The great Ben E. King died last week at age 76. He was one of the lead singers for the Drifters for a short time and then launched his solo career in 1961 with Spanish Harlem and then his signature song Stand By Me. The latter, along with Save the Last Dance for Me are at the top of my personal list of songs that give me a chill every time. Digging through YouTube, I found one video in which King is joined by some of the best voices of our time.
It can be a lot of fun surfing through YouTube, starting out with one intention and following the breadcrumbs to something very different. At any rate, I ran across this video of one of my all-time favorite guitarists, John Cipollina, best known for his work with Quicksilver Messenger. This is from a band he formed with the terrific blues-rock belter Nick Gravenites (think Butterfield, Electric Flag). This cut is almost all Cipollina which is, I think, a rarity. From 1980.
As a young man, I had convinced myself that I had the proper range to sing along with the Everly Brothers. In the car, with no passengers, it worked pretty well. Even I knew better than to attempt this in public, but hearing them on the radio always felt good. There are some interesting videos online with the brothers joined by all manner of amazing musicians but this one captures them in their youth, complete with pompadours.
NPR came through for me yesterday with their Heavy Rotation suggestion, a Canadian duo called Whitehorse and this song. When I got home I didn’t hesitate to buy the whole album. Hope you like it. (Does the opening remind anyone of a classic song used as the title for a story and a film employing this imagery?)
Tonight’s a two-fer because I fear that both of these artists are fading or have faded from the collective consciousness of folk music. Show of hands, who knows about Judy Henske? The video isn’t the greatest quality but it does capture the power coiled up in this slender, demure-looking woman.
But I couldn’t resist including an early Richie Havens take on the same classic folk song. Because, hell, Richie Havens.
The music scene in the late 70s and early 80s was one of my mostest favorite.
When I first started posting Music Night, I used musicians’ birthdays as a theme. Everyone once in awhile I’d pull out a plum and this time it’s Henry Rollins. If you don’t know about Henry Rollins, for shame, and do your due diligence. And look up some very early Black Flag videos; Rollins is unrecognizable compared to today.
Honestly, this song was officially an “oldie” even in my day but it’s a doo wop classic and still makes me smile. I love the fact that the Penguins can still pull off the vocals after all these decades. And they still look sharp.
My friends and I made a desperate attempt to get into Fillmore West for the last weekend Janis Joplin would perform with Big Brother and the Holding Company but, to no one’s surprise, it had sold out. (We were forced to trip at the Avalon Ballroom for a performance by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, then with Mick Taylor. Not Janis but still fantastic.)
I hated hearing about Joe Cocker’s death last month, just hated it. I’ve been in love with Cocker since 1969. Thanks to YouTube there is a ton of material available online but this remains one of my favorites, because Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Leon Russell, and 1970 and because The Letter was a great hit song. For years I thought Alex Chilson wrote it but it turns out it was written by Wayne Carson, a country music musician and songwriter. Of course I also thought the Box Tops were a Black group… Cocker’s genius was his ability to reinterpret really really good music, to own it, but to be true to the original. Paul and John reputedly loved his treatment of their songs, and I’m guessing George Harrison did as well.
I was a huge fan of The Blues Project in the late 60s although I didn’t get to see them live until their reunion tour in the early 80s. For the most part they hadn’t lost their chops or their voices by then so it was pretty satisfying. This is an excellent video from their performance at Monterey Pop in 1967 displaying their improvisational skills.
There’s no question in my mind that my father’s love of goofy humor lives on in me (and my son). He would drag me to the radio to listen to The Goon Show and any other zany British comedians and to see the Marx Brothers whenever the opportunity arose. When we lived near NYC this meant being able to go into the city and watch them in a real theater, including one glorious triple bill.
My childhood was often punctuated by his LP of collected songs by Spike Jones and the City Slickers until I could (and probably still can) spout the lyrics and sound effects of every song. When we were living in Oregon in the late 50s, he took me to see them. At a boat show.
If you’re old enough and spent any time as a folkie, you’re probably familiar with Ian & Sylvia, extremely popular Canadian folk singers from the 60s. In 1969 they formed one of the first and best real country rock bands — which was, as always, a shock to many of their fans. Great Speckled Bird’s eponymous LP was brilliant and influential, and it dropped from view almost immediately. Somehow I ended up with a copy back then (1970) and fell in love. Over the years I forgot about them for the most part and the record went along with 500 or so vinyl LPs earlier this year when I gave them to a good home. There were one or two limited edition CDs, long out of print, but I’m about to drop nearly $30 for a used copy from Japan. (In the video’s comments someone claims that their French is atrocious but what do I know?)
One of my most cherished LPs in the late 60s was Projections from The Blues Project.
