JOHNNY AND THE HURRICANES-HURRICANE FORCE-RARE AND UNISSUED.

JOHNNY AND THE HURRICANES-HURRICANE FORCE-RARE AND UNISSUED.

There aren’t many bands that have featured three hundred musicians. That was the case with Johnny and The Hurricanes. They were formed by Johnny Paris in 1958, and were together forty-eight years. It was only after Johnny Paris’ death on 1st  May 2006 that the Johnny and The Hurricanes’ story was over. By then, an estimated three hundred musicians had been in the various lineups of Johnny and The Hurricanes. Not many bands had enjoyed the same longevity as Johnny and The Hurricanes, whose music is celebrated on Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued, which was released by Ace Records on 27th April 2015.

They were formed in 1958 by saxophonist Johnny Paris. He was still a high school student, in Ohio, Toledo. Johnny and four of his fellow high school students, Dave Yorko, Tony Kaye, Tommy Curran and Paul Tesiuk  became Johnny and The Hurricanes. 

Johnny and The Hurricanes’ origins can be traced back to the eighth grade at Rossford High School. Some of the eighth-graders decided to form a band. This included Paul Tesiuk and Johnny Poscick, who arrived at Rossford High School. 

Johnny’s mother was from a Ukrainian family, and his father was Polish. So, they lived in the Polish quarter of town. Money was constantly tight, and the Poscick family struggled to make ends meet. Then in 1954, Johnny’s father got a job in Libbey Owens Ford, a glass manufacturer. The Poscick family moved to the outskirts of town. It’s at that point, Johnny who was then fourteen, joined the Rossford High School Marching Band.

Initially, Johnny Poscick played the tuba. He didn’t find that easy. So, he switched to the baritone saxophone. It was the saxophone that Johnny Poscick would make his name playing in Johnny and The Hurricanes.

With the Rossford High School junior years students keen to form a dance band, it’s no surprise that Johnny was one of the earliest members. Recently, he had become much more involved in music. Soon, the band took shape. Joining Johnny and trumpeter Paul Tesiuk were joined by guitarist Lionel “Butch” Mattice, drummer Don Staczek and trumpeter Mike Woods. However, Paul was the nascent dance band’s trumpeter. 

This could’ve presented a problem. It didn’t. Paul decided he would switch to piano accordion. Johnny, meanwhile, switched from baritone to tenor saxophone. Gradually, Johnny’s band begin to take shape. However, this wasn’t the only band Johnny and Paul played in.

Paul’s brother had a polka band called The Silver Tones. When Johnny and Paul weren’t busy with Johnny’s band, they played with The Silver Tones. This only lasted a short time. Before long, Johnny’s began to make a name for themselves.

Before that, Johnny’s band spent time practising, and honing their sound. It was during this period, that guitarist Dave Yorko joined the band. He was a couple of years older than the rest of the band. Despite the age gap, Dave fitted into the band. However, Dave’s joining the band lead to a few changes in lineup.

Lionel “Butch” Mattice, switched from guitar to bass. Trumpeter Mike Woods left the band. If a trumpet part was needed, Paul Tesluk could play it. With the lineup settled, the next thing the band needed was a name.

That was vital. The senior carnival wasn’t far away. So, the unnamed group had to settle on a name. Eventually, they settled on The Black Cats. 

As the big day approached, someone suggested The Black Cats charge an entrance fee. While it might seem somewhat risky, a new band charging an entrance fee, it worked, and worked well. By the end of the day, The Black Cats had made more than the rest of the carnival had. This left The Black Cats with a decision to make.

The Black Cats could either market themselves as a dance or a polka band. After some thought, The Black Cats decided to become a rock ’n’ roll band. They had made the right choice. Rock ’n’ roll was about to explode in popularity.

Soon, The Black Cats were a familiar face on the local rock ’n’ roll circuit. That’s where they honed their sound. Before long The Black Cats were one of the biggest names on the Toledo circuit. Despite this, The Black Cats decided to change their name.

The space race was in its infancy. There was much speculation about satellites and moon landings. This captured a generation’s imagination. So, it was no surprise when The Black Cats became The Orbits. This wasn’t the only change that was about to happen.

Paul decided to switch from piano-accordion to Hammond organ. His parents agreed to help him buy a Hammond organ. It was a much more versatile instrument. Inspired by Johnny Rank, Paul was soon taking The Orbits’ sound in a new direction. The crowd loved the new sound.

Soon, The Orbits were being asked to play in ballrooms and nightclubs. This included Sylvia’s nightclub, where The Orbits secured a residency. Playing the club on Toledo’s south side was just a stepping stone. Before long, The Orbits were asked to play at Kathie’s Colonial five nights a week. While this was a huge opportunity, for one member of The Orbits, it was a step too far.

Most of the members of The Orbits were still at high school. Playing five nights a week could affect their education. This worried drummer Don Staczek. So he quit The Orbits, to be replaced by Tony Kaye, a regular on the Toledo club circuit. Next to go was guitarist Lionel Mattice. Ostensibly, Lionel was having a sabbatical. His replacement was Tommy Curran, of The Raging Storms. This new lineup of The Orbits was about to make a breakthrough.

Whilst playing the Toledo club circuit, The Orbits got to know Freddie and The Parliaments. They were managed by Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik, who ran an agency in Detroit. Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik were always on the lookout for new bands. So, an audition was arranged with Harry and Irving.

Before the audition, The Orbits learnt to play a number of Freddie and The Parliaments’ songs. That’s what they played at the audition. After than, they were asked to play some of their usual numbers. Having done so, Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik signed The Orbits to their Artists Inc. agency. It looked like skies the limits for The Orbits.

Now signed to Artists Inc., The Orbits would practice and rehearse at their offices. Sometimes, The Orbits accompanied other artists signed to the Artists Inc. agency. Soon, this would include accompanying artists when they recorded a single.

Previously, Harry Balk had run cinemas and theatres. He decided to return to the world of the theatre. So, Harry and his son Stuart bought the disused Carmen Towers Theatre. Rather than use it as a theatre, the pair transformed it into a recording studio. This would be where artists signed to the Artists Inc. agency recorded their singles.

One of the first groups to make their recording debut at  the Carmen Towers Theatre studio, was Freddie and The Parliaments. Soon, Freddie Kelly, Harold “Chops” Hedges, Ray Hunt and Fred Kuntze made their recording debut at the Carmen Towers Theatre studio. Soon, it was time for The Orbits to record their debut single.

A year later, in 1959,  Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Twirl Records singed Johnny and The Hurricanes. They sent the group out on tour. Ostensibly, this was to allow the group to hone their sound. Then when Johnny and The Hurricanes returned, they were ready to cut their first single.

Recording of Crossfire took place in February 1959. They had just finishing backing The Dream Girls at a session at the Carmen Towers Theatre studio. The recording of Crossfire didn’t exactly go smoothly. It took around thirty takes. Eventually, The Orbits recorded Crossfire and it was ready for release.

Harry Balk thought Crossfire was going to be a hit single. So he headed to New York, looking for a record company to release the single. He was out of luck. His only alternative was to release Crossfire via his own record company.

So, Harry went ahead and formed his own record company Twirl. It was then that Harry decided that The Orbits should become Johnny and The Hurricanes. Johnny, Harry decided, should become Johnny Paris. Given that The Orbits was already well known in Ohio, this was a risky move. However, it was one he was willing to take, and one that paid off.

When Crossfire was released, later in 1959, it reached number twenty-three in the US Billboard 100 charts. Crossfire spent fourteen weeks in the charts. Johnny and The Hurricanes career was off and running. They were about to sign to Warwick Records.

Following the success of Crossfire, Harry Balk’s partner Irving Micahnik, started negotiating with Warwick Records. By then he had setup EmBee Productions. It owned the masters, and licensed them to Warwick Records. After a short period, the licenses reverted back to EmBee Productions. Irving and Harry set up publishing companies. Harry’s was Vicki Music and Irving’s Melanie Music. Both companies were named after their daughters. Irving and Harry managed the artists. So every time they played live, they were making money. So, were artists like Johnny and The Hurricanes.

For the followup to Crossfire, Johnny and The Hurricanes were sent to Bell Studios, New York. It was one of the city’s finest studios. That’s where Red River Rock was recorded. It became Johnny and The Hurricanes’ sophomore single.

Red River Rock was released later in 1959.reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. Over the Atlantic, Red River Rock reached number three in Britain. Little did Johnny and The Hurricanes realise it, but Red River Rock was Johnny and The Hurricanes’ biggest selling single. This was proving to be a somewhat bittersweet success. 

There was a controversy about who wrote Red River Rock? T.J. Fowler cowrote Crossfire, Johnny and The Hurricanes’ debut single. However, he was under contract to Fred Mendelson. So, to avoid an expensive writ, Fred received a share of Red River Rock’s royalties. Meanwhile, all wasn’t well within the band.

Johnny and The Hurricanes had embarked upon a tour after the release of Red River Rock. They got as far as Indiana, when Tony Kaye quit. That’s when Don Staczek got the call to rejoin Johnny and The Hurricanes. There was a problem though. Don was in a new band. He couldn’t rejoin Johnny and The Hurricanes for another week. 

Meanwhile, Bill Savich was drafted in to play drums. Then Don rejoined, just in time to  play a few live dates, and then the Dick Clark and Alan Freed television shows. Don even played on some of the tracks for Johnny and The Hurricanes’ debut album, Beatnick Fly. The sessions were hard going. Johnny and The Hurricanes were packed into a small studio, and had to do countless takes of the tracks. Thunderbolt, took twenty-three takes. Throughout the recording, Don gave his all. However, he was in for a shock.

After playing on the album tracks at Bell Studio, Don Savich played a few more live dates. The tour ended in Toledo, Ohio. Once the show was over, and Don was packing up his drums, he was unceremoniously sacked by Johhny. 

Unbeknown to Don, Bill Savich was due to join as Johnny and The Hurricanes’ new drummer. For Don, this came as a huge blow. Johnny and The Hurricanes’ debut album Beatnick Fly was just about to be released. Don never received any royalties, never mind any promotional copies of the album. Johnny Paris it seemed, was ruling his group with an iron fist. However, the success kept on coming.

Reveille Rock would become Johnny and The Hurricanes’ third single. It was released late in 1959, reaching number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number seventeen in the US R&B charts. Over the Atlantic, Reveille Rock reached number fourteen in Britain. This meant Johnny and The Hurricanes had enjoyed three singles in America, and two in Britain. With a new decade about to dawn, would Johnny and The Hurricanes take the sixties by storm?

As the sixties dawned, Johnny and The Hurricanes embarked upon the six week The Biggest Show Of Stars Show. For the next six weeks, Johnny and The Hurricanes rubbed shoulders with Frankie Avalon, The Shadows, The Isley Brothers, Clyde McPhatter and Bobby Rydell. For Johnny and The Hurricanes this was a huge learning experience. After the tour, Johnny and The Hurricanes released the first of five singles during 1960. 

Their first single of 1960, was Beatnik Fly, which reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in Britain. Beatnik Fly was the final single Johnny and The Hurricanes released on Warwick Records. Ironically, that was as good as it got for Johnny and The Hurricanes.

It was downhill all the way after Beatnik Fly. Down Yonder was Johnny and The Hurricanes’ first single for Big Top Records. It stalled at number forty-eight in the US Billboard 100, but reached number eight in Britain. Revival sneaked briefly into the US Billboard at number ninety-seven. Rocking Goose fared better, reaching number sixty in the US Billboard 100, but reached number three in Britain. By then, Bill Savich had left Johnny and The Hurricanes. 

For some time, Bill was getting tired of the continual touring. What didn’t help was the way Johnny conducted himself. Eventually, things came to a head. Luckily, Bill got the opportunity to join Joe Coe and The Gigoloes. Their former drummer Lynn Cole joined Johnny and The Hurricanes, and played on their final single of 1960, You Are My Sunshine.

Before the recording of You Are My Sunshine, Harry Balk decided to add string and horn players. The session players that played on You Are My Sunshine were vastly experienced. Johnny and The Hurricanes were still teenagers. They were in the studio with veteran professional musicians. So, it’s no surprise that some of Johnny and The Hurricanes were slightly nervous. Despite this, the You Are Mt Sunshine session went well. Sadly, the single stalled at number ninety-one in the US Billboard 100. 1960 had been a roller coaster year for Johnny and The Hurricanes. 1961 didn’t get any better.

Ja-Da was Johnny and The Hurricanes’ first single of 1961. It reached number eighty-six in the US Billboard 100. That proved to be Johnny and The Hurricanes’ last US hit single. They had enjoyed two years of hit singles. Meanwhile, Ja-Da fared better in Britain, reaching number fourteen. So did Old Smokie. While it failed to chart in America, it reached number twenty-four in Britain. That was Johnny and The Hurricanes’ final hit single. 1961 hadn’t been a good year for Johnny and The Hurricanes in more ways then one.

With the hits running dry, all wasn’t well within Johnny and The Hurricanes. Some members of the group tired of Johnny’s arrogance. When introduced to Connie Francis’ father, he blew smoke in Mr. Francis’ face. Other members of the band were shocked. However, Johnny had always in charge. From the early days, he lead the band. Some members joked that he was a dictator. Now that the hits had run dry, it was no longer a laughing matter. 

Dave Yorko left in July 1961. A couple of weeks later, Lionel Mattice left. This left Paul Tesluk as the only other original member of Johnny and The Hurricanes. He left shortly afterwards. Not long after this Lynn Cole quit. That was the end of an era. However, it wasn’t the end of Johnny and The Hurricanes.

New lineups of Johnny and The Hurricanes continued to release singles through the sixties, and into the seventies. Similarly, Johnny and The Hurricanes played live for the next four decades. While they were still a popular draw live, Johnny and The Hurricanes

never again enjoyed the commercial success that original and classic lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes enjoyed between 1959 and 1961.  That was Johnny and The Hurricanes’ golden age. However, there’s more to the Johnny and The Hurricanes than three years of music.

Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued, which was released by Ace Records on 27th April 2015, is proof of this. This two disc, fifty-two track compilation features a disc of studio recordings, and a disc of live tracks. There’s rarities aplenty on Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued.

Disc One.

Disc one of Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued, features twenty-six tracks. This includes a trio of tracks from 1967. They’re among the highlights of disc one. The Psychedelic Worm, which opens disc one, is one of the best tracks from the new lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes. Their cover of The Beatles’ Because I Love Her and Judy’s Moody see Johnny and The Hurricanes try to become America’s answer to The Beatles. While this didn’t transform their fortunes, it shows that Johnny and The Hurricanes weren’t going to stand still.

That was the case with the other members of the original lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes. This includes The Fascinators, which features Dave Yorko, Paul Tesluk, Lionel Mattice and Lynn Bruce. Back in Toledo, they became The Fascinators. Tracks like 

You’re To Blame, Survived and The Charmer show that they were a group who should’ve reached greater heights. That’s also the case with Dave and The Orbits, contribute Cheetah’s Uncle and Chilli Beans. Sadly, these bands didn’t enjoy the longevity or success of Johnny and The Hurricanes.

Twenty-six years after the original lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes split-up, a new lineup was still recording new music. This includes Home Baby and Strange and from a 1987 album. Twelve years later, and Johnny and The Hurricanes are still going strong. Ten Little Indians is a track from a  CD released on Repertoire in 1999. However, what will really interest fans of Johnny and The Hurricanes are the unreleased tracks.

Among the unreleased tracks on disc one are Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued are Home Baby and Night Train. Then there’s Cannon Blast, Um Um Um, Jamaican Moon and Sax Man. Alternate versions include Rockin’ T and Sand Storm. These tracks have never been released before and are a reminder of what Johnny and The Hurricanes in full flight, sounds like.

We hear another side to Johnny and The Hurricanes when they’re accompanying other artists from the Artists Inc. agency. This includes Freddie and The Parliaments and The Dream Girls. The Freddie and The Parliaments tracks chosen, are That Girl and Darlene. Crying In The Night is the only track from The Dream Girls included. However, it’s a very welcome inclusion to disc one of Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued. What about disc two?

Disc Two.

On disc two of Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued, there’s twenty-six tracks from Johnny and The Hurricanes. They were recorded between 1962 and 1990. This means that several lineups of Johnny and The Hurricanes feature. Sadly, there’s no tracks from the original, and classic lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes. At least all their best known tracks are there.

This includes all the singles. From Crossfire, Red River Rock, Reveille Rock and Beatnik Fly, right through to Down Yonder, Rocking Goose, You Are My Sunshine, Ja-Da and Old Smokie. Other highlights include Honky Tonk, Come On Train, The Hurricane and Sand Storm. These tracks feature various lineups of Johnny and The Hurricanes rolling back the years, as they combine their unique blend of rock ’n’ roll and surf. 

For  forty-eight years, Johnny and The Hurricanes, with its various lineups, proved a popular draw. Even after the classic lineup of Johnny and The Hurricanes split-up, the group carried on. Johnny Paris drafted in around three hundred musicians over the next four decades. It was as if his motto was “the show must go on.” Go on it did.

Right through the rest of the sixties, into the seventies, Johnny and The Hurricanes continued to release singles and albums. Once they stopped releasing singles so regularly, Johnny and The Hurricanes continued to release albums. Sadly, never again did the original members of Johnny and The Hurricanes record with Johnny.

They came close. In 1991, Johnny tried to get the original band back together. By then, Johnny was living in Germany. Dave Yorko flew to Germany, but sadly, Johnny couldn’t interest a record label. His time had passed.

Despite this, Johnny and The Hurricanes continued to play live. Right through until six months before his death on Mayday 2006, Johnny and The Hurricanes were playing live. By then, Johnny and The Hurricanes had received the recognition they so richly deserved. 

For some time, Johnny and The Hurricanes’ role in the history of rock ’n’ roll was overlooked by some. Gradually, though, critics and cultural commentators recognised the part that Johnny and The Hurricanes played. They were a pioneering band, whose genre-melting music was way ahead of its time. That’s why several generations of musicians have been influenced by Johnny and The Hurricanes. Even to this day, a new generation of musicians cite Johnny and The Hurricanes an influence. So, it’s fitting that Ace Records will release the Johnny and The Hurricanes’ compilation, Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued on 27th April 2015. Hurricane Force-Rare and Unissued, is a reminder of Johnny and The Hurricanes, the long lamented, musical pioneers.

JOHNNY AND THE HURRICANES-HURRICANE FORCE-RARE AND UNISSUED.

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SHUGGIE OTIS-FREEDOM FLIGHT.

SHUGGIE OTIS-FREEDOM FLIGHT.

What’s the best way to describe Shuggie Otis? A musical virtuoso. So is vastly underrated. That’s a good start. Certainly Shuggie was something of a child prodigy. He first playing the guitar aged two, and was playing with his father Johnny’s band from the age of twelve. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Shuggie released his debut solo album aged seventeen. It’s certainly no exaggeration to call Shuggie a musical virtuoso.Not once you’ve heard him play guitar.

Then you’ll realise that’s almost an understatement.  It’s not just guitar he plays. No. He’s a true multi-instrumentalist. Shuggie can play bass, drums, organ and piano. Sadly, despite Shuggie’s music is vastly underrated, partly because as yet, he’s still not made a commercial breakthrough. The music he makes is best described as a fusion of R&B, soul, funk, jazz, rock and blues, which when combined, sounds quite incredible. 

Back in 1971, aged just nineteen, Shuggie released his second album, Freedom Flight  the follow-up to 1969s Here Comes Shuggie Otis. Among the musicians accompanying Shuggie on Freedom Flight are keyboard player George Duke, drummer Aynsley Dunbar, bassist Wilton Felder and Johnny Otis, Shuggie’s father. Johnny played drums, piano and tambourine, as well as singing backing vocals. Together with Shuggie and the rest of his band, seven tracks were recorded, which became Freedom Flight. Of the seven tracks on the album, Shuggie wrote four, and cowrote two others. 

Probably the best known track from Freedom Flight is Strawberry Letter 23, which was later covered by The Brothers Johnson in 1977. Their version was produced by Quincy Jones and reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US R&B Charts. This eclipsed the success of both Shuggie’s original version of Strawberry Letter 23, which entered the US Billboard 100, but didn’t scale the heights of The Brothers Johnson’s version. 

On Freedom Flight’s release in September 1971, it reached number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200, becoming Shuggie’s most successful album. Sadly, this was as close as Shuggie’s music got to being a commercial success. Three years after the release of Freedom Flight, came the release of Inspiration Information in October 1974. This was the last solo album Shuggie released, reaching number 181 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-six in the US R&B Charts. Again, commercial success eluded Shuggie, and after this no further albums by Shuggie were release. However, by the nineties interest in his music was growing, with Shuggie gaining a cult following. This was helped by artists like Lenny Kravitz and Prince praising his music. Since then, all of Shuggie’s albums have been rereleased, including Freedom Flight, which will be released by Music On Vinyl on 27th April 2015. Freedom Flight which I’ll now tell you about, features the musical coming of age, of from the nineteen year old Shuggie Otis.

Freedom Flight opens with Ice Cold Daydream, one of the four tracks written by Shuggie. With wah-wah guitars and rhythm section and organ combining elements of funk with soul, R&B and blues, the track literally bursts into life. As Shuggie’s vocal enters, it’s noticeable that his voice has a soft, youthful sound, that’s a contrast to much more powerful arrangement that’s unfolding behind him. Meanwhile, behind him, the arrangement is fast, with a fuller sound. Searing, soaring, rock guitars compete with the rhythm section and organ for your attention. However, it’s Shuggie that wins the day, demonstrating his virtuoso skills as a guitarist, dominating the sound and stealing the show from a group of much more experienced and seasoned musicians. Quite simply, it’s an astonishing display of guitar playing from a nineteen year old, who plays like a veteran.

Strawberry Letter 23 is by far, the best known track on Freedom Flight. As good as The Brother Johnson’s version was, this is quite simply the definitive version of this beautiful slice of sunshine pop. It’s almost impossible not to feel uplifted after hearing this track. It’s four minutes of pop perfection, and very different from the opening track. It’s easily the best track on Freedom Flight. A piano, percussion, guitar and rhythm section combine with Shuggie’s emotive, thoughtful vocal as the song meanders along beautifully. Backing vocalists accompany Shuggie’s subtle vocal, while percussion and acoustic guitar combine. After two minutes twenty seconds, the sound changes, filters are used to blur the sound when guitars chime and sear, climbing and climbing, repeating same notes. They combine with understated, lilting backing vocalists and this glorious combination continues for over a minute, until the song’s dramatic climax. It’s pop perfection .

Sweet Thang sees another change in sound and style. Shuggie combines with his band to create a real rootsy, bluesy sound. It’s a combination of soaring, chiming guitars, piano, wailing Hammond organ and rhythm section. During the track, there’s some stunning guitar and piano playing, with occasional haunting backing vocals. Add to this the atmospheric sound of the Hammond organ and some exotic sounding percussion and the result is a very different sounding track to Strawberry Letter 23, but one that demonstrates Shuggie’s versatility and talent.

The only track on Freedom Flight not written or co-written by Shuggie is Me and My Woman, which was written by Gene Barge. It closes side one of the album. Again, there’s a bluesy sound to the track, with Shuggie’s chiming guitar accompanied by flourishes of piano and rhythm section, before a similarly bluesy vocal from Shuggie. It’s an irresistible sounding track, one where Shuggie’s voice sounds stronger and much more mature. Driven along by the rhythm section and guitar, and augmented by the subtle piano, Shuggie’s talent shines through, contributing slick licks aplenty on this authentic sounding electric blues track.

Side two of Freedom Flight opens with Someone’s Always Singing a slow, moody sounding track, where a distant, wailing Hammond organ, slow rhythm section and searing guitar accompany Shuggie. It’s a very different sounding track from its predecessors. There’sa slight gospel influence, thanks to the backing vocalists. Mostly though, it’s just Shuggie’s soaring, chiming guitar combining with the Hammond organ, percussion and rhythm section. The track sees Shuggie the free spirit wanting to live “from day to day,” without ties nor commitments. However, it’s a slightly disappointing track, not up to the standards of its predecessors. It almost lacks a musical direction. Indeed, it almost has an unfinished sound, with an arrangement that’s neither as full for good as its predecessors. 

Purple sees the quality return on a slow, bluesy sounding track. Here, Shuggie’s crystalline guitar, chimes and sears, as the rhythm section combine to play a shuffling blues. Augmenting the sound are piano and atmospheric sounding Hammond organ. However, like other tracks, Shuggie’s guitar playing takes centre-stage. It has an almost mesmerizing sound, as the track chugs along. Adding to the authenticity of the bluesy sound, is a stunning harmonica solo, which almost competes with Shuggie’s guitar playing. This adds to the track’s slightly dramatic sound. Later, the Shuggie plays bass and show-cases his versatility, before returning to guitar for the rest of track’s seven minute blues epic.

Freedom Flight closes with the album’s epic title track Freedom Flight. It’s just Shuggie’s guitar that opens the album, his fingers nimbly meandering up and down the fretboard. After nearly two minutes, dramatic drums, crashing cymbals and a wailing saxophone combine with Shuggie. Together, they combine to create a sound that has almost a free jazz sound. Eventually, Shuggie and his band come together for a prolonged jam lasting twelve memorable minutes. The track has a much fuller yet, spacious sound. For the remainder of the track, a rasping, wailing, soaring saxophone, keyboards and percussion, combine with the rhythm section and of course, Shuggie’s masterful guitar playing. Having vied with the saxophone for prominence, Shuggie’s guitar goes on to dominate the track, chiming, searing and soaring until the end of this absolutely magical, epic track that closes the album.

Although Shuggie was just nineteen when he released Freedom Flight, it was a really mature sounding album, that combined a variety of styles. From blues to R&B and rock to jazz, funk and sunshine pop there’s a bit of everything on the album. With just seven tracks, lasting only thirty-nine minutes Shuggie Otis, musical virtuoso, takes you on a tour of musical styles and his musical influences.

Not only does he play guitar, but plays bass and organ. However, it’s his guitar playing that dominates Freedom Flight. That’s no bad thing. Shuggie Otis is one of the most underrated guitarists of his generation. Too often, the word virtuoso is overused, but when  applied to Shuggie Otis this title is fully deserved. He truly is a guitar virtuoso, playing every note with passion, seamlessly bringing the music to life. Apart from Someone’s Always Singing, which is a slightly disappointing track, the other six tracks feature some of the music music Shuggie Otis recorded. The highlight of Freedom Flight is Strawberry Letter 23, a slice of sunshine pop with a twist. On Strawberry Letter 23, Shuggie Otis and his all-star band reach new heights. It’s a joy to behold, and a reason why every record collection should contain a Shuggie Otis album.

If you don’t own a Shuggie Otis album, then you’ve let you to experience one of music’s best kept secrets. That’s no exaggeration. The publicity shy son of Johnny Otis is one of the most underrated musicians of his generation. Shuggie Otis for whatever reason, never seemed to want ti reach the heights his contemporaries did. Instead, he recorded a trio of albums, and disappeared for over thirty years. However, for the last ten years, there’s been a resurgence in interest in Shuggie Otis’ music. Sadly, still, however, many people haven’t heard Shuggie Otis’s music.

If you’ve let to hear the wonderful music of Shuggie Otis, then you’re very definitely in for a treat. Freedom Flight, which will be released by Music On Vinyl on 27th April 2015, features some of the best music Shuggie Otis ever recorded, and is without doubt, the perfect introduction to a true musical virtuoso.

SHUGGIE OTIS-FREEDOM FLIGHT.

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GILLAN-THE ALBUM COLLECTION.

GILLAN-THE ALBUM COLLECTION.

From the late sixties, right through to the seventies, fusion was one of the most popular musical genres. Fusion was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. However, by the late seventies were tiring of the fusion of jazz and rock. This included former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. 

In July 1978, Ian Gillan called time on The Ian Gillan Band, which he formed three years earlier in 1975. Since then, The Ian Gillan Band had released a trio of albums. Their debut was 1976s Child in Time. However, The Ian Gillan Band began two years earlier.

That’s when vocalist Ian Gillan left Deep Purple. He played his part in the recording of Deep Purple’s 1974 album Who Do We Think We Are? It was released in America in January 1973, and a month later, in February 1973, in Britain. By then, Ian Gillan was exhausted. He and the band were desperately in need of a rest. That however, wasn’t going to happen.

Deep Purple, one of the unholy trinity of British hard rock, were about to go out on tour. However, Deep Purple desperately needed a rest. Their management wanted Deep Purple to tour Who Do We Think We Are? Reluctantly, they agreed. So they headed out on tour. Before long, tensions arose within Deep Purple.

By the summer of 1973, Deep Purple were in Japan. This was their second Japanese tour. Unlike their first tour, all wasn’t well within the band. Arguments arose between members of the band. Lead vocalist Ian Gillan and Bob Glover clashed with guitarist Richie Blackmore. Whatever had happened or been said, there was no going back. Ian Gillan and Bob Glover quit Deep Purple in June 1973.  

On his return home, Ian Gillan announced he had retired from the music business. He wanted to focus on other business ventures, including a business building motorcycle engines, a country hotel ands the Kingsway Recording studio. However, Ian didn’t stay retired for long.

By April 1974, Ian was using the Kingsway Recording studio to begin work on his first solo tracks. He debuted them at Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball at the Albert Hall, on 16th October 1975. This whet Ian’s appetite. Before long, he was putting a new band together. It eventually became The Ian Gillan Band.

The Ian Gillan Band-Child in Time.

Originally, Ian called his new band Shand Grenade. This was a combination of Shangri-la and Grenade. The name didn’t go down well with his management. They managed to persuade Ian to change the name to The Ian Gillan Band, which was an Anglo-American band.

The first lineup featured the rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Mark Nauseef, a native of New York. The rest of the band, including bassist John Gustafson and guitarist Ray Fenwick were British. So were keyboardist Mike Moran and Ian, who added vocals and harmonica. They headed to the Musicland Studios in Munich, which was then, one of the most famous European studios.

That’s where The Ian Gillan Band recorded their debut album Child in Time. Recording took place between December 1975 and January 1976. Seven songs were recorded, including six which were penned by members of The Ian Gillan Band. Then once Child in Time was completed, the album was mixed at Mountain Studio, Montreux, February 1976. Five months later, Child in Time which was produced by Roger Glover, was ready for release.

Child in Time was well received by critics. That’s despite the change in style. Ian Gillan was no longer the hard rocking musician of his Deep Purple days. The Ian Gillan Band had turned their back on rock, in favour of fusion and even, funk. This shocked fans of  Deep Purple.

Especially when Deep Purple fans realised that Child In Time, a Deep Purple classic, was given a funky makeover. This was perceived as an act of sacrilege. It certainly didn’t help sales of Child Of Mine, which was released on Island.

When Child in Time was released in July 1976, it reached number fifty-five in Britain. Elsewhere, Child in Time reached number thirty-six in Sweden. Little did Ian Gillan and rest of The Ian Gillan Band realise, that that was as good as it got for them.

Clear Air Turbulence.

After the release of Child In Time, The Ian Gillan band returned to the studio in July 1976. Right through to September 1976, they recorded the six tracks that became Clear Air Turbulence which doesn’t feature in The Album Collection. Once the album was completed, The Ian Gillan Band were set to head out on tour.

That never happened. While the concerts  were scheduled, and the tour promoted, it was eventually cancelled. Things weren’t going well for The Ian Gillan Band. It was just about to get worse.

Ian Gillan wasn’t happy with Clear Air Turbulence’s sound. So much so, that the album’s release was postponed. This allowed Clear Air Turbulence to be remixed. Once the remixing was completed, the release of Clear Air Turbulence was schedule for April 1977.

On the release of Clear Air Turbulence, reviews were mixed. The Ian Gillan Band experimented on Clear Air Turbulence. Hard rock, prog rock and fusion sat side-by-side. Some critics felt this didn’t work. However, on tracks like Money Lender and the jazz-fusion of Over The Hill and Goodhand Liza, The Ian Gillan Band find form. However, this was too little too late.

When Clear Air Turbulence was released on 15th April 1977, it wasn’t a commercial success. For Ian Gillan this was a huge disappointment. All his efforts had been in vain. 

Scarabus.

Scarabus which is also omitted from The Album Collection, proved to be The Gillan Band’s swan-song. The ten tracks had been recorded at Kingsway Recorders, London, between July 1977 and August 1977. Three months later, Scarabus was released.

When the critics heard Scarabus, they were disappointed by what they heard. Ian Gillan seemed ill at ease by Scarabus’ somewhat contrived jazzy sound. Critics longed for Ian to kick loose. He never does. Even when Scarabus heads in the direction of rock, it’s more like faux rock. So, it’s no surprise that Scarabus was the weakest and least successful album by The Ian Gillan Band. 

On its release, Scarabus wasn’t a commercial success. It didn’t trouble the charts. For The Ian Gillan Band it was a disappointing end to their career. However, before long, Ian Gillan was back to his hard rocking best with a new band, Gillan, who recently released a box set Gillan-The Album Collection, on Edsel.

Gillan (The Japanese Album).

With The Ian Gillan Band history, Ian Gillan began the next chapter in his musical career, Gillan. It saw Ian return to a much harder, rocky sounding style of music. For Ian Gillian, this was what he did best. His new band Gillan featured a familiar face and some new names.

