TRANSPARENT DAYS: WEST COAST NUGGETS-VINYL.

Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets-Vinyl.

Label: Rhino.

By the summer of 1967, around 100,000 people had arrived in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco. Many of those who had arrived were flower children or hippies, who had rejected consumerist values and embraced what was seen as an alternative lifestyle. The flower children, including many students on their summer break, had headed to San Francisco to meet with likeminded people, and to: “tune in turn on drop out.”  They weren’t alone.

In other American cities including New York, and in Canada, many young people had embraced the hippie ideals. It was a similar story in parts of Europe, and in Britain. Especially in the capital London, which enjoyed similar gatherings and happenings to those in San Francisco. Just like in San Francisco’s Timothy Leary’s phrase: “tune in turn on drop out” became a mantra.

Suddenly, people were dropping out of society and embracing the hippie ideals and lifestyle. This meant rejecting consumerist values held by the ‘straights’, who rejected the hippie ideals. Some hippies were interested in politics, and were anti the Vietnam War, and campaigned for equality, racism and to legalise ‘pot’. Other hippies believed they were on a spiritual journey, and embraced religion and meditation. Many hippies were more interested in art, and especially painting, poetry and music. 

The music that provided the soundtrack to the Summer of Love, included some of the most important and influential music not just of 1967, but the late-sixties. This included The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and albums by Love, The Doors, Van Morrison, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, the Rolling Stone and Bob Dylan. These are just a few of the albums that provided the soundtrack to the Summer of Love.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the original Summer of Love, Rhino have recently reissued a number of albums that provided the soundtrack to the Summer of Love on vinyl. These albums are a mixture of classic albums and cult classics. This includes Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, The Association’s Insight Out, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, The Beau Brummels’ Triangle, The Zodiac’s Cosmic Sounds, Judy Collins’ Wildflower, The Young Rascal’s Groovin’, Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis, Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Arrives and eponymous albums by Love, Vanilla Fudge and The Electric Prunes. There’s also several compilations, including The Monkees at their most lysergic and a selection of songs from the The Grateful Dead’s earliest albums. Another new compilation from Rhino is Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets which was released as a double album on transparent vinyl.  

Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets was compiled by Alec Palao and features thirty songs that celebrate the Summer of Love. There’s contributions from The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The West Coast Branch, Gerry Pond, The Tikis, Art Guy, The Mojo Men, The Association, The Truth, The Bonniwell Music Machine, The Electric Prunes and Love.

Side One.

In 1967,  The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band released their sophomore album Part One on Reprise. Part One was produced by vocalist Bob Markley, who wrote Transparent Day with bassist Shaun Harris. Transparent Day features the psychedelic rockers at their most melodic on what’s one of the highlights of Part One. It also lends its name to and opens Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets.

The West Coast Branch released Linda’s Gone as a single on Valiant Records in September 1966. It’s a John Hill and Joel Lester composition that was produced by Faz-Kay Productions. They play their part in two minutes of genre-melting music. Elements of folk-rock, blues, pop and garage rock are combined by The West Coast Branch on Linda’s Gone.

Another track from the Valiant Records’ vaults is The Motleys’ My Race Is Run. It was the B-Side to You, which was released as a single in March 1966. Both sides were penned by Mitchell Bottler and Harvey Price of The Motleys. Of the two sides, My Race Is Run is the strongest, and is also most melodic and memorable. This long-lost slice of perfect pop from The Motleys, is also reminiscent of The Hollies. 

The Rose Garden was founded  in 1967, and later that year, the Los Angeles’ based folk rock band signed to Atco Records. During their time signed to Atco Records,  The Rose Garden released two singles, one EP and their 1968 eponymous debut alum. In March 1968, The Rose Garden released their sophomore If My World Falls Through, which was the followup to The Rose Garden’s EP, which had been released in January 1968. Tucked away on the B-Side of If My World Falls Through, was Here’s Today. It’s a hidden gem that marries elements of folk rock, pop and psychedelia. Here’s Today is a welcome addition to Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets, and one of the highlights of side one.

Side Two.

In September 1966, The Allies, a little-known Los Angeles’ based band, released what proved to be their one and only single, I’ll Sell My Soul on Valiant Records. Even today, mystery surrounds The Allies, who married elements of thunderous garage rock with psychedelic rock on I’ll Sell My Soul. It’s a tantalising taste of what The Allies were capable of, and what might have been?

Prior to becoming The Waphphle, the Sacramento based band were known as The Marauders. By June 1967, The Marauders had been consigned to history, and The Waphphle had released I Want You (To Be My One And Only Girl) on Elektra. Hidden away on the B-Side, was Goin’ Down on a rocky and marauding slice of psychedelia that is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

It’s a similar case with the B-Side to The Front Line’s debut single I Don’t Care, which was released on York Records, in October 1965. Tucked away on the B-Side side was the psychedelic garage of Got Love. It lasts just 1.45, but this is long enough for the defiant, explosive and lysergic I Don’t Care to leave a lasting impression. Sadly, The Front Line only released one more single, Saigon Girl in 1967. By then, they left their mark with I Don’t Care.

When The Mojo Men released She’s My Baby as a single in December 1965, it was the fourth single they had released on Autumn Records. She’s My Baby was a cover of a Sly Stone song, that seems to have been inspired by the Rolling Stones, blues and garage rock. The result is whats without doubt, one of the finest singles of Mojo Men’s career.

Side Three.

For their fifth American single, The Association chose Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies, which was released on Valiant Records in November 1966. This was the followup to their number one single Cherish. However, Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies stalled at thirty-five in the US Billboard 100. When The Association released their sophomore album Renaissance in 1967, it also featured Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies. It features The Association marrying sunshine pop and baroque pop with psychedelia on what was one of the highlights of Renaissance, and indeed, Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets.

M.C. 2 + only released just four singles between 1967 and 1968. This includes their third single Smilin’, which was produced by Lenny Waronker and released on Reprise in February 1968. By then, The M.C. 2 + had matured as a band. Smilin’ which features The M.C. 2 + at their most melodic on a carefully crafted marriage of psychedelia and baroque pop. It’s a reminder of a truly talented band who should’ve reached greater heights than they did.

It was a similar case with The Ballroom, who in May 1967, released Spinning, Spinning, Spinning on Warner Bros. They were a five piece band that featured Curt Boettcher, Michele O’Malley, Jim Bell and Sandy Salisbury. Spinning, Spinning, Spinning was produced by Curt Boettcher. He also produced the B-Side, which was a cover of Joe Williams’ Baby, Please Don’t Go. The Ballroom transform the song, and take it in new and unexpected directions. Suddenly, Please Don’t Go becomes a lysergic and otherworldly, and very different to previous or indeed, later versions of this oft-covered song.

Side Four.

Los Angeles based Things To Come released a trio of singles between 1967 and 1968. Their sophomore single was the Russ Ward composition Come Alive, which was produced by Dave Hassinger.  Come Alive was released on Warner Bros, in January 1968. It finds Things To Come marrying garage rock with psychedelic and Eastern influences. It’s a potent and heady brew, that shows Things To Come at their most inventive.

Nowadays, The Bonniwell Music Machine is regarded as one of the founding fathers of garage rock and psychedelia. They were formed in Los Angeles in 1965, and cultivated a sound that was dark, raw and featured a fusion of proto-punk and psychedelia. That can be heard on The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly which was released as a single on Original Sound in June 1967. It was one of the earliest singles where The Bonniwell Music Machine were billed as The Music Machine. A year later, in 1968, Warner Bros released The Bonniwell Music Machine’s eponymous sophomore album, which featured The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly. The Bonniwell Music Machine was the last album the group released, and is the perfect introduction to a truly influential group.

The Electric Prunes were formed in 1965 in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Within a year, they had signed to Reprise and released I Had To Much to Dream Last Night, which reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100 in 1966. Little did The Electric Prunes that they had just enjoyed their biggest hit single. Two years later, in June 1968, The Electric Prunes released Shadows, which was a one-sided single. This they hoped would give them another hit single. Alas, commercial success eluded The Electric Prunes and Shadows is one of the ones that got away for the LA based psychedelic rocker

Closing Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets is a band who were regarded as the Kings of the Los Angeles’ psychedelic rock scene during the late sixties, Love. By 1968, they had released three albums for Elektra, 1966s Love, 1966s De Capo and the classic Forever Changes in 1967. The following year, 1968, Love released Your Mind and We Belong Together as a single in May 1968. Despite its quality, the single failed to chart, Your Mind and We Belong Together remains one of Love’s hidden gems. It proves the perfect way to close the newest addition Rhino’s long-running Nuggets’ series.

Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets which was recently released by Rhino as a double album on transparent vinyl, is welcome addition to the Nuggets series. However, eighteen months ago, fans of this long-running and successful series were wondering if their would ever by another new addition to the Nuggets series? Even the most optimistic thought that this was unlikely.

The Nuggets series made a welcome return on Record Day 2016 with Nuggets Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets From The WEA Vaults. A year later, and  Record Store Day 2017 saw the reissue of Come To The Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets From The WEA Vaults. Now just three months later, in July 2017, and Rhino released Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets, which is the first new addition to the Nuggets’ series since 2009. It has been released to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. So have a number of other classic albums, cult classics and compilations.

Among the reissues are Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, The Association’s Insight Out, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, The Beau Brummels’ Triangle, The Zodiac’s Cosmic Sounds, Judy Collins’ Wildflower and The Young Rascal’s Groovin’. That is not forgetting Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis, Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Arrives and eponymous albums by Love, Vanilla Fudge and The Electric Prunes. There’s also several compilations, including The Monkees at their most lysergic and a selection of songs from The Grateful Dead’s early albums. Every one of these albums has been released on vinyl, which is how people listened to the albums during the Summer of Love. The only difference is that most of the albums have been released on coloured vinyl. These albums are a perfect introduction to the music that was being released during the Summer of Love. 

Especially for younger record buyers, who want to discover some of the most important and influential music released during the Summer of Love. They also have the opportunity to discover several albums that slipped under the radar. It was only much later that these albums were rediscovered, and nowadays, they’re regarded as underground and cult classics.

It’s a similar case with Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets, which features everything from baroque pop, garage rock, power pop, sunshine pop,  plus psychedelia pop and rock. There’s thirty songs from old friends, familiar faces and new names. They contribute singles, B-Sides and album tracks on a compilation that literally oozes quality. That is what fans of the Nuggets’ series have come to expect since it began in 1984. Thirty-three years later, and that is still the case with latest instalment in the long-running and successful Nuggets series, Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets. 

Just like previous volumes in the Nuggets’ series, Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets is a luxurious and lovingly curated compilation. As befitting such a prestigious series, black vinyl isn’t good enough, so Rhino have used 180 gram transparent vinyl. As a result, Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets looks great and more importantly sounds great. It’s sure to bring memories come flooding back for music fans of a certain vintage.

They will remember when some of the songs that feature on Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets were part of the soundtrack to the Summer of Love, which this year, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Rhino ensures that the Summer of Love celebrates such a prestigious anniversary in style with a string of important reissues and compilations, including the best compilation of them of all, Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets.

Transparent Days: West Coasts Nuggets-Vinyl.

THE MURMAIDS-WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?

The Murmaids-What Might Have Been? 

Sadly, musical history is littered with groups that are remembered as one-hit wonders. Their brush with commercial success may have been brief, but at least they enjoyed a tantalising taste of what some established groups take for granted. As a result, after a group has enjoyed one hit single, they want another. This comes as no surprise.

Commercial success and the fame and money it can sometimes bring, are as powerful as any drug. Once experienced, a group can spend the rest of their career trying to reach the same heights. Sadly, often, they never comes close to enjoying  the same success.

Part of the problem is that a second hit single always proves to be tantalizingly just out of reach, and the group is destined to be remembered as a one-hit wonder. That was the case with The Murmaids, who had an enviable musical pedigree.

Two of The Murmaids, sisters Carol and Terry Fischer, came from a family that was steeped in music. The two previous generations of their family had been involved in the music industry all their lives. This included their  grandmother and her three sisters, who had been part of a vaudeville act, The Locus Sisters. However, Carol and Terry Fischer’s parents were also steeped in music. 

Carl Fischer had been a successful songwriter and arranger who had written You’ve Changed, which was recorded by Billie Holliday. Then during a ten-year period where Carl Fischer was Frankie Laine’s musical director, he wrote the jazz standard We’ll Be Together. Sadly, tragedy struck in 1954 when Carl Fischer died suddenly. With two young daughters to support, Terry Fischer Sr. returned to singing with big bands.

That was what Terry Fischer Sr. had been doing when she had first met Carl Fischer. She had sung with various big bands, and became the first female vocalist in Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. Now after the tragic death of her husband, Terry Fischer Sr. was back singing in the big bands. She was a talented vocalist and managed to pickup where she had left off. 

Little did Terry Fischer Sr. know that soon, a third generation of her family would be embarking upon a musical career. However, with such a strong musical pedigree, it was almost inevitable that Carol and Terry Fischer would embark upon a career in music. Music was family business.

Terry Fischer Sr. encouraged and supported her daughters, who were proving to be talented singers. They were active in their school’s glee club, and by high school, were music majors. It was around this time, that Carol and Terry met a young songwriter and producer, Mike Postil.

The future Mike Post had just graduated from Los Angeles University High, and had written some songs. Once he had recorded these songs, he would shop them around town. There was a problem though, Mike Post had nobody to sing backing vocals on his demos.

By 1963, Carol Fischer who was fifteen, and Terry Fischer who was seventeen, were living in Los Angeles. For some time, the sisters had been singing with seventeen year old Sally Gordon, who was a  friend and neighbour. With Terry Fischer Sr’s help, they were a polished and professional trio. This was what Mike Post was looking for.

When Mike Post met Carol, Terry and Sally, he knew that he had the backing vocalists that he had been looking for. They sang backing vocals on demos for producer Mike Post. Sometimes, Mike Post would bring them in to add backing vocals on some of his productions at Gold Star Studios. That was where Kim Fowley first came across the trio.

By 1963, producer and songwriter Kim Fowley, who was another alumni of Los Angeles University High, was working at Gold Star Studios as an in-house producer. He had already enjoyed hits with Nut Rocker and Alley Oop. However, the twenty-four year old was keen to forge a career as a producer. That was why he had taken the job at Gold Star Studios. 

That was also where Kim Fowley first heard the trio sing. Realising that they were talented, he offered to record them. This was the break the trio had been looking for, and they jumped at what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The trio’s first recording session with Kim Fowley was hardly a resounding success. He had them record a version of Alley Oop, but the song didn’t work. Despite that, Kim Fowley wasn’t going to give-up on the trio.

Fortunately, Kim Fowley encountered a talented, but as yet, unknown singer-songwriter, David Gates. The future founder of Bread was driving along one day, when he saw a hitchhiker. Curiosity got the better of David Gates. He stopped and picked up Kim Fowley. 

Soon, the two men got talking, and Kim Fowley volunteered that he was a producer. David Gates told him he was a songwriter, and had written a song for a girl group. He reached into the back seat, and produced a guitar, and proceeded to play Kim Fowley Popsicles and Icicles. When Kim Fowley heard the song, he had David Gates send him a demo, as he had someone in mind for the song.

Originally, Kim Fowley felt Popsicles and Icicles would be perfect for Skip Battin, who previously, had been one half of Skip and Flip. However, Skip Battin passed on the song. It was only Kim Fowley remembered the trio he had recorded at Gold Star Studios.

Kim Fowley even had a label lined up for the song. This was Chattahoochee Records, an imprint of Conte Records. It had been formed by Ruth Conte Yardum, with the help of Kim Fowley. Originally, it was to release singles by actor-singer John Conte. However, Conte Records had a pop imprint, Chattahoochee, which Kim Fowley owned a share in. This was the label Kim Fowley planned to release Popsicles and Icicles on. All he had to do was firstly to convince Ruth Conte Yardum about the merits of his masterplan, and then convince Terry Fischer Sr. that this was the right song for her singing trio.

Eventually, Kim Fowley managed to convince Ruth Conte Yardum that Popsicles and Icicles had the potential to be a hit, and that he could record the single for $100 using three high school students. Now Kim Fowley’s only potential obstacle was Terry Fischer Sr. He had to win her over, and her that Popsicles and Icicles had the potential to be a hit. Only then, could Kim Fowley book time at Gold Star Studios. Now he could concentrate on recording the trio’s debut single. However, the trio needed a name.

When the trio arrived at Gold Star Studios, they were now called The Murmaids. Terry Fischer was The Murmaids’ lead singer, and Carol and Sally would add harmonies. The Murmaids were shown the five tracks that Kim Fowley wanted them to record. This included Blue Dress, Bunny Stomp, Comedy and Tragedy and Huntington Flats. However, one track stood head and shoulders above the rest, the David Gates’ penned Popsicles and Icicles.

Given that funds were limited, it was always going to be touch and go whether The Murmaids could record two tracks in the time allotted. They managed to record Popsicles and Icicles but there was no time left to record a B-Side. This didn’t faze Kim Fowley.

Once Kim Fowley tallied up the costs, it came to $108. He hadn’t quite recorded the single for the $100 he had predicted. However, he was convinced he had a hit on his hands. That was despite not having recorded a B-Side. So Popsicles and Icicles was paired with a surf styled instrumental Bunny Stomp and released in late 1963.

When Popsicles and Icicles was released in early November 1963,  straight away, The Murmaids’ debut single was being played on the radio. From 119 in the US Billboard 100 on 9th  November 1963, Popsicles and Icicles reached sixteen by the 16th  November 1963. Eventually, in the charts of 11th December 1963, Popsicles and Icicles peaked at number three on the US Billboard and Cash Box charts. However, in Record World, Popsicles and Icicles reached number one. Little did The Murmaids realise that Popsicles and Icicles would become their only hit single, and they had just joined the ranks of the one-hit wonders.

For their sophomore single, another David Gates’ composition was chosen, Heartbreak Ahead. On the flip side was He’s Good To Me. Kim Fowley wasn’t going to let the record buying public forget The Murmaids, so released Heartbreak Ahead on Chattahoochee Records whilst Popsicles and Icicles was still in the top thirty. This backfired on Kim Fowley, and Heartbreak Ahead stalled at 116 in the US Billboard 100. After two weeks, at 116 in the US Billboard 100 it was a case of Heartbreak Ahead for The Murmaids.

They were on a roller coaster. Their debut single reached number three in the US Billboard 100, but the followup failed commercially. There was nothing wrong with the song. The Murmaids brought the lyrics to life. Much of the blame lay can be laid at aspiring pop impresario, Kim Fowley’s door.

Heartbreak Ahead was released far too soon, and Suddenly The Murmaids had two singles competing for radio play. Three if The Lady Bugs’ cover of How Do You Do It was counted.

Rather than concentrate his efforts on getting The Murmaids career back on track, Kim Fowley had Carol and Terry Fischer record How Do You Do It with Jackie DeShannon. How Do You Do It had given Gerry and The Pacemakers a number one single. The Lady Bugs version was released in February 1964, but failed to make an impression on the charts. This was a worrying trend.

Later in 1964, The Murmaids released their third single, Wild And Wonderful. It came from the pen of the Brill Building songwriting team of Ben Raleigh and Barkan. They had just written Lesley Gore’s She’s A Fool. For the B-Side, Sam Friedman’s Bull Talk. These two tracks were supposed to get The Murmaids’ career back on track.

On its release, Wild And Wonderful never came close to troubling the charts. Wild And Wonderful became The Murmaids’ second single that had failed to chart. Things weren’t looking good for The Murmaids.

After the success of Popsicles and Icicles, major record labels came knocking on The Murmaids’ door and wanting to buy out their contract with Chattahoochee. Terry Fischer Sr. who was managing the group’s career, decided that they should stay to Ruth Conte Yardum and her Chattahoochee Records. That proved to be a huge mistake.

As the summer of 1964 drew to a close, Terry Fischer and Sally Gordon were about to leave home, and head to college. They needed the royalties from  Popsicles and Icicles to pay their way through college. However, the royalties weren’t forthcoming. 

This lead to Chattahoochee Records having to circulate a memo to other record labels explaining why The Murmaids hadn’t been paid. The memo explained that the funds in a trust for each member of The Murmaids. However, Chattahoochee Records alleged that the agreement hadn’t been honoured by Terry Fischer Sr; and claimed that Sally Gordon had received her funds. The label further claimed that Terry Fischer Sr. had stipulated  she had the final say over the other two members participation in the group. However, even fifty-one years later, some of Chattahooche Records claims are disputed.

Recently, Terry Fischer claimed that when The Murmaids received their first royalty statement; “it showed that we were owed nothing at all!” The expenses charged by Chattahoochee Records amounted to $10,000, exactly the sum The Murmaids were owed. Further muddying the waters, was Kim Fowley’s claim that The Murmaids were in breach of contract for recording with The Rip Chords. However, their producer Terry Melcher disputes this claim. What was clear, was that all wasn’t well with The Murmaids and Chattahoochee Records.

Despite this, Chattahoochee Record decided to reissue Bull Talk. The former B-Side was about to enjoy its moment in the sun. There was a reason for this. Shirley Ellis’ single Name Game was riding high in the charts, and just about to reach the top twenty. By then, teenagers were adding the word “bull” to sentences, so that adults wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying. Ruth Conte Yardum and Kim Fowley thought they could jump on the “bull” bandwagon, and score a novelty hit. That wasn’t the case. Despite this, ‘aspiring pop impresario’ Kim Fowley had another plan up his sleeve.

He decided to repress Popsicles and Icicles. However, he needed a B-Side, so drafted in five new girls who recorded as The Murmaids. They got to sing on the B-Side Comedy and Tragedy, by agreeing to phone a local radio station, and request Popsicles and Icicles. The song that was chosen was played non-stop for a week. However, Comedy and Tragedy wasn’t the only B-Side to the newly reissued Popsicles and Icicles.

When Popsicles and Icicles began garnering more radio play, three other versions of the single were pressed. Each had a different B-Side. Bunny Stomp was followed by Huntington Flats and Blue Dress. As as all this unfolded, the “real” Murmaids were “baffled.” Their group had essentially been hijacked by Kim Fowley and Chattahooche Records. Despite this betrayal, incredibly, Terry Fischer and the rest of the Murmaids returned to the studio.

With Popsicles and Icicles growing in popularity once again, The Murmaids went into the studio and recorded enough music for an album. However, that album was never released until 1980. To make matters worse, The Murmaids were never paid for the session. That wasn’t the end of The Murmaids saga.

Rubbing salt in the real Murmaids’ wound, was that two singles were released baring The Murmaids’ name. Whether any of the original lineup of The Murmaids sung on the two singles is the subject of debate? 

The first was Stuffed Animals, which featured Little White Lies on the flip side. On its release, Little White Lies claims to have been: “Produced and Recorded in Britain by Kim Fowley.” Who sung on the single is still disputed. However, when Stuffed Animals was released as a single, it failed commercially. So did the followup.

The Cathy Brasher penned Go Away was chosen as The Murmaids’ next single. On the flip side was Little Boys, which  Yvonne Vaughan wrote. When Go Away was released in 1966, the single failed to chart. That was all that was heard of The Murmaids until 1968.

After two years away, The Murmaids returned in 1968 with their swan-song Paper Sun. It was released on Liberty, with Song Through Perception on the B-Side. The only original member of The Murmaids was Sally Gordon. Even she couldn’t revive the group’s flagging fortunes. After five eventful, off and on years, The Murmaids were history.

Fast forward to 1980, and The Murmaids Resurface was belatedly released on the Chattahoochee Records. It featured previously unreleased including Don’t Forget, Alone, Three Little Words, Mr. Sandman, Playmates, So Young and You Cheated. At last, the songs The Murmaids had recorded for the album all these years ago, had been released. It was just a pity nobody bothered to tell Terry Fischer about the release of The Murmaids Resurface.

Terry Fischer only found out about The Murmaids Resurface when a friend discovered a copy at a record fare in the Mid West. They sent Terry Fischer a copy of The Murmaids Resurface. When Terry Fischer looked at the credits to The Murmaids Resurface the producer was Ruth Conte. This was just the latest twist to The Murmaids story. Seventeen years after they first signed to Chattahooche Records, The Murmaids was proving to be the gift that kept on giving.

That wasn’t the case for Terry Fischer and the other two Murmaids. Even today, they’ve no idea of how many records they really sold. That is somewhat ironic.

After the commercial success of Popsicles And Icicles, major labels were knocking on Terry Fischer Sr’s door wanting  to buy The Murmaids’ contract out, and sign them to their label. Terry Fischer Sr. decided to stay loyal to the label that gave The Murmaids’ their break. Sadly, that proved to be a huge  mistake.

If The Murmaids had signed to a major, they could’ve enjoyed a much more successful career. They wouldn’t be remembered as a one-hit wonder. The Murmaids, a talented trio, deserved much better. Certainly much better than happened next.

Less than a year later after spurning the advances of major labels, The Murmaids never received the royalties they were owed. This couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Terry and Sally Gordon were about to head off to college. By then, The Murmaids’ story was almost at an end. It had lasted around six months.

During that period, The Murmaids had played live a few times, and made a couple of appearances on television. After six months, The Murmaids’ story was all but over. That’s despite singles being released for another four years.

These singles were either songs the original lineup of The Murmaids recorded, or different lineups put together by musical ‘impresario’ Kim Fowley. The only other time Terry Fischer entered a recording studio as a Murmaid, was to record The Murmaids Resurface, which was belatedly issued in 1980. By then, The Murmaids had long joined the one-hit wonder club.

While the one-hit wonder club may not be the most exclusive club in the world, at least The Murmaids enjoyed a brief, but tantalising taste of fame and commercial success. Although it didn’t last long, nor proved particularly profitable, at least The Murmaids enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, and enjoyed what every band dreams of, a hit single.

The Murmaids-What Might Have Been? 

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I WANT YOU, I NEED YOU!: GARAGE-BEAT NUGGETS FROM THE FESTIVAL VAULTS.

I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults.

Label: Playback Records.

Nowadays, the Festival Records’ vaults are a regarded as a musical treasure trove, and is proving a popular hunting ground for compilers and reissue label. This includes one of Playback Records who on the ‘4th’ of August 2017 will release I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults. It features twenty-six tracks from The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs, who were all signed to Festival Records during the sixties, when it was Australia’s leading independent label. 

Festival Records was established in Australia on the ’21st’ October of 1952, by one of Australia’s first merchant banking companies, Mainguard which had been founded by Paul Cullen. He had bought two small companies based in Sydney, Microgroove Australia which was a record pressing company and Casper Precision Engineering. These two companies were merged and became Festival Records.

A turning point for the nascent Festival Records came in 1954, when it managed to secure the Australian rights to Bill Haley and The Comets’ 1954 single Rock Around The Clock. It became the biggest selling Australian single, much to the chagrin of the executive at EMI Australia who had turned down the single. For Festival Records this was a game-changer.

So was Festival Records’ decision to sign Australian rock ‘n’ roll bands. They were the first Australian label to do so, and they were able to sign Australia’s Big Three groups of the fifties Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays, Col Joye and The Joy Boys and Dig Richards and The R’Jays. The popularity of the Big Three resulted in Festival Records’ profits trebling. Despite this, Mainguard was experiencing financial problems and Festival Records was sold to Australian property tycoon LJ Hooker in 1957.

The new owner of Festival Records, LJ Hooker was a music fan, and took an interest in the day-to-day running of the label.  A year after the label changed hands, Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays’ single Wild One reached number one in 1958. Another of the Big Three, Col Joye and the Joy Boys enjoyed four number ones during 1959. To outsiders, Festival Records looked like a successful label. However, it continued to lose money, and in 1961, Festival Records was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited.

Festival Records hadn’t been Rupert Murdoch’s first choice when he went in search of a record label. He tried to buy the Australian division of the American label Ampar. However, soon, the new owner of Festival Records was making his mark on his latest acquisition.

A then unknown Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass were recommended to Festival Records in 1962 by Sydney based DJ Bob Rogers. Festival Records decided to take a chance on Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, and they made a breakthrough with The Lonely Bull. It was a worldwide hit, and  its success in Australia lead to Festival Records signing a distribution deal with Herb Alpert’s A&M Records. This proved to be a profitable business deal, and helped transform Festival Records’ fortunes.

Under the astute stewardship of chairman Alan Hely, Festival Records became one of the most successful Australian record labels during the sixties. So was the New Zealand operation, Festival Records (NZ), which was a separate company, but was also chaired by Alan Hely. Festival Records was well on its way to becoming the biggest record label in Australasia, and would eventually surpass EMI in the seventies. By then, The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs, would’ve passed through Festival Records’ doors a decade earlier. They feature on I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults which features twenty-six songs from The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs.

The 5.

The first group to feature on the compilation are The 5, who were a Brisbane based quintet. It featured vocalist Ronnie Williams, who up until late 1964, had been in a duo with his brother who sung in a local nightclubs called DBs. However, in late 1964, Ronnie Williams and joined forces with members of a band that had just split-up. 

It was also the end of the Williams’ brothers’ duo. However, Ronnie Williams asked their guitarist Barry Pearson to join The 5. Eventually, its lineup included drummer Peter Thompson, bassist Ian Jacobs, guitarists Stan Lenz and Barry Pearson and vocalist Ronnie Williams. They became The 5, which were signed by Ivan Dayman, who sent the nascent group out onto the Brisbane live circuit.

This he knew would allow The 5 to hone their sound and learn stagecraft. The 5 soon proved popular on the local live scene, and in 1965 the band moved to Melbourne. 

The 5 stopped off in Sydney to record their debut single I’ll Be There which was released on Festival Records’ Sunshine imprint in October 1965, with How Can She Know on the B-Side. By then, guitarist Barry Pearson had left to complete his apprenticeship and was replaced by Andy Paradise. He was only a temporary replacement, and Barry Pearson returned for the recording The 5’s sophomore single. 

This was There’s Time, which featured I Can’t Find Her on the B-Side. There’s Time which is a power pop cult classic, was released on Sunshine in February 1966 and reached the lower reaches of the Melbourne Top 40. Five months later,  The Five as they were now billed, returned with their third single Bright Lights, Big City in August 1966. Tucked away on the B-Side was the hidden gem, Wasting My Time which is one of the most melodic songs The Five recorded. Sadly, it was also one of the final songs they recorded.

Although they continued to play live until 1967, there were a couple of changes in the lineup. Eventually, the band ran its course and they went their separate ways in 1967.

Toni McCann.

Brisbane born Toni McCann was just fifteen in 1965, when she made her recording debut. Toni McCann was around at the same time as The 5, and they often shared the bill. Just like The 5, a great future was forecast for Toni McCann, who was known for her powerhouse of vocal.

There was much hype surrounding Toni McCann, who had signed to Festival Records’ imprint, Sunshine Records, which was run by Ivan Dayman. By then, Toni McCann had won a number of local talent contests, and was a familiar face on the Brisbane live circuit. However, when she signed to Sunshine Records, Toni McCann was sent out on a package tour where she played what was known as the Sunshine circuit. That was where many heard Toni McCann’s inimitable voice, who come critics would later compare to Wanda Jackson and Mick Jagger.

After returning from her tour of the Sunshine circuit, Toni McCann recorded her debut single, My Baby, with No on the flip-side. When it was released in July 1965 the fifteen year old vocal was billed as Toni McCann With The Blue Jays. It features a vocal powerhouse from Toni McCann, and a fifteen-second scorching guitar solo from Mal Clarke who wrote My Baby. Despite the quality of what’s one of the wildest Australian garage rock singles, My Baby failed to chart.

Four months later, and Toni McCann returned in December 1965 with Saturday Date, which featured If You Don’t Come Back on the B-Side. By then, Toni McCann was a regular on Australian television. Saturday Date which much more raucous and rocky than its predecessor, featured another vocal powerhouse from Toni McCann. However, it failed to find an audience and it was back to the drawing board for Ivan Dayman.

He hit on the idea of Toni McCann and Royce forming a duet, that he hoped would see them become Australia’s answer to Sunny and Cher. Toni and Royce released By Some Love in 1966, had a garage beat and influence, but again, failed commercially. After this, Toni and Royce’s singles headed in the direction of folk and pop. For Toni Royce, her garage beat years were over.

Black Diamonds.

