News for January 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/1/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Iko Iko” by Dr. John

Where do you go after you’ve taken on an assumed name (“The Night Tripper”) and released four of the funkiest, trippiest, psychedelic, voodoo-inspired albums in all of music history? If you’re Dr. John, you go straight back home!

 “I decided I’d had enough of the mighty-coo-de-fiyo hoodoo show, so I dumped the Gris-Gris routine we had been touring with since 1967 and worked up a new act—a Mardi Gras revue.”

Actually, going home was probably a good idea for Rebennack, since he needed to take some time out to clean himself up after acquiring a massive drug habit while touring the world as “The Night Tripper.” So, Dr. John paid tribute to his home town of New Orleans for his fifth album, Dr. John’s Gumbo, which was released in 1972. Included on the album are rollicking funky takes of New Orleans’ classics including Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina,” Fats Domino’s “Little Liza Jane,” Earl King’s “Let The Good Times Roll,” Lloyd Price’s “Stack-A-Lee,”  a medley of songs by Huey “Piano” Smith and today’s Song Of the Day.

Dr. John is, perhaps best known as one of the funkiest piano players ever to come out of New Orleans. But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s, Rebennack got his start as a session musician on the guitar, although his guitar career was cut short after sustaining a gunshot wound on his hand while trying to protect one of his band mates. After this incident, he briefly played bass before settling on the piano.

Here’s what Dr. John had to say about “Iko Iko” from the liner notes of the album:

“The song was written and recorded back in the early 1950s by a New Orleans singer named James Crawford who worked under the name of Sugar Boy & the Cane Cutters. It was recorded in the 1960s by the Dixie Cups for Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller’s Red Bird Records, but the format we’re following here is Sugar Boy’s original. Also in the group were Professor Longhair on piano, Jake Myles, Big Boy Myles, Irv Bannister on guitar, and Eugene ‘Bones’ Jones on drums. The group was also known as the Chipaka Shaweez. The song was originally called ‘Jockamo,’ and it has a lot of Creole patois in it. Jockamo means ‘jester’ in the old myth. It is Mardi Gras music, and the Shaweez was one of many Mardi Gras groups who dressed up in far out Indian costumes and came on as Indian tribes. The tribes used to hang out on Claiborne Avenue and used to get juiced up there getting ready to perform and ‘second line’ in their own special style during Mardi Gras. That’s dead and gone because there’s a freeway where those grounds used to be. The tribes were like social clubs who lived all year for Mardi Gras, getting their costumes together. Many of them were musicians, gamblers, hustlers and pimps.”

While Dr. John and the Dixie Cups’ versions of the song are the most famous, artists as diverse as The Grateful Dead, Cyndi Lauper, The Neville Brothers, Warren Zevon, Long John Baldry, The Belle Stars and Dave Matthews have all taken the song for a ride around the block.

Edited: January 31st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/31/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rhapsody In Blue” by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra

Paul Whiteman was one of the biggest selling artists of the 1920s, and led one of the best-loved sweet bands of all time. Sweet bands were society or café orchestras. They played music for listening and as a background for dining and conversing, as opposed to swing bands whose music was the main attraction and played specifically for dancing.

Many jazz fans frowned down on Whiteman’s sweet approach to music because he believed that Jazz music could and should be notated, rather than improvised. To that end, Whiteman wrote more than 3000 arrangements for his orchestra. Whiteman also liked to write for larger orchestras in a time when most dance bands consisted of 8-10 players.

However, no matter what the music snobs thought, he still sold more records than virtually anyone else during his time, and is well respected for his contributions to music today.

Some of his biggest records include the number one hits “Whispering,” “The Japanese Sandman,” “Wang Wang Blues,” “My Mammy,” “Hot Lips,” “Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers,” “Cherie,” “Say It With Music,” “Play That Song Of India Again,” “Do It Again,” “Three O’ Clock In The Morning” and “Linger Awhile,” and there were lots more from where these came from. However, Whiteman is probably best remembered for the commissioning and debut of today’s Song Of The Day, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue.”

“Rhapsody In Blue” premiered on February 12, 1924 in New York at a show billed as An Experiment In Modern Music featuring George Gershwin on piano. The performance took place with John Phillip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff present in the audience.

Whiteman recorded the piece twice. The original was recorded in 1924 acoustically with Gershwin playing the piano parts and released on Columbia Records. He recorded the piece a second time in 1927 electrically. That recording, released on the RCA Victor record label, was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1974. For today’s Song Of The Day, I’ve chosen the original recording with Gershwin on piano. There is also some great footage of Whiteman and the Orchestra performing this piece from the 1930 film King Of Jazz. Whiteman’s orchestral approach to Jazz on “Rhapsody” was a big influence on the Miles Davis and Gil Evans and their seminal recordings Birth Of The Cool, Porgy And Bess and Sketches Of Spain.

Some of the greatest jazz men of their day either got their start or moved through Whiteman’s orchestra including Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan and Fletcher Henderson. Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday both sang their way through his ranks, and Whiteman also billed a singing trio with the band called The Rhythm Boys whose members included a young Bing Crosby. Whiteman also provided music for six Broadway shows and was responsible for producing more than 600 recordings.

One of the finest compilations of Whiteman’s music was released by Collector’s Choice Music back in 1998, and is still readily available today.

Edited: January 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/30/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Under Heavy Manners” by Robert Fripp with David Byrne

After the demise of King Crimson in 1974, Robert Fripp spent several years laying low before entering a period of high activity from 1977-1980, resulting in some of his most interesting collaborations. Starting in 1977, Fripp joined Brian Eno in Germany to add guitar parts to David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This was followed by Fripp’s production of albums for Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs), Peter Gabriel (his second album with the “Scratch” cover) and the eponymously titled album by The Roches, plus sessions with an amalgam of like-minded artists including Peter Hammill (of Van Der Graaf Generator), Brian Eno, Blondie (on Parallel Lines), Jerry Marrota, Phil Collins and Tony Levin. Some of these sessions resulted in tracks that made up Fripp’s first solo record, Exposure released in 1979. After the release of Exposure, Fripp also participated in sessions with Talking Heads (Remain In Light), David Bowie (Scary Monsters) and Peter Gabriel (his third album known as Melt).

God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners was the follow-up to Exposure, which was supposed to be the third in a trilogy of records he produced, with Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall as the first and Peter Gabriel’s second album as the second. However, RCA records refused to release the Daryl Hall record in 1977 deeming it too uncommercial (and kept it on the shelf for a full three years), so a re-think was needed.

At this point, Fripp was enmeshed in “Frippertronics” which is a tape loop technique he and Eno developed putting two reel-to-reel tape decks side by side, with the tape on the recording deck capturing a sound and then as the tape passes through the playback head of the second deck, it is played back with a delay before being threaded onto the take-up reel of the second deck.

Fripp had used the technique on the albums No Pussyfooting and Evening Star with Brian Eno, on David Bowie’s Heroes, as well as on Exposure and the Hall and Gabriel records. The God Save The Queen album side (designated as “Side One”) featured pure Frippertronic recordings of just loops, while the Under Heavy Manners side (designated as “Side A”) featured what Fripp termed “Discotronics,” which augmented the pure “Frippertronics” with a dance beat.

During the recording  of Manners, Fripp was also working with Talking Heads on their album Remain In Light, so for the only track with vocals, Fripp invited David Byrne (billed as Absalm el Habib) to sing. All of the guitar tracks on the album were recorded live in 1979 while Fripp toured behind Exposure, with the bass played by Busta Jones who was also involved in the Talking Heads sessions, and drum tracks by Paul Duskin, added later in the studio.

Edited: January 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/29/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by The Who

Psychedelic Ox from an album reviled by the band, but truly loved by fans.

Today’s Song Of The Day was originally a 1968 B-side written by Who bassist John Entwistle.  The song ended up on the album “Magic Bus: The Who On Tour”, which contrary to its title was not a live recording, but a compilation of studio off tracks from other releases. The 1968 album, which was compiled for American and Canadian markets only, included tracks from EPs (primarily the 1966 EP, “Ready Steady Who”) and stray singles, with a dash of a few already available cuts from the group’s first two albums.

While the group didn’t approve of the album at all, North American fans who grew up listening to the Who cherish the tune stack and album’s highly listenable sequence. When the group posed for the bus photo that was used on the cover, they had no idea that the photo would end up being the cover of their next American album release. Sadly, the album has been out of print in the U.S. since the early ‘90s, with its tracks either released as bonus tracks to the CD version of the “A Quick One” album, or returned to the original albums from where they came from.

Some of Pete’s greatest songs are on this album, especially “Disguises” and “Run, Run, Run” (from the “Happy Jack” album), plus “Pictures Of Lily,” “Call Me Lightning” and, of course, the album’s title track. And two of Entwistle’s greatest songs are also here, including “Boris The Spider,” which was written after a night out drinking at a bar with Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, and today’s Song Of The Day, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which gives Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd a run for its money in the Psychedelia department.