The only member of The Ian Gillan Band that joined Gillan was Colin Towns. He was joined by guitarist Steve Bryd, bassist John McCoy and drummer Pete Barnacle. However, although Pete featured on Gillan’s eponymous debut album, he was soon replaced by Liam Genockey. This was just one of several changes in Gillan’s lineup over the next four years.

With his new band in tow, Ian headed to what were familiar settings, Kingsway Recorders, in London. That’s where the ten tracks that became Gillan, were recorded between July 1978 and August 1978. Gillan would be released in September 1978.

Straight away, there was a problem. Gillan didn’t have a record deal in Britain. However, Gillan had a record deal for  Japan, Australia and New Zealand. So, Gillan was only released in these three countries. 

On the release of Gillan it sold well in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. That wasn’t surprising. The reviews of Gillan were positive. So were the reviews in the British music press. However, with Gillan unavailable in Britain, it had to be imported from Japan. This lead to Gillan being referred to as The Japanese Album. When copies of  the album arrived, it quickly became apparent that Gillan marked a return to form from Ian Gillan and his hard rocking band. They weren’t going to be long without a recording deal in Britain.

Mr.Universe.

That proved to the case. By the time Gillan returned to Kingsway Recorders in April 1979, Gillan had signed to Acrobat. For the next two months, the classic lineup of Gillan recorded  the ten tracks that became Mr. Universe.

By the time of the Mr. Universe sessions, Gillan were already onto their third drummer. Mick Underwood was Gillan’s drummer, having replaced Liam Genockey. Mick was joined in the rhythm section by bassist John McCoy and guitarist Berne Tormé. Colin Towns played keyboards and flute and Ian Gillan played harmonica and added vocals. This is regarded as the classic lineup of Gillan.

The new lineup of Gillan worked hard for the next two months. Eventually, by June 1979, Mr. Universe was completed. Gillan were ready to release what was their first British album.

Prior to the release of Mr. Universe, critics were sent a copy of Gillan’s sophomore album. For Ian, this was a worrying time. Latterly, during his days with The Ian Gullan Band, the critics hadn’t been kind to him. That wasn’t the case with Mr. Universe. The critics were won over by Gillan’s hard rocking sound. They were pleased to hear Ian Gillan back what he did best.

Equally happy were the record buying public. When Mr. Universe was released in October 1979, it reached number eleven in the British charts. Ian Gillan had just announced his return. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Glory Road.

After the success of Mr. Universe, Ian Gillan was keen to strike while the iron was hot. So, having toured Mr. Universe, work began on Gillan’s third album, Glory Road.

Recording of Glory Road began in April 1980. For two months, Gillan were locked away at  the studio Ian built, Kingsway Recorders. That’s where he had recorded all The Ian Gillan Band and Gillan albums. It’s where Gillan recorded the ten tracks that became Glory Road, the album they hoped would give them their first transatlantic hit.

After the success of Mr. Universe in Britain, Gillan were determined to crack the lucrative American market. Ian knew, that was where the big money was to be made. His time with Deep Purple showed him the riches that were capable of being made in America. However, in hoping to break America, this presented a problem.

Many bands didn’t release the same version of their album in America. That was the case with Glory Road. The running order was different, and Your Mother Was Right  replaced Sleeping on the Job. The release date was scheduled as October 1980.

Before the release of Glory Road, the critics had their say. For any band, this can be a nervous time. A bad review can prove costly. Fortunately, most of the reviews of Glory Road were positive. Granted, there were a few dissenting voices. Mostly, though, Gillan looked as if they were heading down the Glory Road.

When Glory Road was released, in October 1980, Gillan fans made a beeline for the limited edition double album. It contained the free album For Gillan Fans Only, which can also be found in The Album Collection. Most fans had to settle for ordinary version of Glory Road. 

Plenty did. Glory Road became Gillan’s biggest selling album. Not only did it reach number three in Britain, but was certified solver. This made Glory Road Gillan’s biggest selling album. However, that wasn’t the end of Glory Road’s success.

In America, Glory Road crept into the US Billboard 200, reaching 183. This was the first time a Gillan album had charted in America. Were Gillan about to crack the lucrative American market?

Future Shock.

Buoyed by the success of Glory Road in both Britain and America, Gillan set about recording the followup. The last few months had been among the busiest in Gillan’s career. What with promoting Glory Road in Britain and America, plus a gruelling touring schedule, Gillan had hardly any time to think about their fourth album, until now.

Just like previous albums, Gillan headed to Ian’s studio, Kingsway Recorders, in London, UK. The recording began in December 1980. After breaking for Christmas and New Year, Gillan returned to Kingsway Recorders in  January 1981. They finished their fourth album later that month.

Much of what became Future Shock was penned by Ian, John McCoy and Bernie Tormé. This included the title-track. It was was inspired by Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock. As for Future Shock’s distinctive artwork, it was created by Alan Daniels for Young Artists. With its eye-catching, futuristic image, Future Shock was guaranteed to grab record buyers attention. So was the music.

Before Future Shock was released in March 1981, the critics had their say. They were one over by Future Shock. So much so, that they called Future Shock one of the greatest hard rock albums. This bode well for the release of Future Shock.

When Future Shock hit the shops, it became Gillan’s biggest selling album in Britain. Future Shock reached number two, and was certified silver. However, across the Atlantic, Future Shock failed to chart. This was a disappointment. After all, America was the most lucrative market. Especially, for hard rock. Sadly, it looked like Gillan were never going to be as successful in America, as they were in Britain.

Double Trouble.

Just seven months after the release of Future Shock, Gillan were back with their fifth album Double Trouble. Unlike previous albums, it was a double album. However, this was a double album with a difference.

For their fifth album, Gillan had decided to release a double album. The first album contained studio recordings, while the second album featured Gillan live. Double Trouble had been recorded during 1981, just as Gillan’s lineup was changing.

Gillan had returned to the studio in August 1981. This was the first time since Bernie Tormé had been sacked. Gillan had been asked to play on British pop show Top Of The Pops. Their single No Laughing in Heaven had charted. However, Bernie didn’t want to play  on Top Of The Pops. So he was sacked.

Bernie’s replacement was Janick Gers. he featured on the eight tracks recorded at Kingsway Recorders. However, Bernie featured on If You Believe Me, which was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre, London on 4th March 1981. The remainder of the live tracks were recorded at the Reading Festival, on 29th August 1981. These live tracks showcased what Gillan in concert sounded like. 

For Gillan, Double Trouble was akin to their calling card. It featured studio recordings and live tracks. This was the perfect introduction to Gillan. However, it was always risky releasing a hybrid album like Double Trouble.

Other groups had tried this. For some groups, it worked, and worked well. However, for other groups it backfired on them. They were accused of throwing together an album. So, were Gillan risking their reputation with Double Trouble?

That proved to be the case. The critics weren’t impressed with Double Trouble. Reviews were mixed. It seemed Gillan’s decision to combine studio recording and live tracks on Double Trouble seemed to have backfired. 

When Double Trouble was released in October 1981, it reached number twelve in Britain. After the mixed reviews, the members of Gillan breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Gillan success story continued apace. 

Magic.

Nine months after releasing Double Trouble, Gillan returned to the studio in July 1982. At Kingsway Recorders, in London, Gillan began recording what would become Magic. A total of eighteen tracks were recorded between July and August 1982. However, only ten made the cut. They became Magic.

With Magic completed, Gillan’s sixth album was scheduled for release later in 1982. However, before that, the critics had their say.

Just like Double Trouble, Magic failed to excite the critics. They weren’t won over by Magic. The reviews were mixed. This didn’t bode well for Magic.

On its release, Magic reached just number seventeen in Britain. This was Gillan’s least successful album in Britain. It was also their last.

The end was neigh for Gillan. Not long after the release of Magic, Black Sabbath were looking for a new lead singer. This was a huge opportunity for someone. Black Sabbath knew who they wanted. The chosen one, was Ian Gillan. 

It was an offer Ian Gillan couldn’t refuse. Still, Black Sabbath were one of the biggest names in rock. So, he disbanded Gillan became the new lead singer of Black Sabbath. Ironically, his new job didn’t last long.

Ian Gillan’s time with Black Sabbath lasted just one album and one tour. Then Ian Gillan returned home. He rejoined Deep Purple, the group where he started his career. Gillan was now history.

Gillan lasted four years. During that period, they released six albums. Five of these albums were released in Britain, and reached the top twenty in the album charts. The two most successful albums were 1980s Glory Road and 1981s Future Shock. Both albums were certified silver. Along with Gillan’s 1978 eponymous debut album and 1979s Mr. Universe, these albums feature Gillan at their hard rocking best. Each of these albums, plus 1981s Double Trouble and 1982s Magic, feature in the Gillan-The Album Collection box set, which was recently released by Edsel, a subsidiary of Demon Music Group.

The Gillan-The Album Collection box set is a welcome reissue. However, there’s several buts. Missing from the box set is Gillan’s 1978 eponymous album. That’s probably down to licensing issues. However, it’s a shame that Gillan is missing from the box set. Another complaint is the the albums haven’t been remastered. Most likely, the albums are the 2007 reissues. Granted they were remastered back then, but eight years have passed since then. A sympathetic remastering wouldn’t have gone amiss. As for the packaging and sleeve-notes, they leave a lot to be desired. They leave you thinking that this is very much a low budget product. However, what matters is the music.

Gillan-The Album Collection finds Gillan at their hard rocking best. Quite simply, it’s a joy to behold. That describes Gillan on Mr. Universe, Glory Road and Future Shock. They don’t hold back. In full flow, they’re torchbearers for British rock. As rock goes, it doesn’t get much harder or heavier than Gillan. They were one of the last great British rock bands, and were responsible for rebuilding Ian Gillan’s career. 

After the disappointment of The Ian Gillan Band’s last two albums, Ian Gillan’s career was at a crossroads. When he formed Gillan his reputation had taken a bruising. Four years later, Ian Gillan had reinvented himself. His jazz-fusion years were long gone. Ian Gillan was back to his hard rocking best with Gillan, whose rise and rise is documented and celebrated on Gillan-The Album Collection.

GILLAN-THE ALBUM COLLECTION.

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EMERSON. LAKE AND PALMER-TRILOGY (DELUXE EDITION).

EMERSON. LAKE AND PALMER-TRILOGY (DELUXE EDITION).

By the time Emerson, Lake and Palmer set about recording their third studio album Trilogy, it seemed everything they touched turned gold. Their first two studio albums had been certified gold in America. So had their live albums Pictures At An Exhibition and Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends… Ladies and Gentlemen. Already, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in prog rock.

Eventually, Emerson, Lake and Palmer would sell over forty million albums. Their most successful period was the seventies. Between 1970s Emerson, Lake and Palmer and 1978s Love Beach, the prog rock giants released six albums. Each album was certified gold in America. However, like many prog rock bands, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were more popular in America than Britain. 

Only two of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s albums were certified gold in Britain and two silver. However, in 1972, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s star was on the ascendancy. Their first live album had been released in 1971 and was certified silver in Britain. Then Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1972 sophomore album Tarkus reached number one in Britain,

It surpassed the success of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s eponymous debut album on both sides of the Atlantic. So, as Emerson, Lake and Palmer began work on their third studio album Trilogy, which will be released as a three disc Deluxe Edition on 27th April 2015, by Sony Music, it looked like they could do no wrong. On both sides of the Atlantic, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. This had been the case since their 1970 eponymous album

Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The Emerson, Lake and Palmer story begins in 1970. That was the year Emerson, Lake and Palmer was founded and they released their eponymous debut album.

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake first met at the Fiilimore West, in San Francisco. Both of them were at a musical crossroads. Keith was a member of The Nice, while Greg Lake was a member of King Crimson. Nether Keith nor Greg felt fulfilled musically. So, the decided to form a new band. 

This new band would feature Keith on keyboards, Greg on bass and a drummer. Their first choice for a drummer was Mitch Mitchell, who was without a band, after The Jimi Hendrix Experience split-up. They agreed to jam together. Then the music press heard about this jam session. 

Rumours started doing the rounds that Jimi Hendrix was going to join this new supergroup. That put an end to the jam session. It never took place. Jimi Hendrix had never been asked to join the supergroup. Mitch Mitchell meanwhile, lost interest in the project. This presented a problem. Keith and Greg still didn’t have a drummer. Then Robert Stigwood, who was then the manager of Cream, suggested Carl Palmer’s name.

Carl Palmer was another experienced musician. He’d previously been a member of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. At that time, he was a member of Atomic Rooster. So Carl was approached. He was, at first, reluctant to leave Atomic Rooster, which he’d cofounded. However, when he spoke to Keith and Greg he realised that he could be part of something special. 

Having left Atomic Rooster, he became the third member of the newly formed supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They made their debut was at The Guildhall, Plymouth, on 23rd August 1970. Then on 26th August 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer stole the show at the Isle Of Wight Festival. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer being offered a recording contract by Atlantic Records.

Ahmet Ertegün the President of Atlantic Records realised the potential in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Here was a band who wouldn’t just sell a huge amount of records, but could fill huge venues. So, not long after signing Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Ahmet Ertegün sent them into Advision Studios, London.

At  Advision Studios, Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded ten tracks. They became Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Although this was meant to be the birth of a supergroup, the ten tracks on Emerson, Lake and Palmer came across as a series of solo pieces. However, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were a new band, who’d just recorded an eclectic and innovative album.

Although many people refer to Emerson, Lake and Palmer as prog rock band, they’re much more than that. Their music is eclectic. They draw inspiration from a variety of sources.  This includes classical, folk rock, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Some of the music is futuristic. That’s in part to Keith Emerson’s use of the Moog synth. The result was a pioneering, innovative album that would launch Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career.

When critics heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer, they hailed the album as innovative and influential. On its release  in the UK in October 1970, i Emerson, Lake and Palmer reached number four. Three months later, on New Year’s Day 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was released in the US. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Ahmet Ertegün, the President of Atlantic Records had been vindicated. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were on their way to becoming rock royalty.

Tarkus.

It was a case of striking when the iron was hot for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They returned to  Advision Studios, in London to record what became their sophomore album Tarkus. It was much more of a “band” album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were now a tight, musical unit. This was very different from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was more like an album of solo pieces. Tarkus saw the birth of Emerson, Lake and Palmer as one of the giants of prog rock.

Tarkus was released in June 1971. That wasn’t originally the plan. Instead, Pictures At An Exhibition was meant to be Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s sophomore album. This was a live album which was recorded in March 1971. It saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer interpret Modest Mussorgsky’s opus Pictures At An Exhibition. it was a groundbreaking album. There was a problem though. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s management didn’t agree. They weren’t sure that what essentially a interpretation of a classical suite was the direction Emerson, Lake and Palmer should be heading. So, Tarkus became the followup to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

On its release in June 1971, critics realised that Tarkus marked a much more united Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were well on the way to finding their trademark sound. Gone were ballads and jazz-tinged tracks. Instead, it was prog rock all the way. Record buyers loved Tarkus. It reached number one in the UK. Over the Atlantic, Tarkus reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Following the commercial success of Tarkus, Pictures At An Exhibition was released later in 1971.

Pictures At An Exhibition.

Pictures At An Exhibition was released as a budget priced album in November 1971. It reached number three in the UK. In America, Pictures At An Exhibition reached number ten in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third consecutive gold album. A year later, three became four.

Trilogy.

Just like previous albums, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were determined to push musical boundaries on Trilogy, their third studio album. Just like their two previous albums, Trilogy was recorded at Advision Studios, London. That’s where the nine tracks that became Trilogy took shape.

For Trilogy, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake cowrote four tracks, The Endless Enigma (Part One), The Endless Enigma (Part Two), The Sheriff and Trilogy. Keith Emerson also wrote Fugue and Abaddon’s Bolero, while Greg Lake contributed From The Beginning. Living Sin was the only song the three members of Emerson, Lake and Palmer cowrote. However, they arranged the cover of Aaron Copland’s Hoedown. It was given a makeover on Trilogy, the latest groundbreaking album from Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

At Advision Studios, Emerson, Lake and Palmer began work on Trilogy.Keith Emerson played Hammond organ, Steinway piano, Moog synth, Mini Moog Model D and and a zurna. Greg Lake took charge of vocals, acoustic, electric, and bass guitars. Carl Palmer played drums and percussion. Just like previous Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums, Greg Lake produced Trilogy. It found Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their innovative best, producing progressive rock, but with a twist. 

An example of this was the inclusion of Abaddon’s Bolero on Trilogy. Rather than the usual 3/4 rhythm a Bolero would have, it was turned into a march by using a 4/4 rhythm. Emerson, Lake and Palmer also pioneered the beating heart sound on Trilogy. Pink Floyd would use it to such good effect on Dark Side Of The Moon. So would Jethro Tull on A Passion Play and Queen on Queen II. This sound was first heard on Endless Enigma Part One. It came courtesy of Carl Palmer’s Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal. Once again, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were demonstrating that they were one of the most innovative progressive rock bands. Their efforts were rewarded.

When critics heard Trilogy, they hailed the album a classic. It was a truly captivating and eclectic album, where Emerson, Lake and Palmer combined musical genres and influences. Apart from prog rock, everything from classic rock, symphonic rock, classical, folk and world music can be heard. Emerson, Lake and Palmer continued to embrace the latest technology in what seemed like their quest for musical perfection. They also made use of overdubbing. This made their music difficult to replicate live. The band always felt they came up short live. Despite this, Trilogy well and truly wowed the critics. It would do the same with the record buying public.

On its release in January 1972, Trilogy reached number two in the US. As usual, Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoyed more success in the US. Trilogy reached number five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another gold disc for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were now prog rock royalty, thanks to their latest epic Trilogy, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening Trilogy is The Endless Enigma (Part One). This is the first of three parts that makeup The Endless Enigma. The introduction lasts ninety-six seconds. A bass drum replicates a heartbeat, while a Moog adds sci-fi sounds. Keith’s piano adds sudden bursts of cinematic sounds. By now, the arrangement is reminiscent of an early seventies thriller. That’s until the synths  burst into life, and with the rhythm section, urgently drive the arrangement along. Keyboards continues to inject a sense of urgency and drama. This is replicated in Greg’s vocal. It veers between tender to despairing, dramatic and frustrated. As Greg experiences a wide range of emotions, there’s a brief nod to The Who as the prog rock gives way to classic rock. Mostly though, it’s prog rock all the way, as Emerson, Lake and Palmer combine drama, urgency and emotion on the first track on  The Endless Enigma trilogy.

Fugue is the second part in The Endless Enigma. Just a lone, melancholy piano plays. Gradually, though, the tempo increases, and an acoustic guitar is strummed. However, it’s Keith’s piano that plays the starring role. Greg’s acoustic guitar plays a supporting role in a track that veers between wistful and ethereal, to urgent and dramatic.

The third and final part in The Endless Enigma movement, is The Endless Enigma (Part Two). Just like Fugue, it’s a relatively short track, lasting just two minutes. During that period, Emerson, Lake and Palmer make their presence felt. Urgent stabs of a driving piano are joined by drums. Soon, the arrangement is stripped bare, and bells ring out. They set the scene for the synths and Greg’s deliberate vocal. Briefly, a vortex of futuristic synths accompany him, as The Endless Enigma, a truly ambitious epic reaches its crescendo.

Greg Lake wrote From The Beginning. It’s a Trilogy’s acoustic ballad. Every Emerson, Lake and Palmer album had one. Just a lone acoustic guitar is plucked and strummed. The playing veers between tender to firm. Similarly tender is Greg’s vocal. It’s also heartfelt and needy. Meanwhile, space is at a premium in the arrangement. Emerson, Lake and Palmer don’t feel the need to fill it. Instead, just understated drums and an electric guitar join the acoustic guitar. They replace Greg’s vocal. So do the futuristic, sci-fi synths on this beautiful, atmospheric ballad.

Hesitantly, The Sheriff unfolds. It’s as if Emerson, Lake and Palmer are looking for an in. When they find it, there’s no stopping them. The rhythm section and synths combine rock and even a touch of funk. Briefly,  Emerson, Lake and Palmer jam, before Greg’s vocal enters. He becomes a storyteller, telling the story of The Sheriff and Josie. As  the story unfolds, Greg’s vocal grows in power. Eventually, he delivers a vocal powerhouse. Then when his vocal drops out, Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoy another opportunity to jam. When Greg’s vocal returns, he completes the story. It’s then that Keith throws a curveball adding twenty seconds of honky tonk piano while Carl plays woodblocks. This shows Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their inventive and innovative best.

Hoedown seems an unlikely song for Emerson, Lake and Palmer to cover. However, they transform the track. This required them to rearrange the track. An organ and banks of synths play important roles. So do the rhythm section. They join the synths and organ in  driving the arrangement along. Literally, the arrangement unfolds at breakneck speed, resulting in the musical soundtrack to a space-age Hoedown.

Trilogy is a near nine minute epic. Its orchestral introduction gives way to Keith’s piano and Carl’s tender, thoughtful vocal. His heartbroken vocal plays a part in the pastoral quality of the track. No wonder. Just lush strings, flourishes of piano and Greg’s vocal sweeping in and out. However, thing soon change. Keith’s piano playing injects a sense of urgency. Soon, a buzzing synth and the rhythm section have kicked loose. Now we hear a very different side to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Gone is the symphonic, pastoral sound. Replacing it is Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their hard rocking best. They combine prog rock and classic rock. There’s even a nod to sixties psychedelia and jazz. Seamlessly, musical genres become one on this musical Magnus Opus.

Jazz-tinged synths opens Living Sin. They’re played with a swagger. This suits the throaty vocal that drifts in and out the track. It’s accompanied by banks of synths and the rhythm section. Together, they power the arrangement along. By then, Greg’s vocal is a gravelly powerhouse. It’s as if he’s been inspired by Robert Plant. Later, when Emerson, Lake and Palmer jam it’s as if they’ve been inspired. They pull out the stops and show just why, Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1972, were regarded as prog rock royalty.

Closing Trilogy is Abaddon’s Bolero, which is played in 3/4 time. This makes the track sound like a march. Indeed, Emerson, Lake and Palmer march to the beat of Carl’s drums. They’re understated, allowing Keith’s keyboards to take centre-stage. Gradually, as the melody is continually repeated, the arrangement builds. Layers are added. This includes strings, flutes, a Hammond organ, a Moog synth, a mellotron and a probing bass. Many of these instruments had to be overdubbed. While this took time, it was well worth it. From the earlier understated arrangement, a glorious wall of sound emerges on this eight minute orchestral epic.

Just like their two previous albums, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Tarkus, Trilogy was a complex, innovative, genre-melting album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer embraced the latest technology in what seemed like their quest for musical perfection. They also made use of overdubbing. This made their music difficult to replicate live. 

The more complicated and multilayered, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s became, the more difficult it was to replicate live. An example was Abaddon’s Bolero, where overdubbing was used extensively. Layer upon layer of instruments were added, resulting in a complex orchestral arrangement. However, playing it live was impossible. After several attempts to play the track live, they couldn’t make it work. Eventually, they gave up, and cut it from their set. That was the problem with some of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s music. Its complexity made playing it live a huge challenge. For a band as popular as Emerson, Lake and Palmer this could’ve proved a problem.

It didn’t. Instead, their sets featured songs that were possible to replicate live. This was just as well. By the time Trilogy had been released in 1972, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were a hugely successful band on both sides of the Atlantic. They were festival favourites and stadium fillers. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were also one of the most innovative prog rock bands. 

That’s apparent on Trilogy, which will be rereleased by Sony Music on 27th April 2015, as a three disc box set. Disc one features a remastered version of Trilogy. Then on disc two, there’s an alternate take of From The Beginning. The other nine tracks are a new stereo mix of Trilogy. On the DVD, is a 5.1 mixes by Jakko Jakszyk. Accompanying the two CDs and DVD is a sixteen page page booklet, with insightful liner notes. This is the perfect accompaniment to the forthcoming reissue of Trilogy, which is one of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s classic albums. 

By 1972, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were hitting their stride. Trilogy saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer receive their fourth gold disc in America alone. Eventually, Emerson, Lake and Palmer would sell over forty million albums. Their most successful period was the seventies. 

Between 1970s Emerson, Lake and Palmer and 1978s Love Beach, the prog rock giants released six studio albums. Each of them were certified gold. So were their two live albums Pictures At An Exhibition and Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends… Ladies and Gentlemen. This made Emerson, Lake and Palmer one of the biggest prog rock bands of the seventies. They were also one of the most innovative.

Very few bands were as innovative, inventive and influential as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Continually, they pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, it seemed beyond. This worked. They never stood still, and their music became stale. That’s why, forty-three years after the release of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third studio album Trilogy, it sounds as innovative and ambitious as it did in 1972. 

Trilogy found Emerson, Lake and Palmer growing,evolving and maturing as a band. They had come a long way in the past two years. Now they were tight and multitalented. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were also a visionary band, who seamlessly, were capable of fusing classical music, folk, jazz prog rock, psychedelia, rock  and symphonic rock. All these disparate musical genres played their part in the sound, and success, of Trilogy, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s timeless epic.

EMERSON. LAKE AND PALMER-TRILOGY (DELUXE EDITION).

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JOHN WETTON-ANTHOLOGY-THE STUDIO RECORDINGS VOLUME 1.

JOHN WETTON-ANTHOLOGY-THE STUDIO RECORDINGS VOLUME 1.

Most musicians are lucky to be in one successful band. A few become members of two successful bands. John Wetton has been a member of numerous successful bands. His career started with Mogul Thrash, before moving onto Family, King Crimson and Uriah Heep. He then joined prog rock supergroup UK, who released two critically acclaimed albums. Next stop for John Wetton was Wishbone Ash, before he joined another prog rock supergroup Asia. Their first two albums sold in excess of nine million copies. John Wetton was living the dream. However, he was working harder than ever.

By the early eighties, John Wetton was still working as a session musician. The great and good of music had John’s number. He worked with Roxy Music, Brian Ferry, Tony Banks, Phil Manzanera, Roger Chapman and members of E.L.P., Genesis and Yes. It seemed John had an insatiable appetite for music. So, it’s no surprise that in 1980, he embarked upon a solo career.

Caught In The Crossfire, which was released in 1980, was John Wetton’s debut solo album. Further albums would follow over the next thirty-two years. It was as if when John had time, he would return to his solo career. These albums were welcome releases, from a  musical innovator. Thirty-two tracks from John’s solo albums features on the recently released Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. It was recently on the Primary Purpose label, and and is an introduction to John Wetton’s solo work. 

It took nine years before John Wetton got round to recording his debut album, Caught In The Crossfire. By then, John Wetton was almost a musical veteran. The previous nine years had been a whirlwind. It was a long way from John’s early days in Bournemouth.

John Wetton served his musical apprenticeship in Bournemouth, where he grew up. That’s where he first met Richard Palmer-Jones. They were members of The Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group, Tetrad, and Ginger Man. After that, John Wetton joined  Mogul Thrash. That’s where he made his breakthrough.

Mogul Thrash.

Mogul Thrash were a prog rock band, who had evolved out of Brotherhood. They released their debut single Sleeping in the Kitchen in 1970. Then a year later, Mogul Thrash released their eponymous debut album in 1971. It was produced by Steampacket founder Brian Auger. On its release, Mogul Thrash was well received by critics. The future looked bright for Mogul Thrash. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

As Mogul Thrash was released, the group were locked in a legal battle with their management. It didn’t end well. Mogul Thrash had no option but to disband. So, 1971s Mogul Thrash proved to be group’s only album. For bassist John Wetton, and the rest of Mogul Thrash, this was a huge disappointment. Mogul Thrash looked like they were going places. Luckily, Family were looking for a bassist.

John Wetton fitted the bill. Not only could he play bass, but he was a guitarist and vocalist. So, the multitalented  twenty-two year old joined Family. He played on their next two albums.

Family-Fearless.

Fearless, Family’s fifth album, was released on 29th October 1971. This marked John Wetton’s Family debut. He played bass, guitars, and keyboards. Family were almost getting three musicians for the price of one. He would more than play his part in Fearless’ sound and success.

On its release,  Fearless  was well received by critics. The new lineup of Family seemed to have gelled quickly. Fearless was littered with highlights, including Spanish Tide, Save Some for Thee and Take Your Partners. So, it’s no surprise that Fearless sold well.

After its release, Fearless climbed the British and American charts. Eventually, it reached number fourteen in Britain and number 177 in the US Billboard 200. This was a first for Family. Never before had any of their albums charted in America. John Wetton it seemed, was Family’s good luck charm.

Bandstand.

After the success of Fearless, Family returned to the studio, and recorded Bandstand at Olympic Studios, London. This was where they had recorded Fearless. Just like Fearless, Bandstand  was produced by George Chkiantz and Family. However, it marked a change in style for Family.

Bandstand was released in September 1972. It marked a stylistic departure for Family. Their music moved towards the mainstream. Partly, this was because Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney had accepted the standard method of songwriting. It made life a lot easier. However, this move towards the mainstream risked alienating Family’s fans.

Prior to Bandstand’s release, critics had their say. Critics liked Family’s more mainstream sound. The album was released to near critical acclaim. A few contrarian critics disagreed. However, the people that mattered were the record buying public.

As Bandstand hit the shops, the members of Family wondered how their new sound we he received? When the dust settled, Bandstand had reached number fifteen in Britain and number 183 in the US Billboard 200. This was almost the same as Fearless. It seemed their new sound had neither lost, nor gained, Family any new fans. However, before long, Family had lost their bassist.

By 1972, John Wetton had attracted the attention of King Crimson. They were prog rock royalty, and one of the biggest and most innovative bands of the prog rock era. So, when John was asked to join King Crimson, he couldn’t say no. He made his debut on Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

King Crimson-Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was King Crimson’s fifth album. The album marked an almost new lineup of King Crimson. This was the third lineup in the group’s history. Joining Robert Fripp were bassist John Wetton, ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford, percussionist Jamie Muir and David Cross, who played violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano and flute. This new lineup saw the band head in a new direction. 

King Crimson incorporated different instruments, including percussion and African mbira. They moved away from their jazz sound, to a fusion of prog rock and experimental music on what became Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. 

It was released in March 1973, to critical acclaim, reaching number twenty in the UK and number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200. With a new lineup and having released their strongest album in recent years, King Crimson looked as if they were about to become one of the biggest bands of the early seventies. 

Starless and Bible.

Just about every prog rock band released a concept album. Starless and Bible Black, which is a quotation from the first two lines of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, was King Crimson’s concept album. The album is a commentary on the sleaziness and materialism that was blighting society. Richard Palmer-James, a former member of Supertramp, cowrote four of the songs on Starless and Bible, which saw King Crimson take a different approach to recording.

Unlike previous albums, there’s no drums on Starless and Bible. Despite the lack of drums, drummer Bill Bruford played percussion and cowrote three tracks. While he played on Starless and Bible, Jamie Muir didn’t. He’d left the band. Another change was that only the first two tracks on Starless and Bible, The Great Deceiver and Lament recorded in the studio. The rest of the tracks were recorded live, with the applause edited out. This was a very different approach from previous King Crimson albums.

Despite this, Starless and Bible Black was well received. Some critics hailed Starless and Bible Black as King Crimson’s best album since their debut. With its fusion of prog rock and experimental music, it was an ambitious and groundbreaking album. On its release in March 1974, it reached number twenty-eight in the UK and number sixty-six in the US Billboard 200. With King Crimson having released two consecutive critically acclaimed albums, it looked as if they were about to join the royalty that included Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. However, that wasn’t to be.

Red.

Having just released to consecutive critically acclaimed albums,  Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and then Starless and Bible Black, critics and fans wondered what direction King Crimson seventh album Red would take? Being King Crimson, fans and critics had learnt to expect the unexpected. The first change was in the lineup. After their 1974 summer tour, David Cross left King Crimson. This meant the band was now a trio consisting of Robert Fripp, bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. They cowrote much of Red.

Red featured just five tracks. Recording of Red began on 30th June 1974 at Olympic Studios, London and finished in August 1974. Four of the songs on Red were recorded live. The exception was One More Red Nightmare, which was recorded live. In the studio, Robert Fripp played guitar and mellotron. He was joined by bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. They were augmented by a variety of musicians who often, played on just one track. These musicians played their part in not only what’s a landmark album, but an album that marked the end of an era.

On its release in October 1974, Red reached just number forty-five in the UK and number sixty-six in the US Billboard 200. Critics hailed Red as an innovative album. There are obvious similarities with Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and Starless and Bible Black in sound and quality. One change was the lack of the acoustic guitars that featured on previous albums. With its fusion of prog rock and classic music, Red proved to be a hugely influential and innovative album. Sadly, it was the last King Crimson studio album to feature John Wetton.

Uriah Heep-Return To Fantasy.

Having left King Crimson, John joined Uriah Heep. They had already realised seven albums since their 1970 debut …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. John was brought in to replace Gary Thain. He joined just in time to play on their eighth album Return To Fantasy. John it seemed had the Midas touch.

Return To Fantasy was recorded at Lansdowne Studios and Morgan Studios, London. Just like previous albums, Gerry Bron took charge of production. Initially, Mick Box thought found that the chemistry he had with Gary Thain was missing. However, soon, John was making his presence felt, playing bass, mellotron and adding backing vocals. He played an important part in Return To Fantasy’s success.

When critics heard Return To Fantasy, they hailed it a vast improvement on 1974s Wonderworld. Return To Fantasy was the album critics knew Uriah Heep were capable of recording. Critical acclaim accompanied Return To Fantasy’s release.

