley and Masabumi Kikuchi on electric piano unleash stunning solos on a track that sets the bar high.

Love Talking is a sprightly sounding track that swings. Masabumi Kikuchi who wrote the piece plays a starring role on electric piano.His playing his rhythmic and he uses pauses to a degree of drama. Stealing the show is Kohsuke Mine whose playing starts off smooth and becomes impassioned as he paints pictures with music on this modernist modal piece.

Straight No Chaser is a jazz classic and the band seem to raise their game as if paying homage to Monk. This time, Kohsuke Mine unleashes a blazing bluesy saxophone burns brightly while Masabumi Kikuchi’s adds some subtle modal movements on electric piano. Later, he gets the chance to stretch his legs and  plays with an inventiveness before a bass solo takes centrestage. Then there’s a return to the main theme on this tribute to a jazz legend.

McPhee swings and grooves the rhythm section power the arrangement along. The playing is emotive and expressive and has made in America written all through it. That’s despite Kohsuke Mine and Masabumi Kikuchi both plays leading roles. So does bassist Larry Ridley during what’s a flawless piece from the quintet.

Masabumi Kikuchi wrote and named Little Abbi after his young daughter. His playing is at the heart of everything that’s good about the track. It’s poetic and expressive while beauty is everpresent during Masabumi Kikuchi’s solo during this J-Jazz ballad.

Closing First is one of the highlights of the album, Bar ‘L’ Len. Partly this is because of the interplay between the band. They’re playing is tight but still the arrangement swings and the album closes on a high.

While First wasn’t released to critical acclaim and wasn’t a commercial success it was later recognised as one of the most important albums of regional modern J-Jazz. Nowadays, the album is a cult classic and original copies of the album are much-prized rarities. 

First is also the album that launched Kohsuke Mine’s long and illustrious career. He was one of the pioneers of fusion in Japan and released a string of critically acclaimed albums. However, First was the album that saw Kohsuke Mine step out of the shadows  and into the spotlight as he made the move from sideman to bandleader a role that he was perfectly suited and handled with aplomb.

Kohsuke Mine-First.

WARREN HAMPSHIRE-LANGUAGE OF THE BIRDS.

Warren Hampshire-Language Of The Birds.

Label: Athens Of The North.

Format: CD.

Many people will remember Warren Hampshire as the guitarist in The Bees, who were formed in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight in 2001 and went on to release four albums between 2002 and 2010. However, he wasn’t an original lineup of the band and joined in time to their sophomore album Free the Bees which was released in 2002.

Just a year after The Bees’ were founded they released their debut album Sunshine Hit Me on the ‘25th’ March 2002. The four piece band had produced an eclectic and summery sounding album which was well received by critics. This resulted in The Bees being signed to Virgin and was nominated for the Mercury Prize.

There was only one problem and that was playing the songs live. That was going to require a larger band.

That was how Warren Hampshire came to join The Bees. He became part of the expanded lineup of the band who embarked on several tours and recording the band’s sophomore album.

This was Free the Bees which was released by Virgin on the ‘17th’ of August 2004. It had been recorded at Abbey Road Studio with Warren Hampshire playing guitar, Hammond organ, piano and percussion. He played his part in what was a much more uptempo album that featured a slicker sound. This appeared to critics and the album was released to plaudits and praise. The single Chicken Payback reached twenty-eight in the UK charts and already The Bees were one of the rising stars of British music.

Nearly three years later on the ’26th’ March 2007 The Bees returned with their third album Octopus.  It was their second album for Virgin, and many critics said it was the group’s finest and also their most complex album. The Bees a group of talented multi-instrumentalists were improving with every album.

For their fourth album Every Step’s A Yes, which was released by Fiction Records on the ’11th’ of October 2010. The album found the group maturing and their music evolving. Critics were impressed with the album which received mostly positive reviews. It looked like this was the next chapter in The Bees’ story.

Especially when they supported Fleet Foxes on their 2011 UK tour. After this, many critics thought the group would return to their studio and begin work on their fifth album.

Sadly,The Bees never released another album and in 2018 Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin formed a new band 77:78. By then, Warren Hampshire had embarked upon a new chapter in his career.

A year earlier, in 2017, he had released his collaboration with Greg Foat, Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand on the Athens Of The North label. This was the first of a series of critically acclaimed albums by Hampshire and Foat.

The pair released two albums in 2018. The Honey Bear and Nightshade showcased a talented partnership. So did Saint Lawrence which was released in 2019. This was the fourth album the pair had recorded and released which was released to widespread critical acclaim. Despite that, Warren Hampshire’s next album was his solo album Language Of The Birds which was recently released on LP by Athens Of The North.

Language Of The Birds was recorded not long after completing recording the Hampshire and Foat albums Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand and The Honey Bear with Greg Foat.  The music on the album is influenced by the Isle Of Wight where Warren Hampshire’s lives and enjoys walking in the beautiful countryside and in the woodlands. These walks were part of the inspiration for the music.

So was his interest in catastrophism and extinction events. Then there’s the use of symbolism that was employed in the art, architecture and writings of previous civilisations. Language Of The Birds is an album of cerebral music and musings from Warren Hampshire.

On Language Of The Birds he combines elements of ambient music. avant-garde, library music, modern classical and sixties psychedelic folk. The music is underrated, spacious, ethereal and cinematic while the album cover seems to have been inspired by vintage children’s books and the fairy tales and folklore that was found within their pages and captivated generations of children. 

Warren Hampshire’s music on Language Of The Birds would be the perfect soundtrack to an animated version of an old or modern fairytale. 

As a standalone album, Warren Hampshire’s filmic music on Language Of The Birds paints pictures and transports the listener taking them on a journey into the past, stops in the present before heading into the future and visiting places that are real and imaginary that’s akin to a musical odyssey.

Warren Hampshire-Language Of The Birds.

TEENAGE FANCLUB-ENDLESS ARCADE.

Teenage Fanclub-Endless Arcade.

Label: PeMa.

Format: CD.

Much has happened to Teenage Fanclub since they released their tenth album Here on the ‘9th’ of September 2009. It was their first album since the release of Shadows on the ‘21st’ of May 2010, and marked a return to form for the band that was formed in Bellshill in 1989. Since then, much has happened, especially in the last three years.

In 2018, the five albums that Teenage Fanclub had released on Creation Records between 1991 and 1997 were reissued. Fans had long awaited the reissue of 1991s The King and especially Bandwagonesque which was released later that year and was the band’s breakthrough album of jangle pop. It was followed by 1993s Thirteen before the highlights of the highlights of the Creation Records years 1995s Grand Prix and 1997s Tales From Northern Britain. By then, Teenage Fanclub hd come of age as a band.

After the reissue of the Creation Records five, Teenage Fanclub embarked upon a promotional tour in late 2018. During the tour, the group played each of the albums in full.  It turned out to be a triumphant tour albeit one tinged with sadness.

After the tour, cofounder Gerald Love announced that he had left Teenage Fanclub after twenty-nine years with the band. This came as a huge blow. It was going to be well neigh impossible to replace one of the band’s creative forces.

Teenage Fanclub decided to shuffle the deck and longtime member Dave McGowan switched from playing keyboards and guitar to bass which Gerald Love had been playing. 

There was however, a new addition to the band. Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci had been collaborating with Norman Blake on his side-project Jonny for two decades. He became Teenage Fanclub’s new keyboardist. This was the end of what was akin to a game of musical chairs that resulted in two musicians replacing Gerald Love.

The new and extended lineup of the band began working on material for the album. Cofounder Norman Blake had already written I’m More Inclined which he played to the band. They liked the song and having given it the green light, Teenage Fanclub would soon begin working on their eleventh album. 

In January 2019, the six members of the band flew out to Hamburg, in Germany, a city that Teenage Fanclub had visited often and grown to love. They had even mixed their previous album Here at the city’s Clouds Hill Studio. This was their destination and where they began work on the album that became Endless Arcade.

Twelve songs were recorded by the band during two separate recording sessions. The loss of Gerald Love meant that the group was left with just two principal songwriters. Norman Blake contributed Home, Warm Embrace, The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, I’m More Inclined, Back In The Day and Living with You. The other six tracks were written by Raymond McGinley and included Endless Arcade, Everything Is Falling Apart, Come With Me, In Our Dreams, The Future and Silent Song. They become the first album by the new and extended lineup of Teenage Fanclub.

During January 2019, the group started recording their first album in nearly three years. Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and drummer Francis MacDonald were joined by David McGowan and new Euros Childs. Teenage Fanclub had  

decided to produce the album which they had done before. Work went well on the album but a month later, in February 2019,Teenage Fanclub left Hamburg and embarked upon a tour of Asia, Australia, North America and Europe that lasted until April 2019. 

During the tour, Everything Is Falling Apart was released as a single on the ‘20th’ February 2019. It featured a vocal from Raymond McGinley and was Teenage Fanclub’s comeback single and a tantalising taste of Endless Arcade, which at the time, was work in progress.

Seven months later, in November 2019, Teenage Fanclub returned to Clouds Hill Studio to finish recording the album. By then, the band was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. However, the only remaining original members of the band were Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley. This meant that the tracks that the group were recording for Endless Arcade had a slightly different sound.

At the time, Raymond McGinley said: “With Gerry not being there…it’s different. But then Dave is on bass and Euros is there. It’s an inspiring thing!”

Norman Blake also said: “I think some of the playing is a bit freer and looser than on recent albums. Dave and Euros’ playing is amazing, and Francis (Macdonald) on drums is really swinging.” 

The new look Teenage Fanclub completed Endless Arcade as 2019 drew to a close. 2020 was going to be a busy and exciting year for the band.

In March 2020, Teenage Fanclub announced the release of Endless Arcade in October of that year. The group were also going to tour Britain and Europe in support of their eleventh album during November and December 2020. However, it was a case of: “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”

Later in March 2020, the country went into lockdown after the global pandemic arrived in Britain. For bands and artists about to release albums or head out on tour this was a disaster.

Three months later, with no sign of normality returning Teenage Fanclub cancelled their British and European tour in June 2020. The dates were rescheduled for April and May 2021. It was also decided that the release of Endless Arcade be postposed to coincide with the new tour dates. 

While this was a huge blow Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley they decided to put the extra time to good use. They entered the studio in Glasgow and continued to mix the album. Finally, they had Endless Arcade sounding the way they wanted.

On ‘11th’ November 2002, Teenage Fanclub announced that Endless Arcade would be released on the ‘5th’ of March 2020. They also released a single edit and video for Home which was written and sung by Norman Blake. It would eventually open the album.

Just over two months later, the Norman Black composition I’m More Inclined was released as a single on the ‘25th’ of January 2021. That day, Teenage Fanclub announced that they had to push the release of Endless Arcade back until the ‘30th’ of April 2021. To make matters worse, the British and European tour dates were rearranged again and wouldn’t take place until tour dates in support of the album were also postponed to September 2021 and then during April and May 2022. This was disappointing for the band and their fans. 

Six weeks before the release of Endless Arcade the fourth single from the album was released. This was the Norman Blake composition The Sun Won’t Shine One Me which was released on the ‘15th’ of March 2021. It was another taste of what was to come on Teenage Fanclub’s long-awaited and much-anticipated eleventh album.

Two years and three months after they started recording Endless Arcade the album was belatedly released on the ‘30th’ of April 2021. This was thirty-two years after Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley cofounded the band with Gerald Love who let the band in 2018. Endless Arcade was the first album without him in the band. 

Critics wondered what a Teenage Fanclub album without Gerald Love would sound like? They also wondered about the meaning of the title? 

Raymond McGinley’s song lent its name to the album and he explains that he imagined an Endless Arcade as: “a city that you can wander through, with a sense of mystery, an imaginary one that goes on forever. When it came to choosing an album title, it seemed to have something for this collection of songs.”

Critics were won over by Endless Arcade which was released to plaudits and praise. It compared favourably to Here and was a better album than Shadows. Teenage Fanclub’s new and extended lineup showcase their inimitable brand of jangle pop that was originally inspired by Big Star and The Byrds. They also switch between and combine alt rock, indie pop and rock during a twelve track album where the music is melodic and long on hooks which includes several anthems-in-waiting. 

Endless Arcade opens with Home a driving track that is unmistakably Teenage Fanclub. They’ve set the bar high with the album opener. 

The tempo drops on the Byrds-influenced title-track while there’s a looser sound on Everything Is Falling Apart. It’s a poignant sounding track  with a despondent sounding vocal and lyrics that seems to reflect the last year.

The Sun Won’t Shine On Me is a beautiful ballad which features a soul-baring vocal. It’s very different to other tracks and was another side to Teenage Fanclub.Come With Me is a slow song with a spartan arrangement that allows the vocal to take centrestage on this anthem-in-waiting.

In Our Dreams sees the tempo rising on a track where  elements of alt-rock, psychedelia and pop are combined during this melodic track. However, I’m More Inclined is much more like Teenage Fanclub of old and is a return to form. It’s melodic and the hooks haven’t been spared. 

Then on Back In The Day the group is in a reflective mood on what’s sure to be a favourite when the group eventually play live. This is a reminder of Grand Prix or Tales From Northern Britain which was classic Teenage Fanclub. 

The Future is a thoughtful sounding song with a slow, spartan  and understated arrangement. It’s shows another side to the group. Living With You is more like their old sound. It’s a melodic and memorable paean where jangle pop and indie rock combine. 

Silent Song closes Endless Arcade and is another slow song where the group are in a reflective mood. It’s a lovely way to close Teenage Fanclub’s eleventh album.

Endless Arcade is quite different in parts to previous Teenage Fanclub albums. Partly, that’s down to the departure of Gerald Love who played such a key part in the sound and success of group. 

It used to be that Teenage Fanclub had an unmistakable sound that was instantly recognisable. Although their old sound is still present on Endless Arcade their’s new sides to the band’s music. Some of the tracks have much more understated and spartan arrangements where room has been left for the vocal. The lyrics on these songs are much more cerebral and thought-provoking. They often feature vocals that are full of emotion that are part of beautiful songs. During these tracks its Teenage Fanclub but not as we know them. However, Endless Arcade is a good album their fans will enjoy and embrace and many of the songs will become eventually become favourites.

For newcomers to the band, the best place to start is with the triumvirate of Bandwagonesque, Grand Prix and Tales From Northern Britain which is vintage Teenage Fanclub and  features the band at their very best. Endless Arcade features a grownup version of jangle pop pioneers Teenage Fanclub. They’ve matured and are older and wiser and so has their music as Endless Arcade proves.

Teenage Fanclub-Endless Arcade.

IAN CARR-BELLADONNA.

Ian Carr-Belladonna.

Label: Mr Bongo.

Format: CD.

In 1969, thirty-six year old Ian Carr who was born Dumfries, in the South West Scotland, formed Nucleus who would become one of the top British fusion groups. By then, the Scottish trumpeter was a familiar face on the London jazz scene.

He had been member of the Emcee Five, co-led the Rendell–Carr Quintet, played with the New Jazz Orchestra and the Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva Quartet. However, Nucleus was a new beginning for Ian Carr.

Within a year, Nucleus had signed to the Harvest label and released their groundbreaking debut album Elastic Rock in March 1970. The album sounded as if it had been inspired by Miles Davis 1969 albums Filles de Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. However, Ian Carr later admitted that he hadn’t heard In A Silent Way. Elastic Rock was an ambitious and innovative album but sadly wasn’t a commercial success.

It was a similar story when We’ll Talk About It Later was released by Vertigo in 1971. Nucleus’ sophomore album failed to find the audience it deserved. It must have been frustrating for Ian Carr as the group were one of the pioneers of British fusion. Meanwhile, British record buyers had been won over by American fusion and especially Miles Davis’ 1970 classic album Bitches Brew which was was certified silver in Britain.

Later in 1971 when the group returned with a new album Solar Plexus and this time, they were billed as Ian Carr with Nucleus. Despite the new name and another groundbreaking album of ambitious fusion it also failed commercially. For founder Ian Carr this was hugely disappointing and resulted in a rethink for the thirty-eight year trumpeter.

After the commercial failure of Nucleus’ first three albums the group decided to call time on their career. They had been together just two years and released three unsuccessful albums. By then, Nucleus were experiencing financial problems and the group disbanded. It looked like a sad end to the story of one of the groups who pioneered fusion in Britain.

Ian Carr decided to change tack and began work on his debut solo album. It became Belladonna which was released by Vertigo in 1972 and featured some of the top British jazz musicians. This included percussionist Brian Smith who by 1972 was the only remaining original member of Nucleus.

For his much-anticipated debut album Ian Carr wrote four of the six tracks. This included Belladonna, Summer Rain, Mayday and Suspension.  Remadione and Hector’s House were written by reeds player Brian Smith. These six tracks  were recorded at Phonogram Studios, in London, with engineer Roger Wake.

Ian Carr played trumpet and flugelhorn on Belladonna. He was joined by a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Clive Thacker, bassist Roy Babbington and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They were joined by Brian Smith who switched  between tenor and soprano saxophones plus alto and bamboo flutes. Augmenting the band on some tracks were percussionist Trevor Tomkins, Dave MacRae on Fender electric piano and Gordon Beck on Hohner electric piano. This all-star band played accompanied Ian Carr as he embarked upon his solo career.

Although Belladonna was well received when it was released in 1972, the album wasn’t a commercial success. This was hugely disappointing for Ian Carr given the quality of music on the album.

The music on Belladonna was atmospheric, ethereal and sometimes headed in the direction of avant-garde and experimental music. Other times the music is broody, moody, dark and dramatic. However, most of the time it’s fusion by one of its pioneers in Britain, Ian Carr. He really understands how to combine jazz and rock and leads a band who do this seamlessly. Sometimes this all-star band combines fusion and funk to good effect. 

Opening Belladonna is the title-track which is a slice of funky fusion that’s been heavily influenced by Nucleus. However, at the end it’s all change as Ian Carr’s lone trumpet is accompanied by steel percussion. 

Then on Summer Rain the introduction of an electric piano plays an important part in sound and success of the track. It meanders along and a stunning example of fusion unfolds as the band showcase their considerable skills. 

Initially, Remadione has a late night smokey jazz sound thanks to Ian Carr’s trumpet. Space has been left in the arrangement allowing it breath as a glistening electric piano drifts in and out before there’s a nod to Dexter Gordon on Round About Midnight. At 1:49 it’s all change as the arrangement takes on a much more traditional fusion sound. Playing a starring role is guitarist Allan Holdsworth who unleashes one of his finest performances on the album. He’s accompanied by the electric piano and the transformation of the track is complete. From there,  the band move through the gears heading for home on one of the album’s highlights.

The hissing hi-hats and wah-wah chords during the funky introduction to Mayday are reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. Soon, the horns combine with the rhythm section and shimmering Fender Rhodes and is later replaced by Allan Holdsworth’s rhythm guitar. Along with Brian Smith’s saxophone that play leading roles before Ian Carr’s trumpet rejoins as this example of funky fusion reaches a crescendo.

Very different is Suspension which is atmospheric, moody, haunting and cinematic. It sounds like part of the soundtrack to horror movie. That’s still the case when the horn takes centrestage and is accompanies by a plodding base, chirping guitar and stabs of electric piano. When all this is combined the result is a haunting filmic track  that shows another side to Ian Carr and his multitalented and versatile band.

Closing Belladonna is Hector’s House which was also the name of a British children’s television show in the early seventies. Once again, the band enjoys the opportunity to stretch their legs as the tempo rises and showcase their skills during solos. Saxophonist Brian Smith looks like playing the starring role. Then Allan Holdsworth unleashes a spellbinding guitar solo played with speed and accuracy. The rest of the rhythm section and electric drive the arrangement along before it reaches a crescendo. By then it’s obvious that Ian Carr and his band have saved the best until last.

Although Belladonna wasn’t a commercial success the album later started to find an audience and nowadays is regarded as a cult classic. It was Ian Carr’s debut album and sadly he only released one more solo album Old Heartland in 1989. However, Belladonna was his finest solo album and is a reminder of one of the pioneers of British fusion at peak of his powers.

Ian Carr-Belladonna.

PINK FLOYD-LIVE AT KNEBWORTH 1990.

Pink Floyd-Live At Knebworth 1990.

Label: Pink Floyd Records.

Format: CD.

On June the ‘30th’ 1990, some of the great and good of British rock made their way to the village of Knebworth, in the north of Hertfordshire where they were to be presented with the Silver Clef Award for outstanding contributions to UK music. They would also take to the stage and take part in an all-star concert. It featured Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Genesis, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd who were the headline act. 

That night, Pink Floyd took to the stage in front of 120,000  fans. What they were unaware was that the tapes were rolling and the performance was being recorded for posterity. Sadly, it was twenty-nine years before the concert was eventually released.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a truncated version of Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here featured on The Later Years: 1987–2019 when it was released on the ‘29th’ of November 2019. It was a highlights disc that was akin to a musical amuse bouche.

