Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vee-Jay: Uncloudy Day

Well, we have one more day in November, so I thought I’d extend our look at Vee-Jay Records one more time. Like its cross town rival Chess, Vee-Jay also signed a number of gospel artists in addition to its cadre of blues and R&B artists. One of those acts was The Staple Singers. While Vee-Jay wasn’t their first label (that was United) and it wasn’t the label of their greatest success (that would be Stax), this family band had a modicum of notoriety when they were with Vee-Jay.

One of their top sellers at the label was the 1956 recording of “Uncloudy Day.” As with most singles in the 50s, the song was released both as a 78 RPM single and as a 45 RPM single. Eventually, the 78 market diminished and was overtaken by 45 RPMs as the medium of consumers’ choice for a variety of reasons – but primarily for fidelity reasons.

“Uncloudy Day” features Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his four children: Cleotha, Purvis, Yvonne, and Mavis. “Pops’” guitar, with the amp’s tremolo turned up, is the sole instrument on this recording. “Uncloudy Day” is a loose adaptation of Josiah Alwood’s 1885 composition “Unclouded Day.” Over 90% of the original’s lyrical content is missing and the arrangement is as far away from the original as possible. This truly is a Staples’ song, by and by.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Bright Lights, Big City

Day Seven of our journey through Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records catalog and we bring you a little 12-bar blues by the legendary Jimmy Reed. Although one of Reed’s most popular numbers, “Bright Lights, Big City” only charted at #58 on the Hot 100. The song had a better showing on the R&B chart where it peaked at #3.

Recorded and released by Vee-Jay in 1961, the song features a duet between Reed and his wife Mary – who is otherwise known as “Mama” Reed. In addition to vocals, Reed plays a wicked high register harmonica lead in the key of “A” blues. Playing the harp, I’ve never mastered this upper register playing, but Reed certainly did.

Besides Jimmy and Mama Reed, it was truly a family affair as their son Jimmy, Jr. also plays guitar. Other musicians include second guitarist Lefty Bates, drummer Earl Phillips, and an unknown bassist. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizes “Bright Lights, Big City” as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)

When Betty Everrett first heard “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” she was unenthused about it, as she thought was childish; however, it was one the bigger records of her career. It was only eclipsed by one other recording: her duet with Jerry Butler on “Let it be Me.” “The Shoop Shoop Song” peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #6, but was a #1 R&B record according to Cashbox.

One of several Vee-Jay label versions in use in 1964.
This one used a black Tollie label blank,

The song is reminiscent of the girl groups that had grown in popularity since 1962. Everett was backed by the Chicago group the Opals who performed on a number of Vee-Jay recordings. Although she had the most popular version of the tune in the 1960s, Everett was not the first to record the song.

Merry Clayton’s Original

A year earlier, Capitol Records released the song first recording of the tune by Merry Clayton who was backed by The Blossoms. The legendary Jack Nitzsche wrote the arrangement for Clayton.

While Clayton’s and Everett’s vocal arrangements are similar, the instrumental treatments are quite different. Later, Clayton would best be known as a backup vocalist for The Rolling Stones.

Ramona King’s Version

Released a week before Everett’s single in February 1964, Ramona King’s version on Warner Brothers stood to provide the most competition for Vee-Jay. This particular version was quite different from Clayton’s original and Everett’s treatment – it is almost Spectoresque in its arrangement and production.

King, who was formerly of the Fairlanes had previously recorded several sides for Lee Hazelwood’s Eden Records, was relatively unknown both then and now.

To combat any confusion with King’s release, Vee-Jay made the bold move to alter the song’s name. Both Clayton’ and King’s singles were issued with the original name Rudy Clark’s song: “It’s in His Kiss.” Vee-Jay decided to make the actual title parenthetical and accentuate the back-ups vocals of the Opals by calling the record “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).”