It wasn’t just critics who loved Return To Fantasy. So did the recording buying public. On its release on 30th June 1975,  Return To Fantasy reached number seven in Britain and was certified silver.  Return To Fantasy reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 charts, selling 450,000 copies. The new lineup of  Uriah Heep had just released their biggest selling album,  Return To Fantasy. The problem was following it up.

High and Mighty.

Nearly a year later, Uriah Heep released High and Mighty on 8th June 1976. It was the last Uriah Heep album to feature vocalist David Byron. He had been battling with alcohol. Sadly, his drinking was beginning to affect the band. So, he was sacked after the release of High and Mighty.

What didn’t help, was that High and Mighty wasn’t well received by critics. Some critics slated the album. They weren’t impressed by the move towards the mainstream. Nor did the lack of lengthy tracks please critics. The longest song on High and Mighty was just under six minutes. This was quite unlike Uriah Heep. So was the chart placing.

High and Mighty stalled at number fifty-five in Britain. This was their lowest chart placing since their sophomore album, Salisbury. Across the Atlantic, American record buyers turned their back on Uriah Heep, with High and Mighty reaching number 161 in the US Billboard 200. For Uriah Heep, something had to give. 

David Byron was sacked by Uriah Heep. John Wetton decided that this also was the time to part company with Uriah Heep. He had plenty of session work and collaboration to keep him busy.

For the next couple of years, John was kept busy. John played on Roxy Music’s 1976 album Viva! He also accompanied Bryan Ferry on 1976s Let’s Stick Together, 1977s In Your Mind and 1978s The Bride Stripped Bare.  This wasn’t John’s only collaboration with members of Roxy Music. 

Previously, John had played on Andy McKay’s 1977 album, Score. Then in 1978, Phil Manzanera  asked John to play on his 1978 album K-Scope. The pair had worked together on Phil’s 1975 debut Diamond Head. So, this was no surprise. Neither was John joining a new band UK.

UK-UK.

UK were another prog rock supergroup. Their lineup included John, Yes drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Eddie Jobson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. This was the lineup that recorded two critically acclaimed albums. The first was UK.

UK had been recorded between December 1977 and January 1978.  It was released in March 1978. Although critics gave UK glowing reviews, referring to the music as innovative and progressive, UK passed record buyers by. The four members of UK were going to give up.

Danger Money.

Nearly a year to the day, UK returned with their sophomore album, Danger Money. It featured a new lineup of UK. Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth had left the group. Replacing them was Terry Bozzio. So, with UK reduced to a trio, they returned to the studio.

The new lineup were set record six songs at Air Studios, London. These songs were penned by John and Eddie. They were recorded between November 1978 and January 1979. Once Danger Money was recorded, it was ready for release in March 1979.

History repeated itself, when Danger Money was well received by critics, but failed to chart.  At least Nothing to Lose reached number sixty-seven in the British charts. Despite this modicum of success, it was a frustrating time for groups like UK. They certainly weren’t lacking in talent. Far from it. UK were a hugely talented group. Part of the problem was the changing musical landscape. 

The nihilist sound of punk and post punk was polluting the airwaves. Many critics were little more than cheerleaders for the talentless punks. It truly was the great rock ’n’ roll swindle. Its victims were talented prog rock groups who punks referred to as dinosaurs. However, little did they realise that in three years time, John Wetton would have the last laugh.

Night After Night. 

Danger Money was John Wetton’s final studio album with UK. He featured on their live album Night After Night. It was recorded during UK’s tour of Japan, in early June 1979. The album was recorded at Nakano Sun Plaza and Seiken Kan, in Tokyo. It was released in September 1979.

This was perfect timing. UK were about to head out on tour, supporting Jethro Tull on their American tour. So, the release of Night After Night was timed to coincide with the American tour. Sadly, Night After Night wasn’t a commercial success. This resulted in John leaving UK.

John Wetton-Caught In The Crossfire.

Following his departure from UK, John decided that now was the time to embark upon a solo career. So he began work on what became Caught In The Crossfire. 

Given John Wetton is a talented multi-instrumentalist, he was able to record much of Caught In The Crossfire himself. He played bass, guitars, keyboards and added vocals. To play the drum and percussion parts, John drafted in Simon Kirke of Bad Company. Another guest artist, was saxophonist Malcolm Duncan. They played their part on Caught In The Crossfire, John Wetton’s long-awaited debut album.

On its release in 1980, Caught In The Crossfire was well received by critics. Although quite different from his work with Family, King Crimson and Uriah Heep, it showed John’s versatility and ability to create ambitious and innovative music. Three of Caught In The Crossfire’s highlights were the title-track, Woman and Cold Is The Night. Fittingly, they feature Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. These tracks are a tantalising taste of what John Wetton was capable of as a solo artist. Record buyers awaited John’s sophomore album. It would be a long time coming.

There was a reason for this. John was a busy man. He worked with Roger Chapman on  their 1980 album Mail Order Magic and 1981s Hyenas Only Laugh for Fun. The former Family frontman had reinvented himself as a solo artist. However, later in 1981 John joined Wishbone Ash, where he replaced Martin Turner.

Wishbone Ash-No Smoke Without Fire.

With Martin Turner leaving Wishbone Ash, the English rock group found themselves with a problem. They had an album to record, but had no bassist. This was where John Wetton came in. He joined in time to record No Smoke Without Fire. 

No Smoke Without Fire was a stylistic departure for Wishbone Ash. Previously, their music had taken on an American influence. Some fans didn’t take to this. What they wanted was Wishbone Ash to return to the prog rock of their past. Other fans wanted Wishbone Ash to return to their hard rocking best. With Derek Lawrence returning as producer, for the first time since 1972s Argus, they did both.

When No Smoke Without Fire was released later in 1978, the album has hailed Wishbone Ash’s heaviest album to date. Critics welcomed the inclusion of prog rock epic The Way Of The World. Wishbone Ash many thought were back.

Sadly, The Way Of The World stalled at number forty-three in Britain, and failed to chart in America. For John Wetton and the rest of Wishbone Ash, this was a huge disappointment. Especially considering The Way Of The World was John’s only album with Wishbone Ash. He left the group to join Asia.

Asia.

Asia were another British prog rock supergroup. Its lineup featured John, guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes. They were both members of Yes. The final piece of the jigsaw was Carl Palmer, or E.L.P.  With Asia’s lineup complete, they began working on their eponymous debut album.

Recording of Asia took place at the Townhouse Studios, London. For the five months between June and November 1981, the four members of Asia recorded nine tracks. Eventually, the album was finished and ready for release on 18th March 1982.

After their five months of hard work, reviews of Asia were mixed. This some critics felt, didn’t bode well for the release of Asia. They were wrong.

On its release, Asia’s 1982 eponymous debut album sold eight million copies worldwide, and reached number one in the US Billboard 200 charts. This lead to Asia being certified platinum four times over. John Wetton it seemed had the Midas touch.

Alpha.

Following the commercial success of Asia, the four members of the band started work on their sophomore album Alpha. John and Geoff penned nine of the ten tracks. The other track, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, was a John Wetton composition. These tracks were recorded between February and May 1983.

It was never going to be easy following up Asia. The album had sold eight million copies. Unsurprisingly, Alpha wasn’t as popular. Again, reviews of Alpha were mixed. Critics pointed towards the change in sound. Asia, just like Family had done a decade earlier, had moved towards the mainstream. Part of Asia’s appeal, was their progressive sound. While it was less prominent, Alpha was still a commercial success.

On its release on 26th July 1983, Alpha reached number six in the US Billboard 200 and number five in Britain. This resulted in Alpha selling two million copies worldwide. Alpha was certified platinum in America and gold in Britain. Sadly, after Alpha, Asia never reached the same heights

Astra.

There was a gap of two years between Alpha, and Asia’s third album Astra. It marked the end of an era. Astra was the last album to feature founding member John Wetton. He didn’t return until 2008s Phoenix. No wonder. All wasn’t well within Asia.

Astra had been two years in the making. Recording started in 1983. However, John left in September 1983, and was replaced temporarily by Greg Lake. He featured during some of Asia’s live shows. When John returned, Steve Howe departed. This was blamed on the tension between Steve and John. Replacing Steve, was Mandy Meyer, who brought a harder edge to Asia’s sound. 

Asia’s new lineup spent much of 1984 and 1985 recording Astra. The band moved between studios. Eventually, Astra was finished, and ready for release in November 1985.

When critics heard Astra, reviews were mixed. While some critics weren’t impressed, other called Astra a solid album. The jury were well and truly out. As usual, the record buying public had the deciding vote.

On its release, Astra stalled at number sixty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number sixty-eight in Britain. This was a far cry from Asia and Alpha. 

Following Astra, John Wetton left Asia. While they enjoyed a degree of commercial success, Asia never reached the same heights. The lineup of Asia with John, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer proved to be the classic lineup of Asia. We wouldn’t see their likes again until 2008s Phoenix. By then, John Wetton was enjoying a successful solo career.

Battle Lines.

Fourteen years after John Wetton released his debut solo album Caught In The Crossfire, he returned with his sophomore album Battle Lines. It marked the return of a musical innovator.

Throughout his career, John had been an innovator. That was the case on Battle Lines. He made good use of the new technology that had become available. Keyboard parts were programmed and samples were used to create orchestral arrangements. They feature on Hold Me Now, Battle Lines and You’re Not The Only One, which all feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. John also programmed parts of Right Where I Want To Be and Walking On Air, where he also deploys synths. However, John hadn’t turned his back on traditional instruments. He uses guitars on several tracks, including Cold Is the Night and the acoustic version of Battle Lines. With its mixture of technology and traditional instruments, Battle Lines was a captivating album.

Battle Lines veers between beautiful and elegiac, to dramatic and innovative. Genres melted into one. Elements of folk, folk rock, prog rock and rock can be heard, as John and his small, talented band make a welcome return on Battle Lines.

After Battle Lines, John continued to concentrate on his solo career. He released Chasing The Dragon in 1995. However, none of the tracks from Chasing The Dragon feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. The next studio album that features on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1, is Arkangel.

Arkangel.

Given Arkangel is one of John Wetton’s finest solo albums, it’s fitting that seven tracks from Arkangel feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. 

One of the most beautiful is The Circle Of St Giles, which features Mike Stobbie’s digital orchestra. They also feature on After All, a beautiful, wistful track which closes Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. It was penned by John with John Young, and features a reflective John at his soulful best. However, there’s much more than orchestral tracks on Arkangel.

Among the other tracks on Arkangel, are The Last Thing On My Mind, the rocky I Can’t Lie Anymore and the ballad Arkangel, where John delivers a heartfelt, tender vocal. The other tracks from Arkangel, are the ballads 

You Against and Emma. Both tracks show another side of John Wetton. Emma with its understated arrangement, is another Arkangel’s of highlights. It features John Wetton, as he continued to reinvent himself.

After Arkangel, John Wetton released Chasing The Deer in 1998, and then No Mans Land in 1999. No tracks from these albums feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. However, there’s seven tracks from John’s first album of the new millennia, Sinister.

Sinister.

Sinister was released by John in 2001. It featured an all-star lineup. Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald, John Mitchell and Gary Chandler are among the guest artists. They play their part in what many regard as one of John Wetton’s finest solo albums. That’s not surprising given the lineup. 

The musicians that feature on Sinister are among some of the most talented of their generation. This includes prog rock royalty.  Gone are the samples and synths, as John returns to his rock roots.

That’s the case on tracks like Where Do We Go from Here? Another Twist of the Knife, Heart of Darkness and Say It Ain’t So all have a rocky sound. They bring  back memories of the big, bold, anthemic sound that defined rock in the eighties and nineties. Second Best and Silently are dramatic, soul-baring ballads. John’s vocal is full of emotion as he lays bare his hurt. With its mixture of rock anthems and ballads, there was something for everyone on Sinister, where John Wetton and his all-star band roll back the years.

Following Sinister, John released two collaborations with Ken Hensley during 2002, More Than Conquerors and One Way Or Another. The next year, John made a welcome return with his next solo album Rock Of Faith.

Rock Of Faith.

Rock Of Faith was released by John Wetton in 2003. It was his first solo album since 2001s Sinister. However, Rock Of Faith was well worth the two year wait.

When critics heard Rock Of Faith, they described the album as a fusion of classic, rock, prog rock and symphonic rock. For John, it was akin to a return to the seventies. What’s more it was a return to form for John Wetton.

The ballad on Rock Of Faith are among the album’s highlights. This includes  I’ve Come to Take You Home, which is a mixture of beauty and emotion. Then there’s the ethereal beauty that’s I Lay Down. Quite simply, it’s one of the highlights of Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. So is the spiritual sounding Who Will Light A Candle?  Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way is a hopeful  sounding ballad. It’s a welcome inclusion on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. Take Me to the Waterline. It has a much more rocky, progressive sound. Rock of Faith has an almost funky, dramatic sound, and shows just how versatile an artist John Wetton is. 

Seamlessly, John flits between ballads and rocky tracks on Rock Of Faith. In doing so, he combines musical genres, producing an album that’s beautiful, dramatic, soulful and wistful. John Wetton was maturing like a good wine, and would continue to do so.

After the release of Rock Of Faith, John released Amata later in 2003. With John Wetton, it was a case of feast or famine. His fans hoped that after two albums in a year, there wasn’t going to a long wait for his next album.

That wasn’t case. In 2004, John released Agenda. Just like Amata, no tracks from Agenda feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. However, three tracks from John’s most recent album feature on 2011s Raised In Captivity.

Raised In Captivity.

The last time we heard from John Wetton, was back in 2001. That’s when he released his most recent solo album, Raised In Captivity. Again, John’s joined by some of his musical friends. 

This includes guitarist Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis and Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes. Former Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse lays down some blistering licks on the uber rocky Lost for Words. It’s one of three tracks from 2011s Raised In Captivity that feature on Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1. The others are the rocky Raised in Captivity and the folk-tinged ballad Steffi’s Ring. Again it showcases John Wetton’s versatility. 

Seamlessly, John Wetton switches between musical genres throughout Raised In Captivity. There’s never a dull moment, as John draws inspiration from his musical past. Elements of prog rock, classic rock and folk can be heard, as John and his musical friends play their part in a truly captivating album, Raised In Captivity. It’s a welcome addition to John Wetton’s discography.

And what a discography it is. From his early days with  Mogul Thrash, John Wetton seemed destined for musical greatness. After Mogul Thrash disbanded, John joined Family. That was a huge step for him. However, it was nothing compared to what came next.

After releasing two albums with Family, John Wetton joined King Crimson. That was fitting. He was already an innovative musician. King Crimson were one of the most innovative groups of the prog rock era. With John’s help, their music moved in a different direction. John it seemed had the Midas touch.

That proved to be the case. Having joined Uriah Heep in 1975, he played his part in their biggest selling album, Return To Fantasy. After Return To Fantasy, the wheels started to come off Uriah Heep. So, John Wetton reyurned to session work.

Soon, John Wetton was working with the great and good of music had John’s number. He worked with Roxy Music, Brian Ferry, Tony Banks, Phil Manzanera, Roger Chapman and members of E.L.P., Genesis and Yes. It seemed John had an insatiable appetite for music. However, there was one thing John hadn’t done, released a solo album. So, in 1980, John embarked upon a solo career.

Caught In The Crossfire, which was released in 1980, was John Wetton’s debut solo album. However, John’s solo career was put on hold when he joined Wishbone Ash for one album.

With John playing bass, Wishbone Ash rolled back the years. It was a welcome return to form from the veteran group. However, John was just passing through. He formed Asia, whose 1982 eponymous debut album sold eight million copies. The followup sold another million copies. Astra was John’s final outing with Asia. By then, all wasn’t well within Asia. So, when Astra failed to replicate Asia’s first two albums, John called it a day. This allowed him to concentrate on collaboration and his solo albums.

With John now a solo artist, he showed he was still an ambitious and innovative artist. He pushed musical boundaries, mixing musical genres and influences. Seamlessly, they morphed into something new, magical and often quite beautiful. Other times the music is dramatic, rocky and progressive. That’s the case throughout Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1 which was recently released by Primary Purpose. 

It features tracks from five of John Wetton’s finest solo albums. This compilation is the perfection introduction to John Wetton’s solo career. Most people will be familiar with his work with Family, King Crimson, Uriah Heep and Asia. However, they make not have heard John Wetton’s solo albums. Anthology-The Studio Recordings Volume 1 is the perfect primer, and a welcome reminder of a true musical innovator’s four decade solo career.

JOHN WETTON-ANTHOLOGY-THE STUDIO RECORDINGS VOLUME 1.

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JACKIE WILSON-NYC 1961-1966.

JACKIE WILSON-NYC 1961-1966.

1957 was a landmark year in Jackie Wilson’s career. That’s when Jackie Wilson left Billy Ward and His Dominoes, to embark upon a solo career.

Previously, Jackie Wilson had spent four years with Billy Ward and His Dominoes. He was only nineteen when he joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes in 1953. Already Jackie Wilson had a chequered past. 

Twice, Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. had spent time in the Lansing Corrections system for juveniles. That was where a sixteen year old Jackie Wilson first took up boxing. Soon, he was a promising amateur boxer. His Golden Gloves record was 2 and 8. However, his mother didn’t like the thought of her son boxing. So, she forced Jack to turn his back on boxing. Jack’s nascent career was over, before it had even started. That was maybe just as well.

By the time Jack turned seventeen, he was married with a child. Jack was now working at Lee’s Sensation Club as a solo singer. This was no surprise. Like many soul singers, Jack had first sung in church. Music had always been part of his life. It would be a constant throughout the future Jackie Wilson’s life.

After starting his career as a solo singer, Jack and his cousin Levi Stubbs, formed a group called The Falcons. However, before long, talent agent Johnny Otis discovered Jack. 

Johnny Otis convinced Jack to join The Thrillers. They would later, change their name to The Royals. By then, Jack was long gone.

In 1953, Clyde McPhatter left Billy Ward and His Dominoes, to form his own group, The Drifters. This presented a problem for Billy Ward. Clyde McPhatter, not Billy Ward was the lead singer of Billy Ward and His Dominoes. He had played an important part in the rise of Billy Ward and His Dominoes. So, they were big shoes to fill. Little did anyone expect Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. an almost unknown, to replace Clyde McPhatter. That however, was the case.

When Jack joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes, he thought that Jack needed a stage name. It had to be a name would fit the group’s image. So Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. became Jackie Wilson. This was just the start of the reinvention of Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr.

The next four years were like a musical apprenticeship for Jackie Wilson. Billy Ward was the consummate professional. He was also a strict disciplinarian, who expected members of his band to act in a professional manner. If they didn’t, they risked being fined. For Jackie, this was what he needed. It would transform his life and career. His wild days were behind him.

For the next four years, Jackie Wilson picked up where Clyde McPhatter. During what was akin to a musical apprenticeship, Billy Ward helped mould Jackie Wilson. He learnt the art of showmanship, which would later see Jackie crowned Mr. Excitement. Sadly, during this period, Billy Ward and His Dominoes were no longer enjoying the same success. They weren’t able to replicate the success they enjoyed with Clyde McPhatter at the helm. So, in 1957, after four years with Billy Ward and His Dominoes, Jackie Wilson felt that it was time to embark upon a solo career.

Having left Billy Ward and His Dominoes, Jackie Wilson signed to Brunswick, a subsidiary of Decca Records. It was at Brunswick where Jackie Wilson enjoyed the most successful period of his career. During his time at Brunswick, Jackie Wilson released around fifty singles and twenty-five solo albums. There were also collaborations with Linda Hopkins and Count Basie. Jackie Wilson, it seemed, was a truly prolific artist. So, it’s no surprise that not all of the music Jackie Wilson recorded, has been released.

Even thirty-one years after Jackie Wilson’s untimely death in 1984, there’s still plenty music within Brunswick’s vaults. For fans of Jackie Wilson this has always been a tantalising prospect. They’ve always wondered what hidden gems are awaiting discovery? Recently, Ace Records were able to answer that question when they released a two disc compilation NYC 1961-1966. 

The best way to describe NYC 1961-1966, is a musical treasure trove. It features fifty tracks.They’re a mixture of unreleased tracks and alternate takes. There’s also album tracks and collaborations with Lavern Baker and Linda Hopkins. Then there Rob Hughes’ lengthy and informative sleeve-notes. They tell the story of the music on NYC 1961-1966. However, Jackie Wilson’s time at Brunswick began four years earlier, in 1957.

Having signed to Brunswick in 1957, Jackie Wilson released his debut single for his new label, Reet Petite. This was the first of fifty singles Jackie released on Brunswick. Reet Petite stalled at number sixty-two in the US Billboard 100 charts. This was an inauspicious start to Jackie career at Brunswick. Little did anyone realise, that in the future, many would regard Reet Petite as a soul classic. 

The followup to Reet Petite was To Be Loved. It was released later in 1957, reaching number twenty-two in the US Billboard 100 charts and number seven in the US R&B charts. Jackie’s career was up and running. 

A year later, Jackie enjoyed the first number one  US R&B single of his career. Jackie hit the jackpot with Lonely Teardrops. It reached number one in the US Billboard 100 charts and number seven in the US R&B charts. Jackie also released his debut single, He’s So Fine. Suddenly, people were taking notice of Jackie Wilson.

Soon, one became two in 1959, when Jackie enjoyed another number one with You Better Know It. It reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100 charts and number one in the US R&B charts. Jackie released two albums during 1959, So Much and Lonely Teardrops. Already he was prolific artist. So, as another decade dawned, many thought that Jackie Wilson would become one of the biggest soul singers of the sixties.

It looked that way. 1960 proved to be the most successful year of Jackie’s career. He enjoyed five hit singles. Two of these singles reached number one in the US R&B charts. A Woman, A Lover, A Friend, which became the title of Jackie’s first album of 1960, reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 100 charts and number one in the US R&B charts. Incredibly, so did Doggin’ Around, a track from Jackie’s album Jackie Sings The Blues. After Doggin’ Around topped the US R&B charts, Am I The Man reached number ten. It seemed Jackie Wilson could do no wrong. 

For Jackie, 1961 was pretty much business as usual. He enjoyed three hit singles. The Tear Of The Year and I’m Coming Back To You reached the top ten in the US R&B charts. However, Jackie was losing his crossover appeal. My Empty Arms reached number nine in the US Billboard 100. I’m Coming Back To You the reached number nineteen. After I’m Coming Back To You, Jackie only enjoyed four hit singles in the US Billboard 100 charts. To make matters worse, the hits were drying up for Jackie.

1962 was the least successful year of Jackie Wilson’s five year solo career. The hits dried up. The only small crumb of comfort was that Jackie Wilson At The Copa charted. This was a first. Although Jackie Wilson At The Copa was Jackie’s ninth album, none of the previous eight had bothered the charts. Even Jackie Wilson At The Copa reached just number 137 in the US Billboard 200. So, 1962 was more or less a year to forget for Jackie Wilson. However, Jackie’s luck began to change.

In 1963, Jackie found himself back at the top of the US R&B charts with Baby Workout. It reached number five in the US Billboard 100. Later in 1963, Jackie released the most successful album of his career, Baby Workout. When it reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 200, it looked like Jackie’s luck was changing. That proved not to be the case.

For the next three years, the hits dried up again for Jackie. Right through to 1966, Jackie was a stranger to the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. Then in 1966, Jackie’s luck changed for the better.

Whispers (Gettin’ Louder) was released as a single in 1966. It reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B charts. Jackie’s Whispers album then reached number 108 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B charts. This marked the return of Jackie Wilson.

Jackie Wilson hit a musical home run in 1967. That’s when he released his classic single, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. Not only did it reach number six in the US Billboard 100, but reached number one in the US R&B charts. It inspired the title of Jackie’s 1967 album Higher and Higher, which reached number 163 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. For Jackie, 1967 had been another successful year. His comeback continued. However, never again would he enjoy a number one single.

That’s despite Jackie releasing what many regard as one of his finest songs in 1968, I Get the Sweetest Feeling. It reached just number thirty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B charts. When Jackie released then his I Get the Sweetest Feeling album, it failed to chart. However, his Do Your Thing album reached number fifty in the US R&B charts later in 1968. This proved to be the end of era.

Never again would a Jackie Wilson album chart. It seemed many regarded Mr. Excitement as yesterday’s man. He certainly never enjoyed another hit in the US Billboard 100 charts. For Jackie, I Get the Sweetest Feeling was his swan-song. Indeed, in America Jackie only ever enjoyed one more hit single.

As Jackie embarked upon the third decade of his recording career, he released This Love Is for Real (I Can Feel These Vibrations) as a single. It peaked at number nine in the US R&B charts. That’s as good as it would get for Jackie Wilson in America. 

Although Jackie Wilson continued to release albums for Brunswick right through to 1976, never again would he scale the same heights. However, forty-five years after Jackie Wilson’s final American hit single, he’s still regarded by some, as one of the biggest names in soul music.

So, Ace Records release of their two disc NYC 1961-1966 compilation, will be welcomed by many fans of Mr. Excitement. Especially given there’s a plethora of rarities and unreleased tracks on both discs.

Disc One.

On disc one of NYC 1961-1966, there’s twenty-four tracks. This includes ten previously unreleased tracks. Among the highlights of the unreleased tracks are Me, My Mother’s Son, All My Lovin’, I Can’t Stand Another (Hurt In My Heart), Change Me and Hold Me, Need Me. Apart from unreleased tracks, there’s alternate takes.

On disc one, there’s a trio of alternate take. The earliest alternate take was Twisting and Shoutin’ (Doing The Monkey). It was recorded for Jackie’s Somethin’ Else album in 1964. This version didn’t make the cut. Other alternate takes include She’s All Right and Big Boss Line. She’s All Right was recorded in March 1964. Four months later, Jackie recorded Big Boss Line in August 1964. Since then, these tracks have never been released..until Ace Records released NYC 1961-1966. 

That’s also the case with the unedited version of Soul Galore. It was recorded fifty years ago, in 1965. It was meant to be the title-track to Jackie’s 1965 album. That wasn’t to be. Instead, it makes its debut on NYC 1961-1966. However, there’s more to disc one than unreleased tracks and alternate takes.

There’s also Jackie’s collaborations with Laverne Baker, Think Twice and Please Don’t Hurt Me (I’ve Never Been In Love Before). Although Please Don’t Hurt Me (I’ve Never Been In Love Before) was released in 1965, this version of Think Twice been released before. This is another reason why NYC 1961-1966 will appeal to Jackie Wilson completists. However, they’ll be familiar with some of the other tracks.

This includes some of Jackie’s singles. There’s No Pity (In The Naked City) and I Believe I’ll Love On, which were released in 1965. A year later, Jackie released 3 Days 1 Hour 30 Minutes in 1966. While it failed to chart, it’s something of a hidden gem, and is a welcome inclusion on NYC 1961-1966. It’s not alone.

That’s also the case with Silent One. It wasn’t released until 1987. It was released on one of Jackie’s posthumous albums. The reissue of Silent One is yet another welcome inclusion on disc one of NYC 1961-1966, that’s a reminder of the man many called Mr. Magnificent.

Just like the unreleased tracks and alternate takes, the singles and collaborations show Jackie Wilson evolving and maturing as a singer. So do the twenty-six tracks on disc two of NYC 1961-1966.

Disc Two.

Just like disc one of NYC 1961-1966, disc two features a mixture of unreleased tracks, alternate takes, singles and collaborations. This includes Jackie’s collaborations Linda Hopkins.

During his career, Jackie Wilson collaborated with a number of artists. This included Laverne Baker, Linda Hopkins and later, Count Basie. In 1962, Jackie and Linda Hopkins duetted on the single I Found Love, which featured There’s Nothing Like Love on the B-Side. The single was released later in 1962. This proved a successful pairing. 

So a year later, on 28th February 1963, Brunswick brought Jackie and Linda back into the studio. They recorded Shake A Hand as a single. For the B-Side, Say I Do was chosen. It would later prove a favourite amongst R&B fans. Sadly, Shake A Hand didn’t replicate the success of I Found Love. However, it wouldn’t put Jackie of collaborating. He would later collaborate with Count Basie. Before that, Jackie had a lot of music to record.

Throughout his career, Jackie Wilson was a prolific artist. So, it’s no surprise that there’s still plenty of music in Brunswick’s vaults. This includes eleven tracks on disc two of NYC 1961-1966. Among their highlights are Love (Is Where You Find It), The Dancing Man and The Test Of Time. 

That’s not all. There’s a trio of tracks from  session in 1962. On 7th August 1962, Jackie recorded three tracks in New York. This includes I Hurt So Bad (Somebody Help Me), Tears (Don’t Mind Who Cries Them) and Baby That’s All. Jackie unleashes three emotive performances, pouring part of himself into the tracks. Sadly, these tracks were never released. That’s also the case with Shake! Shake! Shake! which Jackie recorded on 28th February 1963. The version on NYC 1961-1966 is an alternate take, and finds Jackie heading to the dance-floor. However, one of the most interesting inclusions in the version of Jackie’s 1963 number one US R&B single Baby Workout. This version is take seven, features a false start. This shows another side to one of Jackie’s best known tracks.

While many of the tracks on disc two of NYC 1961-1966 are unreleased tracks, there’s four singles included. This includes 1961s Years From Now, which was paired with My Empty Arms. A year later, in 1962, Jackie released What Good Am I Without You? as a single. It failed to chart. So did I Just Can’t Take It, which was paired with My Tale Of Woe. During this period, Jackie was going through one of several lean periods he endured. These four singles fall into the category of hidden gems, and are a reminder of what Jackie Wilson was capable of. That’s the case throughout NYC 1961-1966, which was recently released by Ace Records.

During the five year period, which NYC 1961-1966 covers, Jackie Wilson was one of the hardest working men in soul music. The recording studio was like a second home for Jackie. Sadly, Jackie’s efforts weren’t rewarded.

Between 1961 and 1966, Jackie Wilson only enjoyed three hits in the US Billboard charts. Jackie faired slightly better in the US R&B charts. He enjoyed four hit singles, including a number one single with Baby Workout. It was the biggest selling single of Jackie’s career. However, that was as good as it got for Jackie.

The problem was, that during the period NYC 1961-1966 covers, music was changing, and changing fast. With the British Invasion, psychedelia and rock taking America by storm, suddenly, singers like Jackie Wilson seemed liked yesterday’s men. Some of Jackie’s old fans turned their back on him. 

They were won over by a new generation of artists. This included a new breed of soul singers. Singers like Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, James Carr and Sam and Dave were making a name for themselves. So was two recent graduates of Motown, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The competition amongst soul singers was fierce. Jackie Wilson didn’t walk away from a challenge.

Between 1966 and 1968, his career enjoyed an Indian Summer. Sadly, two years later, Jackie Wilson enjoyed his final hit single, This Love Is for Real (I Can Feel These Vibrations). It peaked at number nine in the US R&B charts. That was good as it got for Jackie Wilson in America. 

Although Jackie Wilson continued to release albums for Brunswick right through to 1976, never again would he scale the same heights. However, forty-five years after Jackie Wilson’s final American hit single, he’s still regarded by some, as one of the biggest names in soul music.

While other soul singers are long forgotten, Jackie Wilson is still seen by some as a giant of soul. He was one of the most talented and prolific soul singers of his generation. The man they call Mr. Excitement released around fifty singles and twenty-five albums. However, there’s still much more music awaiting discover within the Brunswick vaults. That included the fifty songs that found their way onto NYC 1961-1966.

Recently, Ace Records released their two disc NYC 1961-1966 compilation. It features fifty tracks from Jackie Wilson. NYC 1961-1966 features a plethora of singles, album cuts, alternate takes and unreleased tracks. The fifty tracks on NYC 1961-1966, are a reminder why, many people called Jackie Wilson, Mr. Excitement.

JACKIE WILSON-NYC 1961-1966.

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BAD COMPANY-STRAIGHT SHOOTER (DELUXE EDITION).

BAD COMPANY-STRAIGHT SHOOTER (DELUXE EDITION).

Just a year after supergroup, Bad Company were formed, they were one of the biggest bands in Britain. Their eponymous debut album, Bad Company was well on its way to selling five million copies in America alone. Bad Company  reached number one in the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum five times over. In Britain, Bad Company reached number three, and was certified gold.  For Paul Rodger, Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs and Boz Burrell their lives were transformed.

Each of the four members of Bad Company had been members of successful bands. Vocalist Paul Rodger and drummer Simon Kirke were previously, members of Free. Guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Boz Burrell had been members of Mott The Hoople. While Free and Mott The Hoople were commercially successful, the success Bad Company were enjoying would surpass this. 

From their 1974 debut album Bad Company, right through to 1979s Desolation Angels, Bad Company were one of the biggest selling bands on both sides of the Atlantic. Their first five albums sold an estimated 13.8 million albums in America and Britain alone. It seemed that Bad Company could do wrong. That proved to be the case, when Bad Company released their sophomore album Straight Shooter, which was  recently rereleased by Rhino as a two disc deluxe edition. Straight Shooter saw Bad Company pickup where they left off on their eponymous debut album.

Given the commercial success of Bad Company, the band’s record company Swan Song and manager Peter Grant were keen to strike while the iron was hot. They decided that Bad Company should return to the studio as soon as possible. So, in September 1974, Bad Company found themselves back in the studio.

Recording of Straight Shooter, Bad Company’s sophomore album began was scheduled to begin at Clearwell Castle, Gloucestershire, England, in September 1974. That’s where Bad Company began recording eight new songs, written  by the four band members. 