Just two weeks later, on the ‘13th’ December 2019 Live At Knebworth 1990 made its debut on the eighteen disc limited box set, The Later Years. Sadly, it was way beyond the budget of many of the group’s loyal fans who hoped that one day, Pink Floyd Records would release Live At Knebworth 1990 as a standalone release.

Just sixteen months later and Live At Knebworth 1990 was released on CD by Pink Floyd Records on the ‘30th’ of April 2021. It’s a reminder of what was historic concert where the giants of UK rock were raising money for the Nordoff Robbins Music Centre and The BRIT School For Performing Arts and Technology. Stealing the show was the headline act Pink Floyd led by Dave Gilmour.

That Saturday night, 120,000 lucky concert goers watched as the great and good of British music took to the stage. This included  Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Genesis, Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Robert Plant, Status Quo and Tears For Fears who at the time, were one of the most successful British bands. However, late on that Saturday night Pink Floyd took to the stage.

Earlier in the evening, it’s alleged that Paul McCartney had argued with members of Pink Floyd over who should be the headline act. The progressive rockers won the day, and now that darkness had descended took to the stage to play truncated versions of seven of their classic tracks.

With Roger Waters no longer a member of the band the lineup featured drummer and percussionist Nick Mason, bassist Guy Pratt, keyboardist and backing vocalist Rick Wright and guitarist and lead vocalist David Gilmour. They were augmented by saxophonist Candy Dulfer, guitarist Tim Renwick, keyboardists Michael Kamen and Jon Carin plus percussionist Gary Wallis. Adding backing vocals were Clare Torry Durga McBroomSam Brown and Vicki Brown.

Opening the seven song set was an eleven minute version of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts 1-5 from Wish You Were Here, one of Pink Floyd’s classic album. They were joined by Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer as they unleash a stunning version of a progressive rock classic and set the bar high for the rest of the set.

Joining Pink Floyd is Clare Torry who shares the lead vocal on The Great Gig In The Sky. She’s the perfect foil for lead vocalist David Gilmour her emotive vocals soaring high above the slick arrangement on the first of three tracks from the group’s Magnus Opus Dark Side Of The Moon. It results in a rapturous response from the 120,000 crowd.

The classic tracks kept on coming with a poignant rendition of Wish You Were. It’s a flawless performance with David Gilmour delivering a vocal that’s emotive and full of sadness. 

The one surprising inclusion in the Knebworth set was Sorrow, which is from Pink Floyd’s thirteenth studio album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason which was released in the UK on September the ‘7th’ 1987. The song started life as a poem penned by David Gilmour who added the music at a later date. Although the opening lines were borrow from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath the song is still regarded as one of David Gilmour first songs. It became a live favourite and in 1988 featured on The Delicate Sound Of Thunder which was the progressive rockers first live album. Two years later the group vowed the audience at Knebworth with an extended version of the song. 

This was followed by the Roger Waters’ composition Money, which was the second track Pink Floyd played from their 1973 classic album Dark Side Of The Moon. Candy Dulfer returns and her saxophone plays an important part in the sound and success of the track. It features the group at their slickest and is one of the highlights of the seven song set.

Joining Pink Floyd for the final two tracks was American keyboardist Michael Kamen. He augments the group on two tracks from The Wall which was released on the ‘30th’ November 1979. The first was Comfortably Numb which by 1990 was already one of the group’s best known songs. Here the extended lineup of the band are at their tightest and the beautiful verse harmonies play an important part in what’s one of the highlights of the set and Live At Knebworth 1990.

Pink Floyd then close the set with Run Like Hell which is also from The Wall. During the track progressive rock and fusion melts into one as David Gilmour barks out the lyrics as the appreciative audience enjoy every minute. Then after seven magical minutes the track reaches a crescendo and the headliners exit stage left.

Pink Floyd stole the show during the legendary all-star concert that took play at Knebworth on Saturday, June the ‘30th’ 1990. The competition was fierce with the great and good of British rock taking to the stage and running through a selection of some of their best known songs. Some of these artists and groups had been around for over twenty years. 

This included Pink Floyd who by 1990 had been together for twenty-five years and has released thirteen studio albums and one live album, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. It’s regarded as Pink Floyd’s finest live album with Pulse which was released in 1995 coming a close second. That was still to come.

By 1990, Pink Floyd were still on of the biggest selling British bands and since forming in 1965 had released a string of classic albums. They revisit some of these classic albums including Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here during a triumphant seven track set. It finds Pink Floyd rolling back the years on Live At Knebworth 1990, which is a near flawless where they steal the show in front of an adoring and appreciative audience which.

Pink Floyd-Live At Knebworth 1990.

CULT CLASSIC: DUKE PEARSON FEATURING BOBBY HUTCHERSON-THE PHANTOM.

Cult Classic: Duke Pearson Featuring Bobby Hutcherson-The Phantom.

By June 1968, Atlanta-born pianist Duke Pearson was thirty-five, and was about to begin record the twelfth album of his career, The Phantom. It would be the seventh album he had recorded for Blue Note Records since he first signed for the label in 1959, and later that year, had released his debut Profile.

Duke Pearson’s time at Blue Note Records was the most productive of his recording career. He signed to what was jazz’s premier label in 1959, and later that year, released his debut album Profile. Tender Eyes followed in 1960 and was his second album for Blue Note Records which he called home for most of his career.

In 1961, Duke Pearson signed to Polydor and recorded his third album Angel Eyes. However, it wasn’t released until 1968. By then, much had happened to Duke Pearson.

Next stop was Prestige where later in 1961 he recorded Dedication! Just like Angel Eyes, there was a delay in releasing the album and it wasn’t until 1970 that it was belatedly released.

On January the ‘12th’ 1962, The Duke Pearson Quintet recorded an album for the short-lived Jazztime label. This was Hush! which was released to critical acclaim later in 1961. Two years later Duke Pearson returned home to Blue Note Records.

He made the journey to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on the ‘21st’ of November 1964 and recorded what was the most ambitious album of his career. Wahoo featured Duke Pearson at his creative zenith on what was one of best and most sophisticated albums of hard bop released during the mid-sixties. When it was released just before the end of 1964, it was hailed as the finest of Duke Pearson’s career.

After releasing his critically acclaimed album Wahoo, Duke Pearson signed to Atlantic Records and recorded two albums during 1965. This included The Duke Pearson Nonet’s album Honeybuns whig was recorded on May the ‘25th’ and ’26th’ 1965 and was well received when it was released in 1966.

For his second album for Atlantic Records Duke Pearson was joined by an all-star band as he recorded what was an album of blues-tinged soul-jazz that ventures into hard bop. Just like its predecessor, reviews of Prairie Dog were positive. Despite that, Duke Pearson left Atlantic Records and once again returned to Blue Note Records.

Sweet Honey Bee.

This time it was for good, and Duke Pearson would call Blue Note Records home for the remainder of his recording career signed to the label. This began with Sweet Honey Bee which featured six Duke Pearson compositions and Big Bertha which he cowrote with Memphis Slim.

Joining Duke Pearson was all-star band that recorded Sweet Honey Bee at Van Gelder Studio on December the ‘7th’ 1966. They were responsible for a series of musical masterclasses on what was hailed as one of the finest albums of Duke Pearson’s career as he combined hard bop, post bop and soul jazz. It was released in 1967 and marked his return to the Blue Note Records’ fold.

The Right Touch.

Buoyed by the success of Sweet Honey Bee, Duke Pearson and his band recorded the followup The Right Touch on September the ’13th’ 1967. He had written the six tracks that were recorded at Van Gelder Studio by his octet that included Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding. They raised their game during a session producer by Francis Wolff.

During The Right Touch, Duke Pearson’s music continued to evolve as he and his band combined Latin jazz, post bop and soul jazz. Critics hailed this as an almost flawless album and one of his finest albums. Duke Pearson was in a rich vein of form and it seemed could do no wrong.

Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band.

Having recorded albums with a trio, quintet, sextet, octet and nonet Duke Pearson decided to record an album with a Big Band. The album Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band was recorded at  Van Gelder Studio on December the ‘15th’ 1967 and this time, was produced by the bandleader himself. He had penned five of the nine track on the album which was a stylistic departure for Duke Pearson.

He was taking a risk by recording an album that was very different to the hard bop albums that had proven popular amongst jazz fans. His compositions on Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band were very different but just as memorable. It was a case of expect the unexpected, while his interpretations of covers were captivating and left a lasting impression. Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band might have been an experimental album, but it was also an album was the perfect showcase for the multitalented bandleader, composer and pianist when it was released in 1968.

The Phantom.

By the time Duke Pearson began work on his twelfth album The Phantom, he was an important figure at Blue Note Records. He had helped move the label in the direction of hard bop and shape the new sound in his role as producer. Duke Pearson had also worked as arranger and sideman at Blue Note Records. In 1963, he had played on Bobby Hutcherson’s album The Kicker. Now it was time for the vibraphonist to return the favour on The Phantom which was billed as Duke Pearson Featuring Bobby Hutcherson.

For what would be Duke Pearson’s twelfth album featured four new compositions including The Phantom, Bunda Amerela (Little Yellow Streetcar), Los Ojos Alegres (The Happy Eyes) and Say You’re Mine. They were joined by covers of Willie Wilson’s Blues For Alvina and  The Moana Surf which was penned by flautist Jerry Dodgion. He was part of the band that recorded The Phantom.

The first session took place at Van Gelder Studio on June the ‘24th’ 1968 when “Bunda Amerela (Little Yellow Streetcar) was recorded by the band. It feathered drummer Mickey Roker, bassist Bob Cranshaw, guitarists Sam Brown and Al Gafa plus pianist Duke Pearson. They were joined by Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and flautist Jerry Dodgion. Adding a Latin flavour was the percussion including congas played by Victor Pantoja and Carlos “Patato” Valdes who also played güiro. The result of this genre-melting album was recorded on September the ‘11th’ 1968 with engineer Rudy Van Gelder and producer Francis Wolff.

When The Phantom was released later in 1968, critics discovered another ambitious album from Duke Pearson whose music continued to evolve. It was an album of post bop where he continues his mission to push musical boundaries. To do this, he add a healthy sprinkling of Latin percussion and complicated  harmonies that were inspired by avant-garde music. This lesser musicians might have struggled to cope with, but most of the time this multitalented, experienced and versatile band cope admirably during this innovative and intriguing album.

Side A.

The Phantom opens with the ten minute title-track where the groove simmers and smoulders adding more than a degree of drama and tension on this cinematic opus. It sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different is Blues for Alvina which has a much more understated arrangement and finds the band adopting a less is more approach. Space is left as the flute dances across the arrangement and drums and congas add a subtle accompaniment. Duke Pearson’s piano has a slinky sound as it take centrestage on a track where blues, jazz and Latin music melt into one during three magical minutes.

Joyous and uplifting describes Bunda Amerela (Little Yellow Streetcar), which is largely because of the addition of the Latin percussion as the arrangement sashays along with Jerry Dodgion’s flute and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes playing leading roles. Later, Duke Pearson’s fingers dance across the keyboard during a spellbinding solo where the bandleader and composer steals the show.

Side B.

Los Ojos Alegres (The Happy Eyes) opens the second side of The Phantom and the Bossa Nova beat transports the listener to the Rio de Janeiro. Duke Pearson’s piano and then the vibes atop the the crisp beat during what’s akin to a slice of musical sunshine that’s sure to brighten up even the dullest day.

It’s all change on Say You’re Mine which first featured on Donald Byrd’s album The Cat Walk. It’s a welcome addition and is a beautiful, tender and dreamy track where Duke Pearson and the band paint pictures with music. It brings to mind walking hand-in-hand with the one you love on a rainy day. Other times, the music is ruminative and invites reflection and contemplation.

The Moana Surf closes The Phantom and has starts of slowly and almost hesitantly as the guitar and flute combine. Soon, a drum roll, stabs of piano and vibes signal that it’s all change as the tempo rises. Latin percussion is added and but it’s the flute that plays a starring role before the baton is passed to the vibes and then the piano. In doing so, this allows some showboating and band members to showcase their considerable skills. Later, drums, hissing hi-hats and percussion combine and take centrestage but maybe for too long? When the arrangement gradually rebuilds it comes as a relief. The band is reunited and soon the track reaches a crescendo bringing the album to a close.

The Phantom was another ambitious album where from Duke Pearson where he combined elements of avant-garde, Bossa Nova, Latin jazz and post bop. It was the next step in his career and saw his music continue to evolve. Sadly, the album wasn’t the commercial success he or Blue Note Records’ new owners Liberty Records had hoped. Despite that, he stayed at the label he called home.

That was the case until 1971, when Duke Pearson retired from his position at Blue Note Records. The label’s new owners had made changes and it was time for the thirty-nine year old to head for pastures new. Initially he taught at Clark College and in 1973 toured with Carmen McRae and Joe Williams. By then, the Duke Pearson Big Band was back in business and touring and things were looking good for its leader. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Later in the seventies Duke Pearson received a crushing blow when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and he died on August the ‘4th’ 1980 at the Atlanta Veterans Hospital aged just forty-two. That day, jazz and the wider musical community  was in mourning at the loss of a truly talented pianist, composer, bandleader arranger and producer who left behind a rich musical legacy.

This includes The Phantom, which although it’s one of the lesser known and sometimes overlooked album in Duke Pearson’s impressive back-catalogue. The Phantom, is anther ambitious album from the Atlanta-born pianist whose music was continuing to evolve when it was released in 1968 and is a reminder of the late, great and multitalented Duke Pearson.

Cult Classic: Duke Pearson Featuring Bobby Hutcherson-The Phantom.

CLASSIC ALBUM: BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS-CATCH A FIRE.

Classic Album: Bob Marley and The Wailers-Catch A Fire 

Having signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, The Wailers released their fifth studio Catch A Fire on April the ‘13th’ 1973. The first 20,000 copies came encased in Rob Dyer and Bob Weiner’s now famous Zippo lighter’ hinged album sleeve. However,  Island Records had underestimated demand for what was a landmark album and 14,400 copies sold in the first week. More copies of Catch Of Fire were ordered after a rethink.

When the new copies of Catch A Fire hit the shops, the album had a new cover designed by John Bonis which featured Esther Anderson’s portrait of Bob Marley smoking a spliff. This wasn’t the only change to the album cover. The group was no longer billed as The Wailers. Instead, Catch A Fire was credited to Bob Marley and The Wailers.

Catch A Fire was certified silver and then gold in the UK and transformed  Bob Marley and The Wailers’ fortunes. This was the start of a period where  critical acclaim and commercial success were constant companions for Bob Marley and The Wailers. However, Catch A Fire was also the album that introduced the world to Bob Marley, a man who was much more than a singer.

Poet, philosopher and political activist are words that describe Bob Marley who was born on the ‘6th’ February 1945, in Nine Mile, Saint Anne Parish, Jamaica. During his life, he was someone who spoke up for the Jamaican people, and sadly this sometimes  put his life in danger. Despite this, he was determined to be a force for good and peace. Religion played an important in his daily life and he was a deeply religious and spiritual man. Bob Marley was a devout Rastafarian and his religion influenced the music he made. 

Back in the 1970s, Bob Marley was hugely influential and increased the popularity of reggae. Before that, although reggae hadn’t crossed-over and gained mainstream appeal. Bob Marley were instrumental in raising reggae’s profile. Especially his Island Records debut Catch A Fire which was the album that launched and transformed Bob Marley and The Wailers’ career and was their debut album for a major record label. 

Catch A Fire was Bob Marley’s first album for his new record label Island Records, which was owned by Chris Blackwell. The pair had first met in London in 1972, when Bob Marley and The Wailers were stranded in London.

They had entered in a deal with CBS Records, and gone on tour with American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash. However, things had gone badly wrong and Bob Marley and The Wailers found themselves  stranded in London. That was when they decided to approach Chris Blackwell about recording a new single. Instead, Chris Blackwell said he wanted the group to record a whole album. At the time, this was unheard of, but Chris Blackwell was adamant and he asked Bob Marley how much an album would cost? When he said between £3,000 and £4,000 Chris Blackwell gave him £4,000 and Bob Marley and The Wailers headed back to Kingston, Jamaica, to record Catch A Fire.

Now that Bob Marley and The Wailers had the funds to record a new album they headed for Harry J’s recording studio in Kingston. It had an eight track recording studio which was the type that rock bands were using. Again, this was a first, as previously, no reggae band had used such a facility. However, Chris Blackwell wanted more than a reggae album. He said he wanted: “more of a drifting, hypnotic-type feel than a reggae rhythm.” To achieve this, Bob Bob Marley travelled to London to oversee Chris Blackwell’s overdubbing of the tracks. Chris Blackwell had enlisted the help of two top American musicians, Wayne Perkins and John “Rabbit” Bundrick.

Wayne Perkins was responsible for rerecording some of the lead and rhythm guitar parts while John Bundrick added organ, synths, clavinet and electric piano to the UK mix of the album. Another of Chris Blackwell’s decisions was to lessen the heavy bass sound. Two songs were then left off the album. However, this “new mix” didn’t go down well back in Jamaica. Despite this,  music critics loved the album and it released to widespread critical acclaim. However, the big question was how would the record buying public react to Catch A Fire? 

On Catch A Fire’s release in April 1973 it initially sold 14,400 copies in the UK. However, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Island debut was certified silver and then gold. This was just the start of a glittering career. 

Catch A Fire  was the first of six gold discs and one silver disc Bob Marley and the Wailers were awarded in the UK between the release of Catch A Fire In 1973 and Confrontation in 1983.

When Catch A Fire was released in America the album only reached 171 in the US Billboard 200 and fifty-one on the US R&B charts. After this, Bob Marley and The Wailers were awarded six gold discs in America and sold in excess of three million albums stateside. However, Catch A Fire was the album that launched Bob Marley and The Wailers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

After Catch A Fire, the band embarked on a period where they released a string of classic albums and suddenly, after many years of trying, Bob Marley and The Wailers, were household names. One thing that saddens many people, is how the original Wailers weren’t part of this success story. They had split up in 1973, tired of struggling for success. Little did they know in 1973, that success was just a year away.

One of the attractions of Catch A Fire for critics and music fans alike were Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’ lyrics. Peter Tosh penned 400 Years and Stop The Train, while Bob Marley wrote the other seven tracks. Both Peter Tosh and Bob Bob Marley were both socially aware and militant and weren’t afraid of raising subjects and issues that would be deemed confrontational and controversial. Both wished for a future where people in Jamaica, and elsewhere, would be free from oppression. Other times, their view of the world was an optimistic one, and this is apparent in the music on  Catch A Fire which would eventually be regarded as a classic album.

Catch A Fire opens with Concrete Jungle. It begins somewhat hesitantly, with a guitar, rhythm section and organ combining. Quickly, the arrangement opens out and it’s tough and edgy as pulsating rhythms emerge and Bob Marley  delivers a heartfelt, frustrated vocal. Behind him, the arrangement has an understated quality, with a bass reverberating, an organ gently playing and drums steadily keep the beat. The arrangement gently pulsates as instruments emerge, join and leaves the mix. A guitar soars, but is then played subtly while a constant is the buzzing bass. Meanwhile, Bob Marley sings about the poverty and conditions faced by people in the poorer areas of Jamaica. His vocal is full of emotion, frustration and sadness as he highlights their plight in this poignant, moving and timeless song.

On Slave Driver Bob Marley’s lyrics tackle the subject of slavery head on. Drums and Hammond organ are accompanied by backing vocals as the track unfolds and the vocal enters. The arrangement is understated and meanders along taking care never to overpower the vocal. This allows the listener to focus on Bob Marley’s vocal and his righteous anger on one of the most powerful songs on Catch A Fire.

The militant Bob Marley can be heard on 400 Years which was written by Peter Tosh. The arrangement has a dark, heavy sound and is very different from the previous tracks. Even the vocal sounds different and  is deeper has an edge to it. Maybe it’s because Bob Marley is  airing his frustration and anger? Meanwhile, the the arrangement is fuller as the buzzing bass returns and  is accompanied by drums and guitar. Backing vocals are provided by The Wailers who provide the perfect accompaniment to Bob Marley’s vocal which is impassioned but full of frustration and despair

One of the best known songs on the album is the Peter Tosh composition Stop the Train I’m Leaving. Drums almost crack as they combine with the guitar and melodic sounding Hammond organ which meanders in and out of the track. Bob Marley’s vocal sounds strong, yet relaxed and heartfelt as sits atop the arrangement. Behind him, one of the best arrangements on the album is emerging as a chiming guitar, throbbing bass, subtle drums and a dreamy melodic Hammond organ combine with a powerful and charismatic vocal. It’s a potent combination is one of the highlights of Catch A Fire.

On Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby) give a  glimpse of Bob Marley’s romantic side on this lighter, brighter track. This is apparent when the organ plays, gently and melodically. Drums play, they’re subtle, similarly, the bass is way back in the mix. They take care not overpower the Hammond organ which is everpresent nor the vocal. It’s tender and heartfelt as is accompanied by one of the finest arrangements on the album. The female backing vocalists provide the perfect accompaniment on a beautiful romantic ballad.

Stir It Up is one of the tracks Chris Blackwell changed by bringing in Wayne Perkins to redo the lead guitar on the track. As the rhythm section opens this track, a bass reverberates and drums play. They’re joined by the guitar while the bass throbs way down in the bottom of the mix. Meanwhile, Bob Marley’s vocal sounds lighter and happier as the music is emerges in waves washing over the listener. 

Kinky Reggae has a laidback feel from the opening bars. The rhythm section play accompany Bob Marley who is much more relaxed and happier and is accompanied by backing vocalists as he sings lyrics loaded with not so subtle innuendo.

Very different is  No More Trouble where the rhythm  section and backing vocalists accompany Bob Marley’s impassioned and emotive vocal. He sings about peace and a cessation to the war which was tearing his country apart. Behind him, the arrangement veers between understated to dramatic as drums and percussion punctuate the arrangement. Meanwhile, soulful backing vocalists accompany  Bob Marley as he delivers a soul-baring vocal and tries and succeeds in getting his message across.

Midnight Ravers closes Catch A Fire and is another of Bob Marley’s protest songs. Here, he was ahead of his time, when he wrote about the problem of pollution. A drum roll opens the track, a guitar plays, as the song meanders along. Backing singers join in and accompany a vocal that’s saddened by the destruction he’s singing about and its effect on everyone. It’s a powerful song from Bob Marley who was akin to musical a seer with a social conscience.

On its release, it may not have been their most successful album. Eventually though, it was certified silver and then gold and by then, it had launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. It’s also an album that has stood the test of time and the messages within it are just as relevant today, as they were in 1973. 

The lyrics on Catch A Fire were socially aware and militant, and neither Bob Marley, nor Peter Tosh were afraid of raising subjects and issues that could be deemed controversial or confrontational. This included subjects like poverty, slavery and pollution all needed to be tackled in 1973. Bob Marley and The Wailers didn’t shy away from doing so, and tackled these subjects head on Catch A Fire.

Bob Marley like Peter Tosh both wished for a future where people in Jamaica and elsewhere would be free from oppression. Their view of the world was also an optimistic one. This is apparent on Catch A Fire. It was an album that featured music with a social conscience and also gave a glimpse of the romantic side of Bob Marley. Catch A Fire showed the different sides to Bob Marley and The Wailers and was the album that launched their career.

That was despite Catch A Fire only selling only 14,400 albums in the UK. Eventually it was certified silver and then gold. By then, it had launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. 

Catch A Fire is a timeless album and one of Bob Marley and The Wailers finest albums. They went on to release a string of classic albums including Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya. These album may have been more successful, but Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Island debut Catch A Fire is a classic album. 

Catch A Fire was the album that announced Bob Marley and The Wailers arrival to the wider world. Before that, The Wailers  were a hugely successful group in Jamaica. However, following the release of Catch A Fire and the decision to “rebrand” them as Bob Marley and The Wailers’ their popularity spread far and wide. 

Although Catch A Fire didn’t match the success of later albums including  Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, it’s one of the most important albums in Bob Marley and The Wailers’ back-catalogue.  Just like the rest of the albums they released on Island, Catch A Fire has been remastered at Abbey Road Studios and reissued to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Bob Marley’s birth. 

For anyone yet to discover Bob Marley and The Wailers’ music, then Catch A Fire is the perfect place to start. It was their first classic album and one of the greatest albums they released during the decade they spent signed to Island. Along with Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, Catch A Fire contains some of the best music that Bob Marley and The Wailers’ released during their Island Records years. Catch A Fire is worthy of being called a timeless classic and is powerful and poignant reminder of a musical seer with a social conscience. 

Classic Album: Bob Marley and The Wailers-Catch A Fire 

CULT CLASSIC: ESTHER PHILLIPS-WHAT A DIFF’RENCE A DAY MAKES.

Cult Classic: Esther Phillips-What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.

Despite releasing eighteen albums during a career that lasted thirty-five years most people haven’t heard of Esther Phillips. That’s a great shame because she was one of the most talented, versatile and underrated singers of her generation. She possessed a totally unique and unmistakable voice and her versatility allowed her to sing blues, country, jazz, pop and soul. Esther Phillips was a truly versatile vocalist who from an early age seemed destined to make a career out of music.

Esther Mae Jones was born in Galveston, Texas, on December the ‘23rd’ 1935, and when she was growing up her parents divorced. This resulted in her spending part of her time with her mother in the Watts district of Los Angeles and the rest of her time with father in Houston. The church played an important part in the  Esther Mae Jones’ life and she sang in the church choir. That was where her voice developed and by the time she was fourteen she was already a talented vocalist. That was when she saw the advert for a talent contest at a local blues club.

This was the perfect opportunity for Esther Mae Jones. However, she was reluctant to enter the talent contest until her sister encouraged her to do so. Reluctantly, she agreed and entered and won the talent contest at The Barrelhouse which was owned by Johnny Otis. He was so impressed that he recorded her for Modern Records and she joined his traveling revue, the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, where she was billed as Little Esther.

A year later, in 1950, aged just fifteen, Little Esther’s recording career began when she released her debut single Double Crossing Blues which reached number one in the US R&B Charts. This was the first of a number of  successful singles she released on  Savoy with the Johnny Otis Orchestra.

The followup to Double Crossing Blues was Mistrusting Blues a duet with Mel Walker which was released in 1950 and topped the charts for four weeks. However, Little Esther’s third single Misery stalled at number nine in the US R&B charts in 1950. Later that year, she released Cupid’s Boogie and her latest collaboration with the with the Johnny Otis Orchestra resulted in her third number one US R&B single.

Further success came Little Esther’s way during 1950 when Deceivin’ Blues reached number four in the US R&B charts while Wedding Boogie and Far Away Blues (Xmas Blues) both reached number six. Little did the young singer know that she had just enjoyed the most successful year of her career. Never again would she reach the same heights. 

Two years later in 1952, Little Esther released Ring-a-Ding-Doo which reached number eight in the US R&B charts. It was her eight hit single of her short carer. However, it would be another ten years before she enjoyed another hit single.

By the mid-fifties, Little Esther had become addicted to drugs and having to spend time in hospital recovering. After she left recovered and left hospital  money was tight so she had moved back into her father’s house in 1954. To make ends meet, she sang in small nightclubs around the Southern states of America. However, sometimes she relapsed and spent time in a private hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, receiving treatment for her addiction. 

By 1962,  the twenty-seven year old singer was billed as Little Esther Phillips.  She had adopted the name “Phillips” after she saw it on a gas station sign. One night she was singing in a club in Houston where she was spotted by country singer Kenny Rogers. He was so impressed that he helped her get a contract with his brother Lelan’s Lenox Record label. 

This was a new start for Little Esther Phillips and was home for her for the next two years. By 1962, she had overcome her problems and was ready to relaunch her recording career. Her comeback single Release Me produced by Bob Gans, and reached number one in the R&B Charts and reached number eight in the US Billboard 100. It looked like Little Esther Phillips was back.

In 1963, she released  I Really Don’t Want to Know as the followup and it stalled at sixty-one in the US Billboard 100. This must have been a disappointment for Little Esther Phillips after she enjoy. Little did she know that things would get worse before they got better.

Later in 1963, she released Am I That Easy to Forget which failed to trouble the charts. This was another bitter blow for Little Esther Phillips. Things improved when You Never Miss Your Water (Til the Well Runs Dry) reached seventy-three in the US Billboard 100 and gave her a minor hit single. This was a small crumb of comfort and the followup You Want It (I’ve Got It) failed to chart. 1963 had been a difficult year for Little Esther Phillips and she hoped that things would improve in 1964.

It did when she released she signed to Atlantic Records in 1964 and Double Crossing Blues was released as single in March. However, it was the B-Side Hello Walls that reached number thirty-six in the US R&B charts and give Little Esther as she was billed a minor hit single.

This was the perfect way to start her career at one of the biggest and most prestigious American record labels. It was a huge opportunity for Little Esther Phillips. However, when she released Mo Jo Hannah in May 1964 it failed to chart. It was a similar case with It’s Too Soon To Know in September and  Some Things You Never Get Used To in December 1964. Little Esther Phillips must have known that she needed a hit single soon to kickstart her career at Atlantic Records.

In March 1965, Esther Phillips as she was now billed released a cover of The Beatles song And I Love Him as a single. It reached number forty-four in the US Billboard 100 and eleven in the R&B Charts, and this resulted in The Beatles bringing Esther Phillips over to the UK, which were she gave her first overseas concerts. It looked like she was on the verge of commercial success and critical acclaim.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When Moonglow and Theme From Picnic was released as the followup to And I Love Him in July of 1965 it failed to trouble the chart. It was a similar case with Esther Phillips’ debut album  And I Love Him which was released in 1965. This many people thought was just a blip but sadly that wasn’t the case.

A year later, in 1966, Esther Phillips enjoyed a minor hit with When A Woman Loves A Man which reached seventy-three in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-six in the US R&B charts. She also released two albums Esther and The Country Side of Esther Phillips on Atlantic Records but neither album charted. This was a huge disappointment was The Country Side of Esther Phillips was one of the finest albums of her career.

The Country Side of Esther Phillips.

The Country Side of Esther Phillips was very different to her debut album and showcased another side of her music. Esther Phillips was better known for singing soul and R&B but seamlessly she switched to country music on her sophomore album. So much so, that it sounded as if she was born to sing country music.

Tracks like I Really Don’t Want To Know, Be Honest With Me,  I’ve Forgotten More Than You’ll Ever Know and No Headstone On My Grave came to life in Esther Phillips’ hands. When critics heard The Country Side of Esther Phillips it was hailed the finest of her career so far. However, on its release the album failed to chart. Things weren’t looking good for Esther.

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Sadly after the release of The Country Side Of Esther Phillips in 1966, the thirty-one year old never released another studio album on Atlantic Records. As the sixties progressed, Esther Phillips’ earlier drug problem resurfaced and she’d to enter rehab again. Whilst in rehab, she met Sam Fletcher which would later prove fortunate.

As she was recovering from her drug addiction, she released some singles for the Roulette label in 1969. After that, she re-signed to Atlantic Records and released the live album Burnin’ which was a recording of a 1969 concert at Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper Club. 

Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA) 

Three years after she’d left Atlantic Records, Esther Phillips she signed to a new contract. This turned out to be just a short stay and she never entered Atlantic Records’ studio. Instead, she released a live album Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA).

On Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA), Esther Phillips works her way through eight tracks. They’re tailor made for her and she showcase her versatility and her ability to make lyrics come to life. This is apparent from the opening track a cover of Aretha Franklin and Ted White’s Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream. She follows this up with a heartfelt, soul-baring take on Lennon and McCartney’s And I Love Him. Cry Me A River Blues is transformed as she delivers a vocal powerhouse. There’s no stopping her now and Makin’ Whoopee takes on a sassy, jazz-tinged sound, as Esther Phillips  swings and kicks loose. If It’s The Last Thing I Do features a wistful and pensive vocal and it’s a beautiful cover. The same can be said of her reading of Please Send Me Someone To Love which features a needy, hopeful vocal as her band fuse blues and jazz. That’s the perfect way to close Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA), which was the perfect showcase for Esther Phillips. 

When Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA) was released it was to widespread critical acclaim. It also reached number 115 in the US Billboard 200 charts and number seven in the US R&B charts. Ironically, Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, L.A.) was Esther Phillips’ Atlantic Records’ swan-song. A new chapter in the Esther Phillips story was about to unfold.

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The following year 1970, Johnny Otis who had discovered Esther Phillips reentered her life. She performed with The Johnny Otis Show at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival and this allowed  her music to be heard by a much wider audience. Maybe her luck was changing?

That proved to be the case. In 1971, Esther Phillips signed to Kudu/CTi and began what was the most successful period of her career. This started with her  Kudu/CTi debut was From A Whisper To A Scream.

From A Whisper To A Scream.

By 1971, Esther Phillips had been through several labels and still hadn’t found a label she could call home. That was until 1971 when she signed to Kudu/CTi. She was hot property after the release of Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, L.A.) which showed what she was capable of. The only problem was her private life and if she could stay free of drugs. If she could,  the sky was the limit for her.

Executives at Kudu/CTi realised this and knew that Esther Phillips was capable of becoming one of the biggest names in soul, jazz and R&B. By 1971, she was in a good place and great things were expected of her at Kudu/CTi when she began work on her label debut From A Whisper To A Scream.

Time was spent choosing songs that suited Esther Phillips and played to her strengths, her inimitable voice. It was a voice that sounded like it lived a thousand lives. This made it perfect for songs like Gil Scott-Heron’s Home Is Where The Hatred Is, Allen Toussaint’s From A Whisper To A Scream and That’s All Right With Me. They sounded as if they’d been written especially for Esther Phillips. Along with six another tracks they were recorded at  Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey by an all-star band.

Creed Taylor was brought in to produce From A Whisper To A Scream while Pee Wee Ellis arranged the tracks and conduct the band. It included  some of the top jazz and funk musicians of the day. This included a rhythm section of drummer Pretty Purdie, bassist Gordon Edwards and guitarists Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale. They were joined by organist and pianist Richard Tee and Dick Griffin, who was part of a horn and string section. Along with backing vocalists, they accompanied Esther on From A Whisper To A Scream. It was released in 1972.

When  From A Whisper To A Scream was release it was to critical acclaim and Esther Phillips picked up where she left off on  Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, L.A.). It  reached number 137 in the US Billboard 200 and  sixteen on the US R&B charts. Things were about to get even better for Esther Phillips.

Later, Set Me Free from the album From A Whisper To A Scream was nominated for a Grammy Award, but Aretha Franklin won the award. Ironically, the Queen of Soul thought Esther deserved to win and presented Esther Phillips with the award.  This was the start of one of the most successful periods of  her career.

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Alone Again, (Naturally). 

Later in 1972, and buoyed by the success of From A Whisper To A Scream Esther Phillips released Alone Again, (Naturally). This was her second album for Kudu/CTi. Again,  the album was produced by Creed Taylor and  everything was put in place for Esther Phillips. This included the songs that suited her and a a band of top musicians that were about to accompany her.

Among the songs chosen for Alone Again, (Naturally), Use Me, where Esther Phillips was at her sassiest. Ballads Let Me In Your Life and I’ve Never Found A Man (To Love Me Like You Do) showcases Esther’s soulful side and allow her to live lyrics. She sounds as if she’s experienced the loneliness and emotion she sings about. On Alone Again (Naturally), a despondency in her vocal as she unleashes a cathartic outpouring of sadness and pain. Then during Esther Phillips’ cover of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man she gives the song a new twist, before closing Alone Again, (Naturally) with her take on Alone Again, (Naturally) where she’s accompanied by band of top musicians.

This includes many of the same musicians that featured on From A Whisper To A Scream. This included a drummer Pretty Purdie, bassist Gordon Edwards and guitarists Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale. Bassist Ron Carter, drummer Billy Cobham and guitarist George Benson were brought onboard. Organist and pianist Richard Tee also returned. He was joined by percussionist Ralph MacDonald and Maceo Parker, who was part of the horn section that featured on Alone Again, (Naturally). It was produced by Creed Taylor, and released later in 1972.

On its release in 1972, Alone Again, (Naturally) was well received by critics.  No wonder as the album featured some of the best musicians of the seventies. They provided the perfect backdrop for Esther Phillips as she combined elements of blues, funk,R&B and soul  on another critically acclaimed album. It reached number 177 in the US Billboard 200 charts and number fifteen in the US R&B charts. Esther Phillips’ career it seemed, was entering a golden period. Especially when Alone Again Naturally was nominated for a Grammy Award.

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Black-Eyed Blues,

After releasing two albums in 1972, Esther Phillips returned in 1973, with Black-Eyed Blues which was produced by Creed Taylor, with Pee Wee Ellis arranging and conducting. Just like her two previous albums, recording took place at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, in New Jersey where the six tracks were recorded. They were a compelling collection of tracks.

Just like her two previous albums, a lot of thought went into the tracks on Black-Eyed Blues. This included Bill Withers’ Justified, Carolyn Plummer’s I’ve Only Known A Stranger, Carolyn Franklin’s and Leonard Feather’s You Could Have Had Me, Baby. The other two tracks were covers of Duke Ellington and Paul Webster’s I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good and Chris Stainton and Joe Cocker’s Black-Eyed Blues. These six tracks were recorded by a new band.

Unlike her two previous albums, Black-Eyed Blues featured a very different band. The rhythm section featured drummer Ian Wallace, guitarist Charlie Brown and bassists Boz and Ron Carter. Pianist Tim Hinkley and percussionist Arthur Jenkins were joined by backing vocalists plus a horn and string section. They accompanied Esther Phillips on her third album for Kudu/CTi, Black-Eyed Blues.

When Black-Eyed Blues was released in 1973, it was well received by critics. They were won over by this compelling mixture of ballads and uptempo tracks. Esther Phillips was at her best laying bare her soul during wistful, heartfelt ballads and then she kicked loose on the uptempo numbers. Accompanied by a tight, talented band, musical genres melted into one. Jazz, funk, R&B and soul combine throughout Black-Eyed Blues which reached number seventeen in the US R&B charts. For Esther Phillips this was a disappointment.

Ever since the release of  Burnin’ (Live At Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, L.A.), every Esther Phillips’ album entered the US Billboard 200 charts. Not Black-Eyed Blues despite its undoubted quality. The album seemed to pass many people by and as a result, it’s one of the hidden gems in Esther Phillips’ discography. However, back in 1973, Esther Phillips must have wondered if  Black-Eyed Blues failure to enter the US Billboard 200 charts, was merely a blip or was her luck changing?

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Performance.

After Black-Eyed Blues failed to enter the US Billboard 200 charts, everyone at Kudu/CTi began working towards getting Esther Phillips’ career back on track. Producer Creed Taylor along with associate producers Eugene McDaniels and Pee Wee Ellis put together an all-star band. A great deal of care had gone into choosing the seven songs they would record with Esther Phillips. They were seen as tailor made for her.

The seven songs on Performance were another compelling collection of tracks. Esther Phillips drops the tempo and delivers a slow, sultry, take on I Feel The Same. The title track Performance, is another slow, melancholy track and is a reminder that she was a talented songwriter. Sadly, that’s often overlooked. Esther Phillips then gets funky and sassy on Doing Our ThingEugene McDaniels’ Disposable Society is another song full of social comment. She then nails a vocal that’s slow, feisty and funky and she seems to be relishing the opportunity to reflect on the way society is heading. Living Alone (We’re Gonna Make It) is a beautiful ballad, where Esther Phillips is at her melancholy, thoughtful best. Then she romps her way through Dr. John’s Such A Night. Living Alone (We’re Gonna Make It) heads in  the direction of gospel while Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s Can’t Trust Your Neighbour With Your Baby oozes social comment and is a reflection of American society circa 1974. During the seven tracks on Performance, Esther releases a series of vocal masterclasses and she’s aided and abetted by an all-star band of session musicians.

This includes a rhythm section of drummer Pretty Purdie and Steve Gadd, bassists Gordon Edwards and guitarists Eric Weissberg, Jon Sholle and  Charlie Brown. They’re joined by percussionist Pee Wee Ellis, flautist Hubert Laws and pianists Bob James, Richard Tee and Richard Wyands. Patti Austin and Deniece Williams were among the backing vocalists that joined the string and horn section on Performance. It was released in 1974.

Later in 1974, Performance was released to widespread critical acclaim. Performance featured Esther at her best, as she combined ballads and uptempo tracks. Accompanied by a crack band, Performance was without doubt one of Esther Phillips’ best albums. Sadly, it stalled at just number forty-six in the US R&B charts and for Esther Phillips and everyone at Kudu/CTi, this was hugely disappointing. Performance should’ve fared much better. However, this was a sign of  the direction Esther Phillips’ career was heading.

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What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.

After the disappointment of 1974s Performance Esther Phillips joined forces with Joe Beck to record What A Diff’rence A Day Makes. This executives at Kudu/CTi hoped would kickstart her career. Just like previous albums, a great deal of care was taken choosing the songs for the album.