The Black Diamonds were from Lithgow, in New South Wales’ coal fields. This was also where they served their musical apprenticeship, playing mostly, at local dances. Before long, The Black Diamonds were soon an accomplished band, and their music went down well among the people who by day mined The Black Diamonds.They were won over by the thunderous drums, pulsating bass line, fuzzy guitars and charismatic frontman Glenn Bland. So too was a local DJ.

This was DJ Bob Jolly, from 2LT, who thought that the Black Diamonds were destined for bigger and better things. He helped the Black Diamonds to record demos which were sent to Festival Records. These demos were heard by producer Pat Aulton, who saw the potential in The Black Diamonds.

Soon, The Black Diamonds was ensconced in Festival Records’ Sydney studio, where they would record their debut single. The song chosen  See The Way, with I Want, Need, Love You on the B-Side I Want, Need, Love You, which were both penned by band member Alan Oloman. When these songs were recorded, The Black Diamonds released their debut in late 1966.

When See The Way was released on Festival Records in November 1966, this memorable and melodic fusion of power pop and psychedelia passed record buyers by. This was ironic, as the Black Diamonds were one of the most accomplished of the Australian garage bands, and their carefully crafted debut single was streets ahead of many similar releases.

For their sophomore single, The Black Diamonds decided to cover J.J. Cale’s Outside Lookin’ In, with the hidden garage gem Not This Time on the B-Side. Just like their debut single, Outside Lookin’ In showcased an accomplished and talented band. However, Outside Lookin’ In was quite different from their debut single. It was a ballad, which showed a very different side of The Black Diamonds. When Outside Lookin’ In  was released in March 1967, the single failed to trouble even the local charts. For The Black Diamonds this was a disappointment, but they hoped that it would be a case of third time lucky.

In late 1967, The Black Diamonds moved to Sydney, and soon, they were a familiar face on the local live scene. Despite this, The Black Diamonds changed their name to Tymepiece as 1968 dawned. This resulted in a change in fortune for the group.

Not long after this, Tymepiece recorded The Bird In The Tree as a single. Around this time, Festival Records’ producer Pat Aulton asked the members of Tymepiece if they would record a song anonymously as his studio band The Love Machine. They agreed, and also agreed to record another single as The Tokens.

Pat Aulton wanted The Tokens to cover The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with The Lonely Hearts Club Christmas Party on the B-Side. Both sides feature on I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults. Once The Lion Sleeps Tonight was recorded, it was released in the summer of 1968

By August 1968, Tymepiece were enjoying a hit single with The Bird In The Tree. Love Machine were also enjoying a top twenty hit and The Tokens were riding high in the charts with The Lion Sleeps Tonight. For the group that started life as The Black Diamonds, this was ironic. They  had never enjoyed a hit single, but since changing their name and adopting two separate aliases, they now had three hit singles in the charts at the same time. While this must have pleased them, it must have been galling that The Black Diamonds’ music never enjoyed the success it deserved.

The Pogs.

The last group to feature on I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults are The Pogs, who were formed in Sydney by fifteen year old actor, singer and lead guitarist Rory O’Donahue. He had already appeared in a number of stage productions, but had decided to turn his attention to music and formed The Pogs. 

Joining Rory O’Donahue in The Pogs were drummer Paul Brownlow, bassist Roco Bellantonio and rhythm guitarist Nino Bellantonio. They were all older than the precocious and youthful frontman. Soon, the band were playing on the lucrative Sydney Northshore party circuit and became the house band at the University of Sydney’s Architectural revues which were organised by Graeme Bond. Playing at the revues was good experience for The Pogs, and resulted in them meeting Pete Best.

He was a friend of Graeme Bond’s, who had recently won a songwriting competition. Pete Best was looking for a band to record these songs, and The Pogs fitted the bill. Now all The Pogs needed was a recording contract. Fortunately, Pete Best had a contact at Festival Records, when they heard The Pogs signed them to their Leedon imprint.

The first single that The Pogs signed for Festival Records’ Leedon imprint was Claret and Tears, which featured Heidi on the B-Side. Claret and Tears was released in July 1966, and Leedon had high hopes for Pete Best produced single. Despite a slick, accomplished sound the folk-rock of Claret and Tears failed to find an audience, and it was back to the drawing board for The Pogs. 

Three months later, The Pogs returned with Now That It’s Over in October 1966, which featured Hey, Miss Thompson on the flip-side. Both sides were penned and produced by Pete Best, who was a talented songwriter and producer. Equally talented was The Pogs, on the rueful, melodic Now That It’s Over. However, just like Claret and Tears, commercial success eluded The Pogs’ sophomore single. For The Pogs, it was a frustrating time.

They hoped their luck would changed as 1966 gave way to 1967. I’ll Never Love Again was released in January 1967, with The Pogs’ Theme on the B-Side. Just like their two previous singles, I’ll Never Love Again was penned and produced by Pete Best. However, just like The Pogs’ two previous singles, I’ll Never Love Again failed to trouble the charts.

After three carefully crafted, but ultimately unsuccessful singles The Pogs, were needing a hit single. Leedon wouldn’t keep releasing singles that failed to find an audience. For their fourth single, the Pete Best composition Scenes From An Affair was chosen, with another of his songs Goodnight, But Not Goodbye on the B-Side. This was somewhat ironic.

Six moths after the release of I’ll Never Love Again, The Pogs released the cinematic Scenes From An Affair in August 1967. Sadly, history repeated itself when the single failed to trouble even the lower reaches of the charts. For Pete Best, it was Goodnight, But Not Goodbye.

In late 1967 Pete Best moved to Melbourne where he wrote advertising jingles. This he had experience of, having written the Aboriginal Referendum Jingle for the referendum in May 1967. It was sung by The Fogs, who after Pete Best moved to Melbourne, were left to right their own songs.

The Pogs changed their name Oak Apple Day, and released two singles. However, the change of name didn’t result in a change in the group’s fortunes. In 1972, Rory O’Donahue had returned to theatre, and Festival Records continued on their way to becoming Australia’s biggest record label.

By the seventies, the Festival Records’ vaults was a musical treasure trove, and forty years later, that is still the case. Many compilers and reissue label are beating a path to Festival Records’ vaults in search of musical treasure. This included Playback Records who on the ‘4th’ of August 2017 will release I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults. It features twenty-six tracks from The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs. This includes singles and B-Sides, including many an oft-overlooked hidden garage gem.

The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs never enjoyed the success that their singles deserved. Not one of the singles on I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults charted. Instead, each and every one of these singles passed record buyers by. 

These singles were very different, ranging from uptempo rockers, to thoughtful ballads. While some were cover versions, many were new songs were written by talented songwriters. These songs were carefully crafted by some of Festival Records’ top producers. However, the most important people were the musicians, including The 5, Toni McCann, The Black Diamonds and The Pogs. They recorded songs that ranges from raw, raucous garage rock to folk rock, power pop and psychedelia. However, they all have the one thing in common…quality. They’re also timeless, and were recorded between 1965 and 1967, which was the start of a golden period for music. A reminder of that period is the twenty-six timeless songs on I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults, which features long-lost, hidden gems aplenty.

I Want You, I Need You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets From The Festival Vaults.

AMMOYE-THE LIGHT.

Ammoye-The Light.

Life has been easy for Jamaican-Canadian singer and songwriter Ammoye, who has had to cope with a number of setbacks during her life. This has made the three-times Juno nominated singer stronger, and inspired Ammoye to keep following her dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter. It’s a dream that she has never lost sight of,  even over  the last few years, when times were tough. Still Ammoye kept believing that one day, she would  become a successful singer-songwriter. Now two years after the release of Enter The Warrioress in 2015, Ammoye returns with her new album, The Light, on  July the ’28th’ 2017. The Light is the latest chapter in Ammoye’s story, and is the album she hopes that will introduce her music to a new and wider audience. 

Ammoye was born in Jamaica, and named after the Italian word for love. She was brought up by her grandparents in Clarendon, Jamaica. Sometimes, though, growing up in Jamaica wasn’t easy, but Ammoye was able to overcome the trials and tribulations of island life. One way was through music, which offered an escape for Ammoye.

She always loved to sing, and from the age of five Ammoye knew that she wanted to become a singer. While she sang at home in the backyard, it was at church where Ammoye first sung in front of an audience. This she enjoyed and thrived upon. So much so, that when she returned home she had the confidence to sing the songs and read the poetry she had written. By then, Ammoye’s artistic side was developing and shining bright.

By the time Ammoye left high school at Clarendon College, she moved to Toronto, Canada where her mother was living. Ammoye who still attended the local church, formed the Sisters In Christ group. However, the move to Toronto was where her career started to take shape. 

To help further her nascent musical career, Ammoye formed The Voices Of The Underground Artist Movement. This new organisation gave local artists who were similar to Ammoye, the opportunity to perform and promote their music. The new organisation was welcomed by the local artists, and was well supported.

After forming The Voices Of The Underground Artist Movement, Ammoye became heavily involved within Toronto’s thriving and vibrant music scene. Ammoye was even involved in several collaborations. By then, Ammoye’s music combined a variety of disparate genres, ranging from rock, reggae and R&B to drum and bass, hip hop and soul. This was just the start for Ammoye. 

Over the next few years, Ammoye’s sound began to develop. Her music fused the soulfulness of her Jamaican roots with muscular groove of R&B and the tough edge of drum and bass. This sound proved popular, and Ammoye found herself singing alongside Michael Buble, and with the rock band The Arkells. By then, Ammoye was winning both fans and awards, including three Junos , which are Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy Awards. This was just part of the story.

In 2010, Ammoye and Rise Ashen collaborated on the album Haffi Win, which was well received by critics. Soon, Ammoye was being booked to sing at major festivals and shows on four different continents. Suddenly, Ammoye found herself sharing the stage with Barrington Levy, Freddie McGregor, Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Chris Martin, Ziggy Marley, Chronixx, Romain Virgo and, Tarrus Riley and Exco Levi. Ammoye had come a long way since she sung in her grandparent’s backyard in Jamaica.

By 2013, Ammoye was receiving recognition for all her hard work when she was nominated for Juno Awards in 2013. The following year, 2014, Ammoye was once again nominated for a Juno award. However,  it was around this time that Ammoye’s life changed.

That was when Ammoye underwent a spiritual experience which totally transformed her worldview. Ammoye started to rethink what her identity meant. Previously, she had felt defined by the pain and hurt she had experienced, and held back by the burdens of her past. For Ammoye: “it was uplifting, and it helped me see that piece of God in everyone. I had to put it into song.” This spiritual awakening would influence Ammoye as a songwriter.

In 2015, Ammoye released a new album, Enter the Warrioress. It was well received upon its released, and critics forecast a bright future for the Jamaican-Canadian singer and songwriter.

Two years later, and the self-styled “soul rebel” is just about to release her new album The Light.  Ammoye admits that: “I call myself a soul rebel,” which is one of the themes on The Light. Ammoye explores this theme on the song Soul Rebel. “It’s about following your soul path, the path of your higher self. This is especially important for black women, who are told they are less than, that they don’t matter. I follow my inner voice, my intuition.” This is something that Ammoye decided to do a couple of years ago.

Following her intuition led to Ammoye’s spiritual awakening, and resulted in her returning home to Jamaica, where she started looking for musicians to collaborate with on her next album. Ammoye hit the musical jackpot, when two veterans of Jamaican music agreed to collaborate with Ammoye. Sly Dunbar collaborated on Jah Jah, while Donovan Germain on Don’t Count Me Out and Inna De Ghetto, two veterans of Jamaican music agreed to collaborate with Ammoye. They were joined by Dubmatix on Outta Town and Reggae Rockit Boy, while funky Kingston duo Natural High Music produced Soul Rebel, Honeymoon, Cool Gypsy Island, Cool Vibez, Guns Off The Street and Cool Gypsy Island. This all-star lineup played their part in an ambitious nineteen track album.  

Fourteen of the nineteen songs on The Light were written by Ammoye, who wrote the other five tracks with a variety of songwriting partners. However, what is apparent is that Ammoye is maturing as a songwriter. There’s a reason for this: “I use my own experience to push my writing. My music has a message of love”. Ammoye also wants her songs to affect women positively: “I want to inspire women and girls to find that sense of love and light within themselves, not outside themselves. I want to share the messages I have gotten, the healing I’ve received. I hope people find that in the music.”

When Ammoye writes songs, she writes from the heart. Other songs can be inspired from daily life, including melodies that she hears. “It may be something I hear in a movie, or something a friend says that moves me” Ammoye says. She also describes who she changes when she’s writing a song: “I always go into a meditative state when I’m writing and let my intuition guide me.” One such song on The Light was Jah Jah, where Ammoye was inspired after hearing a friend play a guitar riff. Suddenly, the scenario for the song started to take shape, and she began recording it on her phone. Not long after this, Ammoye was playing the song to reggae legend Sly Dunbar, who loved the song and agreed to produce it. This was a sign of how far Ammoye had come in what’s sill a male dominated music.

Reggae is one of the few remaining musical genres that are male dominated. However, Ammoye is a pioneer, who is determined to level the playing field, and inspire a new generation of female reggae singer. This includes Jah9, who has been struggling to receive the recognition she deserves. Hopefully, a new wave of reggae singers will follow in Ammoye’s footsteps and make a breakthrough.

This breakthrough hasn’t been easy. It’s taken time, strength and persistence. Ammoye deals with this on Don’t Count Me Out, which deals with some of the hardships and hurdles she’s had to overcome. . “I had to heal, but I was headed back to Jamaica…I couldn’t record, but I could still write. I took the tracks that Donovan gave me and sat there on the veranda, at my aunt’s, right across the beach. I get a lot of inspiration around water, and the song came to me.” This wasn’t the only source of inspiration.

Ammoye also received inspiration from her bandmates, the Di Cru Band. They’re a familiar face to artists who regularly visit Jamaica. The Di Cru Band is regarded as the house band for big name artists visiting Jamaica. That was how Ammoye met the Di Cru Band, when she was opening for one of the big names visiting Jamaica. Soon, the Di Cru Band were working with Ammoye on a regular basis. Ammoye muses:  “I built relationships with these musicians as we performed together. We’re just so in synch. We bounce off each other…They are my main go-to band.” It’s proving to be a successful relationship, and one that is beneficial to everyone involved as it shines The Light on Ammoye and the Di Cru Band.

The partnership between Ammoye and the Di Cru Band can be heard on her nineteen track genre-melting album The Light. It finds Ammoye flitting between and combining dubwise, gospel, hip hop, R&B, reggae, rock, rocksteady and soul on this captivating album. The Light has the listener spellbound from the opening bars of Bloody Fiya, which features an impassioned vocal from Ammoye. This is the first of many.

Outta Town with its old school rocksteady vive,showcases Ammoye’s silky, smooth and sassy vocal. Are You Ready finds Ammoye musing on the problems with the modern dating scene. This gives way to Soul Rebel, which could well be Ammoye’s theme song. Jah Jah was co-produced by Sly Dunbar, who uses his many years of experience to create one of The Light’s highlight. It features Ammoye at her most soulful, while Good Vibez has an eighties R&B vibe and Honeymoon is a delicious musical potpourri where disparate genres melt into one. That is the case throughout The Light.

It finds Ammoye flitting between, and fusing musical genres, as she delivers songs about a variety of subjects, including life, love, and justice. Some of the songs are uplifting, joyous and inspirational. A quiet beautiful, uplifting and genre-defying song is Gypsy Island, that is soulful and dubby. It gives way to the soulful delights of The Lights, while Reggae Rockit Boy also reveals a soulful side. 

Oneness’ lyrics are full of social comment, as Ammoye delivers an impassioned plea for unity, peace and an end to violence and bloodshed. Salvation-Redemption features Ammoye at her most soulful, as she delivers a heartfelt, breathy vocal. This soulfulness returns on Where Do We Go, where Ammoye fuses Nu Soul and reggae. The dubby infused Guns Off The Streets is another song full of social comment, where Ammoye deals with the problem of gun crime in Jamaica. This is followed by the vocal and dub versions Don’t Count Me Out, a song that was inspired by the hardships that Ammoye has had to overcome.  On the vocal version, Ammoye delivers an impassioned vocal, on a song that draws inspiration from reggae and soul. The dub version is one that many DJs will be definitely be tempted to spin. Closing The Light is Inna Di Ghetto, where Ammoye sings of trying to get out of the ghetto. Not only did she manage to do so, but is now one of rising stars of the Jamaican and Canadian music.

Two years after the release of her previous album Enter The Warrioress, Ammoye returns with her new album The Light on July the ’28th’ 2017. It’s an ambitious, nineteen track album which Ammoye hopes will introduce her music to a new and wider audience.

Ammoye’s music deserves to be heard by a much wider audience, as she’s a talented singer and songwriter. She writes music that she hopes will influence and inspire young women, and help them change their life for the better. In some ways, Ammoye is a role model, and is proof that if someone wants something, and is willing to work hard for it, they will be richly rewarded. 

For Ammoye, she wanted to become a singer and dreamt about that since she was a young girl growing up in Clarendon, Jamaica. While many thought that this was a pipe dream, Ammoye was determined to make her dream come true in the world of reggae. However, through determination and hard work, Ammoye had made a breakthrough in the world of reggae. This resulted in Ammoye being recognised at the 2015 Reggae Exclusive Recognition Awards, and earlier in 2017, she was nominated for a Juno award for her hit single Sorry. Ammoye’s star is definitely in the ascendancy.

She writes music that is joyous and uplifting, and also influences and inspires. Other songs deal with justice and social issues affecting Jamaica, including gun crime and violence. However, in other songs, Ammoye deal with life, love and even the trials and tribulations of the dating scene in 2017. No subject it seems, is off-limits for Jamaican-Canadian singer-songwriter Ammoye on her new album The Light. 

The Light the next chapter in the story one of Ammoye, who has triumphed over adversity and dared to dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter. That dream has come true for Ammoye who will step into the spotlight with release of her much-anticipated new album The Light. 

Ammoye-The Light.

SUE BARKER-SUE BARKER.

Sue Barker-Sue Barker.

Label: Playback Records.

Forty years ago, in 1977, Adelaide-based singer Sue Barker released what’s without doubt, one of the greatest soul-jazz albums in the history of Australian music. That album was Sue Barker, which was released on Marcus Herman’s label Crest International. The release of Sue Barker should’ve been the start of a long and glittering career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and nine years later, Sue Barker turned her back on music in 1986. Since then, her one and only album Sue Barker is regarded as an Australian soul-jazz classic, and will be released by Playback Records on the ‘4th’ of August 2017. 

The Sue Barker story began in Sydney, when she started singing along with Guy Mitchell songs when was just two. Little did her parents realise that this would be the start of a lifelong love affair with music. 

By the time she was in primary school, Sue Barker was a regular in the school choir. When she was nine, Sue Barker decided to join a local church choir so she could join their choir. However, by then, Sue Barker was already taking an interest in spiritual matters.

In the local church, Sue Barker joined the choir and started taking trying to understand and explore the meaning of life.  This was something that was a lifelong commitment and something that at time, would offer solace to Sue Barker in time of trouble.

When Sue Barker completed primary school, her family decided to move back to Adelaide. When she returned to Adelaide, Sue Barker was initially at a loss. That was until her uncle found her a suitable church. Soon, she was playing an active role in and a church member. It was at that church, where Sue Barker’s potential was first discovered.

A church member spotted Sue Barker’s potential, and offered to give her free singing lessons. Not long after this, Sue’s father sent his daughter to the prestigious Adelaide College Of Music for extra tuition. 

Attending Adelaide College Of Music was an eye-opener for Sue Barker, and she blossomed. She was introduced to classical music by her tutors in her early teens. By then, Sue had discovered The Beatles and other Liverpool based singers and bands. This lead to Sue looking for a band needing a singer.

Each day, Sue Barker looked through the small adverts in the local papers, looking for a suitable band. One day, she found a band without a singer, and decided to audition for The Cumberlands.  This lead to Sue’s first gig, where she joined The Cumberlands on-stage for one song. That song marked the start of Sue’s career. Already, she knew that she wanted to embark on a career as a singer.

Not long after her first gig with The Cumberlands, she embarked upon a short tour of south Australian towns. This was good experience for Sue Barker. So was singing in a television talent contest, where she was the runner-up. Her appearance on the talent contest lead to further television appearances. All this was good experience for her future career.

This included when Sue Barker joined her first band. By then, her parents had returned to Sydney, and seventeen year old Sue Barker had remained in Adelaide. That was where she heard a band rehearsing on a Sunday afternoon. Upon hearing the music, Sue decided to investigate. Having made her way up the stairs, Sue asked if she could sing with the band. They agreed, and before long, Sue and the guitarist began a relationship.

Two days after her eighteenth birthday, Sue Barker and the guitarist were married. Within a year, Sue’s first child was born. She stayed at home whilst her husband played with the band. By the time Sue was twenty, she had moved to Sydney and was the mother of two children. Motherhood rather than music was what kept Sue busy. However, she missed music, and decided to return to Adelaide, so did Sue.

Back in Adelaide, Sue, her husband and two children were living close to her parents. With a support network around her, Sue Barker and her husband started putting a band together. They were helped by a booking agent, who hit on the idea of making Sue the focus of the band. This didn’t go down well with her husband, who was in Sue’s shadow. However, this was just the start of Sue Barker’s comeback.

Before long, Sue Barker was being asked to sing with some of Adelaide’s established bands. That was when Sue Barker started to take on a new stage persona, that she had modelled on Janis Joplin. She had it off pat, right down to some serious on-stage drinking. By then, Sue was rubbing shoulders with top musicians, and her star was in the ascendancy. There was even talk of international record deals. Sue Barker was one of Australia’s musical rising stars.

Not long after this, Sue Barker met her future backing band, The Onions. By then, Sue Barker was constantly busy playing live, doing session work and even testing recording equipment at various local recording studios. That wasn’t all.

Sue Barker also decided to hire an old ballroom, where she would put on her own gigs. She would charge $2 to get in, and patrons would watch local musicians jamming after they had finished in the studio. While the nights became extremely popular, but it became clear they weren’t going to make Sue rich. However, it was one of these gigs where Sue Barker was discovered.

After one of the gigs, Sue Barker was approached her and asked if she had ever thought of recording an album? By then, there were a few recording of Sue and her band testing new equipment at the various local studios. However, they hadn’t recorded any singles, never mind an album. Sue gave the stranger who was from Melbourne, one of her recordings, and never expected to hear anything.

She was wrong. One of the tapes ended up in the hands of Marcus Herman who ran the label Crest International. When he heard the recording he was impressed by Sue Barker’s feel, understanding and command of jazz, which was way beyond her years. Marcus Herman realised that Sue Barker was a special talent, and contacted her and asked if she would like to travel to Melbourne to discuss business.

When Sue Barker set out on her journey to Melbourne, to discuss her future with Marcus Herman, she wasn’t alone. She took along her two children and one of her musician friends, Graham Conlon. When they arrived in Melbourne, Sue Barker went to the meeting with Marcus Herman. 

He offered Sue Barker a three album deal, and after some discussion, she put the pen to paper. Later, Sue, like many singers and musicians claims she was naive when she signed the contract. For Sue it was never about money, and was always about the music. She just wanted to release an album that featured her own music. Having signed a three album deal in March 1976, Sue Barker began work on her debut album.

After signing the contact, Sue Barker discovered that the contract only covered her, and not her backing band The Onions. This must have been a disappointment for the band, but reluctantly, they agreed to play on Sue Barker’s eponymous debut album. The Onions weren’t on points, but instead, would be paid as session musicians when recording began.

Before that, Sue Barker started choosing songs for her debut album. She eventually, settled on the songs that would feature on the album. Or so she hoped. The songs were sent to Marcus Herman, who had to give his final approval. It wasn’t easy for Sue to get her choice of songs approved, but eventually, the ten songs that became Sue Barker were approved.

This included Eddie Holland, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier’s How Sweet It Is, Gus Kahn and Nacio Herb Brown’s You Stepped Out Of A Dream, Duke Ellington and Sidney Keith Russell’s Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, Curtis Mayfield’s Love To The People and Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere’s Groovin’ featured on side one. Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine joined Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper’s 6345789, Jimmy Davis, Jimmy Sherman and Roger Ramirez’s Lover Man, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye and Renaldo Benson’s What Goin’ On and Aretha Franklin and Ted White’s Think made-up side two of Sue Barker. It was recorded in Adelaide with The Onions.

Before the recording sessions began, Graham Conlon arranged the songs that Sue Barker had chosen. Some were given a makeover, to ensure that they would suit Sue Barker, who discovered she had only three days to record the album.

Marcus Herman was covering the costs of the recording sessions, and was only willing to pay for three days at Pepper Studios, in Adelaide. This was going to be cutting it tight, but Marcus Herman adamant that Sue should be able to record the album in just three days.

Sue Barker entered the studio with The Onions in a cold day in July 1976. The Onions lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer Dean Birbeck, bassist Geoff Kluke, guitarist Graham Conlon and keyboardist Phil Cunneen. They were augmented by a horn section that featured trumpeter Fred Payne and saxophonists Bob Jeffrey and Sylvan Elhay. They accompanied Sue Barker as she laid down her eponymous debut album. 

Sue Barker opens with a soulful, horn led rendition of How Sweet It Is that sounds as if it was recorded in Memphis, not Adelaide. Then Sue Barker unleashes an impassioned vocal powerhouse, before delivering a beautiful jazz-tinged version You Stepped Out Of A Dream. This gives way to a late-night, smokey sounding take on the jazz classic Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. Love To The People featured Sue at her most soulful, as she breaths life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Then Groovin’ is given a jazzy makeover, with subtle horns accompanying Sue’s dreamy, heartfelt vocal as she reinvents a pop classic which closed side one of the original album.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine opened side two, and features a powerful, sassy and soulful vocal from Sue Barker. Equally sassy and sensual is 6354789, where Sue combines elements of soul and jazz as she reinvents the song and takes it in a new direction. The tempo drops on the piano led, soul-baring ballad Lover Man, as Sue delivers a beautiful, emotive reading of this of-covered song. Some songs are perfectly suited to a singer, and that is the case with What’s Goin’ On. Sue brings to life the powerful lyrics during this impassioned and poignant soul-jazz cover of a classic. Closing the album is Think, whiz is one of the album’s highlights. It features what can only be described as a vocal masterclass from Sue Barker, that closes this soul-jazz classic.

Somehow, Sue Barker and The Onions managed to complete the album in the three days that Marcus Herman had paid for. This left just the album to mixed and mastered. However, before that, Sue was in for a surprise.

Not longer after recording Sue Barker, Sue discovered that she was pregnant and expecting her third child. While Sue continued to play live, she knew that motherhood beckoned. Meanwhile, Sue was experiencing a spiritual awakening.

This was partly inspired by the birth of her third child. Soon, after the birth, Sue Barker’s thoughts turned to spirituality. Meanwhile, Crest Records were preparing for the release of Sue Barker.

The marketing manager, Donald Fraser, sent out press releases to the press, magazines, radio and television. He was determined that Sue Barker had every chance of being a success. It didn’t matter that the album would be Crest’s final release. He saw the potential in Sue Barker. 

So did Channel 9, who booked Sue Barker to appear on the Tonight Show. This was a huge break for Sue Barker, who unfortunately, she had to cancel the appearance. Despite that, Sue Barker’s concert at the Dallas Brook Hall in Melbourne was a sell-out. When the reviews were published, Sue Barker received praise and plaudits from critics and cultural commentators. The album Sue Barker, had also sold well at the concert at the Dallas Brook Hall. Things were looking good for Sue Barker.

After the success of the Dallas Brook Hall concert, Crest began planning a promotional tour to coincide with the release of Sue Barker. However, Sue’s priority was her new daughter, which frustrated Marcus Herman at Crest Records. Their relationship became difficult, and Sue Barker prioritized motherhood over the release of her eponymous debut album on Crest International. While this was admirable, it would prove costly.

When Sue Barker was released by Crest International, the album received praise, plaudits and critical acclaim. However, Sue Barker received little promotion, which was frustrating for everyone at Crest International who had worked hard on the release. They realised that Sue Barker was on the verge of a breakthrough, and have and if she had promoted the album it’s very likely that it would’ve sold well and introduced her to a much wider, and possibly, international audience. However, Sue Barker’s decision not to promote the album resulted in poor album sales.

Very few copies of Sue Barker sold, and Sue Barker’s relationship with Marcus Herman at Crest Records broke down completely. As a result, Sue Barker never made any money from her future Australian soul-jazz classic. After the release of Sue Barker, eventually, the Adelaide-based singer returned to the local circuit.

This time, Sue Barker wasn’t going to spend all her time playing live. While she continued to sing in local venues Sue didn’t mind if weeks or months passed without a gig. Sue who was a free spirit at heart, did things her way. Sometimes, when gigs dried up, promoted concerts. Sue Barker wasn’t the type of person to wait for opportunities to arise. Instead, she would go out and make things happen. As long as these promotions covered their costs, Sue was happy. It had never been about the music for Sue Barker.

Not long after this, came the news that Crest International had folded. Sue Barker had still owed the label two albums when it folded. When Crest International folded, Sue Barker realised that gone was her chance of releasing any more albums. However, given how fraught relationship with Marcus Herman was latterly, the likelihood of Sue Barker releasing two more albums seemed unlikely. Now the dream of releasing any more albums was over.

Following the demise of Crest International, Sue Barker spent a year teaching music at the Centre For Aboriginal Studies In Music. Her time spent teaching the Centre For Aboriginal Studies In Music resulted in Sue becoming interested in reggae. Her interest in reggae inspired a further spiritual awakening. However, as her spirituality began to blossom, Sue’s newfound faith was severely tested. 

Tragedy struck when Sue Barker was out walking down the street with her fifth child. A car mounted the pavement, and struck her daughter, who was so seriously injured that she spent three months in hospital. During that time, Sue started to ask herself some of life’s big questions. Her search for the meaning of life, would prove to an ongoing spiritual quest. 

Once her daughter had recovered, Sue Barker continued to pursue her interest in reggae music. She even decided to form a reggae band, which disappointed some of those who had followed Sue’s career as a jazz singer. Some of the musicians in Sue’s band were disappointed with this volte-face and left her employ. 

As a result, Sue Barker had to put together a new group of musicians. They would accompany Sue who had been booked to play at the Adelaide Jazz Club. When the patrons at the Adelaide Jazz Club heard about Sue’s Damascene conversion to reggae, they were unsure about this. However, Sue decided to continue down this new road.

Sue Barker’s career continued until 1986, when sadly, tragedy struck again. Eight months after the birth of her fifth child, her eldest child died on a Thursday. Despite this tragedy, Sue decided to sing at a gig she had been booked to play two nights later on the Saturday evening. That night, Sue says that when she sang: “she felt closer to God than I had ever before.” As Sue watched the patrons party that night, she realised that this was the end of road for her.

After a lifetime spent in and around the music industry, after the gig Sue Barker called time on her career. She suddenly felt that the entire music business was a “sham,” and didn’t want to be part of it anymore. 

When she had recorded her soul-jazz classic Sue Barker, she never received any payment. Ironically, The Onions who had originally been disappointed not to be included in the recording contract with Marcus Herman’s label Crest International, were paid as session musicians and made more out of Sue Barker than the star of the show did. It was no wonder that Sue Barker regarded the music industry as a sham. 

Nowadays, her one and only album Sue Barker, is regarded as a soul-jazz classic, and copies of the album are now extremely rare. When they do change hands, it’s for hundreds of Dollars. That comes as no surprise, given the quality of music on Sue Barker. It features one of music’s best kept secrets, Sue Barker, who if things had been different, would’ve gone to enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, Lady Luck didn’t smile on Sue Barker and it was a case of what might have been.

Sue Barker only released one album during a career that spanned three decades. Her career began in the late-sixties, and it wasn’t until 1977 that Sue Barker was released on Crest International. By then, Sue Barker looked destined for greatness. However, when Sue Barker was released, her third child had just been born. Sue was reluctant to leave the child to embark upon a promotion tour. Her failure to tour Sue Barker was a costly one, and the album was commercial failure. 

Whether Sue Barker ever regrets this decision is unknown? Marcus Herman who owned Crest International certainly regretted Sue’s failure to tour her album. It resulted in the breakdown in their business relationship, and not long after this, Crest International folded. That marked the end of Sue Barker’s recording career.