For Straight Shooter, Paul Rogers  Shooting Star and Call On Me. He also cowrote Feel Like Makin’ Love, Deal With the Preacher and Wild Fire Woman with Mick Ralphs. Mick contributed Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, while Simon Kirke penned Weep No More and Anna. These eight tracks became Straight Shooter.

At Clearwell Castle, the band began work in September 1974. Bad Company’s rhythm section of drummer Simon Kirke  and bassist Boz Burrell were joined by Mick Ralphs on guitar and keyboards. Lead vocalist Paul Rodger played guitar and piano. Bad Company worked quickly, recording and producing Straight Shooter’s eight songs during September 1974. They also recorded Whisky Bottle, which became the B-Side of Good Lovin’ Gone Bad. It was another Paul Rogers and Mick Ralphs composition. Once these tracks were recorded, recording engineer Ron Nevison mixed Straight Shooter.

Mixing of Straight Shooter took place during December 1974. Ron Nevison mixed Straight Shooter at Air Studios in London. While this was happening, Straight Shooter’s iconic cover was being designed.

London based art design group Hipgnosis, were chosen to design Straight Shooter’s  cover. Hipgnosis had already designed legendary covers for Pink Floyd, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, The Alan Parsons Project, Electric Light Orchestra, Al Stewart and T-Rex. Bad Company were Hipgnosis’ latest high profile client. For Straight Shooter, Hipgnosis pulled out all the stops. Straight Shooter’s iconic “rolling dice” cover, would become a classic album cover. It was a cover befitting a classic rock album. The question was, had Bad Company just recorded their second classic album? Bad Company held their breath until the critics delivered their verdict.

Review copies of Straight Shooter were sent out to critics. After they had time to digest Bad Company’s sophomore album, it was time for the critics to deliver their verdict. Unusually, there was no consensus. Different critics responded differently to Straight Shooter. Some saw Straight Shooter as a much better album than Bad Company.  Partly, this was because, the members of Bad Company maturing as songwriters. However, one thing that divided critics was how to describe Straight Shooter?

Many people, including music critics, described Bad Company as a hard rock group. Some critics weren’t convinced. They felt Straight Shooter wasn’t heavy enough to be described as a hard rock album. Their reasoning was that Paul Rodger’s voice wasn’t strong enough, and that the music didn’t have a hard enough sound. Other critics cited the ballads Shooting Star and Feel Like Makin’ Love as proof. Surely, a hard rock band they argued, didn’t sing ballads? Bad Company did, and this proved a successful formula.

Good Lovin’ Gone Bad was chosen as the lead single from Straight Shooter. It was released in March 1975, and reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100. This was a disappointment for Bad Company. Greater things had been forecast for Good Lovin’ Gone Bad. However, this proved to be teething problems for Bad Company.

When Straight Shooter was released on April 2nd 1975, it reached number three in Britain, Canada and the US Billboard 200 charts. Straight Shooter was certified gold in Britain and Canada. In America, Straight Shooter sold over three million albums, and was certified triple platinum. Bad Company were now one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It seemed they could do no wrong. 

Feel Like Makin’ Love was released in July 1975, and became the second single to be released from Straight Shooter. It reached number twenty in Britain and number ten in the US Billboard 100. Bad Company, like Led Zeppelin before them, were more popular in America, than their home country, Britain. That had been the case with their eponymous debut album, Bad Company, and Straight Shooter, which I’ll tell you about.

Good Lovin’ Bad opens Straight Shooter. Straight away, Bad Company kick loose, and return to their hard rocking best. The thunderous rhythm section of drummer Simon Kirke and bassist Boz Burrell kick loose. They’re joined by Mick Ralphs’ blistering, searing guitars. Soon, Paul Rodger delivers a powerhouse of a vocal. How anyone could question how he lacks the power to front a hard rock band, seems incredible. He hollers and struts his way through the lyrics, revelling in the line: “baby I’m a bad man.” Behind him a glorious wall of sound unfolds, providing the backdrop to Paul’s hard rock vocal masterclass.

Just a chiming guitar opens Feel Like Makin’ Love, where Bad Company through a curveball. The guitar is joined by Paul’s tender, needy vocal as he sings: “when I think about you, I think about love.” Meanwhile, the three part harmonies and an understated rhythm section accompany Paul. However, this proves to be no ordinary ballad. Crunchy, rocky,  guitars are briefly unleashed. Mostly, though Bad Company show their sensitive side on what’s a beautiful ballad.

A guitar ascends the arrangement to Weep No More, climbing above the swathes of lush, cascading string and braying horns. Soon, the rhythm section and  a tack  piano sets the scene for Paul’s vocal. By now, the arrangement is heading in the direction of blues rock. Flourishes of piano, washes of Hammond organ and  the guitar see to that.S Swathes of strings almost dance in delight, as Paul sings of his imminent homecoming.

Shooting Star is another of Straight Shooter’s ballads. It tells the story of a rock star who lived fast, and died young. Inspiration for the song came from the lives of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. There’s several similarities to Feel Like Makin’ Love. Again an acoustic guitar is used extensively. Then there’s the use of three part harmonies. The other similarity is how Bad Company veer between their rocky, and understated sounds. This proves a winning combination. Especially, with guitarist Mick Ralphs unleashing some of his best licks. Everything is in place for Bad Company’s timeless homage to Jimi, Jim and Janis.

Deal With The Preacher sees Bad Company kick loose from the opening bars. They’re at their heaviest. Machine gun guitars accompany hypnotic drums and a probing bass. Paul delivers another his strutting, swaggering vocals. It can only be described as a powerhouse, complete with whoops and hollers. Guitarist Mick Ralphs delivers some blistering licks. They’re among his best  on Straight Shooter. The same can be said of Deal With The Preacher. This stunning slice of classic seventies rock allows Bad Company to showcase their considerable skills.  

Bad Company drop the tempo on Wild Fire Woman. They also reign in the power slightly. Still drummer Simon Kirke and bassist Boz Burrell provide the heartbeat. Guitarist Mick Ralphs fires off rocky licks. Then when Paul’s vocal enters, his lived-in vocal is a bit more understated. Washes of Hammond organ and blistering guitars accompany his vocal. Before long, he kicks loose, and combines power and passion.  The rest of Bad Company match him every step of the way. When his vocal drops out at the bridge, the rest of Bad Company jam. This inspires Paul to return with another of his trademark vocal powerhouses. He vamps his way though the track, to its rocky crescendo.

Anna was one of the tracks that divided the opinion of critics. Forty years later, that seems somewhat unjust. It’s a soul baring ballad, where again, Bad Company show their sensitive side. Paul’s emotive, heartfelt vocal takes centre-stage. Meanwhile, the rest of Bad Company drop the tempo and play within themselves. It’s just the rhythm section, guitar and Hammond organ that frames Paul’s needy, soul-baring vocal.

Call On Me closes Straight Shooter.  A piano and washes of panned guitar set the scene for Paul’s vocal. Soon, the rhythm section and harmonies are added to this ballad. Again, Bad Company play within themselves. This leads me to wonder what the track would’ve sounded like at a quicker tempo, with crunchy crystalline guitars? When a , Mick Ralphs guitar  solo replaces Paul’s vocal, Mick Ralphs’ doesn’t kick loose. It’s as if Bad Company were keen to keep the volume consistent throughout. Maybe that’s a mistake, and if Bad Company had been allowed to kick loose, what’s a good song, might have become a great song. 

For Bad Company, it was never going to be easy following up their 1974 eponymous, debut album. Bad Company was one of the biggest selling albums of 1974, and transformed Bad Company into one of the biggest British rock bands of the seventies. 

The former members of Free and Mott The Hoople had only formed Bad Company a year earlier. They then signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label. Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, became Bad Company’s manager. He was the perfect man to guide Bad Company’s career. Peter Grant advised Bad Company to get back in the studio straight away, So, in September 1974, Bad Company recorded their sophomore album Straight Shooter. It was released in April 1975, just ten months after their debut album, Bad Company.

On its release, Straight Shooter divided opinion. There was no consensus. Some critics argued that Straight Shooter was a better album. Others argued it wasn’t a hard rock album. That is partly true. Straight Shooter features a trio of ballads. This shows a very different side to Bad Company. They’re no longer, the hard rocking, swaggering rock band. Instead, they show their sensitive side. Then on Call on Me, Bad Company reign in their hard rock sound, and produce an A.O.R. sounding track. The rest of Straight Shooter sees Bad Company kick loose, and unleash some hard rock. Bad Company in full flow, is a glorious sound. It still is.

Forty years after Straight Shooter  was released, the music on Straight Shooter sounds as good as it did back in 1975. What’s more, the music on Straight Shooter has aged well. Indeed, I’d go as far as describe Straight Shooter as a timeless album. It could’ve been recorded anytime between 1975 and 2015. However, although it’s hard to believe, it’s almost forty years to the day, when Straight Shooter was first released. That’s why it’s so fitting that Rhino have released a two disc Deluxe Edition of Straight Shooter.

On disc one of the Deluxe Edition of Straight Shooter, is the original album. It’s been remastered. The sources were the original master-tapes. As remasters go, this is one of the best I’ve heard this year. Literally, the music on the Deluxe Edition of Straight Shooter comes alive. That’s the case on disc two of the Deluxe Edition of Straight Shooter.

Disc two of the Deluxe Edition of Straight Shooter features fourteen tracks. They’re mostly alternate takes of tracks from Straight Shooter. That’s apart from Sunlight, All Night Long and Whisky Bottle, which was the B-side to Good Lovin’ Gone Bad. Whether it’s unreleased tracks or alternate takes, they’re well worth taking the time to listen to. The alternate takes show how the songs evolved. Especially the Early Slow Version of Weep No More and the Alternate Vocal of Anna. On Wild Fire Woman, the guitar and vocal is different. On one of the versions of Feel Like Makin’ Love, a harmonica has been added. This takes the song in a different direction. Each of the alternate tracks show how Straight Shooter evolved and became one of Bad Company’s most successful albums.

Eventually, Straight Shooter sold over three million copies in America alone. Across the world, Bad Company, the latest British supergroup were enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success with Straight Shooter, the second classic album of their career. For five years and five albums, Bad Company could do no wrong. Bad Company were a musical behemoth, who sold over fourteen million albums and released two classic albums, including 1975s Straight Shooter.

BAD COMPANY-STRAIGHT SHOOTER (DELUXE EDITION).

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BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-GIRLS IN PEACETIME WANT TO DANCE.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-GIRLS IN PEACETIME WANT TO DANCE.

Over four years have passed since Belle and Sebastian released their eighth studio album, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love. Since then, Belle and Sebastian’s only release was The Third Eye Centre, a nineteen track retrospective released in August 2013. It featured rarities, remixes, B-Sides, non-album tracks and tracks from E.P.s. Eighteen months after the release of The Third Eye Centre, Belle and Sebastian return with their long awaited ninth album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which marks a series of firsts. 

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which was released on 19th January 2015, is the first Belle and Sebastian album to be released worldwide on Matador Records. It’s also the first Belle and Sebastian album to be produced by Ben H. Allen III. The third and final first, is that Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is the first Belle and Sebastian album to be recorded in Atlanta, Georgia. Belle and Sebastian it seems, are refusing to stand still on Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, as their twentieth anniversary draws nearer. Still, Belle and Sebastian are still releasing ambitious, and groundbreaking music.

That’s been the case throughout their career, and why it would be fitting if Belle and Sebastian were to win the 2015 Scottish Album of The Year Award with Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. It’s eligible for the 2015 Scottish Album of The Year Award, and is definitely one of the contenders. No wonder. For nearly twenty years Belle and Sebastian have been innovating.

It was back in 1996, at Stow College, in Glasgow that Belle and Sebastian were formed. The band was formed by two students, Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, and was named after Cecile Aubry’s 1965 book Belle et Sebastien. Since then, many members have joined and left the group, one of the most influential being, Isobel Campbell, who joined in 1996 and left the group in 2002, singing vocals and playing cello. Other members include Chris Geddes and Sarah Martin.

Whilst at college, in 1996, Belle and Sebastian recorded some demo tracks with the college’s music professor Alan Rankin. Yes. That Alan Rankin, formerly the keyboardist and guitarist in The Associates alongside the late Billy Mackenzie. The demos came to the notice of the college’s business studies department, who each year, released a single on the college’s record label. Belle and Sebastian, by then, had recorded a number of songs, enough to fill an album. Having been so impressed by Belle and Sebastian’s music, that year, the label decided to release an album, called Tigermilk. 

Tiigermilk, which was produced by Alan Rankin. It was recorded in just three days. Just one-thousand copies vinyl were pressed. Tigermilk was well received and the album sold out quickly. The original copies of Tigermilk are prized possessions of Belle and Sebastian fans. Following the success of Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian decided to make a career out of music.

Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David decided that Belle and Sebastian would become a full-time band. Soon, further members joined the band. Isobel Campbell joined on vocals and cello, Stevie Jackson on guitar and vocals, Richard Coburn on drums and Chris Geddes on keyboards.

After Tigermilk’s success, the group signed to Jeepster Records in August 1996, they released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister. Produced by Tony Doogan, it was released in November 1996. Many people believe that this is their finest album. American magazine Spin, liked the album so much, that they put it at number seventy-six in their top one-hundred albums released in the twenty year period between 1985-2005. Rolling Stone magazine put the album in its list of essential albums of the 1990s.

After the release of If You’re Feeling Sinister, the group released series of E.P.s during 1997. The E.P.s were Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light. Dog On Wheels featured four songs that were recorded before the formation of Belle and Sebastian. It reached number fifty-nine in the UK charts. Lazy Line Painter reached number forty-one in the UK charts, and 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light became the group’s first top forty single, reaching number thirty-two in the UK charts. That was the start of the rise and rise of Belle and Sebastian.

September 1998, saw Belle and Sebastian release their third album The Boy With The Arab Strap. It reached number twelve in the UK charts. Unlike previous Belle and Sebastian albums, Stuart Murdoch doesn’t feature on vocals. Instead, they’re shared amongst Isobel Campbell, Stevie Jackson and Stuart David. The album received mixed views from the music press. Long time supporter of Belle and Sebastian, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice praised The Boy With The Arab Strap, while others weren’t as impressed. However, since its release, many people, myself included, believe The Boy With The Arab Strap to be Belle and Sebastian’s finest hour. Despite the success of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian changed direction musically. 

Two years after the release of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian released Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Present. Released in June 2000, the album was produced by Tony Doogan. It’s best described as chamber pop. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Present has a much more laid-back, mellow sound. The tempo is slower, while vocals are shared amongst band members. Then there’s the strings. They’re used more extensively. Sadly, this was the last album to feature founder member Stuart David. For their next album, Belle and Sebastian would try their hand at writing a film score.

Although Storytelling was both Belle and Sebastian’s fifth album, it was their first film score. Released in June 2002, only six minutes of the thirty-five minutes of music recorded by Belle and Sebastian made it into Todd Solondz’s movie. It sounds as if the experience was somewhat frustrating for the band. They had problems communicating with Todd Solondz. Worse was to come. Belle and Sebastian were about to lose one of their most important members… Isobel Campbel

Having released and toured Storytelling, Isobel Campbell left Belle and Sebastian. She decided to pursue a solo career. Many critics wondered what effect this would’ve on Belle and Sebastian? They came back, but briefly, were different band 

Much of the summer of 2003 saw Belle and Sebastian recording their sixth album. Losing Isobel Campbell wasn’t the only change in the life and times of Belle and Sebastian. No.They’d left Jeepster and signed to Rough Trade. Tony Doogan was replaced as producer. His replacement was Trevor Horn. His credentials seemed somewhat questionable.  

Previously, ex-Buggle Trevor Horn had he’d been an award winning producer and songwriter. Recently, he’d been working with Charlotte Church and Lee Ann Rimes. Considering Belle and Sebastian were one of the hottest indie bands, they seemed strange and awkward bedfellows. It seemed Trevor Horn had been brought in to polish of the band’s rough edges. Rough Trade, a supposed indie label, were polishing away part of the group’s charms. Many onlookers were horrified, afraid of the direction Trevor Horn would take Belle and Sebastian.

In some ways, these fears were justified. Gone was the folksie, melancholy, chamber pop of their roots. Dear Catastrophe Waitress was the polar opposite of previous albums. Replacing it, was the slick, poppy charms of the Trevor Horn produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress. On its released in October 2003, it was nominated for an Ivor Novello award. Critics gave Dear Catastrophe Waitress favorable reviews. On both sides of the Atlantic, Dear Catastrophe Waitress appealed to critics. Despite the positive reviews Dear Catastrophe Waitress received, thankfully, Belle and Sebastian and Trevor Horn never renewed their aquaintance when they released their next album, three years later.

Between the release of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and 2006s The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian kept busy. In 2005, they released a twenty-five track compilation entitled Push Barman To Open Old Wounds. Featuring a series of E.P.s Belle and Sebastian had released, critics adored the album. Hailed as vintage Belle and Sebastian, they were crowned the best indie band. Very different from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds was the Belle and Sebastian their fans knew and loved. Push Barman To Open Old Wounds wasn’t Belle and Sebastian’s only release during 2005.

No. Belle and Sebastian released their first live album, If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican. Released in December 2005, this allowed Belle and Sebastian to revisit their 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister and rectify what the band believed to be the mistakes of the original album. That night in September 2005, Belle and Sebastian took the Barbican by storm, playing an encore lasting over an hour. This encore would prove to be somewhat prophetic.

When Belle and Sebastian released The Life Pursuit in February 2006, it proved to be their most successful album. The Life Pursuit was produced by Tony Hoffer, who previously, produced Air, Turin and Beck. He was a much better fit than Trevor Horn. On its release, The Life Pursuit reached number eight in the UK and number sixty-five in the US Billboard 200. Funny Little Frog gave Belle and Sebastian the biggest hit single of their ten year career. Despite that, it would be four years until Belle and Sebastian released their next studio album.

Following the release of The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian headed out on tour. They were now well versed in the album, tour, album, tour routine. To ensure their fans didn’t forget them, Belle and Sebastian released The BBC Sessions in November 2008. A double-album, the first disc featured many songs that featured Isobel Campbell. These songs had never been heard before. So for fans of Belle and Sebastian this was a real must have. As for the second disc, it features Belle and Sebastian live in Belfast, which sees the group cover Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. While The BBC Sessions kept Belle and Sebastian’s fans occupied, the group recorded their most successful album to date.

October 2010, saw Belle and Sebastian released their eighth studio album. Entitled Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, it was the second Belle and Sebastian album produced by Tony Hoffer. Recorded in Los Angeles, rather than Glasgow this surprised some people. Tony’s decision to take Belle and Sebastian out their comfort zone worked. He was proving to be the perfect foil for Belle and Sebastian’s foibles. Featuring contributions from Norah Jones, Sarah Martin and Carey Mulligan, Belle and Sebastian and friends struck musical gold.

Reaching number eight in the UK, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200. Critically acclaimed and a hot worldwide, this was a long way from recording Tigermilk in three days as part of a college project. Belle and Sebastian were indie Queens and Kings. Despite this, the continued to things their way.

While many bands would’ve headed straight back into the studio and had a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love release A.S.A.P, this isn’t the Belle and Sebastian way. No. Not only do Belle and Sebastian do things their way, but they care about their fans. So, whilst taking their time recording a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, they’ve released a nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre.

This nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre, features rarities, remixes, B-SIdes, non-album tracks and tracks from E.P.s. The music spans Belle and Sebastian’s career. There’s tracks from albums produced by Tony Doogan, Trevor Horn and Tony Hoffer. Bonus tracks sit side by side with remixes, while B-Sides and charity singles. In some ways, The Third Eye Centre allows the listener to hear another side to Belle and Sebastian. The Third Eye Centre was the perfect amuse bouche until Belle and Sebastian released their ninth studio album.

Work began on Belle and Sebastian’s ninth album back in 2014.  By then, the members of Belle and Sebastian had written twelve tracks. These tracks would become Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which somewhat surprisingly, was produced by Ben H. Allen III. 

This was a strange, and somewhat controversial decision. Many people thought Tony Hoffer, who produced Belle and Sebastian’s previous album, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love would return.Belle and Sebastian Write About Love was the second Belle and Sebastian album produced by Tony Hoffer. The first was The Life Pursuit. Tony seemed to bring out the best Belle and Sebastian. However, this being Belle and Sebastian, it’s always a case of expect the unexpected. After all, previously, Belle and Sebastian hired Trevor Horn, who gave their music a slick, polished sheen. So maybe, bring in Ben H. Allen III to produce Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance would work?

Some sceptics had their doubts. After all, Ben H. Allen III’s C.V. showed that previously, he had produced Animal Collective and Washed Out. This was very different to Belle and Sebastian. However, maybe, Belle and Sebastian and Ben H. Allen III would prove a potent partnership.

For their ninth studio album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, Belle and Sebastian penned twelve tracks. Much of the recording took place in Atlanta, Georgia. That’s where Belle and Sebastian recorded nine tracks. They were produced by Ben H. Allen III, who mixed  seven of the tracks with Jason Kingsland. Additional recording took place at other studios. This included adding strings at Human Win studios, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and recording three tracks in the familiar surroundings of Glasgow’s Castle Of Doom Studios.

The other three tracks on Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, The Everlasting Muse, Born To Act and Perfect Couples were recorded at Castle Of Doom Studios, in Glasgow. These three tracks, plus A Politician’s Silence and Nobody’s Empire were mixed by veteran Scottish producer, Tony Doogan, who previously, has produced four Belle and Sebastian albums. Once Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was completed, it was released on 19th January 2015.

Prior to the release of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, The Party Line was chosen as the lead single on 29th October 2014. It was a taste of what to expect from the Ben H. Allen III produced Belle and Sebastian. Then on 19th January 2015, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was released. Mostly, the reviews were favourable. Critics noted that Belle and Sebastian were still, among the most talented modern day songwriters. However, their music had been given a makeover. 

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is akin to  a call to dance. Thanks to Ben H. Allen III, much of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance has a faux disco beat. This is Belle and Sebastian as you’ve never heard them. It’s not just Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, but Belle and Sebastian too. Just like Belle and Sebastian have always done, several times before, they’ve reinvented themselves on Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. 

Opening Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is Nobody’s Empire, one of the four songs mixed by Tony Googan. His mix is perfectly balanced, Chiming guitars are panned left, a bass probes its way through the mix and the incessant 4/4 beat sets the scene for Stuart’s wistful vocal. As Stuart delivers cerebral, thoughtful lyrics he’s accompanied by a piano, washes of synths and later, cooing, ethereal harmonies and percussion.  Later, horns sound, as other members of Belle and Sebastian add backing vocals. They add to what’s an anthemic, dance-floor friendly track full of social comment and hooks aplenty.

A scatted vocal pensive piano and firmly strummed guitar opens Allie. Soon, the rocky arrangement bursts into life. Stuart’s vocal is mixture of frustration, anger and pity, at “Allie…you want to hurt yourself.” He sees Allie as selfish, and either unable, or unwilling to see the bigger picture. This includes war, crime and cutbacks. Throughout the song, Stuart’ frustration, is omnipresent, as he delivers a heartfelt plea. As he does this, urgently, the rhythm section and guitars drive the arrangement along. This is the perfect foil for Stuart, as Belle and Sebastian return to what’s nearer their traditional, trademark sound, while reminding the listener that they’re songsmiths par excellent.

The introduction to The Party Line is bathed in filters. below the filters is a pulsating, dance-floor friendly arrangement. It comes courtesy of synths, drums and percussion. Stuart’s vocal is a sultry vamp. It’s augmented, and complimented, by backing vocalists. They add to what’s a polished slice of dance-floor friendly electro pop. This is  Belle and Sebastian like you’ve never heard them before. For some people, this will come as a shock. The only similarity is Belle and Sebastian’s insightful observations on life. They’re omnipresent throughout Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance.

As drums pound, an orchestral arrangement quivers on The Cat With The Cream. Soon, Stuart’s despairing vocal sets the scene. You’re soon empathising with Cathy’s loneliness and fear. Later, her imagination runs riot. Scenes unfold before her eyes. The “freak parade” unfolds. Before her eyes, a parade of corrupt politicians and a country’s grubby history unfolds. Then she’s praying, “praying for the light.” Having done so, she waits for a “sign…her instructions.” Cathy hopes that she’s “destined for greatness, I want to be Queen.” Longingly, she wills herself back to a time and place when “in days of old when knights were bold, it was settled by the King.” Sadly, that’ll never happen, and still, Cathy sits lonely and fearful. Poignant, and tinged with sadness and beauty, Belle and Sebastian are still master craftsmen when it comes to songwriting.

Enter Sylvia Plath has in its roots of eighties Euro Disco.  Against this pulsating dance beat, one thing stays the same. That’s Stuart’s vocal. It’s tinged with emotion as he delivers lyrics that are typically cerebral and cinematic. Again, he paints pictures. Meanwhile, Sarah’s sultry female vocal flits in and out, as the arrangement grows in power and tempo. It powers along, with Belle and Sebastian seemingly enjoying the journey.

The Everlasting Muse has a much more understated, atypical Belle and Sebastian sound. That’s partly, down to Tony Doogan, who mixed the track. His mix doesn’t seem as loud as the tracks mixed by Ben H. Allen III. This suits the track. Just a standup bass and drums set the scene for Stuart’s hopeful vocal. Soon, a Fender Rhodes panned left shimmers, while clunky percussive sound is panned right. That’s the sign for the tempo to quicken and Stuart’s vocal to veer between hopeful, needy and occasionally, joyful. Soft, ethereal harmonies and a soaring trumpet add the finishing touch to what’s a captivating, hopeful paean.

Tony Doogan also mixed Perfect Couples, which again, seems to have more space than the tracks mixed by Ben H. Allen III. Afrobeat seems to have influenced introduction the introduction. Perucssion plays, before washes synths bubble and whoosh. They’re joined by rocky guitars pounding drums and Stevie Jackson’s vocal. He seems to relish his starring role in this dance track. His chameleon like vocal veers between deliberate, to dramatic and even, briefly, a croon, as tongue firmly in cheek, he mocks his “Perfect Couples.” By then, his vocal is bather in filters and accompanied by harmonies. Add in scorching, searing guitars and advice and the result is one of the highlights of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance.

Ever Had A Little Faith? is a return to Belle and Sebastian’s traditional sound. Just acoustic guitars accompany Stuart’s pensive vocal. Soon, drums and an accordion add to the wistful, but beautiful sound as Stuart asks “Ever Had A Little Faith?”

Play For Today sees the musical adventure that’s Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance continue. There’s yet another change in direction, as Play For Today has its roots in Euro Pop and Euro Disco. Against a pulsating backdrop of drums and washes synths the arrangement bounds along. Atop the arrangement sits the vocal. They come courtesy of Stuart and Dee Dee Penny. Their vocals sit well together. Mind you, so would Stuart and Sarah Martin. Having said that, Stuart and Dee Dee combine angst, drama and emotion on this seven minute epic.

Sarah Martin makes a welcome return on The Book Of You. Her tender vocal sits above an arrangement that’s variously clunky, industrial, dark and dance-floor friendly. As the arrangement buzzes, guitars, drums, harmonies and sci-fi synths accompany Sarah. The coup de tat is a blistering guitar solo. It’s panned at thirty degrees right and although slightly muted, takes the track the next level.

Closing Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is Today (This Army’s For Peace). It’s a thoughtful, wistful track with an understated arrangement. The rhythm section, chiming guitars and occasional swathes of lush strings join Stuart on what’s a beautiful, hopeful way to close Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, Belle and Sebastian’s ninth album.

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is unlike any of Belle and Sebastian’s previous eight albums. Producer Ben H. Allen III took Belle and Sebastian way out of their comfort zone. On several tracks, Ben H. Allen III added a pulsating faux disco beat. The nearest to Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance Belle and Sebastian have come, is the Trevor Horn produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress. With its slick, polished, poppy sheen, Dear Catastrophe Waitress was the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Belle and Sebastian.

Belle and Sebastian have their own unique sound. It took shape on the quartet of albums produced by Tony Doogan. From 1996s If You’re Feeling Sinister, through 1998s The Boy With The Arab Strap, Fold Your Hands Child, 2000s You Walk Like a Peasant and 2002s Storytelling, Belle and Sebastian’s trademark sound gradually take shape. Then came the Trevor Horn Dear Catastrophe Waitress. That was a one-off. Tony Hoffer then produced 2006s Belle and Sebastian Write About Love and 2010s The Life Pursuit. However, Tony Hoffer didn’t return for Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. Instead, Ben H. Allen III took his place on what’s a quite different album from Belle and Sebastian.

Before the release of  Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, it was hard to imagine Belle and Sebastian ever making a dance album. However, with Belle and Sebastian, never rule anything out. They’re a contrarian band, always determined to do things their way. This includes making a dance album.

On Belle and Sebastian’s “dance album,” Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, there are some tracks with a pulsating 4/4 dance beat. Other tracks are less “in your face.” They’ve a more indie dance sound. By that, I mean that they’re more tracks that you can dance to. Some tracks, however, feature the more traditional Belle and Sebastian sound. They’re a reminder of who Belle and Sebastian really are. One thing remains the same throughout Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, the lyrics.

As usual, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance showcases the literary talents of Belle and Sebastian. They’re wordsmiths extraordinaire. Each song features lyrics that are cerebral, eloquent, emotive, joyous, melancholy and poignant. Beauty is feature of many of the lyrics. However, others are full of pathos and sadness, and relentlessly tug at your heartstrings. Especially when delivered by Stuart Murdoch, Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson. Even when accompanied by Ben H. Allen III’s pulsating faux disco beat. 

With Ben H. Allen III’s help, Belle and Sebastian, not for the first time, reinvented themselves again. Some would have as believe that  Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance it seems, is the musical equivalent of a midlife crisis. That’s far from the truth. Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was an ambitious album where Belle and Sebastian were taken out of their comfort zone. However, they’ve made their dance album, it’s now time to move on. 

By that, I mean change direction again. Belle and Sebastian find themselves in a similar situation after Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Belle and Sebastian couldn’t release Dear Catastrophe Waitress II. They had to move on. This is the case once again. For their tenth album, Belle and Sebastian shouldn’t release Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance II. No. It’s time to return to what many people regard as the classic Belle and Sebastian sound, where elements of chamber pop, folk, lo-fi and indie pop combine. That’s what Belle and Sebastian’s fans want. Especially for their tenth album, and twentieth anniversary.

Next year, 2016, Belle and Sebastian celebrate their twentieth anniversary. Hopefully, this celebration will involve the release of their tenth album. An added bonus would be the return of Tony Doogan as producer. Tony played an important part in the rise and rise of Belle and Sebastian, producing four albums between 1996 and 2002.

Next year, will make fourteen years since the chameleon-like Belle and Sebastian and Tony Doogan last worked together. Both parties are older and wiser, so it would be a tantalising prospect to see what they would come up with? Who knows, it could either be a return to the classic Belle and Sebastian sound, or a dance album like Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which is a contender for the 2015 Scottish Album of The Year Award?

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-GIRLS IN PEACETIME WANT TO DANCE.

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VASHTI BUNYAN-HEARTLEAP.

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It was fifty years ago, in 1965, that Vashti Bunyan’s musical career began. She looked destined for great things. Sadly, that proved not to be the case. Five years after her career began, Vashti Bunyan released her debut album Just Another Day in 1970. It failed to chart. This lead to Vashti Bunyan retiring from music. Nothing was heard of Vashti Bunyan for thirty-two years.

Then in 2002, Vashti Bunyan made a comeback. However, another three years passed before Vashti released her sophomore album Lookaftering in 2005. Another nine years before Vashti released her third album Heartleap, on Fat Cat Records. A year later, and Heartleap finds itself one of the contenders forthe 2015 Scottish Album of The Year Award. That’s fitting, given 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Vashti’s musical debut. Back then, Vashti was in love with music. Little did she think that she would ever fall out of  love with music. However, she did. During that period, Vashti was one of music’s best kept secrets.

For thirty-two years, Vashti Bunyan was one of music’s best kept secrets. Vashti’s music was almost unknown outside of a small, loyal coterie of music lovers. This included a new generation of folk singers, including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Their careers were influenced by Vashti Bunyan, and especially, her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. 

Five years after Vashti’s career began in 1965, she released her debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It was well received upon its released on  Phillips, in 1970. Sadly, Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially. This lead to Vashti retiring from music. She was gone, but not forgotten.

Over the next thirty-two years, gradually, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day was a long lost classic. This resulted in Vashti Bunyan making a welcome return to music in 2002. The story that began in 1965, picked up where it left off in 2002.

Vashti Bunyan was just twenty when she was “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham. This wasn’t the direction Vashti envisaged her career heading when she left her London home and headed to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, an art school at Oxford University. 

The dreaming spires of Oxford University weren’t for Vashti Bunyan. It was a familiar story. Vashti failed to turn up for classes. Eventually, Vashti was expelled from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. For Vashti Bunyan, this proved to be the start of a new chapter in her career.

Aged just eighteen, Vashti headed to New York. This was 1963. Bob Dylan had just released his classic album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Vashti discovered Bob Dylan’s music. The gateway to Bob Dylan’s music was his opus, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Having immersed herself in Bob Dylan’s music, Vashti realised what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She wanted to be a musician.

