News for January 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Eli’s Comin’” by Maynard Ferguson


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Eli’s Comin’” by Maynard Ferguson

He was considered one of the top “screech” trumpeters in Jazz, a style that was typified by a proclivity to spend an unfathomable amount of time playing in the upper registers of his instrument. But Maynard Ferguson was much more than just a screech trumpeter; he was also an educator and perhaps the most popular big band leader of the 1970s.

While touring the concert halls of the world, he also took time out to perform hundreds of shows in high school and college auditoriums where he made it his mission to educate kids about Jazz. As a result, many young players got their start in Ferguson’s bands.

Ferguson got his start playing in the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnett before joining Stan Kenton’s band in 1950. Although he wasn’t their lead trumpet player, he was afforded numerous solos because he could create excitement by playing in the highest registers of his instrument. After his work with Kenton, he took a job with Paramount pictures where he recorded over 40 film soundtracks including The Ten Commandments.

In the early 1960s, Ferguson and his wife joined Timothy Leary and his Harvard friends and lived on an estate in Millbrook, NY where they all experimented with numerous psychedelics. After a few years living in England, he came back to the states to set up his own big band.

He released many albums during the ‘60s and ‘70s as a band leader, where he focused on performing big brass versions of the hits of the day. Here’s his 1970 Pop-Jazz version of the Laura Nyro classic, “Eli’s Comin’,” which was brought to the charts by Three Dog Night. It is from his first in a long string of M.F. Horn albums that had a profound influence on such rock acts as Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Chase.

Ferguson went on to lead his big band and perform in concert with hundreds of artists until his death in 2006.

Edited: January 27th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Fox On The Run” by Sweet


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Fox On The Run” by Sweet

Boy, I hated this song when it was a huge hit back in 1975. It stood for everything I disliked about commercial rock ‘n’ roll. The band was totally lightweight and poppy, and their brand of glam rock had no teeth like that of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople.

But a funny thing happened on the way to reaching the tender age of 54, I became nostalgic for the band and the song.

I’ve written about nostalgia before and I’ve come to the conclusion that the songs we feel most nostalgic for today, are the songs that were most reviled by the critics when they were new, and equally loved by the everyday radio listening fan. Many of them also had some kind of novelty value as well.

They were all played to death on radio to the point where even fans of the songs never wanted to hear them again, and many of them were co-opted by Madison Avenue for use in TV commercials in subsequent years after their run on the charts.

These are the songs we loved to hate when they were new, and today we kind of hate to love them. But we do love them. They make us feel good and warmly nostalgic when we hear them. Instead of hastily reaching for the dial to turn them off like we did when they were new, now we turn them up.

Such is the case for me when it comes to Sweet’s smash single “Fox On The Run” and the Desolation Boulevard album from whence it came. The band consisted of Brian Connolly on vocals, Steve Priest on bass, Andy Scott on guitars and Mick Tucker on drums, and most of the album’s tracks were written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn.

The roots of Sweet go back to the late 1960s when Connolly and Tucker were introduced to two aspiring songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn by their former producer Phil Wainman. The group recruited Steve Priest whom they had already worked with on bass and Andy Scott on guitar. Together, the band began recording records in the mold of bubblegum groups of the late 1960s who were at the height of their popularity.

On a side note, Chinn and Chapman went on to write and/or produce hit records for the Chrysalis Record label including “Hot Child In The City” for Nick Gilder, the Bondie albums Parallel Lines, Eat To The Beat, Autoamerican and The Hunter in which Chapman wrote many of their hits, Get The Knack by The Knack including the hit “My Sharona,” Tina Turner’s “The Best” and “Better Be Good To Me,” Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” and production on albums by Divinyls, Rod Stewart, Lita Ford and many others.