She may have only recorded one album, but Sue Barker is a soul-jazz classic that definitely deserves to find a much wider audience. There’s every chance that might happen. One of Playback Records’ forthcoming releases is Sue Barker, which will be reissued on the ‘4th’ of August 2017 complete with a trio of previously unheard bonus tracks Zimbabwe, Half Moon and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. They’re welcome additions to Playback Records’ lovingly curated reissue of Sue Barker. It’s a long-lost soul-jazz classic that should’ve transformed the career of Australian songstress Sue Barker, who sadly, instead, remained one of music’s best kept secrets.

Sue Barker-Sue Barker.

REDBONE-ALREADY HERE, WOVOKA ANDD BEADED DREAMS THROUGH TURQUOISE EYES.

Redbone-Already Here, Wovoka and Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes

Label: BGO Records.

When brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas decided to move to Los Angeles in 1969 to form a new band Redbone, they arrived with just a handful of change in their pocket. However, moving to Los Angeles was just too good an opportunity to turn down. Pat Vegas had recently won a singing contest run by Coca Cola, and the prize was a recording contract and the cost of travel to Los Angeles. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for the two brothers.

Pat and Lolly Vegas weren’t newcomers to the music industry, and had spent much of the sixties trying to make a breakthrough. They released several singles, and the album Pat and Lolly Vegas At The Haunted House in the mid-sixties. However, commercial success continued to elude the brothers, and it looked as if their dream of becoming successful musicians was over. That was until Pat Vegas won the singing contest run by Coca Cola.

Using the tickets provided by Coca Cola, Pat and Lolly Vegas travelled to Los Angeles, where they planned to form a new band. The band the Vegas brothers called Redbone, which is a Cajun term for a mixed race person. This was homage to the Vegas’ brothers mixed race roots which they were proud of.  This would influence their music, when they formed their new band Redbone, which became one of the first Native American rock groups.

The Vegas brothers started playing shows at various clubs on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard in the evenings. During the day, the Vegas brothers wrote songs and practised. After a while, they became session musicians, and played alongside Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Tina Turner, James Brown and Sonny and Cher. This was good practise when the nascent lineup of Redbone signed to Epic.

The other part of Pat Vegas’ prize for winning the singing contest was a recording with Epic. When the Vegas brothers were ready, they signed their recording contract with Epic. By then, Redbone’s lineup featured of bassist and vocalist Pat Vegas, Lolly Vegas, Peter DePoe and Robert Anthony, of Pat Vegas, lead guitarist Lolly Vegas, drummer and percussionist Peter DePoe and rhythm guitarist and vocalist Robert Anthony Avila, a Yaqui-Mexican American, who had adopted the stage name Tony Bellamy. This was the lineup that featured on Redbone’s debut album.

Redbone.

By the time, that Redbone began recording their debut album, Lolly Vegas had already written many songs. He soon became Redbone’s songwriter-in-chief, and eventually, eleven of seventeen songs that featured on Redbone, which was an ambitious double album, had been  

penned by Lolly Vegas. He also wrote Crazy Cajun Cakewalk Band and Niki Hokey with his brother Pat and Jim Ford, while the four members of Redbone wrote Jambone and Things Go Better. Pat Vegas wrote Danse Calinda and wrote Suite Mode with Peter DePoe and Tony Bellamy. These seventeen songs would feature on Redbone’s eponymous debut album.

Redbone went into the studio with Pete Welding, who co-produced their eponymous debut album with Lolly Vegas. The four members of Redbone recorded a genre-melting album that veered between rock and R&B, to Cajun, blues, country and funk. Once Redbone’s ambitious, genre-sprawling album was completed, Redbone was released later in 1970.

Redbone was well received by critics upon its release. This augured well for the release of the album. However, when the album was released, Redbone failed to chart. It was a disappointing start to Redbone’s career. Soon, though, their luck would change. 

Potlatch.

After the disappointing sales of the eponymous debut album, it was a case of back to the drawing board for Redbone. They began work on their sophomore album Potlatch, which featured ten new songs. Five songs came from the pen of Lolly Vegas, while his brother Pat penned three songs. The Vegas brothers wrote Bad News Ain’t No News at All with Tony Bellamy and Without Reservation was credited to Redbone.  These songs became Redbone’s sophomore album Potlatch.

Just like Redbone, Potlatch was produced by Lolly Vegas and Pete Welding. Just like their debut album, the lead vocals were shared on Potlatch. Lolly and Pat Vegas took charge of the lead vocals, while Redbone became one on Bad News Ain’t No News At All. It was part of what was a much slicker and more accessible album than its predecessor. It found Redbone combining ballads like Alcatraz which was sung from the perspective of a Native American, with uptempo and funkier songs. Potlatch with its mixture of rock, R&B, funk and blues was another potent musical mixture.

Critics were won over by Potlatch, and its much slicker, accessible style. So were record buyers when they heard the lead single Maggie. It reached forty-five on the US Billboard 100. Maybe Redbone’s luck was changing? That proved to be the case when Potlatch was released in October 1970, and reached ninety-nine on the US Billboard 200.  Redbone’s music was starting to find a wider audience.

Sales of Potlatch had been helped by Redbone’s recent appearance at the first Earth Day To The World in Philly. Redone was the opening act, and played Chant ‘13th’ Hour from Potlatch. After this appearance, record buyers started taking notice of Redbone. 

Message From A Drum.

After the success of the single Maggie, and their sophomore album Potlatch, Redbone were keen to build on this success. They began writing and recorded their third album, which eventually became Message From A Drum.

For Message From A Drum, Lolly Vegas wrote six of the eleven tracks and his brother Pat wrote the title-track. The brothers collaborated on Niji Trance, Jerico, The Witch Queen Of New Orleans and When You Got Trouble. These eleven songs from the pen of the Vegas’ brothers became Message From A Drum.

When recording of Message From A Drum began, there was no sign of Pete Welding, who had co-produced Redone’s first two albums with Lolly Vegas. This time around, Lolly and Pat Vegas decided to co-produce another album that flitted between and combined musical genres. Elements of Cajun and Native American influenced were combined with rock ’n’ roll and blues. However, two of the instrumental were less than twenty-seconds long. They were an amuse-bouche for the rest of Message From A Drum.

On hearing Message From A Drum, it received praise and plaudits from critics. They hailed Message From A Drum Redbone’s finest album of their three album career. They weren’t alone.

Record buyers agreed, when the single The Witch Queen Of New Orleans was released in 1971, it  reached twenty-one on the US Billboard 100. This was the most successful single of Redbone’s career.It was a similar case with Message From A Drum, which was released in 1971 and reached seventy-five in the US Billboard 200. The album also found an audience in Europe, where it was released as The Witch Queen Of New Orleans. This included in Holland, where the album reached twenty-five. For Redbone, Message From A Drum was the most successful album of their career.

Redbone had come a long way in just two years. They had released three albums, two of which had charted and enjoyed two hit singles. New chapters in Redbone’s career began with Already Here in 1972 Wovoka in 1973 and 1974 Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes, which have been remastered and rereleased as a two CD set by BGO Records. They document the next part in the story of Redbone.

Already Here.

Before work began on Already Here, Peter DePoe was considering his position with Redbone. He had played an important part in the band’s sound, pioneering the thunderous King Kong style of drumming. It was a feature of the band’s sound, and powered the arrangements along. However, Peter DePoe was coming to the conclusion that his time with Redbone was over. He was about to make a huge decision, and maybe one he would regret for the rest of his life.

By 1972, Peter DePoe had watched as the Vegas’ brothers took charge of songwriting and production. This most musicians knew, was where the money was to be made. As a result, Peter DePoe and Tony Bellamy were reduced to sidemen. While Tony Bellamy was willing to accept this, Peter DePoe decided to leave Redbone.

Fortunately, Tony Bellamy knew of someone who could replace Peter DePoe,  Arturo Perez who was also a drummer and percussionist. He auditioned and joined Redbone as work began on Already Here.

For Already Here, Lolly Vegas wrote Speakeasy, Where Is Your Heart and Already Here, while Pat Vegas wrote Good Enough For Jesus. Lolly and Pat Vegas wrote Fais-Do and penned Motivation and Condition Your Condition with Tony Bellamy. The other song on Already Here, was a cover Leiber and Stoller’s Poison Ivy. These eleven songs became Already Here.

When recording of Already Here began, the Vegas brothers were co-producing the album with Alex Kazanegras. This was the first time they had worked together. Redbone also drafted in various musicians to play on a track. This ranged from the Elijah Horn Section on Motivation to steel-guitarist Red Rhode, slide guitarist Terry Furlong, pianist Gordon DeWitty plus percussionists Chipper Lavergne and Ronnie Baron. They were joined by Davide Oliver and Michael Freda who added backing vocals on Condition Your Condition. The other musician who played a part in the making of Already Here was Condition Your Condition was drummer Peter DePoe, who made his Redbone farewell on Power (Prelude To A Means). It was the end of an era, and the start of a new one.

Critics realised this when they heard Already Here. The addition of horns and lush strings was a new departure. This was a first for Redbone. So was their decision to move in the direction of country music. Redbone were musical chameleons, who constantly sought to reinvent their music. They continued to do on Already Here, where they continued to combine rock, R&B, blues and country. Essentially Already Here was a mixture Redbone’s musical roots and music that influenced and inspired the musical chameleons.

Despite the quality of music on Already Here, the album failed to replicate the success of Potlatch and Message From A Drum. Already Here failed to chart, and was the one that got away for Redbone. Maybe this was a wakeup call for the band? 

Wovoka.

When work began on Redbone’s fifth album, there was another change in the band’s lineup. The most recent addition, drummer and percussionist Arturo Perez passed away in 1973. This was a huge blow for the band. However,  Tony Bellamy introduced the Vegas brothers to his cousin Arturo Perez. He was a drummer and percussionist, and after an audition joined Redbone. This was perfect timing. 

For Wovoka nine were written for what would be Redbone’s fifth album. This included the Lolly Vegas’ compositions Sweet Lady Of Love, Liquid Truth and Come and Get Your Love. The Vegas brothers wrote We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee. Pat Vegas had contributed  Chant Wovoka penned Someday (A Good Song) and Day to Day Life with Tony Bellamy. Closing Wovoka was ‘23rd’ and Mad which had been written by Pat Vegas and former Redbone drummer Pete DePoe.

Just like Already Here, Wovoka was co-produced by Pat Vegas, Lolly Vegas and Alex Kazanegras. Joining Redbone were Joe Sample on piano and vibes, percussionist Eddie Caciedo and backing vocalists Sherry Williams and Johnny Lopez. They played their part in another genre-melting album. Elements of rock, R&B, folk-rock and pop were combined by Redbone on what was an accomplished, slick and sometimes, politically charged and controversial album.

The controversy began when executives at Epic heard We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee. It recalled the massacre of Lakota Sioux Indians by the 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1890. As the executives as Epic listened to the song, they knew there was a problem. Especially when the songs closes with the line: “we were all wounded ‘by’ Wounded Knee”. Straight away, the executives at Epic realised that this was too controversial a subject. So much so, the American and Canadian versions of Wovoka omitted We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee. While this could be seen an act of censorship, executives at Epic were being realistic, as they knew the effect that a song like We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee could have.

Before that, critics had their say on Wovoka, and hailed it one of Redbone’s finest albums. One of the songs that stood out was the Lolly Vegas composition Come and Get Your Love.

Come and Get Your Love was released as the lead single from Wovoka, and reached number five on the US Billboard 100 and seventy-five on the US R&B charts. The success of Come and Get Your Love resulted in Redbone’s first gold disc. This augured well for the release of Wovoka.

When Wovoka was released in November 1973, it  reached number sixty-six in the US Billboard 200, which was the highest chart placing of any of Redbone’s first five albums. 

Redbone released Wovoka as their next single and it stopped just short of the US Billboard 100 at 101. This was a disappointment for the members of Redbone. Everything had been going so well. 

For their next single, Redbone decided to release We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee. When it was released as a single in America, it was promptly banned by several radio stations. Redbone had been the victim of a blatant act of censorship. It was a different matter when We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee was released as a single in Europe. The single enjoyed a degree of success, and in Holland, reached number one. For Redbone, this was their first ever number one single and Wovoka had been their most successful album. This was a lot to live up to. 

Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes.

Buoyed by their most successful album, their first gold disc and first number one single, Redbone began work on their sixth album Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes. It featured the same lineup of Redbone that recorded Wovoka.

This time around, the Vegas brothers wrote the songs that became Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes. Lolly Vegas penned One More Time, Suzi Girl, Cookin’ With D’Redbone, Beautiful Illusion and Moon When Four Eclipse. Pat Vegas contributed Blood Sweat and Tears, (Beaded Dreams Through) Turquoise Eyes and Interstate Highway 101. The Vegas brothers wrote Only You and Rock and Roll and I’ll Never Stop Loving You. These song would become their much-anticipated sixth album Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes.

Despite forging a successful partnership with Alex Kazanegras on Already Here and Wovoka, the Lolly and Pat Vegas decided to produce Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes themselves. They produced what was Redbone’s most commercial and accessible album at Devonshire Studios, North Hollywood and Wally Heider’s studio in Hollywood. Unlike many bands, Redbone and the Vegas brothers who produced Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes had no qualms about producing a commercial album that flitted between rock, blue-eyed soul, funk and R&B. Redbone hoped that the album would build on the success of  Wovoka.

While Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes was well received by critics, this carefully crafted, slick and accessible album passed most record buyers by. That was despite songs of the quality of One More Time, Suzi Girl, Beautiful Illusion and I’ll Never Stop Loving You.  When Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes was released in 1974, the album stalled at 174 in the US Billboard charts. For Redbone, this was a huge disappointment. 

Just as it looked as if Redbone were about to make a breakthrough, and become one of the leading lights of American AOR, Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes had stalled in the lower reaches of the US Billboard 200. No longer did it look as if Redbone would be joining Styx, REO Speedwagon, Chicago and Foreigner at AOR’s top table. For Redbone, it was a case of close, but no cigar.

After the release of Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes, Redbone parted company with Epic after six albums, including Already Here, Wovoka and Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes which were recently remastered and rereleased by BGO Records. 

Redbone had spent five years at Epic and released six albums. During that period, four of Redbone’s albums had charted and they enjoyed three hit singles. Their biggest hit single in America was Come and Get Your Love, which sold over 500,000 copies and was certified gold. However, in Holland their most controversial single We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee reached number one. Holland and other parts of Europe, had been a happy hunting ground for Redbone. They proved a popular band during the Epic years.

Three years passed before Redbone returned with their seventh studio album, Cycles in 1977. By then, disco’s popularity was on the rise, and Redbone’s music was no longer as popular. Cycles failed to find an audience, and that was the last studio album they released for twenty-eight years.

Redbone returned in 2005 with One World, which was later edited and re-titled as Peace Pipe in 2009. However, Redbone’s finest music was recorded during the Epic years, when the musical chameleons constantly sought to reinvent their music and move in new directions. That is the case on Already Here, Wovoka and Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes which features some of the best music that Redbone recorded during their Epic years.

Redbone-Already Here, Wovoka and Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes.

DREADNAUGHT-HARD CHARGIN’.

Dreadnaught-Hard Chargin’. 

Label: Red Fez Records.

For over twenty years, high-energy power trio Dreadnaught have spent much of their time touring America, and have played in more than half of the states of the union. Audiences in each state have been fortunate enough to hear Dreadnaught play songs from the various critically acclaimed and award-winning albums that they’ve released since 1998. Each and every one of these albums has been different from the one the preceded it. That comes as no surprise.

Ever since Dreadnaught were founded in 1996, they’ve always been determined to experiment, and push musical boundaries to their limits and way beyond. The result has been album after album of ambitious and innovative music from this truly versatile band. Dreadnaught is, and have always been, a versatile band, who are capable of switching seamlessly between musical genres. They have to be.

What very few people know, is that Dreadnaught also own a company that records and releases contemporary orchestral and chamber music, and haves composed and produced music for international television commercials, radio programmes and independent films. They’ve also collaborated with some of music’s heavy hitters, including Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Tony Levin, and NRBQ. As a result, Dreadnaught need to be versatile, and capable of playing different types of music.

That has been no problem for drummer Rick Habib, bassist Bob Lord and guitarist Justin Walton who founded Dreadnaught over twenty years ago. Since then, much has happened to this power trio who seem to take pride that they defy categorisation. Dreadnaught’s music doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. Instead, an album usually straddles several disparate genres. Then the followup will be totally different.

It seems that every EP and album is a step into the unknown for Dreadnaught. That is no exaggeration, as even after two decades making music Dreadnaught continue to break new ground. Proof of this is their recently released album Hard Chargin’ which was released on Red Fez Records. Hard Chargin’ is an epic experimental album of Prog-Americana from Dreadnaught. Their career began back in 1996.

The members of Dreadnaught met whilst they were studying at the University of New Hampshire in 1996. Within two years, the band released their eponymous debut album Dreadnaught, in 1998. Two years later, in 2000, and Dreadnaught returned with their sophomore album Una Vez Mas. This was followed by Dreadnaught’s most ambitious album.

By 2001, Dreadnaught’s music had moved in the direction of avant-rock. They were an avant-rock powerhouse who released their critically acclaimed and award-winning album The American Standard in 2001. This made people sit-up and take notice.

That was no surprise. On one track on The American Standard, the members of Dreadnaught decided to overdub flamenco-style clapping onto a track that features  drum loops, nylon-string guitar and bass. Soon, the recording studio became a musical laboratory, where Dreadnaught could experiment,

Over the next few years, Dreadnaught spent much of their time in their musical laboratory. It was time well spent. Each album was different, and Dreadnaught were becoming a talented and versatile band. They relished their time in the studio, experimenting and pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, it seemed, way beyond. 

Three years after the release of their critically acclaimed, award-winning album The American Standard, Dreadnaught returned with their much-anticipated fourth album. The electronic-inspired Musica en Flagrante was released in 2004, with the explosive double album Live At Mojo following in 2005. This was important date in the  history of Dreadnaught.

In 2005, Dreadnaught became the house band for The Music Hall/New Hampshire Public Radio series Writers On A New England Stage. Over the next few years, they wrote and arranged music for a variety of different authors, artists and philosophers. This ranged from Dan Brown who joined the band on piano for a cover The Beatles’ Birthday to legendary singer-songwriter Patti Smith, to authors John Updike, Stephen King, Salman Rushdie and politician Madeleine Albright. These are just a few of the many well-known names that Dreadnaught provided a musical accompaniment to on a programme that is heard by hundreds of thousands of listeners across New England. All these listeners have come to appreciate and enjoy Dreadnaught’s musical accompaniment. However, that is just part of the story.

Dreadnaught has crisscrossed America, and played in over half of the states of the union. They’ve also shared the stage and collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, including Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Tony Levin, and NRBQ. However, when Dreadnaught aren’t playing live, they’re recording new music.

This includes their 2007 album High Heat and Chin Music. This was followed by two EPs, 2013s Have A Drink With Dreadnaught and 2015s Gettin’ Tight With Dreadnaught. These albums and EPs have been released to critical acclaim and won the band a number of awards. The most recent addition to Dreadnaught’s discography is Hard Chargin’, which was recently released. It marks the welcome return of a truly talented band.

Drummer Rick Habib explains a bit about the making of  Hard Chargin’. “As a group, we’re not writing songs in the traditional sense, not trying to get the world to sing along…We like to make people want to dial in and pay attention, to make them laugh.” 

Bob Lord agrees, and says the purpose of Dreadnaught is: “pure enjoyment and amusement for fans of oddball, far out, intellectually acute music.” Making this music is an escape from the music that the members of Dreadnaught make between 9 to 5. Dreadnaught is: “definitely apart from our day jobs even if they are in the music business.” Hard Chargin’ is also a reminder of growing up in the seventies, and the music the members Dreadnaught listened to and the television programmes they watched. All this has influenced their new and ambitious genre-melting album Hard Chargin’. So have Rush, Fugazi, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan and even George Jones and Willie Nelson. They play their part in the album that marks the welcome return of that inimitable high-energy, power trio Dreadnaught.

Have A Drink With Dreadnaught explodes into life and opens Hard Chargin’ in style. Choppy, blistering guitars join washes of organ while the rhythm section powers the genre-defying, multilayered arrangement along. Atop the arrangement sits Rick’s powerful vocal, which is sometimes augmented by harmonies. Meanwhile, a piano, organ, percussion and some particularly impressive machine gun guitar riffs are added to the stomping, progressive anthem. Suddenly, it’s the seventies all over again. Later, the arrangement becomes understated before rebuilding and becoming melodic. By then, elements of seventies progressive rock combine with Americana and classic rock as this impressive musical potpourri reaches a memorable crescendo.

Lysergic, dubby and cinematic describes the introduction to the instrumental Gaudy Baubles, as it shimmers and meanders along. Soon, it starts to reveal its secrets, and in the process, this instrumental showcase Dreadnaught’s versatility. In doing so, Dreadnaught creates another flawless multilayered arrangement. It features a fusion of disparate music genres that are combined seamlessly and become a vibrant musical tapestry. To create it, Dreadnaught play with speed, power and fluidity switching between time signatures and styles as they fuse elements of progressive rock, psychedelia, classic rock, folk and jazz during three minutes. This os long enough for Dreadnaught to create an  ambitious and innovative genre-defying opus.

That’s The Way That You Do It (My Way) is only 1.41 long, but that is long enough to for Dreadnaught to innovate.  A chant of: “that is the way that you do it” gives way to thunderous, dramatic a rocky backdrop. Soon, it’s all change and searing mid-Atlantic guitar glides and soars above the arrangement. By then, Dreadnaught have seamlessly combined theatre and drama with music that is melodic, progressive and rocky.

There’s an Eastern, cinematic sound to Takin’ A Ride With The Fat Man (Fatta Fatta Puck Puck). It’s as if it’s a track from a long-forgotten soundtrack to a low-budget movie. Soon, it’s all change as the drums power the arrangement along and the tempo rises. A searing guitar ushers in an organ and close harmonies, that bring to mind seventies Southern Rock. Dreadnaught march to the beat of the drum, while blistering guitars are unleashed. So too are brief soliloquies before the tempo drops. After this, they revisit the earlier freewheeling Southern Rock and augment this with the influence of 10CC and later, Queen. Seamlessly, Dreadnaught switch between genres and as the tempo ebbs and flows and the time signature changes. Still, though, it all makes sense, including the lengthy drum solo that brings back memories of the seventies, when this was de rigueur. From there, this genre-melting track rebuilds, and melodic Southern Rock gives way to choppy, urgent driving rock as the track reveals the rest of its secrets. It’s been an epic journey, with Dreadnaught fusing psychedelia, Southern Rock and progressive rock with avant-rock, classic rock and free jazz to create a tantalising and heady musical brew.

Express Delight is another lengthy track, and opens with an effects’ laden Hendrix inspired guitar solo. It’s joined by the rhythm section and saxophones, before it’s all change. The arrangement becomes an experimental soundscape, where elements of avant-garde, experimental and post rock combine. This shows another side to Dreadnaught. At the heart of the action is the effects’ laden guitar, and lush, cinematic strings. This is a clue that things are about to change. They do, when a jazzy saxophone joins the piano and rhythm section. The saxophone takes centre-stage until the blistering guitar returns.Dreadnaught become a high-energy power trio, as the arrangement ebbs and flows, and they switch between fusion and rock. Later, Dreadnaught harmonise before a flute, keyboards and blistering guitar enjoy their moment in the sun. However, it’s the guitar that plays a starting role in this eight mine genre-melting epic.

As That’s The Way That You Do It (Your Way) unfolds, country-tinged describes the song. That is until it takes on a much more experimental sound, that is reminiscent of the soundscape that featured during Express Delight. Later, there’s a return to the country-tinged sound, as Dreadnaught with their tongue in cheek, pay homage to country music.

Gets The Grease is another short song, but allows Dreadnaught to showcase their versatility during this piano lead song. Soon, a jazzy saxophone soars above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the hypnotic piano plays. Later, the track heads in the direction of free jazz, with Justin Walton playing a leading role in the sound and success of this musical amuse-bouce.

The multilayered, genre-melting arrangement to Slave Girls meanders along, slowly revealing its secrets and subtleties. At first, there’s a cinematic sound, before heading in the direction of rock. While the rhythm section provide the heartbeat, a blistering guitar accompanies the vocal. Soon, the guitar is multi-tracked, before the lead guitar and drums playing leading roles as seamlessly Dreadnaught switch between musical genres. This they do without missing a beat. That is a result of twenty-one years playing together. Seamlessly, the cope with changes in tempo, signature and style as the music veers between rocky to ethereal, and reminiscent of ELO in their seventies pomp. By then, Dreadnaught has switched between classic, progressive and avant-rock with diversions via folk and jazz. Latterly, Dreadnaught’s music ranges from ethereal and melodic to progressive and inventive. It’s been an impressive journey.

Just hi-hats and drums combine on Mummies Of The Cobbosseecontee and accompany bubbling, braying sounds before it’s all change and keyboards play. Meanwhile, the drums sound as if they’re from a drum ’n’ bass track. They’re joined by sci-fi synths and a guitar that veers between funky to fusion and soon, rocky as Dreadnaught throw a curveball and combine elements of heavy and progressive rock. Later, Dreadnaught add handclaps and machine gun and scorching guitars to their powerhouse of a rhythm section. Seamlessly, they cope with changes in tempo, style and measures. Midway through the track they even strip the track bare, with only the drums and then guitars remaining. Gradually, it rebuilds and Dreadnaught showcase their considerable talent and versatility during the remainder of this near eleven minute epic, that allows plenty of room for invention and experimentation.

Closing Hard Chargin’ is the third version of That’s The Way That We Do It (Our Way). It’s a bright, breezy and memorable fusion of pop rock and avant-jazz that is over way too soon. However, it closes Dreadnaught’s comeback album Hard Chargin’ on a high.

Hard Chargin’ marks the welcome return of Dreadnaught after two years away from the recording studio. The comeback Kings return with a bang, with Hard Chargin’ a genre-melting opus that defines categorisation.

There’s elements of Americana, avant-garde and avant-jazz, plus country, free jazz, and pop rock on Hard Chargin’. That is just part of the story all. There’s also elements of avant, classic and progressive rock plus folk, funk jazz and psychedelia. To that, adds hints of electronic and experimental music in this musical tapestry that Dreadnaught wove in their recording studio. The result is the most ambitious and innovative album of their twenty-one year career. 

Dreadnaught reach new heights on Hard Chargin’, as they switch seamlessly between different musical genres and spring a series of surprises. Indeed, there’s many a surprise hidden within Hard Chargin’s multilayered arrangements. They continue to reveals their secrets with every listen to this captivating album, where Dreadnaught showcase their talent and versatility on Hard Chargin’. This Dreadnaught have been doing for twenty-one years. However, it’s two years since the release of the Gettin’ Tight With Dreadnaught EP in 2015. Hard Chargin’ marks the welcome return of the comeback Kings Dreadnaught, with a genre-defying opus, that features the high-energy power trio at the peak of their progressive powers.

Dreadnaught-Hard Chargin’. 

 

FREDDIE NORTH-THE A-BET YEARS.

Freddie North-The A-Bet Years.

Nine years after making his recording debut with The Rookies, Freddie North signed to Nashboro’s newly formed A-Bet imprint in 1967. This would be home to Freddie North for the next nine years, and where he would enjoy the most successful period of his career. However, his story began in the country music capital, Nashville.

Fredrick Carpenter was born in Nashville on ’28th’ May 1939 into a musical family. His father Fredrick was a successful and well-respected gospel singer, so it was no surprise that growing up, Freddie decided to embark upon a musical career.

In Freddie’s case it wasn’t gospel he started singing. Instead, Freddie who had grownup listening to doo-wop, R&B and rock ’n’ roll formed a Freddie and some high school friends, The Rookies. They were soon signed to a local label, Athens and recorded Money Money Money and Take Me Back.  When the single was released, the group were billed as Freddie North and The Rookies and sold well. So much so, that Atlantic Records picked the single up. It looked as if Freddie North and The Rookies had a bright future ahead of them.

When the single was released on Atlantic Records’ East West imprint, it was credited to Freddie. This must can’t have pleased The Rookies, and the band split-up not long after this. 

Despite the disappointment surrounding The Rookies, Freddie’s career continued in 1960 when he recorded Okay, So What? with Charles “Buddy” Killen, who would go on to found the Dial label. That was a few months down the line, so  Charles “Buddy” Killen took Okay, So What? to the University label. Everyone had high hopes for the release, but even with an appearance on American Bandstand the single failed to sell. For Freddie this was another disappointment in his nascent career. 

Not long after this, Freddie decided to enrol at college and studied speech and drama. However, when he completed his course, Freddie ended up working for a cinema chain. This was one of several dead-end jobs Freddie endured, including a spell as a singing waiter at the Executive Club. Still, Freddie hadn’t given up on his dream of making a career as singer.

Whilst working at the Executive Club, Freddie recorded Just To Please You as a single for Capitol Records. Meanwhile, Freddie was constantly in demand as a demo singer, and was a familiar face at many of Nashville’s recording studios. While this was good experience, it meant that Freddie’s career wasn’t progressing. When Freddie released It’s No Good For Me on the R.I.C. label, the single sunk without trace. Freddie’s career seemed to have stalled. These were worrying times for the twenty-five year old.

When it looked like Freddie wasn’t going to make it as a singer, with a heavy heart he made the decision to take a job at Nashboro which was Nashville’s biggest record company. This gave Freddie the safety net of a regular income. Freddie started off as a stockroom clerk, but soon, was climbing the corporate ladder and was the head of the press and promotion division. Still, though, Freddie continued to sing in Nashville’s clubs, in the hope that one day, he could resume his singing career. 

When the opportunity arose, it was closer to home than Freddie expected. Nashboro decided to setup a soul imprint A-Bet in 1966. The nascent label was primarily a label to showcase the work of arranger, producer songwriter, Bobby Holmes. Soon, A-Bet began recruiting artists to join their roster. One of the artists they approached to join A-Bet’s roster in January 1967 was their head of press and promotion Freddie North. He was the fourth artist to join A-Bet’s roster.

Soon, Freddie North entered the studio to record his A-Bet debut single. Two Bob Holmes compositions were chosen, including the uptempo (I’ve Got To) Hold Back which was chosen as the single. Tucked away on the B-Side was a soul-baring ballad Don’t Make Me Look So Bad. When the single was released in February 1967, disaster struck for Freddie North when (I’ve Got To) Hold Back failed to trouble the charts. Freddie North had been here before.

A-Bet were in no hurry to release a followup. Fourteen months passed before A-Bet released I Have A Dream which was penned by Jerry Keller and Dave Blume. When I Have A Dream had been inspired by Martin Luther King’s speech was released, it also failed to find an audience. For Freddie North this was another disappointment.

After the failure of I Have A Dream, sixteen months passed before Freddie North released his third single for A-Bet, Oh Lord, What Are You Doing To Me. This was a much covered Ballad penned by Luther Dixon and Bert Keyes, and was arranged  and produced by Bob Holmes. It features a vocal full of despair and showcases Freddie North’s vocal ability to breath meaning and emotion into the lyrics. So does the B-Side, Long Hard Road which is a ballad written by Bob Holmes. It’s one of his most underrated A-Bet sides. Sadly, very few people heard Oh Lord, What Are You Doing To Me and Long Hard Road, as the single failed to sell. This was becoming a familiar pattern, and something had to change.

For Freddie North’s first three singles for A-Bet, he had worked with producer by Bob Holmes. While the quality of music was indisputable, it hadn’t proven to be a successful partnership. It was decide later in 1969, that from thereon in, Freddie could produce his own sessions. 

The first sessions that Freddie North took charge of, saw him record six songs, Got To See If I Can Get Mommy, Love To Hate, a poignant cover of Rainy Night In Georgia and Thank That Woman. This was almost enough for Freddie North’s debut album. To complete the album, Freddie included two of his first three singles, I Loved Another Woman nd From The Blind Side, The Sun Comes Up and included his two previous singles, Oh Lord What Are You Doing To Me and I Have A Dream. These eight songs became Freddie North’s debut album The Magnetic North, which was released on A-Bet in March 1970. Alas, The Magnetic North failed to find the audience it deserved, and Freddie North was no nearer making a breakthrough.