While neither Clayton’s nor King’s version charted, Betty Everett put “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” on the musical map. While Clayton and Everett both had stronger voices than King’s, Vee-Jay’s arrangement of the song was far superior to the two previous renditions of the song. The instrumental punctuation, the horns reminiscent of Perez Prado’s orchestra, and the clever use of a xylophone as a lead instrument make Everett’s version a standout recording.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vee Jay Records: Thank You Girl

Happy Thanksgiving and today’s selection is the reason I picked Vee-Jay Records as our fourth week label feature. “Thank You Girl,” which was originally titled “Thank You Little Girl,” was an effort for The Beatles to thank their female fans. They hoped that each of these young ladies would consider the song as being a personal message of gratitude. The recording featured John Lennon on double tracked lead vocals and Paul McCartney on the high harmony. Additionally, it was the first recording by group to feature double tracked vocals. The song took 13 takes to complete and features harmonica overdubs by John Lennon.

The Beatles’ “Thank You Girl” appeared as a flip side on not one, but two Vee-Jay single releases by The Beatles. When Capitol Records passed on The Beatles in 1963, the masters of their first album, “Please Please Me” in the UK, were leased to Chicago based Vee-Jay Records. Prior to Beatlemania hitting America by storm in 1964, Vee-Jay released two singles: “Please Please Me”/”Ask Me Why” and “From Me to You”/”Thank You Girl.” The latter was released in the US on May 6, 1963. Since The Beatles were yet an unknown commodity in North America, “From Me to You” only charted at #116.

Once the floodgates were opened with the #1 release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Capitol,” Vee-Jay began ramping up their Beatles product and beat Capitol to the punch with the first American Beatles’ LP, “Introducing The Beatles,” on January 10, 1964. Capitol followed with “Meet the Beatles!” ten days later.

Although the album titles and covers were different, “Introducing The Beatles” and “Please Please Me” had much in common including track order. There was one major difference; the UK version had more songs. Like all of the UK releases through “Revolver,” “Please Please Me” was no exception, as it contained two additional cuts that were eliminated from the American release. “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why,” which had been previously issued in early 1963 as the first Beatles’ Vee-Jay single, were not on the initial release of the album.

As Vee-Jay was trying to quickly capitalize on the new found fame of The Beatles before their license expired, “Introducing The Beatles” was repacked several times. The first reissue replaced “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” with “Ask Me Why” and “Please Please Me.” This was due to a restraining order from Beechwood Music, Capitol’s publishing arm, who had not licensed these two songs yet in the US.

During 1964, Vee-Jay issued other albums featuring the material from “Introducing The Beatles.” These included “Jolly What! England's Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage” (which was later repacked as “The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage”); “Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles”; “The Beatles vs the Four Seasons”; and an EP, “Souvenir of Their Visit to America.” The two versions of the Beatles/Frank Ifield album was misleading as all of the tracks were studio recordings – four by The Beatles and eight by Ifield.

Additionally, Vee-Jay flooded the market in 1964 with additional Beatles’ singles. These included the following:
  • “Please Please Me”/“From Me to You,”
  • “Ask Me Why”/“Anna” (promo only),
  • “Twist and Shout”/“There’s A Place” (on Vee-Jay subsidiary Tollie Records),
  • “Do You Want to Know a Secret”/“Thank You Girl,”
  • “Love Me Do”/“P.S. I Love You” (on Vee-Jay subsidiary Tollie Records),
The second release of our feature tune was as the “B” side to “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” This single was released on March 23, 1964 and did quite well as a double sided hit. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” peaked at #2, while “Thank You Girl” made it to #35.

The record was certified gold for sales in excess of a million copies. Because Vee-Jay was overwhelmed in pressing Beatles’ records, numerous label variations exist for all of the releases. The one shown above is a Tollie yellow blank used for this particular issue. Black blanks, also used for Tollie releases, were used as well.

To make one last stab at sales before Vee-Jay’s license expired in October 1964, the label issued four Vee-Jay/Tollie singles on their subsidiary Oldies 45. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “Thank You Girl” were issued with the lowest catalog number of the four simultaneous releases.

True Stereo Version

While the Vee-Jay issues were either mono or rechanneled stereo, a true stereo version of “Thank You Girl” was issued by Capitol on “The Beatles’ Second Album,” which was released on April 10, 1964. In addition to being a true stereo mix, this version of “Thank You Girl” contains additional harmonica parts during the song’s bridge and at the end.