“Magic Bus: The Who On Tour” is one of many albums that make up the sub-genre of rock era records, that were compiled for U.S. markets only, and don’t exist in the artist’s country of origin. And there are numerous examples including “Yesterday And Today”,” The Early Beatles” and “The Beatles’ Second Album” by The Beatles, “Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy” and “Odds And Sods” also by The Who, “Kink-Size” and “Kinkdom” by The Kinks, “England’s Newest Hitmakers,” “December’s Children (And Everybody’s)” and “Flowers” by The Rolling Stones, “Black Market Clash” by The Clash, “Taking Liberties” by Elvis Costello and many others.

I’ve named a few, now you name the rest…

Edited: January 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/28/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harlem Hendoo” by Al Hirt

Time was running out. By 1968, the gravy train that artists like Al Hirt and Herb Alpert had ridden to fame on, was about to make a stop. Sure, Alpert would score his last huge hit, the #1 Bacharach and David gem “This Guy’s In Love With You” in 1968, but shortly after that, even Alpert’s run at the top would end until the mid-1980s.

Things were even worse for Al Hirt. It had been four years since Hirt was on the top with singles like the Allen Toussaint-penned “Java,” “The Green Hornet Theme” and “Sugar Lips,” plus top-ten albums like “Honey In The Horn” and “Cotton Candy.” Changes would have to be made, so like many others of his ilk, Al Hirt decided to try new things to see if he could keep himself commercially viable.

The sound would have to be updated, so in 1967 “The Round Mound Of Sound” (as he was known) released the album “Soul In The Horn.” Gone was the old, good-time-trad-Jazz-Dixieland-Bourbon Street sound of yore, only to be replaced by certainly the funkiest, au go-go sounds to ever come out of Hirt’s horn. Think “Shagadelic,” but a whole lot more jazz, and a whole lot more serious in the groove department.

Hirt sets the tone right from the opening cut with a cover of Booker T. & The MG’s 1966 single “Honey Pot.” Perhaps the album’s most famous song is today’s Song Of The Day, “Harlem Hendoo,” which was famously sampled by De La Soul for the track “Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2” from the album “Buhloone Mindstate” and also by The Roots on the track “Stay Cool” from their 2004 album, “The Tipping Point.”

Credits for this album are hard to come by, but what I do know was that the sessions were arranged by George “Teacho” Wiltshire (known for his work with Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Gene Pitney and many others) and produced at RCA Victor’s Studios in New York City and Chicago by Paul Robinson (who would later produce tracks for Maxi Priest in the 1980s).

The lion-share of the songs were written by Paul Griffin, who was famous for session work with King Curtis, Bob Dylan (on Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde,  no less), Van Morrison, The Isley Brothers, and Steely Dan (on Aja). There are several other tracks from the record that really cashed my register, including the island-flavored “Calypsoul” and the relentlessly groovilicious “Love Ya’ Baby.”

Al Hirt’s foray into soul never did bring him back into the charts or the forefront of the music scene, but he did continue to play at his club in New Orleans, and years later make many DJ crate diggers very happy.

Edited: January 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/27/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lady Madonna” by Fats Domino

Reprise Records was one of the labels to be on in the 1960s. What started out as the house that Frank Sinatra built, chock full of releases by his cronies like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., turned into Mo’s home when Sinatra sold the label to Warner Brothers in 1963, and Mo Ostin began to sign artists to the label. Ostin ran the label as a haven for artists, and under his aegis a hip cadre of musicians like Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, The Kinks, Arlo Guthrie, Ry Cooder, Neil Young, T. Rex, Pentangle, Gram Parsons, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimi Hendrix and many others, came on board.

Along the way, Reprise began to look into the not too distant past to revive a few careers, which brought both Little Richard and Fats Domino to the label. While neither artist delivered the hits that Reprise, no doubt had hoped for, they both cut terrific records for the label that came and went without a trace.

Richard Perry was brought on board as producer for Domino’s “Fats Is Back,” the first of his two Reprise albums. Perry surrounded Fats Domino with an all-star list of session musicians who were sympathetic to what Fats and Reprise were trying to achieve, which was to update his sound without changing too much of what made Fats a great artist. To that end, Fats was backed by King Curtis, Eric Gale, Larry Knechtel, Chuck Rainey, Hal Blaine, James Booker and Earl Palmer, with horn charts arranged by none other than Randy Newman.

Fats Is Back came out in 1968, and featured remakes of some of Domino’s own hits including “I’m Ready,” “Wait Till It Happens To You,” and “One For The Highway.” The album’s opening track is called “My Old Friends” and begins with a medley of snippets of some of Fats’ original hits, before fading into the new, up-to-date opening song that ends with the declaration that “Fats Is Back.” The album also features Fats covering the Barbara George hit “I Know” (later remade by Bonnie Raitt), a version of James Booker’s “So Swell When You’re Well,” and a couple of Beatles favorites– “Lovely Rita” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Lady Madonna” – which was Domino’s last chart hit.

It’s no surprise that Domino would take a crack at “Lady Madonna,” since Paul McCartney wrote the Beatles song in his style with an eye towards giving it to him to record.  And Fats does not disappoint with his version, and for that matter, the rest of the tracks on this essential album.

Edited: January 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman –1/26/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Spin” by Kelan Philip Cohran & The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

If you love tuba solos, they’re here. How about exotic string instruments like zithers and kalimbas? Check, they’re in abundance. Funky, funky brass? Present and duly accounted for. Exciting music like you’ve never heard before? Look no further than the welcome return of Kelan Philip Cohran and his latest group, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

Cohran played trumpet, zither and other string instruments with Sun Ra Arkestra from 1959-1961, performing on their albums “Interstellar Low Ways” (1959), “Holiday for Soul Dance” (1960), “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” (1960) and later guesting on the record “Angels and Demons at Play” (1965). He initially came into Ra’s orbit through a gig he had playing at private parties thrown by Sarah Vaughan.

When the Arkestra moved to New York, he chose to stay in Chicago where he founded a non-profit organization called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The AACM was co-founded in Cohran’s living room along with Pete Cosey, who would go on to join Earth Wind & Fire, and “Master” Henry Gibson who played percussion on hundreds of recordings by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Kool And The Gang, Staple Singers, Rotary Connection and many others.

He recorded the album “On The Beach” in 1960 with his group the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which included Pete Cosey and Maurice White among its ranks. Around this time he invented the Frankiphone (aka The Space Harp), an electrified kalimba, which was a big influence on Maurice White who featured lots of kalimba in the recordings of Earth Wind & Fire. Cohran then pretty much stopped recording in favor of teaching music in schools and prisons.

And it wasn’t until last year that he put together the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble consisting of 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 euphonium, a sousaphone and drums. Eight of the nine members of the group are Cohran’s sons, whom while growing up were given music lessons every day for several hours in the morning, and then again every night. The practice paid off handsomely in the very deep grooves of this record.

With a fresh and funky sound that belies Cohran’s 85 years, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble mix moving tuba lines, circular percussion workouts and lots of violins, harps and koras, giving the extended tunes on this album their backbone, especially on today’s Song Of The Day, the aptly titled “Spin.”

While he’s not playing music with his family, Cohran is also a renowned astronomer and presently teaches voice and music to inner city youth and adults at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies.

Music, Jazz, Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, Kelan Philip Cohran & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Spin, Sun Ra Arkestra, Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White, Pete Cosey, AACM, Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Edited: January 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/25/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Company In My Back” (Live Version from Kicking Television) by Wilco

Live albums. They are the most maligned recordings by critics, yet the fans just love them. You don’t believe me? Ask Peter Frampton, The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Little Feat, The Who, Lou Reed, Cheap Trick and Kiss to name a few, who have made classic live albums and have benefitted from huge sales. Heck, live albums are so ingrained in our pop culture, that you can probably name each of the live albums I’m referring to above, just by the list of artists.

In the pantheon of music recordings, live albums live kind of a lowly life. For some they are seen as stop-gap product put out by artists who feel the need to keep their brand in the heads of their fans while they take the time to rejuvenate their creative juices between projects. Artists and record companies alike issue them in order to fulfill contracts. Many love live albums because they act as a souvenir and a powerful reminder of a great night out at a concert they’ve been to, or a concert they would have loved to have seen. Then there are those who love them because they provide an opportunity for us to hear a band stretch out and jam the way they never do in the studio, with warts and all.  And when an artist releases a live album, they get to create their own reality, by mixing applause and audience participation wherever they want, in order to heighten the “live” experience.

Perhaps, my favorite of all live albums is “Kicking Television” by Wilco, which is why I have singled it out for today’s Song Of The Day. The album was recorded over four days at the Vic Theater in Chicago (the band’s home turf) in May of 2005, and captures the group touring behind “A Ghost Is Born”, one of their best albums. It was also the first tour and record to feature the great guitarist Nels Cline and crucial multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone in the lineup. The addition of these two members had solidified the Wilco lineup, which remains the same to this day. The shows were also filmed for a proposed DVD, but it never came to fruition. While the record focused mainly on material from “Ghost” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” it does offer a pretty good representation of what the band was about at the time. It also features some of the walls of feedback the band uses to great effect during performances. The double disc collection features 23 tracks, while the vinyl release adds an additional eight bonus tracks over the four record set.