Not long after the release of The Magnetic North, Freddie North returned with his fourth single for A-Bet, which was another soul-baring ballad, Thank That Woman. Hidden away on the B-Side was Love To Hate, a carefully crafted, orchestrated song which was produced by Freddie North. Sadly, Thank That Woman passed record buyers by and Freddie North found himself n last chance saloon.

For his fifth single for A-Bet, Freddie North covered Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s Follow The Lamb which featured in their musical Look At The Lillies. The gospel-tinged Follow The Lamb was a strange choice for single for Freddie North, who was desperate to make a commercial breakthrough. Especially with the cover of Dave Hall’s wistful From The Blind Side tucked away on the B-Side. It was a much stronger track, and when Follow The Lamb was released in October 1970, it failed to make any impact on the charts. For Freddie North this marked the end of an era.

Follow The Lamb was the last single that Freddie North released on A-Bet. He had released five singles and an album on A-Bet, but hadn’t come close to enjoying commercial success. Things were so bad, that Freddie North was seriously considering turning his back on music. 

That was until Nashboro decided to found a new imprint in 1971,  Mankind, which would replace A-Bet. It was no longer an active label, and for the time being, artists signed to A-Bet would join Mankind. Helping to run the nascent label, was Jerry Williams Jr a.k.a. Swamp Dogg.

He had just recorded albums with Irma Thomas, Sandra Phillips and Doris Duke for the Wally Roker’s Canyon group of labels in Muscle Shoals. Nashboro president Bud Howells suggested that Freddie North move to Muscle Shoals and work with Jerry Williams Jr. This it was hoped, might result in a change of fortune for Freddie North.

Bud Howells’ suggestion that Freddie North move to Muscle Shoals, soon paid off. For Freddie North’s Mankind debut, Jerry Williams Jr had a song lined up. The song he suggested was the Garry US Bonds’ song She’s All I Got as a single, with the Jerry Williams Jr composition Ain’t Nothing In The News (But The Blues) on the B-Side. However, when She’s All I Got was released on Mankind in July 1971, it charted and reached number ten on the US R&B charts and thirty-nine US Billboard 100. Eleven years after releasing his debut single, Freddie North had a hit single on his hands. 

Mankind were keen to build on the success of Ain’t Nothing In The News (But The Blues), and Freddie North released his sophomore album Friends. It featured Freddie’s next hit single.

For the followup to She’s All I Got, Freddie North recorded You And Me Together Forever, which featured Did I Come Back Too Soon (or Stay Away Too Long) on the B-Side. However, when Freddie North’s second Mankind single You And Me Together Forever was released in January 1972 stalled at twenty-six in the US R&B charts. Compared to Freddie’s A-Bet released, You And Me Together Forever was regarded as a success by those at Nashboro headquarters in Nashville. Now, Freddie North had to build on the success of his two hit singles.

Two months later in March 1972, Mankind released a promo of Freddie North’s recording of Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Stay Away Too Long). However, the song never got made beyond the promo stage, and wasn’t released as a single.

In May 1972, Freddie North released the first of three singles in quick succession. Sweeter Than Sweetness was released in May 1972, but failed to trouble the charts. It was a similar case with Roll Over (Play Like Our Love Ain’t Dead) in June 1972 and Song # 29 (I’m Your Man) in September 1972. These three singles marked the end of the Jerry Williams Jr era.

By late 1972, Jerry Williams Jr had fallen out with Nashboro, and headed off in search of the next chapter in his chequered career. Jerry Williams Jr who was a talented singer, songwriter musician and producer never seemed to stay anywhere long, and never came close to fulfilling his potential. Meanwhile, Freddie North was desperate to return to the heights he had enjoyed early on in his career with Mankind.

Freddie North returned with a cover of the Frank Johnson and Carl Lumbus composition You’re Killing Me Slowly But Surely. It had been recorded at the Quinvy Studios where the Mankind sessions had taken place. Taking charge of production was 

David Johnson who had engineered the previous Mankind sessions. He was regarded as the natural heir to Jerry Williams Jr and produced You’re Killing Me Slowly But Surely which features a vocal that’s hurt-filled and full of despair. Despite its quality, the single failed to commercially when it was released in June 1973.

Two months later, Freddie North released a cover of Hugh King’s Lovin’ On Back Streets. It was the first Mankind single to produced by Freddie North. On the B-Side, was Love To Hate, which previously was the flip-side to the A-Bet single Thank That Woman in 1970. However, when Lovin’ On Back Streets was released in August 1973, it too, failed to find an audience. By then, two years had passed since You And Me Together Forever gave Freddie a hit single. He could really do with a hit single.

Later in 1973, Freddie North returned to producing his own singles. He produced the ballad Taking Her Love Ain’t Gonna Be Easy, which was arranged by Bergen White. While was one of the best singles that Freddie North had released since the early days of his career at Mankind, commercial success eluded Taking Her Love Ain’t Gonna Be Easy. For Freddie this must have been a frustrating time. 

After nearly three years without a hit to his name, Mankind released Cuss The Wind as a single with Love To Hate again featuring on the B-Side. Cuss The Wind was one of the Jerry Williams Jr productions that had lain unreleased for the best part of a two years. It’s a poignant ballad, where strings and horns frame Freddie’s vocal. Mankind had high hopes for the single, and an album entitled Cuss The Wind was compiled. 

Cuss The Wind featured eight tracks, including some songs that Freddie had already released on A-Bet. There were several new songs, including Cuss The Wind band the soul-searching Southern Soul ballad My Whole World Ended. Songs of this quality it was hoped would bring commercial success Freddie North’s way.

Despite the quality of the single, it was a familiar story when Cuss The Wind failed to trouble the charts. When Mankind released Freddie North’s album in 1975, it took failed to find an audience. This was Freddie North’s second album of Southern Soul that passed unnoticed. For Freddie North, it was almost the end of the road at Mankind.

One further Freddie North single was released on Mankind in 1976, Rainy Night In Georgia. It was taken from Cuss The Wind, and featured Freddie North’s Loved Another Woman on the B-Side. Both were produced by Freddie North and showcased his skills as a singer and producer. However, when the single failed commercially, that was the end of the line for Freddie North and indeed Mankind.

Mankind closed its doors shortly after the release of Freddie North’s cover of  Rainy Night In Georgia. A year later in 1977, A-Bet also closed its doors for the second time. This time though, it was for good. Freddie North also left Nashoro in 1977, after eleven years service. He had decided to turn his back on music for good.

Freddie North was no more. Instead, Freddie North reverted to  his real name, Frederick Carpenter and started a ministry. While Pastor Frederick Carpenter occasionally sung in church, there would be no comebacks. The man once known Freddie North would never return to secular music. 

Although Freddie North was lost to secular music, he left behind a rich musical legacy, including the music he recorded at A-Bet. I was the most productive and successful period of Freddie North’s career.

Sadly, Freddie North’s singles and three albums didn’t reach they audience that they deserved. Freddie North enjoyed just two hit singles during the nine years he spent at A-Bet and Mankind.  Sadly, Freddie North, who is one of the most talented soul men of his generation never reach enjoyed the success his talent deserves, and he remains one of soul’s best kept secrets.

Freddie North-The A-Bet Years.

RED HOT BOPPERS-HMV VINYL EXCLUSIVE.

Red Hot Boppers-HMV Vinyl Exclusive.

Label: Sun.

Over the last few years, the resurgence of interest in vinyl has taken many within the music industry by surprise. Some went as far as say that the resurgence of interest in vinyl would be short-lived and was no more than a passing fad. How wrong they were.

Especially one particular label manager who back in late-2014 was particularly scathing about vinyl’s newfound popularity.  He believed that the vinyl bubble was about to burst, and there was no way ‘his’ company he managed would ever release their vinyl. This musical Nostradamus’ other forecast was that within a couple of years, nobody would be buying CDs. They were going the way of the dinosaurs, Nostradamus believed. The future was about streaming and downloads he proudly announced, which was his business model and was how his company were going to make their fortune. Alas, this was flawed thinking.

Today, music’s very own Nostradamus is no longer in the position he once was. In footballing terms, he has been relegated from music’s top division. He’s no longer the mover and shaker he once was. Not after his company suffered huge losses. Someone else was brought in to rescue the situation, and Nostradamus was reduced to a bit part player.

The company he once ran now releases all of their albums on vinyl and CD. Indeed, they’ve even released several vinyl only releases, including double albums and box sets. It’s a similar case with CDs, with box sets and double albums hitting the shelves of record stores. Downloads are still available, but the label’s core customer base are people who buy physical products.

While they’re first and foremast music lovers, they’re also collectors of music on various formats and are willing to pay for the privilege. The new person running the company understood the company’s customer base and has set about to releasing the music they want to buy. This includes music on vinyl, which he hopes will help return this once proud company to profitability.

Many other companies have realised there’s currently an insatiable appetite for vinyl. This includes HMV, who last year, released their Exclusive Vinyl series. It was a huge success, and they decided to repeat the exercise. One of this year’s releases was Red Hot Boppers, which was recently released as a limited edition of 1,000. Red Hot Boppers features ten tracks that have featured on the Sun Rockabilly Legends’ Series.

Billy Lee Riley’s career began in May 1956, when the twenty-two year old released Trouble Bound on Sun. After that, eight months passed before Billy Riley returned. This time, it was with Billy Riley and His Little Green Me, who released Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll in January 1956. Eight months later, Billy Lee Riley returned with his sophomore solo single Red Hot in September. It featured on Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Four-Red Hot and also provides an explosive start to the Red Hot Boppers compilation.

When it came to compiling Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Two-Rockin’ With Mr Uranium, which was dedicated to Warren Smith, one of the songs chosen was Red Cadillac And A Black Mustache. This was a song that Warren Smith recorded in 1957, but never saw the light of day until 1973. Three years later, in 1976, Red Cadillac And A Black Mustache was released as a single by the British label Charly Records. Forty-one years later, it makes a this hidden rockabilly gem makes a welcome return on the Red Hot Boppers compilation.

When Sonny Burgess released his debut single Red Headed Woman in August 1956, tucked away on the B-Side was the piano driven We Wanna Boogie. It features one of the wildest rockers ever to record for the legendary Sun label in Memphis. Sonny Burgess and his band The Pacers were from Newport, Arkansas, and had forged a hard-rocking style that unlike most rockabilly singers, owed almost nothing to country music. Proof of this is We Wanna Boogie, which featured on Sun Rockabilly Legends’ Series Volume One Sonny’s Back In Town in 2016.

In early April 1958, Ray Smith released So Young as a single on Sun. Hidden away on the B-Side was an explosive cover of the Charlie Rich composition Right Behind You, on Sun. It’s one of the highlights of the Red Hot Boppers’ compilation, and  Sun Rockabilly Legends’ Series Volume 3  Shake Around which was released in 2106.

When Carl Perkins released Boppin’ The Blues on Sun, in May 1956, it should’ve been the fifth single of his career. However, the release of Sure To Fall had been postponed in March 1956. This made Boppin’ The Blues  the followup to Blue Suede Shoes, which had been released in January 1956 and reached number one on the US Country charts and two on the US Billboard 100. This was the biggest hit of Carl Perkins’ career. Boppin’ The Blues had a lot live up to. Alas, it was a case of so near, yet so far, when Boppin’ The Blues reached number seven US Country charts and seventy on the US Billboard 100. Despite that, Boppin’ The Blues is an irresistible rockabilly single that also featured on the 2016 compilation Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Five-Put Your Cat Clothes.

Sixty years ago, in March 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis released Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On. Not only did it reach number three on the US Billboard 200, but topped the US Country and US R&B charts. Across the Atlantic, Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On reached number eight. Since then, Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On has been has been hailed a rock ’n’ roll classic, while Charles L. Ponce de Leon called it: “perhaps the quintessential rockabilly anthem.” As a result, it’s only fitting that it featured Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Six-Down The Road With Jerry Lee in 2016 and in 2017, the Red Hot Boppers’ compilation.

Barbara Pittman was one of the artists that featured on Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Eight-Those Rockin’ Girls in 2016. A year later, her 1956 debut single I Need A Man features on Red Hot Boppers. When I Need A Man was released on Sun, in late-September 1956, Barbara Pittman it found unleashing a powerful, sassy and needy vocal on this future rockabilly classic. 

When Gene Simmons came to record his debut single, the song chosen was one of his own compositions Drinkin’ Wine. It was released on Sun in April 1958, and Drinkin’ Wine went on to become a rockabilly classic. Drinkin’ Wine launched Gene Simmons’ long and illustrious career. His career was celebrated on Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Ten-I Done Told You in 2016. The highlight of the compilation is Drinkin’ Wine, which is another rockabilly classic. 

Malcolm Yelvington was fifty-six when his cover of Yakety Yak featured on the Sun Rockabillys Volume 3-Rockin’ and Boppin’ compilation. However, his career began at Sun in 1954,  when Malcolm Yelvington and Star Rhythm Boys released on Sun. Since then, Malcolm Yelvington had continued to record and play live. Indeed, his final album here’s A Little Life Left In This Old Boy Yet was released in 1997, when Malcolm Yelvington was seventy-nine. Sadly, four years later he passed aged eighty-three. His life and music is celebrated in 2016 on Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Seven-Still Rockin’ Along. It features Malcolm Yelvington’s cover of Yakety Yak which returns for an encore on Red Hot Boppers.

The Earl Bostic composition Ubangi Stomp is an oft-covered track. Many artists and bands have covered it, including Warren Smith and Carl Mann. His copper of Ubangi Stomp featured on Sun Rockabilly Legends Series Volume Nine-Rockin’ Mann, closes Red Hot Boppers. It was released as a single by the British label Charly Records in 1976, and is something a hidden gem. It’s far superior to many of the covers of Ubangi Stomp, and is the perfect way to close Red Hot Boppers.

For any vinyl enthusiast looking for an introduction to rockabilly, then Red Hot Boppers is the perfect starting place. Red Hot Boppers, which was pressed 10” red vinyl, and released by Sun, as part of HMV’s Exclusive Vinyl series, is the perfect rockabilly primer. It features  some of the giants of rockabilly, and several stonewall genre classics. These tracks feature on the ten volumes of the Sun Rockabilly Legends Series which was released in 2016. A year later, and Red Hot Boppers is a reminder, if any was needed, of the Sun Rockabilly Legends Series. However, anyone wanting a copy of Red Hot Boppers will need to be quick, as it’s a limited edition of 1,000. 

Already copies of Red Hot Boppers are becoming hard to find, and many rockabilly fans are struggling to find a copy. That is often the case with limited edition releases. However, what hasn’t helped was that many copies of Red Hot Boppers were purchased by the parasitic flippers who bought several copies to resell at a profit. That became obvious from the day that the titles on HMV’s 2017 Exclusive Vinyl series went on sale. 

By lunchtime, certain sellers on a well-known market place had several copies of HMV’s 2017 Exclusive Vinyl series for sale. That was despite buyers only being able to purchase one copy of each title. Doubtless, some of the parasitic flippers got fiends to buy further copies. It was Record Store Day 2017 all over again, with the parasitic flippers having copies of HMV’s 2017 Exclusive Vinyl series for sale at twice the original price. In some cases, the mark-up was between 150% and 200%. This meant that many lifelong fans were unable to afford copies of albums by The Creation, Iggy Pop, Status Quo, Cream, Eric Clapton and Stephen Wilson. 

While many flippers are still holding out for unrealistic and vastly inflated prices, some flippers seem to be experiencing cash-flow problems. This is a repeat of Record Store Day 2017. They’re so desperate to get rid off the albums that they planned to flip that they’re cutting prices. Some of the albums are for sale at cost price, while others are inviting offers. Hopefully, they’ll be hit with a series of lowball offers, and the flippers will be taught an expensive lesson. 

Ideally, nobody would buy from the parasitic flippers, and the market would work in a much more efficient way. However, when it comes to music, and especially limited edition releases, many record buyers let their heart rule their head. If that is the case, then the flippers will always will always make a killing.

Maybe the answer is to make things tougher for the flipper? Record shops  and large retailers selling limited edition releases where buyers are only allowed to purchase one copy should enforce the rule much more strictly. The large chains of record shops and large retailers selling limited edition releases should keep track of what their staff are buying. This would help ensure there were no cases of ‘insider trading,’ where  staff members buying several copies of limited edition albums.

‘Regulating’ the smaller, independent record shops is much harder when it comes to limited edition releases. Year after year, there have been allegations of staff at smaller record shops having first pick of stock on Record Store Day, and when they receive limited edition releases. As a result, when the doors open on Record Store Day, often some of the best stock is gone. To rub salt into the wound, it has been alleged that staff members at those smaller record shops often, promptly flip the stock at inflated prices. When challenged about this in the past, they’ve claim that it is a perk of the job. Sadly, the only way to stop this from happening, is to vote with your feet, and find another purveyor of vinyl.

Nowadays, many shops have started selling vinyl, including some of the biggest supermarkets. However, HMV have been flying the flag for vinyl for longer than most, and continue to do with their Exclusive Vinyl series. It’s a welcome initiative and always features some top titles, including Red Hot Boppers, which is a perfect rockabilly primer for newcomers to the genre.

Red Hot Boppers-HMV Vinyl Exclusive.

 

SOUL OF A NATION (AFRO-CENTRIC VISIONS IN THE AGE OF BLACK POWER: UNDERGROUND JAZZ, STREET FUNK AND THE ROOTS OF RAP 1968-1979).

Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Label: Soul Jazz Records.

On the ‘4th’ of August 2017, Soul Jazz Records will released their eagerly awaited new compilation, Soul Of A Nation (Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). Its release coincides with the new Soul Of A Nation-Art In The Age Of Black Power exhibition, which opened at the Tate Modern on the ’12th’ of July and runs to the ’22nd’ October 2017.  The exhibition covers the period between 1963 and 1983, and the thirteen tracks on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) are the perfect soundtrack to what was a hugely important period in American history.

1963 proved to be the height of the Civil Rights movement in America. Many African-Americans had devoted themselves to the Civil Rights movement and had been working towards the day when America would be fully integrated. That was the day that they had long dreamt about. Sometimes, it seemed tantalizingly close, other times, it looked as if their dream of integration and equality was out of reach. However, the members of the Civil Rights movement were never going to give up on that dream. Their American Dream was integration and equality.

Things started to change after The Civil Rights Act 1964 was enacted. It banned discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin in employment practices. The Civil Rights Act 1964 also ended unequal application of voter registration requirements,  and prohibited racial segregation in schools, the workplace and in public accommodation. This was a huge step forward towards for the African-Americans population.

So was the implementation of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which restored and protected voting rights for minorities.  This was a hugely important piece of legislation. Another important piece of legislation was The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which removed racial and national barriers to immigration, and expanded opportunities for immigrants from regions other than Europe. The third piece of important piece if legislation was The Fair Housing Act 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. It looked as if progress was being made in America.

Especially as many African-Americans made a conscious decision to re-enter politics, even in the deep South. Other young African-Americans became involved in the Civil Rights’ movement. It looked as if this was a new beginning in America. 

While America was changing, there was widespread rioting in many of America’s inner cities. This began in the African-American communities in 1964, and lasted right through to 1970. By then, the nascent Black Power movement’s influence was growing.

The Black Power movement’s roots can be traced back to the mid-sixties. By 1966, different groups within the Civil Rights movement had embraced the slogan Black Power. This included SNCC and CORE during the nineteen day March Against Fear in June 1966. Both organisations embraced the slogan Black Power, using it as way to describe trends towards militancy and self-reliance. Elsewhere, the Black Power movement started to gain and promote more of a sense in black pride and identity as well. 

Among the most public faces of the Black Power movement were the Black Panther Party, which had been founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. They adopted their own dress code, created a ten point plan, openly displayed firearms, used the clenched fist as a symbol of solidarity and used the slogan: “power to the people.” However, the Black Panther Party adopted the ideology of Malcolm X,  the former member of the Nation of Islam, and used a: “by-any-means necessary” approach to stop inequality. 

By 1968, the militant calls for Black Power were growing louder. It was a frustrating and worrying time for all African-Americans, not just those involved in the Civil Rights’ Movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 had been filibustered as the year dawned. This had happened several times before, and most likely, would’ve happened again. However, when The National Advisory Commission On Civil Disorders in 1967 published its report on the ‘1st’ March 1968, it recommended that: “a comprehensive and enforceable federal open housing law” was a possible remedy to the civil disturbances. It looked as if there was a solution to what had been a long running problem.

Ironically, as The Senate debated The Civil Rights Act of 1968 Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. This lead to the worst ever wave of civil unrest. Suddenly, filibustering was a thing of the past. The House passed The Civil Rights Act of 1968 on April ’10th’ and President Johnson signed it a day later on the ‘11th’. Although this was an important day for African-Americans, the death of Martin Luther King Jr, who had been an inspirational figure for many within the Civil Rights’ Movement.

Despite the death of Martin Luther King Jr, the Black Power movement was still  a rallying cry for African-American pride, autonomy and solidarity. They drew inspiration from many of the newly independent African nations, who were embarking on a new and exciting period in their history. 

Meanwhile, many African-Americans’ lives had been blighted by poverty, poor housing, unemployment and drug addiction. They were also still victims of racism and inequality. It was no surprise that so many African-Americans were becoming part of the Civil Rights’ movement, and were becoming involved in the Black Power movement. Many African-Americans became politicised for the first time. Others embraced the more revolutionary politics, and came to the conclusion that the lack Power movement’s: “by-any-means necessary” approach was the only way ahead during what was an intensely political period in African-American history. 

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, many within the Civil Rights and Black Power movements started counting the cost of their struggle. They had lost Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, who both fell victim to the assassin’s bullet. Still, the struggle would continue until the they achieved the American Dream of integration and equality.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights and Black Power movement continued to influence artists, authors, poets and musicians. This includes music that feature on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). The thirteen tracks are a reminder of the ideals of the civil rights movement, black power and black nationalism. This influenced the evolvement of radical African-American music in America during what was an intensely political and revolutionary period.

During this period, artists like Gil Scott-Heron, Roy Ayers Ubiquity, Philip Cohran and The Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Phil Ranelin, Horace Tapscott With The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, David McKnight, Joe Henderson, African Rhythms, Doug Carn and Carlos Garnett emerged, and became part of this new musical movement. They all created groundbreaking music that had been influenced and inspired by tenets of the Civil Rights movement, Black Power and black nationalism. The music ranged from avant-garde, free jazz, funk, fusion, proto-rap, soul, soul jazz and spiritual jazz. This new music was very different from what many African-Americans listened to. 

Especially the music Ray Charles was releasing and the music that was being churned out of the Detroit’s Motown soul factory. The artists on Soul Of A Nation were part of a brave new musical world, and created ambitious and innovative music that was representative of the African-American people during a crucial period in their history.

Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) opens with Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which made its debut on his 1970 debut Small Talk At ‘125th’ And Lenox, which was released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. A year later, the definitive version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised feature on Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 sophomore album Free Will. It’s an anthemic track that full of social comment that would become synonymous with the legendary singer, songwriter, musician, author, poet and political activist.

In 1978, Mandingo Griot Society released their eponymous debut album on the Chicago-based Flying Fish label. Mandingo Griot Society was a collaboration with forty-two year old trumpeter Don Cherry, who was one of the pioneers of free jazz. One of the highlights of the album was Sounds From The Bush which is a potent fusion of Afrobeat, African Roots and avant-jazz. It’s also the perfect introduction to Mandingo Griot Society, and free jazz legend Don Cherry.

Just like Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s Red, Black and Green is an anthemic track that is synonymous with this important period in African-American history. Red, Black And Green was the title-track to Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1973 album for Polydor. Vibes’ man Roy Ayers, leads features an all-star band on what was one of the finest albums of his career so far. One of its highlights was Red, Black And Green, a hopeful and joyous slice of jazz-funk.

Three years after the death of Malcolm X, Philip Cohran And The Artistic Heritage Ensemble released The Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute In Music) on Zulu Records. Nowadays, this four track album is regarded as a cult classic. It featured Malcolm X a mesmeric, dramatic and impassioned fusion of soul-jazz and Afrobeat.

In 1976, poet Sarah Webster Fabio released her third album on Folkways Records, Jujus-Alchemy Of The Blues Poems By Sarah Webster Fabio Read By Sarah Webster Fabio. Providing the musical backdrop to Sarah Webster Fabio’s vocal which veered between soulful to proto-rap, was Don’t Fight The Feeling. They provide a funky, jazz-tinged backdrop on Sweet Songs which is a reminder of this hidden gem of an album.

American jazz trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and bandleader Phil Ranelin released his sophomore solo album Vibes From The Tribes on the Detroit’s Tribe Records in 1976. Tribe Records was no ordinary label though. It was a political, social, and aesthetic collective of local musicians, whose leading lights of the collective were Wendell Harrison and Phil Ranelin. When Phil Ranelin came to record Vibes From The Tribes he was joined by other members of the collective, including Wendell Harrison Marcus Belgrave and Harold McKinney. One of their finest movements was the title-track, which opens the album. It’s a genre-melting fusion of funk, modal and soul jazz that showcases the truly talented Phil Ranelin at the peak of his creative powers, on this extremely rare album that nowadays, changes hands for upwards of £500.

Live At I.U.C.C. was the album recorded by Horace Tapscott With The Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra Desert Fairy Princess between February and June 1979. It was released later in 1979 on Tom Albach’s newly founded Nimbus West Records label. He had founded the label after listening to some tapes that he bought from Horace Tapscott. These tapes became Live At I.U.C.C, which features Desert Fairy Princess. It’s one of the highlights of Live At I.U.C.C, which is an oft-overlooked album of spiritual jazz from Los Angeles.

David McKnight delivers an impassioned proto-rap vocal on Strong Men, against an understated backdrop. He’s accompanied by a spartan selection of African percussion and backing vocalists. Together, they provides the perfect backdrop on this potent mixture of music, poetry and social comment.

Joe Henderson’s career began in 1963, with the release of his debut album Page One on Blue Note Records. Thirteen years later, and Joe Henderson was about to release his sixteenth solo album Black Narcissus on Milestone Records. Black Narcissus featured a crack band of jazz musicians, with Joe Henderson playing tenor saxophone and synths, and co-producing the album. One of its highlights is the title-track which drifts along melodically, with Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone playing a leading role.

Oneness Of Juju released their debut album African Rhythms on the Black Fire label in 1975. The title-track African Rhythms has long been a favourite of DJs, dancers and compilers. No wonder, as it’s a delicious fusion of soul, funk, jazz and Afrobeat.

Pianist, songwriter and producer Doug Carn’s career began at Black Jazz Records in 1971, with the release of Infant Eyes. He released a quartet of albums on Black Jazz Records between 1971 and 1974. By 2001, Black Jazz Records was back and Doug Carn released his sixth album New Incentive “Firm Roots”. One songs that didn’t feature on the album was Suratal Ihklas. It was released as a single by the Heavenly Sweetness in 2008 and marked the welcome return and reinvention of Doug Carn.

Duke Edwards and The Young Ones collaborated on  Is It Too Late? which was released on Prestige in 1968. It featured Is It Too Late? which on the original album was a near fourteen minute epic. However, on Soul Of A Nation, it has been edited down to ten minutes. It features Duke Edwards’ impassioned soliloquy, which is combined elements of gospel, soul and free jazz.  The result is a powerful genre-melting opus where Duke Edwards lays bare his soul. 

When Carlos Garnett released his sophomore album Black Love on Muse Records, in 1974, he brought vocalists Ayodele Jenkins and Dee Dee Bridgewater onboard. They were part of the all-star cast that recorded Black Love. One of its’ finest moments was Mother Of The Future, where Ayodele Jenkins and Dee Dee Bridgewater play leading roles on a track that marries avant-garde, free jazz, post bop and soul. Carlos Garnett even yodels, turning his vocal into another instrument on this ambitious track that is full of twists and turns. It’s a case of expect the unexpected but enjoy the journey on the tracks that closes Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Just like previous Soul Jazz Records’ compilations, Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79) is lovingly compiled and curated compilation. The compilers have combined some familiar tracks with a few leftfield choices and hidden gems. They’re a reminder of what was hugely important and in some cases, frustrating and turbulent period in African-American history.

America was still blighted by racism, poverty and inequality. Some of those that had devoted themselves to the Civil Rights movement, and had been working towards the day when America would be fully integrated, must have felt that was never going to happen. Not after six years of riots in the inner cities between 1964 and 1970, and certainly not after the assassination of  Malcolm X in 1965, and then Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. That lead to the worst civil unrest American had seen. However, it led to the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1968. This was one step towards integration and equality. 

Despite being was one step nearer reaching their goal, it was still a long way until the Civil Rights movement and Black Power Movement reached their destination. Providing the soundtrack to that journey were the thirteen artists on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79). They were just a few of the musicians, artists, authors and poets that had been inspired by the tenets of the Civil Rights movement, Black Power and black nationalism. These musicians provided the soundtrack to the journey towards equality and equality.

Eventually, they reached their destination, and their fight for equality and equality was now a reality. No longer were African-Americans persecuted and discriminated in their own country. Instead, they were treated as equals, which was what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr had dreamt of and worked towards. The members of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements never gave up on that dream, and eventually, they achieved their American Dream, which was integration and equality. Documenting that long and eventful journey were the artists on Soul Of A Nation-(Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

Soul Of A Nation (Afro-Centric Visions In The Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79).

GIL SCOTT-HERON-THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED…PLUS.

Gil Scott-Heron-The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus.

Label: BGP.

After releasing a trio of studio albums on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions between 1970 and 1972, Gil Scott-Heron signed to Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell’s Strata-East Records. By then, Gil Scott-Heron was well on his way to becoming America’s conscience.

Gil Scott-Heron was a poet, musician, and author who highlighted the social and political problems affecting and blighting American society. He was, to all intents and purposes, America’s conscience, highlighting the problems of racism, poverty, corruption, inequality and drug addiction. These subjects had already featured in the lyrics to the songs on Gil Scott-Heron’s first three albums, 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will.  The lyrics were cerebral, witty, scathing and most importantly, honest as Gil Scott-Heron speaks up for the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Fearlessly, Gil Scott-Heron highlighted the social and political problems that blighted America. This he would continue to do at Strata-East Records.

Having signed to Strata-East Records, Gil Scott-Heron began work on his fourth studio album Winter In America with Brian Jackson who co-produced the album at D&B Sound, in Silver Spring, Maryland. The sessions began on the ‘4th’ and ‘5th’ September and were completed on the ‘15th’ of October of 1973. By then, Gil Scott-Heron had recorded the nine tracks that became Winter In America. 

Seven months later, on the ‘5th’ of October 1975, Winter In America was released to widespread critical acclaim. Some critics believed it that Winter In America was finest album. Some critics wondered if this was going to be Gil Scott-Heron’s breakthrough album?

At first, this was looking doubtful. Initially, copies of Winter In America were in short supply, as a result of Strata-East Records  independent distribution policy. This meant that many record shops struggled to secure the copies of Winter In America that they needed. Eventually, this problem was resolved and on June ’29th’ 1974, Winter In America entered the US Top Jazz Albums charts.

Little did Gil Scott-Heron realise that this as the start of a forty week run in the US Top Jazz Albums charts, which saw Winter In America eventually reach number six. This was helped by the success of only single released from Winter In America, The Bottle. Helped by an underground following, The Bottle gave Gil Scott-Heron the biggest hit of his career, when it reached number fifteen in the US R&B charts. The success of The Bottle resulted in Winter In America selling 300,000 copies. Incredibly, this wasn’t enough to even reach the lower reaches of the US Billboard 200. 

It was enough for Arista’s Clive Davis to come calling, and after just one album, Gil Scott-Heron left Strata-East Records. It had been a short but successful and profitable partnership.

Sadly, the three albums that Gil Scott-Heron had released for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Production hadn’t been as successful. While they had sold reasonably well, they didn’t come close to replicating the sales of Winter and America and The Bottle. Bob Thiele must have been frustrated as he had wanted to record more albums with Gil Scott-Heron. However, he was still considering returning to academia, and had moved back to Washington with the rest of his band. Gil Scott-Heron was the one that got away. 

Since then, Bob Thiele had signed a new deal with RCA. Part of the deal was that Flying Dutchman Productions released a compilation of tracks from Gil Scott-Heron’s first three albums, 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will. This was perfect timing, as Gil Scott-Heron was now officially one of music’s rising stars.

