Saturday, December 29, 2012

Island Records: Rock & Roll Stew

The second single to be released in America on Island Records was Traffic’s “Rock & Roll Stew . . . Part 1.” The album “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” featured a greatly expanded version of Traffic that came about on their “Welcome the Canteen” tour and album. The new line-up saw Jim Capaldi move out from behind the drum kit to a more visible role as a percussionist and vocalist.

Veteran drummer Jim Gordon took over the job as the primary rhythm master with Rebop Kwaku Baah also joining Capaldi as percussionist. While Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi were the primary songwriters of the band, “Rock & Roll Stew” was written by Gordon and bassist Ric Grech. Capaldi sang lead on this tune as well as on “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.”

As a single, “Rock & Roll Stew . . . Part 1” only charted at 93 in 1971. The LP, however, did quite well by placing seventh on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Island Records: Pilot of the Airwaves

In 1978, Chris Blackwell of Island Records signed Charlie Dore, a multi-genre talented artist from Great Britain, to his label. “Where To Now” was her only album on Island and was recorded in Nashville. It was originally produced by Audie Ashworth. Not to Blackwell’s liking, the album was remixed by veteran producer Joe Boyd; however, his mix also sounded too country and it was shelved.

Blackwell employed a couple ex-members of The Shadows, Alan Tarney and Bruce Welch, to rerecord a number of the cuts including her only US hit – “Pilot of the Airwaves.” Released in late 1979, the tune charted in the US in 1980 at #13. Dore’s career looked promising as one of the big four US music trade magazines, Record World, named her “New Female Artist of the Year.” On the strength of “Pilot of the Airwaves,” Billboard tabulated Dore at #86 in the Top 100 Single Artists of 1980.

Although Dore released several other albums, she became better known as a song writer for other artists. Sheena Easton’s recording of her and Julian Littman’s composition “Strut” charted at #4 in the US. For her competence as a songwriter, she received two ASCAP awards that recognized this talent.

After being out of print for two decades, “Where to Now” was finally released on CD in 2005 on Lemon Records. The album was completely remastered for its CD debut.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Island Records: Video Killed The Radio Star

It wasn’t the first recording of the song, but The Buggles’ release of “Video Killed the Radio Star” did better than Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club’s version that was issued several months earlier. The song was co-written by Woolley and the two members of The Buggles: Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. This Island Record release was also issued twice – originally in 1979 where it charted at #40 and later in 1983 when it failed to chart.

The second release of the song was issued by Island Records to capitalize on the popularity of the song’s video on MTV. It is reported that The Buggles version was the first video to be played on the popular music television network when it debuted in 1981.

To get the telephonic sound on the lead vocals, Horn’s voice was passed through a Vox guitar amp, compressed, and equalized. Partially due to the success of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” both members of the band were asked to join Yes to replace Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman who exited the band in 1980. They recorded one album with Yes, "Drama," which did not have the success of Yes’ previous recordings.

When Yes broke up after the release of "Drama," Downes formed Asia with Yes guitarist Steve Howe, bassist John Wetton and Carl Palmer. Downes later rejoined Yes in 2011. While not a performing member of Yes when it reformed in 1983, Horn remained as a studio sideman and producer through 1987. He resumed this role in Yes from 2010 to 2011.

The name The Buggles was a play on The Beatles with the initial reference of “bugs” referring to the term given to electrical issues that occur occasionally during recording.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Island Records: White Dress

One of my favorite bands of all time – Fairport Convention – recorded for Island Records from their second album (“What We Did on our Holidays”) to their thirteenth (“Live at the L.A. Troubadour”). In the US, however, most of these albums were issued on A&M as Island didn’t yet have a presence in the US. Even after Island began releasing its material on its own US arm, Fairport Convention remained with A&M until after the release of the album “Nine.”

“Rising for the Moon” was their first album released on Island in the US and may have only been their only album proper to be issued by the US arm of the label. “Gottle O’Geer,” credited as Fairport featuring Dave Swarbrick on the US version, was in all intents and purposes a solo album by Swarbrick that was issued under the band’s moniker. I don’t believe that “Live at the L.A. Troubadour” was issued in the US as I only remember seeing it only as an import – but I could be wrong about this.

I remember buying “Rising for the Moon” in Huntington, WV during the summer of 1976 as a cutout. I loved this album as it was a return of Sandy Denny to the band and would prove her last official output with Fairport. This version of the band was an amalgamation of the three Daves (Swarbrick, Pegg, and Mattacks) and 3/5 of Fotheringay with Sandy Denny, her husband Trevor Lucas, and lead guitarist Jerry Donahue.

