Sunday, February 04, 2018

If Your Ears Knew What Was Good For Them...

 A few days ago I wrote about my latest music discovery, the awesome Johnnie Taylor Live At The Summit Club. It's still in heavy rotation in my universe but I stumbled on something equally jaw dropping; Isaac Hayes / Black Moses. This record is a revelation. The arrangements are incredible and it was obviously made in an era when an artist could succeed enough commercially to earn a degree of autonomy in the studio. Released in 1971, radio at that time required songs to be a commercial friendly 2:30-3:00 minutes max. There's not a song on this record under 5:00 minutes and if one second is displaced you would lose everything! THESE ARE GROOVES! The first track, a Jackson 5 hit; Never Can Say Goodbye, is an epiphany. The second song is (They Long To Be) Close To You. Originally a hit for the Carpenters only a year before! This arrangement and performance sounds like a different song! This is Isaac Hayes at the peak of his game.
 My strong advice is to set aside some time, get yourself some headphones and listen to this record in it's entirety. LISTEN

Thursday, November 23, 2017

My 5 Desert Island Discs

My mind is wandering this morning (yes, it CAN be a dangerous thing...), so I thought I would write a blog about my 5 favorite albums. I decided to call it my “Desert Island Discs List”, because that’s what I’ve always heard it called. The inferred question being, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 5 CD’s, what would they be?” Soon my thoughts of CDs were taken over by the idea of being stranded on a deserted island. Would I really be worrying about CD’s? If I was, how would I play them? More importantly, however, how did I come to be on this island? Plane crash? Shipwreck? Was I taken prisoner by an evil genius, like in James Bond movies and left to die here after being interrogated for hours? In fact, if I was the captive of an evil genius, would he allow me to choose 5 CDs to keep me entertained on the island that is supposed to be my prison? If he did, should I take a really long time to decide in the hope that he’d lose interest and I could more easily escape?
If I table the ‘why am I here’ aspect of this already slightly unsettling and potentially horrifying scenario, I am left with the practicality of survival on a deserted island. Is this place truly deserted or are there cannibals or dangerous animals that I will have to fend off? If there are animals, can I eat them if I catch one? (also, can you eat a cannibal? is that morally okay since they would surely eat you...) What about snakes, (of whom I am NOT a fan!)? Would it be like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway? He managed to do pretty well after he got acclimated to the situation. He did however end up with a bizarre assortment of stuff to survive with; ice skates, a volleyball, etc. Apparently he was NOT asked what 5 CDs he’d like to have with him. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I have a made a thorough reconnoiter of the entire island and found it to be strangely absent of any other life forms...yeah, right.
I think if I was to be stranded on a deserted island and being a fan and longtime viewer of the show Survivor, I would first like to have fire. A LOT of fire. As Jeff Probst is always saying “Fire means life.” I would ask for an entire carton of Bic disposable lighters. Yes, I realize that disposable lighters would be bad for the environment, but I’m stranded on a deserted island at the moment and if and when I am rescued, I will return here in a boat and restore the island to the way it was...I promise. Next, I’m going to need shelter. This one was tough because it needs to be comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the outside conditions, etc. Therefore, I choose a tour bus. They are familiar, comfortable to sleep on and if cannibals or snakes attack, I can just lock the door. The following items are necessary without any explanation; a CD player (apparently), a shotgun, ammunition, Spam, fresh water, bathing suit, a big knife, a machete, a small knife, another shotgun (in case something happens to the first one), a GPS, a satellite phone, a flare gun, flares, my guitar, pictures of my family (this is assuming that they are not with me), salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, a skillet, a coffee pot, coffee, plenty of socks, a solar powered generator, crackers, a BBQ grill, a hammock,...
As I look over my list so far, I realize that this is going to cost quite a bit. The tour bus alone is about $500,000.00 and after it’s been on an island, it’s probably going to be greatly depreciated. No resale value there! (by the way, when they deliver the tour bus, couldn’t I just catch a ride back with the delivery person?) This brings me to the question; “ In this scenario, is money ‘no object’?”. Is the question; “If you were a jillionaire and allowed to prepare yourself to live on a deserted island, what 5 CD’s would you take?” I have to say that sounds pretty unrealistic to me. If I’m a jillionaire I could afford more than 5 CDs. Also, if I’m a jillionaire wouldn’t I have a staff of people around me that would theoretically protect me from inadvertently finding my way to a deserted island all alone? A more likely headline would be; “Famous Jillionaire Guitarist Almost Lost On Deserted Island, Saved By Very Efficient Staff Members”. If I am a jillionaire, I would definitely have a personal flying machine, like a jet pack or something (in addition to my Segway of course), so I could probably just use that to escape. (That is if I’m the captive of an evil genius of course) I guess to be fair the question should be; “If you are NOT a jillionaire and you find yourself stranded on a deserted island through no evil machinations of any sort and while money is an important consideration your mind is focused clearly on the 5 CDs that you would like to have with you to listen to, understanding that these are the last 5 CDs you will ever listen to...wait...am I to understand that this scenario contains no ‘happy ending’?!? I’m going to DIE on this island?!? Suddenly my appetite for Spam is disappearing. As are my thoughts of what music I want to hear before I die from starvation and exposure. Or maybe I die of thirst because I can’t get fresh water. When I was a jillionaire, I had plenty of fresh water but now I’m just a poor, unfortunate soul with 5 stupid CDs to my name, dying of thirst on this uncharted deserted island. Or maybe there were cannibals after all and they were hiding in those caves that I saw on the other side of the island but I was tired and thirsty and ready to get back to my camp...to listen to my CDs...God this Spam is starting to turn my stomach...one should never eat Spam in the hot salty air! The salty ocean air is scratching my CDs too! Soon they’ll be unlistenable! What was that noise?! I think I hear something in the jungle...
Okay, so the question as I now understand it is; “You are going to die. You are not rich and no one can save you. You are going to die alone on an uncharted deserted island, far, far removed from any known shipping lanes and the chances for rescue are nonexistent. While you are going to die...soon...for some unknown reason, the gods of fate have seen fit to allow you to have in your possession 5 CDs and a device to play them on. If you can stop your mind from dwelling on the fact that you are DYING(!!!), and can concentrate on music purely for the purposes of enjoyment (in these, your last few hours before delirium sets in signaling that final sweet slumber) what CDs would you take with you to this ISLAND OF DEATH?”
That’s the question?....well...hmmm...alright...I guess...