For the Gil Scott-Heron compilation, Bob Thiele spent time choosing eleven tracks from 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will, that would eventually become The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. There was no way that Bob Thiele was going to be accused of throwing together a compilation that cashed-in on Gil Scott-Heron’s newfound popularity. Instead, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was a lovingly curated compilation that was compiled by the man who discovered him…Bob Thiele. When he had finalised the track-listing, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was released in late 1974, and was the perfect introduction to Gil Scott-Heron’s Flying Dutchman Productions’ years.

Now forty-three years later, Ace Records have recently reissued The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. However, the compilation that was the perfect primer to Gil Scott-Heron’s Flying Dutchman Productions’ years has been given a makeover. The original album has been replicated with a further nine tracks from Gil Scott-Heron’s Flying Dutchman Productions’ years added. These twenty tracks become The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus, which document the early years of Gil Scott-Heron’s five decade career.

While losing Gil Scott-Heron had been frustrating for Bob Thiele, he was grateful that he had discovered the twenty-one year old poet, musician, and author in 1970. This came about after Bob Thiele discovered Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox a book of poetry which had been released by World Publishing. 

Not long after the release of Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, Gil Scott-Heron heard what Bob Thiele was doing at Flying Dutchman Productions, and decided to arrange a meeting where he could introduce himself properly. Gil Scott-Heron wondered if some of the artists signed to Flying Dutchman Productions might be able to use some of his poetry? So when the meeting took place, Gil Scott-Heron took along a copy of Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, and told Bob Thiele about his life so far. 

Gil Scott-Heron recounted how he was born on April Fool’s Day in 1949, which later, he joked become an important day in Chicago’s musical history. That will always be the remembered as the day poet, author, musician and political activist Gil Scott-Heron was born. 

His mother Bobbie Scott-Heron, was an opera singer, who sang with New York’s Oratorio Society. Gil Scott-Heron’s father was Gil Heron, a Jamaican footballer, who at one time, played for Glasgow Celtic Football Club. Sadly, though, Bobbie and Gil’s marriage ended when Gil Scott-Heron was young. 

After this, Gil Scott-Heron was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, who lived in Jackson, Tennessee. Then when Gil Scott-Heron was just twelve, Lillie Scott died. 

Gil Scott-Heron returned to New York to live with his mother, who was now living in the Bronx. Originally, Gil Scott-Heron enrolled at the DeWitt Clinton High School, but later, moved to the Fieldston High School.

This came after impressing the head of the English department read one of Gil Scott-Heron’s essays, and recommended that he received a full scholarship. This proved a poisoned chalice. While the education he was receiving was far superior, Gil Scott-Heron was one of only five black students. He felt alienated and alone. That wasn’t the only problem. There was also a socioeconomic gap, with the other students coming from a much more affluent background. Gil Scott-Heron by comparison, was the son of a single mother and was from a very different background.  It was during this time that Gil Scott-Heron became socially and politically aware. His eyes were opened to inequality, injustice and racism. This would shape his music in later years. Before that, Gil Scott-Heron headed to Lincoln University,

When Gil Scott-Heron was considering which university to enrol at, Langston Hughes recommended Lincoln University, which where he was staying. Gil Scott-Heron took his friend’s advice, and enrolled at Lincoln University. This was where Gil Scott-Heron’s musical career began.

At Lincoln University, Gil Scott-Heron formed his first band, the Black and Blues. Joining Gil Scott-Heron in the band was Langston Hughes. Little did Gil Scott-Heron know that this was the start of a long and illustrious career. However, after two years at Lincoln University, Gil Scott-Heron decided to take time out Lincoln University to write a novel.

During this period, Gil Scott-Heron wrote two novels. His first novel was a thriller entitled The Vulture, which was published in 1970. Whilst writing The Vulture, Gil Scott-Heron saw The Last Poets in Lincoln in 1969. This had a huge effect on him.

After watching The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron approached the band and asked: “can I form a band like you guys?” The seed had already been sown. Maybe, making music rather than writing books was the direction that Gil Scott-Heron’s career headed?

Having been impressed and inspired by The Last Poets and now considering a career in music, Gil Scott-Heron had a lot on his mind as he headed back to New York, where he found a new home in Chelsea, Manhattan. This concluded with the publication of Gil Scott-Heron’s book of poetry, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox by World Publishing. Now Gil Scott-Heron could add poet to his burgeoning CV. Soon, he hoped to add singer and songwriter.

Once he’d settled in to his new apartment in Manhattan,  Gil Scott-Heron decided to make his dream a reality and started looking for a record company. Gil Scott-Heron just so happened to approach a label tailor-made for his music, Flying Dutchman Productions.

Following his departure from ABC/Impulse Bob Thiele had decided to found his own label. He was perfectly qualified to do so, having worked with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz over the last few years. During that period, Bob came to the conclusion that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Instead, their creativity is restricted, and they’re unable to experiment and innovate. For many a musical maverick who had signed to a large record label, the experienced had proved frustrating and unsatisfactory. So when Bob Thiele parted company with Impulse, who he had transformed into one of jazz’s pioneering labels, he founded Flying Dutchman Productions. This was the label that Gil Scott-Heron approached. There was a problem though.

While Bob wanted to sign Gil Scott-Heron, there was a problem,… funding. The funding that Phillips, the Dutch record label had given Bob Thiele wasn’t going as far as he had hoped. Despite this, when he met Gil Scott-Heron he was impressed by the poet, musician, and author. So much so, that Bob Thiele decided to fund an album that was a fusion of poetry accompanied by understated, percussive arrangements.

Small Talk At 125 and Lenox.

This was Small Talk At 125 and Lenox, which featured fourteen songs from the pen of Gil Scott-Heron. Initially, it was claimed that Gil Scott-Heron and two percussionists, David Barnes, Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders, recorded the album live at a night club on the corner of 125 and Lenox. That wasn’t strictly true.

Forty-two years later, one of the best kept secrets in music was no more. It transpired that Small Talk At 125 and Lenox was recorded live in the studio in front of a few invited guests. Taking charge of production was Bob Thiele, who was an experienced producer.

With Bob Thiele at the controls, Gil Scott-Heron recorded an accomplished album that is a mixture of jazz, proto-rap, spoken word poetry and soul. It was released later in 1970, and immediately, comparisons were drawn with the group who had inspired Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets. This was a fair comment to some extent.

When one listen to tracks like the original version The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, plus Brother, Whitey On The Moon, Paint It Black and Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul? critics realised that Gil Scott-Heron had taken what The Last Poets had been doing to the next level. This he managed to do with just a trop percussionists accompanying him, on Small Talk At 125th and Lenox, which was a potent and explosive mix of scathing political and social comment.

Although Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox was a groundbreaking and powerful debut album, it didn’t sell in vast quantities. Instead, it sold steadily, and shouldn’t have lost Flying Dutchman Productions money, as they had managed to keep their overheads low. However, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox slipped under the musical radar, and many record buyers only discovered the album when Gil Scott-Heron released Winter In America and The Bottle in 1975. By then, Gil Scott-Heron had released a trio of albums for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. 

Pieces Of A Man.

The second of the Flying Dutchman Productions’ trio was Pieces Of A Man, which featured eleven songs, including four written by Gil Scott-Heron. This included The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which made its debut on Small Talk at ‘125th. and Lenox. The other seven songs were penned by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, who would forge a successful songwriting partnership.

Recording of Pieces Of A Man took place on the ‘19th’ and ‘20th’ April 1971, RCA Studios, in New York. This time, Gil Scott-Heron was accompanied by a full band which featured a few well-known names.

When Bob Thiele asked Gil who he’d like to accompany him, jokingly, Gil Scott-Heron said flautist and saxophonist Hubert Laws and bassist Ron Carter. Bob Thiele who know everyone who was everyone in jazz, got them onboard for the recording of Pieces Of A Man. This was Bob Thiele’s way of making Gil Scott-Heron feel at home. Bob Thiele knew that putting together a top class bands was the way to get the best performance possible from an artist. 

With a crack band in tow, Gil Scott Heron set about recording his sophomore album Pieces Of A Man. The crack band included a rhythm section of drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and guitarist Burt Jones. Brian Jackson played piano and Gil Scott Heron played guitar, piano and sang lead vocals. Producing Pieces Of A Man was Bob Thiele. After a recording season that lasted just two days, Pieces Of A Man was completed. Now it was ready for release.

When Pieces Of A Man was released in 1971, only Rolling Stone magazine realised the cultural importance of the album. Pieces Of A Man passed the rest of the music press by. This is a sad indictment on music journalism at what was one of the most important periods in musical, social and political history. 

By 1971, America was struggling with a variety of social problems,  ranging from the Vietnam War, poverty and racism. Gil Scott Heron was using his music to speak for the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised. Pieces Of A Man was an important album, and one that had the potential to make Americans think about the status quo, and consider change. Sadly, just like Pieces Of A Man passed the mainstream music by, it was a similar case with record buyers. Pieces Of A Man failed to find the audience it deserved.

Apart from spending six weeks in the US Jazz Charts, where it peaked at a lowly number twenty-five, commercial success passed Pieces Of A Man by. That was as good as it got for Pieces Of A Man. This was somewhat ironic, given the later reappraisal of the album.

When critics reappraised Pieces Of A Man at a later date, they hailed it a classic album. The music was intense, politically charged, innovative and influential. That comes as no surprise, as Pieces Of A Man features some of the best and most powerful songs Gil Scott-Heron wrote during his time at Flying Dutchman Productions. This included The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Save the Children, Lady Day and John Coltrane, Home Is Where The Hatred Is, When You Are Who You Are, I Think I’ll Call It Morning, Pieces Of A Man and Or Down You Fall. They’re part of what was the first classic album of Gil Scott-Heron’s career. Alas, the critics has still to rewrite musical history. was

Gil Scott-Heron had released two innovative and influential albums, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox and Pieces Of A Man, they had passed music lovers by. This was disappointing for Gil Scott-Heron, who would only release one more album for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, Free Will. However, would it be a case of third time lucky?

Free Will.

For the followup to Pieces Of A Man, Free Will, Gil Scott-Heron had written seven new songs. The other five songs,  Free Will, The Middle Of Your Day, The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues, Speed Kills and Did You Hear What They Said? were collaborations between Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. He played a huge part in the rise and rise of Gil Scott-Heron over the next few years.

Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron had already formed a successful songwriting partnership. However, Brian Jackson was more than a songwriter. He was also a talented multi-instrumentalist who played piano, keyboards flute and bells on Free Will. 

The Free Will sessions took place at RCA Studios, in New York, between the ‘2nd’ and ‘3rd’ March 1972. Just like on Pieces Of A Man, an all-star lineup accompanied Gil Scott-Heron. The rhythm section included drummer Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie, bassist Jerry Jemmott, drummer Pretty Purdie and guitarist David Spinozza. Flautist and saxophonist Hubert Laws, who’d played on Pieces Of A Man, returned, while Brian Jackson played electric piano, flute and bells. Gil Scott-Heron took charge of the lead vocals on Free Will.  Arranging and conducting Free Will was Horace Ott, while Bob Thiele took charge of production. After just two days of lengthy recording sessions, Free Will was completed. It was released later in 1972.

On Free Will’s release later in 1972, it was well received by critics. Rolling Stone flew the flag for Free Will and Gil Scott-Heron. Despite this, Free Will failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts However, Free Will sold between 20,000 to 30,000 copies, and reached the US Jazz charts. Despite this, this was a huge disappointment Gil Scott-Heron. 

With keyboardist Brian Jackson at his side, Gil Scott-Heron had fused elements of jazz, blues, funk, proto-rap and soul on Free Will. Fearlessly, he continued to highlight the social and political problems of the early seventies, and tackle controversial subjects and scenarios head on. Gil Scott-Heron delivered the lyrics with his unique and inimitable proto-rap style on Free Will. Among its highlights were Free Will, The Middle Of Your Day, The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues, Speed Kills and Did You Hear What They Said? That took care of side one, which was one of the most cohesive sides of Gil Scott-Heron’s nascent career. It was almost flawless. Then on side, Gil Scott-Heron picks up where he left off on two No Knock and Sex Education: Ghetto Style. It was the third album from musical pioneer Gil Scott-Heron, who would become one of the most important artists of his generation.

Sadly, Free will was his final album for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. Not long after the release of Free Will, Gil Scott-Heron left Flying Dutchman Productions. 

By then, Gil Scott-Heron’s thoughts were said to have turned to academia, and his unfinished degree. Gil Scott-Heron and his band returned to Washington D.C. which became their home. However, Gil Scott-Heron never came close to enrolling at his former alma mater Lincoln University.

Not when Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell of Strata-East Records offered Gil Scott-Heron a new recording contract. This lead to the release of Winter In America in May 1975, which sold over 300,000 copies and featured Gil Scott-Heron’s biggest hit single The Bottle. However, Winter In America was the only album Gil Scott-Heron released for Strata-East Records.

Clive Davis of Arista came calling, and offered Gil Scott-Heron the opportunity to sign to a major label. This was the start of a relationship that produced nine albums and lasted until 1985. Gil Scott-Heron’s debut for Arista was The First Minute Of A New Day, which was the most successful of his career so far. Not only did it reach number five in the US Top Jazz Albums charts and number eight in the US R&B charts, The First Minute Of A New Day also reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200. Gil Scott-Heron’s music had crossed over and reached the wider audience that Bob Thiele knew it always would.

The First Minute Of A New Day proved to the most successful album of Gil Scott-Heron’s forty-one year recording career. While many of his albums charted, they never reached the same heights as The First Minute Of A New Day. It was one of the finest albums of Gil Scott-Heron’s career at Arista. 

Gil Scott-Heron recorded some of the best music of his career long before he signed to Arista. This was at Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions where he released three studio albums, 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will. This trio of albums includes some of the best music of Gil Scott-Heron’s long career. It showcases one of the most talented singer and songwriters of his generation as he blossoms and flourishes. Bob Thiele had given Gil Scott-Heron a platform, and the freedom to record and release music that he believed in.

Soon, was well on his way to becoming America’s social conscience, as he provided a voice for those who had none. Gil Scott-Heron was their voice on 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will, which feature lyrics that cerebral, witty, scathing and most importantly, honest as Gil Scott-Heron spoke up for the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised. Fearlessly, Gil Scott-Heron highlighted the social and political problems that blighted America in the early seventies using his unique and imitable proto-rap style that would influence and inspire further generations and musicians. 

Many of these musicians, and indeed record buyers, first encountered Gil Scott-Heron when they came across the compilations The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions had released in 1974 as part of their new agreement with RCA. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised proved to be the perfect primer for newcomers to Gil Scott-Heron, as it featured some of the greatest songs he had released for Flying Dutchman Productions. However, when Bob Thiele was compiling this lovingly curated compilation he could only fit eleven tracks onto a LP. This meant that some songs didn’t make The Revolution Will Not Be Televised which was recently reissued by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records. That wasn’t all.

There was also a CD version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised that features nine bonus tracks. This twenty track Magnus Opus was also released by BGP, and is entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus. For newcomers to Gil Scott-Heron’s music, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus is the perfect starting place. No wonder, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus features of the twenty of the finest tracks from 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will. This trio of albums feature some of the greatest music from the man who would become known as America’s musical conscience, Gil Scott-Heron, whose career at Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions is celebrated on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus

Gil Scott-Heron-The Revolution Will Not Be Televised…Plus.

 

JOHN JAMES-MORNING BRINGS THE LIGHT, JOHN JAMES, SKY IN MY PIE AND HEAD IN THE CLOUDS.

John James-Morning Brings The Light, John James, Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds.

Label: BGO Records.

When twenty-one year John James first started playing in folk clubs across Britain, many musicians and music fans were struck by just how versatile a guitarist he was. Many started referred to the Welsh singer-songwriter as a virtuoso as he showcased his fingerstyle guitar technique. Seamlessly, he could switch between blues to jazz and even ragtime. Musically, John James was a man for all seasons. However, what many musicians and music fans didn’t know, was that John James was a recent convert to the guitar.

John James who was born in Lampeter, Wales in 1967, learnt the basics of music on the piano, but at the age of twelve, decided to switch to the guitar. This was a decision he certainly wouldn’t regret.

Having mastered the guitar, John James would later, start playing in various pop and R&B bands on the local live circuit. For John James, this akin ti serving a musical apprenticeship and where he learnt his trade.

After a while, John James turned his back on the local pop and R&B bands, and decided to concentrate on acoustic folk. This was no surprise, given the American folk boom of the early sixties. Across the Atlantic, many an aspiring folk musician made their way to Greenwich Village, in New York, where Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Fred Neil, Tom Rush and Gordon Lightfoot had embarked upon successful careers. Many young, musicians also became part of the British folk boom, including John James.

He was twenty-one when he made his debut on the British folk scene, where John James joined Pentangle, Gerry Rafferty, Gordon Giltrap, Ralph McTell and Al Stewart. For the next two years, John James crisscrossed Britain, playing in various folk clubs. Each night, John James’ set was a mixture of his own songs, and a selection of old ragtime piano songs which were rearranged for on the guitar. This proved a winning combination on the folk scene, as John James served what was the final part of his musical apprenticeship. It would stand him in good stead for the future, as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

In 1970, twenty-three John James was approached by Transatlantic Records, with the offer of a recording contract. The A&R people at Transatlantic Records had heard John James playing live, and realised that the music on his setlist would prove popular with record buyers. It didn’t take long for John James to accept Transatlantic Records offer, before he signed on the dotted line. This was the start of a five-year spell at Transatlantic Records, where John James released four albums between 1970 and 1975. These albums, Morning Brings The Light, John James, Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds were recently released by BGO Records. 

Morning Brings The Light.

Now that John James had signed to Transatlantic Records, they were keen for John James to begin work on what became his debut album,  Morning Brings The Light. It would feature a mixture of John James and cover versions.

For Morning Brings The Light, John James chose a selection of songs that reflected one of his live sets.  This included eight of his own compositions including If Only I, One Long Happy Night, Once I Lived By The Sea,  Picture Rag, A Little Blues, So Long Since I Was Home, Lampeter and Morning Brings The Light. They were augmented by Pickles and Peppers which was arranged John James, plus Stan Kelly’s  Liverpool Lullaby, Hogan’s Alley (Black Eyed Blues) and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Ostrich Walk. These twelve songs were produced by Chris Golbey.

Transatlantic Records contracted out the recording of John James’ debut album, which was recorded by a production company. Chris Golbey was credited as producer and Len Black executive producer. They oversaw John James as sang and played his trusty guitar on  the twelve tracks became Morning Brings The Light.

Morning Brings The Light was well received by critics and amongst the folk community. Critics were won over John James, as he switched between folk, blues and ragtime. John James was at his best on the beautiful emotive folk ballads on Morning Brings The Light. Especially, If Only I, One Long Happy Night, Once I Lived By The Sea, A Little Blues, So Long Since I Was Home and Morning Brings The Light which feature a talented troubadour. Pickles And Peppers proves the perfect showcase for John James fingerstyle guitar technique, which provides an effective accompaniment throughout Morning Brings The Light. It looked as if 

When Morning Brings The Light was released, John James’ debut album found favour within the folk community. Transatlantic Records who knew their market, it sold reasonably well. However, not well enough to reach the British charts. Despite that, John James had sold well for a folk album, and the future looked bright for the Welsh troubadour.

John James.

Two years before John James returned with his eponymous sophomore album. During that period, John James concentrated on the playing live. This was much more profitable for many folk singers, who were reluctant to give up lucrative live work. However, for any artist, an album was like a calling card, and had the potential to introduce their music to a much wider audience.

For his eponymous sophomore album, John James wrote seven of the eleven tracks, including To Meet You I Hurry Down, Evening Comes Quickly, Three Through The Lanes, Tim E Whay, Song Around A Square,  Rolling On Down and Daughter Of The Wind. They were joined by four cover versions including Pete Berry’s Jazzbo’s Holiday. The other three tracks Original Rags, Stoptime and Listening To That Old Rag and Ragtime Dance were Scott Joplin compositions

John James had been given piano rolls featuring some Scott Joplin’s music by Reg Turner. He suggested that John James transpose some of the Scott Joplin compositions for the guitar, as he had the necessary talent. This wasn’t going to be easy, but if anyone could, it was John James.

He managed to transpose the songs for guitar, and when he came to record John James, they were among the eleven songs he recorded with producer John Whitehead at Sound Techniques and Livingston Studios, in London. The only other person present while the recording was taking place was Jo James, who was then married to John James. Soon, the album started to take shape and before long, was completed.

After nearly two years away, the Welsh troubadour returned with his sophomore album John James. Just like Morning Brings The Light, John James received praise and plaudits upon its release. It was another album of acoustic folk, blues and ragtime. John James decision to transpose the trio of Scott Joplin songs proved to be a masterstroke, and they took on new life when played on the guitar. However, John James came into his own on ballads like To Meet You I Hurry Down, Evening Comes Quickly, Song Around A Square and Rolling On Down. Three Through The Lanes and Daughter Of The Wind both proved to be the perfect showcase for John James’ for fingerstyle guitar technique. By then, he was one of finest purveyors of the fingerstyle guitar technique on the British folk scene, and one of its rising stars.

Later in 1972, Transatlantic Records released John James, which although it didn’t sell in huge quantities, proved popular within the folk community. Sadly, John James didn’t find an audience within the wider musical community. By 1972, music was changing, with progressive rock, hard rock and glam rock growing in popularity. Albums of acoustic folk and ragtime weren’t going to reach the British charts. As a result, John James was one of music’s best kept secrets as far as the wider record buying public were concerned.

Sky In My Pie.

That was a great shame, given how talented John James was. He was one of the finest guitarists on the British folk scene. So was Pete Berryman, who was another familiar face on the British folk scene. The two virtuoso guitarists, who had been attempting to popularise the ragtime guitar style, and the music found a small, appreciative audience. However, it was still to be heard by the wider record buying public. John James and Pete Berryman wanted to change this, and hit on the idea of collaborating on an album together, which became Sky In My Pie. 

For Sky In My Pie, fifteen songs were chosen, with John James writing And Sam Came Too, Kicking Up The Dust and Be Mine Or Run. John James also wrote Sailor’s Farewell, Easy Street and Blap Bam Boom with Pete Berryman, who contributed Sky In My Pie, Conquistador, Quiet Days and Turn Your Face. Other songs included   Mammy O’Mine and the traditional song Out On The Rolling Sea which  Pete Berryman arranged. They were joined by Alec Templeton’s Bach Goes To Town, Felix Arndt’s Nola and Scot Joplin’s Weeping Willow. These fifteen tracks became John James’ third album  Sky In My Pie.

Recording of Sky In My Pie took place at Sound Techniques, London, with Stefan Grossman taking charge of production. He was a friend of John James, and the two men had much in much in common. 

Stefan Grossman was a Brooklyn born, acoustic fingerstyle guitarist and singer, who had moved from New York to London in 1967. This was the same time that John James had arrived in London. Not long after this, the two men met and became friends. By 1972, Stefan Grossman had already released eight albums, and had embarked upon a career as a producer. Sky In My Pie was his latest production, and he proved the perfect person to record an album featuring two guitarists.

Sky In My Pie was released later in 1972 and received praise and plaudits within the folk community. The album featured a masterclass from two of the finest exponents acoustic fingerstyle guitar playing. They showcase their considerable skills from the opening bars of And Sam Came Too, and proceed to work their way through fifteen songs where they flit between folk, blues and ragtime. On new songs and cover versions, the two guitarists encourage each other to new heights right until the closing notes of Turn Your Face. By then, it’s apparent that Sky In My Pie is one of the hidden gems in the history of British acoustic folk.

Sadly, it was a familiar story when Sky In My Pie was released. While Sky In My Pie was popular within the folk community, it failed to find an audience further afield. This was disappointing as John James, Pete Berryman and producer Stefan Grossman had hoped that it would introduce the music to the wider record buying public.  Alas, it wasn’t to be as Sky In My Pie slipped under the musical radar.

Head In The Clouds.

Nearly three years passed before John James began work on his fourth album for Transatlantic Records, Head In The Clouds, in 1975. Just like his previous album Sky In My Pie, John James was joined on Head In The Clouds by a very special guest artist, John Renbourn.

By 1975, John Renbourn was one of the leading lights of the British folk scene, John Renbourn. He was another English fingerstyle guitarist, singer and songwriter, and had been a member of Pentangle. However,  John Renbourn had just left Pentangle and moved to Devon to form a new band. That was where John James and  John Renbourn met, when they became neighbours.  When John James’ thoughts turned his fourth album, Head In The Clouds, John Renbourn agreed to collaborate on the album.

Before recording began John James penned Georgemas Junction, Head In The Clouds, Stranger In The World, Secrets In The Sky and Stretching Of A Young Girl’s Heart. They were joined by covers of George Botsford’s Black And White Rag, Rev. Gary Davis’ Slow Drag, John Renbourn’s Wormwood Tangle, Charlie Byrd’s Blues For Felix, Scott Joplin’s Heliotrope Bouquet and the Griffiths’ composition Rags To Riches. These eleven tracks which became Head In The Clouds, were recorded at two studios.

This included Sound Techniques, in London, which was where John James first met Ritchie Gold who had just embarked upon a career as a producer. Neither John James nor John Renbourn had ever met Ritchie Gold, which made him a strange choice for producer. However, he produced the sessions for Head In The Clouds at Sound Techniques, and at Chipping Norton Recording Studios, in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. 

That was where one of British acoustic folk’s finest fingerstyle guitarists recorded made his return on Head In The Clouds. As an added bonus, John James was joined by guitarist John Renbourn on Georgemas Junction, Wormwood Tangle and Stranger In The World. These three tracks on Head In The Clouds marked a meeting of great musical minds. When Head In The Clouds was complete, it  was scheduled for release later in 1975.

After nearly three years away, John James returned with Head In The Clouds. Just like his previous albums, critics within the folk community lavished praise on Head In The Clouds. Other critics were won over by Head In The Clouds, and realised that they had heard a musical masterclass where John James switched between folk, ragtime and blues.

Among the highlights were the album opener Georgemas Junction, where John James and John Renbourn set the bar high for the rest of Head In The Clouds. Black And White Rag, Head In The Clouds and Slow Drag continue to showcase one of British acoustic folk’s finest fingerstyle guitarists. He’s joined on Wormwood Tangle and Stranger In The World, where it’s a case of two guitars are better than one. The covers of Rags To Riches, Blues For Felix and Stretching Of A Young Girl’s Heart feature John James at his best, as  this a versatile guitarist who had kept his best until last.

For John James, Head In The Clouds was a familiar story. The album found a niche within the folk community, but never found a wider audience. It was particularly disappointing, as Head In The Clouds was his best solo album.

 

Head In The Clouds was the last album John James released for Transatlantic Records. When he returned with Descriptive Guitar Instrumentals in 1976, John James had signed to Kicking Mule Records, which Stefan Grossman cofounded. This was a new chapter in John James’ career, which began at Transatlantic Records.

Between 1970 and 1975, John James had released a quartet of albums, Morning Brings The Light, John James, Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds were recently released by BGO Records as a two CD set.  They’re the perfect introduction to the first two chapters in the John James story.

He started out as a singer-singer songwriter on Morning Brings The Light and John James, before he decided to concentrate on his guitar playing on Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds. However, each of this quartet of albums feature John James, who between 1970 and 1975, was without doubt, one of British acoustic folk’s finest fingerstyle guitarists. However, talent does’t necessary equate to commercial success.

While John James’ quartet of albums proved popular within folk circles, they never found the wider audience they deserved. That only came much later. It wasn’t until the internet age when a new generation of music fans discovered John James’ music. By then, he  was one of the elder statesmen of British folk. However, the four albums that started off his long and illustrious career, Morning Brings The Light, John James, Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds are a reminder of one of British acoustic folk’s finest fingerstyle guitarists at the peak of his powers.

John James-Morning Brings The Light, John James, Sky In My Pie and Head In The Clouds.

GRINGA-LETTERS FROM A.BROAD.

Gringa-Letters From A.Broad.

Label: gringamusic.com 

One of the most exciting, up-and-coming new bands in San Francisco’s live scene is Gringa, a five-piece female band who recently, have been winning friends and influencing people with their unique, genre-melting sound. The basis for Gringa’s irresistible, hook-laden sound are the rhythms from the music of Brazil and the Americas. This includes Brazilian forro, maracatu and samba, which is combined with elements of funk, hip hop, jazz, Latin, pop, reggae and rock. Add to this scorching saxophone solos, tight harmonies and carefully, crafted  arrangements, and the result is a potent and heady musical brew that once tasted, is never forgotten. 

No wonder; once Gringa get the party started, their genre-melting sound transports the audience to somewhere warm, tropical and exotic, as Gringa as they work their way through the set-list. It features a mixture of their own compositions which are interspersed with a few cover versions. Mostly, though, Gringa stick to their own songs, which are delivered in both English and Portuguese and with a certain panache. 

Gringa’s compositions range from thought-provoking to uplifting and inspirational. Other songs are playful, funny and sometimes sassy. Some songs touch on subjects like love and loss right through to social justice. This is something that is important to Gringa, who believe in internationalism and inclusiveness. They want their music to connect with people and unite them. Proof of this Gringa’s debut album Letters From A.Broad which was recently released by gringamusic.com. It’s an album that Gringa hope songs will dissolve cultural barriers and transcend the status quo. However, the release of Letters From A.Broad marks the next chapter in a story that began when Maya Finlay,  Gringa’s founder and front-woman first fell in love with Brazil and its music.

Maya Finlay can still remember that time: “I grew up in the US but I fell in love with Brazil. I write songs and hear Brazilian elements in them, but I don’t want to bastardise the source inspirations…You can play with something, but you’ve got to start with the roots. What’s the rhythm? I try to study it and know the traditional ways to play, but after that, you have a lot of influences. You weave them in.” This would eventually become part of the rich and vibrant musical tapestry that is Gringa’s debut album Letters From A.Broad.

Before that, Maya Finlay embarked upon a career in the music industry, which was still very much male-dominated. However, over the next few years, Maya Finlay who is a singer, guitarist and cavaco player, had to overcome gender stereotyping. 

Through her love of hip hop, Maya Finlay became interested in production and engineering. Nowadays, she is a professional sound engineer, who spends much of her time working in live sound. This has allowed Maya Finlay to challenge gender expectations. “I’m used to challenging people’s expectations, and I enjoy it. As a sound engineer, I’m often asked, ‘Where’s the sound guy? I love saying: ‘I’m the sound guy.’” However, Maya Finlay is much more than a sound engineer.

Her love of Brazilian music, meant that it was almost inevitable that Maya Finlay became part of the Bay Area’s vibrant and thriving Brazilian music scene. Maya Finlay quickly discovered that men far outnumber women, and most of the female instrumentalists tend not to be Brazilian. Maya Finlay confirms this: “I haven’t met many Brazilian female musicians playing out in the Bay Area, but I do know many women who aren’t from Brazil who’ve fallen for the music. Female instrumentalists aren’t as common to begin with, but there are a lot of gringas like me who’ve studied the language and gotten into it. We’re often playing alongside guys from Brazil, and getting encouragement from them.” 

One night, Maya Finlay was playing in Bay Area when she met Kate Pittard, a saxophonist, percussionist and songwriter. The two Brazilian music aficionados bonded over their shared love of music, and soon, became friends. Little did they know, that would  eventually be part of the same band. That was never part of Maya Finlay’s plan.

That was until Maya Finlay and Kate Pittard were at a local carnival, and they watched as a rhythm section took to the stage. Maya Findlay still remembers that day: “my songs needed a bigger sound, and when the bass and drums came on, it clicked.” Providing that sound were drummer Luna Fuentes-Vaccaro, bassist Jenelle Roccaforte and percussionists Diana Di Battista and Megha Makam. By the time the rhythm section left the stage, Maya Findlay had found the missing link that would fill out her sound.  

Eventually, the lineup featured Maya Finlay, Kate Pittard, Luna Fuentes-Vaccaro, Jenelle Roccaforte and Diana Di Battista. It was one of the first all-female bands in the Bay Area’s Brazilian scene. “The gender makeup of the band had to be intentional. Although sometimes guys play with us, and we would never reject someone we loved playing with based on their gender identification, I’d still like to maintain a matriarchy within the group…Many female musicians are drawn to the band by a desire to create music outside of the male-dominated spaces they often find themselves in. I’m hoping we can break down the stigma of the ‘girl band,’ and show people that the music stands on its own.”