Another one of the greatest live albums of all time is Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” which captured the expanded version of the group on tour behind the album “Speaking In Tongues.” The show was captured on film from the Pantages Theater in Hollywood by Jonathan Demme in what most critics believe to be the very best concert film of all time. Having seen the tour when it came to the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York, I can attest to how great this version of the Heads was at the time.

Critics also generally agree that James Brown’s “Live At The Apollo” was one of the greatest live recordings of all time. The album was recorded at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in October of 1962, and was released by King Records the following year. Brown funded the recording himself when King records balked at the idea that a live record could make money for the company. While no live album could fully capture the power of the Godfather Of Soul in full action, this album does manage to capture a fair share of the excitement Brown was able to create on stage.

Some of my favorite live albums over the years include Lou Reed’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal” from 1974 which also had a sequel from the same Academy Of Music show in the album “Lou Reed Live” the following year. David Bowie’s “David Live” is one the critics particularly hated. The 1974 double album captured from the Tower Theater in Philadelphia while on tour behind “Diamond Dogs,” was reissued on CD several years ago with the correct running order of the show restored, making it much better listening experience. Then there’s Grateful Dead’s “Europe ’72” from the band’s first European tour where they introduced many new songs into their repertoire that are now considered classics. Last year, Grateful Dead productions released all of the concerts from the tour into a mammoth 73 CD set.

There are literally thousands of live albums littering the musical landscape, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the following favorites of mine including Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps”/”Live Rust” albums recorded on tour in 1978, Kraftwerk’s “Minimum/Maximum” recorded in 2004 (it was also one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen for its visuals), Sam Cooke’s “Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Live In Central Park” (mainly because I was there), Roy Orbison’s “A Black And White Night” (featuring Orbison backed by an all-star band that included Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, kd lang, Jackson Browne and many others), Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels  “Live 1973” which was recorded at Ultrasonic Studios in Long Island for broadcast on WLIR FM, John Coltrane’s “Live At The Village Vanguard” from 1963, Miles Davis’ “Complete Cellar Door Recordings” from 1970, Bob Marley’s “Live” from 1976, Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” and Frank Zappa’s “Zappa In New York.”

OK, so I’ve covered my favorites and purposely excluded some of the classics. What are your favorite live albums and why?

Edited: January 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/24/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “That Look You Gave That Guy” by Eels

Eels are capable of bone-chilling, howlin’-at-the-moon, terrifyin’ rock and roll, and when they are in that mode, they are at their very best. But Eels also have a tender side too, as exemplified by this superb ballad from the 2009 album “Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs Of Desire.”

For those that don’t already know, Eels are the handiwork of one Mark Oliver Everett (aka “E”), and whomever he chooses to work with at any particular time. For “Lobo,” Everett’s co-conspirators were Koool G Murder on bass and Knuckles on drums. The album came after a four year layoff, and was the first (and best) of a trilogy of three concept albums continuing with his 2010 releases “End Times” and “Tomorrow Morning.” Together, the three albums dissected all aspects of love and relationships and while the latter two weren’t consistent, they all include some really fine music. (Everett also has an interesting backstory, too long to go into here, but can (and should) be investigated in his book “Things To Tell The Grandchildren.”)

As the album’s subtitle says, “Lobo” is a study of desire, and was seen as somewhat of a follow up to the song “Dogfaced Boy” from the Eels album “Souljacker.” In this album, the Dogfaced Boy has grown up and metamorphosed into a hairy beast of a guy, as personified by a werewolf, who comes into contact and has to deal with all kinds of desire. The werewolf angle of the album’s protagonist was brought to life by the ultra-bushy beard E has been sporting since the record’s release. Hence, today’s Song Of The Day finds our protagonist longing for the loving look that is being bestowed upon another guy.

The album is split between distortion-infused primal rockers that portray animal instincts like “Tremendous Dynamite,” “Prizefighter,” “Fresh Blood” and “What’s A Fella Gotta Do,” and sensitive ballads that take on the human aspect of emotion like “In My Dreams,” “The Longing,” “Ordinary Man” and today’s Song Of The Day.

It’s always a cause for celebration when Eels come to town, and they will be coming back to the Chicago area next month, hot on the heels of a brand new album called “Wonderful Glorious!”

Edited: January 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/23/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Long Hot Summer” by Tom Robinson Band

The album was a total rallying cry…a call to arms, so to speak, where the arms were guitars and the ammunition was the lyrics. At least, that’s how Tom Robinson Band’s debut album, “Power In The Darkness”, struck me when I first heard it back in 1978.

TRB formed in England in 1976, right at the dawn of the punk explosion. While not a true punk band, they managed to adopt the punk rock ethos and mix their political views into the mix, making a big splash in their native UK. The original lineup of the band included Tom Robinson on bass and vocals, Danny Kustow on guitar, Mark Ambler on organ and piano and Dolphin Taylor on drums.

In England, “Power In The Darkness“ reached the top five and spawned successful singles including the bubblegum flavored “2-4-6-8 Motorway,” the scorching “Don’t Take No For An Answer,” and the ferocious “Up Against The Wall.” Meanwhile in America, their debut album included the British EP “Rising Free” as a bonus disc, and received some FM radio airplay, but for the most part went unnoticed. Which is a shame because the record is an articulate classic, chock full of memorable tunes like “Too Good To Be True,” “Ain’t Gonna Take It,” “Man You Never Saw,” “The Winter Of ‘79” and one of the greatest car songs of all time, “Grey Cortina” (a previous Song Of The Day).

Todd Rundgren was brought in to produce their second album, “TRB Two.” By this time, there was much infighting within the group and original keyboardist, Mark Ambler, quit the lineup. The addition of Rundgren into the mix added additional problems when the group gave him the final say as to what songs they should record for the record. Overall, the songs up for grabs weren’t as good as on their debut and Rundgren’s picks included several songs that their drummer, Dolphin Taylor, absolutely did not want to record. As a result, Taylor opted to leave the group days before recording was to begin. Preston Heyman was brought in on drums from Kate Bush’s band and Ian “Quince” Parker filled the keyboard slot.

The second album didn’t have the impact overseas that their debut did despite some terrific songs, especially the record’s first single “Bully For You,” which was directed at Taylor and was co-written by Peter Gabriel. The band toured America one last time in 1979, where I saw them at The Capitol Theater in Passaic New Jersey. Several months after the tour ended, they disbanded.

Edited: January 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/22/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jumping Jack Flash” by Ananda Shankar

East certainly met West on Ananda Shankar’s eponymously titled first album from 1970.

Shankar’s father was the Indian choreographer, Uday Shankar, while his more-famous uncle was the master sitar player, Ravi Shankar. Although, Ananda also became famous for playing sitar, he did not study under his uncle, but rather studied traditional Indian music with Lalmani Misra at Banaras Hindu University. Shankar was first exposed to Western sounds when he traveled with members of his famous family, as they performed on concert stages across America during the 1960s.

The concept for his debut album was simple, meld Western rock sounds with the traditional music of Shankar’s homeland, India. To this end, Shankar moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and fell in with the west coast rock crowd, jamming with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and many others. This led to him forming a band for his debut album for Reprise that included session great Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley) on bass, and Paul Lewinson on moog synthesizer, that along with Shankar’s droning on the sitar, provided an extra layer of space to the soundscapes.

The album mixed popular rock songs of the day like The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and today’s Song Of The Day, The Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” with contemporary classical Indian music composed by Shankar himself. It was produced by Alex Hassilev, who was an original member of the folk group The Limeliters (along with Lou Gottlieb and Glenn Yarbrough) during the 1950s and ‘60s.

While his version of the two rock songs do seem somewhat novel (in a very cool way) today, the classical Indian cuts on the record are the real reason to tune in, especially the 13-minute “Raghupati” which was used many years later as part of the soundtrack to the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and the entrancing “Metamorphosis.”

His second album, “Ananda Shankar And His Music” was a jazz-funk affair released in 1975 that has since become a much sought after record for club DJs. Shankar continued to make musical soundscapes combining his sitar playing with electronics throughout the 80s and 90s until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1999. His music was used extensively several years ago throughout the short-lived NBC situation comedy “Outsourced.”

For those interested in hearing more, the album “Ananda Shankar “was reissued on CD several years ago by Collector’s Choice Music.

Edited: January 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman- 1/21/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman- “Toe Thumb” by Billy Martin and Wil Blades

One of the best by-products of making a top albums list each year, is when those I send it to share some of their picks with me. And let me tell you, even though I do listen to more music than the average person, it is impossible to hear everything, so I do rely on this feedback to find the records that I missed. Such is the case of the album where today’s Song Of The Day hails, which was shared with me by my brother-in-law who works for the National Endowment For the Arts.