After signing a record deal with RCA in the UK and Bell in the U.S., Sweet began recording albums leading to thirteen top twenty UK hits including “Little Willie,” “Block Buster,” Funny Funny,” “Co-Co,” “Poppa Joe” and “Wig-Wam Bam.” The only early single that made any impact on U.S. shores was “Little Willie” which climbed to #3 on the Billboard charts in 1973.

Today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman was released as a single in 1974 in Europe, and then remixed and re-released the following year in the U.S. It was subsequently covered by the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Girlschool, Ace Frehley (of Kiss) and the Scorpions, who recorded it in German. The Desolation Boulevard album also included the big hit “Ballroom Blitz” (another single I hated back then that I also now like) and glam-tastic album tracks like “The Six Teens,” “Sweet F.A.” and “AC DC.”

It’s hard for me to imagine why I totally ignored records by Sweet, Kiss and Bad Company back in the day because they sound so good to me now. The only excuse I could come up with is that they just didn’t seem to be as “weighty” as records like Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges and Mott The Hoople’s Mott, to name but a few.

Edited: January 26th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Seven Come Eleven” by Charlie Christian w/ the Benny Goodman Sextet

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Seven Come Eleven” by Charlie Christian w/ the Benny Goodman Sextet

The world of music is scattered with “what ifs,” such as “What if Waylon Jennings didn’t give his seat up to Buddy Holly on the ill-fated flight that took his life?,” or “What if John Lennon hadn’t been murdered…would there have been a Beatles reunion?”

One of the more intriguing what-ifs in my book is “What if a 25 year old guitar wiz by the name of Charlie Christian had lived a full life?” What kind of music can we have expected to come from him?

Well, based on the two years of recordings he left behind with Benny Goodman, they would have been stunning to say the least. Case in point is this 1939 sextet recording with Benny Goodman on clarinet, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Artie Bernstein on bass and Nick Fatool on drums. Listen to how tight the lead trio of clarinet, vibes and guitar are as they fly together in unison into the musical stratosphere.

What’s even more fascinating is that this recording was made during a time of uncertainty for Goodman. He had disbanded his orchestra due to medical issues a few months before. After enduring back surgery for acute sciatica (which was far more debilitating then than it is now), Goodman faced the task of putting a new band together after being out of circulation for months.

One of the first things he did was to put this sextet together with Charlie Christian, a new guitarist from Oklahoma he’d found through John Hammond. At the time, the electric guitar was not a common instrument in a big band, let alone in a sextet. Goodman took the opportunity to try something different and it paid off in spades.

Unfortunately, we’ll never really know the answer to this “what if” scenario, but at least we have the amazing recordings we do by Charlie Christian to marvel and ponder.

Edited: January 25th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Groovy Movies” by The Kinks


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Groovy Movies” by The Kinks

The Great Lost Kinks Album isn’t really the great lost Kinks album.

That distinction goes to Reprise Records RS-6309 which would have been released in late 1967 or early 1968 as Four More Respected Gentlemen. But for reasons unknown, that record was never released and ultimately its best tracks finally saw the light of day on The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and judging by the quality of that platter, we can all be thankful that The Great Lost Kinks Album never materialized anyway. You follow?

By 1971, The Kinks jumped ship to RCA Records and released the also wonderful Muswell Hillbillies album, while still owing their old label Reprise two more records. The first of the contractual agreement records was the superb and super necessary two record set known as The Kink Kronikles that featured many Kinks’ hits, should-have-been-hits and numerous necessary rarities that Kinks fans were grateful to wrap their ears around.

The second contractual album was the fourteen track, rarity filled Great Lost Kinks Album that featured songs recorded between 1966 and 1970, and was released on Reprise in 1973. On it were songs written for a British TV show (“When I Turn Off The Living Room Light” (one of Raymond Douglas Davies finest) and “Where Did The Spring Go?” from Where Was Spring? ), a film soundtrack (“Till Death Do Us Part” from the film adaptation of the TV show of the same name), a British single (“Plastic Man”), a B-side (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”), lots of album outtakes including off cuts from Something Else (“Lavender Hill” and “Rosemary Rose) and Village Green (“Misty Waters” and “Mr. Songbird), plus several Dave Davies tracks that were recorded for his ill-fated never released solo record including (“There Is No Life Without Love,” “This Man He Weeps Tonight” and today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, “Groovy Movies.”)