When Maya Finlay came to name her nascent band, she decided to reclaim a word that many non-Brazilian women in the Bay Area’s Brazilian music scene will have heard way too often…gringa. This is a Brazilian-Portuguese term for non-Brazilian women. It’s a word that may have annoyed many women, and indeed men, over the years. Many women don’t regard gringa as a term of endearment. Instead, they believe it’s an offensive and disparaging term that belittles women. That includes some of the non-Brazilian women in the Bay Area’s Brazilian music scene. They must have been grateful when Maya Finlay decided to reclaim the word gringa, and inject some positivity into the word. 

Suddenly, the word Gringa brought to mind five hugely talented female musicians who wrote and played uplifting, inspirational and thought-provoking music. Gringa also enjoyed experimenting with various Brazilian rhythms and disparate instruments. These instruments are used to play the songs that chronicled the life and times of the five members of Gringa when they play live.  Now as Maya Findlay looks out at the sea of faces in the audience; “I often look in the audience at our gigs and see that it’s mostly guys dancing, while around me on stage are all women. It’s awesome.” 

These are changed days for Gringa, who are well on their way to becoming one of the leading lights of the San Francisco scene. What better time for Gringa to release their debut album Letters From A.Broad, which features five new songs where Gringa showcase their irresistible and hook-laden genre-melting sound? 

Opening Letters from A. Broad, is I’ma Build A Home, which is based on a love letter from a previous boyfriend. The song makes an impression from the get-go, as horns sweep in, while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat and are augmented by chirping guitars and Brazilian percussion. They set the scene for Maya’s heartfelt vocal which is accompanied by close, soulful harmonies. They’re the perfect accompaniment to her vocal. After 0.30, Gringa bowl the first curveball, as the arrangement becomes understated, before rebuilding and sashaying along, and revealing its irresistible, hook-laden sound. Then at 1.38 it’s all change, as an acoustic guitar gives way to Gringa painting pictures of “Friday at the beach.” Gradually, the song rebuilds with the rhythm section, horns and harmonies accompanying Maya’s emotive vocal. Later her vocal drops out, and the horns enjoy their moment in the sun until Maya returns, and this beautiful, joyous and radio-friendly paean draws to a close.

All About Cheating is described as a skankin’ account of a wayward woman. It literally bursts into life, with the rhythm section powering the arrangement along. They’re joined by percussion and rasping horns while, Kate’s soulful vocal is a mixture of confusion, disbelief and joy. Harmonies accompany Kate, and they’re like yin and yang, perfectly complimenting each other. When the vocal drops, out the rhythm and horn section are joined by percussion and showcase their considerable skills during what’s a musical masterclass. Gringa play with power, passion and precision. Later, when Kate returns, her vocal becomes a soulful confession before this irresistible skankin’ song reaches a crescendo.

A chirping guitar opens For Foreigners before percussion, thunderous drums and a buzzing bass synth accompany Maya. Her love of hip hop shines though, as she veers between a rap and a sassy vocal. Meanwhile, the bass synth, chirping guitar, percussion, sultry saxophone and close, cooing and soulful harmonies provide the perfect foil for Maya. Later, the arrangement is stripped bare, with just drums accompanying Gringa. Reverb is added to the vocal and harmonies, before the arrangement rebuilds. The growling bass synth and scorching saxophone work well together, as the songs continues to reveal its secrets. They play their part in hook-laden song that is melodic and memorable.

Cancao De Junho is the first of two songs that are sung in Portuguese. As the arrangement unfolds, a synth whines, drones and oscillates and is panned, as a guitar, percussion, sultry saxophone and bass enter. They set the scene for Kate, who lays bare her soul as she sings of love’s difficulties. Tender, heartfelt harmonies accompany Kate and compliment her vocal. Still, synths bubble and squeak while a guitar shimmers and is joined by a buzzing bass synth. They’re joined by a myriad of percussion and acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, the rhythm section never miss a beat during this genre-melting arrangement flows along. By then, the alto-saxophone and tender, soulful harmonies are playing leading roles is this beautiful, genre-melting ballad.

A Bicicleta closes Letters From A.Broad and finds Maya taking charge of the lead vocal on a track that is the musical  equivalent of a magical mystery tour. This genre-melting track heads in the direction of baião and then maracatu and rock, during a playful song about over thinking things. A chirping, shimmering guitars and buzzing bass synth join with percussion and the arrangement sashays along, showcasing its feel-good sound. Maya’s soulful vocal soars above the arrangement, and is accompanied by equally soulful close harmonies. The final piece of the jigsaw are a rap and stabs of trumpet, as Gringa ensure that their debut album ends on a memorable high.

After five songs, Gringa’s debut album Letters From A.Broad is over. It showcases what Gringa are capable of musically, and is a tantalising taste of Gringa’s hook-laden, genre-melting sound. Gringa take as a starting point Brazilian forro, maracatu and samba, which is then combined with elements of funk, hip hop, jazz, Latin, pop, reggae and rock. To this, scorching saxophone solos, tight, tender and soulful harmonies and carefully, crafted  arrangements are added. The result is a potent and heady musical brew that once tasted, is never forgotten. So much so, that the listener will keep coming back for more.

That is no surprise, as Gringa’s music is beautiful, joyous, uplifting and inspirational. Other times, it’s cerebral and thought-provoking. For much of the time, the music on Letters From A.Broad is irresistible and akin to a call to dance. It’s no surprise that Gringa have been winning friends and influencing people on San Francisco’s live scene. However, Gringa’s music deserves to find an audience way beyond San Francisco. Hopefully, the recent release of Letters From A.Broad  on gringamusic.com will introduce Gringa’s irresistible, hook-laden, genre-melting sound to a much wider audience.

Gringa-Letters From A.Broad.

 

 

THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF MICHAEL ROTHER.

The Life and Music Of Michael Rother.

During the early seventies, the German music scene was thriving, and  was one of the most vibrant in Europe. Some of the most influential and innovative music was being accorded released by German bands. This included the holy trinity of Can, Kraftwerk and Neu!. Along with Amon Düül II, Ashra, Cluster, Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream, these groups were at the forefront of a new musical movement. 

In Germany, this new musical movement was called Kosmische musik. Its roots can be traced to the late-sixties, and in a way, were a reaction against the rigidity and rules of traditional music. No longer were musicians willing to be constrained by the rules of modern music. They wanted to free themselves from the shackles of rules and rigidity, and in the process, create new and groundbreaking music.

To do this, musicians fused a disparate and eclectic selection of musical genres, including everything from avant-garde, electronica, experimental rock, free jazz and progressive rock. All this influenced and inspired Kosmische musik. This included the holy trinity of Can, Kraftwerk and Neu!. 

They went on to create music that at the time, was ambitious, groundbreaking and innovative. Musical boundaries were pushed to their limits, and musical norms challenged. The holy trinity are remembered as bands that featured fearless visionaries. This includes Michael Rother, who was a member of three of the biggest bands in German musical history Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia, whose career spans over fifty years.

Michael Rother was born on 2nd September 1950 in Hamburg. That was home for the early years of his life. Then the Rother family moved from Hamburg to Wilmslow in Cheshire “because my father was a pilot. This was just the first in a series of moves.”

“Next we moved to Karachi, in Pakistan, where I was: captivated by the street musicians. The sounds, scales, rhythm and constant repetition mesmerised me. They would later influence as a musician.” That wasn’t Michael’s first musical influence.

“Originally, my earliest musical influence, was classical music. I remember my mother, who was a pianist, playing Chopin’s concertos. Then it was rock ’n’ roll. My brother who was ten years older than me, had rock ’n’ parties. Little Richard was my favourite, I loved the energy. Later, after the British explosion, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Kinks were the groups I listened to. Much later, the guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix when he descended down, were my influences.” However, the mention of Jimi Hendrix’s name and almost in an instant, Michael Rother is a teenager again.

“I was lucky, I once saw Jimi Hendrix live, it was an incredible experience.” As Michael speaks, he’s almost awe-struck. Then he reflects on the subject of influences: “later, when I became a musician, I came to regard those that I worked with, and collaborated with, as my influences and inspirations.” It’s then that Michael turns to the clock back to 1965, when his career began.

Spirits Of Sounds.

“My career began in 1965, when I joined a covers band at school. I had watched them play, so went away and spent the next year practising my guitar. Once I was ready, I asked if I could join and I became a member of Spirits Of Sounds. They said yes and this was the start” This cover’s band featured two other musicians who would enjoy successful processional careers.

Wolfgang Flür went on to form Kraftwerk and Wolfgang Riechman formed Wunderbar. Spirit Of Sounds must have been the only cover’s band to feature three musicians who would later transform German music. That was still to come.

“Spirits Of Sound played just covers, including songs by The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who.” For Michael Rother, this was his akin to a musical apprenticeship. Playing with Spirits Of Sound allowed him to learn his trade and hone his sound. All the time, he was listening to music which changed throughout the sixties.

“Later guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix that were influencing me.” By then, Michael Rother was happy being part of a band, and seeing what life in a group was like. He was also well on his way to refining his guitar playing. However, then in 1969, Michael Rother got the call all young people must have dreaded.

Back in 1969, every German citizen had to spend six months in the army. Those who refused, or suffered from ill-health, could spend six months as a civilian volunteer. That’s how in 1969, Michael Rother found himself working at St. Alexius hospital, Neuss. He had no option.

By the time his six month as a civilian volunteer was over, Michael Rother “was beginning to become frustrated with playing in a cover’s band. It had its limitations, and wanted to move away from traditional music.” Fortunately, Michael Rother got the opportunity to jam with a new band in late 1969…Kraftwerk .

Kraftwerk.

At first, Michael was just jamming with Kraftwerk. He enjoyed the freedom that their approach to music had. “When I began playing with Kraftwerk, they improvised, playing melodies without the blue notes.” For Michael this opened his eyes to the possibilities that were in the process of unfolding. Kosmische musik had just been born, and Kraftwerk were one of its pioneers. “After I had jammed with Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider and I exchanged phone numbers.” 

After his session with Kraftwerk, Michael returned to Spirits Of Sound. Musically, his eyes had been opened.   A new musical movement had been born in West Germany. However, for the time being, Michael was back in his covers band. 

Then in 1971, Michael received a call from Florian Schneider. “Ralf Hütter had quit Kraftwerk unexpectedly, and returned to university to complete a course.” Meanwhile “the first Kraftwerk album had been a hit, and they wanted to build on the momentum.” Florian wanted Michael to join Kraftwerk on a permanent basis.

It didn’t take Michael long to agree. After six years with Spirits Of Sound, a new chapter in Michael Rother’s career was about to begin. He was going to be part of Kraftwerk, who were now a trio.

When  joined Kraftwerk, the group’s lineup was very different to the one that had recorded their 1970 eponymous debut album. Just Florian Schneider and Klaus Dinger remained. The edition of Michael Rother on guitar filled out the sound. However, very quickly, Michael discovered that all wasn’t well within Kraftwerk.

Michael’s role in Kraftwerk was twofold. “I would play live and play on what was to be their second album.” Straight away, Michael discovered that life with Kraftwerk was eventful. “It was exciting, never boring. When we played live, it could  become chaotic, fights broke out between Klaus and Florian. They were both spiky characters.” That was only half the story.

“Sometimes, the audience didn’t understand what they heard. They came to hear what they heard on Kraftwerk. That was just a starting point. We took things from there.  For members of an audience who expected to hear Kraftwerk replicated live, this what frustrating. Other members of the audience were excited by the possibilities. It was an exciting time for everyone” However, it was also a frustrating one.

After the success of Kraftwerk, Florian and Klaus were keen to record their sophomore album with producer Conny Plank. Tension was in the air. The recording sessions were fraught with difficulties. Although songs were recorded, the album was never completed. “Eventually, we hit a dead-end and the recordings have never been released. It was then that Klaus  and I decided to form a new band, Neu!”

The Birth Of Neu!

By then, Michael and Klaus realised that: “we had a similar musical vision.”The nascent band were formed later in 1971, and was based in Düsseldorf. After the disagreements and frustration of Kraftwerk towards the end, the new band was a breath of fresh air. It was sure to revitalise the two musicians. The only thing they couldn’t agree on, was  the band’s name

Michael though the band should have an organic name. Klaus however, had hit on the name Neu! This made sense, as they were a new band, who were part of the new musical Kosmische musik movement. 

So, the new band became Neu! To go with the new name, a pop art logo was designed and copyrighted. This new logo was seen as a comment and protest against the modern consumer society. Just like contemporaries Can, Neu weren’t afraid to combine social comment and art. Having settled on a name, Neu!’s thoughts turned to recording their debut album. There was a problem though. 

Neu!

Michael explains “we were poor musicians,’ All we could afford were four nights at Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios in December 1971. The reason we chose to record at nights, is it was cheaper. However; “it was a close shave, I get the shivers thinking about it. However, with the help of the genius Conny Plank, we got our message across.”

Over the four days, Neu! recorded a total of six tracks. They were written by Michael and Klaus. The two members of Neu! laid down all the parts onto an eight-track recorder. Michael played guitars and bass, while Klaus played drums and a Koto. “At first the recording was slow, then we found the positive energy to move forward. The songs were stripped down to the bare essentials, they had to be we only had eight tracks to record onto.” Five of the six songs Neu! recorded were lengthy tracks. This included Hallogallo and Negativland. 

Both feature Klaus’ innovative and mesmeric Motorik beat. He played a 4/4 constantly, with only an occasional interruptions. Its hypnotic sound would soon become famous.

As Klaus and Michael listened to the playback of Hallogallo and Negativland, they had no idea that this drumbeat would become synonymous with Kosmische musik. Even once Conny Plank had mixed Neu! at Star Musik Studio, in Hamburg, the two members of Neu! had no idea how influential the album would become.

“Once the album was mixed, Conny Plank gave me a copy of the cassette to listen to. I was proud, and played it to my girlfriend, family and friends. I’d no idea the effect the album would have. I was just pleased to have recorded my album. It had been a close shave.” Michael had no inclination that he had recorded a classic album. 

Neu! was scheduled for release in early 1972. At the time, critic’s opinions were divided. Some critics realised Neu! was a truly groundbreaking album, and appreciated what was a genre-melting album. Elements of ambient, electronica, experimental, free jazz, industrial, music concrete and rock can be heard. These critics identified the album as a Kosmische classic. Other critics didn’t seem to understated Neu!, or Kosmische musik, which by then, had been renamed.

In London, a critic at Melody Maker had coined the term Krautrock. This came after Amon Düül released their 1969 album Psychedelic Underground. It featured a track titled Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf, which in English, translates as Mama Düül and her Sauerkrautband Strike Up. At first, many people were reticent about using the name of this new genre.

By the time Neu! was released in 1972, that was no longer the case. Other critics and record buyers were using Krautrock rather than Kosmische musik. This was how they described the music of Can and Kraftwerk, and then Neu!, who had just released their eponymous debut album.

When Neu! was released on Brain in 1972, the album sold 30,000 copies in Germany. For an underground album, that was seen as a success. However, outside of Germany, Neu! didn’t sell in vast quantities. Despite only selling well in Germany, Neu! began work on their sophomore album, Neu! 2.

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Neu! 2.

In January 1973, Neu! found themselves back in the studio with producer Conny Plank. “We weren’t signed to a record label, so Klaus, Conny and I had saved our money, and when we went to the studio, handed over enough to record for ten days.” 

With Conny Plank producing what became Neu! 2, Michael and Klaus began work. “This time, we had sixteen tracks to work with, so could layer instruments. I played my guitar, it was played backwards, the tempo was sped up and effects were added.” Neu! it seemed, had taken experimenting to a new level, and were pushing musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way beyond. Everything seemed to be going so well. Then a problem arose.

“By then we had spent a week exploring, adding layers. I stacked five six guitars, added effects like distortion. This had taken a week, and we only had half an album recorded. We panicked. Then we thought of a solution. We had released recently Neuschnee and Super as a single. For some reason, the record company hadn’t promoted it. They seemed not to value singles. So we began to experiment.”

This Michael explains was: “a result of desperation. Side two of Neu! 2 is made different versions of Neuschnee and Super. We did all sorts of things. I played the single on a turntable, and Klaus kicked it as it played. We than played the songs in a cassette player, slowing and speeding up the sound, and mangling the sound in the process.” Just like their debut album, Neu! 2 was completed just in time. It was another: “close shave.”

With Neu! 2 complete, it was scheduled for release later in 1973. When the album was released, critics heard than Neu! had refined their trademark sound, and taken it even further. “Für immer an eleven minute epic was the best example.” It features Klaus and Michael becoming one. As Klaus’ drums propel the arrangement along, Michael delivers a virtuoso performance. Critics were won over by “Für immer, which was regarded as the highlight of Neu! 2. However, side two proved controversial.

Many critics weren’t impressed by side two of Neu! 2. They saw the music as gimmicky, and accused Neu! trying to fool and rip off record buyers. As indignant critics took the moral high-ground, again, it was a case that they didn’t understated music.

“What we had done, was take ready-made music and deconstruct it. Then we could either reconstruct or manipulate the deconstructed music.” Critics either couldn’t or didn’t want to understand this. Neither did record buyers.

Just like critics, those who bought Neu! 2 were won over by side one. Für immer was Neu! 2 masterpiece, and most people realised this. However, when record buyers turned over to side two, they quickly became alienated. “They felt that we were trying to rip them off. That was not the case. Side two was Neu! at their most experimental, deconstructing only to reconstruct or manipulate. People didn’t understand this. It’s only recently that the music on side two has began to find favour with people. That wasn’t the case in 1973.”

On its release, Neu! 2 didn’t sell well. Even in Germany, Neu! 2 failed commercially. Brian who released Neu! 2, had expected the band to tour the album. However, there was very little interest in Neu!

Klaus Dinger and his brother Thomas even headed to London, to see if he could organise a Neu! tour of Britain. There, he met DJ John Peel, and Karen Townsend, the wife of The Who’s guitarist Pete. Although John Peel played tracks from Neu! 2 on his radio show, and tried to champion the band, there was no appetite for a Neu! tour of Britain. When Klaus returned home, he and Michael put Neu! on hold.

Both Klaus and Michael were keen to make it clear that this wasn’t the end of Neu! They merely, wanted to take some time out, to pursue other interests and projects. Klaus’ new project was La Düsseldorf. Meanwhile, Michael decided to embark on a journey to the Forst Commune.

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The Birth Of Harmonia.

That was where he would meet Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster. Michael had heard Im Süden, a track from Cluster’s sophomore album Cluster II. The track struck a nerve with Michael, who wondered if Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius would be interested in joining an extended lineup of Neu!? Then Michael began to consider a German supergroup consisting of Neu! and Cluster.

That proved to be the case. At the Forst Commune, Michael jammed with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. That initial jam later became Ohrwurm, a track from Harmonia’s 1974 debut album Musik von Harmonia. Following their initial jam session, Michael stayed at the Forst Commune to prepare for the recording of Harmonia’s debut album.

Meanwhile, Klaus and Thomas Dinger had returned from London. They came, they thought, baring gifts. One of the gifts was studio engineer Hans Lampe, who for much of 1972, had been Conny Plank’s engineer. The other was Klaus’ brother Thomas. They Klaus proposed, would join an extended lineup of Neu! In preparation, they played a series of concerts as La Düsseldorf. Michael however, was busy with Harmonia. Not only were they planning to record their debut album, but build a recording studio.

Building a recording can be fraught with difficulties. However, for Michael, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius the building of their studio in Forst went smoothly. This new studio would play a hugely important part in Michael Rother’s future career. Not only would it be where Harmon recorded their debut album, but where Michael worked on future projects with Neu! and later, recorded his solo albums. That was still to come. Before that, Harmonia began to record their debut album Musik von Harmonia.

Musik Von Harmonia.

Having built their new studio, Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius started recording what became Musik von Harmonia in June 1973. Over the next five months, Harmonia recorded eight songs. The two members of Cluster were receptive to Michael Rother’s way of working. Hans-Joachim Roedelius explained recently: “there were no problems, we wanted to learn. Previously, we improvised, which made playing live problematic. A song was merely the starting point, it could go anywhere. Michael however, taught us about structure. We influenced him. It was a two-way thing.” 

That’s definitely the case. Michael Rother believes: “that working with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius made him a more complete musician.” Over his time working with the two members of Cluster; “I learnt so much.” 

This became apparent when Musik von Harmonia was completed in  November 1973. Harmonia’s 1974 debut album, Musik von Harmonia, was  a move towards ambient rock.  Both Michael Rother and the two members of Cluster’s influences can be heard on the nascent supergroup’s debut album. It was released in January 1974.

When Musik Von Harmonia was released, many critics realised the importance of what’s a groundbreaking classic. It saw this nascent supergroup seamlessly embrace and incorporate disparate musical genres. In the process, Harmonia set the bar high for future ambient rock albums. Despite the critical acclaim that accompanied Musik von Harmonia, the album wasn’t a commercial success.

Michael Rother remember ruefully: “the seventies weren’t a good time for Harmonia. Our music was ignored, it was tough to survive during this period. So towards the end of 1974, Michael and Klaus reunited for Neu!’s third album.

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The Return Of Neu!-Neu! ’75.

For Neu!! ’75, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger reunited in December 1974 at Conny Plank’s studio. By then, Conny’s Studio was the go-to recording studio for German groups. They wanted: “the genius” to sprinkle his magic on their albums. This would be the case for Neu! ’75.

The two members of Neu! had changed. Klaus was heavily into rock music, while Michael’s interest in ambient music was growing. As Michael explains: “After two years apart, we were different people. To complicate matters, Klaus wanted to move from behind the drum kit. He felt he was hidden away. I can understand this. But it was what Klaus did so well. However, he wanted to become an entertainer, playing the guitar and singing. He wanted to bring in two new musicians to replace him.” This included Klaus’ brother Thomas and Conny Plank’s former engineer Hans Lampe. These new musicians would allow Neu! to make a very different album. 

Michael realised this was problematic. “By then Klaus could be difficult to work with. I realised we had to compromise, so ended making an album with two very different sides. Side one was old Neu! and side two was new Neu!” On side two Klaus come out from behind his drum kit and played guitar and sang. He became the entertainer on what proved to be an album of two sides. It was completed in January 1975, and released later that year.

When critics were sent copies of Neu! ’75, they were struck by side one’s subtle, ambient, melodic sound. Michael remembers: “we used keyboards and phasing a lot on both sides. While Michael Rother’s name was written large all over side one; side two was very different, and quite unconventional. Reviews were mixed, partly because of side two. Some critics felt that if Neu! ’75 had the same sound throughout, it would’ve been hailed a classic. However, later Neu! ’75 and Neu!’s earlier albums would be reevaluated. Before that Neu! ’75 was released.

Just like Neu! 2, Neu! ’75 didn’t sell well. The problem was, many people didn’t understand what was essentially parts of two disparate albums joined together. The proto-punk of side two was so different from the ambient sound of side one. Record buyers were confused, and didn’t understand what Neu! stood for? It seemed that Neu! were just the latest groundbreaking group whose music was misunderstood and overlooked. 

Michael looking back at Neu! ’75 reflects: “It was a time. Klaus wasn’t the easiest person to work with. He was involved with different people, and being pulled in different ways. We were also very different musically. Then there were the new drummers on side two. They weren’t particularly good. Certainly neither were as good as Klaus,” a rueful Michael remembers. “It was a difficult project. By then Klaus was different to the man I’d met a few years earlier.” Michael wouldn’t work with Klaus for another decade. By then, Neu!’s music had inspired a new musical movement, punk.

Things started to change in 1976. Michael explains: “many punks claim that Neu! ’75 inspired them. Especially, side two.” That wasn’t the only Neu! album that inspired the punk ideal. Side two of Neu! 2 was a favourite of punks.  It was: “a result of desperation,” which struck a nerve with the nascent punk movement, and its D.I.Y. approach. That’s when the revaluation of Neu! began. However, “it was a long time before our music was accepted and recognised, and began to sell in the quantities it does now”. That is also the case with Harmonia, who began recording their sophomore album in June 1975.

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The Return Of Harmonia-Deluxe.

In June 1975, the three members of Harmonia returned to their studio in Forst for the recording of their sophomore album, Deluxe. Joining them, was a new face, Conny Plank, who was co-producing Deluxe. Conny Plank and Michael were good friends, and had worked together on four projects. This included Kraftwerk’s aborted album and Neu!’s two albums. The addition of the man who Michael Rother calls: “the genius,” just happened to coincide with Harmonia changing direction musically.

Deluxe saw a move towards Kominische musik. Partly, this was down to the addition of Guru-Guru drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on some tracks, and added a  Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. That wasn’t Michael’s only influence.

The music on Deluxe was more song oriented. This was Michael Rother’s influence. He had taught the two members of Cluster the importance of structure. However, still Harmonia were experimenting, pushing musical boundaries. This was Cluster’s influence. Other parts of Deluxe had been influenced by Michael Rother. Hans-Joachim Roedelius agrees. “Michael Rother’s influence can be heard on Deluxe, more so than on Musik Von Harmonia.” What was also noticeable, was that Deluxe had a more commercial sound. 

“This wasn’t a conscious decision. The music morphed and evolved, and the result was Deluxe,” Hans-Joachim Roedelius reflects.

Michael Rother agrees. “Every album I’ve made I set out for it to be commercial. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way.”  Sadly, that proved to be the case.

When Deluxe was released in 1975, to the same critical acclaim as Musik von Harmonia. The noticeable shift to what was a more commercial sound, surely would lead to a change in Harmonia’s fortunes?

That wasn’t to be. Deluxe was released on 20th August 1975, and sales of the album were slow. They never picked up, and history it seemed, was repeating itself. Michael reflects: “Still our music was being ignored. It was a difficult time for us. So much so, that Michael decided to record his debut solo album.

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 Michael Rother-The Solo Years-Part One.

With Harmonia having just about run its course, Michael Rother embarked upon his solo career. That would take up the majority of his time. Michael’s first solo album was “Flammende Herzen which I recorded at Conny’s Studio.” Michael had entrusted his solo career to the man he refers to as “the genius.”

Flammende Herzen.

Recording of Flammende Herzen began at Conny’s Studio in June 1976. Michael had penned five tracks, and planned to play most of the instruments himself. The only instrument he couldn’t play were the drums, so Jaki Liebezeit of Can came onboard, and this was the start of a long-lasting collaboration. That was the case with Conny Plank, who co-produced Michael’s debut solo album.

At Conny’s Studio, five instrumentals which were based around Michael’s guitar were recorded. These tracks became Flammende Herzen, which was completed in September 1976. Michael’s debut album scheduled for release in March 1977.

Before the release of Flammende Herzen, critics had their say on Michael Rother’s solo album. Most of the reviews were positive, and it seemed that Michael’s fortunes were about to change.

When Flammende Herzen was released in March 1977, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Despite releasing album after album of innovative and influential music, they failed to sell. It seemed that the music Michael Rother was too innovative and record buyers didn’t understand the music. The only small crumb of comfort for Michael, was that: “Flammende Herzen, which, was released as a single, was later used in the soundtrack to Flaming Hearts.”

Nowadays, Flammende Herzen is regarded as one of Michael’s finest solo albums. It’s as if this was the album he had been longing to make. Sadly, in 1977,  as punk was making its presence felt, Flammende Herzen passed record buyers by. By then, Michael had been back in the studio with Harmonia, and a special guest, Brian Eno.

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The Return Of Harmonia With Brian Eno-Tracks and Traces.

After the release of Musik von Harmonia, Brian Eno had called Harmonia was: “the world’s most important rock band” at the time. It was no surprise that when Harmonia reunited to record their third album, it was a collaboration with Brian Eno. However, it was also the end of an era.

Little did the three members of Harmonia realise, that Deluxe was the last album they would release for thirty-two years. For what was their swan-song, Harmonia were joined by another legend, Brian Eno.

Michael remembers the sessions well. “Brian Eno was a very intelligent man. He seemed to know what music was on the way up. By then, he was making ambient music and was working as a producer. He was about to produce David Bowie’s Heroes’ album.” However, for the next eleven days, Brian Eno joined the band he had been championing since their debut album.

At the studio in Forst, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother and Brian Eno spent eleven summer days recording what was meant to be their third album. The working title was Harmonia ’76. However, by then, Hans-Joachim Roedelius remembers  “Michael Rother was wanting to concentrate on his solo career. Once the album was completed, it became apparent Harmonia had run its course. It was evolution.” 

This wasn’t surprising. Harmonia weren’t selling many records. Michael Rother remembers: “it was a tough time for us. Our music seemed to be ignored.” Neu! also seemed to have run its course. “Neu ‘75 hadn’t sold well. Klaus wasn’t an easy person to work with. So, I decided to return to my solo career after the release of Harmonia ’76.” That never happened.

Incredibly, the master-tapes for Harmonia ’76 went missing. “We feared they were lost forever. Then twenty years later, they were found.” What was meant to be Harmonia ’76 was released Tracks and Traces in 1997.” That wasn’t the end of the Harmonia story. However, before the next chapter in the Harmonia story unfolded, Michael Rother’s solo career continued apace.

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Michael Rother’s Solo Career-Part Two-Sterntaler.

After the drama and disappointment of the loss of the master tapes for Harmonia ’76, the three members of Harmonia went their separate ways. By September 1977, Michael was ready to record his sophomore album Sterntaler.

It was recorded between September and November 1977 at two studios. This included Conny’s Studio, and Michael’s studio in Forst. By then, Michael was a true multi-instrumentalist, and was playing guitar, bass guitar, piano, synths, electronic percussion Hawaiian slide guitar and synth strings. Augmented by Jaki Liebezeit’s drums, Sterntaler took shape.

Unlike his debut album, the synths were playing an important part in Sterntaler’s sound, and were responsible for the melody. Then on the ambient sounding Blauer Regen, Jaki Liebezeit’s weren’t needed. This was another signal that Michael’s music was changing. Michael and co-producer Conny Plank finished work on Sterntaler in November 1977. Maybe the stylistic shift would result in a change in Michael’s fortunes?

Sadly, it was a familiar story. The reviews of Sterntaler were generally positive, and Michael was regarded as one of the most innovative musicians of his generation. However, when Sterntaler was released, the album didn’t sell well . Michael remembers; “my music seemed to be out of fashion.” However, he continued to make music, music that continued to evolve. 

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Katzenmusik. 

Recording of Michael Rother’s third album Katzenmusik took place between March and July 1979. Just like his previous album, the album was recorded in Forst and Conny’s Studio. Michael used mainly electronic instruments. They were augmented by guitars and Jaki Liebezeit’s drums. 

It seemed that if Michael Rother was a painter, he was reducing his pallet. That would be the case for most musicians. However, Michael Rother wasn’t most musicians. Along with his co-producer Conny Plank, they recorded two suite of songs which featured twelve tracks. Essentially, they were variations layered around four different five-note melodies. They then recur in a variety of ways. Although stylistically, the music was similar to his two previous albums, the instruments used had changed. However, this didn’t stop Michael Rother recording another album of groundbreaking music. It was released later in 1979.

On Katzenmusik’s release, some critics hailed the album Michael Rother’s finest hour. He had come of age as a solo artist. This should’ve been a cause for celebration. However, it was, and it wasn’t.

Katzenmusik was the last album Michael recorded with Conny Plank. “It was no reflection on Conny. The man was a genius. However, I wanted to go my own way, and explore other options.” Sadly, Michael Rother and Conny Plank’s swan-song wasn’t a commercial success. It would be another three years before Michael released a new album.

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Fernwärme.

It was 1981 when Michael Rother began work on his fourth album. The recording took place at Michael’s own Flammende Herzen Studio in Forst. It was just Michael and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Unlike his first three albums, Conny Plank was absent. “We remained friends, and I owe Conny a lot, but it was the time to move on.”

This couldn’t have been easy. The pair had worked on nearly every project Michael had been involved with. Fernwärme was a first. It was just Michael, Jaki and the latest electronic instruments. They were used extensively on Fernwärme. This included drum machines. For Jaki Liebezeit the writing was on wall. Fernwärme was his swan-song with Michael Rother.

