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The Zombies’ Biloxi Performance Produces Magical Moments

10 Mar

Zombies

“The Zombies Live” — a bit of an oxymoron, right? Or maybe a title of an upcoming horror film? I’ll tell you what I call it: A damn good time! These guys (leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, by name) have been at it since 1961. Their first charting hit came along in 1964.  And you know what? They still sound great. Sure the lads have aged a bit. And maybe picked up a pound or two since the dashing portrait above was snapped. Some called them nerdy — some called them art school geeks — I have always dug them. They were always thinking a step ahead of their musical peers and that did not always translate into commercial success.

zombies hrc

The Hard Rock Casino – Biloxi is where it all went down

zombies sign

Our tickets to this Thursday night Zombies show at the Hard Rock Casino were just $25 each plus tax — and the seats were superb. Probably about 10 rows back and just a tad left of center stage. I didn’t really want to be much closer. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it can get a little loud up there sometimes.

zombie LP

The average Joe might be hard pressed to name a single song by The Zombies. Time of the Season could come to mind … as it should. That recording, in my world, ranks right up there with The Beatles best work. The casual music fan of a certain vintage probably remembers tracks like Tell Her No and She’s Not There — and most likely Argent’s big solo smash Hold Your Head Up. The more hardcore vinyl junkie like your’s truly can go much deeper into The Zombies’ highly underappreciated catalog. I, for one, would be hard pressed to stop at 20 or so songs. They were indeed that special. Especially when further incorporating Rod’s time with Argent and vocalist Colin Blunstone’s solo recordings (check out his breathy Caroline Goodbye for starters) and stellar session work with the Alan Parsons Project (see Old and Wise for beginners).    

zombies on stage

The view from our seats (above) at Hard Rock – a steal at $25 + tax

zombies signed cd

A signed CD was my souvenir for the evening

The Zombies masterpiece (often discussed in the same hushed tones as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Love’s Forever Changes) is their Odessey and Oracle album. It may have only included one chart hit (the soaring Time of the Season) but it is laden with innovative, quirky, and ultimately unforgettable tunes. The themes can be somber (A Rose for Emily) and downright bizarre (Care of Cell 44). This is an album that grows on you — and then stays with you forever. I can’t recommend it enough if you consider yourself a fan of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Kinks, or Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. Critics rave about it and it is often cited as one of the Top 100 LPs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it #80 in their Top 500. How ’bout them apples???

zombies c n r

If you ever get a chance to see The Zombies in concert, don’t miss them. Rod and Colin work incredible magic together. Argent can still bang on the keyboards like nobody’s business and Blunstone remains, to my ear, one of rock’s great voices. They play a great mix of the old and the new — and both founding members get plenty of time to bask in the spotlight. When they broke into Time of the Season (easily one of my all-time favorite songs), my wife Eileen and I were grinning from ear to ear. By the time the song reached its crescendo, I could have sworn our feet were floating about a foot or two off the ground. It was the same magical feeling I experienced when I first heard Booker T and the MGs perform Green Onions in person. Or the time I saw Tony Joe White singing Polk Salad Annie. Or the time I experienced the great Roy Orbison bring the crowd to its collective feet with a live take on Running Scared. It was indeed one for the ages.

Thank you, Rod and Colin. LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!!!

And just in case you boys ever wonder if all the bad meals, hotels, and travel are worth it, it is. Trust me … it really is.

You are making the world a brighter, more joyful place.

And what could be more rewarding than that?

B.J. Thomas Gets 2-Disc Scepter Re-Issue Thanks to Real Gone Music

4 Jul

Texas native B. J . Thomas had a great set of pipes — that most of us can agree upon.  He had a tremendously rich voice and a powerful upper range. His career started as a country crooner, reached its zenith via the pop artistry of Bacharach and David, and then returned to country stardom with hits like “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Yet I contend that his collaboration with producer Chips Moman, tunesmith Mark James, and his time spent in the American Recording Studio in Memphis yielded perhaps his most durable platters. All those singles were released on the Scepter label and all are thankfully included in this excellent new collection from Real Gone Music.