By the time work began on What A Diff’rence A Day Makes, disco was growing in popularity and Esther Phillips like a number of other soul singers would record disco tracks between 1975 and 1979. This it was was hoped would introduce their music to a new and wider audience. That was the hopes of Esther Phillips and executives at Kudu/CTi as work began on What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.

Eight tracks were chosen for including Gamble and Huff’s One Night Affair, Maria Grever and Stanley Adams’ What A Diff’rence A Day Makes, Ralph MacDonald and William Salter’s Mister Magic plus Brenda Harris’ You’re Coming Home. They were joined by Jim Price’s I Can Stand A Little Rain, Lu Emerson’s Hurtin’ House, David Nichtern’s Oh Papa and Jerry Capehart’s Turn Around, Look At Me. These tracks were recorded by Esther Phillips and an all-star band.

Recording took place at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, in New Jersey during April 1975. The rhythm section featured drummer Chris Parker, bassist Will Lee and rhythm guitarist Steve Khan. Lead guitarist Steve Beck arranged the album and was joined by Eric Weissberg on pedal steel guitar, keyboardist Don Grolnick, percussionist Ralph McDonald plus a string and horn section. Creed Taylor took charge of production on What a Diff’rence A Day Makes which marked a stylistic departure for Esther Phillips.

She toyed with disco during What A Diff’rence A Day Makes. In doing so, Creed Taylor transformed Esther Phillips into a  strutting disco diva during parts of the album. However, she hadn’t turned her back on soul and R&B on What A Difference A Day which features elements of jazz and funk. 

Opening What A Difference A Day Makes is One Night Affair where Esther Phillips unleashes a soulful vocal powerhouse against Joe Beck’s pulsating dancefloor friendly arrangement. He combines rocky guitars, dancing strings, blazing horns and  rhythm section who take the arrangement to 127 disco heaven. In doing so, the reinvention of Esther Phillips begins.

This continues on What A Diff’rence A Day Makes where a brief breathy and sensuous vamp precedes Esther Phillips soulful and sassy vocal. Soon, the all-star band are combining disco, funk and jazz. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and percussion power the arrangement along as strings sweep and swirl as a saxophone accompanies the breathy vamp. They drops out when a rocky guitar takes centrestage before the vocal returns and is replaced by a searing guitar and the vamp on a track that would transform Esther Phillips into a strutting disco diva.

The tempo drops on Mister Magic and initially the arrangement is underrated as a chiming guitar, shimmering keyboard and braying horns accompany the galloping rhythm section. Meanwhile the vocal is needy and full of longing as a searing, scorching guitar that’s a trademark of the album and drifts in and  out. It’s part of this soulful, funky dancer with rocky guitars.

You’re Coming Home is a slower track and the searing rocky guitar and soaring horns set the scene for her vocal. It’s emotive and needy as she sings “I’ll sit here waiting for the phone to ring and say You’re Coming Home.” Meanwhile, keyboards join  the rhythm section who provide the heartbeat accompany and horns punctuate the arrangement as  Esther Phillips makes a welcome return to her more familiar soulful side.

I Can Stand a Little Rain is another of the soulful sides on the album. A weeping pedal steel combines with a peal of thunder before Esther Phillips’ vocal veers between heartfelt, rueful before growing in power as the horns and the keyboards join the atmospheric arrangement. After a clap of thunder, horns soar above the arrangement and a blistering guitar accompanies one of the most soulful and impassioned vocals on the album.

Understated describes the introduction to Hurtin’ House as chiming guitars combine with bursts of trailing horns and the rhythm section. Then Esther Phillips unleashes a sassy and sometimes soul-baring vocal. Just like previous tracks the horns play an important role and sometimes sound like those on David Bowie’s Fame which was recorded in July 1975. Meanwhile, funk, R&B and soul are being combined by Esther Phillips and her all-star band on what’s one of the oft-overlooked tracks on the album.

Atmospheric with a country influence describes the introduction to the ballad Oh Papa. The rhythm section combine with the pedal steel and Hammond organ as Esther Phillips delivers a tender, emotive vocal. Later, the horns enter and it’s then  it’s all change as horns march and strings sweep adding a degree of drama. When they drop out, they’re replaced by the pedal steel and the understated country sound makes a welcome returns and proves the perfect foil for Esther Phillips pensive vocal. 

The band drop the tempo on Turn Around, Look At Me closes What a Diff’rence A Day Makes and a pedal steel weeps and adds a country influence. Meanwhile, Esther Phillips combines country, gospel and soul while the band create an understated backdrop. When her vocal drops out it’s replaced by Joe Beck’s guitar which proves the perfect replacement. Then when the vocal returns the pedal steel accompanies Esther Phillips on what’s one of the  most beautiful songs on the album. 

When What A Difference A Day Makes was released it reached thirty-two in the US Billboard 200 and thirteen in the US R&B charts. The album crept into the Australian charts at ninety-nine. However, back home What A Diff’rence A Day Makes was released as a single and reached number twenty in the US Billboard 100, ten in the US R&B charts and number one single in the disco charts in 1975. In Australia the single reached thirty-eight and six in the UK. However, there was more good news when What A Diff’rence A Day Makes was nominated for the Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance–Female. Esther Phillips career was back on track.

During 1976, she released two albums including Capricorn Princess  which reached number twenty-three in the US R&B charts. Later that year, Esther Phillips released For All We Know was Kudu/CTi which stalled at  number thirty-two in  the US R&B charts. Not long after this she left Kudu/CTi and signed to Mercury Records where she released four albums.

The first was 1977’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby which failed to chart. So did All About Esther Phillips when it was released in 1978. Her next album was Here’s Esther, Are You Ready in 1979 which reached forty-seven in the US R&B charts. Two year later in 1981, A Good Black Is Hard To Crack was released by Mercury but failed to chart. Little did anyone know that it was the final album released in Esther Phillips’ lifetime.

She recorded one final album in 1984, A Good Way To Say Goodbye, which was released in 1986. Not long after completing what was her swansong, sadly, Esther Phillips died August the ‘7th’ 1984, from liver and kidney failure, caused by drug use.

Johnny Otis, the man who discovered Esther Phillip conducted her funeral service which was held in Los Angeles. Since Esther’s death, her albums has been reissued. This includes What A Diff’rence A Day Makes which was recently reissued by Music On Vinyl.  It shows the different sides one of the most underrated singers of her generation, Esther Phillips. 

Arranger Joe Beck and producer Creed Taylor transformed Esther Phillips into a disco diva on parts of What A Diff’rence A Day Makes. Other times she returns to her familiar soulful sound and sometimes she takes the album in the direction of country, gospel and R&B. What A Diff’rence A Day Makes was very different album and to the previous albums she had released on Kudu/CTi and featured element of funk, jazz and rock. It succeeded in rejuvenating Esther Phillips’ career and resulted in her fourth Grammy nomination. Despite that she was was unknown by most record buyers.

During a career that lasted thirty-five years, Esther Phillips’ music passed most people by. Many record buyers were unaware that she was one of the most talented, versatile and underrated female vocalists of her generation. Esther Phillips possessed a totally unique voice and  was able to breath life, meaning and emotion into lyrics. Whether it was blues, country, jazz, pop, soul or disco she made music come alive and was a truly versatile vocalist whose career spanned thirty-five years. However, Esther’s career should’ve lasted longer. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Esther Phillips struggled throughout her life with drug addiction and  this interrupted her time at Atlantic Records. As a result,  she never had the opportunity to fulfil her potential and if things had been different, Esther Phillips could’ve and should’ve become one of the most successful singers of her generation. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Esther Phillips died thirty-six years ago, in 1984  was just forty-eight but left behind a rich musical legacy, that includes What A Diff’rence A Day Makes the album that rejuvenated her career and resulted in her fourth Grammy Award nomination.

Cult Classic: Esther Phillips-What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.

CULT CLASSIC: THE BATHERS-SUNPOWDER.

Cult Classic: The Bathers-Sunpowder.

With Chris Thompson at the helm, the The Bathers could’ve and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. Their music was articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal, elegiac, emotive, languid, literate and melancholy. This is music for those that have loved, lost and survived to tell the tale. Sadly, The Bathers never scaled the headiest of heights and instead,  it’s story is a case of what might have been. 

The Bathers were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thomson and released six albums between 1987 and 1999. Their fourth album was Sunpowder which is a reminder of The Bathers at the peak of their power.

Sadly, The Bathers never reached the heady heights their music deserved. As a result, the six albums they released between 1987s Unusual Places To Die and 1999s Pandemonia never reached the audience it deserved. For Chris Thomson, history was repeating itself.

The Bathers were formed in Glasgow in 1985. They formed after Chris Thomson’s previous group Friends Again split up. Initially, the group was a vehicle for singer-songwriter Chris Thomson. However, in 1987, The Bathers secured their first record deal with Go! Discs Records and released their debut album Unusual Places To Die.

Unusual Places To Die. 

For their debut album Unusual Places To Die, Chris Thomson penned ten tracks. These tracks were recorded by The Bathers’ original lineup. This included bassist Sam Loup, drummer James Locke and Chris on guitar and keyboards. Joining The Bathers, were Michael Peden of The Chimes, Douglas Macintyre and James Grant of Love and Money. They played walk on parts on Unusual Places To Die, which was released later in 1987.

When Unusual Places To Die was released in 1987, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Chris Thompson’s songs seemed to strike a nerve with critics. They described the music as variously engaging, emotive and dramatic. One critic went as far to wonder whether Unusual Places To Die was the work of a genius? Despite this critical acclaim Unusual Places To Die wasn’t a commercial success. This was nothing to do with the music though.

Instead, Unusual Places To Die fell victim to the internal politics within the record company. As a result, sales of Unusual Places To Die were poor. Given the critical response to Unusual Places To Die, this was disappointing. So, it wasn’t a surprise when The Bathers switched labels for their sophomore album, Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit.

After the Go Discs! internal problems sabotaged the release of Unusual Places To Die, The Bathers moved to Island Records, where the recorded Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit was an epic album, featuring fifteen tracks. Chris wrote thirteen of the tracks, and cowrote the other two. He co-produced Sweet Deceit with Keith Mitchell, and the album was released in 1990.

Three years had passed since Unusual Places To Die was released. The Bathers were back, and according to critics, better than ever. Sweet Deceit was described as impressionistic, beautiful and spellbinding. One critic, quite rightly referred to the album as a mini masterpiece. However, The Bathers had been here before with Unusual Places To Die.

On Sweet Deceit’s release, lightning struck twice for The Bathers. Sales of Sweet Deceit were disappointing. Despite the critically acclaimed reviews, Sweet Deceit seemed to pass record buyers by. For The Bathers, this was a huge disappointment. 

Especially when Island Records didn’t renew The Bathers’ contract. There would be another gap of three years before we heard from The Bathers again. However, Chris Thomson was still making music.

Following Sweet Deceit, Chris Thomson joined with two former members of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Stephen Irvine and Neil Clark, to create a Scottish supergroup, Bloomsday. They released just one album, Fortuny, which is now regarded as a classic Scottish album. Just like The Bathers two previous albums, Bloomsday’s debut album, Fortuny, was released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, commercial success eluded Fortuny. However, a more fruitful period was round the corner for The Bathers. 

Lagoon Blues.

After signing a record contract with a German record label Marina, the group released three albums in a four year period. In 1993, they released Lagoon Blues which was their Marina debut.

Just like Sweet Deceit, Lagoon Blues was another epic album penned by Chris Thompson. It featured sixteen songs, which were the perfect showcase for Chris Thomson’s vocal. Accompanied by what was essentially The Bathers and friends sixteen tracks were recorded at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh and mixed at Palladium Studios and Cava Studios, Glasgow. Once Lagoon Blues was completed, it was released in 1993.

On its release in 1993, critics remarked that Lagoon Blues was a more eclectic album. There were diversions into jazz-skiffle on Pissor, while the album opener Lagoon Blues showcased a string quartet. The strings would play an important part on Lagoon Blues, which was hailed as poetic, elegant, sumptuous and intense. The same critical acclaim accompanied Lagoon Blues, however, this time The Bathers’ music found a wider audience. It seemed after three albums, The Bathers’ star was in the ascendancy.

Sunpowder.

For The Bathers’ fourth album, and followup to Lagoon Blues, they returned with Sunpowder. It marked the debut of a new lineup of The Bathers. 

Sunpowder marked The Bathers’ debut of drummer and percussionist Hazel Morrison, keyboardist Carlo Scattini and string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. These new additions would change The Bathers’ sound greatly. Many people refer to this as the classic lineup of The Bathers. This classic lineup, plus guest artist ex-Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser, who features on four tracks, made its debut on Sunpowder.

For Sunpowder, Chris Thomson had written eleven new songs. They were recorded a at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh. Chris Thomson and Keith Mitchell produced Sunpowder, which was released in 1995.

When Sunpowder was released, it received the same critical acclaim as The Bathers’ three previous albums. Sunpowder was called sumptuous, sensual, dramatic and ethereal. Liz Fraser, an honorary Bather was the perfect foil to Chris Thomson forever the troubled, tortured troubadour. The result was, what was The Bathers most successful album, Sunpowder.

Danger In Love a song about falling in love again opens Sunpowder. The sound of thunder can be heard before a distant organ plays and creates a dramatic sound.  Soon people speak and the  organ sounds dark and moody before the mood changes and a piano plays softly, meandering gently, against a background of strings. When Chris Thomson sings his voice is full of emotion as he delivers the lyrics with feeling his voice full of sadness. Meanwhile , strings sweep in and out accompanying the piano and Liz Fraser’s ethereal backing vocals. Together they make this a beautiful and emotive track, and one that benefits from an almost flawless arrangement. Just like the pieces of a jigsaw everything falls into place

The Dutch Venus continues the downtempo feel and features a lush string arrangement which is accompanied by a piano. From the opening bars  the mood is set and there’s an air of sadness is omnipresent.   This is reinforced when Chris Thomson delivers the lyrics and sings of lost love. He remembers someone he loved, then lost and the love affair gone wrong. Like many of the group’s songs it’s set in Glasgow, he name-checks Kelvingrove in West End of the City and it’s as  if the song is personal, as if it means something to him. Maybe it’s autobiographical?  The understated arrangement is perfect for the song with just piano, strings and the vocal which is accompanied by Liz Fraser. Her voice is a perfect foil for Chris Thomson.  Her’s is light and bright, his sad and full of hurt and and heartbreak on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Angel On Ruskin has a hesitant slightly start, a guitar is gently strummed, drums play, and one wonders where the track is heading? When Chris Thomson sings, he gives the track direction and soon is joined by Liz Frazer whose backing vocals are crystalline, a thing of beauty. She almost steals the show on the track where the drums are more prominent. Meanwhile two of Scotland’s finest vocalists deliver a masterclass with Liz Fraser filling in the spaces left by Chris Thomson as he sings about being captivated by a woman’s beauty and being enthralled by her. Here, Thomson’s lyrics have the same quality and power as good poetry. They affect how we feel and we empathise with characters involved and live the drama on a track I’ll never tire of hearing.

Like many of the tracks on Sunpowder, the arrangement to  Delft is understated and this adds to the dramatic affect of the music. As a piano plays, space is left allowing the music to breath and adding to the drama. When ChrisThomson delivers his vocal is slow and emotive as he leaves which also adds to the drama as violins and a piano play. It’s subdued and understated but highly effective and suits this song about loving someone from afar, but they’re just out of reach, and will never be part of your life. It’s a beautiful, heartwrenching song that many people will be able to relate to.

Weem Rock Muse starts with a guitar strumming and Chris Thomson singing. His voice sounds lighter and he sounds happier as if some of the worries have been removed from his shoulders. He’s accompanied by a Hammond organ playing  in the background. However, as the track progresses his vocal gets stronger and he’s joined by a harmonica that meanders in and out the track. This adds to the soulfulness of of another love song set in Scotland. Just like all of Chris Thomson’s lyrics they have a strong narrative and are thoughtful and cerebral . 

On Faithless, Chris Thomson’s voice is moody and tinged with sadness on this slow  burner of a song.  It has a long meandering and atmospheric introduction before he dons the familiar role of troubled troubadour. His delivery is heartfelt his vocal bathed in pathos. Towards the end of the track his vocal becomes a soliloquy and  really drives home their sadness on another mini-masterpiece from The Bathers that tugs at your heartstrings.

For the first time on Sunpowder, the tempo increases on She’s Gone Forever. It’s a track that deceives, because it sounds an uptempo track, but the lyrics are about losing someone you love and a relationship breaking up. They’re some of Chris Thomson’s best lyrics which he delivers against a much fuller arrangement. It feature James Grant of Love and Money who plays acoustic guitar and sings backing vocals on this heartbreaking song about love lost.

The more uptempo style continues on Send Me Your Halo where an acoustic guitar plays before Chris Thomson’s vocal enters. He’s accompanied by strings playing gently, behind his tender vocal. It’s as if the lyrics bring back pleasant memories as he sings about falling hopelessly in love, being swept off your feet and a summer long love affair. This beautiful paean shows a different side to The Bathers, especially on Sunpowder.

Just a piano plays on Saskia setting the mood before the troubled troubadour takes centrestage and sadness seeps out his very pore on this song about love lost. He’s left with merely a memory, a memory he can only recreate in a song or that appears in his dreams. So powerful is soul-baring vocal that one can share and empathise with his pain and hurt.

Strings sweep at the start of The Night Is Young which has an almost classical feel and sound at the start. The understated string arrangement sets the tone for what follows. It’s a romantic song, one where the cadence of Chris Thomson’s voice helps  get across, the beauty of the lyrics. Liz Fraser sings backing vocals, her voice angelic, soaring and falling and its ethereal quality is almost otherworldly. Their voices are like light and shade, but are a match made in heaven and combine perfectly to produce one of the most beautiful and heartfelt songs on Sunpowder.

The album ends with the Sunpowder, an instrumental track where a piano and violin play and immediately one feel melancholy.  Welcome to The Bathers world, a world you’ve privileged to visit. It’s a lovely way to end this album, which is one of the best albums to be made by a Scottish band in the last forty years.

When The Bathers released Sunpowder it was a career-defining album and one that set the bar high for future albums. It was a mini-masterpiece full of beautiful soul-baring ballads that featured troubled troubadour Chris Thomson as he delivers a series of soul-baring vocals as he sings of love and love lost. This is something that most people will be able to release to and demonstrate his talent as a songwriter. His lyrics are like poetry set to music and the music on Sunpowder are timeless. It’s hard to believe twenty-five years have passed since the release of what’s one of the finest Scottish albums of the past fifty years. However, it was a team effort.

It would be unfair to credit Chris Thomson alone for making this such a special album. Credit must be given to the other members of what’s regarded as the classic lineup of The Bathers. The lineup was augmented by two special guests, James Grant and Liz Fraser  who played a huge part in the sound and success of the album with her flawless ethereal backing vocals to several tracks. 

For The Bathers, Sunpowder wasn’t just the finest albums of their four album career but their most successful. That was no surprise. The music was atmospheric, cerebral, cinematic,  dramatic, literate and is tinged with hurt and heartbreak as well as pathos, regret and sadness. No wonder given the tales of love  and  love lost on Sunpowder. They’re brought to life by The Bathers and a series of soul-baring vocals from their very own troubled troubadour Chris Thomson. It’s a role that seems to come easy to him and one can only wonder if the lyrics are autobiographical? This is what makes Sunpowder such a powerful album. So does Chris Thomson’s worldweary, emotive vocals which are heartfelt and impassioned. He sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about and has lived them not just once, but several times over on Sunpowder the album that should have launched The Bathers. 

After Sunpowder, The Bathers released Kelvingrove Baby to widespread critical acclaim in 1997. It was hailed as their finest hour until the release of Pandemonia in 1999. Sadly, The Bathers’ cerebral, literate and melodic brand of chamber pop failed to find the wider audience it deserved and they remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers. That’s despite releasing albums of the quality of Sunpowder, a mini-masterpiece which when its was released in 1995 was a career-defining album from The Bathers who were always striving for perfection and very nearly achieved what to lesser bands seemed impossible and out of reach. 

Cult Classic: The Bathers-Sunpowder.

JON SAVAGE’S 1972-1976: ALL OUR TIMES HAVE COME.

Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: 2CD.

First there was rock ’n’ roll and then between 1972 and 1976 morphed and there was everything from art rock, experimental rock and glam rock to hard rock and Krautrock as well as power pop, pub rock and punk rock. The music being released by artists and bands in Britain, America and Europe was eclectic and much of it was ambitious and innovative as new bands released albums. 

Meanwhile, some of the artists who came to prominence in the late-sixties made a welcome return. No longer were they playing acoustic guitars and releasing albums of folk music. Instead, they plugged in and reinvented themselves. Other bands that had been around since the sixties quickly realised that they had to adapt to stay relevant. In doing so, they became part of one of the most exciting periods in music.