Capitol added extra reverb to the vocals its North American album release of “Thank You Girl.” To me the reverb is a bit over-the-top considering that the wet signal was in a different channel than the dry signal, and that sounds a bit odd at times. Since this was a different mix, Capitol may have sidestepped Vee-Jay’s rights to the song.

Following the expiration of Vee-Jay’s license, eleven of the songs from “Introducing The Beatles” were issued by Capitol on “The Early Beatles” in March 1965. One year following Vee-Jay’s last minute issue of four singles on their Oldies 45 label, Capitol issued six singles by The Beatles in their Starline Series of oldies singles.

While in the 70s and 80s, all of The Beatles’ singles were issued with the Starline imprint, these six releases were the only Starline Series Beatles’ records in the 1960s. Similar to the standard yellow/orange Capitol swirl label, the original Starline Series releases were in a two-tone green swirl.

Of the 12 songs released on the Starline label, 10 of these had appeared previously as Vee-Jay recordings. While the first four had the same configuration as the Oldies 45 singles, two additional singles were issued: “Roll over Beethoven”/“Misery” and “Kansas City”/“Boys.” If you notice on the Vee-Jay releases, the songwriting is credited to McCartney-Lennon rather than the more common configuration of Lennon-McCartney that was used thereafter.

The song fulfills several duties today.  Because it is an expression of thanks, we make it our Thanksgiving holiday song.  It also charted in the 30s, so it is our Thirty Something Thursday release.  Finally, since it was released multiple times, it fits the bill as our Thursday's Threepeats and Repeats selection. Hope you enjoy both versions. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Raindrops

One of Vee-Jay’s more popular releases was inspired when Dee Clark was driving through a heavy rainstorm. As the protagonist, Clark uses the excuse of raindrops to cover up the fact that he is actually crying because his lover had left him. Released in 1961, “Raindrops” peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart.

The production of this song was well ahead of its time. Part of this could be attributed to Riley C. Hampton’s arrangement. Hampton, who was a noted Chicagoland string arranger, worked on a number of recordings produced in the city. One his better known arrangements was Etta James’ “At Last.” Like Clark, Hampton was a native Arkansan who traveled north to Chicago to make his mark on the music business.

While Dee Clark had six Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1961, “Raindrops” was his biggest song and his final hit record.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: Boom Boom

When I think of John Lee Hooker’s 1961 recording of “Boom Boom,” the movie “The Blues Brothers” comes to mind, as Hooker appears singing the tune while Jake and Elwood Blues get ready to enter the Soul Food Café. Released in 1962, the original charted both on the R&B and Hot 100 charts. On the R&B side, it peaked at #16; however, it failed to make it into the Top 40 by only peaking at #60.

The sidemen that accompanied John Lee Hooker’s guitar and vocals are a veritable who’s who of session musicians. The Funk Brothers of Motown Records’ fame provided the backing. Included among the band were the following musicians: Joe Hunter on piano, James Jamerson on bass, Benny Benjamin on drums, Larry Veeder on guitar, Hank Cosby on tenor sax, and Mike Terry on baritone sax.

Hooker said that he was inspired to write the song from a female Detroit bartender. Since Hooker was frequently tardy for his gigs at the Apex Bar, the barkeep would say, “Boom, boom – you’re late again.” Hearing the phrase enough, he was inspired to write the song.

Cameo in The Blues Brothers

Vee-Jay Records: Sherry

While The Four Seasons had released a number of regional singles, the boys from Jersey had immediate success when they signed to Vee-Jay Records in 1962. Their first release on the label, “Sherry,” was also their first #1 record. If I am correct, “Sherry” was also the second #1 single for the label.

It took The Four Seasons’ keyboardist/vocalist Bob Gaudio 15 minutes to write “Sherry” and it may have been the best spent quarter hour in Gaudio’s life. Originally known as “Jackie Baby” after First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Gaudio cycled through about a half dozen names before settling on “Sherry” for its eventual title.