Drummer Dave Mattacks left the band during the recording of the album and was replaced with Bruce Rowland. If you look at the cover, the caricature of the drummer has his back to viewer – my guess is that this was done so as not to draw attention that the band had a transition of drummers during the period.

Today’s feature song was penned by Dave Swarbrick for Sandy Denny and was released as a single in the UK, but not in the US. “White Dress” is often credited to Swarbrick and Ralph McTell as he rewrote the tune for his own recording of the song in 1979. The Fairport version has Swarbrick as the only author.

I love the arrangement of this tune. While it could be Pegg playing the mandolin, I believe it is Dave Swarbrick – he is featured as such on the video. I think he is also playing the dulcimer on it, but I cannot be for certain. There is a certain quality in the rhythm that screams that an Autoharp is present, but none are in the credits. It may be a strummed piano strings by Sandy – a technique that Keith Emerson used on the song “Take a Pebble.”

Sandy’s vocals are also double tracked during the final verse. Dave Mattacks is the drummer on the cut, but Bruce Rowland is shown in the video. Trevor Lucas is seen playing an Ovation 12-string in the video as well. This is a beautiful tune, but wouldn’t have charted in the US – as our market never fully accepted the talent of Fairport Convention. Pity.

Incomplete Video of the Song

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Island Records: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Merry Christmas! While we continue our theme on Island Records, we turn to the 2010 release of Annie Lennox’s “A Christmas Cornucopia.” The traditional “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was the second release from the CD and it premiered in November 2010 almost two weeks before the complete CD was released.

A Middle Eastern flair is presented beginning with the second verse with the sounds of an African drum. Since several people are credited playing the African drum on the CD, I can’t tell you who is the percussionist on this number. Most of the instrumentation, however, is provided by Lennox who does all of the vocals. Good stuff.

Today, by the way, is Ms. Lennox’s 58th birthday.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Island Records: You Are In My System

Our second Island Records feature is one of many single releases by the late Robert Palmer. Released in 1983, it was a remake of The System’s techno-pop single from the previous year “You are in my System.” I had the chance to play both singles at WCIR in Beckley, WV. While Palmer’s cover did better locally, the single did not on a national basis.

Written by David Frank and Mic Murphy who made up The System, the original version of the tune peaked at #64 on the Hot 100. Palmer’s version, however, only made it to #78. Both singles were promoted by Atlantic Records as Mirage Records (The System’s label) and Island Records were distributed by Atlantic during the early 80s.

The story was different on the dance charts as The System’s original trailed ten points behind Palmer’s remake. The System’s 12” version peaked at #14, while Robert Palmer’s dance mix made it to #4. Personally, I prefer Palmer’s vocal treatment over Murphy’s. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Island Records: Travellin In Style

I was quite busy this past week and therefore skipped several days of posting; however, my time has been freed up and I can resume with our fourth week of the month record label special. Today, we will begin a series of posts dealing with the American arm of Island Records. Founded in Jamaica in 1959 by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall, the label moved its operations to London in 1962.

While its artists were funneled through a variety of labels in the US, its American presence began in December 1971 with the release of the single “Woman” by Bronco. The label was originally distributed by Capitol Records. In 1989, Blackwell sold his interests in Island Records to Polygram, which was later absorbed by Universal Music in 1998. The label is still operational today.

The first record on Island that I purchased was the single “Wishing Well” by Free. Since, I have already featured that number, I decided on the second single, “Travellin in Style” from their final LP “Heartbreaker.”

Guitarist Paul Kossoff helped write this song and plays guitar on it; however, he left the band in the midst of recording the album and is only credited as an “additional musician” and not as a member of the band. The other guitar parts are played by lead vocalist Paul Rodgers. The song also features new band members, keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick and bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. Both played in the short lived band of Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu & Rabbit.

Besides Rodgers, drummer Simon Kirke was the only other original member of Free in the band at the completion of the album. Both would later form Bad Company in 1973. The rest they say is history.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lana Del Rey: Blue Velvet

Several months ago, I noticed the proliferation of a TV commercial for H&M regarding their fall clothing lines. H&M, which at one time had a shoe store in my town, is a Swedish company that happens to be the world’s second largest clothing retailer. Because the commercial was so unusual, it caught my eyes and my ears immediately.

It features Lana Del Rey – a stage name for Elizabeth (Lizzy) Grant doing the Bobby Vinton classic “Blue Velvet.” The song, in its entirety, is found on Del Rey’s 2012 EP “Paradise.” While the version below doesn't feature the video, it is the same music bed found on the EP that was edited for use in the video and commercial.

Full Length Video

The 30 second commercial was constructed from a full length music video that is worth seeing. It features muted tones and some surprises. It is similar to film noir in its presentation – probably better characterized as being neo-noir. Because it is so strange, you will love it.