He’s the Martin who plays drums for the Jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, and has recorded with the likes of John Scofield, John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, Chris Whitley and Iggy Pop. Blades is a Hammond B-3 extraordinaire from Chicago, whose made a name for himself in the San Francisco Jazz scene and has lent his skills to the works of John Lee Hooker and fellow organist Dr. Lonnie Smith.

This dynamic duo joined forces for a one-off late night summit at the New Orleans Jazz Festival last year, and from that one gig, they knew they would have to do it again. And together they’ve made one of the funkiest records to come down the pike in many years, the aptly titled “Shimmy,” released last year on the Royal Potato Family/Amulet Record label.

I’m talking about some serious deep-in-the-pocket groove up for grabs here. With a sound that at times harks back to the kind of Hammond B3 records that were made in the 1960s by the Legendary Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff, Martin keeps the rhythms air tight with funky fits and starts, while Blades grabs heaping helpings of inspiration from the instrumental records released by the legendary JBs, who expertly backed James Brown on some of his most serious jams. At the same time, the record is also reminiscent of the work of another duo, The Black Keys, who tread similar territory with guitar and drums.

The tune stack says it all, with titles like “Deep In A Fried Pickle,” “Mean Greens,” “Les And Eddie” (after Les McCann and Eddie Harris), “Pick Pocket,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Toe Thumb,” you can expect to shake, and yes shimmy to this stuff. So is it jazz? Is it funk? Is it jam band rock? The answer is undoubtedly YES!

Edited: January 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/20/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Saddle Up The Palomino” by Neil Young

“American Stars And Bars” was one of Neil Young’s most patchy albums, but that’s not because the material on the record is lacking. Quite the contrary, the songs are pretty much top notch throughout this “Whitman Sampler” of styles and sounds. However, the record does seem to get unfairly knocked for several reasons…

For one, the record was recorded in several sessions between 1974 and 1977 with different lineups. This approach to recording doesn’t lend itself to a consistent listening experience. The entirety of the first side was recorded in April of 1977 with Crazy Horse and The Bullets (Frank Sampedro, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Ben Keith, Carole Mayedo (on violin) and backing vocals by “The Saddle Bags,” Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson.) The album offers a patchwork of styles from down home country to straight up ragged rock, on the songs “The Old Country Waltz,” “Hey Babe,” “Hold Back The Tears,” “Bite The Bullet” and today’s Song Of The Day, which was co-written by Tim Drummond and Bobby Charles. (Bobby Charles is well known as the writer of such hits as “See You Later Alligator” and the Fats Domino standard “Walkin’ To New Orleans,” which Young would later cover after Hurricane Katrina.)

The second half of the record includes the intimate “Star Of Bethlehem” from November of 1974 backed by Emmylou Harris, Ben Keith, Tim Drummond and Karl T. Himmel, “Will To Love,” which is just Neil on his acoustic guitar surrounded by a crackling fire for over seven blissful minutes, circa May 1976, and the mighty Crazy Horse appear on the album’s last two songs, the classic definitive version of “Like A Hurricane,” and the Crazy Horse throwaway “Homegrown,” which both date back to sessions that took place in November of 1975.

Others fault the record for what it wasn’t…namely the shelved album “Chrome Dreams.” The track listing for the still-unreleased album that was originally slotted in on Warner’s schedules for March of 1977, was to include an early, more intimate, version of “Pocahontas,” “Too Far Gone,” “Captain Kennedy” (which wouldn’t appear until 1980 on “Hawks And Doves”), “Stringman” (which didn’t come out until “Decade” in 1976), early and very different versions of “Sedan Delivery” and “Powderfinger” (which along with “Pocahontas” wouldn’t appear until 1979 on “Rust Never Sleeps” in different versions), “Look Out For My Love” (from “Comes A Time” in 1978), plus “Will To Love,” “Star Of Bethlehem,” ”Like A Hurricane” and “Hold Back The Tears” as they all appeared on “American Stars and Bars.” It is also interesting to note that both “Homegrown” and “Star Of Bethlehem” were originally slotted for another album that was to be released in 1975, called “Homegrown.” This album was also shelved and has never seen the light of day either.

It’s also worthy to make note of the Dean Stockwell-designed cover art to “American Stars and Bars,” which in my estimation is the coolest of all of Neil Young’s albums covers. The striking image is of a slumped over, passed out woman (Stockwell’s friend, Connie Moskos) holding a bottle of Canadian Club, with Neil’s equally messed up face pressed up against a glass floor. (It was originally erroneously rumored that the woman was Bob Dylan in drag!) The rear image has an American Indian pastiche.

All in all, Neil Young’s eighth album was originally released in 1977, although it would not see release on CD until 2003, when Young felt the HDCD digital quality was up to his high expectations.

Edited: January 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dance At The Gym” from the Original Soundtrack of “West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim

Broadway musicals don’t get any better than this!

You can keep your Andrew Lloyd Webber with his one song per musical, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were the real deal! And their musical, West Side Story, has never been bettered.

West Side Story was one of the first musicals where dance played as important a role in story development as dialog. The choreography was expertly done by Jerome Robbins, who also choreographed the Broadway stage version. Robbins was fired from the production before it wrapped due to it going over budget.

The film starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and was directed by Robert Wise. As was common for film musicals, Natalie Wood didn’t sing any of her parts, and her vocals were dubbed in my Marni Nixon. The same goes for Russ Tamblyn, whose voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith.

The Original Soundtrack recording was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1960s, spending 54 well-deserved weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. The performances on the Soundtrack are far superior to those from the Original Broadway Cast recording.

The musical was set in New York City of the late 1950s and was loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, except the lead characters, Tony and Maria, were of American and Puerto Rican descent respectively. In its original incarnation, the story focused on a Jewish and Catholic couple and had the working title of East Side Story. (Another working title for the musical was Kids With Matches.)

When original work began for the Broadway production of West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim was a complete unknown, while Bernstein was a renowned conductor and composer who had written several other musicals (On The Town and Wonderful Town ), operas (including Candide which also ran on Broadway), ballets (Fancy Free),film scores (On The Town and On The Waterfront), plus a fair share of choral music, symphonic music, and piano music.  

Today’s Song Of The Day is “Dance At The Gym” features several sections: a blues, promenade, mambo, pas de deux and jump. This gorgeous piece of music is breathtaking in its scope, and works on every level: as ballet, as orchestral work and as jazz.  The piece has such power, that stripped of its visuals from the movie, it stands on its own as a modern Jazz classic. Never before and never again would we ever get music this expertly crafted for the Broadway stage.

Edited: January 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/18/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Waters Of March” by Art Garfunkel

Art Garfunkel certainly missed his calling during his post Simon & Garfunkel solo career. If ever an artist was better suited to cut a Bossa Nova album, it was Art Garfunkel who possesses a gentle, smooth voice and impressive octave range to match. Proof positive is his recording of the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic “Waters Of March” from his second solo record, 1975’s “Breakaway.”

“Waters Of March” was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim in both English and Portuguese (“Águas de Março”) and appeared on his 1973 album called “Jobim.” Although, the Bossa Nova craze was in the early 1960s, the song has since become a standard part of the repertoire, covered numerous times by the likes of Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’77, David Byrne and Marisa Monte, Al Jarreau, John Pizzarelli, Rosemary Clooney, and dozens of others.

“Breakaway “was a high water mark for Garfunkel that generated three top 40 singles: “I Only Have Eyes For You” (US #18, UK #1), “Breakaway” (US #39) and the Simon And Garfunkel reunion duet, “My Little Town,” which peaked at #9. Further driving the popularity of the record was the Simon And Garfunkel reunion that took place on TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” which at the time was the hip epicenter of the media world.

The Richard Perry produced album was an all-star affair featuring a who’s who of backing talent including appearances by David Crosby, Graham Nash, Andrew Gold, Nicky Hopkins, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Barry Beckett, Larry Knechtel, Russ Kunkel, Joe Osborne, Bill Payne, Klaus Voorman, Toni Tennille, Stephen Bishop and Leland Sklar.

Not only were the hits great, but there were quite a few non-singles that have become central to Garfunkel’s repertoire, including the Bruce Johnston penned “Disney Girls,” “99 Miles From L.A.” with lyrics by Hal David and a terrific cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever.”

Word is that Garfunkel’s voice isn’t what it used to be, so I guess a Bossa Nova album coming from him today would be too much to ask…however, I’ll bet he could still pull it off…

Edited: January 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/17/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bardo” by Todd Rundgren

I’m kind of stuck in the middle of a Todd Rundgren jag at the moment. And if you’re a Todd fan, there are many reasons to be excited.

With the recent releases of not one, but two new live recordings from a recent tour, each of a classic album: “Todd” (originally released in 1974)and “Healing” (1980), plus the belated appearance of the 1976 Utopia album “Disco Jets,” I guess I just can’t seem to get enough of that Todd stuff.