This period is documented on Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come which is a two CD set that has been released by Ace Records and features forty-four tracks. It’s the latest a series critically acclaimed compilations that have been curated by Jon Savage. He puts his encyclopaedic knowledge of music to good use on Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come 

Disc One.

Opening disc one of Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come is Easy To Slip which is taken from Little Feat’s sophomore album Sailin’ Shoes which was released on the 1972. The album saw the group begin to hone their inimitable sound and flit between and fuse Southern Rock and blues rock. For anyone new to Lowell George and Co. this is the perfect introduction to the group and an album that failed to find the audience it deserved.

Birmingham-born singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood cofounded The Move in 1965  and on the ‘14th’ of April 1972 they released California Man as a single on the Harvest label. Tucked away on the B-Side was Do Ya, which is a barnstorming and anthemic rocker and a welcome addition to the compilation.

The same can be said of Alice Cooper’s rebellious hard rock classic School’s Out which was released by Warner Bros in 1972. It reached number one in the UK and lent its name to the album which was also released in 1972 and after selling a million copies in America was certified platinum.

By 1972, West Germany had  a vibrant musical scene and across the country new groups were being formed and recording and releasing innovative music. This includes Faust who released So Far by Faust as a single on Polydor on the ‘2nd’ June 1972. It’s an ambitious and innovative example of German experimental music from a group who were one of the pioneers of Krautrock.

Having enjoyed a massive hit single with the David Bowie penned All The Young Dudes, Mott The Hoople released One Of The Boys as a the followup on CBS on the ‘28th’ July 1972. However, the single stalled at ninety-six in the US Billboard 100 and never the troubled the UK charts. This tough rocker was the one that got away. It also featured on the All The Young Dudes album which was released on the ‘8th’ September 1972 and is Mott The Hoople’s finest hour.

In August 1972, Big Star released their debut album # One Record on the Ardent label. The lead single was When My Baby’s Beside Me which features the group at their melodic and soulful best on this slice of perfect power pop. Sadly, Big Star never enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim that their music deserved. It was only much later that their music started to receive the recognition it deserved.

Nothing lasts forever. That was certainly the case with Free. When they released the stomping rocker Wishing Well as a single in the on the ‘8th’ of December 1972 the group were teetering on the brink, and would split-up in 1973. It reached number seven in the UK and features blistering licks and a vocal masterclass from Paul Rodgers. His vocal is full of anger and frustration  as he delivers the lyrics on what’s one of the group’s finest singles.

On January the ‘5th’ 1973 glam rockers Sweet released their latest single, Blockbuster! It was penned Mike Chapman and Nick Chin and produced by Phil Waiman and topped the UK charts. It’s now regarded as a genre classic one of the group’s greatest singles.

For a while, art rockers Roxy Music were reluctant to release singles from their new albums. Eventually they relented and in contrarian fashion one of the singles they released was a double-A-side. It featured Do The Strand and the rocky Editions Of You which features a teasing, jocular vocal from Bryan Ferry. It’s a reminder of the classic lineup of one of the great art rock bands of the seventies.

In August 1973, proto punk pioneers the New York Dolls released Trash as a single on the Mercury label. It was produced by Todd Rundgren and taken from their eponymous debut album which was released on July the ‘27th’ 1973 and reached 116 in the US Billboard 200. However, the single sunk without trace, but three years later the group were named by many punk groups as an influence on their music.

Closing disc one is John Lennon’s #9 Dream which was released as a single in the UK on the ‘24th’ January 1975. It’s a beautiful, mesmeric, string-drenched ballad that’s one of the finest solo singles the former Beatle released.

Disc Two. 

Sparks open disc two with Girl From Germany which was the followup to This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us. The single was released on Bearsville on June the ‘28th’ 1974 and features the group at their most melodic.

Patti Smith released a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe on Lenny Kaye’s Mer label in November 1974. This is no ordinary cover of a classic song. Instead, it’s transformed and taken in new and unexpected directions. Later, this genre-hopping cover closes with a powerful and impassioned plea that plays a part in reinventing this familiar song.

Following his departure from Roxy Music Brian Eno embarked upon a solo career. Third Uncle is taken from his sophomore album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) which was released by Island Records in November 1974. It features dark lyrics and some blistering guitar from Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music. Along with this tight, talented band they play their part in one of the highlights of what was a groundbreaking album.

On the ‘14th’ of March 1975 Hawkwind released Kings Of Speed as a single on United Artists. The space rockers combining psychedelic and street rock but the single failed commercially. However, when the album Warrior On The Edge Of Time was released on the ‘9th’ May 1975 it was certified silver in the UK and belatedly a wider audience heard this genre-melting track.

Neu! ’75 was the third album to be released by Krautrock pioneers Neu! It was their first album in two years and was released by Brian in 1975. The album closes with After Eight. It’s a driving, aggressive and hypnotic sounding track where the group combine Krautrock, experimental rock and rock as they brought this genre classic to a close. This was just the latest groundbreaking album from Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger which would influence and inspire several generations of musicians.

Say It Ain’t So Joe was Murray Head’s sophomore album and was released by Island Records on the ‘17th’ October 1975. Unsurprisingly the title-track was chosen as the lead single. It features a rueful vocal as the track changes from its acoustic introduction and ends up a mini symphony from a truly underrated singer-songwriter.

During the seventies, Kraftwerk were at the peak of their creative powers and released a string of innovative albums including several that would become classics. This includes Radioactivity which was released in the UK in October 1976. However, on the ‘13th’ of February 1976 the title-track was released as a single and that day, record buyers heard the music of tomorrow today. It features a mixture of social comments, synths and drum machines on genre-melting track where experimental electronica and pop is combined with Krautrock to make what turned out to be a timeless classic.

New York-based punk rockers the Ramones released their eponymous debut album on the ’23rd’ of April 1976. It opened with Blitzkreig Bop which became one of their most famous track and was released as a single in June 1976. It’s one of the highlights of an album that’s regarded as one of the most influential punk albums of all time.

Blue Oyster Cult released Don’t Fear The Reaper on Columbia in the UK on the ‘23rd’ July 1976. Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser wrote the song and delivers the lyrics  about eternal love and the inevitability of death. The single reached sixteen in the UK and twelve in the US Billboard 100 chart and is the highlight of the group’s fourth album Agents Of Fortune which was released on May the ‘21st’ 1976.

When Nick Lowe released So It Goes on Stiff records on ‘14th’ August 1976 hidden away on the B-Side was Heart Of The City. It sounds as if it’s been inspired by the Ramones and is far removed from the music he would release after in career.

Closing disc two of Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come is Train, Train by The Count Bishops. This haunting blues was released in the UK on Chiswick on the ‘27th’ August 1976. It’s another welcome addition to the compilation.

The forty-four tracks on Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come include singles, B-Sides and album tracks from familiar faces as well as what will be new names to some music fans. They’re in for a veritable musical feast as Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come is a treasure trove of eclectic, esoteric, interesting music where the emphasis is on quality.

Jon Savage’s 1972-1976: All Our Times Have Come.

EVERYBODY MAKES A MISTAKE: STAX SOUTHERN SOUL VOLUME 2.

Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

Satellite Records was founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton  and four years later in 1961 the label changed its name to Stax Records. The newly named label was joined by Volt Records which was its sister label. This was the start of a new era. 

Little did anyone realise when Satellite Records became Stax Records in 1961 that over the next ten years it would become one of the most important, influential and successful Southern soul labels. 

That’s no wonder given the artists that were signed to Stax Records. It was home to everyone from Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes to Sam and Dave, The Soul Children, Eddie Floyd and William Bell to Booker T and The MGs. They played their part in the rise and rise of Stax Records which became one of the greatest ever soul labels. 

Sixty years after Satellite Records became Stax Records, Kent Soul recently released a new twenty track compilation Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2. It’s the much-anticipated followup to Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul which was released in 2012 and features a mixture of singles, B-Sides, album tracks and previously unreleased tracks.

Opening Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2 is the single edit of William Bell’s I’ll Do Anything For Your Love. This paean features a soul-baring vocal delivered against an arrangement where lush strings have been added and join rasping horns that are part of an arrangement that’s “made in Memphis.”

Stax Records entered bankruptcy in 1975, which was the same year that Isaac Hayes released his album Use Me in the UK. The highlight of the album is a breathtakingly beautiful cover of the ballad I’m Gonna Have To Tell Her which was written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson. This track is without doubt the finest on the compilation.

Fredrick Knight was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and had signed to Stax in the early seventies. By 1975, he had moved to Stax Records’ sister label Truth Records sister label. He  had joined forces with William  Bell to pen Let’s Make A Deal which was released as a single. It features a heartfelt, impassioned and emotive vocal that’s delivered against a timeless string drenched arrangement. Sadly, the single failed to trouble the charts and nowadays this hidden gem is the one that got away for Fredrick Knight.

The Soul Children recorded Standing In The Safety Zone when they were recording their Genesis album. However when the album was released in 1972, the track had been left off their third album for Stax Records. Given the quality of the track this seemed a strange decision. It features the group at their soulful best and is as good if not better than many of the tracks on the album.

By 1968, Bettye Crutcher was still dreaming of making a living out of music. She was an aspiring singer and songwriter who was working a 9-5 job before joining forces with Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson at Stax Records and later that year the trio penned Who’s Making Love which gave Johnnie Taylor a million selling single. Six years later, Bettye Crutcher got the chance to record her debut album. As Long As You Love Me was released in 1974 but with Stax Records teetering on the brink of insolvency it sunk without trace. One of the tracks recorded during the session was the beautiful soulful ballad We’ve Got Love On Our Side which was recorded in Muscle Shoals and benefits from the addition of  the lushest of strings.

Mavis Staples played a staring role in the sound and success of The Staple Singers and also enjoyed a solo career. However, she released jus two albums for Stax Records. This includes her eponymous debut album and One For The Lonely. Sadly, neither album which was particularly successful. A track that lay unreleased until 1988 was I’m Tired which made its debut on the Don’t Change Me Now compilation. There’s an air of resignation and sadness in the vocal and the way it’s delivered it’s as if Mavis Staples really is saying I’m Tired. 

When Jimmy Hughes left Fame in 1968 little did he know that he had enjoyed the most successful period of his career.  His finest hour was Steal Away, which was a Southern Soul classic, and set the bar high for future singles. However, in 1968 his manager Alan Walden took him to Volt Records which was an imprint of Southern Soul’s premier label. Sadly, commercial success eluded Jimmy Hughes and he retired from music in 1971, and embarked upon a career in politics. During his time at Volt he recorded a number of tracks that lay unreleased. This includes  I’m Too Old To Play which features an impassioned, lived-in vocal. It was belatedly released in 2010 when it featured on his Complete Volt Recordings.

Eddie Giles recorded Losin’ Boy for Lelan Rogers’ Silver Fox imprint and when it was released it gave the soul man a regional hit in Chicago and Dallas. Bobby Paterson produced a new version for Stewart Madison’s Sound City Recordings which they took to Stax Records. They liked what they heard and the single was released in September 1971 but sunk without trace. Those that flipped over to the B-Side realised the ballad It Takes Me All Night  was a much stronger track and had the potential to transform Eddie Giles’ career.

Shirley Brown is remembered as the woman who almost saved Stax Records when her single on Woman To Woman and topped the US Billboard R&B charts in 1974 and sold over a million copies. The album Woman To Woman then reached ninety-eight in the US Billboard 200 and eleven in the US R&B charts when it was also released by Truth Records. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to save the company from insolvency in 1975. However, when Shirley Brown was recording the one of the tracks that didn’t make the cut was the stunning and breathtakingly beautiful ballad Ain’t No Way. It made its debut on a 20111 reissue of the album and returns for an encore on Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2.

David Porter released four albums on Stax Records’ Enterprise imprint between 1970 and 1973. One track that didn’t feature on any of the albums was Come Get From Me Parts 1 & 2. Over twenty-five years later it made its debut on the 5000 Volts Of Stax compilation which was released in 1998. It’s a reminder of a talented singer, songwriter and musician who played an important part in the Stax Records’ story. This is a fitting way to close Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2.

The twenty-tracks on Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2 are a mixture singles, B-Sides, album cuts and unreleased tracks. This includes many a hidden gem which is a welcome addition to this lovingly compiled compilation which is a fitting followup to Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul which was released in 2012. It’s worth the nine year wait and is a reminder of Southern Soul’s premier label before its untimely demise in 1975.

Many Stax Records’ box sets and compilations have been released over the past twenty years. Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2 is the latest and is a welcome addition to their number. It features some of the artists who played a starring role in the rise and rise of Stax Records. They’re joined by others who only played a walk-on part. However, each and every artist and group on Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2 can say that were signed to and recorded for the legendary Stax Records. 

Everybody Makes A Mistake: Stax Southern Soul Volume 2. 

DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC 1969 TO 1973.

Directions In Music 1969 To 1973.

Label: BGP.

Format: CD.

By the time of John Coltrane’s death in 1967 rock was by far the most popular musical genre in America. A headline in Downbeat magazine warned that: “Jazz as We Know It Is Dead.” The future of jazz looked bleak.

Fortunately, fusion rode to the rescue of jazz in the late-sixties. Pioneering the new genre was  when Miles Davies who released Filles De Kilimanjaro in September 1968. This was his first album of fusion and the start of a new era. 

Just ten month months later, Miles Davis returned with In A Silent Way in July 1969. On the cover of his second fusion album were the words “Directions In Music By Miles Davis.” Some listeners wondered what this meant?

When In A Silent Way was being recorded Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero were working in a very different way. They looked closely at every aspect of the recording session as the band combined jazz and rock during the sessions. Miles Davis wanted the world to know that he was firmly in control of his music and career. However, this way of working only lasted for two albums, and second was Bitches Brew which was one of the most important, innovative and influential albums of his career.

When Bitches Brew was released  on March the ‘30th’ 1970, it reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US Jazz charts. It was the biggest selling album of Miles Davis’ career and resulted in his first ever gold album in America. Across the Atlantic, in Britain, audiences embraced Miles Davis’ groundbreaking opus Bitches Brew, which was certified silver.   

Meanwhile, many jazz musicians in America, Britain and Europe had been influenced by the music on Bitches Brew. It was a gamechanger of an album. Musicians were inspired and influenced by the album and went away and recorded music that was ambitious, innovative and groundbreaking. 

This includes the nine musicians and groups that feature on Directions In Music 1969 To 1973, which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records. Fittingly, there’s also a live version of Miles Davis’ Directions which is from the First Set that was recorded at the Cellar Door, on the “16th” December 1970. Just like the rest of the music on Directions In Music 1969 To 1973 it’s ambitious and innovative and is a reminder of what was an exciting time for jazz.

Opening Directions In Music 1969 To 1973 is In A Silent Way by Joe Zawinul who was part of the band that played on Bitches Brew. The music that he recorded with Miles Davis undoubtably influenced   him. When he recorded his eponymous album two electric pianos and two contra basses were used during the session. Miles Davis had used two rhythm sections during the recording of Bitches Brew. One was on the right side and the other on the left side. The thirty-eight year old Austrian pianist did likewise on what’s regarded as essentially the first Weather Report album. Zawinul was released in May 1971 and was a pioneering album of fusion.

Just ten days after playing on the first Bitches Brew session Wayne Shorter recorded his Super Nova album on the ‘29th’ August 1969. It featured some of the members  of Weather Report and was produced by Duke Pearson who helped the soprano saxophonist make the transition to fusion on what was a landmark album that was released by Blues Note Records later in 1969.  

After leaving Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Lonnie Liston Smith played alongside Pharaoh Saunders and was a member of Miles Davis touring band but never played on an album. By 1973, the pianist and keyboardist had formed Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes’ classic and had signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label. Later that year the group released their debut for the label Astral Travelling. It featured In Search Of Truth a genre-melting track which veers between beautiful, laidback and poignant to dramatic as fusion, jazz and Eastern influences melt into one  and is one of the highlights of this jazz classic.

British guitarist John McLaughlin was part of the band that played on Bitches Brew. However, in January 1969 he recorded Arjen’s Bag for his album Extraploitation which was released later that year. The track features one of pioneers of fusion as he make tentative steps in the genre that he would make his name playing.

On the ‘14th’ and ‘20th’ May 1969, Bette Davis who was married to Miles Davis entered the Columbia 52nd Street Studios, in New York. She was backed by an all-star fusion band when she recorded Politician Man which was penned by Pete Brown and Jack Bruce. The vocal is soulful and sultry and is delivered against an arrangement where funk and fusion are combined. Sadly, this song and others lay unreleased until it was released as The Columbia Years by Light In The Attic in 2016.

Gary Bartz was a member of Miles Davis’ live band and played on two live albums. He founded Gary Bartz NTU Troop who were recording the Milestone album at Decca Sound Studio, New York, in January 1971. The band included vocalist Andy Bey whose vocal features on Uhuru Sasa. It’s one of the highlights of the album and introduction to two of jazz’s best kept secrets Andy Bey and bandleader and saxophonist Gary Bartz who both play a starring role on the sound and success of the song.

The live version of Joe Zawinul’s Directions was recorded by Miles Davis during the First Set at the Cellar Door on the ’16th’ of December 1970. It’s a tantalising taste of The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 which were released in 2005 and are a reminder of one of Mies Davis’ great bands as he continued to reinvent his music.

Having heard Keith Jarrett play Miles Davis wanted to recruit him to his band. Despite being a pianist, he ended up playing organ in the band. However, his versatility meant he was able to adapt to the new role. However, on April the ‘6th’ 1972, Keith Jarrett recorded his Expectations album which was released by Columbia later that year.  It featured the gospel-tinged Common Mama which was one of the standout tracks on the album.

For three days between May the ‘11th’ to ‘13th’ 1969 Chick Corea recorded his Is album which was released later that year. He switched between acoustic and electric piano on album that featured Song Of The Wind. An alternate take of the track featured on The Complete “Is” Sessions which were released by Blue Note Records in 2002.  However, just a couple of months after the Is sessions Chick Corea was making history when he was part of Miles Davis’ extended band that featured on Bitches Brew.

Herbie Hancock also had a spell as pianist in Miles Davis’ band. However, in 1971 he released his Mwandishi album which featured You’ll Know When You Get There which was his Warner Bros debut. It featured a new band who played much more complicated and had been influenced by Miles Davis’ fusion albums. For Herbie Hancock this was the start of a new era so it’s fitting he closes Directions In Music 1969 To 1973.

When Miles Davis released Filles De Kilimanjaro in 1968 it was  a landmark album. This was his first album of fusion which he followed up with In A Silent Way in 1969 and one of the greatest albums of career Bitches Brew in 1970. It was a groundbreaking album that like its two predecessors would inspire musicians in America, Britain and Europe. They followed in his footsteps and their bands plugged in and became part of the fusion movement. This was the start of a new era for jazz and saved the genre from becoming irrelevant. 

Between 1969 and 1974 some of the most important, innovative and influential fusion albums were released. This included albums by many of the artists on Directions In Music 1969 To 1973. 

All of the artists on Directions In Music 1969 To 1973 have one thing in common, they’ve all members of Miles Davis’ band. He was a hard taskmaster who had the highest and exacting standards. Some musicians had recorded albums with him other stood beside him on stage and watched as he encouraged and cajoled performances from his band. Their time with his band made them better musicians and bandleaders. 

Many of the musicians who were part of Miles Davis went on to form and lead there own bands and between 1969 and 19674 recorded and released some of the most important, innovative and influential albums of the fusion era. Tracks from some of these albums feature on Directions In Music 1969 To 1973 which is a reminder of what was the start of a new, exciting and innovative era for jazz.

Directions In Music 1969 To 1973.

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: WALTER BISHOP JR-CORAL KEYS.

Cult Classic: Walter Bishop Jr-Coral Keys.

In 1971, Gene Russell and Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records and later that year, the nascent label released their first release. This was Doug Carn’s debut album Infant Eyes. It was the first of twenty albums that the label released between 1971 and 1975.

Later in 1971, Black Jazz Records released their second release Coral Keys, the fifth album by forty-four year old pianist Walter Bishop Jr. By then, he had been a professional musician since he left school in New York. That was no surprise as he was born into a musical family.

Walter Bishop Jr was born in New York on October the ‘4th’ 1927 and grew up in Harlem. His father was the composer Walter Bishop Sr and he had passed on his musical genes to his son. 

Growing up, Walter Bishop Jr learnt to play piano and spent time with some of his musical friends who lived nearby. This included three future jazz musicians Art Taylor, Kenny Drew and Sonny Rollins. By the time he left high school, Walter Bishop Jr had already decided that wanted to embark upon a career as a professional musician.

Initially, he played in local dance bands and this was akin to his musical apprenticeship. However, things changed once Walter Bishop Jr was called up in 1945 to do his military service.