Gaudio admitted that the idea for “Sherry” wasn’t totally original. It was inspired by Bruce Channel’s 1961 hit “Hey Baby.” Not only did “Sherry” make it to the #1 slot on the Hot 100 for five weeks, it also peaked at #1 on the R&B charts. This early Four Seasons’ hit was produced by musical legend Bob Crewe.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vee-Jay Records: For Your Precious Love

Vee-Jay Records was founded in 1953 in the Chicago suburb of Gary, Indiana by the husband and wife team of Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken. Their first names’ initials were the inspiration for the label’s name. Originally it focused on R&B artists; however, the label saw its greatest success in the mid 1960s when it became the label for The Beatles’ first American releases, The Four Seasons, and Frank Ifield.

Due to financial difficulties caused by upper management appropriating profits for personal debts, the label went bankrupt in 1966. Over the years, Vee-Jay has surfaced several times with its primary purpose of leasing its masters to other labels for release. For a brief period in the 1980s, it was operational as a disco and R&B label, but was unsuccessful in this venture. This last summer, the Concord Music Group acquired the Vee-Jay catalog.

To begin our fourth week label feature, our initial selection was released five times by Vee-Jay and its subsidiaries. The original release of Jerry Butler and The Impressions’ “For Your Precious Love” was appeared on the Vee-Jay label in June 1958. Fearing that radio would pass on the release because it was on a label known for R&B artists, Vee-Jay released the single on their Falcon Records subsidiary in July 1958.

When Vee-Jay become aware of another label named Falcon, the subsidiary’s name was changed to Abner Records, which was named for Vee-Jay’s president Ewart Abner. “For Your Precious Love” did extremely well and cracked the Top 40 charts and peaked at #11. It also charted at #3 on the R&B charts. During summer 1961, Vee-Jay re-released the single; however, it failed to chart.

The 1965/1966 Re-Issue

In 1965, Butler returned to the studio and re-recorded “For Your Precious Love” as a solo recording in stereo for Vee-Jay. Released late in the year, the song charted in early 1966 on the R&B charts at #25. The re-issue had a dismal showing on the pop charts as it only broke into the Hot 100 at #99.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: What It Is

In 1981, I received a copy of the Robin Trower album “B.L.T.” – so named for the collaboration of Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan, and of course Trower. This power trio enlisted the Hendixian leads of guitarist Robin Trower that audiences worldwide learned to love with his post Procol Harum solo albums. In this incarnation of his musical genius, Trower was joined by Jack Bruce on bass, keyboards, and vocals and former Sly and the Family Stone drummer, Bill Lordan.

Although Bruce’s and Lordan’s names appeared on the album cover, it was not considered a B.L.T. album – it was another Robin Trower solo, as he had the contract with Chrysalis Records. Therefore, Trower’s name appeared with the largest type and his name only appeared on the spine, the label, and on the label of the single releases. On the single’s picture sleeve, all participates were credited.

Be that as it may, Jack Bruce played an important role on this record, as it is his vocals that are heard on every cut. I don’t hear it now when I listen to B.L.T., but in 1981 I drew comparisons with Bruce’s work in Cream. Now that I listen to it in 2014, it sounds more like a Robin Trower album only with Jack Bruce singing instead of James Dewar who sang and played bass on Trower’s previous, but equally good projects.

Like the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, Cream, and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was yet another super group to which Bruce was drawn. Like Cream and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was another power trio.  As always, Jack Bruce rose to the occasion.

Our chosen cut, “What It Is,” was released as a single in the US and elsewhere. In the UK, a special limited edition version of the single was released in clear vinyl. The song, like many of the cuts, was co-written by Trower and Procol Harum’s lyricist, Keith Reid.

If you look closely at the single’s picture sleeve and the album cover, it appears that the bacon in the BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich) is raw. I like my bacon like my music – cooking and crunchy – much like you find on this album.

Friday, November 14, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Why Dontcha

During the midst of his solo career, Jack Bruce joined yet another super group: West, Bruce & Laing. This power trio consisted of two parts Mountain and one part Cream. The impetus for the forming WB&L was the dissolution of Mountain due to bassist Felix Pappalardi’s heroin addiction. Wanting to continue the momentum started with Mountain, former members Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing (drums) enlisted the perfect replacement for Pappalardi – his old musical partner, Jack Bruce.