It’s led me to revisit some albums from his catalog that I haven’t heard in a while. Once such album is his 2008 album, “Arena”, which, to be honest, I didn’t like much when it first came out. Even after seeing him on the tour to support the record, I still didn’t get it.

“Arena” was the follow up to “Liars” which was a terrific record that delved into religious themes, and was a musically varied affair with elements of soul, hard rock and several great electronic dance tunes. So when “Arena” appeared, I was disappointed with the simplicity of sound within. But sometimes, you play a record again, and it hits you the right way after the passage of time, and that’s what happened to me with “Arena.”

The record came about after Todd toured arenas around the world as a member of The New Cars. While becoming the lead singer for The Cars may not have been his best career move, it did reinvigorate him enough to make a record that harked back to some of his best hard-rocking tunes like “Black Mariah” and “Black And White.”

The concept of “Arena” was to put out a lit-Bic-in-the-air arena rock record, just like they used to back in the 70s and 80s, and this record is pretty faithful to the sound and feel of the era. All of the songs have simple one-word titles that match the meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll stew cooked up inside. The album is also a one-man show with everything produced on an Apple laptop computer.

On today’s Song Of The Day, Todd gets in touch with his inner Robin Trower by showcasing his amazing guitar shredding. Here’s a live clip from the “Arena” tour.

Edited: January 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/16/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Make It With You” by Bread

To some, Bread’s brand of soft rock was nothing more than insipid drivel. To others they were purveyors of well-crafted, easy listening staples that provided some of the greatest guilty pleasures to be heard on AM radio during the early ‘70s. To me, their songs were minor annoyances that didn’t make me rush to change the station when they used to pop up on the radio, but now their heavenly brand of melody-driven soft rock provides a welcome dose of nostalgia for the wonder years every time I hear them.

When they released their first eponymously titled album in 1969, the band consisted of three songwriters David Gates, Jimmy Griffin and Robb Royer. Griffin and Royner had worked together in a group called Pleasure Fair, when they met Gates who was initially brought in to produce them. While the first Bread album laid the groundwork for the group’s pleasing sound, it ultimately yielded no hits.

Their second album, “On The Waters,” included their first hit, the 1971 chart-topper “Make It With You,” firmly establishing Bread as hit makers and Mike Botts was added to the lineup on drums in order to allow the group to go out on the road and tour. A second top-ten hit followed with “If,” from their third album “Manna”, before Royner left the lineup to be replaced by session musician Larry Knechtel.

With Knechtel on board they recorded their most popular album, “Baby I’m-A Want You”, in 1972 which included the hits “Everything I Own,” “Mother Freedom” and “Diary.” The following album, “Guitar Man” (also 1972) included the hits “Aubrey,” “Guitar Man” and “Sweet Surrender,” however the group broke up after its release due to a dispute over songwriting credits between Gates and Griffin.

After the breakup, Gates released two solo records before again joining forces with Griffin to record the Bread album “Lost Without Your Love” in 1977, resulting in another top-ten hit with the title track. The reunion didn’t last long, and Gates and Griffin parted ways with much animosity. Gates wanted to go out on his own using the Bread name, but Griffin (who co-owned the name with Gates) sued him, bringing an end to their partnership and the group for good.

Listening to a group Fleet Foxes today, makes me realize the debt they owe to Bread.

Edited: January 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/15/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Come On Get Happy” and “When We’re Singing”– by The Partridge Family

The Friday nights of my wonder years would have never been complete without The Partridge Family.

“The Partridge Family” TV show was based on the real-life family group, The Cowsills, who had hits in the 1960s with “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” (1967) and “Hair” (from the musical of the same name) in 1969. The Cowsills were originally slotted to play themselves in the series; however they weren’t trained actors, so the decision was made to put a TV group together.

Shirley Jones, who played the group’s mother (Shirley Partridge), was already a well-established actress and a veteran of musical theater. David Cassidy (Keith Partridge) was the son of actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward. In 1956, Jones married Jack Cassidy, making David Cassidy her real life step son. The rest of the cast was filled out with Susan Dey (the fox of the group, especially if you were 11 years old) as Laurie Partridge, Danny Bonaduce as the precocious redhead Danny Partridge, Jeremy Gelbwaks/Brian Forster as youngest boy Chris, Suzanne Crough as youngest sister Tracy, and Dave Madden as Reuben Kincaid, the group’s hapless manager.

With the exception of Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, the actors did not appear on their records which were all produced by Wes Farrell and performed by the legendary Hollywood recording studio collective known as the Wrecking Crew. This was the same group of studio musicians who provided music for literally hundreds of big hits from the 1960s by everyone from The Beach Boys and Byrds to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. The backing vocals on their records were provided by studio vocalists John and Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward and Ron Hicklin.

Today’s Song Of The Day, features both versions of the opening theme of the TV show. The first version, called “When We’re Singing,” sports different lyrics and a different vocal arrangement than the second, more familiar version, which was called “Come On, Get Happy” and ran for most of the series.

The show made David Cassidy a major teen idol during the 1970s, and spawned a whole host of hits including “I Think I Love You,” “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” “Looking Through The Eyes Of Love,” and popular albums like “The Partridge Family”,” Up To Date”,” The Partridge Family Sound Magazine”,” A Partridge Family Christmas Card”,” the Partridge Family Shopping Bag”,” Partridge Family Notebook”,” Crossword Puzzle” and “Bulletin Board.”

Solo albums were also released by David Cassidy and Danny Bonaduce, although the vocals on the Bonaduce album were sung by session singer, Bruce Roberts, and not Bonaduce. The show ran from September 1970 through March 1974, and when all was said and done, group released nine albums hit albums and placed eleven hits in the charts.

Edited: January 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/14/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Cosmic Convoy” by Todd Rundgren & Utopia

If it had come out when it was recorded, it would have been met with shrugs, or even worse, total disdain. Instead, except for those lucky few who could afford an expensive Japanese import box set, we’ve had to wait 36 years for it to finally get a legal release, and then only in the U.K. However, if you’re a fan of Todd Rundgren and Utopia, then it was totally worth the wait.

“Disco Jets” was recorded in 1976, directly after sessions for the album “Faithful.” The album found Todd Rundgren with his head firmly in the past, giving half the tune stack over to faithful covers of songs from 1966 including “Good Vibrations,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine), with the other half of the album comprised of new Rundgren originals including the now-classics “The Verb To Love,” “Love Of the Common Man” and “Cliché.”

“Disco Jets” was a total comment on the current pop culture of the day, including disco tunes, a cover of the “Star Trek” theme, a song called “Pet Rock,” outer space songs, even a song addressing America’s big 200th birthday Bicentennial (“Spirit Of ‘76”). Today’s Song Of The Day was Utopia’s comment on the whole “Convoy” craze brought on by the C.W. McCall’s 1976 #1 hit.

The all-instrumental album was quickly cut in one weekend with the Utopia lineup of Todd Rundgren, Roger Powell, John Siegler and Willie Wilcox. None of the members took the sessions too seriously and some of them came away from the proceedings a little embarrassed, but by listening you can tell that they all had a blast recording an album that at times is reminiscent in sound to “Wired” era Jeff Beck.

Siegler left Utopia after the sessions, to be replaced by Kasim Sultan. When the band resumed recording, work began on the album “Ra,” leaving Disco Jets in the can. It’s a shame too, because although the album is totally of its time, the classic Utopia sound today comes as a welcome breath of fresh air, circa 1976.

Edited: January 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/13/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Mamani” by Letta

Voices like Laura Nyro’s only come around once in a lifetime…or so I thought…

So, while listening to a compilation of David Axelrod’s 1960s productions, my ears perked up when I heard the sound of Letta Mbulu’s voice. At once, I knew I needed to hear more and learn more about whom this afro-pop princess is, and discover as much of her music as possible.

But first, I’ll digress…David Axelrod is a composer and producer, best known for working with Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderly in the 1960s while employed by Capitol Records. Letta Mbulu was introduced to him by Cannonball Adderly, who had seen her perform at The Village Gate in New York City, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hailing from Soweto, Mbulu was forced out of her country in 1965 due the Apartheid and came to the United States. In her native country, she gained notoriety by performing in the popular musical, King Kong, for several years. Settling in New York City, she was welcomed by fellow King Kong cast members Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela, who began to help her get established in her new country.

After touring with Cannonball Adderly, Axelrod signed her to Capitol Records, where she recorded her first album “Letta Mbulu Sings” in 1967. While the album didn’t get much traction in this country, she was afforded an opportunity to record a follow up, the afro-pop classic Free Soul in 1968, where today’s Song Of The Day is from. It was around this time the decision was made for her to drop her last name on records, in the hopes she might be able to gain more airplay.

Following her stint with Capitol, Mbulu recorded several records for the Chisa label in the early 1970s. After Chisa folded, she followed Cannonball Adderly to the Fantasy label where she released the album Naturally in 1973. From there, Hugh Masakela brought her to the attention of Herb Alpert, who signed her to his A&M label where she released several albums, including a high profile appearance on Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to Roots.