Live - Donny Hathaway
Stone Crazy - Buddy Guy
Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix...


...WAIT! I’ve got it! What if, when the cannibals come for me, I play my CDs to them and they, never having seen a CD player before, are fascinated by the magical box of sound and decide that I am one of their gods! They take me back to their caves and give me food and fresh water and through my time with them, I gain their trust and convince them that cannibalism is just not morally cool. Then we all work together and build an outrigger canoe and we row ourselves into the shipping lanes and are rescued by an oil tanker (probably owned by BP!!) we return to the US, get the cover of People magazine, (one of the cannibals gets caught up in a love triangle with Miley Cyrus and Mel Gibson and ends up on the cover of the National Enquirer...Hollywood can be more dangerous than a deserted island!) get interviewed by Matt Lauer, meet the President, who gives me the Congressional Medal of Survival or something (he'll make up something YUUUUUGE!), we get to make a cameo in the next Star Wars movie, get invited to be interviewed on the CBS morning show and turn them down...after we stop laughing! (who watches the CBS morning show anyway?!?), we do Seth Meyers, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel (where we jam with the band of course) we do Jimmy Fallon just to jam with The Roots (oh, Fallon’s alright, but he seems like he’s just trying a little too hard..), Netflix  wants to have me host a reality show and the cannibals and I are invited to be Grand Marshals of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! So the moral of this tale is; If someone asks your your 5 Desert Island Discs...RUN!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Got Live If You Want It"...at least my top 5!

Recently I came across a live Johnnie Taylor CD that just blew me away! I'm still listening to it almost non-stop but it made me think about what I would consider my top 5 live recordings of all time. The 5 live documents that have not only shaped my musical approach but that have just excited me as a fan. I'm posting this not to start a debate, although feel free to share your own top 5, but to maybe hip you to some great music that you might not have heard or forgotten about. So here we go!