Commercial Version

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Band's Namesake Was Not The Singer: The Alan Parsons Project

While not a band per se, The Alan Parsons Project fits our category of the band’s namesake not being the singer. The membership of The Alan Parsons Project was rather fluid and it changed as necessary. A multitude of guest vocalists were used for their numerous albums including one of the Project’s main collaborators Eric Woolfson. Outside of some vocoder processed vocals and background vocals, Parsons did not sing lead.

From their fifth album “Turn of a Friendly Card,” “Games People Play” was their fourth most popular single charting at #16 on the Hot 100. Guest vocalist Larry Zakatek, who sang on 24 of the Project’s recordings including “I Wouldn’t want to be Like You” from “I Robot” that I previously had featured.

The Alan Parsons Project’s 1980 album “Turn of a Friendly Card” was the bands third most popular album in the US. It charted at #13 on the Top 200 albums chart and was certified platinum. Only “Eye in the Sky” and “I Robot” performed better.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Band's Namesake Was Not The Singer: The J. Geils Band

Our Friday selection for our Second Week Special looks at another band where the namesake was not the singer – The J. Geils Band. Formed in Boston and named for the band’s guitarist, the front man for much of The J. Geils Band’s history, including their brief identity crisis as “Geils,” was Peter Wolf. In fact, the current lineup of The J. Geils Band doesn’t even have J. Geils as a member – strange but true. In case you are wondering, the J. in J. Geils stands for “John.”

I came to know The J. Geils Band via airplay on WDVE in Pittsburgh, PA. The first song of theirs I remember hearing was their cover of The Contour’s single “First I Look at the Purse.” Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers wrote the song and Robinson produced The Countours’ 1965 recording. The original never made it into the Top 40, but placed at #12 on Billboard’s R&B chart.

The studio cover version by The J. Geils Band appeared on their self-titled debut LP. It also was the flip of their debut single “Homework (Ain’t Gonna Do It Baby),” which also appeared on the debut album. The single failed to chart, but “First I Look at the Purse” received significant AOR airplay in 1970.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Band's Namesake was not the Singer: Elvin Bishop

Well at least on today’s feature, the Band’s Namesake was not the Singer. The single “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by guitarist Elvin Bishop wasn’t sung by the band’s namesake. Unlike our other examples, Bishop did a fair amount of lead vocals; however, he felt his own voice didn’t do his composition justice. Therefore, he invited backup vocalist Mickey Thomas to sing what would become Bishop’s biggest record.

Bishop doesn’t even sing the back-up vocals on this cut – those are provided by guitarist Johnny Vernazza. The single peaked in the US at #3 and was certified gold by the RIAA. Mickey Thomas’s performance opened a door to become lead vocalist for Jefferson Starship.

In addition, this tune fits our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats’ category as it was released by Capricorn Records twice. The releases had different flipsides, but were cataloged under the same number. The first, which failed to chart, was released during late 1975. The hit version was issued in February 1976.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Band’s Namesake is not the Singer: Paul Revere & The Raiders

Our fourth installment of “The Band’s Namesake is not the Singer” takes us back to 1967 to a recording by Paul Revere & the Raiders’ Top Five release of “Him or Me, What’s it Gonna Be?” Paul Revere & the Raiders were named after the stage name of the band’s founder and keyboardist whose real name was Paul Revere Dick.

In the 1960s, I remember DJs stating that Paul Revere (the band leader) was descended from the American patriot and silversmith Paul Revere of Boston. I also remember reading that, while Paul Revere Dick was named for the harbinger of “The British are Coming,” that he really wasn’t descended from the famous Paul Revere. Unfortunately, I cannot find anything that proves either story.

While most folks remember the lead singer of the band being Mark Lindsey and that he did get mentioned on many of the band’s singles, they may not know that Paul Revere & the Raiders had been together since 1958 and had been recording since 1960.

On most singles, the band is listed as “Paul Revere & the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsey”; however, some pressings of “Him or Me, What’s it Gonna Be?” fail to credit Lindsey’s contribution. Other issues of the single include Lindsey’s name.

Their peak popularity came during the height of the British Invasion and their Continental Army uniforms when the British were coming to America made a tongue-in-cheek statement of the changes in the music world. By 1970, the band dropped the Paul Revere moniker and had their biggest hit as The Raiders with “Indian Reservation.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Band's Namesake is Not the Singer: The Spencer Davis Group

In our third installment of “The Band’s Namesake is Not the Lead Vocalist,” we turn to a band named for the lead guitarist – Spencer Davis, but the vocals were handled by a teenage Steve Winwood. The band was named for Davis as he was the only one who had no problems being interviewed – so the band elected that he be the namesake of the unit.

