Song of the Week – Fadeaway, BoDeans

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

BoDeans formed in 1980 when high school friends Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas decided to get serious about their music and write songs together.  They were initially called Da BoDeans.

By 1985 they had a recording contract and were in the studio recording their debut album with star producer T-Bone Burnett.  Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (1986) took its name for the lyrics to The Rolling Stones “Shattered” and contained the FM radio hit “Fadeaway.”

BoDeans roots-rock sound on this album is simple and slight, but very catchy.  The guitar interplay and vocal harmony overcome the thin, repetitive lyrics to make the song a very enjoyable listen.

Unfortunately, around 2010 things went bad between Neumann and Llanas, with some very ugly allegations of misconduct.  Llanas quit the band and Neumann has continued the band without him.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Let’s Roll, Neil Young; I Can’t See New York, Tori Amos; My City of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen

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Today we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrible terror attack on the United States.  In reaction, many music artists wrote songs about the horrible 9/11 events.

In November 2001, Neil young released “Let’s Roll”, a phrase that was attributed to Todd Beamer, one of the heroes on Flight 93 that crashed in PA.  Todd was heard on a phone uttering the words as he and other passengers took action to take control of the flight to prevent the hijackers from using the plane to crash into its target.

This wasn’t the first time Young quickly released a record in response to a news event.  In 1970, Young wrote “Ohio” after the May 4 shooting of students at Kent State University.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded the song and released it in June 1970.

Tori Amos gave us the haunting “I Can’t See New York.”

Thirteen thousand and holding
In the purring
Of her engines

But I can’t see new York
As I’m, circling down
Through white cloud
Falling out
And I know
His lips are warm
But I can’t seem
To find my way out
My way out I can’t see
Of this hunting ground

Bruce Springsteen devoted an entire album – The Rising (2002) – to songs that addressed the aftermath of events of 9/11 from various perspectives.  This was an ambitious project that only someone with Springsteen’s perception could handle so deftly.  “My City of Ruins” is a hymn in the mold of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

There’s a blood red circle on the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door’s thrown open, I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone
My city of ruins

Now the sweet bells of mercy drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows, the empty streets
While my brother’s down on his knees
My city of ruins

Now there’s tears on the pillow, darling, where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss my soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again
My city’s in ruins

The song’s sadness of the verses change to healing in the final section:

Now with these hands, with these hands
With these hands, with these hands
I pray, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands), alright (with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands), come on (with these hands), come on
Come on rise up, come on rise up
Come on rise up, come on rise up

May all we Americans heal together as we mourn on this solemn day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Songs for Sweet Connie Hamzy

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Two weeks ago, Connie Hamzy died.  She was 66.  What band was she in?  Well, she wasn’t in any band – she was a real life “Penny Lane”; a Groupie based in Little Rock, AR, and the “sweet, sweet Connie” made (almost) famous by Grand Funk.

Out on the road for forty days
Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze
Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act
She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact

She also earned a mention in a less well known song about life on the road – “Pleasin’ For Reason” — by The Guess Who.

Order some cash, we’ve got another tour to make
Workin’ so hard, just to pass the time away
Connie my love, our movie was great and so was the taste
It was pleasin’ for reason

And she scored a trifecta, getting name-checked in yet another song, by Cheap Trick!

I had a vision
That was bigger than life
Oh Connie likes nighttime, every night
Connie likes candy, every bite
All day sucker, Connie might
Swallow that thing ’cause she does it right

The enterprising Connie was so determined to become a famous Groupie that she made round, pink stickers that she gave to the bands and roadies.  They read “Call Connie in Little Rock” and included her phone number.  I searched the internet for a picture of one but couldn’t find it.

Connie’s connections to members of The Allman Brothers, The Who, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, Rush, Eagles, KISS, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Fleetwood Mac make her one of the most famous Groupies of all time.

Connie was unapologetic about her lifestyle.  And I’m not here to judge.  But I read comments from many of the people that knew her, published in The Lefsetz Letter, and they were all respectful and mentioned how sweet she was and how well she treated the bands.

She wrote a memoir titled Rock Groupie: Intimate Adventures of ‘Sweet Connie’ that was published in 1995.  She also spent a considerable number of years in a very different occupation… as a substitute teacher in Little Rock!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Sail On, Zephyr; Alexis, The James Gang; Post Toastee, Tommy Bolin

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Tommy Bolin was a great guitarist.  He would be much better known and recognized if he hadn’t died 45 years ago at the age of 25.  Yes, that’s right – he was only 25.  He didn’t even make it to the 27 club with Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and Cobain!