JOHNNIE TAYLOR - LIVE AT THE SUMMIT CLUB

 I know SHOCKER! I'm not ready to declare this my favorite of all time, it's just the most recent but oh man what a record! Just a little background; In 1972 Stax records held a concert in Los Angeles, CA. It was in response to the recent riots and was intended as a unifying and healing performance. Entitled "Wattstax" it was filmed for theatrical release as part of the wave of concert films that had probably started with Woodstock a few years earlier. Johnnie was supposed to be part of the concert but was either bumped or refused to perform. No one seems to know for sure. The decision was then made to set up and film a club date and include some of that footage in the film. From the first notes the band sounds under-rehearsed and on the verge of collapsing in confusion. The background singers are hanging on for dear life and in the middle of this maelstrom of flying notes we find Johnnie Taylor firmly in charge. He conducts and chastises and instructs the band all while putting on an electric performance. He sings the guitar players parts to him, tells the background singers when to sing and where, directs the drums and guides the tempo. All the while interacting with the audience and never loses focus. The rawness of it makes me want to call it "Punk Soul" but whatever it is it's the funkiest thing I've heard in a while!



DONNY HATHAWAY - LIVE
 This has been a favorite of mine for over 20 years. I heard it first mentioned in a Chris Layton interview and later had it recommended to me by a band mate. I found my first copy in Japan while I was on tour with Buddy Guy and it has since become a touchstone for me when it comes to beautiful, soulful music performed immaculately. Recorded at two separate shows (one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast) the musicians are some of the best of the generation; Cornell Dupree, Phil Unchurch, Willie Weeks, Mike Howard, Fred White and Earl DeRouen. All being led by an amazing singer, composer, arranger Donny Hathaway. Versions of "What's Goin' On", "You've Got A Friend" and "Jealous Guy" are as powerful as the original versions. I listen to this record at least every couple of weeks, it's been in my life for a long time.



JIMI HENDRIX - BAND OF GYPSYS
 I know, another shocker! This is often my favorite Jimi Hendrix record. I say 'often' because as soon as I say that, I listen to Electric Ladyland and say no that's my favorite or I'll say it's my favorite "live" Hendrix and then I'll here the Berekley Concert and say well....No matter what though this is the one that I put in my top five. This was actually a record that Hendrix was forced to make. After signing a contract that he forgot about after he became successful, of course the people who held this contract hadn't forgotten and demanded that he honor their agreement. The resulting live record was definitely Jimi at his funkiest. With Buddy Miles on drums instead of Mitch Mitchell, the groove was a funkier, earthier, soul type drumming that coupled with Billy Cox' bass playing, gave Jimi a completely different platform to launch from. The new originals were at points obviously not completely "baked" arrangement wise but Jimi's guitar soars throughout. The time frame (New Years Eve/New Years Day 1969/70) makes a song like Machine Gun a chilling political statement as powerful as Jimi's Woodstock National Anthem. This isn't the record I would introduce someone to Jimi's music with, but I'd be excitedly waiting until they were ready for it!


B.B. KING - LIVE IN JAPAN
I found this record around the same time as the Donny Hathaway record, in Japan. It hadn't been reissued in the states yet so I was excited to hear some live B.B. that wasn't Live At The Regal or Live At The Cook County Jail. Both of those are great records and they both have a spot in my favorite records but this is in my top five. B.B.'s tone is immaculate, his performance and execution is spot on. Recorded in Tokyo in 1971, it features my favorite B.B. drummer, Sonny Freeman. "Niji Baby" is worth the price of admission on it's own! The passion in B.'s voice when he sings "Eyesight To The Blind" is electric.