So Vashti headed home to London. It was there that she encountered Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones’ manager. He spotted Vashti’s potential and became her manager. In June 1965, Vashti Bunyan released her debut single as Vashti.

This was no ordinary single. It was a single penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind had originally been released by The Rolling Stones on 13th February 1964. Just sixteen months later, the Jagger-Richards’ penned Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind was released in June 1965 on Decca. For Vashti, this was an inauspicious debut. It failed to chart. Maybe her sophomore single would fare better?

It wasn’t until May 1966, that Vashti Bunyan released her sophomore single. This was Train Song. Produced by Peter Snell, Train Song was released on Columbia. Lightning struck twice. Train Song disappeared without trace. For Vashti, her nascent musical career seemed to have stalled. 

For the next two years, very little was heard of Vashti. Her only appearance was on The Coldest Night of the Year, a track from Twice as Much’s sophomore album That’s All. That proved to be an ironic title, as that’s all that was heard from Vashti during that period of her career.

Although Vashti released other songs for Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records, they were never released. For Vashti, this must have been disappointing. Maybe that’s why Vashti  and her then partner, Robert Lewis, decided to head off on a road trip.

This was very different to Jack Kerouac’s legendary road trip in On The Road. Vashti and Robert headed off to the Hebridean Islands by horse and cart. That was where singer- songwriter Donavan, a friend of Vashti, had planned to established a commune. This trip proved to be inspirational for Vashti.

During the road trip to the Hebridean Islands, Vashti wrote the songs that featured on her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It would be produced by Joe Boyd, who Joe met at Christmas, 1968. 

It was through a mutual friend that Vashti and Joe Boyd met. When Joe saw the songs, he immediately offered Vashti the chance to record an album of her travelling songs for his Witchseason Productions. However, this didn’t happen immediately.

Just Another Diamond Day.

A year later, in 1969, Vashti returned to London to record her debut album Just Another Diamond Day, with Joe Boyd. Vashti had no band. This didn’t matter. An all-star folk band would join Vashti on Another Diamond Day. 

This included Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention. They were joined by the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson. The final piece of the jigsaw was string arranger, Robert Kirby. Just like Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby would go on to work with Nick Drake. Before that, they worked on Just Another Diamond Day, which was recorded at Sound Techniques Studios, in London. Just Another Diamond Day was then released in December 1970.

When Just Another Diamond Day was released in December 1970, it was well received by critics. They appreciated Vashti Bunyan’s new sound. She was now a fully fledged folk singer. This suited Vashti. Just Another Diamond Day veered between pastoral, ethereal, lush, understated, rural, melancholy, cerebral and cinematic. Sadly, when Just Another Diamond Day was released, it failed commercially. Vashti took this badly.

She retired from music after the commercial failure of Just Another Diamond Day. At first, Vashti stayed in one of The Incredible String Band’s Glen Row cottages. After that, Vashti moved to Ireland, and then settled in to Scotland. For the next thirty years, Vashti settled into family life. She had three children. As her children grew up, little did Vashti realise that somewhat belatedly, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it so richly deserved.

Since her retirement in 1970, gradually, Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. Among Just Another Diamond Day’s fans, were a new generation of musicians who had been influenced by Vashti Bunyan. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day, which was reissued in 2000, was a long lost classic. Eventually, Vashti Bunyan decided to make a welcome return to music in 2002.

This started with Vashti making guest appearances on Piano Magic’s 2002 single Writers Without Homes. Two years later, Piano Magic and Vashti collaborated on the Saint Marie E.P. This was just the start of a string of guest appearances and collaborations Vashti made.

Vashti’s next collaboration was on Devendra Banhart’s 2004 album Rejoicing In The Hands. This was quite fitting. Vashti is credited as the Queen of freak folk. Devendra Banhart was one of her disciples. It was a case of two generations of freak folk collaborating. This wasn’t the last of Vashti’s collaborations.

A year later, Vashti worked with another band who were influenced by her music. This was Animal Collective. Vashti appeared on their 2005 E.P. Prospect Hunter. However, the most important release for Vashti in 2005 was her sophomore album Lookaftering.

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Lookaftering.

It had been a long time coming. Thirty-five years to be precise. However, eventually, Vashti made a very welcome return to the studio. The result was her sophomore album Lookaftering.

On Lookaftering, Vashti was joined by some of the artists she had influenced. This included Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. A familiar face was Robert Kirby, who played such an important part in Vashti’s 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. He played trumpet and French horn on Lookaftering, which was released on Fat Cat Records, in October 2005.

Just like when Just Another Diamond Day was released December 1970, Lookaftering was released to critical acclaim. Lookaftering was released to an appreciative audience. Understated, ethereal, cerebral, beautiful and ruminative, Lookaftering was a return to form from a reflective, philosophical Vashti. Older and wiser, Vashti Bunyan had matured with age. Surely, it wouldn’t be long before Vashti released her third album?

That’s proved not to be the case. Nine years have passed since Vashti released Lookaftering, Valerie released her third album Heartleap on Fat Cat Records. 

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Heartleap.

Heartleap features nine songs written by Vashti. She plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by a small, talented band. This includes strings courtesy of Fiona Bruce, Ian Burdge and Gillian Cameron. Guitarists Garth Dickson and Andy Cabic are joined by Jo Mango on kalimba and dulcimer. Saxophonist Ian Wilson also plays recorder. Devendra Banhart, who featured on Lookaftering, makes a welcome return, adding backing vocals. These musicians played their part in the recording of Heartleap.

When Heartleap was released, critics hailed the album as a return to form from Vashti Bunyan. Thirty-five years after turning her back on music, and twelve years since she stepped back into the limelight, the Queen of Psych Folk was back, and better than ever.

Across The Water opens Heartleap. Just acoustic guitars and plucked strings accompany Vashti’s tender, wistful vocal. There’s a sense of sadness and melancholy in her vocal. That’s apparent when she sings: “every day is every day.” Later, strings tug at your heartstring, as Vashti sings: “learn to fall with the grace of it all.” This mixture of ethereal beauty and melancholy is the perfect way to open any album, never mind a long awaited comeback album like Heartleap.

Vashti’s vocal on Holy Smoke is breathy and understated. There’s an ethereal quality to her vocal. Guitars and synths accompany her. They create a mesmeric backdrop. Then sharp flourishes of strings enter. They’re joined by tender bursts of harmonies. However, what holds your attention is Vashti’s tender vocal and melancholy lyrics, including: “I’m only as lonely as I want to be.” The pastoral beauty of  Holy Smoke is a reminder of what music lost when Vashti turned her back on music in 1970.

Mother is another piano lead song. You’re drawn in by the piano. You wonder where the song is heading. Vashti almost pounds the keys. Then when her wistful vocal enters, it’s quite a contrast. Accompanied by strings, there’s a sadness in Vashti’s vocal as she remembers her mother, as she sits playing the piano and smiling. This beautiful song is a snapshot of Vashti’s younger life.

As Jellyfish unfolds, an unlikely combination of instruments accompany Vashti. A recorder is joined by synths, acoustic guitar, plucked strings and synths. They enveloped Vashti’s lilting, dreamy vocal. Adding the finishing touches are swathes of lush strings. They play their part a dreamy, lysergic song.

Some of the arrangements on Heartleap have a sparseness. That’s the case at the start of Shell. Just meandering, chiming guitars and synths combine. They’re provide the backdrop for Vashti’s heartfelt vocal When her vocal drops out, the arrangement is panned. This proves effective. It holds your attention. Never does your mind stray. Not when Vashti is veering between storyteller and philosopher. Imagery and metaphors are omnipresent as a worldweary Vashti delivers some cerebral lyrics.

Straight away, The Boy has a cinematic quality. The lyrics paint pictures in your mind’s eye. As Vashti sings, you wonder what The Boy has seen and heard. You fear for him, and his future, during what’s one of the most moving songs on Heartleap.

Gunpowder is a song about love and love lost. A rueful Vashti is accompanied by strings, acoustic guitar and synths. She’s in a reflective mood, wondering what might have been. That’s apparent when Vashti sings: “I blew my chances, and you throw the years out, with all the merry dances you led me, you led me.” 

Blue Shed features just a  lone piano accompanying Vashti. There’s a sense of longing in her voice. She longs to be alone, longs to be away from people. Deep down, she realises this is wrong. “I might be sorry, oh it might be the end of me.” Despite this, Vashti longs to be alone. This is sure to be, a song that many people will be able to relate to.

The arrangement to Here swells up. Recorders, droning synths, guitars and a dulcimer combine. Very different is Vashti’s vocal. It’s almost a whisper. This works well. You listen intently to her vocal. What you hear are some beautiful, joyous lyrics about being with someone you love.

Heartleap closes with the title-track. It’s just Vashti’s breathy vocal, accompanied  by her guitar and synths. This gives the arrangement an understated sound. Her lyrics are like a stream of consciousness. They’re also quite beautiful. As for the arrangement, there’s a brief nod to John Martyn’s Solid Air. Mostly, though it’s Vashti Bunyan, the comeback Queen, whose no longer one of music’s best kept secrets.

Unlike another inferior album released this week, Vashti Bunyan’s third album Heartleap was quietly released on Fatcat Records on 6th October 2014. There was no fuss and no hype. Vashti it seems, was content to let her music speak for itself. It does. However, Vashti I think, is being too modest. Heartleap is an album that she should be truly proud of.

Heartleap is an album that oozes quality and ethereal beauty. That’s the case from the opening bars of Across The Water, to the closing notes of Heartleap. It’s best described as dreamy, melancholy, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, cerebral and wistful. Elements of ambient, folk, jazz, freak folk and psychedelia can be heard during the ten songs on  Heartleap. They only last thirty-four minutes. However, Heartleap is thirty-four flawless minutes of music.

The potent and heady brew that is Heartleap showcases Vashti Bunyan’s considerable talents. Sadly, however, Heartleap is only Vashti Bunyan’s third album. After the commercial failure of her debut 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day, Vashti turned her back on music. 

It was thirty-five years until we heard from Vashti Bunyan. She released Lookaftering in 2005. Many thought Vashti was back for good. She flitted out of our lives for another nine years. Although she dabbled in music, she never released another album. That was until now. 

Now aged sixty-nine, Vashti Bunyan decided to release her long awaited third album, Heartleap. For her legion of loyal fans, this was good news. They’d lived in hope that Vashti would release another album. With each year that passed, it looked like we’d heard the last of Vashti Bunyan. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. 

Twelve years after the release of Lookaftering, Vashti Bunyan has returned with Heartleap. It’s a career defining album. Heartleap surpasses 2005s Lookaftering, and comes close to rivalling Vashti Bunyan’s lost classic Just Another Diamond Day. That’s how good an album Heartleap is. I’m not surprised about this.

Vashti Bunyan was always a hugely talented singer and songwriter. That was the case in 1970, when she released Just Another Diamond Day. Sadly, Vashti Bunyan was ahead of the musical curve. When Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially, she turned her back on music. Gradually, though, a new generation of music lovers, critics and musicians discovered Just Another Diamond Day. Belatedly, Vashti Bunyan was receiving the critical acclaim that her music so richly deserves. No longer is Vashti Bunyan one of music’s best kept secrets. Instead, Vashti Bunyan is the comeback Queen, who has just released Heartleap, an album that oozes quality and ethereal beauty and would be a deserving winner of 2015s Scottish Album Of The Year Award.

VASHTI BUNYAN-HEARTLEAP.

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THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

Over the last year, The Phantom Band have been one of the hardest working bands in Scottish music. They’ve released two albums, Strange Friend and Fears Trending. Strange Friend was released in June 2014, and Fears Trending in January 2015. Both albums were released to widespread critical acclaim, and are among the albums eligible for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award.  

As one of Scotland’s top bands, it’s no surprise that The Phantom Band are considered one of the favourites for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. Especially with two bites at the cherry. Strange Friend is the first of The Phantom Band’s two eligible albums. It was released back in June 2014, nine years after The Phantom Band story began.

There aren’t many bands who take four years before they settle on a permanent name. That was the case with The Phantom Band. Formed in 2002, The Phantom Band changed names numerous times. The Phantom Band were variously called NRA, Les Crazy Boyz, Los Crayzee Boyz, Tower of Girls and Wooden TreesThen in 2005, they adopted the name Robert RedfordThat didn’t go down well. 

The band were asked to change their name. They also had to remove all references to it from their online presence. As a result, Robert Redford’s only release, The Mummy and Daddy Dance, has become something of a collector’s item. Following their controversial dalliance with Hollywood, the band reformed, under the name Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Their new moniker didn’t last long. Having played a series of concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson released a limited edition cassette. Only 150 cassettes were sold and they too, have become a collector’s edition. After that, Robert Louis Stevenson changed name again. After four years together, The Phantom Band were born in 2006.

The Phantom Band was how the band’s fans affectionately referred to the band’s activities, or some would say lack of activity. A year later, The Phantom Band released their debut single Throwing Bones on the London label Trial and Error Recordings. Released to critical acclaim, Throwing Bones resulted in Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground signing The Phantom Band. 

Since then, Chemikal Underground has been home to The Phantom Band. They’ve released a trio of albums since signing to Chemikal Underground. Their debut album was 2009s Checkmate Savage. The Wants followed in 2010. After that, nothing has been heard of The Phantom Band. That’s until June 2014, when The Phantom Band released their third album, Strange Friend, on Chemikal Underground. It was released five years after The Phantom Band’s debut album Checkmate Savage.

Before heading into the studio to record their debut, The Phantom Band headed out on the road. They played some of the biggest festivals during the summer of 2007. Then in early 2008, The Phantom Band headed into the studio.

Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band’s debut album was recorded at Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. Recording began in early 2008, with former Delgado Paul Savage producing Checkmate Savage. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Damien Tonner, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. Together, they recorded nine tracks which became Checkmate Savage. They were then mixed at Franz Ferdinand’s studio in Govan, Glasgow. Once recording of Checkmate Savage was completed, it was released in January 2009.

On its release in January 2009, Checkmate Savage received widespread critical acclaim. Critics realised this was no ordinary debut. Instead, it was an ambitious and cerebral release. The Phantom Band examined a various  themes on Checkmate Savage. This included over-population and dwindling natural resources. Checkmate Savage were a band with a social conscience. They also looked like being Scotland’s next big band.

Following the commercial success and critical acclaim of Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band headed out on a series of UK and European tour. Across Britain and Europe, The Phantom Band played to sell-out shows. One of the most memorable gigs was T In The Park, where the Glasgow based The Phantom Band were hailed conquering heroes. There were also barnstorming appearances at London Calling in Amsterdam, the Storasfestivalen near Trondheim and  Sound City in Liverpool. Then as 2009 drew to a close, The Phantom Band played at the prestigious Transmusicales festival in Rennes. 2009 had been a huge year for The Phantom Band. Now they had to begin work on their sophomore album, which became The Wants.

Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. Often, a band write some of their best material before they’re signed. They’re young, hungry for success and dedicate themselves to getting a record deal. They spend inordinate amounts of time writing their songs. Then when they sign to a record label and enjoy a successful debut album, things change. No longer have they the same time to write an album. Instead, they’re writing on the road, as they tour their debut album. As a result, often, the quality of music suffers. For The Phantom Band, the recording of their sophomore album The Wants, wasn’t easy.

When The Phantom Band entered Chem 19, to record The Wants, the album wasn’t written. So, much of The Wants was written in the studio. The other problem was time was tight. They couldn’t take their time recording The Wants.This caused problems within The Phantom Band. However, with Paul Savage producing The Wants, the album was recorded within the timeframe. However, after The Wants was recorded, The Phantom Band lost its drummer.

Having recorded The Wants, drummer Damien Tonner left The Phantom Band. Considering The Phantom Band were about to tour The Wants, this presented the band with a problem. A new drummer would have to learn all their songs and then head out on the longest and most gruelling tour of their career. Before that, The Wants was released in October 2010.

Despite all the problems the band had encountered, The Wants was released to the same critical acclaim as their debut album Checkmate Savage. The Phantom Band had overcome the problem of the difficult second album. Now they headed out on tour, with a new drummer Iain Stewart.

Iain Stewart was brought in to fill the void left by the departure of Damien Tonner. It couldn’t have been easy. The Phantom Band had been together since 2002. Despite this, Iain settled in to his new role. 

On the day The Wants was released, The Phantom Band played the CMJ festival in New York. After that, they hooked up with another Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit. The Phantom Band supported them as they played Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Chicago. Having won over American audiences, The Phantom Band headed home.

There was no time for rest. It was a case of saying hello to friends and family and heading out on a brief tour of Britain. After that, The Phantom Band spent two months touring Europe. It was one of the most gruelling schedules they’d embarked upon. Having started in March 2011, the tour finished just in time for the festival season to begin. There was no rest for The Phantom Band. They played at festivals like Latitude in Suffold, Walk the Line in Den Haag and The Camden Crawl in London. Then to crown this summer of festivals, The Phantom Band played T in the Park in their native Scotland. By now, they were well on their way to becoming one of Scotland’s best bands. However, since then all has been quiet on The Phantom Band front.

Away from The Phantom Band, the six members of the band have various side-projects to keep them occupied. Rick enjoys a successful solo career. As Rick Redbeards, he released his debut solo album, No Selfish Heart in 2013, on Chemikal Underground. Iain Stewart is a member of Bronto Skylift, an experimental rock band. Duncan Marquiss, Andy Wake and Greg Sinclair sometimes, perform as Omnivore Demon. They’re best described as an improvisational group. All these various side-projects are what has been keeping The Phantom Band busy. However, recently, they headed back into the studio to record their third album Strange Friend.

For Strange Friend, The Phantom Band wrote nine tracks. These tracks marked the recording debut of The Phantom Band’s new lineup. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Iain Stewart, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. It wasn’t just the band’s lineup that had changed.

For the first time in their career, Paul Savage didn’t produce The Phantom Band. Instead,  Strange Friend was produced by The Phantom Band with Derek O’Neill. He also engineered Strange Friend with Paul Savage. Strange Friend was mastered by Kenny MacLeod. It was then released in June 2014.

It was a case of all hail the returning heroes when Strange Friend was released in June 2014. Critics hailed the album as a triumph for the Glasgow-based sextet. Critical acclaim and plaudits came the way of The Phantom Band, on the release of Strange Friend. It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait. 

The Wind That Cried The World opens Strange Friend. There’s a nod towards Kraftwerk and eighties synth pop sound as the song unfolds. Eighties drums, keyboards and guitars provide the backdrop for Rick Anthony’s vocal. It’s earnest and thoughtful. Before long, Rick scats, drums pound and the rest of The Phantom Band deliver the chorus. It’s infectiously catchy. Especially when the ethereal harmonies becomes a chant. By then, a rousing anthem is unfolding. From there, the track builds. Synths bubble, while pounding drums, guitars drive this arrangement along and what’s sure to be a festival favourite reveals its secrets.

Clapshot sees a change of style from The Phantom Band. Drummer Iain Stewart’s thunderous drums are at the heart of the arrangement. So are  Andy Wake’s hypnotic keyboards. They add texture to the arrangement, propelling it along at breakneck speed. The Phantom Band aren’t a two man band. No. They all climb onboard and plays a part in the track’s success. Crystalline guitars shimmer, while Rick  seems to have grown into the role of frontman. He struts his way through the lyrics. Later, he’s replaced by ethereal harmonies as this melodic, musical merry-go-round heads into the stratosphere.

Dark and mesmeric describes Doom Patrol. The robotic arrangement marches along. Drums and Kraftwerk synth combine with machine gun guitars. Rick’s vocal sounds not unlike Midge Ure of Ultravox. The same can be said of some of the synths. The Phantom Band draw inspiration from seventies, eighties and nineties. They combine Krautrock with synth pop, pop and later, add some glorious searing, rock guitars. There’s even an Acid House bass added for good measure. This results in a melodic, genre-melting track that’s truly irresistible.

Atacama sounds like a lost Johnny Cash song. Just an acoustic guitar accompanies Rick’s pensive, heartfelt vocal. Before long, drums and quivering strings enter. They don’t crowd Rick’s vocal. Instead, mostly, the arrangement is understated. Later, the drama builds, and guitars quiver.  Rick’s vocal becomes an impassioned scat, as he draws inspiration from Neil Young and Bob Dylan. In doing so, he delivers a vocal that’s emotive and impassioned. For everyone who enjoys this track, then Rick’s debut solo album, No Selfish Heart is a must have.

Deliberately, and slowly, chords are played on the guitar and piano as (Invisible) Friends reveals its secrets. They’re played urgently. Stabs of keyboards set the scene for Rick’s vocal. It’s tender, wistful and becomes ethereal. Meanwhile, drums, organ and the piano are combine with guitars. Rick, accompanied by beautiful, ethereal harmonies delivers a vocal that oozes emotion. It’a as if the lyrics are personal and he’s drawing on his own experiences. That’s why this is one of Rick’s most compelling performances.

As Sweatbox unfolds, you’re introduced to a much more avant garde side of The Phantom Band. It’s not unlike disco, but with a lo-fi, lysergic twist. There’s even a nod towards Duran Duran. Literally, the arrangement bursts into life. A myriad of unorthodox instruments are deployed. This includes a collection of vintage keyboards. They join the rhythm section. The other instruments add an experimental sound. It works really well. The arrangement just flows along. You’re captivated. Rick delivers another vocal masterclass. His vocal is veers between slow, soulful and dramatic, as buzzing synths and blistering, choppy guitars are added as the track heads towards its crescendo.

Melancholy describes No Shoes Blues. Guitars shimmer and quiver as the bass and drums join forces with keyboards. They plod along as Rick delivers a soul-searching vocal. Heartache and  hurt fill his vocal which sometimes, reminds me of Jeff Buckley. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion. He cleanses himself of pain and hurt. Meanwhile, the slow, moody, dramatic and chiming arrangement accompanies him every step of the way during this six-minute Magnus Opus.

Women Of Ghent sees another change of direction from The Phantom Band. Drums, retro synths and chiming guitars combine to provide the backdrop for Rick. He’s accompanied by harmonies as the cascading arrangement unfolds. Synths shimmers and glint, hypnotic drums pound and crystalline guitars chime. Gradually, the arrangement builds. Eventually, it’s ready to reveal its hidden depths. By then, the track has taken on a hypnotic, almost anthemic sound as Krautrock, synth pop and even a hint of psychedelia combine seamlessly.

Galápagos closes Strange Friend, the third album from The Phantom Band. Straight away, the track takes on an eerie ambient sound. That comes courtesy of the myriad of the percussion and synths being deployed. A strummed guitar and despairing vocal from Rick are hidden behind the percussion. Although the arrangement is busy, you can still focus on Rick’s vocal. It’s full of emotion. Then all of sudden, the percussion disappears. So does Rick’s vocal. After that, swathes of synths take centre-stage. They circle above the arrangement, before disappearing into the distance. The result is an atmospheric, ambient track.

Nearly four years  have passed since The Phantom Band released The Wants. That’s a long time for a band to be away. Music can have moved on by then. So can their fans. They’ve found new bands. As a result, any band away as long as The Phantom Band must have something special to tempt their fans back. That’s the case with The Phantom Band third album Strange Friend, which was recently released by Chemikal Underground

On Strange Friend The Phantom Band set about reinventing their music. They combine everything from ambient, folk, indie rock, Krautrock, pop, psychedelia, synth pop. There’s even a brief nod towards Acid House and prog rock. Strange Friend is without doubt, a truly eclectic album. It sees The Phantom Band draw inspiration from Can, Kraftwerk, Ultravox, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Buckely, Johnny Cash and Brian Eno on Galápagos. The result is a rich, eclectic and captivating and compelling musical tapestry.

The music on Strange Friend is a real emotive roller coaster. No two songs are the same. One song can be beautiful and ethereal, the next dark and dramatic. Other times, the music becomes eerie, haunting and lysergic. Several times, Rick’s vocals are heartfelt and impassioned. They tug at your heartstrings, and you share his pain and hurt. Then, all of a sudden, the music becomes anthemnic, joyous and rousing. Hooks haven’t been spared. Truly, the music becomes irresistible and infectiously catchy. Without doubt, The Phantom Band are sure to win a lot of friends when they play Strange Friend live. There’s many a festival favourite on Strange Friend, which marks a welcome return to form for the Glasgow-based Phantom Band.

After nearly four years away, The Phantom Band were back, and better than ever. They’ve grown and matured as a band, and have reinvented themselves musically. The Phantom Band’s genre-melting music won friends and influenced people over the summer months, as The Phantom Band make their return to the festival circuit, where they showcased their critically acclaimed and eclectic album Strange Friend. A year later, and The Phantom Band’s Strange Friend is one of favourites for the prestigious Scottish Album Of The Year Award.

THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

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VAN HALEN-DELUXE.

VAN HALEN-DELUXE.

Not many bands enjoyed the longevity that Van Halen enjoy. They were released their debut album Van Halen in 1978. It was hailed as one of the greatest debut albums in musical history. Soon, Van Halen was climbing the charts, reaching number nineteen. As Van Halen’s popularity grew, sales of their debut album sold. 

By 1999, when Van Halen were put on hold, their eponymous debut album had sold ten million copies. Van Halen was certified diamond, something that happens to only a handful of albums. However, by then Van Halen were one of the most successful and biggest selling bands in musical history.

After the release of Van Halen in 1978, the California based band released another ten albums. Each and every one of these albums were certified multi-platinum. In America alone, Van Halen’s next ten studio albums sold an incredible forty-million copies. Their most successful studio album released during this period was 1984.

Released on 9th January 1984, 1984 took the world by storm. It was certified diamond in America and five times platinum in Canada. In Europe, 1984 was certified platinum in Germany and gold in France and Britain. That’s no surprise. Van Halen were at their hard rocking best on Van Halen, unleashing classics like Jump, Panama and Hot For Teacher. It seemed that Van Halen could do no wrong.

That proved to be the case. Right through to 1995s Balance, Van Halen’s studio albums sold millions. So did their 1993 live album Live: Right Here, Right Now. It sold two million copies in America along. Van Halen were enjoying a glittering, multi-platinum career. That’s despite fall-outs, changes in lineup and a love of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.

When Van Halen released Van Halen III on March 17th 1998, it failed to match the commercial success of previous albums. It was “only” certified gold. Four years later, when Van Halen released A Different Type Of Truth on February 7th 2012, it was to controversy.

Seven of the songs on A Different Type Of Truth had been demoed in the late seventies, early eighties. However, they were never released. So, when the songs featured on A Different Type Of Truth, Van Halen’s fans weren’t happy. They voted with their feet.

No longer were Van Halen selling millions of albums. Very few groups were. On the release of A Different Type Of Truth, it reached number two on the US Billboard 200 and sold 411,000 copies. This wasn’t even enough for a gold disc. The only place that A Different Type Of Truth was certified gold, was in Canada. It was changed days for Van Halen, one of rock’s biggest, most successful and hardest living bands.

Rock ’n’ roll’s great survivors comeback wasn’t the success that they had hoped. Van Halen couldn’t leave it there. Not after thirty-eight years together. Surely, they would release one more album. They did. 

It wasn’t another studio album. Instead, Van Halen released the second live album of their career. Forty-one years since they changed their name to Van Halen, they released Tokyo Dome Live in Concert on March 31st 2015. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was no ordinary live album. Instead, it’s a twenty-five track double album featuring some of Van Halen’s biggest singles and best known songs. Two weeks later, and Tokyo Dome Live in Concert is climbing the American charts It’s already reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 charts. However,  over the last few days, a much wider audience will have heard Tokyo Dome Live in Concert.

When Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was released by Rhino on March 31st 2015, so were remastered version two of Van Halen’s classic albums, Van Halen I and 1984. Two weeks later, and Rhino released a four disc box set Deluxe, which features Van Halen I, 1984 and Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. For newcomers to Van Halen, this is the ideal starter pack. Van Halen I and 1984 feature Van Halen at the peak of their powers. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert allows the listener to experience what Van Halen live sounds like. Just like Van Halen and 1984, it’s’s a reminder of  Van Halen at the peak of their powers. The story began back in the early seventies.

It was in 1977, that Van Ha;en signed to Warner Bros. Records. Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw Van Halen perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. The two men were so impressed with Van Halen that they signed the group within a week. At last, Van Halen were starting to go places.

Van Halen were no overnight success story. Instead, they had paid their dues. Brothers, Eddie and Alex Van Halen had formed a band in the early seventies. Like many bands, they found it difficult to settle on a name. Initially, they were called The Broken Combs, then changed the name to The Trojan Rubber Co. By then, The Trojan Rubber Co. had a settled lineup.

Their lineup featured Alex on drums and Eddie on guitar. They were joined by bassist Mark Stone and vocalist David Lee Roth, who they had hired a sound system from. Eddie had initially failed the audition. However, Eddie and Alex were realists. Money was tight, so if they brought David onboard, they would save having to hire a sound system. They also thought that David might improve as a vocalist. However, in 1974, The Trojan Rubber Co. changed its name and its lineup.

1974 was a pivotal year for The Trojan Rubber Co. By then, bassist Mark Stone had been replaced by bassist Michael Anthony. His audition was unorthodox. Only after Michael took part in an all night jam session, was he hired. So, Michael left local band Snake and joined The Trojan Rubber Co. Soon, The Trojan Rubber Co. changed its name to Mammoth, and then Van Halen. For the next three years, Van  Halen spent honing their sound.

Van Halen played wherever they could. Backyard parties, clubs and dive bars, they weren’t proud. Far from it. They certainly were loud. Too loud some thought.

When Van Halen went to audition at Gazzarri’s, a bar on Sunset Strip, that was down on its luck, the owner Bill Gazzarri, told them they were “too loud, and refused to hire them.” However, Van Halen’s new managers stepped in. Mark Algorri and Mario Miranda had just taken over the booking at  Gazzarri’s. So, Van Halen were installed as the house band. Not long after this, Van Halen entered the studio for the first time.

The four members of Van Halen headed to Cherokee Studios, which had recently housed Steely Dan. At Cherokee Studios, Van Halen recorded their demo tape. It would become their calling card, and see them play some of L.A.’s top clubs, including the famous Whisky-A-Go-Go.

Soon, Van Halen were a permanent fixture in L.A.’s top clubs. That’s where they continued to hone their sound. It’s also where they came to the attention of Kiss’ Gene Simmons. 

Gene Simmons had heard good things about Van Halen. So, he went to check out Van Halen. According to what he had heard, they were one of the rising stars of L.A.’s music scene. When Gene Simmons arrived at the Gazzarri club in the summer of 1976, he was won over by Van Halen. He knew they were going places.

So, Gene Simmons took Van Halen to Village Recorders in L.A. to produce a new demo tape. Overdubs then took place at Electric Ladyland in New York. Things were looking good for Van Halen. The only thing Van Halen baulked at, was Gene’s suggestion to change the band’s name to Daddy Longlegs. That was a step too far.  The next step was for Gene to take the newly recorded demo tape to Kiss’ management.

When Kiss’ management heard the demo, they were pretty disparaging about Van Halen. According to Kiss’ managers, Van Halen “had no chance of making it.” These words would come back to haunt them, after Van Halen sold over forty-two million albums in America alone. However, with Kiss’ management not interested in signing Van Halen, Gene Simmons bowed out of the story. He would be replaced a year later by Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman.

Down but not out, Van Halen returned to the club circuit. For the next year, they continued to hone their sound on the club circuit. One night, in the middle of 1977, Van Halen were playing at the Starwood in Hollywood. There wasn’t much of an audience. However, little did Van Halen know, that two very special guests were in the audience, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records. The pair liked what they heard and less than a week later, Van Halen had signed to Warner Bros. Records. Mo Ostin dispatched Van Halen to Sunset Sound Records with producer Ted Templeman, where recording of Van Halen  began.

Van Halen. 

Like many bands recording their debut album, Van Halen were fearless. They had no apprehension. Mind you, this wasn’t exactly a new experience. Van Halen had been in studios before, recording two different demo tapes. However, this was for real. The band had written nine tracks. The other two were covers of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and John Brim’s Ice Cream Man. These eleven tracks would eventually become Van Halen’s debut album, Van Halen.

Recording of Van Halen began in the middle of September 1977. Van Halen’s rhythm section of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony set about proving the album’s pulsating heartbeat. A week was spent recording Eddie’s guitar parts. Another two weeks were spent recording David’s vocals and the backing vocals. By  early October 1977, recording of Van Halen was all but complete. The decision was made not to do much in the way of over-dubbing. This meant Van Halen was much more like hearing Van Halen live. How would critics respond to this?

Before the release of Van Halen, critics had their say. For everyone at Warner Bros. Records, they held their breath. Back in 1978, critics could be venomous. It was hardly rock critic’s finest hour. They were in the throes of a love affair with punk. Many critics took great pleasure in trashing rock albums. The critics didn’t hold back when it came to Van Halen. Most of the reviews were negative. One of the worst reviews came from the so called doyen of critics, the contrarian Robert Christgau. The equally contrarian Rolling Stone were not fans of Van Halen. At least they admitted that Van Halen were going places. Mostly, the reviews panned Van Halen. However, soon, critics would be eating their words.

When Van Halen was released on 18th February 1978, it began climbing the charts. Eventually, it reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was just the start of the rise and rise of Van Halen.

Three singles were released from Van Halen. A cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100. Runnin’ With The Devil Stalled at number eighty-four in the US Billboard 100. The final single released from Van Halen was Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love. It failed to chart. While the singles failed to replicate the success of Van Halen, it showcased the band at their hard rocking best.