Elvis Presley struck vinyl gold at American — so did Neil Diamond. Chips Moman sure had the midas touch … that’s for certain. It helped having a guitar/sitar picker like Reggie Young, songwriters like Mark James and Spooner Oldham, and drummers like the mighty Gene Chrisman. After Thomas enjoyed some regional country success, the James’ composition “The Eyes of a New York Woman” really got the ball rolling for B.J. (charting #28 in 1968). That was soon followed by the classic “Hooked on a Feeling,” a James creation. “It’s Only Love” came next and crested at #45, although it deserved a much better fate. “Pass the Apple Eve” stalled out even further from the top of the charts and it seemed the run was just about over for Thomas.

Just as hope was fading, Burt Bacharach entered the picture and B.J. Thomas’ 1969 recording of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” became a certified worldwide smash.  “Everybody’s Out of Town” (1970) is vintage Bacharach-David and one of my personal favorites. Then came “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” another top ten hit — this one from the pens of the legendary Mann-Weill songwriting team. “Send My Picture to Scranton, PA” (1970) and “Long Ago Tomorrow” (1971) are two more Bacharach contributions not to be overlooked. And I still cannot believe that Mark James’ song “The Mask” did not fare better (it didn’t even chart — madness!).

Sure, some of the B-sides were clunkers. Shoot, some of the A-sides were too. But listening to them is half the fun with collections such as this. You’re not just enjoying a little music. You are listening to a talented artist trying to find his way. Or an singer attempting to live up to the promise of his previous smash. Or a genius producer, top notch session players, and a young vocalist creating a sound that remains branded in our collective mind some 4 decades later.   

From his 1966 recording of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” through his 1972 double-sided hit single “That’s What Friends Are For”/”Happier Than the Morning Sun,” B.J. Thomas enjoyed a string of hits rivaled by few artists of that time. And the fact that he did this on an indie label, Scepter, makes the achievement even more impressive. Various compilations of Thomas’ Scepter sides have come and gone. But Real Gone’s 44-track anthology is the first to offer A- and B-sides of every one of the artists’ Scepter singles, including his 19 hits. Many of the B-sides never appeared on albums. DJ/journalist Michael Ragogna wrote the notes, which feature quotes from Thomas.

Frank Sinatra’s “Best of Vegas” — I’m All In!

31 Jan

A new Sinatra release is always a cause for celebration. That is especially true when you’re talking about LIVE recordings. Better yet if the live material includes performances from the ’50s and ’60s (my favorite era of Frank’s stellar career). The first 9 tracks on this collection fall into that friendly territory. The initial 3 tunes (following the introduction) were recorded at The Sands in 1961 — ring a ding ding! Tracks 5-9 are even better, thanks to the participation of conductor Quincy Jones and the amazing Count Basie Orchestra.

The music swings throughout this 17-track live collection and boasts several 1980’s performances captured at Caesar’s Palace and the Golden Nugget. Nuggets found here include Pennies from Heaven and New York New York. Have the earmuffs ready as Old Blue Eyes employs some salty language during his sometimes lengthy and always engaging between song stage patter. Hey, Frankie had some great pipes … but he wasn’t exactly a choir boy.

In the span of a few years, Las Vegas refueled Frank Sinatra’s career and Sinatra in turn became the lead figure in the city’s ascendance. It was a synergistic relationship that has since become legendary in the annals of 20th century entertainment.

Some of the finest moments in that legendary symbiosis are captured in Frank Sinatra: Best of Vegas, a series of live recordings presented by Concord Records. The 14-song set, under license from Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE), captures Sinatra in concert at the Sands, Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas between 1961 and 1987. The collection is a distillation of highlights from Sinatra: Vegas, the five-disc boxed set (4 CD/1 DVD) of live recordings released by Reprise Records in 2006.

 

“From his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, no entertainer was ever more synonymous with the city of Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra,” says Charles Pignone, author of The Sinatra Treasures, in his comprehensive liner notes to the Best of Vegas CD. “It has been said that next to legalized gambling, nothing has been more beneficial and profitable to Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra.”

All the Sinatra classics are here, performed live before adoring crowds at some of the most prestigious venues in the history of Vegas. “The Lady Is a Tramp” (The Sands, 1961); “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (The Sands, 1966); “All or Nothing at All” (Caesars Palace, 1982); “Pennies From Heaven” (The Golden Nugget, 1987); and of course, the “Theme From New York, New York” (Caesars Palace, 1982) are just some of the gems in the Best of Vegas collection. 