Michael explains: “Fernwärme was the last project Jaki worked on. Again, it was nothing personal. It was similar to the situation with Conny Plank. I wanted to move in a different direction, and already had began to use drum machines. Jaki was a fantastic drummer. The man is a machine, and will be drumming the rest of his life. However, Fernwärme was the last time we worked together.”

As Michael Rother prepared for the release of Fernwärme in 1982, it must have been with a degree of trepidation. It was the first album he had produced himself. However, he needn’t have worried, as Fernwärme was well received upon its release. Michael’s first album in three years, and the first he had produced himself was hailed a success. Sadly, the wider record buying public still hadn’t discovered Michael Rother’s music. “It was a really frustrating time for me.”

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Lust.

After the release of Fernwärme in 1982, Michael didn’t return to his Sterntaler Studio, Forst until 1983. When he did, he was on his own. “Lust was the first album I wrote, recorded and produced on my own. Because I had my own studio, I found myself spending more time thinking things over. Sometimes, when I went to bed, all I could think of was what I had been working on. That is the downside of having a home studio. However, the advantages outweigh disadvantages. I had also bought a Fairlight, and was just getting use to it. Its sounds divides people. Some people like it, others love it. Lust was the first album where I used the Fairlight.” That was another reason Michael spent as long as he wanted perfecting Lust. Only then, was he ready to release the album. 

Lust was released in 1983, and was Michael Rother’s fifth album. It was all his own work. No other musician had played a part in recording the album, which showcased a new sound. At the heart of the sound was the Fairlight. Although the Fairlight divided people’s opinion, the majority of critics gave Lust positive reviews. The latest reinvention of Michael had been a critical success. However, when Lust wasn’t the commercial success many critics forecast, it was another two years before Michael returned with his sixth solo album.

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Süßherz und Tiefenschärfe.

November 1984 saw Michael Rother return to his Katzenmusik Studio, in Forst to record what would become Süßherz und Tiefenschärfe. Just like his previous album Lust, he wrote, recorded and produced Süßherz und Tiefenschärfe. It was just Michael Rother, his trusty guitar and the electronic instruments that he now favoured. For three months he honed what became his sixth solo album. It was completed in February 1985, and became Süßherz und Tiefenschärfe.

Later in 1985, Polydor released Süßherz und Tiefenschärfe. Before that, critics had their say on Michael Rother’s sixth solo album. Again the reviews were positive. Some critics went as far as to say that üßherz und Tiefenschärfe was one of the best albums Michael had recorded. It was released later in 1985. By then, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger had been reunited.

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Neu! Reunite Again.

Little did Michael Rother realise what he was letting himself in for. When Michael met Klaus; “I realised that Klaus wasn’t in a good place. He had surrounded himself with people who were pulling him in all directions. Klaus was also needing money, and recording a new Neu! album offered him the opportunity to make some money. So we entered a small studio in Düsseldorf. It wasn’t like the professional studio we had worked in before. Instead, it was more like a semi-professional studio.” That was where recording of Neu!’s most controversial album began.

Recording began in October 1985. The members of Neu! then moved between Grundfunk Studio and Dinerland-Lilienthal Studio. The sessions were problematic. A decade had passed since the pair had worked together. Michael remembers: “Klaus seemed different. He was argumentative, and there was no longer the same chemistry between us. It wasn’t an easy time. Despite that, we managed to record tracks which I took to my own studio in Forst.” 

The group’s sound was very different.  Synths were added to Neu!’s old sound. It was Neu! with a new wave twist. However, this didn’t work. By then, Klaus and Michael were very different as musicians. Michael had moved towards the electronics and technology. Klaus it seemed, hadn’t moved at the same pace.

By April 1986, work on the album stopped, and the project was cancelled. “Klaus and I met in Düsseldorf and agreed to abandon the project. We even went as far as sealing the tapes. This seal wasn’t to be broken without the other’s permission. The album was certainly not going to be released. That was why we sealed the master tapes. I never thought the would be released. Certainly not in the way that was released in late 1995.” By then, Michael Rother was concentrating on his solo career.

Michael Rother The Solo Years Part 3-Traumreisen.

After the abandoned Neu! project, Michael Rother didn’t return to the studio until January 1987. He spent the next six months in his home studio. “That was the benefit of having your own studio. I could record when I wanted. Sometimes, it a lonely life, and I felt as if I was going slightly mad.” Eventually, though, Traumreisen was completed in July 1987.

Just like his previous album, Traumreisen featured just guitars and Michael Rother’s various electronic instruments. Critics were won over by Traumreisen, which was released later in 1987. It was a case of deja vu, when Traumreisen failed to reach the wider audience it deserved. After seven solo albums, he was still to make a commercial breakthrough. Michael Rother’s music it seemed, was only appreciated by connoisseurs of Kosmische musik. This lack of commercial success resulted in Michael Rother: “beginning to lose interest in recording albums.” It would be another nine years before he released another album. By then, Michael had founded his own record company.

Random Records was founded in 1993. This coincided with Michael managing to secure the rights to his back catalogue. However, the new label’s first release was a compilation, Radio-Musik Von Michael Rother-Singles 1977-93It was released in 1993, with reissues of Michael’s solo albums being released over the next few years. Each album was remastered and released with bonus tracks on Michael’s Random Records. Michael was in control of his musical destiny. At least for his solo career. Neu! was a completely different matter. 

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Neu! 4.

By the time Michael founded Random Records, Neu!’s first three albums had been released on CD by Germanofon Records, a Luxembourg based label. However, there was a problem. 

Michael explains: “the deal to release Neu!’s first three albums was entered into, without his permission. These bootlegs were available in every record shop I entered into.” There’s frustration and anger in his voice. It’s not about money though. Instead; “I was frustrated that people were buying an inferior product. It wasn’t of the quality I expected.” If Michael was frustrated about the release of Neu!’s first three albums, he was in for a shock on the morning  of 17th October 1995. 

“That day, I was sitting at home, when I received a fax from Klaus congratulating on the release of Neu! 4. I was shocked, as I hadn’t given my permission or consent to release the album. Soon, the picture became clear.

“By then, Klaus was really frustrated and angry about the bootleg releases of our first three albums. They were selling well, and neither of us were making anything from them. To make matters worse, Klaus was short of money, and desperate, so entered into a deal with the Japanese label Captain Trip Records. The owner was a huge fan of Neu! and was impressed by Klaus. He gave Klaus cash which he was meant to share with me. In the sleeve-notes to what was billed as Neu! 4, Klaus railed against the bootleggers.” Ironically, this was something that both Michael Rother and Klaus agreed about. However, the release of Neu! 4 drove a wedge between the two old friends.

With the benefit of hindsight, Michael reflects: “looking back, I wish I’d jumped on the train to Düsseldorf and punched Klaus on the nose. I’m not that kind of person though. But I might have felt better. Then we could’ve moved on. However, we never did.”

After the release of Neu! 4, Klaus and Michael were continually at loggerheads. This was ironic. “By then, Neu! were at last, a popular band. People wanted to buy our albums. All that was available were the bootlegs, and Neu! 4 which to me, wasn’t a legally released or genuine album.”

Eventually, though, Michael and Klaus reached an agreement in 2000, and Astralwerks in America and Grönland Records in Europe released Neu!’s first three albums. They also recalled copies of Neu! 4, which has been out of print ever since. Michael however, stresses: “I’ve no problem people buying a second-hand copy of Neu! 4, I just don’t want the album rereleased. After the problems with Neu! 4, Michael released his eighth solo album in 1996.

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Esperanza.

Unlike his last couple of albums, Michael Rother didn’t work alone on Esperanza. This time, he was joined by Jens Harke, who wrote the lyrics and added vocals to Weil Schnee und Eis. This was a first. Apart from the occasional vocal sample, Michael’s album had been vocal free zones. That wasn’t the only change.

The other contributor to Esperanza was Joachim Rudolph. He took charge of Pro Tools programming. Things had changed since Michael’s last album.  It was the digital age, and now, DAWs had found their way into recording studios. As befitting the digital age; “I used only electronic instruments on Esperanza. There were no guitars on the album. This wasn’t a first. I’d already gone on a tour of America without a guitar. I was tired of the guitar and wanted to experiment.” That is what Michael Rother did between January 1995 and January 1996 at three studios. Once the album was completed, it was released two months later.

Esperanza was released on the 11th March 1996, on Michael Rother’s Random Records. Most of the reviews of Esperanza were positive. Michael Rother, was continuing to innovate and push musical boundaries. However, when Esperanza wasn’t a commercial success, “I began to lose interest in recording, and decided to concentrate on playing live.” As a result, it was a new millennia when Michael released his next album.

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Remember (The Great Adventure).

April the 25th 2004 proved to be a significant date in Michael Rother’s career. It was the day he released his most recent solo album, Remember (The Great Adventure).  It had been recorded over a period of seven years and was a collaboration with various electronic musicians. This includes Thomas Beckmann, Andi Toma and Jake Mandell, who all programmed beats for the rhythm tracks. Sophie Williams and Herbert Grönemeyer added vocals on Remember (The Great Adventure). This was only Michael’s second album to feature vocalists. Ironically, it proved to be his last.

Michael Rother’s collaboration with a new generation of musicians was well received by critics. Just like his previous albums, Michael didn’t shy away from innovating. Instead, he embraced new ideas and was determined to look forwards, rather than backwards. That had been the case throughout his solo career. 

Following Remember (The Great Adventure), Michael Rother “decided to concentrate on playing live. It’s allowed me to travel the world and play all over Europe, America and in 2014, in China. My albums were not selling well, and after a while, I lost interest in recording music.” However, it wasn’t just Michael that was playing live. One of his old groups reunited and took to the stage one more time, Harmonia.

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Harmonia Reunited and Live.

The reunion was for the release of Harmonia’s Live 1974 album. It featured a recording of Harmonia’s concert on the 23rd March 1974, at Penny Station Club in Griessem, Germany. To celebrate the release of Live 1974, Harmonia played live for the first time since 1976. This landmark concert took place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, on November 27th 2007. Sadly, it would be the last time the three members of Harmonia played live. Belatedly, they had found the critical acclaim and commercial success they so richly deserved. It had taken thirty years, but Harmonia were regarded as one of the most innovative and influential groups in Kosmische musik. So were Neu!

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Neu! The Comeback-Neu! ’86.

As the years passed by, Neu! 4 was still a sore point for Michael Rother. It had driven a wedge between Michael and Klaus. “Sadly, Klaus died in 2008. I was deeply saddened. We had been great friends once.” Kosmische musik had lost one of its pioneers. 

Two years later, Michael got the opportunity to right a wrong. He explains: “in early 2010, I came to an agreement with Klaus’ widow. It allowed me work on what had been Neu! 4. Using the master tapes, I remixed the whole album.” That wasn’t the only change.

The running order changed. Some of the tracks were given new names. Only twelve of the fourteen tracks on Neu! 86 found their way onto Neu! 86. A new song, “Drive (Grundfunken) was added to what became Neu! 86 which  was released as part of the Neu! box set on May 10th 2010. Then on August 16th 2010, a CD version of Neu! 86 was released.

Mostly, reviews of Neu! 86 were positive. The only criticism was that the album was overproduced. Michael disagrees but agree: “it’s all matter of taste and opinion. I feel I did the best I could with what I had. Now Neu! 86 is much nearer to the album  we had tried to make in 1985.” A quarter of a century later, and Michael Rother was happy at with release of Neu! 86 in 2010. That wouldn’t be the last project from the past that Michael would undertake.

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Harmonia-Complete Works,

 

In October 2105, a project that Michael Rother has been working on for some time came to fruition, the Harmonia-Complete Works box set. Michael Rother had overseen the remastering of Harmonia-Complete Works which included Musik Von Harmonia, Deluxe, Tracks and Traces, Live ’74 and an album of unreleased material. One of the unreleased tracks was nearly lost forevermore.

Michael Rother explains what happened. “Harmonia recorded all our shows and rehearsals. However, we were a poor band, and had to reuse each tape. Luckily, one night, a friend asked if we could record a rehearsal? Hans-Joachim Rodelius recorded the show, and at the end of the night, handed him the tape. That tape features what I consider to be the ultimate version of Tiki.  Having given the tape away, I feared we would never see it again. Fortunately, our friend has kept that tape and the version of Tiki features on the fifth album of Complete Works.” However, for Michael Rother the release of Complete Works is tinged with sadness.

After a brave and lengthy battle against cancer, Dieter Moebius died on 20th July 2015. Michael Rother was saddened by the passing of his old friend. Along with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius was part of one of the most innovative groups in the history of Kosmische musik. They’re now regarded as one of the finest purveyors of Kosmische musik. Harmonia deserve to sit alongside the holy trinity at Kosmische musik’s top table. At the head of the table is Michael Rother.

There’s a reason for this. Michael Rother has been part of three of the biggest bands in the history of Kosmische musik; Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia. He then released nine solo albums and more recently, two soundtrack albums. “That was a new experience. However, now I concentrate my time on performing live.” Michael explains.

“I’ve been fortunate it’s taken me all over the work. One of the highlights was playing in China in 2014.” This is just one of the many countries that Michael Rother has played over the last few years. He’s now sixty-seven and busier than ever. Michael Rother and his band have even been playing at some of the biggest festivals on the circuit. Just like Neu! and Harmonia, Michael Rother’s popularity has never been higher. 

What does the future hold for Michael Rother? He’s unsure what it holds. “Maybe, I’ll go back into the studio? I don’t know. That’s the future.”

Michael Rother continues to tour, and his music still continues to find a new audience. This includes his solo albums and  the albums the three pioneering groups Michael Rother was a member of, Kraftwerk,  Neu! and Harmonia.

Michael Rother, the one-time Kraftwerk guitarist  went on to cofound Neu! and then later, Harmonia. Both of the groups that Michael Rother cofounded, went on to play an important part in the history of Kosmische musik, and even today, continues to influence and inspire a new generations of musicians. 

The Life and Music Of Michael Rother.

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LINK WRAY-FROM RUMBLE TO THE 3-TRACK SHACK: 1958-1973.

Link Wray-From Rumble To The 3-Track Shack: 1958-1973.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Link Wray was one of the most important, innovative and influential guitarist in the history of modern music. Link Wray influenced Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Phil Everly, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and the Rolling Stones, while his 1958 instrumental hit Rumble, popularised the power chord. As a result, several generations of guitarists owe a debt of gratitude to Link Wray. Despite his contribution to music and his considerable talent, sadly, Link Wray never received the recognition he deserved, and died in Copenhagen, Denmark, on November’5th’ 2005. That day, music lost a true legend. His story began on May 2nd 1929.

That’s when Link Wray was born in Dunn, North Carolina, to Fred Lincoln Wray, Sr. and his wife, Lillian M. Wray. Link Wray’s mother was a Shawnee Indian, and later, Link Wray was proud of his heritage.  This caused problems for Link Wray when he was growing up.

North Carolina in the thirties was Klu Klux Klan country. Life was tough for the Wray family. At nights, the Klan came calling, wearing their white capes and carrying burning crosses. In the local community, African-Americans like Link Wray’s mother feared for their life. They had no option but to hide under their bed, until the Klan left. It was a tough upbringing for Link Wray. To make matters worse, the family were dirt poor. 

Link Wray’s father had been pensioned out the US Army. His disability cheque allowed the family to survive the depression…just. The house had dirt floors, and didn’t even have electricity. Somehow, though. Link Wray’s mother and father found the money to buy his elder brother Vernon an acoustic guitar.

When Vernon showed little interest in his guitar, fourteen year old Link Wray picked up the guitar. Link tried to teach himself, and used to sit in the porch strumming and picking his guitar. Then one day, a member of a passing circus saw Link Wray playing his guitar.

Realising the young man was struggling, the stranger, who called himself Hambone, showed him how to tune and then play the blues guitar. He showed Link Wray open chords, and how to play the guitar with his fingers and even a knife. Link Wray watched what was the equivalent of  a musical masterclass from Hambone, who was just as comfortable playing drums and horns. Having showed Link Wray how it was meant to be played, Hambone left him playing his guitar.  However, every time the circus passed through town, Hambone stopped by, to see how his pupil was progressing. 

By the time Link Wray was sixteen, he was more than proficient guitarist. He spent a lot of his spare time listening to the blues. Some of the Wray’s neighbours enjoyed the blues, and when they threw open their windows, the music spilled out. As Link sat there, he listened and learnt. For Link, it was part of his musical education, which was going pretty well. He had mastered the guitar, which  was just as well, as Link was about to leave school. 

After a teacher threatened to whip Link Wray, there was a fracas, and the outcome was that he had to leave school. Initially, he got a job delivering groceries and picking cotton and tobacco. This brought some much-needed money into the household. Then in 1947, when Link Wray was eighteen, the his family were on the move.

Their destination was Portsmouth, Virginia, where Link Wray’s father and elder brother Vernon got job as pipe fitters at a dockyard. Things were looking up for the Wray family. Especially when long after this, Link got a job as a messenger in the same dockyard. 

After two years working at the dockyard, and scrimping and saving, Link Wray had enough money to buy his first electric guitar in 1949. He chose a Vega electric guitar, which he purchased from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue. From the moment he bought the guitar, Link Wray practised non-stop. He was determined to improve his technique and playing. However, by 1950, things were looking up for the Wray family.

Vernon Wray, Link’s elder brother, had founded his own taxi firm in 1950. He employed his two brothers, Link and Fred as drivers. Not long after he started work as a taxi driver, Link Wray began playing bass in country bands. This made him some extra income until in 1951, he was called up by Uncle Sam.

In 1951, Link Wray was called up to serve in the US Army during the Korean War. This almost wrecked Link Wray’s career. Whilst serving in the US Army, Link Wray contracted T.B. Somehow, nobody realised this and it didn’t become apparent until well after Link Wray left the US Army.

On leaving the US Army in 1953, Link Wray’s thoughts turned to music. He was even more determined to make a career out of music, and on his return home, Link Wray bought a new Les Paul guitar and amplifier. It was then his brother Vernon, suggested they form their own band, The Lazy Pine Wranglers.

The nascent group featured Vernon on vocals and rhythm guitar, Link on lead guitar, steel guitarist Dixie Neal and Brantley “Shorty” Horton on stand-up bass. Soon, what was Link Wray’s first group, was a popular draw in the nearby city of Norfolk. 

While The Lazy Pine Wranglers were the Wray brothers first group, it wasn’t their last. Link’s brother Doug got a job playing drums and guitar for the Phelps Brothers. They had been really successful on the country circuit, and featured in westerns alongside Roy Rogers. The Phelps Brothers also owned the nearby Palomino Dude Ranch. Somehow, Doug managed to swing a regular gig for the Wray brothers there. As Link Wray and The Palomino Ranch Gang, they provided a country tinged soundtrack at the Phelp Brothers’ ranch. This gave the Wray’s career a boost.

Soon, they were backing Tex Ritter, Lash La Rue, Sunset Carson and Wild Bill Elliot. Link Wray and The Palomino Ranch Gang even found their way onto WCMS’ radio’s Hillbilly Concert Hall. This lead to a spot on WMAL-TV’s late night country program Town and Country. With WMAL-TV based in Washington, the Wray brothers moved their permanently, hoping that this would further their career. 

It did, and in 1956, Link Wray released his debut single. By then, he was billed as Lucky Wray, and released It’s Music She Says on the Texan independent label Saturday. The followup was Whatcha Say Honey. Both singles showcased a talented singer. However, just as it looked liked Link Wray’s star seemed to be in the ascendancy, tragedy struck.

Link Wray became ill. Initially, the doctors diagnosed pneumonia, and he spent a year in hospital. During this period, Link Wray had to have a lung removed. The doctors that treated him thought that Link Wray would never sing again. A determined Link Wray proved them wrong.

Early on in 1957, Lucky Wray released another single, Teenage Cutie, which was the last single Link released as Lucky. His next release marked the debut of Link Wray.

This came on an E.P. featuring Bob Dean and Cindy With The Kountry Kings. Both acts featured two tracks. Link Wray supplied two of the four tracks on an E.P., I Sez Baby and Johnny Bom Bonny. They saw Link combine country and rockabilly. There’s more than a nod to early Elvis Presley recordings on the songs that launched Link Wray’s solo career.

By then, two the Wray brothers were trying to forge a career as singers. Vernon was signed to Cameo,  and released a couple of unsuccessful singles. During one of Vernon’s recording sessions, Link was watching proceedings and when the session finished early, Bernie Lowe allowed Link to record two tracks he had written, Oddball and Swag. When Link heard the playback of Oddball, he knew in his heart, that the song was special. He smiled inwardly, knowing that the session at Broad and Locust, in Philly, cost just $75. For that, Bernie Lowe worked as tape-op. 

Little did anyone know how much of a bargain it had been. However, Link struggled to get anyone interested in the song. He played it on Milt Jackson’s show. Wanting to help his friend, Milt even took a copy to Archie Blayer at the Cadence label. 

Archie Blayer didn’t like the raucous sounding track, so gave his copy to his teenage step-daughter Jackie Ertel. She however, loved Oddball, and encouraged her father to release the track. The only thing that Jackie didn’t like, was the name. She suggested that Oddball be renamed as Rumble. History was about to be made.

In April 1958, Link Wray and His Ray Men released what would become Link Wray’s most successful single, the classic instrumental Rumble. It saw Link Wray deploy distortion and feedback. This was a first, in more ways than one. Link Wray also became one of the first guitarists to use the power chord on Rumble. He wouldn’t be the last, and since then, it’s been part and parcel of many a guitarists arsenal.

When Rumble was released as a single,  immediately it was banned by the authorities. Link Wray had just made history, as  Rumble became one of the first instrumentals to be banned. The problem was the title. Rumble was the slang term for a gang fight, and the authorities feared that the single would lead to disorder. Ironically, banning Rumble made the song even more popular.

Some nights, Link Wray and His Ray Men played several encores of Rumble. Rumble was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. It reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 100 charts. Across the Atlantic, future members of The Kinks and The Who heard this classic instrumental. Other musicians were won over by it. From Bob Dylan to Phil Everly, Rumble was a favourite of musicians everywhere. After the success of Rumble, many thought that Link Wray would become one of the biggest stars of the late-fifties and sixties.

That proved not to be the case. Things looked good at first. Archie Blayer sent Link Wray and His Ray Men to record the followup. He suggested a track called Dixie Doodle, which was Duane Eddy-esque. However, Link preferred the other track they cut Raw Hide.

Link Wray released Raw-Hide as a single in January 1959. It reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 100 charts. After that, Comanche a song Link Wray named after his North American Indian roots’ failed to chart. Neither did Slinky nor Vendetta. The rest of 1959 was a right-off. Sadly, so was 1960. 

Neither Trail of the Lonesome Pine, nor the Jimmy Reed penned Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby charted. Things weren’t looking good for Link Wray. To make matters worse, he was about to release  released his debut album Link Wray and The Wraymen later in 1960. When it was released, it too, failed commercially. Link Wray’s career had stalled.  Luckily, Vernon Wray realised the importance of looking after his brother’s finances.

Having secured funding from Milt Jackson, the Wray brothers setup a two room studio opposite WTTG, where Milt’s show was broadcast. From that studio, Vernon looked after Milt’s publishing and composing rights. The company that took care of the publishing, was Vernon’s Florentine Music. This proved a shrewd move. When the hits dried up for Link Wray, he had a nest egg to fall back on. However, in the summer of 1961, it looked as if things were starting to improve for Link Wray.

In July 1961, Link Wray released Jack The Ripper as a single, and it reached number sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 charts. This just a minor hit single, and was a long  way from 1958, when Link Wray launched his career with Rumble.

Over the next few years, Link Wray continued to release singles and a few albums. Link Wray released his sophomore  album Great Guitar Hits by Link Wray, in 1962 and then Jack The Ripper in 1963. By then, Link Wray was struggling. Money was tight, and he was living in a small flat in Washington. He paid for this out of the small wage his brother paid him. Meanwhile, Vernon was making plans.

Vernon bought a house situated in five acres of Land in Livingston Road, Accoceek. After this, he started to buy good quality recording equipment that was being sold cheaply. The equipment took pride of place in the recording studio in Vernon’s basement. This was where Ronnie Dove recorded all his hits. Soon, the word was out that Vernon Wray’s studio was the best studio in town  It was also where the Wray family gravitated, and in few years, this included Link, whose career was about to stall.

Link’s final album of the sixties was Link Wray Sings and Plays Guitar, which  was released in 1964, just as the British Invasion hit America. Suddenly, Link Wray fell out of fashion.

After that, Link Wray sporadically released singles right up until 1966. However, still he continued to tour.  Mostly, though, the tours took Link Wray into the North Eastern states. During this period, Link Wray and His Wraymen’s  lineup is best described as fluid. Despite the changes in the lineup Link Wray and His Wraymen were still a reasonably popular draw. However, Link Wray was no longer selling records. 

Eventually, though, Link Wray tired of touring. All the months and years he spent touring had  taken its toll on Link Wray, and in 1970, the forty-one year old  decided to stop touring.

Having stopped touring, Link Wray  made his way to Vernon’s farm, which became his home.  However, Link hadn’t stopped making music. He played in local bars, and practised at home. That was until his wife Evelyn tired of the music coming from the basement. Link Wray decided to move his recording studio from the basement to 3-Track Shack, where his next three albums were recorded.

Link Wray.

Initially, Link Wray believed that the first of in this trio of albums, Link Wray, was going to be released on The Beatles’ Apple label. Certainly, Apple’s New York representative sent someone down to Vernon’s farm to meet  Link Wray. They told Link Wray that The Beatles it seemed were big fans of his music. With the Fab Four on his side, things were looking good for Link Wray.

As the talks commenced, it quickly became apparent that if Link Wray was released on Apple, it was going to be a lucrative deal. For Link Wray, who had found the past few years difficult financially, his looked like being a godsend. Buoyed by this news,Link Wray got to work.

A total of eleven tracks were chosen for what became Link Wray. His drummer Steve Verroca wrote five of the track, while another five came from the pen of Link Wray. The track that closed Link Wray, was a cover of Willie Dixon’s Tail Dragger. These eleven tracks were recorded by Link and his band in the old chicken shack.

The band featured drummers and percussionists Steve Verroca and Doug Wray. Pianist Bill Hodges also played organ, while Bobby Howard switched between piano and mandolin. Along with the rest of the band, Gene Johnson added backing vocals. Link Wray sung lead vocals and played bass, guitars and dobro. As the recordings took shape, all Link Wray could think about was that he was about to sign to The Beatles’ label.

That didn’t happen. After a meeting in New York, Vernon Wray came back with bad news. Link Wray was going to be released on Polydor. This was a huge disappointment for Link Wray. However, at least, he had a recording contract, which was the main thing.

Before the release of Link Wray in June 1971, the critics had their say. Many used to his earlier work, weren’t impressed by Link Wray’s new sound. It was a mixture of Americana, blues, country rock and folk rock. However, what impressed many critics, were the songs Link had written. They were autobiographical, and had an honesty. Since then, Link Wray has been reappraised by critics, who appreciate the lo-fi, honesty of this genre-hopping albums. However, Link’s fans didn’t.

On the release of Link Wray, his fans weren’t impressed by the album. They were shocked by the change of style. Link Wray remarked at this: “in a way I couldn’t care less if the album didn’t sell a single copy. We’re happy with it and we’ve done it our way.” His fans seemed not to noticed music had changed since Rumble, Raw-Hide and Jack The Ripper. As a result, Link Wray stalled at number 186 in US Billboard 200. Although this was disappointing Link was back, back at the  Shack recording his next album, Mordicai Jones.

Mordicai Jones.

Just like Link Wray, Link and Steve Verroca wrote most of the album. This time however, they cowrote seven of the tracks. They also cowrote The Coca Cola Sign Blinds My Eye and On the Run with Bobby Howard, who used the alias Mordicai Jones.The other track was a cover Roy Acuff, The King of Country Music’s Precious Jewel. These tracks were recorded at the 3-Track Shack. 

This time around, Steve Verroca took charge of production. The lineup of the band was similar to the one that recorded Link Wray. Drummers and percussionist Steve Verroca joined  bassist Norman Sue and joined rhythm guitarists Doug Wray and John Grummere in the rhythm section. They were joined by organist and pianist Bill Hodges. Pianist and mandril player Bobby However, adopted the alias Mordicai Jones and a lead vocals. Ned Levitt added backing vocals, hand-claps and foot-stomps. Meanwhile, Link played bass, guitars and dobro on Mordicai Jones. It was released later in 1971.

Stylistically, critics noted, that Mordicai Jones was similar to Link Wray. It comprised the same musical elements. Mordicai Jones was a mixture of Americana, blues, country rock and folk rock. The music has a laid back, pastoral vibe. Other times, there’s a tougher edge. However, critics felt what made a difference were the vocals. 

TB had long ago ravaged Link Wray’s voice and  given it the rough, tough, some would say guttural sound. Unlike the mysterious  Mordicai Jones. Bobby Howard’s vocals were heartfelt and impassioned. He sung about “going back to the land,” and what many people see as a simpler way of life. One critic went as far as to describe the music on Mordicai Jones as sounding as if it were made “by folks who actually worked the farm they lived on.” Critics still hadn’t forgiven Link Wray for changing direction musically. Comments like that didn’t do Mordicai Jones album justice. They certainly didn’t help sales of Mordicai Jones.

On the release of Mordicai Jones, the album failed to chart. After the commercial failure of Mordicai Jones, Link Wray was in for a shock. 

In 1972, Link’s brother Vernon decided to move to Tucson. He packed up his belongings, and took the back wall of the 3-Track Shack for good luck. As the three brothers said their farewells, Doug asked for his share of the money. Vernon explained there was no money. All the money had been put into the studio. This was the end of Wray brothers partnership. The three brothers never worked again.

Later, when Link Wray decided to ask Vernon about the money, Vernon replied that he received all the glory. There was an uneasy silence. By then, Vernon had a new eight-track studio up and running in Tucson, Doug opened a barbershop and Link Wray recorded Beans and Fatback.

Beans and Fatback.

Beans and Fatback was the last album in the 3-Track Shack trilogy. Just like the two previous albums, Link Wray and Steve Verroca wrote most of the tracks. They cowrote eight of the eleven tracks. The other three tracks, Georgia Pines, In The Pines and Take My Hand, Precious Lord were traditional songs. In The Pines was reworked, courtesy of a new arrangement by Link Wray and Steve, who produced Beans and Fatback.

The band had recorded Beans and Fatback in the 3-Track Shack in 1971. Back then, the rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Steve Verroca, rhythm guitarist Doug Wray and Link Wray played bass, acoustic, electric, steel and 12-string guitar. Link Wray also played dobro and took charge of the vocals. Pianist Bill Hodges played organ while pianist and mandolin player Bobby Howard revived his alter ego Mordicai Jones. Together, they played harder and faster than on the first two albums on the 3-Track Shack trilogy.

Once Beans and Fatback was complete, the search began for a record company who were willing to release the album. Eventually, Virgin Records agreed to release Beans and Fatback. By then, producer Steve Verroca was working for Virgin Records, and was producing Kevin Coyne’s album Marjory Razorblade. Steve it seemed, had championed Link Wray’s cause. He knew what the album sounded like, having played and produced the album in 1971. Unlike anyone else he knew that Link Wray had changed direction again.

As copies of Beans and Fatback landed on the desks of critics, they were in for a surprise. The album had a tougher, rougher edge. A hard rocking, sometimes almost raucous, rowdy band worked their way through the eleven tracks combining rock ’n’ roll, Americana, blues and country rock. There was more than a nod to the instrumentals that launched Link Wray’s career. Link Wray was back, and better than ever. Sadly, nobody realised this.

When Beans and Fatback was released in 1973, the album failed to chart. The last instalment in the 3-Track Shack had failed to find the audience it so richly deserved. It would only be later that the 3-Track Shack trilogy found an audience.

As the years passed by, there was an upsurge in interest in Link Wray’s music. Especially, the trio of albums recorded by Link Wray at the 3-Track Shack.  Link Wray, Mordicai Jones and Beans and Fatback were hidden gems in Link Wray’s discography, and thankfully, the three albums have been reappraised, and have being championed by a new generation of musicians. Just like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and Rolling Stones, this new generation of musicians are flying the flag for Link Wray and the 3-Track Shack trilogy. These albums show two sides of Link Wray.