She returned back to Africa in 1991 after 26 years with her husband, Caiphus Semenya, where she continues to record and performs today. Mbulu is also the singer who provided the Swahili chant on Michael Jackson’s single, “Liberian Girl.”

Edited: January 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/12/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Hit Or Miss” by Odetta

Odetta! Voice of the Civil Rights Movement? Roots mama? Gospel great? Soul queen? Hip hop hottie?

The answer, of course, is yes!

Actually, most people don’t remember who Odetta was. But if you are of a certain age (which is certainly older than I am) and was a fan of folk music, Odetta was your hero. She was an activist, actress and an influence on any folk singer worth his weight in salt…including Dylan, Baez, Belafonte, Ochs, Neil and numerous others.

She was in the thick of things, right there at the March on Washington in 1963. Martin Luther King dubbed her “The queen of American folk music,” and if you’ve ever heard her spine-tingling recording of “Water Boy,” you know he was spot on.

By the early ‘70s, the folk movement had petered out, and unfortunately so had her record sales. So she decided to do what so many others of her stature did, make a faux soul record consisting of mostly covers of tunes by the day’s rock elite. Odetta Sings featured covers of songs by Paul McCartney (“Every Night”), Elton John (“Take Me To The Pilot”), James Taylor (“Lo And Behold”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not To Come”) and The Rolling Stones (“No Expectations”). She was backed by an all-star group including Carole King on piano, Bernie Leadon on guitar, Russ Kunkel on drums, Clydie King, Vanetta Fields and Merry Clayton on vocals, Barry Beckett on keyboards and a whole host of others who came out to give their props to Odetta.

The album fell flat and was not well received at all. However today’s Song Of The Day stands taller than the rest on the album, and was one of two songs that was written by Odetta. “Hit Or Miss” was not like the rest of the record. Here Odetta turned into the soul queen she really was. If you’ve never heard the full track, you probably heard parts of it in other’s recordings since it was sampled by the likes of De La Soul (“Buddy”) and The Chemical Brothers (“Electrobank”), covered by none other than Bo Diddley in 1974, and has appeared in many TV commercials, including that ridiculous one for Southern Comfort with the shirtless fat guy, currently airing all too regularly.

In 1999, she was awarded the NEA’s National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton, and she appeared on David Lettermen’s revered first show back on air after the 9-11 attacks on America. She recorded and toured many times during her later life, including her last tour in 2008 where she performed on stage from a wheelchair. Odetta died of heart disease in New York City in 2008, but left behind a legacy of great recordings ripe for rediscovery by generations to come.

Edited: January 11th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/11/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Silly Savage” by The Golden Toadstools

“Chuck Berry, strawberry, cranberry and dingleberry, baby!”

And so begins one of the most funked-up romps I’ve ever heard, this side of the Godfather Of Soul himself! Next to nothing is known about The Golden Toadstools, who originally released this one-off record written by Merlin Jones and Wayne Branham back in 1966. After doing much research I couldn’t come up with any information about who Jones and Branham are, who the group was or where they were from. All I could find is information about the record label that released this one of a kind record, which duly follows.

The record was released on the Minaret record label which was founded in Nashville in the early sixties by Herb Shucher, and then sold to Finley Duncan in 1966. Duncan leased the record to Shelby Singleton who re-released it in 1968.

Shelby Singleton ran Plantation Records (home of Jeannie C. Riley and the “Harper Valley P.T.A.”), and before that was a talent scout for Mercury Records responsible for finding hits by Paul and Paula (“Hey Paula”), Phil Phillips (“Sea Of Love”), The Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace”), Bruce Channel (“Hey Baby”) and Johnny Preston (“Running Bear”). He purchased the legendary Sun label in 1969, the original home of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, to name but a few, and continued to mine their treasured vaults until his death in 1977.

This song came into my orbit via a 79-track soul and funk playlist called Funky Niblets, that was given to me by my cousin. I’ve had this playlist on my iPod for several years now, and like the record itself, I couldn’t find any other information about who made the playlist or where it came from. The b-side to this single is called “Weeping River.” I’ve never heard it…

Dead ends never sounded so good.

Edited: January 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/10/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Where Are We Now” and “Try Some Buy Some” by David Bowie

What a great way to start a new year! The first new David Bowie music in ten years, in the form of a single called “Where Are We Now?,” was released on Bowie’s 66th birthday this week, and a new album, “The Next Day,” is coming down the pike on March 12. The recording sessions were held in secrecy, so few knew that this one was on the books for 2013. Even in our linked-in totally-online-world, surprises are possible!

Anybody that’s known me for a long time knows that I’ve been a huge fan of David Bowie since the early 1970s. His music had a profound impact on me, and I’ve never stopped loving or listening to it over the years. Being a fan of Bowie during my middle school years (6th-9th grade) also brought me a lot of grief in the form of bullying, but I always persevered because I knew just how great his music was.

Throughout the years, I saw him in person as often as possible, catching his 1976 “Isolar StationToStation” tour, the 1978 “Isolar II/Heroes” tour, 1980 on Broadway in “The Elephant Man,” 1983’s “Serious Moonlight Tour,” 1987’s “Glass Spider” spectacle, “1997’s “Earthling” tour and his final “A Reality” tour in 2004.

After health issues on his final road trek, Bowie gave the impression that he was completely finished with music, preferring to settle down in New York City with his family. So it is indeed a huge bonus and a total surprise that we have some new music coming from him in 2013.

The new song is an atmospheric ballad filled with a sense of ennui, and is very much akin to what he’d been doing on his last two records, “Reality” and “Heathen.” In the video, which was directed by multimedia and installation artist Tony Oursler, Bowie takes us on a somber tour of the Berlin streets that provided the backdrop for two of his greatest albums, “Low” and “Heroes,” while a two-headed puppet version of him and (I’m assuming) his wife, Iman sit on a couch with distorted faces. All the while, the lyrics to the song appear on the screen.

In a bizarre twist, the cover of “The Next Day” takes the album cover to “Heroes,” crosses out the old title, and obscures Bowie’s face with a white box sporting the new title printed plainly in the center. For a Q&A with the designer about this cover, you can go to this link:

For today’s Song Of The Day, I’ve also revisited a track from his last studio album, Reality which was released in 2003. “Try Some, Buy Some” was written by George Harrison and is one of two covers on the album, the other being a cover of The Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso.”

Harrison wrote the song as a vehicle for Ronnie Spector, the former lead singer of The Ronnettes. Her husband, Phil Spector produced the sessions for Harrison’s album “All Things Must Pass,” and as part of the production deal, Harrison happily agreed to write and co-produce an album for Ronnie (whom he was a huge fan of) and release the record on the Beatles’ Apple label.

Phil’s heavy drinking during the early ‘70s session resulted in only a handful of songs being committed to tape including “You,” “Tandoori Chicken,” “When Every Song Is Sung” and “Loverly Laddy Day,” before the sessions were totally aborted. A single of “Try Some, Buy Some” backed with “Tandoori Chicken” was released on Apple and didn’t do well in the charts. The rest remain in the can to this day.

George Harrison later used the backing tracks for “Try Some, Buy Some” and “You” with his own vocals, and released them on the albums “Living In The Material World” and “Extra Texture” respectively.

While Bowie’s version of the song is somewhat faithful to both Harrison and Spector’s recording, the string arrangement and his dynamic vocals add a dramatic flair to the proceedings not found in the others.

Edited: January 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/9/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by Carole King

You know you’re really talented when you can write a song as great as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and then give it away for someone else to record. In this case, the lucky recipients were The Monkees, who recorded the song for their “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD” album in 1967, and then took the single to the number three position of the charts.

Today’s Song Of The Day is Carole King’s original demo from 1966. It was released last year on the album “The Legendary Demos,” which also features early versions of the songs “Take Good Care Of My Baby” (Bobby Vee), “Crying In The Rain” (The Everly Brothers), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), “Like Little Children” (The Knickerbockers) and several tracks that King would record for Tapestry (“Beautiful,” “It’s Too Late,” “Tapestry,” “Way Over Yonder,” and “You’ve Got A Friend”).

“Pleasant Valley Sunday” is a comment on social stature and suburban life that takes place on a street (Pleasant Valley Way) in upper crust West Orange, New Jersey, where King and her husband, Gerry Goffin, were living at the time. (It’s about five minutes away from where my mother lives.) This rough version was probably demoed shortly after it was written, providing the first blush of a finished product. As a result, there’s an urgency in King’s version that is missing from the Monkees’ hit.

The thirteen track collection provides a glimpse into the inner workings of the Brill Building, where songwriters composed songs on demand, and then went directly into the studio to demo them quickly to get them into the hands of a recording artist who would then take them directly to the upper regions of the charts. It’s a great look into King’s creative process and, especially on the early songs, makes one wonder why she wasn’t a solo hit maker way before 1970.