Literally, Van Halen strut and swagger through the eleven tracks on their debut album Van Halen. It’s no surprise that rock and heavy metal fans were won over by Van Halen. It’s a track full of  some of Van Halen’s biggest songs, including  Runnin’ With The Devil, Eruption, You Really Got Me, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Jamie’s Cryin’ and Ice Cream Man.  Van Halen’s rhythm section of Alex and Michael provide the backdrop to Eddie’s blistering guitars  and David’s lived-in vocal. From the opening bars of Runnin’ With The Devil, right through On Fire, Van Halen win friends and influence people. The band who just a year ago, were being hailed L.A.’s best bar band, were on their way to becoming a one of the biggest bands on planet rock.

Six years later, everything Van Halen had touched turned multi-platinum. The four albums Van Halen released between 1979s Van Halen II, to 1982s Diver Down had transformed Van Halen’s fortunes. These four albums had sold an estimated fourteen million copies. Then there was Van Halen, their debut album. It was belatedly being referred to as a classic album.

With Van Halen one of America’s biggest selling bands,  critics were forced to rethink their opinion on the band’s eponymous debut album. Belatedly critics had realised the error of their ways. Not for the first time, critics were forced to do an about turn. They realised that Van Halen was a classic rock album. Now they were referring to Van Halen as one of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest debut albums. No longer were Van Halen seen as a bar band who caught a lucky break. Not when their albums were selling by the million. This included Van Halen.

As Van Halen got ready to release their sixth album 1984, Van Halen reentered the US Billboard 200, reaching number 117. Over the next fifteen years, Van Halen consistently sold well. By 1999, when Van Halen were put on hold, their eponymous debut album had sold ten million copies. Van Halen was certified diamond, something that happens to only a handful of albums. Meanwhile, Van Halen was continuing to sell well throughout Europe and Canada by 1999.

Van Halen had been certified gold in Britain, Finland, France and Germany. In Canada, Van Halen was certified platinum four times over. When sales were added up, Van Halen had sold just over eleven million copies. However, Van Halen wasn’t the band’s biggest selling album. That honour fell to 1984.

1984.

During the six years since Van Halen released their eponymous debut album, Van Halen were without doubt, the biggest bands in planet rock. Van Halen were certainly the highest paid band in rock music. No wonder. Each album reached a higher chart placing than its predecessor. So, it’s no surprise that Van Halen had sold fourteen million albums in America alone. 1984, however, was a game-changer, in more ways than one.

Behind the scenes, all wasn’t well within Van Halen. David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s charismatic frontman would quit after 1984. In some ways, the writing had been on the wall.

During the recording of Van Halen’s previous album, Diver Down, released in 1982, David, Eddie and producer Rod Templeman had clashed. The problem was, Eddie wanted to make keyboards a prominent part of the Van Halen sound. David and Rod disagreed. Thinking that Van Halen was a democracy, the two men thought the matter was settled. They were wrong.

Despite this, Eddie went ahead and recorded much of Diver Down at his home studio. When the band heard it, it was keyboard heavy rock rubbed shoulders with Van Halen’s trademark sound. Presented with what seemed like a fait accompli, David began to reconsider his position. He was far from happy with Eddie’s sudden discovery and love of synths. For a rock ’n’ roller like David, this was sacrilege. However, David decided to continue with Van Halen…meantime.

Recording of 1984 took place during 1983 at 5150 Studio, in Studio City, California. Van Halen cowrote all of 1984s songs. Michael McDonald however, received a credit for I’ll Wait. Van Halen’s rhythm section of drummer Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunderous bass set about providing the 1984’s heartbeat. Eddie Van Halen played guitar and keyboards. For the last time, David Lee Roth added vocals. Once 1984 was completed, it was that time again, time for critics to have their say on Van Halen’s sixth album.

When reviews of 1984 were published, mostly, they were positive. As usual, there was the odd dissenting voice. One Napoleonic critic described 1984 as a one sided album. For him, the second side received the consolation prize. What he failed to see, was that side one set the bar high. 

From the instrumental 1984, through the the Van Halen classics Jump and Panama, Van Halen could do wrong. They were well on their way to hitting a home run. Top Jimmy and Drop Dead Legs rounded off side one, and left you wanting more of Van Halen’s heavy rocking music. Everything just dropped into place. Even the synths had their place,  and played their part in a classic album. The fun didn’t stop there.

Hot For Teacher was the perfect way to start side one. An anthemic track, it gave way to I’ll Wait, one of the singles from 1984. Girl Gone Bad was another fist pumping anthem, that showcased what Van Halen were capable. By the time House Of Pain closed 1984 it was apparent that Van Halen had released the second classic album of their career.

1984s fusion of keyboard heavy rock, combined Van Halen’s trademark hard rocking sound proved a winning combination. These two sides of Van Halen resulted in a classic album that would become the biggest selling album of Van Halen’s career.

On its release on January 9th 1984, 1984 started climbing the charts. Eventually, it reached number two in the US Billboard 200. This was the highest chart placing of  Van Halen’s six album career. It also became the biggest selling album of  Van Halen’s career. Eventually, 1984 sold twelve million copies. 1984 became Van Halen’s second album to be certified diamond. Elsewhere, 1984 was a huge seller.

In Canada, 1984 was certified five times platinum. Over the Atlantic, 1984 was certified gold in Britain and France. Meanwhile, 1984 was certified platinum in Germany. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success.

Four singles were released from 1984. Jump reached number one in the US Billboard 100. I’ll Wait then reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 100. Panama became the third single to be released from 1984. It reached number two in the US Billboard 200. The final single released from 1984, was Hot For Teacher, which stalled at number fifty-six in the US Billboard 200. By then, 1984 had become Van Halen’s most successful album of their career, and their second classic album. However, it was the end of an era.

Following the release of 1984, David Lee Roth left Van Halen. The disagreements with Eddie Van Halen had taken their toll. Relations had been strained since the recording of Diver Down. Eddie was pro synths, David a died in the wool rock ’n’ roller, wasn’t in favour of this stylistic departure. When the pair couldn’t resolve their disagreements, David called time on his career with Van Halen. 

David had had a good run. Especially since he was originally seen as a stopgap singer. He had failed the original audition. However, David lasted six albums. They sold thirty-six million copies. Not bad for what one critic referred to as a bar band. It would be another twenty-two years before David Lee Roth rejoined Van Halen.

That was during the 2006 reunion of Van Halen. This was their second reunion. However, it took another six years before they recorded an album. A Different Kind of Truth was released in 2006, it was to controversy.

Seven of the songs on A Different Type Of Truth had been demoed in the late seventies, early eighties. However, they were never released. So, when the songs featured on A Different Type Of Truth, Van Halen’s loyal fans weren’t happy. They voted with their feet.

No longer were Van Halen selling millions of albums. Very few groups were. On the release of A Different Type Of Truth, it reached number two on the US Billboard 200 and sold 411,000 copies. This wasn’t even enough for a gold disc. It was changed days from when Van Halen and 1984, released ten and twelve million copies respectively. Music might have changed but Van Halen were still a hard rocking band capable of playing blistering rock music. They do this on their recent live album Tokyo Dome Live in Concert.

Tokyo Dome Live in Concert.

It was on February 5th 2015 that one of the worst kept secrets in music was conformed. Van Halen were about to release the second live album of their career, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. The concert had been recorded on June 21st 2013, when Van Halen were touring their A Different Type Of Truth album. However, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was going to be no ordinary album.

Tokyo Dome Live in Concert the announcement read, was going to be a double album, featuring twenty-five tracks. It was released on 31st March 2015, then as part of the Deluxe box set on 13th April 2015. 

After its release, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert started climbing the charts. Quickly, it had reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200. That was early days. Once Van Halen fans hear snippets of Tokyo Dome Live in Concert, the album will keep climbing the charts.

Quite simply, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert features some of Van Halen’s best known songs. Classics and old favourites sit by side, as the original, and classic lineup of Van Halen roll back the years. They might be older, and somewhat worse for years of hard living, but they’re still one of best rock bands on planet rock. That’s the case from the moment they take to the stage.

Opening disc one of Tokyo Dome Live in Concert is Unchained from 1981s Fair Warning. After that, they turn to Runnin’ With The Devil and from their 1978 debut album Van Halen. From there, they turn to She’s The Woman, the first track from 2012 A Different Type Of Truth album. Later, the return to their first classic album Van Halen, for I’m the One and You Really Got Me. Other highlights include Everyone Wants Some from 1981s Woman and Children First, Somebody Get Me a Doctor from Valen II and Hear About It Later from 1981s  Fair Warning. However, Van Halen aren’t finished yet.

Having worked their way through twelve tracks, they return with another thirteen. These tracks are taken from Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning and 1984.  

Dance The Night Away from 1979s Van Halen II kicks disc two of Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. It’s the first of three tracks from Van Halen II. The others are Beautiful Girls and Women in Love. Before then, Van Halen unleash I’ll Wait from 1984, And The Cradle Will Rock from Women and Children First and the anthemic Hot For Teacher. That’s the first of the track from the eighties.

It’s not the last. Romeo Delight from Women and Children First and Mean Street from Fair Warning follow. Then it’s back to the seventies, when Van Halen’s star were on their way to becoming one of rock’s biggest bands.

Beautiful Girls gives way to Ice Cream Man from 1978s Van Halen. Then it’s time for one of Van Halen’s hands in the air anthems, Panama. Van Halen are on a roll. So, they return to their debut album Van Halen, and unleash Eruption and Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love. That leaves Van Halen’s most famous single to close Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. For twenty-five tracks and over two hours, Van Halen at their hard rocking best swagger and strut their way through their second live album, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. It’s the final album on the four disc box set Deluxe, which was recently released by Rhino.

For anyone unfamiliar with Van Halen’s music, the Deluxe box set is the perfect introduction to their music. It features their two classic albums, Van Halen and 1984. They’re without doubt, the two best albums Van Halen released. 

Van Halen is now recognised as one of the greatest debut albums in rock music history. That is a big statement to make, and looked unlikely back in 1978. Critics slated Van Halen. However, they were in the throes of a love affair with punk and post punk. Later, when the critics reevaluated Van Halen, they realised how wrong they were. By then, it was a multi-platinum album. Eventually, Van Halen sold ten million copies. Somehow, Van Halen surpassed this with 1984.

By 1984, Van Halen had been given a musical makeover by Eddie Van Halen. He introduced synths on 1982s Diver Down. This didn’t please David Lee Roth. Eddie however, wasn’t going to change his mind. So, following the release of 1984, David left Van Halen. The original and classic lineup of Van Halen were no more.

It wasn’t until 2012s A Different Kind of Truth that the original lineup of Van Halen returned to the studio.  A year later, Van Halen were touring A Different Kind of Truth. On June 21st 2013, Van Halen were in Tokyo, ready to record the second live album of their five decade career, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert. It was released on March 31st 2015, and as part of the Deluxe box set on 13th April 2015. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert sees Van Halen, one of the hardest rocking bands in the history of rock, roll back the years. They dig deep into their back-catalogue and unleash a string of classics and old favourites. This includes tracks from Van Halen and 1984, the other two albums on the Deluxe box set, which is the perfect introduction to Van Halen, one of the biggest and best selling bands in America’s illustrious  musical history.

VAN HALEN-DELUXE.

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STORNOWAY-BONXIE.

STORNOWAY-BONXIE.

It was nine years ago that Brian Briggs first met Jon Quin, at a Freshers Week at Oxford University. Brian’s first words to Jon were that he looked like a member of Scottish indie rock band Teenage Fanclub. That broke the ice. Brian and Jon realised they both shared a love of music. So, they started making music together. Soon, Brian and Jon decided to form a band.

With Brian a guitarist, and Jon a keyboardist, this meant they were looking for a rhythm section. So, like several generations of bands before them, they placed an advert, and waited. 

Eventually, bass player Oli Steadman replied to the advert. He was the only person to reply to their advert. Oli was auditioned, and joined the nascent group. Soon, so did his younger brother.

The as yet unnamed band consisted of bass, guitar and keyboards. They needed a drummer. Fortunately, Oli Steadman’s younger brother Rob, played the drums. Rob Steadman was asked to audition, and became the final piece in the musical jigsaw. All the band needed was a name.

For some bands, naming a band can be a tortuous process. That was the case with Brian, Jon, Oli and Rob’s nascent band. All they knew was that they wanted to name their band after a town. Not just any town though. It had to be a town that was “a bit remote and coastal.” This gave them plenty of scope. So they settled down, and waded through a huge list of names of coastal towns. At one point, the band even took to studying books about the weather. Names were considered. None seemed to fit. Eventually, though, Brian, Jon, Oli and Rob settled on Stornoway, a town on the Outer Island of Lewis. It was the only name that seemed to work. What’s more it was a name everyone knew.

Every time the BBC weather forecast is broadcast, the name Stornoway is mentioned. For Brian, Jon, Oli and Rob this they joked, was like to a free advert. It seemed that already, Stornoway were thinking big. That’s despite their career being in its early stages.

After less than a year together, Stornoway had put together a demo tape, The Early Adventures Of Stornoway. It included I Saw You Blink, which was played on the BBC Oxford Intorducing program in March 2006. This was the first time Stornoway were heard on radio. Their radio debut was well received. Stornoway were on their way.

Three years later, Stornoway caught a break when they featured on Radio 1’s Big Weekend. It was held at Lydiard Park, Swindon. That day, saw Stornoway winning friends and influencing people. This inspired Stornoway to self-release their debut single Zorbing in July 2009. For Stornoway, this was just the start of a magical summer.

Right through the summer of 2009, Stornoway’s music was being heard by a much wider audience. Their finest hour came at the Glastonbury Festival. Stornoway played six times over the three day Festival. Then as summer became autumn, Stornoway headlined a show at the Tate Modern, London on the 1st of September 2008. It highlighted the climate change campaign. For Stornoway, this was a defining moment in their career. No longer were Stornoway were one of music’s best kept secrets. They were one of British music’s rising stars.

Later in September, on the 29th, Stornoway released their sophomore single Unfaithful. So, a launch concert was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in London on the 21st September 2009. Eight days later, Unfaithful was released on CD, 7” single and as a download. Stornoway it seemed were going places.

To promote Unfaithful, Stornoway headed out on tour. Between the 16th and 30th October 2009, Stornoway toured Britain, spreading the Stornoway gospel. Then a month later, Stornoway caught the biggest break of their three year career.

Stornoway were asked to appear on the BBC TV show, Later…With Jools Holland. They became the first unsigned band to appear on the show. Their appearance on the show hugely increased their profile. Suddenly, millions had heard of Stornoway. This resulted in Stornoway featuring on the long list to the BBC’s Sound of 2010 competition. It seemed Stornoway could do no wrong.

As 2010, got underway, Stornoway headed out on another tour of Scotland and Ireland in March 2010. For the first time, Stornoway played the place they were named after. This was akin to a spiritual homecoming. It was also a cause for celebration. 

No longer were Stornoway one of Britain’s best unsigned bands. They had signed to indie label 4AD, and released their third single their third single, I Saw You Blink on 22nd March 2010. Two months later, after four years hard work, patience and persistence Stornoway released their debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill.

Beachcomber’s Windowsill.

Even before they signed to 4AD, Stornoway were busy recording their debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. It featured eleven eleven tracks. Brian penned eight tracks, and cowrote two with Jon. Stornoway’s principal songwriters also produced Beachcomber’s Windowsill, which was released on 24th May 2010.

On its release on 24th May 2010, Beachcomber’s Windowsill was well received by critics. Most of the reviews were positive. That’s not surprising, as Stornoway were already a reasonably well established band. The critics knew what to expect of them. By then, Stornoway’s fusion of folk rock and indie rock had won over critics. Soon, Stornoway were winning over British record buyers.

When it was released, Beachcomber’s Windowsill charted at number fourteen in the UK album charts. Soon, Beachcomber’s Windowsill had sold in excess of sixty-thousand copies. This resulted in Beachcomber’s Windowsill being certified silver. That wasn’t the end of the success for Stornoway.

Although I Saw You Blink had only reached number 119, in the UK top 150, it reached number twelve in the UK Indie Charts. Then Zorbing was re-released as a single. It and reached number seventy-four in the charts and number four in the UK Indie Chart. However, word was spreading about Stornoway. Zorbing gave them a number eleven hit in Belgium. Stornoway were on their way.

After the release of Beachcomber’s Windowsill, Stornoway headed out on tour. They returned to Glastonbury, and later played at the Womad Festival. Soon, Stornoway were heading of on a tour of Germany. 

This was the second time Stornoway had played in Germany. Just like the first, it proved a success. So, buoyed by the success of their German tour, later in 2010, Stornoway headed to Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland. 

Stornoway took the three countries by storm. It was the perfect way to end what had been the biggest year of their career.

As 2011 dawned, Stornoway announced their touring schedule. This included a third appearance at Glastonbury, one of many festivals Stornoway played at. However, their first concert of 2011 took place at Somerset House, in London. That set the ball rolling for Stornoway’s summer. By September, Stornoway were ready to return home. 

Stornoway played a gig at the Regal, in Cowley Road, Oxford. After this, Stornoway’s thoughts turned to their sophomore album Tales From Terra Firma.

Tales From Terra Firma.

For Stornoway, most of 2012 was spent in the recording studio. A total of nine songs were recorded. They became Tales From Terra Firma. Just like their debut album, Brian wrote most of the songs. He penned seven of the songs, and cowrote one with Jon. The only song Jon wrote himself was Knock Me On The Head, one of Tales From Terra Firma’s highlights. However, there’s more to Tales From Terra Firma than one song.

Throughout Tales From Terra Firma, elements of folk-rock, indie pop, jazz and psychedelia melt into one. It’s a potent, enthralling  and mesmeric musical fusion. So, it’s no surprise that Tales From Terra Firma won over the hearts and minds of critics and record buyers.

Tales From Terra Firma was scheduled for release on 11th March 2013. To give Stornoway’s loyal fans a tantalising taste of their forthcoming album, Knock Me On the Head was released as the lead single on 1st January 2013. This hook-laden single was the perfect amuse bouche to Tales From Terra Firma.

When Tales From Terra Firma was released on 11th March 2013, it was to critical acclaim. This time, there were no dissenting voices. Each and every critic was won over by Tales From Terra Firma. Great things were forecast of Stornoway’s sophomore album.

On its release, Tales From Terra Firma peaked at number twenty in the UK Album Charts. Given the reviews, and the undeniable quality of Tales From Terra Firma, this was somewhat disappointing. 

Following the release of Tales From Terra Firma, Stornoway embarked upon a gruelling world tour. Nobody thought that Stornoway would release any more music during 2013. They were wrong. 

You Don’t Know Anything.

In September 2013, Stornoway surprised their fans by announcing they were releasing a mini-album, You Don’t Know Anything. It featured outtakes Tales From Terra Firma. 

You Don’t Know Anything was released to coincide with Stornoway’s British tour at the end of 2013. The release of You Don’t Know Anything showed that Stornoway were a group thoroughly in touch with the modern music industry.

Stornoway, realising that that music industry was constantly changing, decided to make use of the latest innovations. Allmusic were given the exclusive rights to stream You Don’t Know Anything. Rolling Stone magazine offered a free download of Tumbling Bay. So did BBC Radio Six’s Lauren Laverne. All this was great publicity for Stornoway. Their star was in the ascendancy.

So, as 2013 drew to a close, Stornoway released another single Tales From Terra Firma, Farewell, Appalachia. It was accompanied by a video directed by Matt Cooper, whose a member of another Oxford Band, Spring Offensive. The release of Farewell, Appalachia brought the biggest year of Stornoway’s career to a close. 2014 would be another busy year for Stornoway.

Bonxie.

By June 2014, Stornoway were in the midst of one of the busiest periods of the year. They had toured Britain, and were just about to embark upon the busiest period of many band’s year, the festival season. That’s when Stornoway announced their intention to use crowd funding to fund their third album Bonxie. 

Like many bands before them, Stornoway had decided to use the PledgeMusic crowd funding site. That’s where initially, copies of Bonxie would be available from. Within just four days of the announcement, Stornoway had 222% of their target funding. With the money raised, Stornoway could enjoy the festival season safe in the knowledge that they had already funded Bonxie.

Once the festival season was over, Stornoway began work upon their third album Bonxie. Eleven tracks were written by Brian Briggs and Jon Quin Stornoway’s two principal songwriters. These tracks were recorded by Stornoway, with the help of producer Gil Norton, whose previous credits, include the Pixies and Foo Fighters.

For Stornoway this was a first. Never before had they brought onboard  a producer. Brian and Jon  were already experienced producers. So, this caused more than a few raised eyebrows. Would Gil Norton’s inclusion change Stornoway beyond recognition. It was a case of wait and see.

As recording began, Jon played guitar, Brian keyboards and the Steadman brothers Oli and Rob played bass and drums respectively. Just like their two previous albums, other musicians were brought in to add textures and colours to Bonxie, which is the Shetland nickname for the Great Skua. It’s a quite magnificent, but some would say terrifying seabird, that’s found in northern climes. The Bonxie will be familiar to Stornoway, who have never hid their love of wildlife. Its picture sits proudly on Stornoway’s third album, which was released on 13th April 2015.

Just like their sophomore album, Tales From Terra Firma, Bonxie was released to unequivocal critical acclaim via Cooking Vinyl Records. Many critics hailed Bonxie as Stornoway’s finest album. Is that the case?

Birdsong gives way to a the sound of a boat leaving the harbour on Between The Saltmarsh and the Sea, which opens Bonxie. As it drops out, there’s near silence, just a brief burst of birdsong. Then maudlin keyboards play, setting the scene for Brian’s thoughtful vocal. In the distance, retro drums inject a sense of urgency. Soon, the arrangement unfolds. Stornoway’s rhythm section, guitars and keyboards envelop Brian’s vocal. It veers between needy and grateful, to heartbroken. Deep down, Brian is suspicious, wondering where his lover goes when she leaves him? His vocal grows in power, and is filled with emotion and confusion, as he delivers this beautiful, soul searching ballad.

Straight away, it’s obvious that the hooks haven’t been spared on Get Low. It’s a delicious fusion of influences, including indie pop, folk rock, Americana and Nu Country. There’s a nod to The Jayhawks and Wilco. As for the synths, they have an eighties sound. They drift in and out. Mostly, it’s Stornoway’s rhythm section, guitar and harmonies that are at the heart of everything that’s good. Especially, when combined with Brian’s vocal. Together, they play their part in a glorious hook-laden anthem.

The sound of city life opens Man On Wire. It paves the way for Stornoway’s thunderous rhythm section. Oli and Rob Steadman never miss a beat. They’re accompanied by Brian’s searing, chiming guitar. Atop the arrangement sits Brian’s vocal. He combines power and emotion. It’s a cathartic outpouring of his feeling. Soon, strings are added. They prove the perfect addition, filling in the gaps and adding texture. The strings dance their way across the breakdown. By then,  Stornoway are well on  their scoring a home run, on this fist pumping anthem.

Just a plucked guitar opens The Road You Didn’t Take. Brian’s vocal is accompanied by close harmonies. His vocal is rueful, at what he sees as missed opportunities. He ponders “The Road You Didn’t Take.” Meanwhile, ethereal keyboards, drums and wistful strings are added. However, it’s Brian’s vocal and the harmonies that grabs your attention. It’s as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. You’re captivated by his delivery, right through to the arrangement reaches its dramatic crescendo.

Lost Youth marks a change in style from Stornoway. It’s a musical potpourri of influences. There’s everything from indie pop, folk-rock and even the merest hint of reggae. An acoustic guitar gives way to synths and sound effects. Stabs of drums are added as Brian delivers an urgent, questioning, vocal. He sings of a boy struggling to become a man. He’s confused, struggling to come to terms with adulthood, and who and what he is. That’s apparent from the lyrics: “we know just what we want, but we don’t know how to describe it” and “we don’t know where we stand, but we think we know what we stand for.” As Brian delivers his vocal, the bounding bass, chirping guitar and dancing strings sweep in. Just like previous tracks, there’s hooks aplenty, as we hear another side to Stornoway.

Washes of a Shadow-esque guitar opens Sing With Our Senses. Adding to the already atmospheric sound, is a bass and Hammond organ. Now Stornoway have your attention, the vocal enters. So, the rest of Stornoway pull back. This allows Brian’s vocal to take centre-stage. That’s where it belongs. Harmonies accompany him, before the arrangement unfolds and grows. Drums drive the arrangement along, keyboards add textures and harmonies coo and sweep.  They’re the perfect accompaniment to Brian’s impassioned plea to “Sing With Our Senses.”

We Were Giants has a country influence. It’s the guitar and washes of atmospheric music that lead to this comparison. So do the lyrics. They’re cinematic, delivered wistfully by Brian. He  sometimes, sounds not unlike Al Stewart. Ruefully he remembers: “tell me of the time we could walk for miles on roads to nowhere…when we were happy to stagger through the fields to the lights of the house.” As Brian paints pictures, the rest of Stornoway add colour to the arrangement. Strings sweep, drums are played with brushes and bass helps drive this beautiful, but rueful ballad along.

Melancholy describes the introduction to When You’re Feeling Gentle. However, Stornoway are just toying with you. Soon, an electronic arrangement unfolds. It’s best described as electro-folk with a rocky hue. As the arrangement is propelled along, Brian delivers an urgent, needy vocal. Harmonies accompany him. Later, when the arrangement is stripped bare, Brian’s vocal oozes emotion. His vocal is then swept along by a glorious wall of sound. This is akin to a call to dance, once that’s truly irresistible.

A lone Hendrix-esque guitar opens Heart Of The Great Alone. It’s joined by the rhythm section and winds its way through the arrangement. Having set the scene, Brian’s vocal enters. It’s thoughtful and emotive. This is the signal for the arrangement to slow down. In doing so, Brian’s vocal becomes the focus of your attention. He delivers a heartfelt vocal, before the arrangement takes on a trippy, psychedelic sound. Then a blistering rocky guitar is unleashed, as this genre-melting track reaches it dramatic finale.

Brian sings unaccompanied on Josephine. Soon, harmonies and a strummed guitar and walking bass join him, as he delivers an ultimatum. He sings: “it’s now or never for me,” on this beautiful folk-tinged ballad.

Guitars, keyboards, bass and handclaps open Love Song of the Beta Male, the closing track on Bonxie. They grab your attention. Soon, Brian’s vocal enters. Thunderous drums accompany his vocal. It’s as if he’s suffering from a crisis of confidence. He feels like he can’t do anything right. That’s apparent when he sings: “don’t ask me to sweep you up and carry you across the threshold, I’d only hurt myself.” As the arrangement unfolds, it grows in drama. Strings are added and drums continue to pound, as an insecure Brian delivers lyrics that are cerebral and witty. They play their part in a rueful track that’s tinged with sadness and humour.

Two years after the release of their sophomore album, Tales From Terra Firma, Stornoway return with what’s without doubt, the best album of their career, Bonxie. It features eleven tracks of hook-laden music. Bonxie it appears, is a coming of age from Stornoway. 

Hook heavy anthems aren’t in short supply on Bonxie. Two of the best are Get Low and Man On Wire. They’re sure to be festival favourites during the summer months. Then there’s Bonxie’s soul-baring ballads like Between The Saltmarsh and the Sea, We Were Giants, The Road You Didn’t Take, Josephine and Love Song of the Beta Male. Apart from ballads and anthems, Bonxie features When You’re Feeling Gentle, an irresistible call to dance. It seems, there’s something for everyone on Bonxie.

That’s no surprise. Stornoway combine everything from Americana and country, to electronica, folk, folk rock, indie pop, indie rock, psychedelia and rock. Musical genres melt into one. So do influences. Everyone from Fairport Convention, R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub to The Beatles, The Jayhawks and Wilco seem to have influenced Stornoway. Their influence can be heard during Bonxie, Stornoway’s career defining album.

Everything, it seems has been leading up to Bonxie, Stornoway’s third album. Bonxie is the best album of Stornoway’s career, and should transform their fortunes. It was released via Cooking Vinyl Records, to widespread critically acclaim. That’s no surprise. 

After nine years together, Stornoway’s time has come. It’s time for Stornoway, one of the most exciting and talented British groups, to step out of the shadows, and enjoy the limelight with Bonxie, an album of hook laden, genre-melting music. 

STORNOWAY-BONXIE.

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EDDIE BO-BABY I’M WISE THE COMPLETE RIC SINGLES 1959-1962.

EDDIE BO-BABY I’M WISE THE COMPLETE RIC SINGLES 1959-1962.

New Orleans is one of America’s great musical cities. It always has been. That’s been the case for the last hundred years. Back since the delta blues, and later Dixieland provided the soundtrack to New Orleans at play, the city has given the world some of the most talented and successful musicians. This includes everyone from Dr. John,  and Professor Longhair to gospel great Mahalia Jackson, Big Star’s Alex Chilton, singer-songwriter Randy Newman and jazz saxophonist Lester Young. That however, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Big Easy’s roll call of musical greats includes many more, including Eddie Bo.

Eddie Bo was born on 20th September 1930, in New Orleans. While his father was a carpenter, Eddie’s mother played the piano. She was a talented player, who had been influenced by one of New Orleans’ musical legends, Professor Longhair. So, it’s no surprise that when Eddie discovered music, he decided to play the piano.

With his mother and Professor Longhair’s help and guidance, Eddie Bo was soon developing into a talented musician. Growing up, Eddie began to discover and explore New Orleans’ musical heritage. His older cousins, who were all traditional jazz musicians, became Eddie’s musical guides and mentors. Soon, with his cousins guidance, Eddie was absorbing New Orleans’ proud musical past. Before long, it looked inevitable that Eddie would become a musician. However, Eddie was enlisted and two years in the U.S. Army interrupted Eddie’s musical career.

For the next few years, Eddie’s career was put on hold. Then when Eddie’s tour of duty was over, he enrolled at the Grundwald School of Music. This was where Eddie learned to read and write music. He also learned how to improvise. It was also during this period that Eddie discovered bebop.

Soon, Eddie had fallen under the spell of the bebop greats. Back then, this included Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. They influenced Eddie. So much so, that he formed The Spider Bocage Band. 

For a while, The Spider Bocage Band were busy. They played all over New Orleans. However, the times they were a changing. By 1954, rock ’n’ roll and R&B were beginning to prove more popular in New Orleans. At the vanguard of this musical revolution, was Fats Domino. Eddie looked at Fats Domino and realised he was earning far more than jazz musicians. For Eddie Bo, this was a eureka moment. That day, Eddie Bo turned his back on jazz.

Two years later, in January 1956, twenty-six year old Eddie Bo was ready to make his recording debut. We Like Mambo, which was released on Ace Records, was credited to Eddie Bo. This wasn’t strictly true. While Eddie played on the single, so did another famous pianist, Huey Smith. Despite this, Eddie Bo’s career was underway. However, he never released another single on Ace Records.

Johnny Vincent had signed Eddie on a short contract. However, despite realising just how talented Eddie was, Johnny spent the next few months recording other artists. So, when Eddie’s contract expired, he was free to sign for another label.

This time, Johnny signed to the Apollo label. Its glory days seemed long gone. When Eddie’s debut single I’m Wise was released, it flopped. Later, Little Richard used I’m Wise as “inspiration” for Slippin’ and Slidin,’ his million selling single. This proved profitable, despite Eddie having to split the royalties with the writers of I Got The Blues For You, which “inspired” I’m Wise. This was the only one of Eddie’s singles that proved profitable.

Eddie’s next four singles all failed to chart. Despite their quality, Eddie’s singles passed record buyers by. For Eddie this was a disappointing chapter in his career.  So, he left Apollo in the spring of 1957, and signed to Chess Records.

Paul Gayten, Chess Records head of A&R in New Orleans, offered Eddie a two single deal. Neither single was a success. Oh-Oh proved popular in New Orleans, but nowhere else. Three years later, the B-Side My Dearest Darling, was covered by Etta James and reached number thirty-four in the U.S. Billboard 100 and number five in the U.S. R&B charts. Again, Eddie was making more money when other people covered his songs. While this was more than welcome, Eddie’s career as a singer seemed to have stalled. He left Chess Records after the two single deal expired, and rejoined Ace Records. 

Having left Chess Records, Eddie Bo briefly signed to Ace Records. He only released one single, I Love To Rock ’N’ Roll. Just like his earlier Ace Records release, I Love To Rock ’N’ Roll flopped. Eddie Bo, it seemed, couldn’t buy a hit. His career seemed at the crossroads. 

Things got so bad, that Eddie was working as a carpenter. He couldn’t make a living out of music. Then one day, Joe Ruffino, the owner of the Ric and Ron labels, got in touch with Eddie. Joe, who had formed Ric and Ron a year earlier, in 1958, wanted a new office built. Eddie who had been taught carpentry by his father, was given the job. When the two men goth talking, Joe realised his “carpenter” was actually a singer-songwriter. So, they hatched a plan.  As soon as Eddie’s contract at Ace Records was over, Eddie signed to Ric and became the ninth artist to sign to Joe Ruffino Ric and Ron labels.