He served in the Army Air Corp and was based not far from St Louis. That was where he first heard bebop when visiting jazz musicians played on the base. This made a big impression on Walter Bishop Jr and would transform his career.

After his military service was over, Walter Bishop Jr was able to resume his professional career. By the late-forties he had returned to Manhattan and had developed his bebop style by playing in jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse. This was good experience, as he was about to encounter one of the giants of jazz, Art Blakey.

He asked twenty-two year old Walter Bishop Jr to join his band. However, he only spent fourteen weeks in the drummer’s employ. The pair were reunited a few years later and recorded together. A lot would happen before that happened.

In 1949, Walter Bishop Jr recorded with Milt Jackson and Stan Getz. Then as a new decade dawned he found himself working old friends and some of the biggest names in jazz.

This included Charlie Parker. Walter Bishop Jr joined his band and worked with him until 1954. He also found time to work with Oscar Pettiford, Kai Winding, the Kenny Dorham Quintet and Miles Davis between 1951 and 1953. The following year he was reunited with a previous employer.

Walter Bishop Jr rejoined Art Blakey’s band for a session and recorded eight tracks with him. They were released later that year on the Blakey album. By then, times were tough for one of jazz’s rising stars.

At the time, Walter Bishop Jr had become addicted to drugs. Sadly, this was not uncommon amongst jazz musicians as drugs were readily available in clubs and many became addicted to heroin. 

Things got worse for Walter Bishop Jr when he was arrested and imprisoned. This also led to the withdrawal of his New York Cabaret Card. For a jazz musician this was a disaster as he was no longer able to play live in the city’s clubs. 

In early May 1956, Walter Bishop Jr was asked to play on a Hank Mobley session. It became Mobley’s 2nd Message, which was released on Prestige on July the ‘27th’ 1956. 

During the second half of the fifties, Walter Bishop Jr converted to the Muslim faith and adopted the name Ibrahim ibn Ismail. This he didn’t publicise and he continued to perform and record as Walter Bishop Jr.

This included when he played on the sessions for Jackie McLean’s album Swing, Swang, Swingin’. It was recorded at Van Gelder Studio on October the ‘20th’ 1959, and released by Blue Note Records in March 1960. 

As the sixties dawned, Walter Bishop Jr continued to work as a sideman and he played on a number of sessions during 1960. This included Charlie Rouse’s album Takin’ Care of Business which was released later that year and Dizzy Reece’s Soundin’ Off which was released by Blue Note Records in October 1960. 

Walter Bishop Jr also played on Ken McIntyre’s Looking Ahead, Jackie McLean’s Capuchin Swing and Curtis Fuller’s Boss of the Soul-Stream Trombone which were all released in 1961.

During the first two months of 1961, Walter Bishop Jr had played on the sessions for Shorty Baker and Doc Cheatham album Shorty and Doc and The Magnificent Trombone of Curtis Fuller. Then on March the ‘13th’ 1961 he played on the Rocky Boyd Quintet’s Ease It. The following day, Walter Bishop Jr returned to Bell Sound Studio to record his first album as bandleader.

Speak Low.

He had made his professional debut as a teenager in the mid-forties and music had been his life since then. The thirty-three year old pianist made his way to Bell Sound Studio, New York, on March the ‘14th’ 1961 to record an album of standards with the Walter Bishop Jr Trio. He was joined by drummer GT Hogan and bassist Jimmy Garrison and they recorded six standards that became the post bop album Speak Low.

When it was released later in 1961 Speak Low was well received by critics. Many forecast a big future for bandleader Walter Bishop Jr.

Having released his debut album as bandleader, he returned to playing live and session work. Between October the ‘17th’ and ‘18th’ Walter Bishop Jr played on Gene Ammons’ Boss Soul! and Up Tight! Just a month later, on November the ‘13th’ he played on Kenny Dorham’s Inta Somethin’and this brought to an end one of the most important years of a career that had already spanned three decades.

In 1962, Stateside released A Pair of “Naturals”  which included contributions the Peter Yorke Orchestra and Walter Bishop Jr Trio. The bandleader must have hoped that the album would introduce his music to a wider audience. 

Despite having embarked upon a solo career, he continued to work as a sideman. Just like many jazz musicians session work augmented the income he made playing live and from record sales. In 1962, Walter Bishop Jr played on the sessions for the John Handy album Jazz. It was released later that year. However, after that, session work seemed to dry up for Walter Bishop Jr.

Summertime.

Two years after the release of his debut album as bandleader the new Walter Bishop Jr Group entered the studio. It featured drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Butch Warren who joined forces with bandleader and pianist Walter Bishop Jr. They recorded twelve track that were a mixture of standards and familiar tracks. These tracks became Summertime.

Later in 1963, Summertime was released by Cotillion Records, an imprint of Atlantic. It found the new Group flitting between bop and Bossa Nova on album that was well received by critics and hailed as a success. However, it wasn’t a commercial success and it was another five years before Walter Bishop Jr returned with a new album.

Over the next couple of years, Walter Bishop Jr concentrated on playing live. Session work had dried up and the only album he played on in 1965 was Sonny Stitt’s Broadway Soul which was released later that year.

Two years later, Walter Bishop Jr was asked to play on the sessions for Harold Vick’s album Commitment. However, it wasn’t released until 1974. By then, things had changed for Walter Bishop Jr.

During the late-sixties, he decided to return to college. When he left high school in the mid-forties he had embarked upon a career as a professional musician. With jazz no longer as popular as it once was, he enrolled at The Juilliard School and studied with Hall Overton. Later, Walter Bishop Jr would teach music theory in colleges in Los Angeles. Before that he would return to the studio.  

1965.

In 1970, the Walter Bishop Jr Trio returned with their sophomore album, 1965. The lineup featured drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Butch Warren and  they recorded sixteen tracks with producer Addison Amor. 

When 1965 was released, this latest album of bop was hailed as the finest album that the bandleader’s recording career. Walter Bishop Jr was back and would return with a new album in 1971.

Coral Keys.

Walter Bishop Jr signed to Gene Russell and Dick Schory’s nascent Black Jazz Records in 1971. They had founded the label to promote the talents of young African-American jazz musicians and singers. Their first signing was Doug Carn who had just released his debut album Infant Eyes. The second album the label released in 1971 was Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys.

Coral Keys featured seven of Walter Bishop Jr’s compositions. Some of these he recorded with a quartet, and others with a quintet.

The quartet played on Coral Keys, Waltz for Zweetie, Track Down and Soul Turn Around. The lineup was drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist Reggie Johnson, Walter Bishop Jr on piano and Harold Vick who switches between flute, soprano and tenor saxophone. For the rest of the album the lineup changed.

For the recording of Our November, Three Loves and Freedom Suite Alan Shwaetz Benger replaced Idris Muhammad and trumpeter Woody Shaw was added to the band. This was the lineup that competed the recording of Coral Keys.

When Coral Keys was released later in 1971, the album wasn’t the commercial success that Walter Bishop Jr or the owners of Black Jazz Records had hoped. It was a disappointment for everyone involved with the album.

Record buyers had missed out on a groove-centric album that found Walter Bishop Jr’s band flitting between modal jazz, hard bop and post bop. Just like all good bandleaders, he’s not afraid to let the rest of the band shine. They grasp the opportunity throughout the album and showcase their considerable skills. 

This includes reedman Harold Vick on Coral Keys. Around Walter Bishop Jr’s piano he unleashes an exquisitely melodic soprano saxophone solo. This brings back memories of John Coltrane’s classic My Favourite Things. 

Elsewhere the band shine and this includes the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist Reggie Johnson on the first four tracks. Then the addition of trumpeter Artie Shaw on the final three tracks adds a new dimension to the first album to be credited to Walter Bishop Jr.

On Coral Key’s he’s been influenced by his hero Bud Powell as well as Horace Silver’s classic Blue Note Records’ era as well as Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis and sometime Bobby Timmons, Gene Harris and Red Garland. All these influences shine through on Walter Bishop Jr’s Black Jazz Records’ debut Coral Keys.

Sadly, Coral Keys wasn’t a commercial success when it was released. It was the album that got away for Walter Bishop Jr and so did his 1973 album Keeper Of My Soul. The only Black Jazz Records’ releases that enjoyed a degree of success were Doug Carn’s quartet of albums. 

It was only much later when critics, cultural commentators and DJs rediscovered and revisited the Black Jazz Records’ back-catalogue that they realised just how important an album Coral Keys was. It was a groundbreaking album where Walter Bishop Jr and his quartet and quintet flit between and fuse musical genres on what’s without doubt one of the finest of his career. s

Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys is a a reminder of one of one of the greatest American independent jazz labels of the seventies who always strived to released innovative albums that were ahead of the musical curve. 

Walter Bishop Jr-Coral Keys.

CULT CLASSIC: QUICKSAND-HOME IS WHERE I BELONG.

Cult Classic: Quicksand-Home Is Where I Belong.

Musical history is littered with examples of groups who only ever released one album during their what proves to be a short-lived career. Especially, during the late-sixties and early seventies when many record companies had unrealistic expectations.

All too often, when a band’s debut album failed to find an audience they were unceremoniously dropped by their record label. This was yet another example of short-term thinking in the music industry. 

There could’ve been any number of reasons for an album to fail, and often the blame lay fairly and squarely at the door of the record company. In Britain and America there were many smaller labels that were run by enthusiastic amateurs who talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. Sadly, that’s still the case today and getting mixed up with these dreamers and fantasists can damage a band’s future prospects. 

Many bands who signed to smaller labels or imprint in late-sixties and early seventies would soon regret their decision. Often, a band was so desperate to release an album that they signed a one album deal, with the option of a second album. Straight away, this put the record label in a stronger position. If the album did well, they picked up the option and if it failed the band were dropped. All to often, bands didn’t understand that contract they had signed or knew the questions to ask before signing on the dotted line. They just wanted to release an album.

Fast forward a few months and the album has been recorded, mixed and mastered; the album cover designed and the LPs are being produced at the pressing plant and are due to be sent to the distributor. By then, the band has realised that all isn’t well behind the scenes at the label. It lacks the financial muscle and marketing expertise to properly promote an album. The owner is out of their depth and is floundering, and the band know that the album that they had spent so long working on had no chance of success. This they know was their one and only chance to release an album and if it fails to find an audience their dream is over and it’s back home and to the 9 to 5 life in the factory or office.

When the album is eventually released their worst fears come true when it sinks without trace. At the post mortem, the label owner blames the distributor, the PR company, retailers who failed to stock the album, critics who failed to review it and DJs who failed to play it. The band listen and know that the only person to blame is the label owner and wait to be told there won’t be a second album. They’ve just joined the ranks of the groups who only ever releases one album.

This includes Quicksand who were formed in Port Talbot, in South Wales, in 1969 and featured drummer Robert Collins, future Man and The Neutrons bassist Will Youatt, guitarist Jimmy Davies and keyboardist Anthony Stone. The group started life as a covers band but the time they signed to the Carnaby label in 1970 their music was evolving. 

Having signed to the Carnaby label Quicksand went into the studio with producer Terry Britten and recorded two Will Youatt compositions. Passing By was chosen as the single and Cobblestones relegated to the B-Side. Quicksand’s debut single saw the group move in the drection of psychedelic rock. However, the single wasn’t a commercial success and it was their only release on the Carnaby label.

Not long after this, Will Youatt left and was replaced by Phil Davies. This new lineup of Quicksand Mk II would go on to release their sophomore single.

Having left the Carnaby label, Quicksand concentrated their efforts on playing live and were familiar faces in clubs and concert halls all over Britain. Quicksand were putting in the hard yards and honing their sound in the hope that one of the many A&R men would spot them playing live. 

Their luck was in and they were signed to Dawn Records which was Pye’s “underground and progressive” label. This seemed the perfect home for Quicksand.

After signing to Dawn Records, Quicksand went into the studio with producer Tito Burns to record two Phillip Davis compositions for their sophomore single. The song chosen for the single was the joyous and optimistic sounding Time To Live which features the band’s trademark harmonies as they combine the West Coast Sound, fusion and progressive rock keyboards. On the B-Side was the hidden gem Empty Street, Empty Heart which is a quite beautiful folk rock track with a country influence that shows another side of Quicksand. These two tracks showed what the Dawn Records’ latest signing was capable of.

Sadly, when Time To Live was released later in 1973 the single failed to trouble the British charts. This must have been a disappointment for Quicksand who by then, had been together for over four years.

Despite the commercial failure of Time To Live, Quicksand returned to the studio to record six more tracks for their debut album Home Is Where I Belong. Hideaway My Song, Sunlight Brings Shadows, Overcome The Pattern/Flying, Home Is Where I Belong and Hiding It All were also written by Phillip Davies. The other track was Seasons/Alpha Omega which was written by former band member Will Youatt. Taking charge of production this time round were Geoff Gill, Glyn Jones and the members of Quicksand. The result was an eclectic sounding album.

It’s hard to believe that the track that Hideaway My Song which eventually opened the album Home Is Where I Belong was recorded by a group from Port Talbot, in South Wales. It has a  feelgood sound that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the California Sound which was popular at the time the album was recorded. 

Very different is Sunlight Brings Shadows where the tempo rises as Quicksand change direction and unleash an unrelenting example of heavy progressive rock. Key to its success are the driving rhythm section, blistering rock guitar, banks of keyboards and Quicksand’s trademark harmonies. 

Then Overcome The Pattern/Flying shows different sides to the group. It starts off as a progressive rock track with some stunning psychedelic guitar playing from Jimmy Davies before heading into freak out territory at the midway point. There’s a trippy sounding interlude before things become even more spacey, psychedelic and way-out. Lysergic doesn’t even come close to describing the second part of this musical trip. 

Home Is Where I Belong is one of the most commercial sounding tracks on the album. It’s rocky and progressive in parts, and is an uplifting song with a feelgood sound and strong hook. 

It’s all change on Seasons/Alpha Omega which is another track that lasts over eight minutes and allows Quicksand to showcase their considerable talents. Especially during the solos. Initially, there’s a nod to Pink Floyd before the band spring into action and the tempo rises. Soon, searing guitar, banks of keyboards, a galloping rhythm section and harmonies that compliment the lead vocal make an appearance.What follows is a masterful and majestic example of progressive rock. To non believers, the music may sound overblown and pompous but give it a chance and it’s soon apparent that this is the album’s progressive epic that shows just what Quicksand were capable of.

Quicksand have saved one of the best on Home Is Where I Belong. Hiding It All close a quite beautiful and moving progressive folk anthem that is sure to tug at the heartstrings and should’ve been released as a single. 

When Quicksand’s debut album Home Is Where I Belong was released in February 1974 there was no single to proceed it. The previous single Time To Live had been released in 1973 and hadn’t troubled the British charts. Home Is Where I Belong would’ve been a tantalising taste of the delicious main dish. However, Dawn Records decided just to release the album without a single to proceed or accompany it. This backfired badly when Home Is Where I Belong sunk without trace. For the members of Quicksand this was a disaster, and they must have feared for their future.

Sadly, Quicksand’s time at Dawn Records was at an end and they never returned with a followup to Home Is Where I Belong.  

Worse was to come when Quicksand split-up not long after the release of Home Is Where I Belong. By then, they had been together for five years and had released two singles and one album, Home Is Where I Belong. It’s the highlight of a career that promised so much.

Quicksand were a hugely talented and versatile band, and Home Is Where I Belong is proof of that. It’s usually described as a progressive rock album but it’s much more than that. There’s elements of the California Sound, country, folk rock, fusion, progressive folk, psychedelic rock and the West Coast Sound on Home Is Where I Belong. They seamlessly switched between and fused genres on a carefully crafted album that should’ve found a much wider audience.

That was despite being signed to Dawn Records which was Pye’s “underground and progressive” label. Maybe Dawn Records was the wrong label for Quicksand and they would’ve succeeded on a bigger label? 

Especially if the had played the long game by signing Quicksand on a longer deal and helped them break into the lucrative American and European markets. Quicksand were ostensibly a progressive rock band but could also write radio friendly anthems and beautiful ballads. Maybe their music would’ve been more successful in America? Given the American influences on the album and the popularity of progressive rock in early 1974 maybe record buyers in the land of the free might have embraced, enjoyed and appreciated Quicksand’s debut album Home Is Where I Belong?

Sadly, the album was never even released in America in 1974. This was an own goal from Dawn Records who could’ve licensed Home Is Where I Belong to an American label. However, as is often the case after an album fails commercially the label moves on to the next project. Sometimes labels lose interest and other times they’re reluctant to spend any more money or even invest any more time on an album that wasn’t a commercial success. That’s a great shame and is frustrating and heartbreaking for a band.

That must have been the case for the four members of Quicksand who never recorded a followup to Home Is Where I Belong. Sadly, very few record buyers, even fans of progressive rock discovered the delights of an album that had something for everything. Progressive rock epics and psychedelic freakouts rub shoulders with anthems and beautiful ballads on Quicksand’s long-lost Magnus Opus Home Is Where I Belong which rather belatedly is starting to find a new and wider audience.

Cult Classic: Quicksand-Home Is Where I Belong.

THE RADIATORS FROM SPACE-TV TUBE HEART 40TH ANNIVERSARY VERSION.

The Radiators From Space-TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

When The Ramones played at the Roundhouse in London on the ‘4th’ of July 1976, this was a catalyst for punk movement. Many of the future leading lights of the punk movement have since claimed to have been present that night. In the audience were apparently future members of Generation X, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, The Slits and X-Ray Spex. They watched the as the support act The Stranglers worked their way through their set. Little did they know how important a band The Stranglers would be or the longevity they would go on to enjoy. 

As The Stranglers, left the stage, there was a sense of anticipation in the air about The Ramones. Very few people had seen them live, but some had read about them in the music press. Others had only heard third hand about The Ramones and speculated about what was about to unfold. The speculation was nothing compared to the reality of The Ramones live at the Roundhouse on the ‘4th’ of July 1976. This was a seminal moment for the nascent British punk scene. After seeing The Ramones legendary concert, many of the future leading lights of the punk scene went on to form bands.

They weren’t alone. Up and down Britain, new bands were formed on an almost daily basis and the punk rock movement exploded. It was the musical movement British youths had been waiting for, as it allowed them to vent their frustration at life in battered Britain in 1976. Soon, it was a similar situation elsewhere.

This included across the Irish Sea in Dublin, where the punk movement was also born in July 1976. Just like Britain, the Republic of Ireland’s economy was far from healthy. Less that fifty percent of school leavers were fortunate enough to find a job. The rest was known as the “unemployed generation.” Adding to their woes, and that of the rest of the Irish youth was the lack of recreational facilities. They had been overlooked and failed by their government. 

Some fell into a life of crime, while others made the journey “across the water,” to British cities where many Irish people had settled. This they hoped would lead to a better life. However, the prospects were no better there, and often, the natives were far from friendly. As a result, many young Dubliners decided to stay were they were. It was a case of “better the devil you know.”

Some of the young Dubliners that stayed in the city of their birth would become involved in the city’s nascent punk scene after July 1976. This was ground zero for Irish punk and many young Dubliners would form bands, found independent record labels and publish or write for fanzines.  A thriving and vibrant scene was about to take shape over the next year or so.  All this was partly due to Ireland’s first punk band The Radiators From Space. They issued a call to arms, and asked the Irish youth to unleash their creativity.

That is what the Irish youth proceeded to do, over the next few months and years. They discovered hidden talents that had passed unnoticed at schools across the country. This wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the band who are credited as Ireland’s very first punk band,

The Radiators From Space, whose debut album TV Tube Heart was recently reissued by Ace Records. This is the 40th Anniversary Version of TV Tube Heart and features the thirteen songs on the album and twenty bonus tracks. This in the perfect entrée for newcomers to The Radiators From Space who were formed in 1976, and were unlike most punk bands.

It’s safe to say that The Radiators From Space were a much more cerebral and literate band that the majority of punk bands. They were intelligent and didn’t indulge in the clichéd, vacuous posturing of many of the British punk groups who used controversy as a means of self promotion. That wasn’t the way that The Radiators From Space operated.

The Radiators From Space were formed in Dublin in 1976, and their early lineup included Philip Chevron, Pete Holidai, Steve Rapid (Steve Averill), Jimmy Crashe and Mark Megaray. From their early days, it was obvious that were different from other Irish and indeed, British punk bands.

Not only were The Radiators From Space cerebral and literate, they also had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of music and musical history. Partly, this was because Steve Rapid’s father brought back music and American music magazines from his regular trips to New York. These magazines Steve Rapid and the rest of the band poured over, developing and honing their knowledge of music. Meanwhile, The Radiators From Space listened to groups like Hawkwind, MC5, The Deviants and The Stooges, right through to pop, rock, subversive German cabaret and traditional Irish music. This The Radiators From Space regarded as their musical education, and unlike many other punk bands, they didn’t reject this music when punk arrived. Instead, it was part of The Radiators From Space’s musical DNA as they moved forward.

