Song of the Week – Golden Rough, The Bamboos

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The Bamboos are a contemporary, (mostly) white, 8-piece funk band from Australia — kind of a modern day Average White Band.

I stumbled upon their 2006 debut release, Step It Up, and immediately fell in love with the James Brown inspired grooves that they lay down.

Today’s SotW is “Golden Rough” from that album.

It opens with a drum pattern. After four bars bass and a funky rhythm guitar join in; then come the horns – those glorious horns! Once the groove is fully established, the band makes room for a trumpet solo before returning to the main groove. This is a track The Meters could dig.

“Get on the good foot.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo), Taj Mahal

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Today’s SotW is the fourth time Taj Mahal has been featured in this communiqué – twice before under his own name and once as a member of the Rising Sons.

The song is “Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo)” which was originally a very short instrumental that served as an intro to the album Giant Step (1969). But the version that’s today’s SotW is an extended jam from the 1971 album recorded live at the Fillmore East, The Real Thing.

Can you believe that Taj Mahal went on the road with a 9-piece band that included four tubas? Well he did. And it works!

Beside the tubas, the band also included the great Jesse Ed Davis and John Hall (Orleans) on guitars, and John Simon (producer of the first two Band albums and the first BS&T disc) on piano.

The three solos are contributed by session pro Howard Johnson (sax), Hall, and Simon. Taj Mahal adds fife, and true to the song’s title, he whistles his way through this lazy river, instrumental jam.

This is perfect music for a beautiful, Spring day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – One Fine Morning, Lighthouse

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In December 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears released their eponymous 2nd album. In 1969, three singles – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel” – each reached #2 on the Billboard singles chart and made the album ubiquitous. Eventually, this popular, horn-based disc won the Grammy for Album of the Year (1970).

That recording eclipsed the first BS&T album (Child Is Father to the Man), the Al Kooper brainchild that I discovered after BS&T, that I have come to decide is the much better record.

Around the same time, Chicago was breaking out. Chicago Transit Authority (1969), Chicago (1970) and Chicago III (1971) were all excellent albums that took Al Kooper’s idea to merge rock music with a horn section to another level… and “horn rock” became a thing.

Now let’s not argue about it. I’m well aware that horns have been used in popular music before BS&T or Chicago. But it was more common in the genres dominated by black artists. The early R&B hits of the ‘50s almost always had a sax, if not a complete horn section. The soul music on Atlantic, Stax/Volt, and Motown all relied heavily on horn arrangements. But this was less so in Rock, at least if you consider acts with the horn players as permanent members of the band.

Other horn rock acts include The Electric Flag (with the great blues guitarist, Mike Bloomfield), The Ides of March (remember “Vehicle”), The Sons of Champlin (popular here in the Bay area) and Chase (featuring the screaming high note trumpet of Bill Chase).

Another band, Lighthouse, recorded today’s SotW – “One Fine Morning.”

I’ll bet when a few of you hear this you remember the song but say to yourself “I always thought that song was by Chicago!” No surprise since the Canada based Lighthouse often makes lists of “one hit wonders.”

But you have to admit, this cut rocks. The vocals, the guitar and (of course) the horns are a rocket shot to the moon! And you have to love the way the band builds tension through to the ending.

If you have any interest in digging a little deeper into the history of horn rock, check out this article at the Music Aficionado website:

Horn Rock Bands: Quaint… or Killer

Also worthwhile are both of the recent Chicago documentaries that you can catch on NetFlix or on demand:

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (2016)
Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience (2017)

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – C’mon & Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces, Poco

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Before Eagles. Before New Riders of the Purple Sage. Before Pure Prairie League. Before Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,,, there was Poco.

OK, it might be going a little too far to claim Poco invented country rock – but it’s not too far off. Gram Parsons and the Byrds released Sweetheart of the Rodeo about 6 months before Poco’s first album. Dylan and The Band were in Americana territory earlier too. But rock and roll was a combination of R&B and country, so you can go back to the Everly Brothers if you want to go back to the roots — or, perhaps, even farther back to Hank Williams.

But that’s all theoretical BS. Today’s post is about Poco.

I was introduced to Poco by my big brother. At the time, Crosby, Stills & Nash were a top act and led my young mind to carefully read liner notes to learn more about group ancestry.

Poco rose out of the ashes of Buffalo Springfield. Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed the group after the Springfield fell apart due to creative differences between the main creative team of Stephen Stills and Neil Young.

My favorite Poco album was their third – the live DeLIVErin’ (1971). Deliverin’ is not only one of my favorite Poco albums, it’s also one of my favorite live albums – and that’s not hyperbole.

“C’mon” is a country rocker!

The disc also has a couple of great medleys, one of the band’s live show trademarks. I love to sing along to “Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces.”

One of the things that always grabbed me about Poco, and Deliverin’ in particular, is the positive attitude of this music. It is optimistic. It is simply joyous!