“Groovy Movies” is very much a product of its time with its swinging arrangement, colloquial lyrics and driving horn charts. And as for the now sadly out of print Great Lost Kinks Album, Kink kastoffs like the ones included within are way better than most groups’ first run keepers.

God Save The Kinks!

Edited: January 20th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Mr. Dieingly Sad” by The Critters


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Mr. Dieingly Sad” by The Critters

Although their name was inspired by another ’60s group, The Animals, the similarities end there. The Critters were far more easy listening than their rough and tumble contemporaries. They formed in New Jersey in 1964 around singer/songwriter and guitarist Don Ciccone. Their three top forty hits included a cover of a John Sebastian song, “Younger Girl,” “Don’t Let The Rain Fall Down On Me” which charted at #39 in 1967 and today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, their signature slice of pop ennui, reaching #17 on the charts in 1966.

After the original group’s demise in 1967, Ciccone went on to join Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and later toured with Tommy James and the Shondells.

Edited: January 18th, 2015

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


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 by Eric Berman, 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” (later to appear on 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 an album that was to be released in 1975, called Homegrown. This album was also shelved and has never seen the light of day.

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 14th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants

You can’t bottle creativity, but in the case of They Might Be Giants, you certainly can buy it! They were two wild and crazy nerd-boys when they burst onto the scene in the 1980s, we just didn’t realize how wild and crazy they really were.

The two Johns: Flansburgh and Linnell have always looked at the world through different glasses than the rest of us, and it has manifested itself in some of the most creative ways to hear music. Case in point was “Dial-A-Song,” where you could call a phone number and hear a new original song on an answering machine…every day! The call was to a Brooklyn exchange, so they came up with the tag line “Free when you call from work” to publicize the service. This went on for many years and was recently revived as a weekly series.

Dial-A-Song got them signed to their first record deal and today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman comes from their self-titled debut album released in 1986. Once they conquered your telephone, it was only a matter of time before TMBG discovered the internet where they were amongst the first groups to use the medium to publicize and distribute their music.

With songs like “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Dinner Bell,” “Why Does The Sun Shine (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas),” and “Older” in their repertoire, it was only a matter of time before they got into the children’s music game releasing the album No! in 2002. They’ve since released several more children’s records insuring that their original fan base would take their kids to see them some day. Indeed, I fulfilled my duty as a parent and took my own kids to see them in 2002 when they were eight and five years old respectively.

On the road, they perform adult and kids shows at every tour stop and they also have a penchant for debuting newly written songs about each town they’re performing in each night. The two Johns are still very active today on stage and off where they regularly record and release enjoyable and inventive podcasts. If you’ve never heard their records or seen their shows, you really should before you grow up, or even worse, they do!

Edited: January 12th, 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Win” by David Bowie


Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Win” by David Bowie

Plastic soul…on a plastic record.

Shifting gears was nothing new for David Bowie who seemingly shedded skin during the 1970s like others took out the trash. So when Bowie booked time in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios during a two-week break during the Diamond Dogs tour, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that he would emerge in the guise of a suave and sophisticated soul man, sans costumes, make-up and theatrics.

The signs were already there. Bowie had begun to work on an album called People From Bad Homes for his protégé, Ava Cherry And The Astronettes who consisted of his friend Geoffrey MacCormack (aka Warren Peace), Jason Guess, Aynsley Dunbar, Herbie Flowers and Mike Garson. Recording for the Cherry album was abandoned before completion as Bowie decided to focus on the recording of his Diamond Dogs album instead. The tapes for Cherry’s album then became tied up in litigation as Bowie tried to separate himself from Tony DeFries and his Mainman management company. As a result, the record remained unreleased for over 20 years, and is still hard to find today.