BUDDY GUY & JUNIOR WELLS - DRINKIN' TNT 'N' SMOKIN' DYNAMITE
 I think when you limit yourself to 5 records it's always the last slot that's the hardest to fill! This record wins because it not only has two of my favorite performers (BG & Junior) but it's also a live record that I listen to on a regular basis. I don't think I go more than a couple of weeks at the most before I check back in with this record. It's that much a part of my musical fabric. Recorded at The Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, it was part of a show that included Buddy and Junior backing Muddy Waters. This was Buddy and Junior's set just before they played with Muddy who was a major influence and patriarch to both of them so I can't help but think that were putting a little more grease on the fire for Muddy's approval. (I know that's how I feel when I open for BG!) This show was also filmed and I have a DVD of the entire show. (I'm not sure where I got it so it might not be an "official" release.) Part of my pre-show ritual is watching video's in the bus before we play. I use this time to get my head in the right space and gain some energy from my mentors and heroes. This is one of my favorite "hype tapes". The rythm section includes Bill Wyman, from the Rolling Stones, on bass, Pinetop Perkins on piano and Terry and Dallas Taylor on guitar and drums respectively. The musical support of these guys is incredibly sympathetic and understated allowing Buddy and Junior to use incredible dynamics and just soar over the music in that amazing fashion that has always amazed me.

 Well there ya go, my top 5 live recordings, not in order. These are the records that I turn to again and again for inspiration and guidance. They are guaranteed to increase the heart rate, cause the involuntary head-bob and just generally put a smile on your face. If you haven't heard some of these greats, check them out. I checked and all 5 are available on Amazon so buy 'em!!

MY 5 HONORABLE MENTIONS...because it's my blog!
 I said before, it's hard to keep it to 5 so I'm just adding 5 honorable mentions so I can sleep tonight;

AL GREEN - LIVE IN TOKYO
DWIGHT YOAKAM - DWIGHT LIVE
SEX PISTOLS - FILTHY LUCRE LIVE
RED DEVILS - KING KING
MUDDY WATERS, BUDDY GUY, HOWLIN' WOLF, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, WILLIE DIXON - FOLK FESTIVAL OF THE BLUES * (This one gets an asterisk because it only partially live but it's recorded to make it sound live and it's STILL a great record!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hail to the King...

So Forty years ago, the King of Rock & Roll passed away. I’ve written about the importance of Elvis in my life for a looooooong time. So this year, the 40th year, I thought I’d write about someone else from Elvis’ orbit that I had that chance to meet. In Memphis there’s a clothing store named Lansky’s. Lansky's was devoted to clothing the hip of Memphis. I being a disciple of Elvis knew of Lansky’s and on my first tour with Buddy Guy, in Memphis, headed to Lansky’s (in the Peabody Hotel) to get some Elvis vibe. I was met by Bernard Lansky, the man who dressed the king. 
 He came up to me immediately and picked out a shirt for me, a purple, velvet shirt. He draped it on me and popped the collar and said “That’s the way Elvis would’ve worn it…” I called Buffy just to tell her how much I spent on that shirt (a Lot!!!) and went back every time to speak with Mr. Lansky just to enjoy his rap and get his Elvis vibe. Mr. Lansky has passed and I still go back every time to embrace the feeling of Elvis, I miss the King as much today as I did in 1977, I’m grateful that that was my first concert. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Race, Religion, Trump, Making America....Naw I'm just playing':)

 Well today is my birthday. Another jaunt around the sun. I’m getting to the point where I should have it ALL worked out and just coast but you and I both know that ain’t quite how it works! “Mistakes? I’ve made a few…” that’s Sinatra (and Elvis and Sid Vicious, all of who’s versions of My Way will be played at my funeral: spoiler alert). Not to, in any way, minimize our life but I’m starting to look at it as a kind of “circling of the drain” type of existence. Not in a negative way but in a metaphorical way. You’re born and you start circling. It’s coming. But, what is the “drain”? I think it’s Love. I think it’s an awareness of Love. I think the closer we get (and I’m hoping I’m still far away!) I think we start to shed the stuff, realize what’s important, what (and who) has value in our lives and hopefully move towards an awareness of peace and love. 
 I'm grateful tonight for the wife, daughter and family that I have, the friends and co-workers that have fulfilled my life. A post like this is like a GRAMMY speech and if I start naming names, I’ll miss someone and they’ll be like; “What about me?!?!” (or they might not even read it cause maybe they’re more important to me than I am to them!;)) That happens too, by the way. You might be a life raft and they might just be a heavy, wet, drowning body…or vice-versus. The point is, this is my ride, you’ve got yours and they’re all EQUALLY important.