Poco was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. It was at SUNY New Paltz, but sadly, after both Furay and Messina had left. But it was still a great show.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Total Entertainment Forever, Father John Misty

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Each December I take the time to do an exhaustive review of the new music I listened to throughout the year – I compile my own, private “best of the year” list. I also read as many other lists as I can to discover more critically acclaimed albums that I may have missed.

By the time I get to this point in the New Year, I’ve fully processed my favorite recordings from the prior year.

One album that I missed upon release but turned out to be one that floated up to the top for me was Father John Misty’s third release, Pure Comedy. Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, was the drummer/backing vocalist in Fleet Foxes from 2008 until early 2012. By May 2012, Tillman had released his first solo album under the Father John Misty pseudonym.

The SotW is “Total Entertainment Forever.”

The song opens with the provocative lyric:

Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift
After mister and the missus, finish dinner and the dishes

To Tillman, this is a commentary on “progress.” He was quoted in an interview with Exclaim! as saying “…if you don’t think that this virtual reality thing isn’t going to turn into sex with celebrities, then you’re kidding yourself.” This is indie rock for thinking people… and one of the best albums of 2017.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ball of Confusion, The Temptations

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I’m very conscious of saturating the SotW with the same artists. Even mainstays such as The Beatles, Stones, Dylan or Led Zeppelin have only been featured three or four times each over the 10 years I’ve been working on this project. So it feels a little funny to be writing about The Temptations for the second time in three weeks!

But right after I posted “I Wish It Would Rain” on February 10th, I learned that the Temps singer Dennis Edwards had died on February 1st at the age of 74 – just two days before his 75th birthday.

Although he was not one of the original members of the group, he was one of the lead singers on many of their late ‘60s/early’70s “psychedelic” period hits including “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (Edwards has the line “It was the third of September…”), “Cloud Nine” (lead), and “Psychedelic Shack.”

Edwards was long a part of the Motown family, taking the lead on The Contours’ 1962 hit “Do You Love Me.” It was later made popular with a new generation when it was featured in the movie Dirty Dancing (1987).

Edwards had the unenviable position of replacing the popular David Ruffin when he was kicked out The Temptations in 1968. Edwards often had to endure audiences calling out “Where’s David?” The task was made more difficult because Ruffin was known to occasionally show up at Temptations gigs and disrupt Edwards’ performances – trying to take back the spotlight he once commanded.

Despite this difficult task, Edwards was an important contributor during a very successful period for the group. Beside the songs mentioned above, he also sang lead or key parts in more hits like “Shakey Ground,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and today’s SotW, “Ball of Confusion.”

“Ball of Confusion” reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart in 1970. It’s another example of soul/funk music moving into more socially conscious lyrics – a trend begun by Marvin Gaye and Sly & the Family Stone.

All of the songs mentioned in today’s post are worthy of being the SotW. So get onto Spotify or YouTube and check them all out,

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Never Met a Dog…, Vinegar Joe

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As a record collector, I always get a kick out of finding an album that has early, obscure recordings by an artist that went onto much greater stardom later in his/her career.

One such album was by the early ‘70s British R&B band, Vinegar Joe. Vinegar Joe had two singers that left the group to launch successful solo careers. One, Elkie Brooks, had moderate success. The other, Robert Palmer, became an international superstar.

Vinegar Joe (I assume named after the prickly US WWII general, Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell) was only able to stay together for less than 4 years. In that time, they recorded three pretty good albums. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any of them in my record collection!) Today’s SotW is “Never Met a Dog (That Took to Me)” from the band’s self-titled debut. Vinegar Joe (1972) had a great cover too.

“Never Met a Dog…” was written and sung by Palmer. It is very typical of the “pub rock” genre of the early to mid ‘70s, popular in the UK. Palmer takes the lead but Brooks adds some nice harmony vocals. And it has a solid sax break about mid-way through.

I never saw the band but they were reputed to give great live performances. Although the records are pretty good, their fans often complained that they were never able to capture the energy of their live shows in the recording studio. That’s a shame! But there are an unusually large number of live videos available to see on YouTube, especially considering the technological limitations during the years the band was around.

So, if like me, you like to check out music of artists “before they were great,” listen to the songs of Vinegar Joe.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, The Jam

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Back in late 1977, The Jam finished their second album, This Is the Modern World, and quickly left the UK for their first US tour. It was going to be a quick but important tour, covering six shows over nine days. It started with a west coast swing at the Whisky A Go Go in LA and San Francisco, then went east to Boston (The Rat) and NY (CBGB’s).

The tour was widely considered a disaster. Bandleader Paul Weller was homesick for London so his heart wasn’t into it. (Plus, the 19 year old was pissed that he wasn’t able to drink in the bars he was playing like he could in England where the drinking age was younger.) Equipment problems in SF caused them to cancel a show that was intended to be a major showcase for music industry bigwigs.

I was lucky enough to see the Boston show on October 13, 1977, as a guest of Polydor Records. (I was a DJ at WZBC at the time.) I remember meeting a guy who introduced himself to me as “Mark Parenteau of WCOZ.” I innocently asked him if he was “on air.” He replied “I do the fucking afternoon drive.” I didn’t mean to insult him but how would I know? I didn’t listen to commercial radio at the time. Mark went on to a long and illustrious career at COZ and WBCN but died at 66 years old in mid-2016.