When you read reviews of the groups he played with (Zephyr, The James Gang, Deep Purple) they often comment on the lack of top notch material but always acknowledge Bolin’s guitar playing as a highlight.  It didn’t help that his stints with The James Gang and Deep Purple followed the departure of other well-known guitarists (Joe Walsh, Ritchie Blackmore) at times when the bands were in decline and receiving much less attention from the press and fans alike.

But even at his young age, he had the chops to play and record with fusion giants such as Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon.

Bolin also released two high quality solo albums — Teaser (1975) and Private Eyes (1976) – before he died in December 1976.

Here’s a sampler of his recordings through the years:

Zephyr was a pretty tight band that could move in and out of straight rock and jazz influenced music, as “Sail On” demonstrates.  But the band suffered from Candy Given’s overwrought, screechy vocals.

“Alexis” begins as a ballad but just before the 3 minute mark it turns heavy and becomes a vehicle for Bolin to solo and squeeze gallons of emotion from his fretboard.

“Post Toastee” has a cool riff and acts as a vehicle for some extended soloing by Bolin that show off both his fusion and rock influences.  It was a favorite show closer on his last tour.

So, my ultimate goal here was to bring some notice to an overlooked and often forgotten guitar talent.  I hope I succeeded.

Enjoy… until next week.

Charlie Watts, a tribute

Ben Sisario has a lovely piece about Charlie’s music and place in the music world in the NY Times today. Read it here. (It’s one of my 10 monthly “gift” links, so maybe it will work for nonsubscribers.)

The Watts story is one of thwarted desire, but the fulfillment of professional duty. He’d have preferred to play with Charlie Parker, but if he had to play with the Stones? Obviously yes.

My favorite factoid. He collected cars but never learned to drive. Evidence against his supposed lack of decadence.

My favorite personal anecdote. Sometime back in the 80s I took my friend Mo to JFK. He was flying off to Germany. In the International Departures section we ended up sitting next to Charlie and his wife, Shirley, on some banquettes on a long corridor. It was hard not to look, but also embarrassing to be seen looking. Mo was a master of such moments, gave a wave of acknowledgment, and said Hi. Charlie and Shirley politely said Hi back, and then we went back to our waiting. More comfortably.

For me the magic of the Stones was the way the pieces fit together in surprising and completely agreeable ways. Charlie fit that aesthetic to the t.

Song of the Week – Through a Window, Euphoria

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

One of my favorite “hidden classics” is Lee Michaels’ Carnival of Life.  I featured a SotW from that album way back in late 2012.

Although Michaels is known for his work behind the keyboards (organ, piano, harpsichord), one of the best parts of Carnival of Life is the guitar playing by Hamilton W. Watt.  But who is Hamilton W. Watt?

Trying to answer that question sent me down an internet wormhole.  First I landed on this interesting obituary:

Hamilton W. Watt Obituary

And by the time I came out, I had discovered a terrific album that I hadn’t heard before – A Gift from Euphoria, by Euphoria.

Euphoria was a duo made up of Watt and William Lincoln.  They were signed to Capitol Records and made one album that was released in 1969.  That album has become a cult classic among record collectors.  (No, I don’t own a copy!)  It is well regarded for the eclectic mix of styles that are executed so well.  The album has symphonic ballads (think Moody Blues), hippy country rock (like The Byrds), psych, and songs that integrate sound collages (like The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”).

Today’s SotW – “Through a Window” – is the cut that makes the best use of Watt’s guitar prowess.

After listening through the whole album a couple of times I happened to pick up my copy of The MOJO Collection – The Greatest Albums of All Time, and guess what?  A Gift from Euphoria is represented in the section for 1969!

To fully appreciate this album, you should listen to it all the way through.  It isn’t available on Spotify, but the full album can be found on YouTube.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – It’s Different for Girls, Joe Jackson

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Joe Jackson entered the music scene with the release of Look Sharp!, in 1979. He and fellow Brits Elvis Costello and Graham Parker were lumped together as punk rockers (or maybe new wavers) by the music press.  But all three were more aligned with the pub rock scene (as was Nick Lowe and Rockpile).

Look Sharp! contained the evergreen “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” along with several other songs that were popular on college radio.  Seven months later, still in 1979, Jackson released his second album – I’m the Man.  That disc has one of my favorite Jackson cuts – the beautiful “It’s Different for Girls.”

“It’s Different for Girls” was much more popular in the UK than the US.  It reached #5 in the UK but couldn’t break into the Top 100 here in the US.  I don’t get it.

The verse has a beautiful melody that floats over a simple two-note guitar pattern.  The lyrics are a gender bending take on which of the sexes is more permissive.  Stereotypically the girl (not woman in this song) is “holding out” and the guy is ready to jump into bed at the go.  But not in this one.