At Ric and Ron, Eddie Bo released nine singles. They feature on the recent Ace Records’ release, Baby I’m Wise-The Complete Ric Singles 1959-1962. It’s a twenty-two track compilation, which includes a quartet of tracks that were recorded by Eddie at Ric, and released by Rounder in 2013, four years after Eddie’s death. However, Nothing Without You, Satisfied With Your Love, Ain’t You Ashamed and I’ll Do Anything For You show how Eddie Bo had evolved, and developed, as a singer and songwriter. These four tracks were also a reminder of what music lost on March 18th 2009, the day Eddie Bo died. Fifty years prior to Eddie’s death, he had just signed to the Ric label.

Now signed to Ric, a new chapter began in Eddie Bo’s career. His debut single was Hey There Baby, which Eddie cowrote. Using the alias Edwin Bocage, Eddie and Larry McKinley penned Hey There Baby, an upbeat, driving slice of R&B. On the flip side was I Need Someone, a bluesy ballad written by Eddie. With growling horns for company, Eddie delivers a needy vocal. It oozes quality, and could just as easily have been released as a single. Sadly, Eddie’s Ric debut flopped. This was an inauspicious start to Eddie’s Ric career.

November 1959 saw Eddie release his second single on Ric, You Got Your Mojo Working Now, which Bill Allen and Eddie wrote. It’s another slow, bluesy and soulful song. The B-Side, Everybody Knows, was another Eddie and Larry McKinley composition. Just like his debut single, both songs oozed quality. They should’ve found a much wider audience. That wasn’t to be. You Got Your Mojo Working Now neither sold well, nor received any radio play. Still, Eddie Bo was looking for that elusive hit single.

Down but far from out, Eddie returned with his third single Tell It Like It Is, which he cowrote with Bill Allen. It’s an explosive dance track released in early 1960. Straight away, it grabs your attention, and doesn’t let go. Eddie testifies his way through the track, while the band match him every step of the way. The B-Side, Every Dog Got His Day is another dance track, written by Eddie and New Orleans DJ and musical impresario Larry McKinley. Despite its undeniable quality, Tell It Like It Is passed record buyers by. For Eddie this was a disappointing time.

The only consolation was, that the songs he was writing for other artists on the Ric and Ron artist were proving successful. Joe Ruffino it seemed, was willing to give Eddie some leeway?

Unlike many label owners, Joe Ruffino was willing to allow Eddie time to develop as a singer. Despite three consecutive singles failing to chart, Joe gave Eddie another chance. For Eddie’s fourth single, Warm Daddy was chosen. 

Eddie had written the bluesy Warm Daddy with Bill Allen and Frank Douglas. On the B-Side was Ain’t It The Truth Now which Eddie and Daris Burnam cowrote. It’s almost too good to be tucked away on a B-Side. This slice of R&B is a real hidden gem. Sadly, neither Warm Daddy nor Ain’t It The Truth Now were heard by a wider audience. History repeated itself when Warm Daddy failed to chart. This resulted in a rethink from Joe Ruffino.

After the first four singles Eddie Bo released for Ric flopped, Joe Ruffino decided something had to give. Many label owners would’ve shook Eddie’s hand and called it a day. Not Joe. Eddie was still proving hits for other artists on the Ric and Ron roster. So, Joe couldn’t let Eddie Bo go. Having thought about the situation, Joe thought the answer lay in strings.

It Must Be Love, another of Eddie’s composition was chosen as Eddie’s fifth single. Joe Ruffino had decided to change Eddie’s sound. So, he added strings to It Must Be Love. He did the same to the B-Side, the rueful What A Fool I’ve Been. Sadly, Joe’s master plan didn’t work, and It Must Be Love didn’t come close to troubling the charts. However, Joe’s strings transformed It Must Be Love, into a quite beautiful, Sam Cooke inspired ballad. While Joe’s plan hadn’t worked, he wasn’t ready to give up.

Joe’s strings were retained for Eddie’s next single, Dinky Doo and the flip side Everybody, Everything Needs Love. Both tracks were penned by Eddie. Harold Battiste arranged and produced both tracks. He also brought the A.F.O. Combo onboard to accompany Eddie. The introduction of Harold, the A.F.O. Combo and Joe’s strings worked. Capitol Records hearing Dinky Doo, decided to lease the track. Things looked as if they were looking up for Eddie Bo. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Dinky Doo disappeared without trace. Eddie would only released one more single during 1961

This was I Got To Know, which was written by Harold Battiste and Melvin Lastie. It was released late in 1961, and finds Eddie in fine voice. Having vamped his way through the first thirty seconds of I Got To Know, a whoop paves the way to his homage to Ray Charles. Then on the flip side, Eddie turns his hand to balladry on Bless You Darling. We hear another side to Eddie, on a song that epitomises the New Orleans’ sound. Sadly, Eddie’s final single of 1961 failed commercially. Again, Eddie’s career was at a crossroads.

While Eddie’s singles failed to chart, he was still providing singles for other artists on the Ric and Ron roster. When Eddie wasn’t writing songs or recording, he wasn’t above turning his hand to some carpentry. He  designed and built Ric and Ron’s offices. However, sadly, Joe Ruffino wouldn’t get much use out of his new offices.

As 1962 dawned, Eddie released Check Mr. Popeye as a single. This was one of many Popeye dance tracks being released at this time. On the flip-side was Now Let’s Popeye, which instructed newcomers how to do the Popeye dance. Both tracks were penned by Eddie and proved hugely popular in New Orleans. So much so, that Check Mr. Popeye nearly made it into the U.S. Billboard 100. However, it stopped just short, at number 102.  Soon, though, Check Mr. Popeye was being heard further afield. 

So, Bernie Binnick of Swan Records was encouraged to license Check Mr. Popeye by DJ Dick Clark. He proceeded to promote the single on his television program American Bandstand. Despite Bernie sending copies of Check Mr. Popeye to DJs across America, the single just couldn’t break into the U.S. Billboard 100. For Eddie Bo, this was the closes he got to a hit on Ric. His next single proved to be his last.

Later in 1962, Eddie released Roamin-Titis. This was another song Eddie had written. Baby I’m Wise, a remake of Eddie’s Slippin’ and Slidin’ featured on the B-Side. Given the quality of both sides, everyone at Ric had high hopes for Roamin-Titis. On its release, it was hailed as the finest single Eddie had released on Ric. Despite the rave reviews, Roamin-Titis didn’t come close to making it into the U.S. Billboard 100. That meant Eddie’s nine Ric singles had failed to chart. For Eddie, this was the end of the road. His time at Ric was over.

For Eddie Bo his time at Ric had come to an end. He had enjoyed four years at Joe Ruffino’s label. While commercial success had eluded Eddie, he wrote a number of successful singles for artists on the Ric and Ron roster. However, still, Eddie Bo wanted to forge a career as a singer. It didn’t look like this would happen at Ric. So he moved on, just as Ric and Ron were thrown into chaos.

Ever since Joe founded Ric, he had worked tirelessly. Eventually, all the years of long days and hard work caught up with Joe Ruffino in August 1962. He died suddenly of a heart attack. His family and the wider New Orleans’ music community were shocked.

With Joe gone, his two sons were left to run the Ric and Ron labels. They tried to follow in their father’s footsteps. That, however, proved impossible. Eventually, Joe’s brother-in-law Joe Assunto took over the running of Ric and Ron. By then, the Ron label was on its last legs. It released its final single in August 1962. By then, Eddie Bo had moved on.

For the rest of the sixties, Eddie Bo moved between labels. He never seemed to stay at a label long. Eddie was a musical nomad, who constantly was seeking somewhere to call home. Maybe, Eddie was looking for somewhere like Ric?

Ric had been a special place for Eddie Bo. Joe Ruffino had proved patient, allowing Eddie Bo to develop and mature as a singer and songwriter. Eddie repaid Joe’s patience and faith, penning hits for a number of artists on Ric and Ron’s roster. Despite this, commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Eddie Bo, who at Ric, never reached the heights he could’ve and should’ve.

While commercial success eluded Eddie Bo at Ric, his career continued right up until his death in 2009. During his career, Eddie Bo proved a versatile and talent performer. What’s more, Eddie Bo was loved and respected in equal measures. While Eddie Bo never enjoyed the fame and fortune some of contemporaries did, he enjoyed an enviable longevity. His determination to reinvent himself ensured this. However, between 1959 and 1962, Eddie Bo was already one of the stars of the New Orleans R&B and soul scene. The nine singles Eddie Bo released on Joe Ruffino’s Ric label are proof of this. They feature on Ace Records’ recent release, Baby I’m Wise-The Complete Ric Singles 1959-1962 which features Eddie Bo, as he became one of the rising stars of the New Orleans’ thriving and vibrant R&B and soul scene. 

EDDIE BO-BABY I’M WISE THE COMPLETE RIC SINGLES 1959-1962.

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GARNET MIMMS-LOOKING FOR YOU-THE COMPLETE UNITED ARTISTS AND VEEP SINGLES.

GARNET MIMMS-LOOKING FOR YOU-THE COMPLETE UNITED ARTISTS AND VEEP SINGLES.

The Garnet Mimms story began in November 1933, in Ashton, West Virginia. That’s where he was born and spent his early years. It’s also where his love of music began. 

From an early age, Garnett’s mother took him to church. Like many future soul singers, this was Garnet Mimms’ first exposure to music. He was hooked. By the early fifties, Garnet Mimms decided to move to Philly, where he joined his first gospel group.

In Philly, Garnett’s nascent career as a gosepl singer began. He joined his first gospel group. Soon, Garnett was a member of some of Philly’s top gospel groups, including The Norfolk Four and The Evening Star Quartet. It was with The Evening Star Quartet that Garnett made his recording debut. However, Garnett was never going to get rich singing gospel.

By day, Garnett worked in the Temple Laundry. As he worked, Garnett listened to Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke on the radio. Soon, they began in influence and inspire Garnett Mimms. This lead to Garnett forming his first R&B group.

By then, Garnett was serving with the U.S. Army. This was only a temporary measure. Garnett knew how he wanted to make a living, singing R&B. So, Garnett formed his first R&B group, The Deltones.  Having done so, Garnett knew that once he finished his tour of duty, his days of working in a laundry would be behind him.

In 1958, Garnett left the U.S. Army, and straight away, formed a new group, The Gainors with Sam Bell from The Evening Star Quartet, and another future soul star, Howard Tate. Soon, the group found a manager in Irv Nathan. He signed them to his Red Top label. 

With The Gainors signed to the Red Top label, they entered the studio for the first time. Their debut single was Gonna Rock Tonight. On its release, it gave The Gainors their first hit single. It was then picked up by Cameo Parkway. So were were The Gainors next six singles. 

Between 1960 and 1963, The Gainors released another six singles. They were picked up by labels like Mercury, Cameo Parkway and Talley-Ho. However, by 1963 The Gainors were no more. After releasing the Van McCoy penned Tell Him, Garnett and Sam Bell disbanded The Gainors.

Garnett and Sam Bell decided to form a new band, which would be billed as Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters. So, they brought Charles Boyer onboard. They knew Charles from their gospel days. He was joined by Zola Pearnell, who was the final piece in this musical jigsaw. With the final piece in place, they started rehearsing.

Their rehearsals paid off. Soon, Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters were auditioning for songwriter and producer, Jerry Ragavoy. Sam Bell knew Jerry, and asked him along to a club to see Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters, whose music is documented on Kent Soul’s Garnett Mimms’ compilation Looking For You-The Complete United Artists and Veep Singles, which was recently released by Ace Records.  

Jerry Ragavoy was based in Philly. However, he was about to move to New York, where he had formed a songwriting partnership with Bert Sterns. However, Jerry found time to go to the club. Straight away, he liked what he saw. Garnett Mimms was a charismatic and talented frontman. It was obvious Garnett was going places. However, Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters came as a package. They also worked well together. The Enchanters were the perfect foil for Garnett. There was no need for Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters to do a hard sell. Quite the opposite. They were holding all the aces.

It wouldn’t be long before Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters had record companies beating a path to their door. So, Jerry had to act quickly. Luckily, Jerry and Bert Sterns had just finished a new song, Cry Baby. It was one of the first songs Jerry and Bert cowrote, using the nom de plumes Norman Meade and Bert Russell. Once it was finished, Jerry phoned Garnett and asked Garnett if he would like to record Cry Baby? 

The answer was a resounding yes. So, studio time was booked. Jerry also booked his favoured session players, including drummer Gary Chester, guitarist Eric Gale and keyboardist Paul Griffin. Everything was in place for Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters to make their recording debut.

With everything in place, Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters arrived in the Big Apple. They made their way to the studio, and recording got underway. Two tracks were due to be recorded, Cry Baby and the B-Side Don’t Change Your Heart. It was penned by Sam Bell. Soon, arnett Mimms and The Enchanters were taking care of business. Garnett delivered a cathartic, soul baring vocal. It was as if he was unburdening himself of hurt and heartbreak. Jerry was spellbound. Everyone in the gallery held their breath. Little did they know a number one single had just been recorded. All Jerry needed was label to release Cry Baby.

Having recorded Cry Baby, Jerry set about finding a label willing to release Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters’ debut single. There was a problem. It was unlike any soul single that been released before. Stylistically, this was very different. So, any label willing to release Cry Baby, were taking a leap of faith. Time and time again, labels turned Jerry down. Eventually, he tried United Artists. He wasn’t holding out much hope. However, they were willing to take a chance on Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters’ debut single Cry Baby. They would be richly rewarded for doing so.

When Cry Baby was released in August 1963, it began its slow climb up the charts. Eventually, in October 1963, Cry Baby reached number four in the U.S. Billboard 100 and number one in the U.S. R&B charts. For Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters, it was a storybook start to their nascent career. Would it last?

The followup to Cry Baby was meant to be Jerry Ragavoy’s Baby Don’t You Weep. On the flip side was For Your Precious Love, which was written by Arthur and Richard Brooks with Jerry Butler. On its release Baby Don’t You Weep reached number thirty on the US Billboard 100 and number eleven on the US Cashbox charts. However, some DJs started playing the B-Side, For Your Precious Love. Soon, it was climbing the charts, reaching number twenty-six in the US Billboard 100 charts and number nine on the US Cashbox charts. This meant Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters’ had scored two hit singles at the same time. It seemed nothing could go wrong for the Philly quartet.

Given the success of Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters, they released their debut album Cry Baby and 11 Other Hits. This was a case of all that glitters isn’t gold. The Enchanters only sung on three of the tracks. Providing the harmonies were the future Sweet Inspirations. However, soon, Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters were back with their third single, Tell Me Baby.

Having enjoyed three consecutive hit singles, Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters were on a roll. Their fans hungrily awaited their next single. They were in for a shock. Tell Me Baby, a Bob Halley and Carl Spencer penned track was released as Garnett Mimms’ debut solo single. With Anytime You Want Me on the flip side, Tell Me Baby, a Jerry Ragavoy production, was released in 1964. It was quite different from previous releases. Soul and gospel combine, harmonies and handclaps encourage Garnett to greater heights of soulfulness. This stylistic change didn’t prove as popular with record buyers, reaching number sixty-nine in the US Billboard 100 and number sixteen in the US R&B charts. While this was disappointing for Garnett, he hoped it was just a blip.

Three months passed before Garnett returned with his next single, a beautiful, heartfelt ballad, One Girl. The flip side, A Quiet Place, was a track from Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters’ Cry Baby album. However, the addition of The Enchanters didn’t result in a change of fortune. One Girl stalled at number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-one in the US R&B charts. Despite the undeniable beauty and quality of One Girl, Garnett seemed unable to replicate the success he had enjoyed with The Enchanters.

Just a month after One Girl disappeared from the charts, A Quiet Place, entered the charts. The B-Side of One Girl reached number seventy-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty-five in the US R&B charts. History was repeating itself. The same had happened with Baby Don’t You Weep and Your Precious Love, the second single released by Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters. This proved ironic, as  Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters had just gone their separate ways.

After that, The Enchanters signed to Warner Bros. and released a quartet of singles on their Loma imprint. Garnett, meanwhile, continued with his solo career. 

Later in 1964, Garnett released his debut album, As Long As I Have You. The uptempo, driving title track looked destined to be a single. That wasn’t to be. As Long As I Have You was only ever released as a single in France, and is now a real rarity. However, it features on Looking For You-The Complete United Artists and Veep Singles, and is a welcome addition. So, is One Woman Man, Garnett’s next single.

One Woman Man was a released as a single later in 1964, with Look Away on the flip side. It’s one of Garnett’s finest singles. His vocal veers between emotive, hopeful, joyous and needy. It could’ve and should’ve gotten Garnett’s career back on track. Sadly, it was a case of close, but no cigar. On its release, One Man Man reached number seventy-five in the US Billboard 100 and number fourteen in the US R&B charts. So, in an attempt to kickstart Garnett’s career, it was decided he should cover the Bert Berns’ penned A Little Bit Of Soap.

Four years earlier, A Little Bit Of Soap gave The Jarmels a hit single. That, however, was another, more innocent musical age. In the four intervening years, music had changed. Despite this, Garnett stayed true to The Jarmels’ original.  He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. For many A Little Bit Of Soap was the wrong choice of single. The B-Side, Jerry Ragavoy and Ben Raleigh’s I’ll Make It Up To You, was a better choice given the change in musical tastes. That wasn’t to be. On its release in January 1965, A Little Bit Of Soap spent a week in the US Billboard 100, peaking at number ninety-five. For Garnett, this was a huge disappointment. 

Little did Garnett know, that things would get worse, before they got better. Garnett’s next four singles all failed to chart. The first of these singles was It Was Easier To Hurt Her, a Bert Sterns and Jerry Ragavoy composition. This rueful ballad was the perfect showcase for Garnett. So was the punchy B-Side Too Close, which Sam Bell and Jerry Ragavoy penned. Sadly, 

It Was Easier To Hurt Her failed to chart, is a hidden gem in Garrett Mimms’ back-catalogue. However, it isn’t the only one.

Welcome Home, which was written by Chip Taylor, was chosen as Garnett’s next single. Everytime, another Jerry Ragavoy and Ben Raleigh composition was chosen as the B-Side. There was a problem though. 

As Garnett entered the studio with Jerry Ragavoy, so was Walter Jackson. He was in the studio with producer Carl Davis. Their version shipped first, and hit the charts. Garnett’s version, which is a beautiful, wistful ballad was withdrawn. It seemed Garnett was all out of luck.

After the disappointment of Welcome Home, Garnett released That Goes To Show You as a single. Everytime featured on the B-Side. Sadly, there was no Welcome Home for Garnett, when That Goes To Show You failed to chart. Neither did the soulful dance track, Looking For You. It was coupled with More Than A Miracle, but failed to chart. Given that Looking For You was one of Garnett’s best recordings, he must have wondered where his next hit was coming from?

Little did he know that as 1966 dawned, his luck was about to change. I’ll Take Good Care Of You was another Bert Sterns and Jerry Ragavoy song. Prove To Me, which Jerry wrote with Ed Marshall was chosen as the B-Side. When I’ll Take Good Care Of You was released in January 1966, it reached number thirty in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US Billboard charts. The success of I’ll Take Good Care Of You, would result In Garnett releasing the third album of his career, I’ll Take Good Care Of You. Garnett Mimms it seemed, was back.

Although Garnett Mimms was back, United Artists decided to move him to their newly formed Veep R&B imprint. His Veep debut was It’s Been Such A Long Way Home. It saw Garnett swagger his way through this Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Shuman track. Jerry also cowrote the flip side Thinkin’ with Chip Taylor. It’s a string laden ballad, where Garnett lays bare his soul. Just like It’s Been Such A Long Way Home, Thinkin’ oozed quality. Despite this, the single failed to chart. Garnett’s Veep debut had flopped.

So did the followup My Baby, another track from the pen of Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Shuman. On the B-Side was a Garnett Mimms’ composition Keep On Smilin.’ My Baby was one Garnett’s finest recordings. However, with its unusual time signature and deep soul sound, it was very different from other soul singles. As a result My Baby failed to chart. Time was running out for Garnett Mimms.

After returning from a British tour, Garnett’s next single Only Your Love was cancelled before it was even pressed. All About Love, with The Truth Hurts on the B-Side was chosen as Garnett’s next single. When All About Love failed to chart. It proved to Garnett Mimms United Artists/Veep swan-song.

When United Artists UK released Roll With The Punches, back hime, United Artists passed on the chance to release the single. It was the end of the road for Garnett Mimms. His time at United Artists was over. He had enjoyed nine hit singles between 1963 and 1966. However, it could’ve and should’ve been more.

Sadly, many of the singles Garnett Mimms released failed to chart. That’s despite their undeniable quality. Whether it was ballads or dancers, Garnett Mimms breathed life and meaning into each and every one of these tracks.

They’re documented on Kent Soul’s Garnett Mimms’ compilation Looking For You-The Complete United Artists and Veep Singles, which was recently released by Ace Records. Looking For You-The Complete United Artists and Veep Singles is a reminder of Garnett Mimms, one of the most talented soul men of sixties, at the peak of his soulful powers.

GARNET MIMMS-LOOKING FOR YOU-THE COMPLETE UNITED ARTISTS AND VEEP SINGLES.

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DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

After being one of the biggest selling artists of the late fifties and early sixties, the hits started to dry up for Dion. He had been one of the most successful artists of the rock ’n’ roll era. For the last six years, it seemed Dion could no wrong. This had been the case since Dion first entered a recording studio.

Having signed to Bob and Schwarz’s Laurie label, Dion first recording session was in 1957. Dion DeMucci was scheduled to record a single for Laurie’s Mohawk imprint. However, when he arrived at the studio, Dion wasn’t happy. The Schwarz brothers had arranged that The Timberlanes would accompany Dion. He wasn’t having that. So, Dion went out and recruited his friends Fred Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo. They became The Belmonts. Soon, Dion and The Belmonts were enjoying commercial success.

Between 1957 and 1960, Dion and The Belmonts released nine singles and three albums. Their debut single We Went Away, was released in October 1956. When it failed to chart, this was an inauspicious start to their career. 

Dion and The Belmonts’ next eight singles charted. A Teenager In Love reached number five in the US Billboard 100 in March 1959. Eight months later, Where Or When became Dion and The Belmonts’ most successful single, when it reached number three  in the US Billboard 100 in November 1959. That was as good as it got for Dion and The Belmonts. 

They only released two more singles. When You Wish Upon A Star reached number thirty in the US Billboard 100, in April 1960. Two months later,  In The Still Of The Night reached reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100. With Dion and The Belmonts’ popularity on the slide, Dion DeMucci decided it was time to embark upon a solo career.

Things started well for Dion. His debut single Lonely Teenager reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100, in 1960. However, the next year, Dion could do no wrong.

During 1961, Dion released five singles. Havin’ Fun and Kissin’ Game gave Dion minor hits. Then Somebody Nobody Wants failed to chart. For Dion, his solo career wasn’t going as planned.

Things changed when Dion released Runaround Sue. It gave Dion his only number one single. The followup to Runaround Sue, was The Wanderer, which reached number two in US Billboard 100. Given the success of his last two singles, Dion released his debut album, Runaround Sue, which reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200. This was the perfect way to close 1961, the most successful year of Dion’s career.

1962 saw Dion pickup where he left off in 1961. He released a quartet of singles that all reached the top ten. The year started well when Lovers That Wander reached number three in the US Billboard 100. The momentum continued when Little Diane reached number eight and Love Came To Me reached number ten. Then as 1962 drew to a close Ruby Ruby reached number two  in the US Billboard 100. That was as good as it got for Dion.

After two years where Dion could do no wrong, 1963 saw music change. During 1963, Dion released seven singles. Although Sandy and This Little Girl both reached number twenty-one in the US Billboard 100, Come Go With Me stalled at number forty-eight. Things seemed to be improving for Dion when Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw reached number thirty-one. It was a false dawn. Lonely World failed to chart. For Dion, who for two years was one of the biggest selling artist, it was indeed, a Lonely World.

Just when Dion must have been thinking his luck had run dry, his next two singles, Donna The Prima Donna and Drip Drop reached number six in the US Billboard 100. However, this proved another false dawn.

As 1964 dawned, The Beatles took America by storm. While America didn’t “get” The Beatles until 1964, their effect was soon, being felt. So was the rest of the “British Invasion” bands. They were the toast of American record buyers. Dion, once one of America’s biggest selling artists, felt this backlash.

During 1964, Dion released another five singles. Then I’ll Be Tired Of You failed to chart. It was seen as yesterday’s sound, and failed to chart. So did Dion’s covers of the blues classic Hoochie Coochie Man, and The Isley Brothers’ Shout. Dion just couldn’t buy a hit. For the latest generation of record buyers, Dion was fast becoming yesterday’s man. 

Desperately seeking a hit, Dion decided to cover Johnny B. Goode. Again, Dion was looking to the past to kickstart his career. This time, it nearly worked. Dion’s cover of Johnny B. Goode reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 100. However, it was another false dawn.

By 1965, Dion had decided that now was the time to reinvent himself. He was Columbia Records’ most successful artist. However, Dion realised music had changed, and if didn’t change direction, he risked becoming irrelevant. So, Dion decided that his future lay singing folk and blues. This didn’t please everyone at Columbia Records.

For many at Columbia Records, Dion seemed to forget about the commercial viability of singles. Dion released four singles during 1965, Unloved, Unwanted Me, Kickin’ Child, Tomorrow Won’t Bring The Rain and I Got The Blues. None of the singles charted. Some of the executives at Columbia Records were far from pleased. Their most successful artist was releasing singles that weren’t commercial? For some onlookers, this was sure to end badly.

In 1966, Dion released two further singles. However, neither Time In My Heart For You nor Two Ton Feather charted. That meant two years had passed since Dion enjoyed a hit single. For executives at Columbia Records, their once prized asset seemed to be devaluing at a rate of noughts.

During 1967, Dion didn’t release a single. Dion’s career was at the crossroads. Many thought he had taken a wrong turning, when he decided to reinvent himself as a folk and blues singer. Dion however, who had been inspired by two generations of musicians, was playing the long game.

For many years, Dion had been inspired by blues legends like Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. He was also inspired and influenced by the new generation of folk singers, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin. They inspired Dion musically and stylistically. Soon, he was finger picking. 

This was something Dion had never done before. However, in the mid-to-late sixties, a generation of folk singers were finger picking. So, was Dion. He gently caressed his guitar and sung softly. This was a revelation, and transformed his fortunes. What also helped, was Dion getting clean in 1968.

Like many within the music industry, Dion had a penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. However, in 1968 Dion made the decision to get clean. He had tired of alcohol and drugs. So, Dion decided now was the time to change. This decision transformed him. Suddenly, he felt at peace with the world. A Zen like calm descended, and Dion’s comeback began. 

For his comeback, Dion covered a song recently written by Dick Holler, Abraham, Martin and John. It was his tribute to four Americans who affected social change. Dion recorded his understated, folk rock single at the Allegro Sound Studios, with Phil Gernhard producing Dion’s comeback single. It caught a nation’s imagination.

When Abraham, Martin and John was released in 1968, it reached number four in the US Billboard 100. However, the followup, a cover of Purple Haze stalled at just number sixty-three. Although this was a disappointment, Dion was back. He released his comeback album Dion later in 1968.

Over the next few years, Dion’s comeback continued. After two hit singles during 1968, a newly reinvigorated Dion released four singles, and the album, Wonder Where I’m Bound, during 1969. Things didn’t go to plan. I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound failed to chart. Then From Both Sides Now stalled at number ninety-one. Dion’s luck didn’t change, when He Looks A Lot Like Me and If We Only Have Love both failed to chart. As a new decade dawned, Dion was looking increasingly like yesterday’s man.

1970 was a quiet year for Dion. He released just one single, Your Own Back Yard. It reached number seventy-five on the US Billboard 100. He also released another album, Sit Down Friend. Although it wasn’t a commercial success, Dion was by now a popular live act. So, it’s no surprise that Dion and his record company decided to record a live album, Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971, which was recently released by Ace Records.

The decision to record a live album, couldn’t have been timed better. During 1971, singer-songwriters were among the biggest selling acts. Carole King and James Taylor had just made their commercial breakthroughs. Dion had released his latest album, Sanctuary. It wasn’t a huge commercial success. So, Dion needed an album that would kickstart his career. Maybe, just maybe, Live At The Bitter End 1971 would transform Dion’s fortunes?

For Dion Live At The Bitter End August 1971, Dion worked his way through seventeen tracks. They were a mixture of classics, cover versions and Dion’s own songs. 

Fittingly, Dion opened his set with a Bob Dylan song. Dion, like all folk singers, owed Bob Dy;an a debt of gratitude. He was partly responsible for the resurgence of interest in folk music. However, Dion had repaid the debt, playing on a couple of songs on The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. Here, however, he delivers a pensive, poignant reading of Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind. From there, Dion moves onto the first of his own songs.

Dion wrote four songs on Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971. Brand New Morning, a heartfelt, hope filled ballad is the first. Then there’s Sunshine Lady, a paean with a feel good sound. Willigo and Harmony Sound, which closes Dion’s set, showcase Dion’s skills as a singer-songwriter. That’s also apparent on the two tracks Dion cowrote with Tony Fasce, Your Own Backyard and Sunniland. Both tracks leave you wondering why Dion never enjoyed more commercial success and critical acclaim, during this period of his career.

That’s the case throughout Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971. After all, there aren’t many singers who are versatile enough to switch between Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business, Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird and Leonard Cohen’s Sisters Of Mercy. Seamlessly, Dion adapts to the change of style, including the blues.

After covers of Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Leonard Cohen, Dion returns to the blues. He covers Sam Hopkins’ You Better Watch Yourself and Sonny Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talking. Dion it seems, is just as comfortable playing the blues. However, he’s not above throwing in a few of his “greatest hits.”

This includes the Dick Holler penned Abraham, Martin and John. Dick also cowrote Sanctuary, the title-track of Dion’s 1971 album, with Don Burnham. However, as the show drew to a close, Dion covered two of his best known songs, The Wanderer and Lieber and Stoller’s Ruby Baby. They proved popular choices. Closing the show, was one of Dion’s own songs, Harmony Sound. After seventeen songs in fifty-five minutes, Dion left the stage to rapturous applause.

Fourteen years after releasing his debut single with The Belmonts, Dion was still going strong. The last few years hadn’t been easy. The hits had dried up for Dion. No longer was he enjoying top ten singles. However, was still making a living out of music. To do that, he had to reinvent himself as a singer-songwriter. 

That proved a shrewd move. During the early seventies, singer-songwriters like Carole King and James Taylor were among the biggest selling artists. Sadly, Dion didn’t enjoy the same success. Although Dion didn’t sell millions of albums, he still had a loyal fan-base. They continued to buy his albums, and would continue to do so.

This would be the case through the seventies and eighties. Dion regularly released albums. In 1989, Dion was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After four decades in music, Dion a true musical chameleon, got the recognition he deserved. This didn’t mean Dion’s career was at an end.  

Far from it. By the nineties, Dion was still going strong. He wasn’t releasing albums as regularly as he once had. However, he occasionally released a new album. That was the case as a new millennia dawned. Still, Dion was writing and recording. He never lost his enthusiasm for music. Now aged seventy-six, the Bronx-born musician is a musical veteran, whose recording career has lasted over fifty years. Part of the secret of Dion’s longevity, is his willingness to evolve musically. That’s apparent on Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971, which was recently reissued by Ace Records, and shows the former wanderer and musical chameleon, reinvent himself as a singer-songwriter.

DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

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WITHERED HAND-NEW GODS.

WITHERED HAND-NEW GODS.

It’s at this time of year, everyone within the Scottish music industry starts thinking of the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. It’s without doubt, the most prestigious award in Scottish music. There’s a lot of kudos attached to the Award. Then there’s the £20,ooo cheque the winner is handed. For many Scottish artists, this will be a lifeline. It certainly could help Withered Hand, who took five years to produce his sophomore album Good News.

Six long years have passed since Withered Hand recorded their debut album Good News. It was released to critical acclaim, and praised for its stark honesty. There was a reason for this. The man behind Withered Hand, Dan Willson was  a latecomer to music. He was already thirty when he wrote his first song. So, Dan had lived a life and had stories to tell. Many of them were based upon his life. This is also the case with Withered Hand’s sophomore album New Gods.

New Gods was released on 17th March 2014. With the help of funding from Creative Scotland, Dan was able to record New Gods, the long awaited followup to Good News. It was released via Fortuna POP! in the UK and Europe and Slumberland in the US and Canada. New Gods features more songs based on Dan’s life. That’s been the case since Dan wrote his first song.

This came during a period when Dan’s life had been turned upside down. A close friend had just died, and he was about to become a father, for the first time. Dan was reflecting on what life was about. He found himself asking the “big questions.” To help him find answers and express how he was feeling, Dan wrote his first song. For Dan, this proved a cathartic experience. It helped Dan to make sense of what had been happening in his life. This is when Dan realised he was a talented songwriter.

Aged thirty, he began writing the songs that became Good News. Rather than release the album as Dan Willson, Dan dawned the persona of Withered Hand. Maybe, it was easier for Dan to write and perform the songs via his alter ego? On Good News’ release, critics on both sides of the Atlantic and musicians like Jarvis Cocker were won over by Good News. Where had Withered Hand all these years? 

Previously, Dan had been active in the world of visual art. He was interested in music and “dabbled.” However, it wasn’t until he dawned the persona of Withered Hand, that Dan decided to make a career as a musician.

Following the release of Good News, Withered Hand has established a reputation as a prolific live performer. That’s no bad thing. It allowed Withered Hand to further hone his sound. This has resulted in Withered Hand establishing a reputation as one of Scotland’s best singer-songwriters. During this period, Withered Hand has continued to win friends and influence people. Among them, are fellow musicians.