The first two albums, Link Wray and Mordicai Jones, have a much more laid-back sound, and showcase a fusion of  Americana, blues, country rock and folk rock.By contrast, Beans and Fatback, the final instalment in the 3-Track Shack trilogy, has partly been inspired by Rumble. It  finds Link Wray and his band kick loose, and unleash a much more rowdy, raucous, rock ’n’ roll sound. There’s still diversions via blues and country rock, but mostly, the old Link Wray shines through. While this should’ve pleased his fans, they turned their back on  Beans and Fatback when it was released in 1973. They didn’t realise what they were missing.

While Link Wray’s music is starting to find a wider audience, it’s also starting to receive the recognition it deserves. Somewhat belatedly, Link Wray is receiving the recognition as a musical pioneer, and one of the most influential guitarists in the history of popular music. He popularised the power chord, and inspired everyone from Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Iggy Pop to  Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and Rolling Stones to Phil Everly. They were all influenced by Link Wray whose career spanned six decades.

Sadly, Link Wray passed away in Copenhagen, Denmark, on November 5th 2005 aged seventy-six. By then, his music was starting to find a wider audience and receiving the recognition it so richly deserves. Especially the music that Link Wray recorded and released between 1958 and 1973. This was one of the most important period in Link Wray’s long and illustrious career. It started with the biggest hit single of his career, Rumble, and ended with the release of the trilogy Link Wray recorded at 3-Track Shack trilogy. These three albums recorded at the 3-Track Shack feature some of the best music of  Link Wray and are a reminder of one of the most important and influential guitarists in the history of popular music.

Link Wray-From Rumble To The 3-Track Shack: 1958-1973.

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GOTTA GET UP: THE SONGS OF HARRY NILSSON 1965-1972.

Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972.

Label: Ace Records.

Enigmatic describes Harry Nilsson who was, without doubt, one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. He released sixteen studio albums and e four soundtracks albums between 1966 and 1980. Sadly, most of these albums failed to find the audience they so richly deserved. That was apart from a brief spell.

This started with the release of the critically acclaimed  Nilsson Schmilsson in November 1971, which featured a cover of Pete Ham and Tom Evans’ Without You. It would play its part in the success of Nilsson Schmilsson when it was released as a single. Without You gave Harry Nilsson his first number one. Buoyed by its success of Without You, Nilsson Schmilsson reached number three in the US Billboard 200 charts and was certified gold. Things got even better for Harry Nilsson when the nominations for the 1973 Grammy Awards were announced, and was nominated in four categories. On the night, Harry Nilsson won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Since then, Without You has been synonymous with Harry Nilsson, which is somewhat ironic, as Harry Nilsson wrote most of his own songs.

That was the case on the followup to Nilsson Schmilsson, Son Of Schmilsson which was released in July 1972. It was released to the same critical acclaim, and reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200. Within five months, Nilsson Schmilsson had sold over 500,000 copies and was certified gold. Many thought that having made his breakthrough, that this was the start of a period when commercial success and critical acclaim would be familiar friends for Harry Nilsson. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. 

Never again did Harry Nilsson enjoy the same commercial success that Nilsson Schmilsson and Son Of Schmilsson enjoyed. At first, Harry Nilsson’s albums failed to reach the top thirty, and before long, the top 100. His last album Flash Harry which was released by Mercury in 1980 failed to chart. Gone were the days of number one singles, gold discs and Grammy Awards. This wasn’t helped by Harry Nilsson’s refusal to play live or tour the albums he released.

Part of the problem was that the enigmatic Harry Nilsson was living his life on his own terms. He was one of the hardest living musicians of the early seventies, and often spent time drinking with John Lennon during his trial separation from Yoko Ono. Some critics believe that these bouts of heavy drinking adversely affected Harry Nilsson’s voice. However, he was still one of the most talented  singer-songwriters of the seventies.

Alas, commercial success continued to elude Harry Nilsson. He was a maverick who it seemed had a contrarian side. Despite having enjoyed the two most successful albums of his career, Harry Nilsson decided he wasn’t willing to write, record release commercial music. Instead, what mattered to Harry Nilsson from 1973 to 1979 was artistic satisfaction. Industry insiders, critics and cultural insiders saw this is further proof that Harry Nilsson was a  musical enigma who was determined to live life on his terms. It didn’t seem to matter that each album seemed to sell in even smaller quantities. However, after 1980 this changed.

The assassination of his close friend John Lennon in 1980 was a turning point for Harry Nilsson. This resulted in Harry Nilsson taking a break from recording, and campaigning for greater gun control. After that, Harry Nilsson recorded only sporadically and never released another album. Flash Harry had been Harry Nilsson’s swan-song.

On February ’14th’ 1993, Harry Nilsson suffered from a massive heart attack. This was a warning sign for Harry Nilsson. Sadly, less than a year later, Harry Nilsson died on January ’15th’ 1994 Harry Nilsson died of heart failure. That day, music lost one of its most talented sons, and a singer-singer who should’ve reached greater heights.

While commercial success eluded much of Harry Nilsson’s of work, critics, cultural commentators and his contemporaries realised that he was one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. Harry Nilsson’s skills as a songwriter are held in the highest regard by his contemporaries and peers. So much so, that many artists and bands covered songs penned by Harry Nilsson. This includes the twenty-four artists and bands that feature on Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 which is the next instalment of Ace Records’ Songwriter Series.

Among the twenty-four artists on Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 are Annie Nilsson, The Monkees, Al Kooper, The Family Tree, The Yarbirds, Harpers Bizarre, The 5th Dimension, The Shangri-Las, Sandie Shaw, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Andy Williams. These are just a few of the artists on Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972.

Fittingly, it opens with Annie Nilsson’s cover of Gotta Get Up. Annie Nilsson is one of Harry Nilsson’s seven children, and has obviously inherited her father’s talent. Sonically and stylistically she sounds similar to Suzanne Vega, when she covered Gotta Get Up for 

This Is The Town, A Tribute To Nilsson: Volume 1 which was released on The Royal Potato Family label. Another tribute to the great man is Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972, which fittingly,   his talented daughter Annie Nilsson gets the honour of opening,

Al Kooper covered Mournin’ Glory Story for his 1969 album You Never Know Who Your Friends Are, which was released by CBS. His cover is understated, with a piano and ethereal close harmonies playing their part in this wistful and ruminative reading of Mournin’ Glory Story.

Tom Northcott’s career began in 1962, when he was a member of the Vancouver Playboys. By 1967, he was a solo artist and had signed to Warner Bros Records. In 1968, the Canadian folk-rock singer released a cover of 1941 as a single on Warner Bros. It’s an impassioned and emotive reading where  Tom Northcott brings Harry Nilsson’s powerful lyrics to life.

The Family Tree’s recording career was somewhat short-lived. It began in 1967, and ended in 1968. By then, they had released three singles and their 1968 album Miss Butters on RCA Victor. One of the songs on the album Miss Butters was Butters Lament. It’s a reminder of what’s a hidden gem of an album that features cerebral, carefully crafted and pop songs. They’re part of a concept album about an elderly spinster.  Each song, including Butters Lament is part of a different chapter in her life. Just like the other songs on the album, Butters Lament’s arrangement is imaginative and well produced. String and horns play an important part in this cinematic song’s arrangement. 

Good Times originally featured on Harry Nilsson’s 1966 debut album Spotlight On Nilsson. Five years later in 1971, British actor Alan Lake covered Good Times which was produced by Mike Berry. It was released in Germany on Ember and in Spain on the Discophon label. Despite Alan Lake’s joyous and irresistible cover of Good Times, the single failed to find an audience and there was no followup.

When The Yarbirds released Ten Little Indians as a single on Epic in Britain in 1967, they had just become a quartet. Their music was changing, and becoming much more experimental, with The Yarbirds improvising and playing longer songs during concerts. This didn’t suit Epic, who brought Mickie Most onboard to produce Little Indians. Alas, the single failed to chart. Things improved for The Yarbirds when they released their fourth album Little Games, which featured Ten Little Indians. It was released in 1967, and reached eighty on the US Billboard 200. Little Games proved to be The Yarbirds’ swan-song, with Jimmy Page going on to form Led Zeppelin. However,  Ten Little Indians is a reminder The Yarbirds who were one of the most important and influential British bands of the sixties

Harpers Bizarre were formed in Santa Cruz, California in 1963, and by 1970 had already released four albums. One of the songs they released as a single was a cover of Harry Nilsson’s Poly High. It was produced by Lenny Waroneker and Harry Nilsson and released on Warner Bros in 1970. Poly High is a dreamy, lysergic ballad which is one of the hidden gems in Harpers Bizarre’s back-catalogue.

For The 5th Dimension’s eighth studio album Living Together, Growing Together which was released on Bell Records in 1973, they chose to cover Harry Nilsson’s Open Your Window. In The 5th Dimension’s hands it becomes a beautiful, jazz-tinged ballad that is one of the highlights of the compilation.

By 1968, Puerto Rican guitar, singer and composer José Feliciano was twenty-three, and had already released seven albums on RCA Victor since 1965. Seven became eight with the release of Souled later in 1968. One of the cover versions was Harry Nilsson’s Sleep Late, My Lady Friend. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt ballad with where José Feliciano shows maturity that belies his relative youth.

Tucked away on the B-Side of The Shangri-Las’ single Past, Present And Future was Paradise. It was released on Red Bird, in May 1966 and was a Shadow Morton production. He was The Shangri-Las’ producer, and was picking up where Phil Spector left off. Sonically, there are similarities to Phil Spector’s production style, during Paradise which is a reminder of  The Shangri-Las’ glory days, when they were one of the most successful of the American ‘girl’ groups.

When Blood, Sweat and Tears released their 1968 debut album Child Is Father To The Man on Columbia, one of the songs the covered was Harry Nilsson’s Without Here. This impassioned jazz-tinged ballad helped Child Is Father To The Man to forty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and the first of three gold discs for Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Closing Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 is Andy Williams with his cover of Remember. It featured on his 1973 Columbia album Solitaire. By then, Andy Williams was still one of the most popular easy listening artists. Solitaire was his fourteenth album to be certified gold. Then there was the small matter of three platinum discs since his debut album in 1956. Andy Williams delivers a rueful, thoughtful vocal and brings the lyrics to Remember to life. This is poignant, and beautiful ballad ensures that Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 ends on a high.

These twelve tracks are just part of the story of Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972, which is the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running and successful Songwriters Series. Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 features twenty-four songs from some of the giants of music, who are joined by familiar faces and new names. They all recognised the quality of Harry Nilsson’s songs, and decided to cover them between 1965 and 1973. Some artists stay true to the original, while others reinterpret the song and give it their own unique twist. Often, the cover is very different to the original, and new life has been breathed into Harry Nilsson’s original. In several cases, a whole new audience were introduced to Harry Nilsson’s music. Hopefully, that will be case with Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972.

It covers a period when Harry Nilsson wrote some of his most accessible music. After 1973, Harry Nilsson’s music became less commercial. Instead, he was aiming for artistic satisfaction, rather commercial success. Still Harry Nilsson continued to be one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation. However, his albums failed to sell in the same quantities as Nilsson Schmilsson and Son Of Schmilsson. They were the most successful albums of Harry Nilsson’s career. After that, Harry Nilsson never again reached the same heights. Gone were the days of number one singles, gold discs and Grammy Awards.

For a newcomer to Harry Nilsson, the songs on Ace Records’ recent compilation Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972 showcase his skills as a songwriter during what was the most accessible and successful period of his career. This is the place for a newcomer to start. Especially with what were his two most successful albums Nilsson Schmilsson and Son Of Schmilsson. After that, it’s a case of working one’s way through Harry Nilsson’s back-catalogue. It features one of the most talented and gifted singer-songwriters of the sixties and seventies. Harry Nilsson won the respect of critics, cultural commentators and his contemporaries. They’re not alone.

Now Ace Records pay tribute to Harry Nilsson by inducting him in their Songwriter Series, where he joins some of the greatest songwriters and songwriting partnerships of the past sixty years. Proof of that are the twenty-four songs on Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972, which features a tantalising taste of the songwriting skills of the mercurial and enigmatic Harry Nilsson at the peak of his powers.

Gotta Get Up: The Songs Of Harry Nilsson 1965-1972.

ESMARK-MARA I AND MARA II.

Esmark-Māra I and Māra II.

Label: Bureau B.

On the ‘27th’ of July 2017, Esmark, the collaboration between sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz and experimental artist Alsen Rau will join what is one of the most exclusive clubs in music. Its members include musical luminaries like Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes, who have all released two albums on the same day. However, Esmark’s membership is still on the pending pile until ‘27th’ of July 2017. That day they become fully fledged members of this extremely exclusive club, when they release their two new studio albums Māra I and Māra II, on the Hamburg based record label Bureau B.  This is some way for Esmark to announce their arrival on the musical stage.

Esmark is the latest musical vehicle of sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz and experimental artist Alsen Rau. They’ve worked together on a variety of experimental and performative projects since 2001. Their latest project was recorded in late 2016, in Scandinavia, where they beautiful surroundings and solitude inspired them to record enough music for two albums. Rather than save some of the music for a followup album, a decision was made to release two albums simultaneously. 

Having made that decision, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau started thinking on a new moniker for their latest musical vehicle. This was the start a new chapter for the pair, and required a new name. When they started casting around for a new name for the project, they came up with Esmark, which is a majestic glacier at Spitzbergen, in Northern Norway that borders the Arctic Ocean, Greenland Sea and Norwegian Sea. Now that they had settled on the name Esmark for new project, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau made plans to release the album. This was something that both men have plenty of experience with.

Both Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau are experienced musicians, who have enjoyed lengthy and successful careers. They’ve both previously worked together, and have also worked with a variety of different artists in a variety of roles.

In the case of sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz he was mastered Scheich In China first two albums and has written for the Karachi Files’ 2016 debut eponymous album and Scheich In China. However, Nikolai von Sallwitz is best known as known as  Taprikk Sweezee, which is the moniker he has been using since 2006.

Since then, Taprikk Sweezee has worked in a variety of capacities, ranging from singer and songwriter, to recordist remixer and producer. His career as Taprikk Sweezee started in 2006 as a vocalist and since then, he has served what is akin to a musical apprentice. That is only part of the Taprikk Sweezee story.

Taprikk Sweezee has  written music and has been involved with sound design for film, theatre and a variety of art and pop projects. Somehow, Taprikk Sweezee has found time to collaborate with a number of visual artists, including Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicholas Fischer and Robert Seidel. There are it seems, many strings to Taprikk Sweezee’s bow.

In 2010, Taprikk Sweezee released his debut EP Conversea. A year later, and Taprikk Sweezee returned with his sophomore EP Poly. Taprikk Sweezee also finds time to work on projects with his friend Alsen Rau, including on the Barabass, Scheich in China and their most recent project Esmark.

Just like Nikolai von Sallwitz, Alsen Rau has a wealth of musical experience. Over the years, he has been a member of various groups including Barabass, who released an EP in 2006. On + Brr followed in 2010, who released their debut album Peace and Love in 2010. This was followed by a quartet of singles. Alsen Rau’s next project was Scheich in China, who have released five albums between 2014 and 2016. However, this is just part of the story of Alsen Rau.

He’s also one of the founders and curators of Kraniche, a Hamburg-based club, that is renowned for exhibitions of experimental art. They’ve received praise and plaudits from critics and cultural commentators. There’s also been performances of experimental music at Kraniche, which has gained a reputation as a place that is unafraid to showcase ambitious and inventive music.  Away from  Kraniche, Alsen Rau has also curated a number of exhibitions, performances and readings, and is heavily involved with city’s art scene. However, much of Alsen Rau’s time is spent making music.

This includes Esmark’s albums Māra I and Māra II. To make what eventually became Māra I and Māra II, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau decided to head to Scandinavia in late 2016. Rather than head to one of the major cities in Sweden, Norway or Finland, where they would find some of the top studios in Europe, 

Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau decided to head to rural Scandinavia. They wanted to be free from distractions, and hope to enjoy some solitude that would spark a creative spree.

Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau took to their Scandinavian retreat, mostly, an array of analog equipment, including various synths and drum machines. They were joined by a myriad of effects, which would play an important part in the proceedings once work began. 

Locked away in their Scandinavian retreat, the recording sessions got underway, and Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau started to carefully craft a series of soundscapes using the various synths and drum machines. The final piece in the jigsaw were a variety of special effects and filter units, which transformed the dry signal and resulted in a myriad of otherworldly sounds making their way onto the tape. Sometimes, the recordings on the tape were then fed back into the compositions. Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau weren’t afraid to experiment and push musical boundaries to their limits during what proved to be productive recording 

The solitude of their Scandinavian retreat had proven inspirational for Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. So much so, that when it came to naming soundscapes, that Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau named them after the biogeography and cartography of where the recordings took place. They were determined to never forget where Esmark’s first took place.

By the time the recording sessions were over, and Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau returned home, they realised that they had more than enough material for one album. This left them with two options. They could cherry pick the best soundscapes for Esmark’s debut album, and keep the remainder for the followup album. However, given the quality of the music Esmark had recorded, they decided to follow in the footsteps of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes.

This meant releasing two albums simultaneously on the one day. These two albums became Māra I and Māra II, which were Esmark’s debut and sophomore albums. Esmark were about to join a very exclusive club, and do so in some style with Māra I and Māra II.

Māra I.

Māra I features six soundscapes lasting forty minutes, and they showcase the combined and considerable talents of Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. That is the case between the opening bars of Esmark, and the journey through Sirens, Skern Å, Mon, Krav and right up until the closing notes of Keicke. The music is understated, haunting, ethereal and cinematic, as if Esmark were writing the score to a sci-fi movie. Sometimes, the minimalist sound is futuristic and otherworldly as it meanders, pulsates, growls and drones. Always there’s an air of drama, and an air of expectancy as the genre-melting soundscapes takes a series of twists and turns.

As they do, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau combine elements of ambient and avant-garde with the Berlin School, electronica and experimental music. There’s also Krautrock and musique concrète influence as Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau paint vivid pictures during this album of compelling and carefully crafted cinematic soundscapes. However, Māra I is only part of the Esmark story.

Māra II

Māra II picks up where Māra I left off, and as Husby-Klit Bk. unfolds, appears to follows in its footsteps. The music is ambitious, inventive and just like on Māra I, is minimalistic, has an elements of drama as it reveals its futuristic, cinematic sound as meanders menacingly. The futuristic, otherworldly and cinematic sound reappears on Lianen, before Ringen reveals a much slower, spartan sound. Drums provide the heartbeat, and again, add an element of drama. It’s a similar case on Årgab, which has an otherworldly and experimental sound. On Vrig, drums crack as a synth pulsates almost menacingly on another cinematic soundscape. Futuristic and otherworldly describes Pluvialis Apr. which feature a myriad of sci-fi sounds. Gradually, Objekt P62410 reveals a dramatic, cinematic sound, and it’s a similar case with Tæller 3.981, which closes Māra II. It sounds as if belongs on the soundtrack to a movie about intergalactic warfare, and is one of the highlights of Māra II.

As is often the case, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau have the best until last on Māra II. Just like Māra I, it’s an album where Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau combine disparate musical genres to create the bigger musical picture. Again, this ranges from ambient, avant-garde and the Berlin School, to electronica, experimental. There’s also a Krautrock and musique concrète influences on Māra I, which follows in the footsteps of Māra II and reaches the same heights. 

Esmark’s two albums Māra I and Māra II, both showcase the considerable talents of Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. The day they formed Esmark was the start of a formidable musical partnership. Māra I and Māra II which will be released by Bureau B on the ‘27th’ July 2017, is a tantalising taste of the type of music that Esmark are capable of producing.

The music on Māra I and Māra II follows in the footsteps of some of the legends of German music, especially Adelbert Von Deyen, Ashra, Conrad Schnitzler, Cluster and Klaus Schulze. Just like these musical luminaries, Esmark are capable of creating inventive, innovative music. It’s much more than that though.

Often, there’s an element of drama, as the soundscapes becomes dark, eerie, haunting, moody, ominous and otherworldly. Sometimes, they’re understated and minimalistic, while other times, they take on a mesmeric or hypnotic quality. Occasionally, the soundscapes become ethereal, wistful and ruminative, and as a result, invites reflection. Always, though, Esmark continue to captivate and compel with their carefully crafted cinematic soundscapes on Māra I and Māra II which marks the dawn of a new and exciting era for Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. 

Esmark-Māra I and Māra II.

EBERHARD KRANEMANN AND HAROLD GROSSKOPF-KRAUTWERK.

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf.

Label: Bureau B.

Ever since The Beatles released Love Me Do in 1962, many musical luminaries have talked about collaborating on an album. Sadly, that is often as far as it got. Egos got in the way of the project, and what could’ve been a historical collaboration was shelved. 

Other projects got as far as the studio, when egos clashed. By then, the musical luminaries had started writing songs, and shad even recorded a few songs. That was when oversized egos and pride got in the way of what could’ve been a groundbreaking album. What was an opportunity to make musical history was lost.

Some artists got into the studio, and got as far as recording and releasing an album. Unfortunately, it was an album that should never have seen the light of day. When it was released, these collaborations between musical giants proved to be a wholly unsatisfactory and showed that the artists’ better days were behind them. 

Not all collaborations between high-profile musicians are doomed to failure. Many collaborations lead to landmark and classic. Especially within jazz music, where collaborations were once commonplace, and lead to many a groundbreaking album. It was a similar case when jazz begat fusion. Collaborations lead to some of the greatest albums in fusion’s history. However, collaborations were also commonplace with country and rock and nowadays, are commonplace with hip hop. There was also many a collaboration between some of the biggest names in Krautrock and the Berlin and Düsseldorf Schools of Electronic Music.

These collaborations led to countless groundbreaking classic albums. One of the highest profile collaborations was Harmonia, which featured Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster and Michael Rother of Neu! They released Musik von Harmonia in 1973 and Deluxe in 1974. Harmonia also collaborated with Brian Eno on their third album, Tracks and Traces which was belatedly released in 1997. By then, countless collaborations had been released which featured the great and good of German music. 

This includes many albums which featured either Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf. Both men have enviable CVs, and have played with of Germany’s leading bands. They’ve featured on many albums, including countless classic albums. However, up until recently, Harald Grosskopf and Eberhard Kranemannt have never recorded an album together. The two men live in different parts of Germany. Harald Grosskopf lives in Berlin, while Eberhard Kranemann is a resident of Düsseldorf. However, they decided to collaborate on an album, and the result was Krautwerk which was recently released by the Hamburg based record label Bureau B. Krautwerk is a meeting of two musical minds, who have certainly made their mark on Germany’s music scene.

Harald Grosskopf has been one of the leading lights of the Berlin music scene for over forty years, and during that time, has played on albums by some of the biggest and most influential groups in the history of Krautrock and the Berlin School of Electronic Music. His story began in 1972.

That was when Harald Grosskopf played on two debut albums, Wallenstein’s Blitzkrieg and also Witthüser and Westrupp’s Bauer Plath. A year later, in 1973, Harald Grosskopf played on albums by Ash Ra Tempel, The Cosmic Jokers, Wallenstein and Walter Wegmüller. This was just the start of a long and illustrious career. 

As the seventies progressed, when some of the biggest names in German music were looking for a drummer, Harald Grosskopf got the call. Soon, he found himself playing alongside Klaus Schulz and Ashra. This included on Ashra’s 1979 classic albums Correlations. However, a year later, Harald Grosskopf embarked upon a solo career.

In 1980, Harald Grosskopf began his solo career as he meant to go on, by releasing a landmark album Synthesist. After a six-year wait, Harald Grosskopf returned with his sophomore album Oceanheart in 1986. Just like his debut album Synthesist, Oceanheart was hailed as another genre classic. Oceanheart had been well worth the six-year wait.

There was another gap of six years before Harald Grosskopf released World of Quetzal following in 1992. However, the gaps started getting longer, and ten years passed before Harald Grosskopf released Digital Nomad in 2002. There was a reason for the lengthy gaps between solo albums.

Harald Grosskopf was still the go-to drummer for some of the biggest names in German music.  That had been the case since 1971, and continued when Harald Grosskopf embarked upon a solo career in 1980. He was constantly in demand, and it got that the studio became a second home for Harald Grosskopf, and since 1980, had worked on albums by Ashra, Bernd Kistenmacher, Bernd Witthüser, Joachim Witt, Lilli Berlin, Steve Baltes, Sunya Beat and 17 Hippies. It was no surprise that often there were long gaps between Harald Grosskopf’s solo albums.

Just two years after the release of Digital Nomad in 2002, Harald Grosskopf released Yeti Society in 2004. There was then a six-year gap until he returned with Synthesist 2010, where he reworked his classic debut album. The following year, 2011, Synthesist was remixed and became Re-Synthesist. This introduced Harald Grosskopf’s classic album Synthesist and his back-catalogue to a new and younger audience. They embraced his most recent solo album Naherholung, which was released in 2016. That was also when Harald Grosskopf started working with Eberhard Kraneman on Krautwerk.

Eberhard Kraneman was born in 1945, and studied classical double bass at the Dortmund Conservatory, where he played Bach, Mozart and  Telemann orchestral music. In the evenings, Eberhard Kraneman started playing with local jazz bands. However, a move to Düsseldorf to study painting at the Arts Academy, transformed Eberhard Kraneman musical outlook.

At the Arts Academy, Eberhard Kraneman experimented with colours and painted abstract pictures. This lead to him embarking on musical experiments. These sonic experiments started on a cello and clarinet, before Eberhard Kraneman started experimenting with a variety of different instruments. Gradually, he introduced a tenors saxophone, electric guitar, Hawaiian guitar and later, various electronic instruments. This lead to Eberhard Kraneman and other art students he founded the experimental music group Pissoff in 1967.

Not long after this, Florian Schneider heard the band, and decided to joined. This was the start of a four-year collaboration, where Eberhard Kraneman was a member of the nascent Kraftwerk between 1970 and 1971. That was when Eberhard Kraneman left Kraftwerk, and started collaborating with Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger who had already formed Neu! 

Eberhard Kraneman time with Neu! came to nothing, and Neu! became a duo, featuring Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger. They went on to release a trio of classic albums. Meanwhile, Eberhard Kraneman reinvented himself. 

Eberhard Kraneman decided to reinvent himself as Fritz Müller, who had many strings to his bow. Having dawned his new persona, Fritz Müller became a recording artist and worked on television and radio. Initially, though, Fritz Müller spent much of his time working at Conny Plank’s studio in Wolpera. That was where Fritz Müller recorded his 1977 debut album Fritz Müller Rock. By then, he had also founded the Fritz Müller Band, who would embark upon regular tours. However, as a solo artists, Fritz Müller released eight solo albums between 1977 and 2010. He even found time to collaborate with Larsen and Nurse With Wound on the 2010 album A Selection Of Errors. This was just part of the story of Eberhard Kranemann.

In 2003, Eberhard Kranemann decided to release an album under his own name.  Klangfarben was the first of six solo albums Eberhard Kranemann released between 2003 and 2010. He also found time to release six collaborations between 2011 and 2015. Krautwerk, Eberhard Kranemann’s recently released collaboration with Harald Grosskopf takes that total to seven.

When it came to record their first collaboration, Krautwerk, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf headed to Kunsthaus Boltenberg, in Wuppertal, Germany. That was where the two veterans of German music wrote, recorded, edited and mixed the six tracks that eventually became Krautwerk. 

To record Krautwerk, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf used a combination of traditional instruments and technology. Harald Grosskopf added electronics, electronic drums and percussion. Eberhard Kranemann was responsible for the cello, electric guitar, electronics, Hawaiian guitar and vocals. Once the four tracks were recorded, editing began and gradually, Krautwerk started to take shape. All Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf had to do was mix Krautwerk, before the album was mastered by Andreas Kolinski. Now Krautwerk was ready for release.

As Midnight In Düsseldorf Berlin opens Krautwerk a gnarled, bubbling bass synth joins with effects-laden guitars and crisp electronic drums that provide the hypnotic heartbeat. The arrangement meanders menacingly, all the time growing in power. Searing guitars are unleashed, adding to the lysergic, cinematic sound. So does Harold’s whispery soliloquy as it drifts in and out. Meanwhile, blistering guitars and synths combine. Especially bubbling synths that help create a dramatic backdrop, and later, an ethereal synth soars above the arrangement adding a contrast. It’s replaced by a wall of scorching, effects-laden, rocky guitars as synths bubble, beep and squeak. Later Harold’s soliloquy briefly returns, before a pulsating synth and myriad of electronics are added. They add the finishing touch to this captivating, cinematic, dramatic and sometimes psychedelic soundscape. 

The bass synth and vocoder that open Ou Tchi Gah are reminiscent of Kraftwerk in their prime. Soon, the drums shuffle as bass synth pulsates and is joined by a squawking vocal. It drifts in and out, as the soundscape becomes the man machine.  For the listener, it’s like heading off on journey, first on an express train then a plane as it soars into Berlin’s night sky. As it lands in Düsseldorf, an express train awaits. Meanwhile, a sinister and squawking are part of a five-minute moody, moderne and thought-provoking soundscape that features Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf at their most inventive.

Back in 1984, Wim Wenders directed Paris Texas, which featured a soundtrack by Ry Cooder. Both are cult classics, and Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf seem to pay homage to them on Texas Paris. A searing, effect-laden guitar is unleashed, and panned left and right. Soon, it’s joined by a thunderous and menacing bass synth. Later, washes of whooshing, grinding and ethereal synths are added and when combined with the blistering guitar, pay a fitting homage to one of Ry Cooder’s finest soundtracks.

Ethereal, shimmering synths glide slowly across the arrangement to Happy Blue creating a feel-good sound. It’s ambient and draws inspiration from the Berlin School. That is still the case when crisp and dubby drums are added. A vocal is transformed into an extra instrument, before it almost heads in the direction of hip hop. By then, the drums are thunderous, as synths grind and squawk. Suddenly, it’s a quite different track, as the changes are rung. Now the arrangement is jaunty and uplifting, and then slow, ethereal and dreamy. Soon, the tempo rises and the track is anthemic and dance-floor friendly. Still, the changes are rung, on this musical merry-go-round. A buzzing bass synths, drums and synths play leading roles on what’s now an uplifting, hands-in-the-air anthem that later, becomes ethereal and understated before it dissipates, leaving just a memory of Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf showcasing their considerable skill on this genre-melting opus.

A drone soars above the arrangement to Buddhatal, as grinding and percussive sounds provide the backdrop for an improvised vocal. Sometimes it has a spiritual quality, other times it heads in the direction of free jazz. Occasionally it’s akin to Primal Scream Therapy. However, it plays its part in this ambitious soundscape where drones, layers of synths percussion and searing effects-laden guitar are combined. They’re all part of Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf’s musical palette, which is put to good use, as they carefully create a truly ambitious thirteen minute epic soundscape. It takes a series of twists and turns, as it reveals subtleties and surprises where Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf create tomorrow’s music today.

After six carefully crafted soundscapes lasting forty-three minutes, Krautwerk is over. It’s the first collaboration from two of the elder statesmen of German music. They’re perfectly suited to collaborating, and seem to bring out the best in each other. So much so, that they’re like yin and yang. The result is ambitious album of innovative and genre-melting music.

During Krautwerk, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf combine elements of ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, dub, electronica, experimental, Krautrock, psychedelia, rock and techno.  Elements of all these disparate genres are combined to create music that is variously anthemic, joyous uplifting, to dark, moody and broody, and other times dramatic, futuristic and mesmeric. Krautwerk is also psychedelic, cinematic and always captivates.  

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf aren’t afraid to through a few curveballs, or springs some surprises during Krautwerk. This keeps the listener on their toes during this captivating musical journey. They never know quite where Krautwerk is heading, but going by what’s gone before they know that these are interesting times. 

And so it proves to be, as Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf climb aboard the man machine during the rest of this the magical mystery tour that is Krautwerk. The Fab Two have created an ambitious and captivating album of contemporary and futuristic music. Sometimes, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf make the music of tomorrow, today on Krautwerk, which is a groundbreaking and genre-melting album from two of the leading lights of the German music. They’re responsible for the six cinematic and psychedelic soundscapes on Krautwerk, that are also dramatic, thought-provoking and at times, joyous and uplifting.

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf-Krautwerk.