Saturday, January 30, 2016

In Memory of Paul Kantner: We Can Be Together

Paul Kantner, another icon of rock ‘n roll, passed on Thursday, January 28. While some may not recognize his name, his influence was felt for many years as a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and the KBC Band.

Like many of the American rock performers of the mid to late 1960s, Kantner began as a folk singer in the vein of Pete Seeger. It was at one of these gigs that Marty Balin saw him and invited him to start a new band that became Jefferson Airplane. He eventually became the band’s leader. While he was not generally the front-person, he had the distinction of being the only member of Jefferson Airplane and its spinoff Jefferson Starship to appear on all of the albums by both groups.

Paul Kantner died in San Francisco from multiple organ failure and septic shock that occurred after having a heart attack. For our tribute to this seminal musician, I’ve selected the “B” side to the first single released from the 1969 LP “Volunteers”: “We Belong Together.” Kantner wrote the song and shared lead vocals with Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Thanks for the music, Paul, we’ll miss you.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Frey's Already Gone

The music world is still reeling from David Bowie’s death a week ago, and now the news has arrived about the untimely passing of Glenn Frey at the age of 67 in New York. The cause was rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia. He was recovering from intestinal surgery.

Photo by Steve Alexander; used under license of Creative Commons.
While he trained as a pianist, Frey was better known as a guitarist who doubled on piano. His first recording was playing rhythm guitar and singing backup on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” in 1968. After touring with Linda Ronstadt in 1970, Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon formed the Eagles. Glenn sang a number of their hit records including today’s featured recording: “Already Gone.”

This 1974 hit was co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund. Tempchin and Frey would later team up to write a number of Frey’s solo hits. The lead guitar parts on “Already Gone” were supplied by both Frey and the band’s newest member, Don Felder. Although “Already Gone” only peaked at #32, it remains one of the Eagles’ better known songs.

Following the break-up of the band, he had a successful solo career with five Top 40 hits between 1982 and 1988. His last album was released in 2012 and departed from the styles he developed in the Eagles and as a solo artist. Laying aside his guitar and using only his voice as his instrument, “After Hours” was an album of standards and other songs in a similar vein.

I had the opportunity to meet Glenn on August 24, 1985 in Charleston, WV when he was opening for Tina Turner on her “Private Dancer” tour. While a number of radio programmers from four different markets were getting ready to meet him backstage, Glenn loudly called me by name “Jim, how on earth are you doing?” After giving me a big hug, he whispered in my ear, “I saw your name on your jacket. Just play along and we’ll make all of these other radio guys jealous.” After some banter he grabbed my hand and just started to dance. What you see below was caught on film by a friend. He was one of the most congenial stars that I’ve had an opportunity to meet.

The world has lost another great musical voice and we sadly pay our respects to Glenn Frey – Rest in Peace.

David Bowie: China Girl

As we continue looking at the music of David Bowie, 1983’s “China Girl,” although co-written by Bowie, was a cover of an earlier recording by the other author: Iggy Pop. Written in Berlin in 1977, it was based on Pop’s fascination with a beautiful Vietnamese woman. “China Girl” was the second of four US singles from Bowie’s extremely popular “Let’s Dance” album. It followed the #1 title track by peaking at #10 on the Hot 100 and at #3 on the rock tracks.

“Let’s Dance” was Bowie’s first solo top 40 hit since 1975’s “Golden Years”; however, his duet with Queen on “Under Pressure” from 1981 charted at #29. Bowie’s 1983 treatment of “China Girl” was much more palatable to the public than his production of the same song on Iggy Pop’s album “The Idiot.” More on that below.

The difference might be attributed to a number of factors. One of these is that production duties entirely belonged to Nile Rodgers formally of the dance band Chic and a popular session guitarist and producer. While Rodgers plays guitar on this cut, the lead was played by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan’s inclusion on the “Let’s Dance” LP gave album rock credibility Bowie’s project as it generally a dance/pop album.

This is much like Eddie Van Halen’s performance on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” – which garnered some AOR play on stations that normally wouldn’t play a Jackson cut. The only difference is that album radio more readily accepted this new style for Bowie, as he had always been an album rock artist despite popularity on the pop charts.