The band lasted only a short time. Three albums were produced with their debut “Why Dontcha” having the most commercial success but little critical acclaim. The third release was a live album that was issued after the WB&L had disbanded. I was excited during my senior year of high school that yet another super group related to Cream had been created. I really thought this band was going places. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Bruce is credited with playing a plethora of instruments on the album including bass, keyboards, harmonica, and other sundry items. On today’s cut, Bruce only supplies the bass. The band’s first single, “The Doctor,” which I’ve already featured in the past, was the only cut to receive a modicum of album rock airplay. The title cut, “Why Dontcha,” was released as the second single, but floundered.

The interesting thing about the “Why Dontcha” single is that its flipside did not include a West, Bruce & Laing cut – it was Mountain’s hit, “Mississippi Queen.” While smaller labels normally paired different artists on one single and even the majors paired different artists on oldies releases, it was highly unusual for Columbia (CBS) to issue two different, albeit related, artists on one disc.

Perhaps by reissuing Mountain’s biggest hit (which originally appeared on the CBS distributed Windfall label), it might generate additional interest in West, Bruce & Laing. If that were the case, it didn’t work. The album featured the power trio engulfed in waves and features Jack Bruce playing his cherry red Gibson EB-0 bass. It appears that West has a Gibson Les Paul Jr. TV Special in this photo.

When West, Bruce & Laing were reformed in 2009, Jack’s son Malcolm took his father’s place as bassist and the group was appropriately called West, Bruce, Jr. & Laing.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Theme For An Imaginary Western

It was his best known song . . . it was his least known song. If you’re considering compositions that Jack Bruce co-wrote during his solo period, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” was one of his better known compositions, as it was recorded by a handful of other artists. It was even performed by Mountain at Woodstock in 1969. The song was brought to the band by bassist Felix Pappalardi who produced Bruce’s debut solo album “Songs for a Tailor.”

It was his least known song, as his compositions that were recorded by Cream eclipsed anything else he had written or recorded. The Cream years were his most productive and generally the ones that people remember. Co-written by Pete Brown, Jack Bruce’s composition partner during his Cream days, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” has a lyrical content that is quite the departure from their earlier collaborations.

Brown admitted that he wrote the tune in tribute to two of Bruce’s musical collaborators, keyboardist Graham Bond and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. The connection of these two alumni from The Graham Bond Organization to the lyrics of “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” however, is lost on me. Consider the song’s hook:

“Oh, the sun was in their eyes,

And the desert that's dries,

In this country town

Where the wagons’ bound.”

Heckstall-Smith’s band Colosseum later recorded the tune as did Colosseum alumnus Dave Greenslade with his band Greenslade.

Although 1969’s “Songs for a Tailor” was Bruce’s second solo project, it was his first to be released. He opted to sit on his first project until 1970. “Songs for a Tailor” was dedicated to a former girlfriend and costume designer for Cream, Jeannie Franklyn. Franklyn, who was then dating Richard Thompson, was killed in a van crash on May 12, 1969 that also claimed the life of Fairport drummer Martin Lamble.

Ironically, Bruce received a birthday card from Franklyn two days after her death; in it, she encouraged him to “Sing some high notes for me.” The entire album was titled in Franklyn’s honor.

On “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” Bruce plays piano, organ, and bass in addition to singing lead.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: I Want To Know

As we study the musical history of Jack Bruce, he appears to be a man that was destined to play in super groups and today’s selection is no different. It all came about when Elektra Records was opening their London office under the management of producer/A&R man Joe Boyd.

To celebrate that auspicious occasion, Paul Jones of Manfred Mann suggested that such a group be formed. Former members of The Roosters and current members of Manfred Mann, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and the Spencer Davis Group collaborated on a recording. This short-lived band was named Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

The group consisted of the following:

Former Roosters members – Eric Clapton (guitar), Paul Jones (harmonica & back-up vocals), and Ben Palmer (piano).

Current Manfred Mann members – Paul Jones and Jack Bruce (bass).

Current members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

Current members of The Spencer Davis Group – Steve Winwood (vocals) and Peter York (drums).

The Powerhouse recorded four tracks with Elektra releasing three of these on the sampler “What’s Shakin’.” The sampler headlined the Lovin’ Spoonful and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, but also included cuts from Al Kooper and Tom Rush.