Edited: January 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/8/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Whenever You’re Ready” b/w “I Love You” by The Zombies

Their fingerprints can be felt all over the music of The Byrds, The Doors, Crowded House and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Elvis was a fan. They were hugely influenced by The Beatles, but were also an influence on The Beatles. John Lennon wanted to produce them, and the sound of today’s Song Of The Day, “When You’re Ready,” had an influence on the sound of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” Not only that, it comprised one half of what I would call a perfect single, with the ultra Lennonesque, “I Love You” on the flip.

They were a British Invasion band every bit as good as The Beatles, Stones, Kinks and The Who. In their ranks, they had one of the greatest vocalists of the entire British Invasion in Colin Blunstone, who could be at once breathy and plaintive, and then gritty and soulful, sometimes in the same song.

Add to that, not one, but two inspired songwriters in Chris White and Rod Argent, whose compositional abilities made perfectly crafted ‘60s pop records, high on melody and infused with great harmonies. It was all held together by Argent’s jazz-infused piano and organ playing, the tasty and tuneful guitar work of Paul Atkinson, and the air tight rhythm section of White on bass and Hugh Grundy on drums, providing a danceable and infectious back beat.

Yet their impact was far greater in the U.S. than at home where their very first single “She’s Not There” peaked at #12 on the British charts, but made it all the way to #2 on these shores. Its follow up, “Tell Her No,” climbed to #6 in the U.S., but didn’t even make it into the UK top 40. So after a string of superb single releases here and abroad including “What More Can I Do,” “I Love You,” “I Can’t Make Up Your Mind,” “Summertime,” “Goin’ Out Of My Head” and “Is This The Dream” that didn’t seem to ignite the imagination of the public, they released their final magnum opus, “Odessey and Oracle” in 1968 and then called it quits.

But timing is everything…so it is somewhat ironic that The Zombies’ biggest worldwide hit, “Time Of The Season,” happened after they disbanded. “Odessey and Oracle” wouldn’t have even gotten a release on these shores had it not been for Al Kooper, who worked for the group’s U.S. label and convinced them to release the album. Even though the group was no longer together, the album’s release was accompanied by the release of the single which went on to become their biggest hit all over the world.

After the breakup, Rod Argent went on to form the group Argent with Chris White (who wrote songs for them, but did not perform.) They scored a hit with “Hold Your Head Up” in 1972, and had the distinction of having both KISS and Christian rock group Petra cover their song, “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You.” Colin Blunstone recorded many solo records, some with the help of his former band mates; he released three albums on Elton John’s Rocket Record Company label during the 1970s, and recorded vocals for The Alan Parsons Project albums “Eye In The Sky” and “Ammonia Avenue.”

Throughout the years, Argent and Blunstone have toured many times together as a duo, or under the Zombies name performing hits from all phases of their intertwined careers. The definitive Zombies collection available today is “Zombie Heaven,” a four CD box set released by Ace Records in the U.K.

Edited: January 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/7/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Moon/Light” by Herbie Hancock and Foday Musa Suso

In West African culture, a griot is a musician and storyteller who holds all of the keys to the history of his people. It is the griot’s place in society to share that history through music, entertainment and poetry. The kora is a 21-string instrument that is the chief instrument accompanying a griot. Foday Musa Suso was born in Gambia and is a direct descendent of the inventor who invented the musical instrument over four hundred years ago.

Now anyone who’s ever heard the music of the kora, no doubt, has fallen under its spell. It is a string instrument that has the player handling rhythm, harmony and melody at the same time, similar to the sitar, but the sound of the kora is more mystical in its feel and majestic in its sound.

Back in 1983, I went to see Herbie Hancock perform at the Pier (which was a small outdoor venue) in New York City. Hancock was riding high, particularly in the lower east side dance circles, with his electronic hit “Rockit,” which was one of the first fusions of jazz and hip hop music. Its one-of-a-kind MTV video, directed by Godley and Crème (of 10cc fame), helped to fuel its success, winning a Grammy Award in the process. It was a great show, complete with the “Rockit” mechanical robot legs straight from the video right there on stage, along with such luminaries as Bill Laswell on bass and Grand Mixer D.S.T. on the turntables.

The hit renewed my interest in Hancock, who I had already admired greatly for his work with Miles Davis and his essential solo work, particularly the albums “Speak Like A Child” and “Head Hunters.” My interest led me to discover today’s Song Of The Day from the five-star, 1985 album, “Village Life,” by Herbie Hancock and Foday Musa Suso.

“Village Life” is a high water mark for all involved. The album was recorded in Japan over three days in 1984 with Bill Laswell accompanying Hancock on production duties. At the time of its release, it kind of stuck out like a sore thumb compared to Hancock’s recent hip-hop infused output. Indeed, this is a somewhat more meditative affair, and a straight-up duet album with Hancock playing a Yamaha DX-1 synthesizer (detuned to match the tuning of the kora) and drum machine, and Suso on the kora, talking drum and vocals.

Musically, the album is completely captivating, but sold poorly because Hancock’s recent converts were expecting more music along the lines of “Rockit.” That doesn’t subtract from the fact that this record is truly one of those mesmerizing records that certainly opened my ears up to world music back in 1984, and is still worthy of a far bigger audience today.

Edited: January 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/6/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Talaps Theme” by William Parker

Difficult listening doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about perception, and given the ability to just let it all wash over you with an open mind, difficult listening can be real easy.

Case in point is bassist William Parker’s 2007 free jazz album Petit Oiseau. Parker has one of the best working bands in Jazz today. Along with longtime percussionist Hamid Drake, Parker acts as the catalyst of The William Parker Quartet, driving the proceedings with his percussive approach to the double bass and sustaining the tension between saxophonist Rob Brown’s sharp tones and trumpeter Lewis Barnes’ muted beauty. Even when the band is seemingly going off in different directions (as they often do), there’s a potent and powerful force of unity that keeps the proceedings together, making the material on this album drive like mad.

Parker was influenced by such free jazz disciples as Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Coming up, he studied with well-known bassists Jimmy Garrison, Richard Davis and Wilbur Ware, and was Cecil Taylor’s go-to bassist during the late seventies and throughout the 1980s, where his percussive style of playing fit right in with Taylor’s exploratory ways on the piano.

Parker provides the heart beat to the New York City lower east side Improvisers’ Collective, which he formed with his wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson. Together they’ve presented the Vision Festival — kind of like a Pitchfork Music Festival for all things free and experimental — since the early 1990s. Artists who have performed over the years at the annual June festival include David S. Ware, Sam Rivers, Frank Lowe, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Brown, Kidd Jordan, Henry Grimes, Marc Ribot, Chad Taylor, Rashied Ali, Joe McPhee, Fred Anderson, Matthew Shipp, Billy Bang, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power and numerous others. Parker also leads a big band called Little Huey Creative Orchestra.

Today’s Song Of The Day is one of Parker’s shorter compositions, from an album that is not so far out as to be off-putting – just right for the novice just getting interested in this groundbreaking artist.

Edited: January 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/5/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “So In Love” by Patti Page

Patti Page was different things to different people. To some, she was the first cross-over country star whose plaintive country hits reached an even wider audience by crossing over into the pop charts (“The Tennessee Waltz”), to others she was a sugary-sweet singer who recorded a lot of dross (“Doggie In The Window”), and yet, to others she was a pioneer of multi-track recording, painstakingly recording her voice numerous times over existing recordings of her voice to create layered symphonies of sound with breathtakingly perfect harmonies (“Old Cape Cod”).

She was also an adept vocalist comfortable with belting out big brassy arrangements (“Confess”) and silky smooth pop confections (“You Belong To Me”). Page was all of these things, and on today’s Song Of The Day, she was also a sultry and sophisticated jazz vocalist capable of manipulating her precious pipes to fit the nuances of songs less talented vocalist couldn’t possibly pull off. Patti’s version of “So In Love,” from the musical Kiss Me Kate, was recorded in 1948.

“The Singing Rage, Miss Patti Page” was the best-selling female artist of the 1950s, selling over 100 million records. Her recording of “Tennessee Waltz” sold 10 million copies alone, even though it started its life as the B-side of the Christmas novelty song “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.” Once DJ’s flipped the record, the rest was history!

Page benefitted by working under the tutelage of record producer, Mitch Miller, who urged her to tackle music of all different kinds of genres resulting in hits like “Down The Trail Of Aching Hearts,” “Detour,” “Conquest” (mariachi flavored novelty, covered by The White Stripes of all groups), “Changing Partners,” “Cross Over The Bridge,” “Let Me Go, Lover!,” “Allegheny Moon,” and “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.”

It was Miller who introduced her to Les Paul and multi-track recording when background vocalists were unavailable during a recording strike in the late 1940s, resulting in monster hits like “Confess,” “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Old Cape Cod” and “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming.”

In addition to her music career, Page was a mainstay of TV variety shows, most notably “The Patti Page Show.” On the movie screen, she appeared opposite Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry” (1960) and co-starred with David Janssen in “Dondi” (1961). She also had a supporting role in the comedy “Boys’ Night Out” (1962) with Kim Novak and James Garner.