When the band recorded the Steve Winwood/Jimmy Miller composition of “I’m A Man” in 1966 Winwood was 18 years old. The song shows off the synergistic talent of the group. Bassist Muff Winwood, Steve’s older brother, and drummer Peter York set the driving beat for this rock classic in 6/8 time.

Davis guitar and Steve Winwood’s Hammond organ punctuate the fourth beat of the measure. The Hammond is the glue that holds the entire song together and Steve does some amazing overdubbed accompaniment leads during the song’s reprise. Handclaps and cowbell add to the mix of “I’m a Man.”

Winwood and Miller would later earn additional royalties when Chicago covered the song in 1969 and it charted at #49. The original by The Spencer Davis Group hit the Top 10 in the UK and the US in January 1967.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Band’s Namesake is Not the Lead Vocalist: The Dave Clark Five

Our second post in our second week feature, “The Band’s Namesake is Not the Lead Vocalist” takes us back to 1964 when the second British Invasion band after The Beatles hit the American charts. The group was The Dave Clark Five; however, despite his control of the band’s affairs, the drummer was not the lead singer. That job belonged to keyboardist Mike Smith.

Recorded in November 1963, “Glad All Over” was The Dave Clark Five’s first big worldwide hit single. It topped the UK charts in January 1964. It also hit the number one slot in Ireland, #2 in Canada, #3 in Australia, #4 in the Netherlands, and #6 in the US.

Two performances in March 1964 on the famed Ed Sullivan show sparked interest in the band in North America. The DC5’s two performances followed the three by The Beatles. The DC5 appeared on 18 episodes of the show – more than any other British Invasion band.

Although Mike Smith was the lead singer, he was not the band’s leader – that legitimately belonged to Dave Clark who started the band, placed his drum kit uncharacteristically out front, was the band’s manager, obviously owned the band’s name, played the role as the band’s executive producer, and was one of the first artists to control his master recordings.

If anything, Clark was a shrewd businessman who started a media company that eventually purchased the British music show “Ready Steady Go!” He currently owns its library of episodes that ran from 1963 to 1966 and the world is awaiting the show’s output on DVD. Although Dave Clark’s influence and name were all over the DC5, the fact remains that Mike Smith and not Dave Clark was the actual front man.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Band’s Namesake is Not the Lead Vocalist: Manfred Mann

It’s the second week in the month and time for our Second Week Special. In October and November, I featured instrumentation; however, this month I plan to do something a little different – “The Band’s Namesake is Not the Lead Vocalist.” During this week the seven examples will be bands where the namesake of the band is not the lead vocalist.

Our first example is the band Manfred Mann – which was named for the band’s keyboardist and not for the singer, Paul Jones. Originally named Manfred Mann and the Manfreds, producer John Burgess suggested that the name be shortened to Manfred Mann. While there was a Manfred Mann in the band, all of its members were considered as being Manfred Manns. This is reiterated with the title of their first UK and second US albums, “The Five Faces of Manfred Mann.”

“Pretty Flamingo” was the next to the last single release that featured Paul Jones on lead vocals. In July 1966, he left the band for a solo career and was replaced by Mike d’Abo. Prior to Jones leaving the band, guitarist Mike Vickers exited the group. Bassist Tom McGuinness (later of McGuinness Flint) took over the role of guitarist. He played a National steel bodied guitar on this cut.

For a short time, Jack Bruce (later of Cream) handled the bass guitar chores in Manfred Mann. “Pretty Flamingo” features Bruce on bass. While it was #1 record in the UK, “Pretty Flamingo” only made it to the #29 spot on the US charts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Memory of Mr. Skin - Ed Cassidy

The numerous deaths in the music world last spring seem to be repeating this month. In just two days, the world lost another legend – drummer Ed Cassidy of Spirit. Ed was 89 and died yesterday of prostate cancer. He was an old man of rock ‘n roll when he joined the band started by his step-son Randy California and his friends Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes. The band evolved into Spirit and signed for Lou Adler’s Ode Records in 1968.

Ed, who was born in 1923, was older than the oldest rockers at the time. Although twice the age of his contemporaries, Cassidy was a trend setter with his unique look – all black clothes and a shaven head. While fairly common now, it was not in 1968. Being glabrescent gained him the nickname “Mr. Skin,” and Jay Ferguson immortalized Cassidy in a song that bears that title.

The song “Mr. Skin” could fit the “Friday Flipside” category as it was the “B” side to Spirit’s single “Nature’s Way.” It would have also fit as a Repeat and Threepeat selection as it was issued multiple times. As a cut from the album “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” Epic Records tried as they could to make a hit out of the song. The great horn work on this song is sadly uncredited but was arranged by David Blumberg. 