Several songs from the Cherry album would end up making the cut on future Bowie records, including “I Am Divine” which became “Somebody Up There Likes Me” from Young Americans, “I Am A Laser” which emerged as “Scream Like A Baby” on Scary Monsters and a cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” that Bowie would get around to recording for his Tonight album. Cherry and company also covered Frank Zappa & The Mothers’ song “How Could I Be Such A Fool” for the album as well.

While on the American leg of the Diamond Dogs tour Bowie began to perform the Eddie Floyd soul classic “Knock On Wood,” and midway through the tour he dropped much of the elaborate costuming and staging in favor of a more stripped down and soulful approach. After thetour, Bowie released the double live album David Live At The Tower Philadelphia as a stop-gap while he feverishly tried to work through the Mainman management issues. The first official inkling of Bowie’s new direction was the release of the live version of “Knock On Wood” as a single.

During the Philadelphia tour stop, Bowie decided to check in to Sigma Sound with Tony Visconti as producer to record some of the new soulful music he heard in his head. He had intended to record with the MFSB rhythm section, but conflicts left only conga player Larry Washington available for the sessions. So Bowie recruited Carlos Alomar on guitar, Willie Weeks on bass, Andy Newmark (of Sly & The Famiily Stone) on drums, David Sanborn on saxophone, Mike Garson on piano, and for background vocals Ava Cherry, an unknown at the time Luther Vandross and Alomar’s wife, Robin Alomar.

The session was the first time Carlos Alomar and Bowie worked with each other leading to a working relationship that has lasted for over 30 years. It was also one of David Sanborn and Luther Vandross’ first sessions. The album was essentially recorded live with the full band playing at the same time that Bowie sang.

When fans got wind that Bowie had checked into Sigma Sound, they began to hang outside the studio every evening to catch a glimpse of their hero and to get autographs. As the sessions went on, Bowie and his entourage came to know the regulars as the “Sigma Kids.” On the final day of tracking for the album, Bowie invited them in to the studio to listen to the rough versions of the songs.

The first single from Young Americans was the title track which was co-written by Luther Vandross. Bowie said the song was about “the predicament of two newlyweds,” although the meaning of the lyrics remains vague. Nevertheless, the single climbed to the #28 position on the charts, which was Bowie’s biggest single up to that point. A very coked up Bowie also performed the song on television on The Dinah Shore Show in 1975.

When Young Americans was released in March of 1975, Bowie described it as both “plastic soul” and “the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey.” It was met with mixed reviews by critics and fans alike.

However, several of the songs on the album were absolute stunners including “Win” which is today’s deep soul Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, “Fascination” which originated from a Luther Vandross song called “Funky Music” that the Mike Garson Band would play to warm up before Bowie concerts on the ’74 tour, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” which came from the Ava Cherry sessions and, of course, “Fame.”

The recording of “Fame” and “Across The Universe” happened after the album wrapped up at Sigma Sound. Back in New York City, Bowie met John Lennon who was celebrating the release of his Walls And Bridges album and the pair hit it off. They booked a one-day session at Electric Lady Studios in January 1975 and assembled most of Bowie’s touring band. The group worked up an atrocious version of “Across The Universe” for kicks, which for some reason Bowie liked.

Meanwhile, Carlos Alomar started jamming on a riff and soon the rest of the band joined in and before they knew it Bowie, Lennon and Alomar worked up a new song called “Fame.” The lyrics came from a discussion between Bowie and Lennon about the perils of celebrity; however Bowie has said that a fair amount of malice in the lyrics was also directed at Mainman management.