Because Winwood was under contract at the time, he used the pseudonym Steve Anglo; however, Elektra initially got that wrong and he was credited as Steve Angelo. Winwood, under the Anglo/Angelo name, and Eric Clapton were the only two Powerhouse members to receive specific credit on “What’s Shakin’.”

In order to be distanced from this project on another label, Paul Jones’ composition “I Want to Know” was credited to his first wife under a variation of her maiden name, Sheila MacLeod; writing credits were assigned to “S. McLeod.” “I Want to Know” features the driving bass of Jack Bruce as well as the excellent musicianship of the rest of the Powerhouse team. The three cuts, including, “I Want to Know,” were produced by Joe Boyd.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Stormy Monday

For a short time, Jack Bruce was a member of John Mayall’s legendary Blues Breakers, but like his tenure in Manfred Mann, it was short lived. What survived are some live cuts that were recorded at London’s Flamingo Club on March 17, 1966. Mayall’s original intent was to record a live LP that featured the soaring guitar solos of Eric Clapton.

Because the quality was not the best, Mayall scrapped the idea of a live album and began recording the legendary “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” LP that same month. John McVie, who would later be a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, replaced Jack Bruce on bass.

While many of the recordings featuring Jack Bruce have been released over time, the first to see the light of day was Mayall’s interpretation of T-Bone Walker’s legendary “They Call It Stormy Monday,” which has been covered by a countless number of artists. “They Call it Stormy Monday” was first released in 1969 on Mayall’s “Looking Back” album.

Besides Bruce’s bass and Clapton’s guitar, “Stormy Monday” featured John Mayall on organ and vocals and Hughie Flint on drums. Besides Bruce’s solid bass, the guitar leads of Eric Clapton reinforce the idea that he is one of best guitarists of all time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Train Time

Featuring some of the most talented musicians in Britain, the jazz/blues band The Graham Bond Organization (also stylized with the British spelling as The Graham Bond “Organisation”) would be termed as a super group today. At the time though, the members were relatively unknown. In 1965, they released their critically acclaimed debut album “The Sound of 65.”

The lineup included Graham Bond on vocals, keyboards, and alto sax; Jack Bruce on bass, harmonica, and vocals; Ginger Baker on drums and percussion; and Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor and soprano saxophones. Although not on this recording, a previous incarnation of the Graham Bond Quartet featured guitarist John McLaughlin (along with Bond, Bruce, and Baker).

The band recorded two albums with a third that was posthumously released. It included some live recordings from The Graham Bond Quartet days. All three albums feature Jack Bruce. While I thought about featuring a tune with Bruce’s vocals, as there were several, I decided to allow you to savor the his fantastic harmonica playing with “Train Time.”

Bruce actually composed the song, but it was credited originally to “John Group” – a pseudonym that he used with The Graham Bond Organization. Apparently, all members of the band received royalties for this number under that name. It later emerged as a live staple for Cream and appeared as “Traintime” on “Wheels of Fire” and the “BBC Sessions” albums. Graham Bond sings on the original recording.

During their tenure with the band, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were constantly fighting with one another. Further problems with Bruce led to him being fired before the release of their second album. It is said that Baker was enlisted to do the dirty work. Apparently by 1966, Bruce and Baker patched up their differences, as they were reunited in Cream less than a year after Bruce exited The Graham Bond Organization.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: White Room

I don’t know how I missed it, but somehow I didn’t see the report that Jack Bruce died from liver failure on October 25. He was 71. While today’s audiences may not recognize the importance of Jack Bruce’s contributions, he was a musician extraordinaire. Although he studied classical ‘cello and additionally played guitar, harmonica, and piano; he was a bassist through and through – playing fretted electric bass, a Fender Bass VI, fretless bass, and double bass during a very productive career since the 1960s.

This month, our second week feature is dedicated to Jack Bruce and its title is a play-on Meghan Trainor’s number one record from earlier this year, “All about that Bass.” Since with Bruce, it typically was all about that bass, we will be featuring a solo recording as well as cuts from his tenure with The Graham Bond Organization; John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers; Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse; Cream; West, Bruce, & Laing; and BLT.