While working with Reader’s Digest back in 1995, I had the pleasure of anthologizing Patti Page’s career into a 63 track, 3-CD collection including every one of her important chart hits, called “Patti Page: Her Greatest Hits and Finest Performances.” All of the above named hits are on the collection, and if I may say so, it is well worth seeking out.

Edited: January 5th, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 1/4/13

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “If I Had My Way” by Peter, Paul and Mary

They were the original prefab group, put together by their manager much in the same way that The Monkees were. But instead of a casting call, Albert Grossman knew exactly what he was looking for to form his folk group…two bearded guys (one on stand-up bass, one on guitar) and one woman, preferably a blonde, who could all sing. That’s how the folk trio of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey & Mary Travers came to be. But unlike The Monkees who were ridiculed by many and spent years proving to their audience that they were the real thing, PP&M were welcomed with open arms right from the get-go.

After auditioning for the job of being Peter, Paul and Mary, the trio cut their teeth performing in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village in New York City. Not only did Peter and Paul write many of their biggest songs including “Puff The Magic Dragon,” “The Cruel War,” “Gone The Rainbow,” “Day Is Done” and “I Dig Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” but they introduced a whole host of songwriters’ material to a new generation of music fans, including songs by Gordon Lightfoot (“Early Morning Rain”), John Denver (“Leaving On A Jet Plane”) and, most crucially, Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ In the Wind”), who not-coincidentally was also managed by Albert Grossman. The trio went on to record memorable versions of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “I Shall Be Released,” “Too Much Of Nothing” and “When The Ship Comes In.”

In 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary appeared at the Equal Rights March On Washington, sharing the stage with Martin Luther King when he gave his famous I Have A Dream speech and performing their version of “If I Had A Hammer.” While they were already the darlings of the collegiate generation of folk fans who were also tuned into groups like The Kingston Trio and The Chad Mitchell Trio, that appearance also established them with the burgeoning counter-culture.

After scoring numerous hits, the trio split in 1970 to try their luck at solo careers, with Stookey composing and scoring the hit “Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which went on to become a standard played at millions of weddings each year. The group reformed in 1978 and resumed regular touring together again until Mary Travers died in September of 2009.
The original version of today’s Song Of The Day appeared on the trio’s self-titled debut album from 1962 which spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. With a story line drawn right from the Bible, the tale of Samson & Delilah has been fodder for numerous artists throughout the years (and under different names including “Samson & Delilah” and “Tear That Building Down”) including the Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Ike & Tina Turner, and most notably by the Grateful Dead, who performed it as part of their regular repertoire for many years.

But, as much as I love the good ol’ Grateful Dead’s version, it doesn’t hold a candle to this 1967 live version from Japan. For years, this version was available on a Japanese-only vinyl release, until late last month when Rhino Records finally got around to releasing the whole concert on an expanded 2-CD set called “Live In Japan 1967”.

Edited: January 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/3/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Magdalene Laundries” by Joni Mitchell

“Turbulent Indigo” was Joni Mitchell’s last great album. That’s not to say that all that followed wasn’t any good, it’s just that “Indigo” was her last consistently good album from beginning to end.

Coming in on the heels of a trio of experimental records on the Geffen label – “Dog Eat Dog,” “Chalk Marks In a Rainstorm” and “Night Ride Home” – that featured electronic textures and somewhat dated layered production, “Turbulent Indigo” returned Mitchell to Reprise records with a more stripped down straight-ahead sound that peeled back the atmospheric electronics of the previous records in favor of more organic instrumentation akin to records like “Hejira.”

Thematically, the album was her state of the world circa 1994, and her world was not a pretty place to live in. Once again, Larry Klein played bass and produced, but the couple’s marriage came to an end during the sessions resulting in their divorce after twelve years of marriage.

To match the title, Mitchell delivered her most turbulent set of songs in a long time including “Sex Kills” which dealt with such social injustices as violence, global warming, sexuality in consumerism and AIDS with its repeating chorus, “And the gas leaks, and the oil spills…And sex sells everything, and sex kills.”

The song, “Not To Blame” speaks about domestic violence with its harrowing opening couplet “The story hit the news from coast to coast/They say you beat the girl you loved the most.” Although Mitchell has denied it, the song was supposedly about Jackson Browne and Darryl Hannah’s tumultuous relationship.

The album’s opening track “Sunny Sunday” dealt with the topic of suicide, and today’s Song Of the Day is the gut-wrenching “Magdalene Laundries” dealing with the suffering and abuse of “fallen” women who were sent to the Magdalen Asylums at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for being promiscuous or pregnant out of wedlock.

“Yvette In English” was co-written by David Crosby and features the soprano sax of Wayne Shorter as does several other songs on the record. And Seal sings with Mitchell on the James Brown cover “How Do You Stop.” The record may seem like a depressing affair by my description, but this two-time Grammy winner was one of her most inspiring records in many years, and like I said before, her last consistently great record.

Edited: January 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/2/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” by The Seldom Scene

They sure love their bluegrass in Virginia! I lived in Alexandria for five years, and during that time I was exposed lots of great bluegrass music via a weekly local Sunday morning radio show. As is still the case now, the best venue to go see live bluegrass music was at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. And from the late ‘60s through the late ‘80s, The Seldom Scene played there every Thursday night to mostly sold out audiences with guest like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, John Prine, Lowell George and Vince Gill sitting in.

I was saddened to hear of the loss of Mike Auldridge, one of the greatest dobro players in all of bluegrass music, who died this past Saturday. Auldridge was a founding member of The Seldom Scene. The classic lineup of the Scene formed in Bethesda, Maryland in 1971 and included Auldridge on dobro and vocals, John Starling on lead vocals and guitar, John Duffey (originally of Country Gentlemen) on mandolin, Ben Eldridge on banjo and Tom Gray (also of Country Gentlemen) on bass.

When they formed, it was decided that the group would be a non-touring band who performed once a week, first at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, MD (for the first 6 years), and then at The Birchmere in Alexandria. Each member of the group kept their day jobs as well – Starling was a doctor, Duffey repaired musical instruments, Auldridge was a graphic artist, Eldridge a mathematician and Gray made maps for “National Geographic.”

While their album “Live At The Cellar Door” (1974) is the best representation of what it was like to attend a gig by the original lineup, this essential lineup of musicians also recorded a clutch of great studio albums including the classic “Act I,” “Act II” & ”Act III” albums (1972-3), “Old Train” (1973) and “The New Seldom Scene Album” (1976). While the Scene performed their fair share of the classic bluegrass repertoire, their appeal was more to college educated urban types due to their penchant of amply mixing songs by James Taylor, Steve Goodman, Bobby Darin, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan into their mix.

By the time I first caught them at The Birchmere in the early 1980s; Starling had left the group and was replaced by the equally talented singer Phil Rosenthal. This was the only lineup of the group that I had the pleasure to experience on several occasions. The level of musicianship in this group was astoundingly high, and in John Duffy, the group had an amicable performer with a larger-than-life personality who was responsible for most the group’s between song patter. Duffy passed away in 1996 after suffering a heart attack. The group still performs regularly today with a lineup helmed by original member Ben Eldridge.

This past year, Mike Auldridge was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship and completed a trio album with fellow Dobro players Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes. Today’s Song Of The Day was recorded at The Lisner Auditorium in Washington DC on March 1, 1973.

Edited: January 1st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/1/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart

So, 2013 is not the year of the cat…it’s the year of the snake, but that’s just the hook that led me to choose this fine tune as the first Song Of The Day of a new year. Besides, the Chinese New Year is still a few months off in the distance…so, Happy Rosh Hashanah everyone…but I digress.

While most people are familiar with Al Stewart for a clutch of breezy pop tunes from the late 1970s like “Time Passages,” “On The Border” and this top-ten smash, by 1976 Stewart had already recorded singles with members of The Yardbirds, appeared at the very first Glastonbury Festival in England (1970), and was already well known throughout Europe for his historically-themed folk and progressive rock recordings.

In 1967, Stewart moved to London where he took an apartment with another aspiring songwriter, Paul Simon, who was spending a year abroad woodshedding before resuming his recording career with Art Garfunkel. Meanwhile, Stewart continued recording as his folk recordings began to metamorphose into progressive rock with the addition of electric instruments and multi-suite compositions. His second album “Love Chronicles” (1969) had an eighteen minute title track and featured Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson on guitar.

In America, Stewart came to the attention of prog rock fans, with the release of his 1973 album “Past, Present and Future” and its FM radio staple “Nostradamus.” His career here began to get traction with the release of “Modern Times” in 1975, but it wasn’t until he met up with producer Alan Parsons and recorded the album “The Year Of The Cat” that Stewart would become a household name around the world.

The 1978 album, “Time Passages,” followed and was also a major hit, and he never really stopped recoding, although many of his albums from the 1980s and on have never seen a release in America. Today, he occasionally records and performs live. Here’s a live version of Stewart’s signature song as performed on the British music TV show, “The Old Grey Whistle Test.”

Edited: January 1st, 2013