Having formed The Radiators From Space, the band announced that they had developed their own manifesto. This had all been thought out and carefully considered as The Radiators From Space announced that they wanted to transform the Irish youth from consumers to producers. The Radiators From Space knew that  the Irish youth were capable of forming bands and record labels, founding fanzines and putting on club nights. They would issue a rallying call, and this encouraged the Irish youth to become producers not just of  music, but create a fledgling music and entertainment industry. Part of this inspirational rallying call was also about enjoyment and pleasure.

This wasn’t easy in Ireland in 1976, where poverty and unemployment were rife. Many youths were from broken homes and there was a massive problem with illiteracy. There was also ‘The Troubles’, which blighted both sides of the Irish border. Many Irish youths didn’t want to get involved in the conflict and watched with sadness as friends and acquaintances got caught up in it. Some ended up in prison, while others were injured or even killed. That was a road they weren’t going down and the only rallying call they listened to was The Radiators From Space.

They were at the heart of the nascent punk movement, with The Radiators From Space playing live and ran and published their own fanzine Raw Power. This was an outlet for the band’s manifesto and allowed them to discuss their plans for an Alternative Ireland. This wasn’t a political movement. Instead, it was about making a better life for young Irish people. The Radiators From Space,  wasted to inspire and foster a feeling of solidarity. Readers were encouraged to try to find pleasure during each day. Sometimes, readers found love, and a few even found love across the religious divide. This was controversial and indeed dangerous in Ireland in 1976. 

Before long, The Radiators From Space and their fanzine was coming in for criticism from the Catholic Church. When Father Brian D’Arcy, a spokesperson for the Catholic church wrote about  out The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power,  he didn’t encourage their endeavours or creativity. Instead, he sneered contemptuously of The Radiators From Space and their fanzine Raw Power. It seemed that The Radiators From Space had the Catholic church rattled with their call to arms as a largely secular generation look for an alternative to organised religion. However, The Radiators From Space had another means of reaching an even wider audience…their music.

Although The Radiators From Space were activists and creatives, they were also musicians. That was what they hoped would offer them an escape from the grinding poverty and unemployment that besmirched Ireland, and indeed Britain. Music just like football and boxing was still an escape for working class youths in 1976.

It was a similar case in Britain, where punk bands were being formed almost daily. Many of them lacked talent and charisma, and were ill-suited to what was still the entertainment industry. By comparison, those that encountered The Radiators From Space found them engaging and intelligent. They were also talented, and a cut above the average punk band. 

After a while, The Radiators From Space wanted to embark upon a recording career. They were no different from punk bands in Britain, America and Australia. For punk bands, releasing a single was a rite of passage, and for others, would be a reminder of their brief brush with the music industry. Most didn’t get any further than that, and disappeared without trace. However, releasing a record in Britain was much easier than in Ireland.

Unlike many capital cities, Dublin didn’t have a music industry by 1976. There were neither major labels nor recording studios. Some bands travelled across the border to Belfast to record singles prior to the punk era. That was the past; and given the DIY spirit of punk, bands in Britain had recorded singles without going near a recording studio. They used basic equipment and transformed garages or basements into makeshift studios.

One option for all Irish bands had been to pack their bags and travel to London, where they would try to forge a career. The lucky ones like Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy went on to sign recording contracts, and became Ireland’s most successful musical exports. However, not all bands wanted to move to London, and that included The Radiators From Space during the early part of their career.

They were at the centre of Dublin’s scene and realised that something special was starting to take shape. Across Ireland, a new wave of bands, writers, fanzine publishers, promoters, record label owners and DJs were becoming part of the country’s burgeoning music scene. This included Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden, who had founded the independent label Midnite Records.

The pair was also friendly with a trio of Irish expats living in London, where they were part of the music industry. Ted Caroll was from the Republic of Ireland, while his friend and colleague Roger Armstrong was from Northern Ireland. Both lived and breathed music and were cut from the same cloth as Eamon Carr and Jackie Hayden. Both Ted Caroll and Roger Armstrong were musical entrepreneurs who had embraced the DIY principal and owned Chiswick Records. They kept in touch with booking agent Paul Charles, another Irish expat who still kept his finger on the pulse in the Irish music scene. He booked many of the top Irish bands and was part of The Radiators From Space inner circle.

Of all the Irish bands, Paul Charles was especially taken with The Radiators From Space. They were the only punk band who managed their own affairs. This was just a continuation of the DIY spirit The Radiators From Space had tried so hard to foster. It’s also likely given The Radiators From Space encyclopaedic knowledge of music that they were wary of music managers and would rather manage their own affairs. This was about to work in their favour.

In 1977, The Radiators From Space signed to Chiswick Records. Unlike many labels, Chiswick Records didn’t require the band to move to London. Instead, The Radiators From Space could continue to live in Dublin.

Television Screen.

With the deal signed and sealed, The Radiators From Space began work on their debut album TV Tube Heart. Before the album was recorded, The Radiators From Space their debut single in May 1977. The song they chose was Television Screen with Love Detective on the B-Side of their debut single. It was Sounds magazine record of the week, and was a memorable way for The Radiators From Space to announce their arrival. Both songs are among the twenty bonus tracks on the 40th Anniversary reissue of TV Tube Heart.

It was a mixture of original songs and Party Line’s version of the traditional song The Radiators From Space. TV Tube Heart was very much a group effort with the five members of the band having penned the twelve original songs. 

Guitarist Phil Chevron penned Television Screen, Prison Bars and Enemies, while Pete Holidai wrote Roxy Girl and Steve Rapid wrote Party Line. Press Gang and Ripped and Torn were credited to the band. Great Expectations was written by Mark Megaray, Steve Rapid and Phil Chevron. He was one of the one of the most productive band members when it came to songwriting. Phil Chevron and Pete Holidai wrote Electric Shares, and the pair then joined forces with Steve Rapid to write Contact, Sunday World and Not Too Late. Phil Chevron’s other contribution was Blitzin’ At the Ritz which he wrote with Jimmy Crashe. Along with Party Line, those songs became TV Tube Heart.

When recording began of TV Tube Heart began on ‘22nd’ June 1977, with Roger Armstrong took charge of production. The Radiators From Space’s rhythm section featured drummer Jimmy Crashe, bassist Mark Megaray and guitarists Phil Chevron and Pete Holidai. Adding the lead vocal was Steve Rapid. Eventually, TV Tube Heart was completed by August 1977.

On the ‘9th’ of September 1977, The Radiators From Space played a showcase gig at The Vortex. During a blistering set, they played Prison Bars, Contact, Party Line, Press Gang and Enemies, which feature on the newly released 40th Anniversary Version of TV Tube Heart. These tracks feature The Radiators From Space at the peak of their powers.

A month later, TV Tube Heart was released by Chiswick Records on October the ‘7th’ 1977. Critics were won over by The Radiators From Space’s debut album TV Tube Heart. Critics spoke as one, praising TV Tube Heart. That came as no surprise given the reception their debut single had received.

The Radiators From Space had followed this up with an accomplished album of pop punk that wasn’t short of anthems and social comment. From the howling feedback that opens Television Screen, it’s a case of sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a memorable way to open the album, as The Radiators From Space combined elements of garage rock, pop, punk, rock and even rock ’n’ roll. Unlike many punk bands, The Radiators From Space prove to be talented songwriters and musicians on album which features many highlights. 

Among them, are the anthem Prison Bars and driving Great Expectations which features some blistering guitar licks. Roxy Girl unfolds at breakneck speed and is a mixture of energy and raw power. There’s a defiance to Press Gang as The Radiators From Space reference The New York Dolls and Ramones which is another The Radiators From Space’s finest moments.  Contact is a mixture defiance, despair and social comment, while Sunday World which closed side one of the album is a melodic mixture of energy and raw power.

It’s a similar case on Electric Shares, where The Radiators From Space showcase their skills as musicians. Thunderous drum fills and searing guitars are part of a potent and heady brew. Machine gun guitars are unleaded on Enemies and ratty drums add join  the vocal on this melodic fusion of garage rock and punk. Ripped and Torn epitomises the spirit of ’76, while Not Too Late sounds like an anthemic hybrid of The Undertones and Sex Pistols. Blitzin At the Ritz finds The Radiators From Space with their feet to their floor on another memorable and anthemic song. Closing the album is The Radiators From Space’s rework of Party Line which is raw and rocky and features vocal that is a mixture of frustration and defiance. It closed TV Tube Heart on high.

Forty years later, and TV Tube Heart is punk classic, and a cut above many of the third-rate albums that were being released. The Radiators From Space had made their mark on the punk scene  on both sides of the Irish Sea. Surely, it was only a matter of time before one of the majors came calling?

Two months later, and The Radiators From Space released their sophomore single Enemies in on Chiswick Records in December 1977. Just like its predecessor Television Screen, it won the approval of critics. Things were looking good for The Radiators From Space, who critics said had a bright future in front of them.

Nearly two years later, and The Radiators From Space were still signed to Chiswick Records. However, they had moved to London earlier in 1979. This was a big step for the band, leaving their home city behind. Some said it paid off when they released their critically acclaimed sophomore album Ghostown on August ’10th’ 1979. For some critics, the album was The Radiators From Space finest hour. Others sill believed that TV Tube was their best album. What was clear, was that The Radiators From Space had released two genre classics.

Sadly, two years later in 1981, The Radiators From Space split-up. It was the end of an era for what many regard as Dublin and indeed Ireland’s first punk band.

The Radiators From Space were reunited in 1987 and were together until they spilt for the second time in 1989. They were reunited in 2004, and are still together thirteen years later. During that period, they’ve released two albums 2006s Trouble Pilgrim and Sound City Beat in 2012. It was another five years before The Radiators From Space returned to the studio.

Earlier in 2017, The Radiators From Space made a welcome return to the studio and rerecorded some of their songs. Ten of the songs they rerecorded feature on TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version. They’re billed as Live In The Studio. This includes old favourites like Television Screen, Electric Shares, Ripped and Torn,  Roxy Girl and Love Detective. The Radiators From Space roll back the years to 1977, when they were embarking upon their music adventure. These old favourites are joined by Psychotic Reaction, Teenage Head and Try and Stop Me as The Radiators From Space continue to take listeners down memory lane. However, the story of TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version isn’t over yet.

There’s also versions of Blitzin At the Ritz and Not Too Late that featured on the cassette versions of the compilation Buying Gold In Heaven The Best Of The Radiators (From Space)-1977/1980. It was released by the Hotwire label in Ireland, in 1985. These tracks complete TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version which was recently released by Ace Records,

This recently released version of TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version has been expanded and features thirty-three tracks. Fourteen of these songs, including those recorded Live At The Vortex in September 1977 and Live In The Studio 2017. Just like the rest of the bonus tracks, they’re a welcome addition to this lovingly curated release. It’s the perfect way to celebrate The Radiators From Space’s landmark debut album TV Tube Heart.

The Radiators From Space were punk pioneers, who are regarded by many as Ireland’s first ever punk band. Their debut album TV Tube Heart is a true genre classic, and is their finest album. TV Tube Heart showcases one of the best and most accomplished punk bands, who were a cut above the competition. By comparison, many of the British punk bands, who were a rag-bag of chancers, charlatans, publicity seekers and talentless no-hopers. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, The Radiators From Space were cerebral, literate, inspirational and had a social conscience. They were also one of the leading lights of the Irish punk scene and recorded a true genre classic TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version.

The Radiators From Space-TV Tube Heart-40th Anniversary Version.

 

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: DR JOHN-IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD.

Cult Classic: Dr John-In A Sentimental Mood.

There aren’t many musicians who enjoy the longevity that the late, great Dr John enjoyed. His career lasted the best part of sixty years and he released thirty studio albums and nine live albums. Dr John also won six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. By then, his music which influenced thousands of musicians was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. 

It hadn’t always been smooth sailing for Dr John who had battled heroin addiction and eventually conquered his demons. Sometimes, his music fell out of favour and Dr John went back to working as a session musician. That was how he spent much of the eighties, when he only released three albums including In A Sentimental Mood, which shows a different side to Dr John and marked a return to form from one of music’s great survivors.

The future Dr John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr, on November the ‘20th’ 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans, and music was always around him. 

His father Malcolm John Rebennack ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, where he repaired radio and televisions and sold records. He introduced his son to the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. However, one of the people who inspired Mac Rebennack was his grandfather who he heard singing minstrel songs. So did hearing his aunts, uncles, cousins and sister playing the piano. Despite this, Mac Rebennack wasn’t inspired to take music lessons. 

This only came later when he was a teenager. He also joined a choir, but was soon asked to leave. However, over the next few years Mac Rebennack learnt to play the guitar and later piano, and through his father’s contacts in the local music scene was soon playing alongside some well known names including Guitar Slim  and Little Richard. This was just the start for Mac Rebennack.

When he was thirteen, he met Professor Longhair and he was instantly impressed by the flamboyant showman. Mac Rebennack was soon playing alongside his new hero, and  this was the start of his professional career.

Around 1955 or 1956, Mac Rebennack made his debut in the recording studio when he was signed as a singer and  songwriter by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. The future Dr John’s career was underway and towards the end of 1957  with the help of Danny Kessler, he joined the musician’s union. That was when he considered himself to be a professional musician.

By the time he was sixteen, Mac Rebennack had been hired by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records as a producer. This led to him working with Earl King, James Booker and Jimmy Clayton. This was all good experience for the young, up-and-coming musician 

Despite his new career, Mac Rebennack was still a student at Jesuit High School. This didn’t stop him playing in night clubs and forming his first band The Dominoes.  The Jesuit fathers weren’t happy with Mac Rebennack’s lifestyle and issued him with an ultimatum. He was to either stop playing in nightclubs or leave the school. Not long after this, he was expelled from the school. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to him as he was able to concentrate on music full time.

By the late-fifties, Mac Rebennack was playing with various bands in and around New Orleans. This included his own band Mac Rebennack and The Skyliners. However, the young bandleader had also embarked upon a career as a songwriter.

In 1957 Mac Rebennack cowrote his first ever rock ’n’ roll song Lights Out. It was recorded by New Orleans based singer Jerry Byrne, and released on Specialty Records later in 1957 and give him a regional hit. 

Two years later, in 1959, Mac Rebennack also enjoyed a regional hit single when he released Storm Warning, a Bo Diddley insprired instrumental, on Rex Records. This was the first hit he enjoyed in a long, illustrious and eventful career.

After Storm Warning, Mac Rebennack and Charlie Miller joined forces and recorded singles for various local labels. This included Ace, Ron, and Ric. They continued to release singles until Charlie Miller decided to move to New York to study music. Mac Rebennack stayed in the Big Easy and continued his career.

Around 1960, Mac Rebennack was playing a gig in Jacksonville, Florida, when his career was changed forevermore. That night, his ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gun shot during an incident. This was a disaster for a right handed guitarist and when he recovered he made the switch to bass guitar. However, after a while Mac Rebennack switched to the instrument he made his name playing, the piano.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had developed a style that was influenced by Professor Longhair who he had met when he was thirteen. It looked as if this was a new chapter in Mac Rebennack’s musical career.

That wasn’t the case and Mac Rebennack ended up getting involved in the dark underbelly of The Big Easy. He was using and selling illegal drugs and at one point, running a brothel. It was almost inevitable that Mac Rebennack was going to have a brush with the law. 

He did. In 1963, when Mac Rebennack was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institution, in Fort Worth, Dallas. By the time his sentence ended and he was released in 1965, New Orleans was a different place.

There had been a campaign to rid the city of its clubs, which meant that musicians like Mac Rebennack found it hard to find work. That was why he decided to move to LA where he knew he could find work as a session musician.

It turned out to be a good decision, and it wasn’t long before Mac Rebennack was one of the first call session musicians in LA. That was the case for the rest of sixties and the seventies. He was also a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and worked with some of the biggest names in music. This was the new start Mac Rebennack had been looking for when he left New Orleans.

Growing up Mac Rebennack had developed an interest in New Orleans voodoo. This was something he revisited during his early years in LA when he began to develop the concept of Dr John, which initially he thought could be a persona for his friend Ronnie Barron. The concept was based on the life of Dr John, a Senegalese prince, a witch doctor, herbalist and spiritual healer who travelled to New Orleans from Haiti. He was a free man of colour who lived on Bayou Road, and claimed to have fifteen wives and over fifty children. It was believed Dr John also kept a variety of lizards, snakes, embalmed scorpions as well as animal and human skulls, and sold gris-gris, voodoo amulets which were meant to protect the wearer from harm. This Mac Rebennack incorporated into the project he was working on for Ronnie Barron.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had decided to write, produce and play on an album and stage show based on his concept with Dr John emblematic of New Orleans’ heritage. It was meant to feature Ronnie Barron. However, when he dropped out of the project Man Rebennack took over the role and adopted the identity of Dr John. This was a turning point in the life and career of the man born Mac Rebennack.

Dr John became the name that he found fame as and won five Grammy Awards. However, that was still to come.

Having adopted the moniker Dr John,The Night Tripper he was signed by Atco Records and recorded his debut album Gris Gris. It was his his own “voodoo medicine” and marked the start of what’s now regarded as a golden era for Dr John.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris, which was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

Gris Gris was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work.

Babylon

This included his sophomore album Babylon on January the ’17th’ 1969. It was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. 

Sadly, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to  a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John wrote the six tracks that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. Very different was Angola Anthem which was inspired by a friend of Dr John’s who had just been released from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary after forty years. Dr John paid tribute to his friend with an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. It was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970, just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John. 

The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Despite Dr John’s first three albums failing to find an audience, many of his fellow musicians were fans of his music, and were only too happy to feature on his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs. This included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bobby Whitlock, Graham Bond, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Doris Troy. They were joined by The Memphis Horns as Dr John and Charles Greene took charge of production. 

They were responsible for a dark and swampy sounding album that is rich in imagery and paints of New Orleans on a hot, sticky night as thunder crackles and rumbles in the distance like the drums on The Sun, Moon and Herbs. When it was released on August the ’31st’ 1971, still critics struggled to understand Dr John’s music, but this time, The Sun, Moon and Herbs which featured an all-star cast, spent five weeks in US Billboard 200 and peaked at 184. At last, Dr John’s music was starting to find a wider audience.

Dr John’s Gumbo.

Buoyed by the success of The Sun, Moon and Herbs, Dr John decided to record an album of cover versions of New Orleans’ classics for his fifth album Dr John’s Gumbo. It was produced by Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler and ironically given Dr John’s Gumbo featured tracks by legends some of the New Orleans’ musical legends including Professor Longhair,  Huey “Piano” Smith, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and Dr John the album was recorded in LA. However, Dr John’s Gumbo was  The Night Tripper’s most successful album.

Unlike previous albums, Dr John’s Gumbo was a much more straightforward album of R&B, and it found favour with critics. After Dr John’s Gumbo was released to critical acclaim, it reached entered the US Billboard 200 where it spent eleven weeks, peaking at 112. Dr John was on his way. 

In The Right Place.

Following the success of Dr John’s Gumbo, Dr John headed to Criteria Studios, in Miami, where he recorded In The Right Place with songwriter, musician, arranger and producer Allen Toussaint. He was one of the most influential figures in the New Orleans’ music scene, and was able to bring out the best in Dr John as he laid down songs of the quality of Right Place, Wrong Time, Same Old Same Old, Peace Brother Peace and Such A Night. Once In The Right Place was completed, the two men returned to the Big Easy and watched as Dr John’s popularity soared.

Critics on hearing In The Right Place which was a fusion of funk, blues and New Orleans R&B hailed the album was one of his finest. Record buyers agreed when In The Right Place was released on February the ’25th’ 1973 thirty-three weeks in the US Billboard 200 and peaked at twenty-four. What Ahmet Ertegun had foolishly described as: “boogaloo crap” just a few years earlier, was now proving profitable for his company. Dr John was having the last laugh.

Desitively Bonnaroo.

The success of In The Right Place was a game-changer for Dr John, whose popularity soared. After six albums, he was enjoying the commercial success and critical acclaim his music deserved. However, Dr John knew that he would have to think about his seventh album, and began writing what became Desitively Bonnaroo.

When critics heard Desitively Bonnaroo they were once again won over by another carefully crafted album of funk and New Orleans R&B from Dr John. It was released on April the ‘8th’ 1974, spending eight weeks on the US Billboard 200 stalling at 105. Despite the quality of Desitively Bonnaroo it had failed to replicate the commercial success of In The Right Place, which must have been a huge disappointment for Dr John.