The song became David Bowie’s first number one single with a riff so funky that James Brown, “The Godfather Of Soul” lifted it for his track “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved).” Lennon can be heard singing background vocals on the track, particularly at the end when his voice is modified from very high to very low. As a result of the New York sessions, the songs “Who Can It Be Now” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” were pulled from the finished Young Americans album at the last minute in favor of “Across The Universe” and “Fame.” They would emerge years later as bonus tracks on the CD reissue of the album.

Several other tracks were recorded during the Young Americans sessions including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.” Bowie had been knocked out by Springsteen’s performance at Max’s Kansas City and was jazzed to record the song and meet the artist behind it. Springsteen was summoned to Sigma Sound for an audience with Bowie and a playback of the song. Springsteen took a bus from Asbury Park to Philadelphia and arrived at the studio sometime after midnight. While the two artists mutually admired each other, the meeting was said to be awkward, and after all was said and done, Bowie decided not to play his version of the song for Springsteen because it was not finished yet.

Bowie also remade the 1972 B-side “John, I’m Only Dancing” as an extended dance track during the Young Americans sessions. When RCA began to pressure Bowie for more new music, the plan was to release the discofied “John, I’m Only Dancing Again,” however Bowie was already on to his next phase and released “Golden Years” well in advance of his next album StationToStation . Out went the soul man; in came “The Thin White Duke.” Another year, another new persona…

Edited: January 7th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Claudine” by The Rolling Stones


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Claudine” by The Rolling Stones

Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is an outtake by The Rolling Stones from the Some Girls album sessions. The subject of the song is Claudine Longet, who was 19 years old when she met and married Andy Williams who was 14 years her senior. She had three children with Williams, and in the mid-sixties pursued an acting and singing career.

She met Olympic skier Vladimir “Spider” Sabich while at a celebrity ski tournament in Bear Valley in 1972. By 1975 she and her children had moved into Sabich’s chalet in the Starwood section of Aspen, Colorado. Things went well between the two for nearly a year until the relationship started to deteriorate and Sabich requested that Longet vacate the premises. On March 21, 1976 Sabich was shot in his bathroom by a .22 caliber pistol.

Longet’s lawyers pleaded the case as an accident and Longet testified that Sabich had been showing her how to use the gun when it went off. Ballistics experts at the trial testified that the safety catch was defective on the gun.

Sabich was killed by a single bullet to the abdomen and bled to death on the way to the hospital. (The only inaccuracy in the song is the reference to three shots.) He was 31 years old.

On January 14, 1977 Longet was convicted of negligent homicide and spent 30 days in the Pitkin County Jail. Claudine was granted family rights during the week which meant that she only served time on the weekends. She went on to marry her defense attorney and continues to live in Aspen.

Edited: January 4th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart


Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart

So, 2015 is not the year of the cat…it’s the year of the goat (or sheep), but that’s just the hook that led me to choose this fine tune as the first Song of the Day by Eric Berman 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 remember Al Stewart for a clutch of radio-friendly pop tunes from the late 1970s including “Time Passages,” “On The Border” and today’s 1976 top-ten smash, Stewart had already recorded singles with members of The Yardbirds, appeared at the very first Glastonbury Festival in England (1970), and was well known throughout Europe for his historically-themed folk and progressive rock recordings.

In 1965, Stewart moved to London where he roomed with another aspiring songwriter, Paul Simon, who was spending a year abroad woodshedding and recording the solo album The Paul Simon Songbook before resuming his recording career with Art Garfunkel. Meanwhile, Stewart continued to release albums as his folk recordings began to metamorphose into progressive rock with the addition of electric instruments and lengthy multi-suite compositions. His exceptional second album Love Chronicles” (1969) has an eighteen minute title track that features Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson on guitar.

In America, Stewart came to the attention of prog rock fans, with 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 recording, although many of his albums from the 1980s and on have never seen a release in America. Today, he continues to performs live and occasionally records albums.

Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is a live version of Stewart’s signature song as performed on the British music TV show, “The Old Grey Whistle Test.”

Edited: January 1st, 2015