“If you were in Las Vegas at the same time as Sinatra, there was nothing else that could compare,” says Pignone. “Even when the entertainment in town was changing from headliners to magic and production shows, Sinatra was still the ‘main event.'”

Or in the words of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, Sinatra was “the destination’s most enduring icon, an inimitable original who was influential in shaping Las Vegas’ image and entertainment scene.”

Sinatra returned to Vegas in December with the opening of Sinatra Dance With Me, at the Wynn Las Vegas. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, Sinatra Dance With Me features original recorded masters of Frank Sinatra with a big band and 14 of the world’s finest dancers.

www.sinatrafamily.com

New Stuff from Marty, Neil and Harry

29 Sep

Marty Stuart continues to crank out classic country in the honky tonk tradition.

Neil Young is aging, but he still likes his music LOUD! Just ask Daniel Lanois.

Harry Nilsson is finally getting his due with his very own documentary.

Undiscovered Ray Charles Masters are Released by Concord Records

24 Sep

Concord Records is celebrating the 80th birthday of the legendary Ray Charles with a special gift for his legions of fans: Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters. This treasure trove of newly discovered recordings, highlighted by a duet with fellow icon Johnny Cash, will become available on October 26th, 2010.

Culled from four decades worth of demos and other previously unreleased material, Rare Genius showcases the remarkable artistic vision, stylistic range and emotionally rich vocals that crafted Charles enduring legacy. Listening to the ten gems from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that comprise this CD, fans will have no trouble envisioning the late singer rocking back and forth at the piano as he effortlessly segues between R&B/soul, pop, country and gospel. “Ray would always get inside the meaning of a lyric and make the listener believe every word,” says Concord Music Group Chief Creative Officer, John Burk. “His vocals carried incredible emotion and intensity, even on demo tapes. What we have here with Rare Genius is on par with some of his greatest works.”

And that’s crystal clear right from the album’s sparkling opener, “Love’s Gonna Bite You Back.” The March 1980 session track features an upbeat horn arrangement behind what Rare Genius liner notes author Bill Dahl calls “a Charles vocal that’s a signature mixture of sandpaper grit and heavenly goodness.” Up next is the stunning ballad “It Hurts to Be in Love,” which underscores the album’s main thematic focus and one of Charles’ favorite subjects: the ups and down of romance. Another compelling standout is the gospel-stirred Charles and Cash duet on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?” Discovered in the Sony vaults, the song was produced by Billy Sherrill in Nashville and recorded in 1981 for an anticipated release on a CBS album. For unknown reasons, that didn’t come to pass. What’s more important, however, is the emotional charge you get listening to these two powerful voices come together in this spirited and inspired pairing.

Except for “Lord,” the nine other Rare Genius tracks including the soul-drenched “I Don’t Want No One But You,” a blues-infused cover of songwriter Hank Cochran’s country classic “A Little Bitty Tear” and the joyous “I’m Gonna Keep on Singin'” were found in the vault at Charles’ R.P.M. International Studios in Los Angeles. Adding a little sweetening to some of the sparse, stripped-down tracks was a team of top-notch musicians and artists: guitarists Keb’ Mo’ and George Doering, organist Bobby Sparks, trumpeter Gray Grant, trombonist Alan Kaplan, bassists Trey Henry and Chuck Berghofer, drummers Gregg Field and Ray Brinker and background vocalist Eric Benet.

As with its Concord predecessor, 2004’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year Genius Loves Company, Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters is another fitting tribute to Charles, who would have turned 80 on September 23, 2010. It’s a fresh, vibrant reaffirmation of the music icon’s unparalleled artistry and legacy.

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/albums/Rare-Genius-The-Undiscovered-Masters/

Southern Gal Marshall Chapman Still Rockin’

21 Aug

MARSHALL CHAPMAN’S NEW ALBUM, BIG LONESOME, DUE OUT OCTOBER 26

Release is dedicated to the late Tim Krekel. Co-produced with Michael Utley, accompanists include Will Kimbrough, Casey Wood, and Jim Mayer.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marshall Chapman’s life, as author/friend William Gay puts it, “is like five or six lives shoehorned into one. It’s like a movie or a good book.” Speaking of books, the multifaceted singer-songwriter has written two, and the newest (They Came to Nashville) is being released the same day as Big Lonesome, her sixth release on Tallgirl Records and twelfth overall.