Since I’ve already featured his one recording with Manfred Mann, “Pretty Flamingo,” it will be missing from this week’s lineup. For today, I am featuring one of the better known tracks featuring Bruce’s bass and vocals: Cream’s “White Room.” Released as a single in September 1968, the song also features Ginger Baker on drums and timpani, Eric Clapton on rhythm and wah-wah guitar, and producer Felix Pappalardi on violas.

“White Room” was co-written by Bruce and his frequent collaborator, poet Pete Brown. The single peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. While many of us heard the single edit at 3:05, album rock played the longer cut that was nearly five minutes in length from the double LP “Wheels of Fire.”

We’ll miss you Jack Bruce, but thank you for your contributions to rock and jazz. Rock on.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cris Jacobs: The Devil or Jesse James

A few weeks ago, I heard our feature artist on Mountain Stage doing a number of songs including today’s selection, “The Devil or Jesse James.” In fact, I heard it twice with an encore presentation a week later. As I was listening to the show, Jacobs’ impressive guitar work caught my ear. From Baltimore, Jacobs had been a member of the band The Bridge until they officially called it quits in 2011.

Besides one reunion date with The Bridge in 2012, Jacobs has been performing solo and with his own band – which is appropriately called the Cris Jacobs Band. It’s hard to tell exactly what tuning that Jacobs is using on this cut, as his fingers are often obscured by the microphone. My best guess is that it is a Double Dropped “D” Tuning (DADGBD) that is capoed up a full step to “E.”

This version was recorded on February 23, 2014 as part of the webcast “Listen in with Ellen Cherry.” Nice stuff.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Elektra Records: Amazing Grace

One of Judy Collins biggest hits was an unlikely choice to make it to the top 15 – the traditional hymn by John Newton – “Amazing Grace.” Although a popular choice of Christian congregants, the song amazingly (pun intended) hit the top 15 twice in the early 1970s. Both versions were unique.

In 1972, the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and their bagpipe instrumental peaked at #11. Judy Collins’ a cappella version, which was akin to Joan Baez’s performance at Woodstock a year earlier, peaked at #15 in 1970. During the same period, Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin both recorded “Amazing Grace” – neither charted.

Collins’ love affair with “Amazing Grace” began when she was a member of an encounter group in the 1960s. At the end of each meeting, the group sang the only song which everyone had known the words – “Amazing Grace.” To Collins, the song was a culmination of a long line of protests of the Vietnam War. After doing all she could to end the war, nothing was left but to sing “Amazing Grace.” And that she did.

Using the vocal talents of a group of friends, Collins recorded the song at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in New York City. The venue was selected because of its excellent acoustics. Although the song did extremely well in the US, it charted eight times in the UK between 1970 and 1972. The highest position was at #5.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elektra Records: Tomorrow Night

Since they never had a US hit, Atomic Rooster remains an enigma to many American audiences. The band was formed out of the ashes of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown who had one hit – 1968’s “Fire.” Atomic Rooster’s original line-up included Vincent Crane on keyboards, Carl Palmer on drums, and Nick Graham on bass and vocals.

Their self-titled debut album, however, was not released in the US. By the time of the release of their first American album, “Death Walks Behind You,” the band’s personnel changed dramatically. Guitarist John DuCann had joined and made the band a quartet for a short period; however, Carl Palmer and Nick Graham left prior to recording the second album.

DuCann took over lead vocal duties and Crane added the bass lines via his Hammond organ. As done with many albums marketed in the US, their American label (Elektra Records) chose a different cover. The original British version on B&C Records had William Blake’s etching of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

The American version sported a metal sculpture of a rooster’s head. It was fitting for Atomic Rooster’s American debut. In addition, the album’s title was not listed on the front cover – thus providing the viewer the assumption that this may have been the band’s first LP.

Today’s feature is the lead single from “Death Walks Behind You” – “Tomorrow Night.” The long version of the song features a syncopated piano intro by Vince Crane. He later adds his Hammond organ – which has a Jon Lord feel using Hammond’s distinctive percussion settings. Back in 1969, Deep Purple had opened for Atomic Rooster. “Tomorrow Night” peaked at #11 in the UK; however, it never made it to the American charts.