Iggy Pop's Original

Although Bowie didn’t stray too far from Iggy Pop’s original in structure, the arrangement was greatly improved for the remake. Released as a single in some countries, Iggy Pop’s version failed to chart anywhere. I cannot find any information if RCA released as a 45 in the US – if so, it was only a promotional release.

Bowie was the sole producer on the cut and plays keyboards, guitar, piano, saxophone, and xylophone, as well as providing backing vocals. By listening to the original, you can see why Bowie’s 1983 version was the hit.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

David Bowie: Suffragette City

One of the first Bowie songs that I heard on the radio was an album cut from the “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” album in 1972. In addition, “Suffragette City” had the notoriety of being released by RCA Records three times as a single in the UK – twice as a “B” side and once as an “A” side. In the US, its only 45 release appeared as the flip of “Starman” in 1972. It failed to chart in both the US and the UK.

Rumor has it that Bowie first offered the song to Mott the Hoople to record it before he laid down his own glam rock version, but they passed on the song. This is unfortunate, as they did an excellent version of Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes.” I would have liked to hear their interpretation. As for Bowie’s recording, Mick Ronson’s really added to the cut with his lead guitar, the rocking piano, and the ARP synthesizer; all of of which, in my estimation, makes the song.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

David Bowie: Lazarus

Day three of our tribute to David Bowie features a new song from the album “Blackstar” that was released just two days before his death. Although “Lazarus” was from the new album, it premiered on December 17, 2015. It would be his last single release while Bowie was alive.

“Lazarus,” as well as the entire album “Blackstar,” was a statement concerning his impending death and his release from pain. Although the song wasn’t specifically written about his own death, it was the title song his off-Broadway production of a sequel to “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Lazarus took place 30 years after the original story.

While Bowie played the character of Thomas Gerome Newton in the film, the character was reprised by Michael C. Hall – who might be better remembered as playing Dexter Morgan. The title “Lazarus” alludes to the biblical character that Jesus raised from the dead for days after he passed.

It’s quite different from anything else Bowie has recorded and he fully utilizes the talents of Donny McCaslin on sax, Tim Lefebvre on bass, Jason Linder on keyboards, Ben Monder on guitar, and Mark Guiliana on drums. Bowie plays acoustic on the cut.


Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I'm in danger
I've got nothing left to lose
I'm so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain't that just like me?

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your past

This way or no way
You know I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain't that just like me?

Oh, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I'll be free
Ain't that just like me?

David Bowie: Young Americans

Day two of our tribute to David Bowie, who passed away on Sunday, takes us back again to 1975 with another Bowie hit – “Young Americans.” It was a tongue-in-cheek look at these United States and was recorded two days after Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. Thus Bowie immortalized Tricky Dick in song. However, it wasn’t the first time, though. Neil Young did it on “Ohio” in 1970 and Lynyrd Skynyrd mentioned Watergate on 1974’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Young Americans” features killer saxophone work by the legendary David Sanborn and a backup vocal arrangement courtesy of Luther Vandross. Luther, Ava Cherry, and Robin Clark were the backup singers on this song that Bowie termed as “Plastic Soul.” “Young Americans” peaked at #28 in early 1975.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie: Fame

This morning on the way to work I heard the sad news of the passing of David Bowie due to cancer. It was just Friday that this same news outlet reported that it was Bowie’s 69th birthday as well as the day his new album “Blackstar” was being released. Too bad he never had the opportunity to see the success of his latest release.

As looking over the number of Bowie’s songs that I have featured on Reading between the Grooves over the years, I found nine – here are the links.

As a tribute to the life of David Bowie, this week I am going to feature more music by this late great rocker who changed musical styles throughout his career; what a trendsetter. For the initial post, it’s a #1 record from 1975: “Fame.” The songwriting credits went to Bowie, John Lennon, and Carlos Alomar.

While all three play guitar on the track, Alomar plays the funk parts. Lennon is doing the background vocals as well as engineering the tape loops that are found during the song. The beginning tape loop is a recording of several chords played backwards. Later, a backwards guitar is added to the mix. The final effects have Bowie’s voice recorded at various speeds and played back at normal speed. This not only changed the speed of which the word “Fame” was sung, but also the pitch of the playback as well.

“Fame” – what’s your name? Why, I think its David Bowie. Rest in peace Ziggy Stardust.