“I wasn’t going to make another album, at least not alone,” says Chapman. She and close friend Tim Krekel were planning to record a duet album when Krekel was diagnosed with cancer. “Three months later he was gone,” Chapman continues. “Dreams were dashed, gigs got cancelled, and life went on. As trite as it may sound, the only thing that comforted me during this period was picking up my guitar. Then new songs started writing themselves. They were coming from an uncharted place so deep and true, I knew what I had to do.”

Chapman contacted Michael Utley (producer for Jimmy Buffett and Roy Orbison, and player on albums by Aretha Franklin, Kris Kristofferson, and the Neville Brothers), who brought in Will Kimbrough, “Uncle” Jim Mayer, and Casey Wood. Utley himself plays Hammond B3 organ.

“I’d never recorded or worked with any of these guys,” Chapman says. “Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.”

Once in the studio, things started happening. “Whatever it was, it was bigger than all of us,” Chapman says. Gay, known for his novel Provinces of Night among others, offers this assessment: “Big Lonesome feels organic, like something that just grew naturally on its own. It sounds like the result of one of those rare and happy occasions when everything fell together in the recording studio, when everyone is on the same page, when the musicians are locked in almost reading each other’s minds like The Band in its early days.”

Chapman has perhaps her strongest slate of songs here, most of which she wrote or co-wrote. Some were inspired by the loss of Krekel (whose vocals and guitar appear on this album), and his memory seems to be an invisible presence that has been absorbed into the music. The songs have a stoic strength. Remember concept albums, when songs used to form a cohesive and interlocking whole? Big Lonesome has that feel. It also doesn’t hurt that Marshall is in great voice, or that she surrounded herself with great musicians.

Gay continues: “I first heard of Marshall Chapman through the pages of a now-defunct magazine. It was in the late ’70s and Jaded Virgin, her second album for Epic, had just been released. The article summed up Marshall’s background: a refugee debutante from South Carolina wealth and privilege who laid it all aside to follow music, heading out with only her guitar and the songs already forming in her head, mesmerized by the sight of Elvis from the balcony of a Spartanburg theater where she bonded irrevocably with music. A rebel who didn’t even know she was rebelling, she sounded like a combination of Elvis, James Dean, and Lauren Bacall, taking Nashville by storm, kicking down country’s sexist doors with ballroom slippers. She also sounded like someone I’d like to know.”

Chapman has written and performed with the likes of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and John Hiatt; written plays with Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Matraca Berg; had her songs covered by everyone from Wynonna to Joe Cocker; acted in a movie (she plays Gwyneth Paltrow’s character’s road manager in the soon-to-be-released Country Strong); and received advice from Jerry Lee Lewis: “Don’t you burn out, hon,” Lewis told her after she and her band opened for him one New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. Marshall has, like Icarus, flown too close to the sun a time or two, had her wings scorched by burning candles, but Big Lonesome is proof she never came close to burning out.

“Nobody goes through life without learning things,” concludes Gay. “But not everybody can take life’s joys and hard lessons and by some curious alchemy transmute them into art. Marshall Chapman can. ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way,’ Chapman sings on ‘Falling Through the Trees.’ And that’s good news for the rest of us.”

Longtime friend Kristofferson said of Marshall’s new album: “In this soulful, sincere tribute to her ‘best friend in music, Tim Krekel,’ Marshall reminds me how she reminds me of Hank Williams. The songs are heart-breaking and beautiful and exhilarating and absolutely honest. And Mike Utley’s co-production and keyboard and Casey Woods’ mixing and percussion are perfect. There’s not a false note on the album. I believe Marshall truly does ‘love everybody’ and it shines through every song.” Matraca Berg added, “I just love this record. It’s . . . like . . . Marianne Faithful and Willie Nelson had a baby!” And Todd Snider has this to say: “This record kicks ass. Beautifully written and recorded, it’s sad, but not hopeless . . . like Blood on the Tracks.”

For Chapman news and musings, as well as announcements about her CD, book, and live appearances, visit her website: http://www.tallgirl.com. The album will be available from the site on October 26.

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