“Mr. Skin” was first released in November 1970 as an “A” side with “Soldier” as the flip. In early 1971, it appeared as the flip side to “Nature’s Way.” In 1972, “Mr. Skin” and “Soldier” were reissued under a new catalog number.  By January 1973, “Mr. Skin” was again issued as an “A” side with “Nature’s Way” as the flip side. It took four tries, but “Mr. Skin” finally made the Hot 100 by charting at #92.

Cassidy didn’t just march to the beat of a different drummer – he was the different drummer. Before rock ‘n roll, Cassidy played swing, jazz, country and western, and a number of other musical genres. His kit included a marching bass drum that he played with two pedals. He also was known to play solos sans drumsticks – playing with his bare hands. A technique that Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham had mastered.

Needless to say, Ed Cassidy had stamina – he was an innovator – a trendsetter – and will be greatly missed. Not many of us make to 89 and not many of us take up rock ‘n roll in our forties and continue to play drums into our 80s. Rest in Peace Ed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In Memory of Dave Brubeck

I got the sad news late yesterday that jazz legend Dave Brubeck passed one day prior to his 92nd birthday. While he lived a long and productive life, he will be sorely missed. Brubeck pushed the envelope in jazz by forcing himself to write and record songs in unusual time signatures. It started with his 1959 LP “Time Out” and continued with 1961’s “Time Further Out,” 1962’s “Countdown — Time in Outer Space,” and culminated with 1963’s “Time Changes.”

The most popular of these is “Time Out,” which I had already featured along with its hit single of “Take Five.” Written by saxophonist Paul Desmond in 5/4 time, “Take Five” would have fit well for a Thursday Repeats and Threepeats category as it was released twice – first in 1959 and later in 1961 when it charted at #25.

Since I’ve already featured “Take Five,” I must move to something else and suspend our typical Thursday category for this tribute. Brubeck’s second most popular song, “Unsquare Dance,” was also released in 1961 and charted only at #74.

Written by Brubeck on his way to the studio and featuring the unwieldy 7/4 time signature, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded the song in one take. I don’t know about you, but I have great difficulty counting the 7 beats to the measure on this number and I am sure that the handclaps were difficult.

It seems to me that the claps are arranged as rest-clap-rest-clap-rest-clap-clap with the claps coming on the second, fourth, sixth, and seventh beats. I may be wrong, but that’s what I am hearing. Eugene Wright’s bass starts the measure on the first beat while the claps are taking a very brief rest.

Joe Morello’s drumming consists of very tasty rim shots that pan from right to left and then left to right. Paul Desmond is not playing sax on this number, so he must be contributing to the handclaps along with Brubeck when Morello is soloing and with Morello when Brubeck is soloing.

Since the song is in 7/4 time, it never can be squared; however, the song devolves at the end with the a lack of “hipness” overtaken by “squareness” elements of “Turkey in the Straw” and “Shave and a Haircut” courtesy of Mr. Brubeck’s piano.

As the song ends, laughter emanates from the Joe Morello. From what I am told, it was a spontaneous outburst related to just getting through the number unscathed. “Unsquare Dance” was featured on the album “Time Further Out” and was produced by Teo Macero who also produced “Time Out.”

I had an opportunity to see and meet Dave Brubeck in 1983 here in Beckley, West Virginia. The concert was at Park Junior High School and may have been sponsored by my employer which was then known as Beckley College. I can’t swear to that, but I do know they did bring some other jazz shows into the region in the early 1980s.

Dave Brubeck was as humble and generous an individual as he was talented. The world is a better place for having known this bespectacled icon of the ivories. Rest in Peace Dave Brubeck – you’ve earned it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Show of Hands: Country LIfe

For someone who is soon to be unemployed, I find the demands on my time have increased – thus an explanation of my absence in the past few days. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything that I need to do at the present.

Well, with that said, I am also retiring a category today – “One Hit Wonder Wednesday” – a category that I’ve run 83 posts. It was getting a little stale for me and I haven’t had a outlet for traditional and folk music for over a year when I retired “Traditional Tuesday” in October 2011.

Today, we unveil a new category “Wooden Music Wednesday.” Not as limited as the moniker “Traditional Tuesday” but will allow for posting of songs that have a considerable acoustic element. I’ll run this category for a while and see how it goes.

Today’s post is “Country Life” by Show of Hands. I am not sure how I missed this band, but I did. While the video depicts a full band, “Show of Hands” includes only four hands – two belonging to Steve Knightley and two belonging to Phil Beer. Both men are multi-instrumentalists – while Phil Beer is normally the individual seen switching from his fiddle to other instruments, Knightley is adept at all manner of stringed instruments as well.