 My faith is Christianity and through that faith I’m taught that we are all made by our creator in His image. I use the masculine in this case but I read it to say WE are ALL made in HIS image which means all of us. So men, ladies, kids, black, white, red, yellow, cream, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, etc. that means YOU. The center of my “drain” is Love. As I get closer to it, I’m reminded to accept it more, express it more, embrace it more, spread it more and hopefully embody it more. Today, I’ve been shown a supreme expression of love directed toward me. Both from my family and my friends and I’m humbled. I’ve had so many birthday greetings and well wishes that I literally can’t count them all. That’s a wonderful problem to have! So as I wind down my night, I say “Thank You” and my birthday wish is for me (and for all of us) to learn more love, learn to express it more and be a flashlight that extinguishes that “darkness of hate” from our world. I pray that you experience the same amount of love (or more!) than I’ve been shown today and that we share another trip around the sun in peace and love and harmony. #love

Monday, June 19, 2017

We Plan, God Laughs

 Recently I had the chance to speak to some Middle-School students in a summer guitar program. I’ve done a few things like that and I’m always very nervous. I don’t know why kids scare me more than a room full of (possibly) inebriated adults! They just do.
 Anyway, the one question that I was asked that stuck with me was “Has your career turned out the way you thought it would?” My answer was a quick “NO!” (not “Hell No!” because this was a bunch of kids) It was only after spending some time thinking about it that I would add “Thank God” to that. 
 I haven’t revolutionized music, cured cancer, sold a million copies of my record or played in front of 100,000,000 people at once. I don't have my own bobblehead doll or a reality show about my dog. I don’t have stacks of free guitars and amps and the old bank account looks like it usually does. All that being said, as I’m probably at the halfway point in my life (I hope!) I’ve had a hell of a time! It’s been way better than what I planned and everyday is a new wrinkle that has me saying “Huh! Didn’t see that coming!”
 I have met and made some of the most precious friendships through music, I’ve seen the world, I’ve had experiences that I never imagined. I’ve been blessed to be a son, friend, uncle, nephew, father and a husband. My family (both blood and chosen) is amazing and a true source of peace and contentment and confidence for me. I’ve ridden an elephant, tasted kangaroo, had a king cobra dropped in my lap, survived a few car wrecks, spent the night in a castle, survived the loss of people that I thought I’d never be able to live without, met my heroes, had the chance to live long enough to learn to say “I love you” to people without feeling silly or uncomfortable, had some amazing meals, read some incredible books, heard some fantastic music, seen some beautiful films and admired some incredible works of art. 
 All the while, I’ve been guilty of being focused on trying to bend life to my plan. Spoiler Alert: It don’t work. The harder I’ve tried to go one way, the father I’ve gone in another direction. Looking at it from this point though, I have to say I wouldn’t trade the experiences, the people, hell just the life I’ve had. I wish some of the mistakes I’ve made hadn’t happened, I wish I could’ve held on to some people a little longer but as I said before, in general I’ve had a hell of a time. 

 I’m not done yet (as far as I know!) I’m writing and recording new music, planning tours, working with my band as well as other artists, I’m even getting ready to try and write a screen-play! I guess the point of this “musing” is to say if you’re out there and you feel like life hasn’t been what you thought it should be, take a look at what’s in your life that has real value; the people, the loves, the laughs, the tears, the pain and the joy. That doesn’t mean you have to quit kicking, it just means allow yourself to enjoy what you have. At least that’s what I think.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hey man, where ya been?!?

I realized today that I haven't blogged or posted anything since the death of Prince last year! It did take the wind out the sails but the truth is I've been so incredibly blessed to be so busy that I just haven't had a chance! Plus too much CNN watching has made me afraid to post anything!!
 Seriously, I'm proud that the record I made with my Foghat brothers is still getting a lot of airplay, that's me playing guitar and singing Upside Of Lonely. I've been playing some shows with Hurricane Ruth and that's been a blast to just lay back and play guitar and listen to a great vocalist and performer. I've been doing my own gigs, of course, that won't ever stop. I recently began a relationship with G&L Guitars as an endorsee and I'm proud to be playing my G&L ASAT! I'm finishing up a new EP that'll be out soon, I'll post more details when it's closer to coming out. We're also planning on finishing the Earl & The Agitators  CD soon. I'm gonna get back to writing more so stay tuned! #loudisgood