The hunky guy in the middle is Danny Kalb, the lead guitar (second from the left is Al Kooper). After the band broke up Kalb went through rough personal days and never got the recognition he deserved. In 1969 he recorded one album with Stefan Grossman and that LP, Crosscurrents, was a favorite in my vinyl collection. Something jostled in my memory this week and I discovered that Crosscurrents was available on CD–I’m looking at it right now, still in its wrapper waiting to go home with me.
I finally got to see The Blues Project in concert in the early 80s during their reunion tour. Some of their voices had aged badly but their musical chops were still excellent. This video is from an acoustic set of Danny Kalb’s. I think it’s worth a listen with some tasty work at the three-minute mark.
This is London Grammar, a relatively new group from (surprisingly) England. I find Hannah Reid’s voice haunting and quietly fierce. I hear echoes in the band’s music of people like Jeff Buckley, Julie Driscoll and even Cat Stevens–which resonate with me on a deep level. Your mileage may vary, but even if you don’t mesh with their music, please at least watch the videos which are fascinating bits of art. Particularly take a shot at the first and watch it all the way through. And then maybe the second video which is strange indeed. Hurray for young unfettered artists.
Choosing the musician to highlight this time was, unfortunately, too easy. Johnny Winter died yesterday at the age of 70. The man was one of the most incredible guitar players ever, and a brilliant bluesman. He also had a perfect voice for the blues.
These guys were a lot of fun back in the 60s, as The Turtles and with Frank Zappa. The two songs fused together in this video make a nice set because the latter was actually a gag song taking a slap at their label for constantly demanding another Top 40 hit. And that’s what the song turned out to be.
I think I missed a Music Night two weeks ago. Sorry! I think I relaxed too much on vacation and drank too much and ate too much awesome Southern cooking… At any rate, this video is a little unorthodox. It’s an ice cream ad, which is one thing. It’s eight minutes long, which is another. And it’s a very sweet love story. The young woman with the short hair is Phoebe Neidhardt and once upon a time she played Lucy to my son’s Linus in high school. You can’t tell from this but she’s got lungs of leather.
About the time this posts on Friday, I will be wandering through the airport in Atlanta looking for food and a drink, ready for a week of, um, eating and drinking. And a baseball game. In my honor I’m posting a video from an Atlanta garage rock band. I’ll probably forget to notice that it is 6:00 pm and the Music Night post is up.
Alex Chilton (December 28, 1950 – March 17, 2010) first swam into my consciousness in 1967 as the lead singer of the Box Tops, part of the blue-eyed soul singer wave. In the early 70s he was a founding member and lead singer of Big Star, a hugely influential powerpop band that withered without any decent support from their record company but reached cult status over time.
From Wikipedia: Before it broke up, Big Star created a “seminal body of work that never stopped inspiring succeeding generations” in the words of Rolling Stone, as the “quintessential American power pop band” and “one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll”.
Alex Chilton died at age 59 of a heart attack. He’d experienced symptoms for weeks beforehand but, hey, no health insurance so not doctor visits. Four years later, with the ACA, he might well have survived.
Ok, I’ll admit, I love Nashville (the tv show), not because it’s a dopey soap and not just because Connie Britton. Well, maybe it is Connie. At any rate, this week’s episode had one of the minor characters auditioning as a backup singer–pretty girl with a pretty voice. Sweet. And, thanks to 20 Feet From Stardom I was shaking my head the whole time.
No power. That’s something made clear time after time in the film; all these women have tremendous vocal power. Hell, they probably don’t need microphones half the time. Case in point is Judith Hill, the youngest of the performers. YouTube has a number of videos from her time on The Voice, but this one is my favorite, from the film. Gorgeous, exotic woman who can bring down the house with her singing.
Last week I watched Twenty Feet from Stardom, a brilliant documentary on some of the greatest American backup singers. If you have not seen the film, stop what you’re doing and order up a copy from Netflix. Seriously. We’ll wait…. Ok. All of these women will knock your socks off, guaranteed, but for the moment we’ll focus on Lisa Fischer, who was a complete revelation to me. There is a point in the film when Mick Jagger goes on about how he and Keith decided in the midst of recording that they needed a female voice on account of how they were all masculine and stuff so they had someone bring this woman in in the middle of the night. What he doesn’t say is that they didn’t need a woman, they needed this woman because suddenly they had one of their biggest hits. So this is a Rolling Stones video, but you really want to pay attention at about 2:30 min. And go get that movie.
Love songs… I know y’all can show more imagination than I did.
My comment upon discovering this video on YouTube: I saw them at a Pop Festival in Rotterdam, summer of 1970. I had their LPs but nothing captured that live performance. I still vividly remember Jerry Goodman standing at the front of the stage, his long hair flying in the wind, hypnotizing the crowd with his violin. Great to see a live video!
My older sister had a Duke Ellington LP I used to borrow when she wasn’t around. The main reason I wanted to listen to it was a single cut, Skin Deep, which featured one of the most spectacular drum solos I’ve ever heard. Ladies and gentlemen: Louie Bellson