But let’s get back to The Jam.

This Is the Modern World is a decent album but was considered a typical sophomore slump for the band upon release. The awful US tour and disappointing reception for This Is the Modern World was incentive for Weller to dig deeper and come up with better material. He answered the call and returned to form on their third release – All Mod Cons (1978). It is often considered the best album in the Jam’s strong catalog. Chris Woodstra of All Music wrote “Terms like ‘classic’ are often bandied about but in the case of All Mod Cons, it is certainly deserved.” MOJO wrote it “… still stands as The Jam’s finest hour.”

Its best song was “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.”

The song tells the story of a guy who gets into an altercation with a gang in the London subway. They beat the crap out of him, leave him semi-conscious and take his money and the keys to his house. As he lies there he begins to worry about the safety of his wife, waiting for him at home.

The last thing that I saw as I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British rail poster read “have an away day, a cheap holiday, do it today”
I glanced back on my life, and thought about my wife
‘Cause they took the keys, and she’ll think it’s me
I’m down in the tube station at midnight

Tough stuff!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Rocket Man, Pearls Before Swine & The Man in the Moon, Grinderman

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I recently learned that Tom Rapp, a psych-folk innovator and the creative force behind Pearls Before Swine, has died after a long bout with cancer. This news has prompted me to pay him tribute by revisiting a SotW posting I originally distributed on April 4, 2009. You can read his full obituary here:

Back in the late 60s/early 70s, Tom Rapp recorded several fine “psychedelic folk” albums with his band Pearls Before Swine. His finest was The Use of Ashes (1970). This album was recorded in Nashville with some of the same session men (Charlie McCoy & Kenny Buttrey) used by Bob Dylan on Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding.

That album’s “Rocket Man” (not to be confused with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song used in a recent episode of My Name Is Earl) is my favorite and this week’s song. The lyrics were inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” and tell the story of a son’s astronaut father that dies in space:

My father was a rocket man
He often went to Jupiter or Mercury, to Venus or to Mars
My mother and I would watch the sky
And wonder if a falling star
Was a ship becoming ashes with a rocket man inside

I was first turned onto Rapp and Pearls by my brother and his college buddies (they were big in Boston). A couple of years ago my buddy Joe M. (the drummer in San Diego’s Pink Floyd tribute band) revived my interest in these records when he let me borrow a boxed set he picked up. It wasn’t until this more current listening that I picked up on Rapp’s Carol Channingesque lisp. How did I miss it all the times I listened to this song/album in the 70s?

If you get a chance, listen to “The Jeweler” from the same album. It’s truly a gem. (Sorry!)

I was recently reading a MOJO article on Nick Cave and learned that his Grinderman song “The Man in the Moon” has a very similar feel and lyrical content, so I have to include that as a second song of the week.

My daddy was an astronaut
That’s what I was often taught
My daddy went away too soon
Now he’s living on the moon

Hang on to me people, we’re going down
Down among the fishes in an absence of sound
It’s the presence of distance and it’s floating in time
It’s lack and it’s longing and it’s not very kind

Sitting here scratching in this rented room
Scratching and a tapping to the man in the moon
About all the things that I’ve been taught
My daddy was an astronaut

They’re perfect bookends.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Moonlight Mile, Rolling Stones & Blue, Jayhawks

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A “rock death” escaped me at the end of 2017. On November 7th, Paul Buckmaster passed away at the age of 71. As yet, the cause of death has still not been disclosed.

I first became aware of Buckmaster’s work through the liner notes for Elton John’s string of six outstanding albums from Elton John (1970) through Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). Throughout his career, Buckmaster arranged 52 songs for John.

But he did so much more than that. He arranged the strings on David Bowie’s first breakthrough hit, “Space Oddity.” He worked on other mega hits in the early 70s including Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Nilsson’s “Without You.” He sweetened the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” and played cello for Miles Davis. (Davis credited Buckmaster with introducing him to the work of 20th century, avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He also made his mark on the last minute of “Sway” from the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. But his work on that album’s “Moonlight Mile” is more noteworthy.

Mick Jagger worked with Mick Taylor on this song as Keith Richards was MIA. It was Taylor’s idea to ask Buckmaster to gin up a string arrangement for the song. Taylor expected (some would say promised) a song credit for his contributions. But upon release the credit went to the Jagger/Richards team.

Buckmaster continued to work with pop and country artist and in the mid ‘90s he contributed to “Blue” by the Jayhawks.

The songs most prominent feature is its soaring harmonies. But Buckmaster adds a subtle string arrangement that perfectly complements the emotion of the song.

Before his passing, Buckmaster worked with everyone from Counting Crows to Train, Heart to Guns N’ Roses, Carrie Underwood to Taylor Swift, Something Corporate to New Found Glory (and plenty more). His legacy will live for generations!

Enjoy… until next week.