I got to know this duo by a suggestion of a solo version of “Country Life” by Steve Knightley done on tenor guitar.  This version was posted last week on the tenor guitar list. I found the official version of the same song done with a full band with “Show of Hands.” The message is typical what folk music became in the late 19th and early 20th century – a move from ballads to songs of social consciousness. “Country Life” is just that – a lament of the loss of the common way of country life in England due to big business. Ah yes, "the love of money is the root of all evil."

I really like these guys and there are some excellent examples of Show of Hands in concert found on YouTube – in fact an entire concert from 2001 is available in bits and pieces. It is quite enjoyable. As for Steve Knightley’s instrument of choice on this number, I originally thought that it was a bouzouki or an octave mandolin; however, it is actually a mandocello made by luthier David Oddy.

I hope you enjoy Show of Hands as much as I have.

Alternate Live Version

Since the audio quality is decent on this live version, I’ll include it as well. It includes bassist/vocalist Miranda Sykes. It was recorded St. Margaret’s Church, Walgate, York in 2009.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blue Thumb: Run You Off The Hill

Being that today is my birthday, I thought it fitting that I feature a track from a Blue Thumb album that I received in 1971 for my birthday. It was the third album by the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and was titled “To Mum, From Aynsley and the Boys.”

As a drummer, the band's namesake Aynsley Dunbar has played with numerous bands over the years.  These have included the likes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Jeff Beck Group, Blue Whale, the Mothers of Invention, Journey, Jefferson Starship, and Whitesnake.

Our final tribute to Blue Thumb Records is the blues cut, “Run You off the Hill.” The vocals on this track are from Victor Brox who has a voice well suited for the blues. The nice guitar leads are provided by John Moorshead and keyboards are played by Tommy Eyre. The rhythm section contains Dunbar and bassist Alex Dmochowski. The album was produced by John Mayall. “To Mum, From Aynsley and the Boys” was released in 1969.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blue Thumb: Baja Bus

Getting a late start for my Friday post tonight, as it has been a very busy day, but I wanted to get the post in by midnight. Our Friday post from Blue Thumb Records happens to be a flip side from The Butts Band single “Pop-A-Top.” The single failed to chart in the US. The single’s B-side was “Baja Bus” and was written by the band’s guitarist, Robbie Krieger.

Yes, it was that Robbie Krieger and The Butts Band was originally to be a continuation of The Doors, as Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore were in London auditioning several new replacements for the late Jim Morrison. Apparently Manzarek was not pleased with the process, so he left Krieger and Densmore in London.

With Manzarek gone, the two remaining Doors members hired Jess Roden, one of the vocalists that had auditioned to replace Morrison as the bands lead vocalist. Manzarek, who also played the bass parts on a Rhodes Bass keyboard, was replaced by three new members: keyboardists Roy Davies and Mick Weaver and bassist Phil Chen.

The Butts Band name was chosen as the members considered themselves as losers looking for a gig, so they picked a beat up Fender 4X10 Concert amp to represent the band on the cover of their debut album. Today’s selection, “Baja Bus” appears on this release.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blue Thumb: Ride A White Swan

Day five of our tribute to Blue Thumb Records and I have a selection that will please my brother, as it is  Tyrannosaurus Rex's (later known as T. Rex) release of “Ride a White Swan.” Being that it is a Thursday, a day we honor “Repeats and Threepeats,” “Ride a White Swan” was released four times in the United States and fits that category as well.

Its first issue was the version that I own. I remember seeing the album “A Beard of Stars” in the cutout bin at a local discount store – probably F.W. Woolworths in 1972, and my brother Chuck suggested that I purchase it and I did. The album was originally issued in the US in April 1970 and was later re-issued with a bonus 45 of “Ride a White Swan” backed with “Is it Love.”

The album was a Capitol pressing and was cutout due to Blue Thumb Records switch from Capitol Records distribution to that of Gulf+Western/Famous Music Corporation. It was a good time to get Blue Thumb Recordings as Capitol had to divest its stock of the label. “A Beard of Stars” was released in Britain on the Regal Zonophone label and was the second album by Tyrannosaurus Rex to be issued in the US on the Blue Thumb imprint.

While Regal Zonophone had the album, “Ride a White Swan” was released in the UK on the band's new label, Fly Records. It was the company’s first single and the catalog identification was fitting as “BUG-1.” The new single, which was officially released in the UK in October 1970, represented a change of names for the band with their shortened moniker of “T. Rex.” The single in the UK had two songs on the B-side: “Is it Love” and a cover of the Eddie Cochran hit “Summertime Blues.”