Sadly, Desitively Bonnaroo was the last album that Dr John released on the Atlantic Records imprint Atco, and was the end of a golden period for Dr John.

Hollywood Be Thy Name.

In 1975, Dr John’s manager Richard Flanzer, hired producer Bob Ezrin to produce a live album which became Hollywood Be Thy Name. It  was recorded live at Cherokee Studios, in Los Angeles, which for one night only, was transformed into a New Orleans nightclub. The album was released later in 1975.

Hollywood Be Thy Name was released on October the ‘6th’ 1975. Critics weren’t won over by an album which was a mixture of original material and cover versions. To make matters worse for Dr John, the album wasn’t the commercial success his last three albums had been. Was this just a temporary blip?

City Lights.

Dr John didn’t return to the studio until 1978. By then, he had signed to Horizon, an imprint of A&M and recorded City Lights. It featured three of his own compositions and five he cowrote with various songwriting partners. These songs were recorded with a crack band of musicians and was a return to form from Dr John.

City Lights was released in February 1979, and was well received by critics. However, the album which featured everything from cool jazz, fusion, R&B and  soul-jazz failed to find an audience. For Dr John this was another disappointment.

Tango Palace.

By the time Dr John released Tango Palace later in 1979 he was spending more of his time working as a session musician and had played keyboards on Rickie Lee Jones eponymous debut album. Now he was about to release his with studio album and tenth album overall.  

When Tango Palace was released it wasn’t well received by critics who believed it was the weakest album of his career. This came as a blow to Dr John.

Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack.

The eighties began with the release of Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack in 1981. It featured many of his own boogie woogie compositions and showcased the Dr John’s piano playing. The rest of the eighties was a fallow period for Dr John until he released In A Sentimental Moon in 1989.

 In A Sentimental Mood

After over a decade recording for smaller labels In A Sentimental Mood saw Dr  John recording for a major label, Warner Bros. The sessions for the album took place in two prestigious recording studios, The Power Station in New York, and Los Angeles’ Ocean Way Studio. With a full string and horn section, and a tight band in tow, Dr John recorded some classic songs from yesteryear, including Makin’ Whoopee, Accentuate the Positive and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. These songs, and other classics, which feature on On In A Sentimental Mood, are reinterpreted by Dr John as he gives them his own unique twist. 

In A Sentimental Mood opens with Makin’ Whoopee. It’s given the big band treatment by Dr John, slowed right down, and given a jazzy twist. Rickie Lee Jones sings the female part, as Dr John gives this old classic a new twist. With horns a blazing and drums pounding slowly, the song opens, giving way to Dr John’s tinkling piano. It’s only then that his raspy vocal enters, and you can almost imagine him singing the mildly suggestive lyrics with a big smile on his face. When Rickie Lee enters, her voice is sweet and coy, a real contrast to the Dr’s raspy, more powerful voice. Behind them, the strings sweep and horns rasp and blaze, the tempo slow, the arrangement swings and band play with power on what’s a welcome return to form for Dr John, one that hints at later albums, where he would cover classic by Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer.

When you hear Dr John’s version of Candy there’s only one man that springs to mind, Ray Charles. Indeed, in the sleeve notes to the album, Dr John gives credit to Ray Charles and Charles Brown for their inspiration. This smoky sounding cover is a fitting testament and tribute to one of the giants of music. The tempo is slow, rasping horns and lush strings sweep and swirl as Dr John gives a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of the lyrics. His piano playing is sparse and jazz tinged, and when he and the piano drop out, the strings take his place. Here, the horns play second fiddle to the strings, with the strings playing a starring role. Of course, the other key ingredient is Dr John’s rasping vocal. Later a saxophone solo drifts above the arrangement, the rest of the horns playing with a subtly. Marty Paich’s arrangement of the strings and horns plays an important part in making this such a great song.

Johnny Mercer becomes the latest of the great songwriters Dr John pays tribute to on Accentuate The Positive. With high kicking horns almost marching through the track, accompanying Dr John’s gruff, rough and rocking vocal. He really gets the song swinging, after a slow and somewhat thoughtful introduction, where a meandering piano solo gives way to his earthy vocal. It’s only after that, that the song unfolds, transforming into a swinging, rocking number with the piano at the forefront and those high kicking horns rasping and adding drama. The combination is a potent and swinging one, that gets even better when a saxophone solo blows gloriously, as the song heads towards a dramatic crescendo.

One of the most beautiful songs on the album is My Buddy, co-written by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson. This song has a lovely, understated lush arrangement, with strings playing a major roll, while horns play a supporting roll. It’s just Dr John with his trusty piano that opens the track, with cymbals hissing gently in the background. When the strings enter, they’ve the lushest sound, a perfect accompaniment for Dr John’s thoughtful vocal and piano playing. Behind him a bass meanders, with the strings and later, gently rasping horns entering. Together, they produce a poignant and quite melancholy sound, one that

In A Sentimental Mood  benefits from an understated arrangement, with the piano and lovely, lush strings combining as the track meanders along. It’s a song from a different age, gentle and beautiful, as it slowly reveals itself. A few jazzy flourishes from the piano accompany the swathes of strings that float above. During the song, Dr John’s piano playing is among the best on the album, as is Marty Paich’s string arrangement. Together with producer Tommy Lipuma, they combine to produce a beautiful, piano led track, that features swathes of lush strings.

Black Night finds Dr John upping the tempo, on a song written by Jessie Mae Robinson. Dramatic flourishes of piano and braying horns combine as the song opens, with Dr John demonstrating his talent and versatility as a pianist. When his vocal enters, it’s a downbeat and despondent Dr John we hear, as horns rasp and a bass makes its presence felt. The arrangement is full, and drama laden, horns swirling grandly, while the rhythm more than section play their part in the song’s success. By now, Dr John’s raspy voice is powerful, regret and sadness his only friends. As the arrangement reverberates, a combination of jazz players new and modern, including drummer Harvey Mason and bassist Abe Laboriel play their part in helping Dr John give an old song a new magical new twist.

One of the saddest songs on the album is a version of Joe Greene’s Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. As strings swirl in, flourishes of dramatic piano, give way to a wistful vocal from the Dr John. With chiming guitars, strings and piano combining, the song meanders along, flourishes of piano escaping, while a butter and rueful Dr John delivers the lyrics. The arrangement taps into perfectly into the sadness of the lyrics, which have a melancholy, and almost bittersweet quality. Again the arrangement has a somewhat understated sound, relying on the strings, instead of horns. This works well, getting across perfectly the sadness and emotion in the lyrics, especially when delivered by Dr John.

When you talk about the greatest American songwriters of the first half of the twentieth century, then you can’t not mention Cole Porter. Similarly, Dr John couldn’t record an album featuring some of the greats of American songwriting and not cover a Cole Porter song. The one he chose was Love For Sale, choosing to transform the track, with some of his best piano playing on the album. Here he veers between some rollicking jazzy piano playing with flourishes of drama included, while strings sweep and swirl grandly, their sound vaguely reminding me of a movie soundtrack, while horns rasp and blaze, reverberating and the rhythm section provide a light sprinkling of funk. It’s a track that absolutely swings, and has an irresistible sound. Towards the end, Dr John almost raps over the arrangement, a brilliant track, just getting even better.

In A Sentimental Mood ends with More Than You Know, which opens with the wistful strings which have a real retro sound, in keeping with music. They give way to a thoughtful vocal from Dr John while his piano meanders along. He delivers the lyrics perfectly, with a tenderness and thoughtfulness. Above him, sits the strings, which float in and out of the arrangement, with Harvey Mason playing the drums with subtlety, forsaking sticks for brushes. Similarly, the bass meanders, the playing sparse, leaving flourishes of Dr John’s piano playing and his thoughtful vocal to take centre-stage, on what was a tender, beautiful and heartfelt delivery of the lyrics. This  thoughtful and somewhat poignant and melancholy song seems the perfect way to end the album.

For anyone who has only experienced the music of Dr John’s vintage Atco Records years, the music on In A Sentimental Mood will come as something of a surprise when they hear it. It features a different side to Dr John’s music. He was a a musical chameleon who seamlessly could flit between musical genres Proof of that is In A Sentimental Mood which was very different to his previous albums.

In A Sentimental Mood is an album that was perfect for late night listening as Dr John revisits a different musical era with an all-star cast for company.  Effortlessly Dr John transports the listener to another time and place during the album with his lived-in, worldweary vocal and peerless piano playing during In A Sentimental Mood.

During In A Sentimental Mood Dr John with a string and horn section in tow, transform nine standards, breathing new life and energy into them, as gives them his own unique twist. After In A Sentimental Mood his music continued to evolve, with aalbums rediscovering the music of Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and the wonderful music of New Orleans. That is no surprise.

Throughout his career, the late great Dr John was always an innovator, never afraid to try something new, sometimes, even becoming a contrarian. However, he always provided his many fans with some majestic and memorable music, which they’ll always cherish, and return to. This includes In A Sentimental Mood which marks a return to form from Dr John, and is a reminder of this flawed genius who is much missed.

Cult Classic: Dr John-In A Sentimental Mood.

HANK MOBLEY-SOUL STATION

Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Format: LP.

It was Leonard Feather, the British-born jazz pianist, composer, producer and music writer who described Hank Mobley as the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” This metaphor made sense to critics and connoisseurs of jazz. 

His tone was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as melodic as Stan Getz. Instead, it had a laidback, languid sound that was subtle and melodic. Especially when compared to the likes of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Despite his undeniable talent, Hank Mobley never seemed to get the credit he deserved. 

Sadly, Hank Mobley is still one of the most the underrated jazz musicians. Especially those who came prominence during the bop era. 

Hank Mobley signed was still twenty-four when he recorded his first session for Blue Note Records on the ‘27th’ of March 1955. That day he recorded the album that became Hank Mobley Quartet which was released in October 1955. He had come a long way in a short space of time. 

Musically, Hank Mobley was a late starter, and first  picked up a saxophone was when he was sixteen, and suffering from an illness that meant he had to stay at home for several months. By then, he was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was finding that the days were long and  he needed something to pass the time. That was why his grandmother decided to buy her grandson a saxophone. It passed the time as Hank Mobley recuperated, and also transformed his life. 

Eight years later, Hank Mobley had signed to Blue Note Records where he would spend the majority of his career. He eventually recorded and released twenty-six albums for jazz’s premier label between 1955 and 1972. This includes one of his classic albums Soul Station which were released by Blue Note Records in October 1960. It was the tenth album that Hank Mobley had recorded for Blue Note Records.

The Soul Station session took place at the Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was a quartet recording with drummer Art Blakey, bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Wynton Kelly joining the twenty-nine year old bandleader, composer and tenor saxophonist. As usual, Alfred Lion who took charge of production which were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.

That day, six tracks were recorded. This included covers  two standards, Irving Berlin’s Remember and If I Should Lose You which written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. They were joined by This I Dig Of You, Dig Dis, Split Feelin’s and Soul Station which were Hank Mobley compositions. The six tracks were recorded during the one-day session and the release was scheduled for later in 1960.

When Soul Station was released in early October 1960, critics heaped praise on the future hard bop classic calling it Hank Mobley’s finest album. Some critics went further and said it was one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records during the hard bop era. This was high praise indeed.

Soul Station opens with the standard Remember, which was a favourite of American dance bands during the classic jazz age. Hank Mobley pays homage to this era. His sultry tenor saxophone is to the fore and carries the simple melody above the finger clicking groove before enjoying opportunity to improvise. By then the arrangement is swinging. However, Wynton Kelly’s piano playing is subtle, understated and he resists the urge to innovate. Instead, the band to the script during this quite beautiful and captivating cover of this much-loved standard that sashays along before reaching a crescendo. In doing so, this sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Very different This I Dig of You which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. Each member of the band plays their part in the sound and success of the track. Especially pianist Wynton Kelly who opens the track and is joined by Hank Mobley as the rest of rhythm section drive and power the arrangement along. Meanwhile, slinky sounding piano plays and later, Art Blakey unleashes a thunderous solo before hissing hi-hats signalling the return of the sultry sounding saxophone which soars above the arrangement to impressive hard driving track.

The tempo drops on Dig Dis where Wynton Kelly’s piano takes centrestage as the rhythm section accompany him. Their playing is understated even when Hank Mobley’s tenor saxophone enters and soars above the piano. It’s everpresent and gets another chance to shine when the saxophone drops out. Soon, though the  baton passes to the smooth souding tenor saxophone which continues to play a starring role. However, just like the previous tracks Wynton Kelly’s contribution is crucial and it would be a poorer track without it.

From the opening bars of Split Feelin’s there’ no stopping the band as they move through the gears on this uptempo track with a Latin-tinged groove. Soon, they’re sitting in the fast lane and are being driven along by rhythm section. Paul Chambers plucks his bass firmly and deliberately while Art Blakey powers the arrangement along and later unleashes a thunderous solo that’s one of his best on the album. Not to be outdone, Wynton Kelly’s hands dance across and sometimes  jab and stab the keyboard. Meanwhile, Hank Mobley plays with speed, fluidity, power, passion and fluidity on what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Another highlight of Soul Station is the title-track. Here, the band is at their tightest as they play a lowdown bluesy groove. At its heart is Wynton Kelly’s piano playing and somehow he reaches new heights. Meanwhile Paul Chambers unleashes a peerless solo while Art Blakey’s playing is much more understated. Hank Mobley’s playing is smooth, melodic and he plays within himself always in control on a track that features this all-star band at their very best.

Bookending Soul Station is the other standard, If I Should Lose You. Just like the opening track Remember, Hank Mobley looks back to the jazz’s glory days when this was a staple of American dance bands. Here, the band stay true to the original and their toe-tapping cover is uptempo, joyous and is a a reminder of another musical era.

Soul Station is the album that transformed Hank Mobley’s career. By the time the album was released in 1960 he was a prolific recording artist. Although his albums were well received by critics Soul Station was called the finest of his career. 

Nowadays Soul Station is regarded as a classic album and one of the finest albums released by Blue Note Records. Although it’s an album that’s rooted in the hard bop style elements of blues, Latin and classic jazz can heard during this almost flawless six track set which should’ve transformed Hank Mobley’s career. 

Despite releasing over thirty albums during his carer, Hank Mobley didn’t get the recognition his music deserved His finest hour was Soul Station which features Hank Mobley the man they called the: “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” at the peak of his powers.

Hank Mobley-Soul Station.

NEIL YOUNG-YOUNG SHAKESPEARE.

Neil Young-Young Shakespeare.

Label: Warner.

Format: CD.

On September the ‘30th’ 1970 Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young released his critically acclaimed third album After The Gold Rush. It was hailed as the finest album of his solo career and nowadays, is regarded as a classic.

Live At Massey Hall 1971.

After the release of After The Gold Rush, Neil Young headed out on tour to promote the album. By January the ’19th’ 1971 he had arrived in Toronto where he was due to play a solo, acoustic set at the Massey Hall. That night, the tapes were running and the concert was recorded with a view to releasing a live album. 

Sadly, the recording lay unreleased in Neil Young’s archives until 2007 when it was belatedly released as Live At Massey Hall 1971. It reached number six on the US Billboard 200 chart and is one of Neil Young’s finest live albums. However, this wasn’t the only live album recorded during the tour.

Young Shakespeare.

Three nights after the Massey Hall concert the tapes were running again.The venue was The Shakespeare Theater, in Stratford, Connecticut, and when Neil Young took to the stage  January the ’22nd’ 1971 the show was filmed and recorded. 

Later in 1971, the concert film was shown on German television. However, the recording lay in Neil Young’s vaults for nearly fifty years.

It wasn’t until 2020 when Neil Young was working with his team and reviewing tapes in his Archive for future projects. That was when they found the 16mm film and the recording of  the concert at The Shakespearee Theater which had been persevered for almost have a century. It  was a remarkable find.

When Neil Young and his team watched the film and listened to the recording. Gradually, they were able to piece together the film footage and the tapes of the concert. Soon, they realised that they had the entire concert. This was a historic find as the film features the earliest live footage of Neil Young as a solo artist live in concert. 

The tapes were carefully and lovingly restored to their former glory. When Neil Young heard the Young Shakespeare tapes he said his performance was: “superior to our beloved Massey Hall” concert. That’s no surprise to anyone who has heard both albums.

 He gives a calmer performance and is much more measured and assured during the twelve song set that eventually became Young Shakespeare. Gone is the celebratory atmosphere that can he heard on Live At Massey Hall 1971. The result is a much better album and a reminder of one of the great, young singer-songwriters who in January 1971, was enjoying a prolific period  when he recorded Young Shakespeare.

Three months earlier Neil Young had released After The Goldrush which would eventually be certified double platinum in the UK and America. He had started writing and recording his second classic album Harvest, and showcases four tracks from the album on Young Shakespeare which was  recently released by Warner on CD.

When Neil Young took to the stage at The Shakespeare Theater he was just twenty-five but was already a gifted and celebrated songsmith. That night, he delivered vocals that were impassioned, heartfelt and emotive as he works his way through an acoustic set that features old favourites and classic songs. 

Opening Young Shakespeare was Tell Me Why which also opened After The Gold Rush. Neil Young’s vocal is full of emotion as he asks the question and but is left wondering? Its a powerful way to open the set. 

He then played a couple of tracks from his next album, Harvest. up was an impassioned reading of Old Man which become a staple of his concerts for years to come. So would The Needle and The Damage Done where Neil Young describes the effects of heroin addiction. 

After this, he played Ohio which was released by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in 1970 and nowadays is regarded as a classic. It’s a powerful track full of social comment.

Very different is Dance, Dance, Dance which Neil Young wrote and was originally covered by Crazy Horse on their 1971 eponymous debut album. This solo acoustic version is very different from the original and shows a different side to what would often feature in the setlist.

Neil Young then return to his sophomore album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere which was released in May 1969 and delivers a tender, wistful version of Cowgirl In The Sand. 

It’s followed by a medley of A Man Needs A Maid and Heart Of Gold from Harvest. It would go on to top the US Billboard 200 when it was released and eventually sold over four millions copies. This resulted in the album being certified four times platinum. Those in the audience at The Shakespeare Theater were fortunate to hear two more tracks from Neil Young’s next classic album.

He then played the title-track to his soundtrack to Journey Through The Past which was released in November 1972. This was the first of four soundtrack albums that Neil Young released between 1972 and 2018.

After this, he returns to After The Goldrush for Don’t Let It Bring You Down which also featured on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1971 live album 4 Way Cellar. It’s a quite beautiful, impassioned reading on Young Shakespeare. 

It gives way to Helpless which featured on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 album Deja Vu. Neil Young wrote the song and he delivers an emotive vocal as he brings the lyrics to the life accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar.

Down By The River was the penultimate song of the set and  was one of the highlights of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Since he wrote the song, Neil Young has given various explanations of the lyrics. This includes that they’re about a man who shot his lover after feeling unable to continue from the emotional highs of their relationship. When he played the song in New Orleans on September the ‘27th’ 1984 Neil Young told the audience that it was about a man who had trouble controlling himself, and when he discovered his lover had been cheating on him, he met her down by the river and shot her. It’s a dark cinematic song and very few people know the backstory to the lyrics.

Closing the set and Young Shakespeare was Sugar Mountain which Neil Young penned on his nineteenth birthday. The song made its debut on the B-Side of his debut solo single The Loner. Just two years later and he was well on his way to becoming one of the most successful solo artists not just of the seventies, but the last fifty years.

Just over fifty years after Neil Young played at The Shakespeare Theater, in Stratford, Connecticut, this beautiful acoustic solo concert was belatedly released as Young Shakespeare by Warner. It’s one of the finest live albums that Neil Young released, and there’s been plenty to choose from since 1973.

His first live album was Time Fades Away which was released in 1973, and 1979s Live Rush where Neil Young is accompanied by Crazy Horse. This was followed by Weld in 1991 and two years later in 1993 he released his Unplugged album. Just like Young Shakespeare, these albums show different sides to Neil Young’s music. 

During a long and illustrious solo career that’s spanned fifty-three years Neil Young has been a musical chameleon constantly reinventing his music. It’s if he’s frightened to stand still in case he’s accused of becoming irrelevant. Instead, he strives to reinvent himself. That’s why so many of the thirty-nine solo albums and the live albums that Neil Young has released are so different. 

However, Young Shakespeare is a reminder of Neil Young singer-songwriter in the early stages of his solo career. He switches between acoustic guitar and piano during Young Shakespeare where the songs are beautiful, powerful and poignant and his  delivery is heartfelt, impassioned and emotive as he works his way through a twelve song set that features future classics and others that would become a staple of Neil Young’s concerts over the next fifty years.  

Neil Young-Young Shakespeare.