What the hell is wrong with you tonight
I can’t seem to say or do the right thing
Wanted to be sure you’re feeling right
Wanted to be sure we want the same thing

She said,
I can’t believe it
You can’t
Possibly mean it
Don’t we,
All want the same thing
Don’t we,
Well who said anything about love

So then, what is “different for girls?”  I think Jackson is twisting the typical male attitude that boys are different because they aren’t emotionally tied to sex.  But it’s the girl in this lyric who says “Who said anything about love?”

Jackson went on to record and release a few, more sophisticated, jazz influenced pop albums that yielded hits such as “Steppin’ Out”, Breaking Us in Two”, and “You Can’t Get What You Want (Til You Know What You Want).”

But by the late ‘90s Jackson had turned away from pop and began to focus more on classical music.  He still performs and released an album, Fool, as recently as 2019.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Mother Freedom, Bread

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

The ‘70s hit band Bread was known for their soft rock, love ballads, sung by David Gates.  Besides Gates, the core of the band included Jimmy Griffin (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Robb Royer (bass, guitar, keys and other instruments).  For many, including me, Bread is a guilty pleasure.

But that’s not the whole story of this band.  They had chops and could really rock out.  Take, for instance, the lead track from their fourth (and best) album, Baby I’m-a Want You (1972) – “Mother Freedom.”

By this point, the great LA session musician, Larry Knechtel, was the full-time bass player, replacing Royer.  (Knechtel played the piano part on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” and was on the sessions for many classic albums, including Pet Sounds, The Doors, Mr. Tambourine Man, and Alone Together.)

“Mother Freedom” clocks in at under 3 minutes but rocks with a funky riff, some nifty solo guitar work, and exciting vocal harmonies.  Freedom from guilt!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Waitin’ for the Bus and Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers, ZZ Top

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Steve Studebaker.  Steve leads Blind to Reason as their guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter.  Their music streams on Spotify.  Besides BTR, Steve is a musicologist and huge ZZ Top fan.  So when I learned ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill died this week, I knew just the guy to call on to pay tribute to him for the SotW.

Anyone who knows me knows I love the blues, and blues rock — Zeppelin, the Stones. Robin Trower, Allmans, et al.  But the band who got me going at a young age was ZZ Top. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas.

I saw them for the first time as a teenager in 1975 on the ‘Fandango’ tour.  I was about 20 feet from the stage at the Portland Memorial Coliseum.  Always with great style, their stage was empty except for the drums, flanked on either side with a huge row of Marshall stacks re-branded as “Rio Grande” amps.  Billy and Dusty powder blue sequined cowboy suits and ten-gallon hats.  They tore the roof off the joint.  My ears rang for days and my mind was blown.  I’ve seen them several more times, most recently a couple of years ago with my younger son.  They never disappointed.

Formed in the late sixties and just recently celebrating 50 years together, they managed to play original music that sounded like classic blues.  Texas blues in the style of Albert and Freddie King.  They played loud but with finesse; hard edged but always a little bit funky.

Both Billy Gibbons and Dusty were known for a minimalist style.  Exactly the right note at exactly the right time.  Perfectly in sync and in the pocket, with no unnecessary fluff.

Here’s an example.  If you want to hear the baddest, funkiest, opening 30 seconds in classic rock, put on their third album Tres Hombres. The first cut is “Waitin’ for the Bus”.  Billy starts off with a blistering lick on his Les Paul (named Pearly Gates), and then Dusty walks in with the drums 3 bars later.  Magic.  Turn the volume way up!

Of course guitarist and vocalist Billy Gibbons gets the lion’s share of accolades.  Rightly so.  Jimi Hendrix called him one of the world’s greatest guitar players.  But a bass player in a power trio has to carry the load.  He’s the glue that holds the drums, guitar, and vocals together.  Dusty Hill did all of that and more.  Throughout their discography you’ll hear syncopated, polytonic bass parts that other arena rock bands want no part of.  Dusty sometimes sang backup vocals, but ironically he sang the lead on their biggest radio hit, “Tush”.

In my book, their greatest albums are the aforementioned Tres Hombres and their sixth album Deguello.  But every one of their records has a radio hit, with tasty licks, funky rhythms, and more than a few psychedelic desert sojourns.

Legend has it that the first time Billy and Frank met Dusty, he passed out and fell off the barstool.  They looked at each other and said, “He’s gonna fit in just fine.”

In that spirit, check out cut 3 on Tres Hombres.  It’s another great bass performance, as he and Billy do “call and response” vocals.  As you listen, raise a glass to Joseph Michael “Dusty” Hill.

If you want the whole story check out the documentary That Little Ol’ Band from Texas on Netflix.

Enjoy… until next week.