In the US, Blue Thumb issued two commercial versions of the single in 1970. Both were released in December, both bore the “Tyrannosaurus Rex” name, and both had the same number #7121. This number also appeared on the some of the later pressings of bonus singled that was issued with “Beard of Stars”; however, the proper catalog number of the promo single was SP-6115.

While the commercial version of the single like the promo had “Is it Love” as the B-side, Blue Thumb reissued the single with “Summertime Blues” as the flip. Perhaps this was done to capture the momentum of The Who’s version of the song that was released months earlier. The second version of the single can be identified by the A-side’s label as it included a star indicating the plug side of the single.

While the single was a smash hit in the UK charting in the number #2 position in early 1971, it failed to enter the Top 40 in the US and Canada. The US release peaked at #76 and the Canadian version did a little better at #48.

A fourth version of the song was also issued in December 1970. This was as an album cut on the band’s fifth album which was simply titled “T. Rex.” Issued on Fly in the UK, the album was licensed to Reprise Records in the United States. What interest the Blue Thumb single may have generated probably benefited Reprise rather than Blue Thumb.

Marc Bolan recorded the vocals, four guitar parts, and the bass. There is a rhythm maker tambourine and hand claps keeping rhythm. I’m not sure if Micky Finn played on this recording – if he did, he only provided the hand claps. A very sparse string arrangement was also added. Tony Visconti, who has worked with David Bowie, The Moody Blues, Thin Lizzy, The Kaiser Chiefs, among others, produced the single. Although the band had recorded four albums to this point, “Ride A White Swan” was pivotal in jump starting the careers of Marc Bolen and T. Rex.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blue Thumb: I've Been Loving You Too Long

In 1968, Blue Thumb Records signed Ike and Tina Turner for one album – the fifth for the label; however, the initial single release was delayed until spring 1969. Their “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was the first single for the label and was appropriately numbered as BLU 101. Ike and Tina’s cover of the Otis Redding tune charted at #68 on the Hot 100 and at #23 on the R&B chart.

Speaking of covers, the album, “Outta Season,” was their only release on the Blue Thumb label and it sported a highly imaginative and possibly controversial cover. Ike and Tina were depicted in “white face” make-up that mocked the prejudicial black-faced make-up used by minstrel performers from the past. Only Ike and Tina could have pulled this off.

Internationally, the album was released on Liberty Records or its subsidiary labels Minit and Sunset. This may have provoked Ike and Tina to switch loyalties to Liberty Records. When Transamerica, who owned United Artists, Liberty, and its family of labels, devalued the Liberty brand in the early 1970s, Ike and Tina (as well as other artists on the Liberty roster) were switched to the United Artists brand.

With the signing of Ike and Tina to Liberty/UA and their greater success with the single “Proud Mary”  and the inclusion of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” on the 1971 live album “What You Hear is What You Get,” Blue Thumb re-released the single as BTA 202. It failed to chart the second time around. It may be the only example were a second release of a single had a catalog number that was exactly double of the initial release.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blue Thumb: Yes We Can Can

The next selection in our fourth week special on Blue Thumb Records comes from The Pointer Sisters’ 1973 self-titled debut album. While the sisters had released several singles prior to “Yes We Can Can,” it was the first single by the sisters to chart within the Top 40. “Yes We Can Can” peaked on the Hot 100 at #11 and would remain their highest charting single on the Hot 100 until 1978’s release of “Fire.” The song also peaked at #12 on the R&B charts.

“Yes We Can Can” was written by New Orleans musical legend Allen Toussaint and had been originally released by Lee Dorsey in 1970. The Pointer’s version eclipsed Dosrey’s original which failed to make it to the Hot 100 and only charted at #46. Like Dorsey’s release, the single edit was nearly half the length of the album version.

The album, “The Pointer Sisters,” also did well. It peaked at #12 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart and at #3 on the R&B Albums chart. In February 1974, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales in excess of 500,000 copies

Anita Pointer handled the lead vocals on “Yes We Can Can” – the group’s first of many Blue Thumb singles. Sisters Ruth, Anita, and Bonnie handled the back-up vocals.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blue Thumb: A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime (I'll Be Home)

Back in 1972, Dave Mason released his third album on the Blue Thumb Records label, “Headkeeper.” His first solo album was “Alone Together, “ which came in a marble colored vinyl that is often known as “vomitone” for its resemblance more to emesis rather than marble. Mason’s second Blue Thumb release was an album of duets with Mama Cass Elliot.

The single from “Headkeeper” was “A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime (I’ll Be Home).” While the parenthetical title appeared on the single, it was not included on the album. Unfortunately, it failed to chart.

The best parts of this single are the keyboards and the vocal harmonies. Mark Jordan plays both the piano and organ on this cut. The backup vocals were provided by Rita Coolidge, Graham Nash, Spencer Davis, and Kathi McDonald.

Side one of “Headkeeper” was recorded in the studio and side two was recorded live at LA’s Troubadour.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blue Thumb: One Way Sunday

I took a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and now that it is the fourth week of the month, we’ll commence with our week long record label special. This month, I’m looking at Blue Thumb Records which started as independent label in 1968. It was former King Records exec Bob Krasnow’s brainchild and he recruited A&M veterans Tommy LiPuma and Don Graham to handle production and marketing duties.

Typical Blue Thumb Label Configuration

Captain Beefheart was the inspiration for the label’s name as he had suggested it for the name of his band; however, Krasnow vetoed the name for the band, but kept it for the label. Initially, Blue Thumb distributed their own material, but by 1970 they saw the need to partner with a major label to provide distribution. From late 1970 to 1971, Capitol Records distributed Blue Thumb. In late 1971, Gulf+Western/Famous Music began distributing the label and bought it directly from Krasnow in 1972.

By 1974, ABC Records bought out the Gulf+Western/Famous Music family of labels that included the Blue Thumb, Dot, and Paramount labels. Until ABC was sold to MCA/Universal in 1979, the Blue Thumb logo appeared alongside the ABC logo on record labels. Universal resurrected Blue Thumb from 1995 to 2005 for blues, adult contemporary, and jazz recordings.

This week, we’ll look at some recordings on the Blue Thumb imprint that show the variety of musical styles found on the label. Since today is Sunday, I thought I might feature a song from “Mark-Almond II” called “One Way Sunday.” Mark-Almond, led by Jon Mark and Johnny Almond, was a jazz and blues influenced band that was established by these two alumni from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the 1960s.

Jon Mark provides the vocals and guitar and Johnny Almond shines on the stellar flute lead. This very mellow piece is perfect for a quiet Sunday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Delbert McClinton: Giving It Up For Your Love

Although Delbert McClinton had been performing for decades, his only Top 40 hit came about in late 1980 with his single “Giving it up for your Love.” The song peaked at #8 in early 1981 about the time I left Huntington, WV for Beckley, WV to work at WCIR-FM. The song was in “A” or hot rotation when I started working at the station on February 16.

This particular single features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section who co-produced this recording with Barry Beckett. Other claims to McClinton’s fame included playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s number one hit “Hey! Baby”; the instrument is prominently featured on the recording. Additionally, McClinton tutored John Lennon on the harmonica.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cream: Cat's Squirrel

Last week I learned about an early guitar effect, which somehow escaped my knowledge over the years. The unit made by Dallas Arbiter was called the Rangemaster and was a treble booster which produced a fuzz tone in the process. This early signal booster/distortion unit was used on countless recordings. In an article that Dennis Harris provided me, a number of songs were listed.

One by Cream from their debut album, “Fresh Cream,” caught my eyes, memories, and ears – the instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel.” I hadn’t listened to this album in decades and all of the memories of this LP came flooding back. The song, which had previously appeared as the flipside to Cream’s first single, “Wrapping Paper,” opened side two.

While the British version was slightly different from the American version, I bought my copy when ATCO was divesting its stock of the Robert Stigwood Organisation’s material that was soon to be released on Polydor’s USA label. Unable to get an ATCO version, I bought the British import.

The album differed from the American release in that the album’s title was graphically different and the UK album included the song “Spoonful,” which had been released in America as a single, but not on the album. “I Feel Free,” which was released in both countries as a single, was included on the American version, but not the original British release. Additionally, as many albums from the UK were printed on a thinner and glossy stock, these releases were prone to finger prints, scratches, and creases more than the American issues.

“Cat’s Squirrel” features Jack Bruce on harmonica and a Fender VI six-string bass. Of course Ginger Baker is supplying the rhythm while Eric Clapton is doubling Bruce’s harmonica. The guitar is being run through the Rangemaster. This song as well as the rest of the album is not mixed to my liking – Robert Stigwood produced it. I prefer the later Cream album mixes by producer Felix Pappalardi. With that said, “Cat’s Squirrel” is on one of the best tunes on the album - “Alright, alright, alright, alright.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blues Saraceno: Save My Soul

It’s Media Monday and today’s song is a cut that has gotten a great deal of television airplay in the last month. Blues Saraceno’s “Save My Soul” was the opening theme and the promo bed for the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America,” which was an excellent docu-drama of the industrial giants of the late 19th and early 20th century America. The song is also being used as a commercial bed for the latest Hardees commercial.

The son of two musicians, it isn’t that unusual that Saraceno’s given name is “Blues.” Discovered at the age of 16, he has toured with Poison and former Cream members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. I love the tonal qualities both on his slide guitar and vocals. Saraceno is living up the name “Blues.”