Many of Withered Hand’s fellow musicians are delighted to share a stage with one of Scotland’s rising musical stars. Recently, this has included Pam Berry, of America noisepop band Black Tambourine. Pam also joins Withered Hand on New Gods, adding backing vocals. Pam isn’t the only guest artist on New Gods. Far from it.

For New Gods, Dan penned eleven tracks. These songs deal with the big issues in life. This includes love, death, friendship and infidelity. There’s also songs about road trips, stargazing and cough mixture abuse. New Gods is a grownup album from a perceptive and talented songwriter. That’s why when Withered Hand recorded New Gods, he was joined by some of the biggest names in Scottish music.

When the recording of New Gods got underway at Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom Studios, Withered Hand’s band was augmented by a who’s why of Scottish music. Withered Hand’s band includes a rhythm section of bassist Fraser Hughes, drummer Alun Thomas and guitarist Malcolm Benzie. Peter Liddle plays accordion and Pam Berry of Black Tambourine, adds backing vocals and plays tambourine. Other guest artist include Pete Harvey on cello, Andy Robinson on djembe and Rob St. John on mellotron. They were joined by King Creosote, who Dan describes as his mentor. There were also guest appearances from some of Scottish music’s biggest names. Among them were Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines, Stevie Jackson and Chris Geddes of Belle and Sebastian and Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. Producing New Gods was another legend of Scottish music, Tony Doogan who previously, has produced Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian. It was this all-star lineup that recorded New Gods, which was funded in a different way to most albums.

Making an album is an expensive business, especially without a record company behind you. So, to fund New Gods, Withered Hand turned to Creative Scotland. They’ve previously helped Quickbeam and Blood Relatives to record and release albums. They helped Withered Hand to fund New Gods, which has just been released. Would New Gods be well received?

On its release New Gods critics have heaped praise upon New Gods. Just like Withered Hand’s debut, Good News, New Gods has been critically acclaimed. New Gods has been  described as the equivalent of a “confessional” that’s variously wistful, joyous and “life-affirming.” That’s some recommendation. New Gods it seems, is one of the best Scottish albums of 2014 so far. Is that the case? That’s what I’ll tell you.

Opening New Gods is Horseshoe, which demonstrates Dan’s skill as a singer and songwriter. It’s a poignant and powerful song about fear and loss. Just a lone acoustic guitar accompanies Dan’s vocal. Fear and despair fill his vocal as he sings: “Please don’t put a shadow on her lung.” Accompanying him are distant harmonies, a strident rhythm section, searing guitars and keyboards. The arrangement grows, matching the despair in Dan’s vocal. He unburdens himself, revealing his deepest fears. His vocal is a cathartic outpouring of despair, fear and grief and results in a poignant, powerful and beautiful song.

Crystalline and jangling guitars join the rhythm section and harmonies as Black Tambourine unfolds. It’s a slice of perfect pop that’s described as an “anti-hipster anthem.” Think Lloyd Cole and The Commotions circa Rattlesnakes and that’s a fair comparison. Dan even finds his inner rocker, as blistering guitars are unleashed. Mostly, though, it’s the sweetest and purest perfect pop that’s melodic and anthemic.

Love Over Desire is a relationship song, sung from the point of view of a musician on the road. It has a much more understated arrangement. It’s just Dan and his trusty acoustic guitar. Gradually, the arrangement builds, with weeping guitars and the rhythm section combining. Later, an organ, cello and backing vocals enter. However, it’s Dan’s lyrics and vocal that grabs your attention.His lyrics paint pictures. They’ve a cinematic quality, and when Dan delivers them, his worldweary vocal brings them to life.

Joyously, King of Hollywood bursts into life. Folk and rock combine as Dan twists his way through the song. Accompanied by an accordion, rhythm section and guitars Dan tells the story of a night out in Los Angeles with King Creosote. As Dan reminisces, the accordion helps power this hook-laden opus along. Melodic, memorable and truly infectious describes this song.

California is the polar opposite of the previous track. The arrangement is moody and understated. Acoustic guitars accompany Dan’s wistful vocal his time in California, when he experienced its darker side. Dan reminisces, remembering how it all unfolded. It started well, “beer, ice cold, in my hand, I’m on my way” then later; “stopping for a burger in the In-n-Out” and then: “bag of powder,” “heart beating in my chest like a jackhammer.” Meanwhile, the rest of band provide a moody backdrop to Dan vocal, as he remembers what he’d sooner forget.

Chiming guitars and the the rhythm section set the scene for Dan on Fall Apart. His vocal is tender and thoughtful, before growing in power. Stabs of piano and harmonies accompany Dan. Memories come flooding back. Sadly, they mean more to him. Dan remembers: “you and I were dancing, by the light of every dead star” and “put your hand in mine, I remember the first time.” These lyrics are part of another anthem that showcases Dan’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Just like the other tracks, his all star band provide the perfect backdrop for his vocal powerhouse.

Between True Love and Ruin is another relationship song, but one with a twist in the tale. He loves and needs her, while she’s “dreaming of freedom.” That’s because of her insecurity. Dan sings: “you said when people say nice things to you, you found it hard to believe them.” Horns rasp, while the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. Dan’s vocal is melancholy and needy, as he lays bare his soul, constantly reassuring her: ”don’t you know you had a friend?” This results in a quite beautiful and perceptive song about the nature of relationships.

Life Of Doubt is a song about addiction and specifically, being addicted to cough medicine. With a blues harmonica, that’s reminiscent of a Neil Young album setting the scene, one of the most poignant and moving songs unfolds. Just the blues harp and acoustic guitar accompanies Dan’s vocal. His vocal is a mixture of hope, fear and despair. He knows he’s an addict, but doesn’t know if he can or wants to get clean. Bleak, despairing and brutally honest, it’s one of the best songs about addiction I’ve heard in a long time.

New Gods has an understated, folk influence. The song is set in Switzerland. Dan’s vocal is tender and heartfelt. He delivers the song to a woman mourning her youth. Dan describes running across the fields late at night, staring spellbound, at the sky above. With just tambourine, acoustic guitar and harmonies for company, Dan delivers an impassioned plea. Later, he reassures her by singing: “someday, you’ll be beautiful again.”

Heart Heart is a raucous slice of singalong rock-tinged folk. Withered Hand kick loose. It’s as if the spirit of ’76 has inspired them. Rebel rouser in chief is Dan. His vocal is powerful as he helps the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards drive the arrangement along. When the tempo drops, this is a curveball in a track that’s best described as a raucous everyman anthem.

Not Alone close New Gods. It’s a wistful and poignant song. The understated arrangement suits the song. This allows Dans’ delivery of the lyrics to take centre-stage. That’s until the braying horns, mellotron and la-la-la harmonies take charge. Soon, the wistfulness is gone, becoming celebratory as if saying goodbye for the final time. 

“It’s been a long time coming”, so sang Sam Cooke. The same thing can be said about New Gods, Withered Hand’s sophomore album. However, it has been worth every minute of that long wait. New Gods features eleven songs dealing with the big issues in life. This includes love, death, friendship and infidelity. There’s also songs about road trips, stargazing and cough mixture abuse. That’s why I’d describe Withered Hand’s sophomore album New Gods is a grownup album from a perceptive and talented songwriter. That was the case with Good News, Withered Hand’s debut album. Released to critical acclaim, Good News followed from Withered Hand. A new album, New Gods, was due out on 17th March 2014 via Fortuna POP! in the UK and Europe and Slumberland in the US and Canada.

Much anticipated, New Gods was released to critical acclaim. No wonder. Cathartic, cerebral, heartbreaking, perceptive and witty describes New Gods, which was the first album Withered Hand recorded in a  recording studio. With a the experienced producer Tony Doogan at the helm Withered Hand headed to Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom studios, in Glasgow. Joining Withered Hand were some of the biggest names in Scottish music. So it’s no surprise Withered Hand’s sophomore album New Gods is one of the finest Scottish albums of recent years. There’s a reason for this.

Dan is one of the most talented and perceptive songwriters around. His songs can make you laugh, cry and dance with joy. From the opening bars of Horseshoe, right through to the closing notes of Not Alone, New Gods is a spellbinding album. That’s why I’d describe it as a cathartic confessional. New Gods veers between wistful, joyous and everything in between. That’s why Withered Hand have a big future. With their unique brand of Americana, blues, country, folk and rock Withered Hand are one of Scotland’s most exciting bands, whose sophomore album New Gods, was one of the best albums of 2014, and would be a worthy winner of the Scottish Album Of The Year Award.

WITHERED HAND-NEW GODS.

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BAD COMPANY-BAD COMPANY (DELUXE EDITION).

BAD COMPANY-BAD COMPANY (DELUXE EDITION).

When Free split-up in for the second and final time in 1973, vocalist Paul Rodger and drummer Simon Kirke joined the latest rock supergroup Bad Company. Completing Bad Company’s lineup, were Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Boz Burrell. They would become part of the most successful supergroup of the seventies.

From their 1974 debut album Bad Company, right through to 1979s Desolation Angels, Bad Company were one of the biggest selling bands on both sides of the Olympics. In Britain and America, Bad Company could do now wrong. Three of their five albums were certified gold in Britain. Across the Atlantic, Bad Company enjoyed four multi-platinum albums. They sold an estimated 13.5 million albums. This meant Bad Company were shoulders with the biggest, and most successful supergroups of the late-sixties and early seventies. The album that started this run of commercial success and critical acclaim, is Bad Company, which was recently released as a Deluxe Edition by Rhino. 

Before long, Bad Company were signed to Led Zeppelin’s newly formed Swan Song label. Soon, they had acquired a manager. This was Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. He would guide Bad Company through the most successful period of their career. It began in November 1973.

That’s when Bad Company began recording their eponymous debut album. Recording began in November 1973, when Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording studio became available. This came about purely by chance.

Having released their fifth album in February 1973, Led Zeppelin were due to return to the studio in November 1973. So, they had hired Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording studio, which Led Zeppelin had sent to Headley Grange. However,  things didn’t go well. The recording session ground to a halt, and Bad Company who were about to record their eponymous debut album, used the studio time.

At Headley Grange, Bad Company would record the eight tracks that became their debut album Bad Company. Each of the eight tracks were written by members of the band. Drummer Mick Ralphs wrote Can’t Get Enough, Movin’ On and Ready for Love, which Mott The Hoople had already recorded. Mick and Paul Rodgers cowrote Don’t Let Me Down and Seagull. Vocalist Paul Rodgers contributed Rock Steady and The Way I Choose. He also cowrote Bad Company with drummer Simon Kirke. These eight tracks were recorded by Bad Company during November 1973.

Using Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording studio, Bad Company began recording and producing their debut album at Headley Grange. Vocalist Paul Rodger played rhythm guitar on Can’t Get Enough, piano on Bad Company and Don’t Let Me Down. He also played all instruments on Seagull. Bad Company’s rhythm section featured drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Boz Burrell and guitarist Mick Ralph. Augmenting Bad Company, were saxophonist Mel Collins, and backing vocalists Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie. They feature on Don’t Let Me Down. By the end of November 1973, Bad Company was completed. It would prove to be one of the most successful debut albums of the early seventies.

Before Bad Company was released, the critics had their say. They were won over by Bad Company’s spartan, stripped back brand of rock. There were no dissenting voices, just critically acclaimed reviews of Bad Company. Things were looking good for Bad Company.

Can’t Get Enough was chosen as the lead single from Bad Company. It reached number fifteen in Britain, number three in Canada and number five in the US Billboard 100. Then when Bad Company was released on June 26th 1974, it reached number three in Britain, number seven in Canada and number one in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Bad Company being certified gold in Britain and five times platinum in America. The second single from Bad Company was Movin’ On, which reached number thirty in Canada and number seventeen in the US Billboard 100. Bad Company, the third and final single released from Bad Company failed to chart. However, Bad Company, which I’ll tell you about, was one of the biggest selling albums of 1974. It was also just the start of the rise and rise of Bad Company.

Opening Bad Company is the classic, lead single Can’t Get Enough. Drummer Simon Kirke counts Bad Company, before the rhythm section and bursts of scorching guitars sets the scene for Paul’s needy, hopeful vocal. Soon, a fist-pumping, future rock classic is unfolding. It’s apparent the four members of Bad Company are talented and experienced musicians. They never miss a beat, as they fuse rock and blues. Later, guitarist Mick Ralph delivers a guitar masterclass. This inspires Paul. He goes on to deliver a swaggering, powerhouse of a vocal on this classic rock anthem.

Rock Steady was penned by Paul Rodgers. Bursts of rocky licks are unleashed, before Bad Company’s rhythm section enter. They join Mick Ralph’s guitar, providing the backdrop for Paul’s vocal. His vocal veers between soulful and thoughtful, to powerful, and bluesy. Backing vocalists accompany him, adding further bursts of backing soulfulness. Soon, though, Bad Company are ready to kick loose. That’s the signal for Paul’s vocal to drop out. The rest of Bad Company jam, allowing the opportunity to showcase their considerable talents. They’re at their rocky best. As the rhythm section lay down a rocky groove, guitarist Mick Ralph unleashes searing, crystalline licks. When Paul returns, again, he’s a man inspired. He struts, whoops and hollers his way through the rest of Rock Steady, as Bad Company look set to join supergroup royalty.

Originally, Mick Ralphs wrote Ready For Love for Mott The Hoople, his former band. They recorded it. This didn’t stop Mick’s new band reworking the track. Some saw this as a brave move, as there would be the inevitable comparisons. Bad Company stay true to the original. It’s a case of dropping the tempo, and turning Ready For Love into a thoughtful ballad. Paul delivers a pensive, pleading vocal and plays piano. Cooing harmonies sweep above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the rest of Bad Company seem to play within themselves. They take care not to overpower Paul’s vocal or piano. The piano plays in important part in the song. Especially during the breakdown, where piano carries the melody. Then when Paul’s vocal returns, Bad Company threaten to kick loose. However, they never do, allowing the listener to hear another side to Bad Company during this beautiful ballad.

Slowly, and dramatically, Don’t Let Me Down unfolds. Guitar riffs, drums rolls and subtle bursts of piano accompany Paul’s probing, questioning vocal. He pleads “Don’t Let Me Down,” laying bare his soul for all to hear. Meanwhile, cooing, sweeping, gospel tinged harmonies join searing guitars, piano and sultry saxophone. Then when the saxophone drops out, guitarist Mick Ralph unleashes one of his best solos. This inspires the rest of Bad Company on this fusion of rock, soul and gospel harmonies.

Hesitantly and gently, Bad Company begins to unfold. Paul’s vocal is tender, as he remembers his younger days. Meanwhile, a piano plays and the rhythm section play within themselves. That’s until Paul delivers the lyric: “that’s what they call me Bad Company.” That proves the signal for Bad Company to cut loose. This they do briefly, before returning to the understated sound. From there, they veer between the understated and rocky sound. In doing so, Bad Company enjoy the opportunity to showcase their versatility

The Way I Choose has an understated, thoughtful sound. As the rhythm section play slowly and subtly, a chiming, crystalline guitar accompanies Paul’s vocal. It’sfull of emotion. One minute he sings: “I don’t need nobody,” the next, “I only love you baby.” No wonder. His partner isn’t sure. Paul pleads; “answer my question, don’t say goodbye,” on this soul-baring paean.

After the balladry of The Way I Choose, Bad Company turn to good time rock on Movin’ On. From the opening bars, it’s apparent why it was chosen as a single. Hooks haven’t been rationed, on this rocky anthem. Bad Company combine the rhythm section and blistering guitars. They provide the backdrop for Paul’s strutting vocal. As he sings about life as a rock star on the road, harmonies are added. They’re the perfect foil for Paul’s vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, guitarist Mick Ralph delivers a blistering, searing solo. It’s one of his best. It drives Paul and the rest of Bad Company to greater heights on this rocky anthem.

Seagull closes Bad Company and disc one of the Deluxe Edition. It’s another understated song. Mostly, it’s just Paul’s vocal and his guitar. As he strums his acoustic guitar, Paul wistfully delivers the lyrics. He’s very different from the swaggering, strutting rocker on Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love and Movin’ On. That’s no bad thing. It shows that Bad Company weren’t one trick ponies, never would be.

On Rhino’s recently released Deluxe Edition of Bad Company, disc two features another thirteen tracks. They’re a compelling collection of tracks. There’s demos of Little Miss Fortune and The Way I Choose. B-Sides include Little Miss Fortune, which was the B-Side to Can’t Get Enough, and Easy On My Soul, the B-Side of Movin’ On. Then there’s the long versions of Easy On My Soul and Superstar Woman. Can’t Get Enough features three times. There’s the single edit, take one and the Hammond Mix. This shows how the song evolved into a true rock classic. For anyone interested in Bad Company, or even classic rock, then disc two will provide an insight into one of the biggest, and most successful bands of the seventies.

Right through until 1979s Desolation Angels, Bad Company’s fifth album, they were one of the biggest selling bands on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain and America, Bad Company, it seemed, could do now wrong. Three of their five albums were certified gold in Britain. Across the Atlantic, Bad Company enjoyed four multi-platinum albums. In America alone, Bad Company sold an estimated 13.5 million albums. The album that started the rise and rise of Bad Company, was their 1974 eponymous album, Bad Company.

With its mixture of rocky tracks and ballads, Bad Company caught the imagination of the record buying public. Across Europe, North America, Australasia and Britain, Bad Company were the latest supergroup to become part of rock royalty. They were at the top for five years, right through until 1979. After that, the hits dried up for six years.

By then, Paul Rodgers had left Bad Company. He left in 1982, and played a huge part in Bad Company’s success. The former Free vocalist struck gold with his second band, Bad Company. However, Bad Company weren’t a one man band.

Far from it. Each of the four members of Bad Company player their part in the band’s success. That was the case on their debut album Bad Company, which was recently released as a Deluxe Edition by Rhino. The rhythm section of bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Simon Kirke provided Bad Company’s rocky heartbeat. Guitarist Mick Ralphs unleashed a series of blistering, scorching and crystalline solos. Adding the final piece to the jigsaw, was Paul Rodger’s vocal. It veered between needy and hopeful, to a strutting, swaggering powerhouse. Together, the four members of Bad Company became an unstoppable musical juggernaut.

From 1974, right through to 1979, Bad Company were rubbing shoulders with the great and good of rock music. They were one of the most successful British rock bands, and also, one of the most successful rock supergroups. While some supergroups released just a couple of albums, Bad Company enjoyed an unenviable longevity. Their recording career lasted twenty-two years and twelve albums. However, Bad Company’s most successful album was their 1974 eponymous debut, Bad Company which forty-one years later, is regarded as a classic album.

BAD COMPANY-BAD COMPANY (DELUXE EDITION).

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GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

Back in the sixties, many soul and R&B labels had their own house band. One of the earliest examples in the sixties, were the Funk Brothers, Motown’s house band. They provided Motown’s trademark sound. Motown however, weren’t alone.

As the seventies dawned, HI Records was about to become one of Southern Soul’s leading labels. Their secret weapons were the Hi Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns. They graced many a Hi Records release, and helped transform Al Green and Anne Peebles’ fortunes. Meanwhile, in Philly, M.F.S.B. were the session players the Mighty Three called upon. 

The Might Three consisted of Thom Bell, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. They would become Philly’s most successful producers. Thom Bell used M.F.S.B. on his recordings with The Deltonics, The Detroit Spinners and The Stylistics. By 1971, Gamble and Huff had founded Philadelphia International Records. Right through to 1975, the original lineup of M.F.S.B. would provide the backdrop to Gamble and Huff’s recording of Billy Paul, The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes. M.F.S.B. played an important part in the success of Philadelphia International Records. That was the case with house bands across America.

On the West Coast, the legendary Wrecking Crew were Los Angeles’ go-to band for many producers. Unlike many of the bands who toiled in the soul factories like Motown, the Wrecking Crew were truly versatile. They played on everything from film and television soundtracks, to pop, psychedelia and rock, right through to soul and R&B recordings. The Wrecking Crew accompanied everyone from Phil Spector and Frank Zappa, right through to The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen and The Association. Their versatility meant their services were always in demand. What also helped, was that the Wrecking Crew could improvise. Their off-the-cuff additions often transformed a recording. However, in Memphis, The Fame Gang were also able to transform a recording.

By the late sixties, Rick Hall’s Fame Records was enjoying one of the most successful periods in its history. This wasn’t just because of the records Fame Records were releasing. No. Fame Studios was often where the great and good headed to record singles or albums. However, the attraction wasn’t just the Fame Studio’s facilities, or Rick Hall’s skills as producer. Instead, it was The Fame Gang, Fame Records’ house band. 

Just like many labels, The Fame Gang’s lineup gradually evolved. Musicians came and went. By the late sixties, three separate lineups of The Fame Gang had passed through Fame Records’ doors. 

The Fame Gang story began in the early sixties. That’s when The Fame Gang Mk. 1 made their recording debut. Their lineup featured Terry Thompson, Jerry Harrigan, David Briggs and Norbert Putnam. They were responsible for Fame Records’ nascent soul sound. However, like many house bands, The Fame Gang’s lineup began to evolve.

Musicians came and went. Gradually, some of the most talented musicians in Muscle Shoals gravitated to Fame Records. This included Roger Dawkins, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Junior Lowe. For five years, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 played on Fame Records’ releases. They also played on numerous other releases. 

Many record companies sent their artists to Muscle Shoals, because of The Fame Gang Mk. 2 and of course, producer, Rick Hall. This included Atlantic Records, who sent Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals. With the help of The Fame Gang Mk. 2, Aretha Franklin recorded I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. It was the album that transformed Aretha Franklin’s career and fortune. Suddenly, she was on her way to becoming the Queen of Soul. As for The Fame Gang Mk. 2, they were busier than ever.

Suddenly, artists were making their way to Muscle Shoals, looking to have their fortunes transformed. Often The Fame Gang Mk. 2 worked their magic. So, it’s not surprising that people would try to lure The Fame Gang Mk. 2 away from Muscle Shoals.

Eventually, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 were lured away from Muscle Shoals in early 1969. Their destination was Nashville, the home of country music. In Nashville, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 showcased their versatility, and unlike some soul house bands, showed they weren’t one trick ponies.

While The Fame Gang Mk. 2 were keen to show they were versatile musicians, capable of seamlessly switching between musical genres, Rick Hall wasn’t a happy man. Rick complained to friends that he had spent years nurturing The Fame Gang Mk. 2. He played an important part in their success. Without him, he fumed, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 wouldn’t have reached the same heights. However, little did he know The Fame Gang Mk. 3 would be even better than The Fame Gang Mk. 2.

With The Fame Gang Mk. 2 having headed to Nashville, Rick Hall needed a new band. Gradually, the new band took shape. Soon, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 were picking up where they left off. Many thought that filling The Fame Gang Mk. 2’s shoes wasn’t going to be easy. Rick Hall smiled knowingly. He had watched and heard The Fame Gang Mk. 3, as they evolved. They would prove to were the greatest lineup of The Fame Gang. They feature on some of the recordings on Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records.

Ace Records’ Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang is a twenty-five track compilation. Essentially, it traces the development of The Fame Gang’s lineup. There were three separate lineups of the The Fame Gang. Each lineup featured some legendary musicians. They played their part in the sound and success of many Fame Records’ release, and numerous records recorded at Fame Studios. So, it made sense for The Fame Gang to release their own records.

Sadly, The Fame Gang’s recording career was all too brief. They released just a handful of singles, and one album. That represents this legendary house band’s output. The Best Of The Fame Gang feature’s seven tracks that have released before. However, the other eighteen tracks have never been released before. They’re a reminder of one of the hottest house bands, as they deliver their potent and smoking fusion of soul and funk. The Fame Gang’s story began in 1965.

That’s when a little known single Wish You Didn’t Have To Go, was released by Spooner and The Spoons. It was released on Fame Records in 1965. The single passed most people buy. Those that heard Wish You Didn’t Have To Go wondered at the identity of Spooner and The Spoons. Those in the know, realised that Spooner and The Spoons were Fame Records’ house band. That was all that was heard of what became The Fame Gang until 1968.

The Fame Gang Mk. 2 made their recording debut in 1968, when they released Spooky as a single on Atlantic Records. Spooky doesn’t feature on The Best Of The Fame Gang. Indeed, only seven of the twenty-five tracks on Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang have been released before. These tracks showcase The Fame Gang Mk. 3.

As The Fame Gang Mk. 3 took shape, people realised that this latest lineup of the Fame Records’ house band was the best. Playing a huge part in its success was The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s  rhythm section. 

Drummer Freeman Brown laid down the loose, fatback beats. Meanwhile, Jesse Boyce proved a versatile and inventive bassist. Guitarist Junior Lowe added some of his trademark, crystalline, soulful licks. Keyboardist Mickey Buckins was the final piece of the jogsaw. Together, they provided The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s heartbeat. Augmenting The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s rhythm section, were a quartet of horn players. 

This was a new addition. Never before had a horn section been a feature of The Fame Gang. Instead, horns, if required, were overdubbed later. However, the horn section weren’t a permanent fixture at Fame Studios. Instead, they were brought onboard as and when, they were needed. 

Manning the board was Mickey Buckins, another legend of Muscle Shoals’ music. He sprinkled some magic on the sessions, adding colour and texture. With his help, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 became Rick Hall’s secret weapon, accompanying not just those on Fame Records’ roster, but increasingly, the great and good of music. In 1968, Rick Hall signed The Fame Gang Mk. 3 to Fame Records’ roster. They can be heard on The Best Of The Fame Gang.

The earliest recording on The Best Of The Fame Gang, was released in 1969. This was The Fame Gang’s single Soul Feud, a blistering fusion of soul, funk and blues. Searing guitar licks and stabs of blazing horns grab your attention. From there, The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s rhythm section get funky, adding a wah-wah guitar and blistering horns. A bluesy harmonica proves the finishing touch to a truly smoking The Fame Gang Mk. 3. On the flip side of Soul Feud, Grits And Gravy is a driving slice of funk. The version on The Best Of The Fame Gang, is an extended version. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blaxpoloitation soundtrack. Nor would it sound out of place if it been released in 1973. Rick Hall had caught a break with his latest lineup of The Fame Gang.

Later in 1969, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 released what would be their one, and only, album, Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals. It featured fifteen tracks, including many cover versions. They were recorded at Fame Recording Studios 603 East Avalon Ave. Muscle Shoals. This included The Isley Brothers’ It’s Your Thing, Isaac Hayers and David Porter’s Your Good Thing and Curtis Mayfield’s Choice Of Colors. Sometimes, on Choice Of Colors, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 take the track in the direction of jazz. This is perfect, as it allows The Fame Gang Mk. 3 to showcase their versatility, switching between the soulfulness of It’s Your Thing and Choice Of Colors, to the heavy duty, futuristic funk of It’s Your Thing. Despite the quality of music on Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals, the album didn’t sell well. It didn’t look as if The Fame Gang were going to become stars in their own right.

As the seventies dawned, The Fame Gang released another single, Twangin’ My Thang. It was penned by Travis Wammack, and features The Fame Gang fusing funk and soul. There’s even a nod to Sly and The Family. However, this isn’t the only version of Twangin’ My Thang on The Best Of The Fame Gang. The closing track is an alternate take of Twangin’ My Thang. On the flip side of Twangin’ My Thang, was Turn My Chicken Loose. It’s a novelty slice of uber funky music. This brought to an end The Fame Gang’s recording career.

Sadly, The Fame Gang’s discography numbers just one album, and a trio of singles. However, for forty-five years, another seventeen tracks have lain unloved in the Fame Records’ vaults. They feature The Fame Gang fusing funk and soul seamlessly. It’s a joy to behold, and will appeal to anyone who likes their music funky or soulful.

Among the unissued tracks are covers of Syl Stone’s Stand and the Jimi Hendrix classic Hey Joe. That’s not all. The Fame Gang rework the blues classic Smokestack Lightning. Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island is also given an makeover. Elements of funk, soul and jazz are combined by The Fame Gang. They’re just a few of the highlights. Other highlights included the slow, languid Shoalin’ and Muscle Soul, a fusion of jazz and funk. Twenty Five Miles, which Johnny Bristol cowrote with Harvey Fuqua, Edwin Hatcher and Bert Russell takes on new meaning. That’s thanks to The Fame Gang’s talent and versatility. 

Throughout Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 never miss a beat. They take familiar tracks in a new direction. This they were able to do effortlessly. Each of the members of The Fame Gang Mk. 3 seemed to know exactly what the others were going to do next. They also knew how to give a track a new twist. 

This they do throughout Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang. They’re an inventive and versatile group of musicians. That’s why many regard The Fame Gang Mk. 3 as the  greatest lineup of Fame Records’ legendary house band.   However, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 enjoyed huge success, and were seen as the go-to band for many of artists. That would be the case with The Fame Gang Mk. 3. So, choosing the best lineup of The Fame Gang isn’t easy.

What it’s possible to say, is that they were one of the greatest house bands in soul music. That’s apparent when you listen to Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which features The Fame Gang Mk. 3, which Rick Hall regards as Fame Records finest house band. Coming from such a legendary producer, that’s high praise indeed.

GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

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JOHN MARTYN-LIVE AT LEEDS (DELUXE EDITION).

JOHN MARTYN-LIVE AT LEEDS (DELUXE EDITION).

In January 1975, John Martyn released his eighth studio album, Sunday’s Child. John had been away from the studio for fifteen months. His previous album, Inside Out, was released in October 1973. Since then, John had been concentrating on touring. However, in August 1974, John headed to Island Studios, in London, where he recorded the eleven songs that became Sunday’s Child.

For Sunday’s Child, John had penned nine of the eleven tracks. The other two tracks on Sunday’s Child. were cover versions of the traditional ballad, Spencer the Rover, and the country standard, Satisfied Mind. These eleven tracks became Sunday’s Child, which marked the return of one of music’s maverick’s John Martyn.

Sunday’s Child was very different from John’s previous albums. Gone was the experimental sound of previous albums. Replacing it was a much more, melodic, song orientated album. John’s lived-in, worldweary vocal and effects driven guitar style were at the heart of Sunday’s Child. Then on My Baby Girl, Beverley Martyn, John’s former wife, added backing vocals. Beverley had played a small part in Sunday’s Child’s sound and success.

On its release in January 1975, Sunday’s Child was well received by critics. Like many of John’s albums, Sunday’s Child sold well, but not in huge quantities. Island Records were beginning to notice this. 

After the release of Sunday’s Child, John headed back out on the road. That’s where he spent much of the seventies. He enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle and camaraderie. John was also a showman, born to perform. When he took to the stage, he seemed to come alive. So, it was no surprise that John began thinking about releasing a live album. This would become Live At Leeds, which was recently released by UMC as a Deluxe Edition double album.

Just a month after the release of John’s eighth studio album Sunday’s Child, John Martyn and his band took to the stage at Leeds University on 13th February 1975. That night, the concert was recorded. For a while, Johh had been contemplating releasing a live album. This he realised, would allow the record buying public to experience what John Martyn live sounded like. So, with the tapes about to get rolling, John Martyn and his band took to the stage at Leeds University on 13th February 1975.

That night, John was accompanied by a small, talented band. This included his bassist, and longtime confidante, Danny Thompson. Joining Danny in the rhythm section was drummer John Stevens, one of the founding members of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. The final band member was Free guitarist Paul Kossoff. This trio of top class musicians accompanied John Martyn, who took charge of vocals played guitar. They worked their way through the six tracks that would later feature on the original album version Live At Leeds.

When John took to the stage, he was enthusiastically greeted by the audience. Soon, he and has band launched into a nineteen minute version of Outside In. This epic veers between atmospheric and lysergic, to dark and dramatic. The music envelops you, proving elegiac, ethereal and mesmeric. John has you where he wants you.

From there, John returns to one his classic tracks, Solid Air, the title-track of his 1973 classic album. It proves a crowd pleaser, and would continue to be throughout John’s career. This proved the perfect way to close side one of the original version of Live At Leeds.

So, with the crowd hanging on John’s every word, he returns to his Inside Out album, and delivers a soul-baring version of Make No Mistake. That’s followed by another John Martyn classic, Bless This Weather, the title-track of John’s 1971 album. John, by now, a veteran of hundreds of concerts, knew how to work an audience. So for his final two songs, he returned to his first classic album, Solid Air.

Solid Air was the best album of John’s career. It was an innovative and experimental album where John’s sound began to evolve. The success of Solid Air transformed John’s career. So, it’s no surprise that John closed Live At Leeds with two tracks from Solid Air. The Man In The Station was penned by John, and delivered with an urgency. I’d Rather Be The Devil was written by Skip James. However, John brought the song to life, and like many of the tracks on Live At Leeds, would become some of John’s favourite live tracks. The eight tracks which became the original version of Live At Leeds, were well received by the audience. John thought he would have no problem convincing Island Records to release Live At Leeds.

He was wrong. Island Records felt it was the wrong time in John’s career for him to release a live album. They refused to release Live At Leeds. John however, was determined to release Live At Leeds.

John decided to release Live At Leeds himself. The original working title for Live At Leeds was Ringside Seat. Its cover was going to feature a photo of John and bassist Danny Thompson sitting in a boxing ring. Eventually, John decided on the title Live At Leeds. He had ten thousand copies printed, and decided to sell them from his home. Everything seemed to be going fine.

When the ten thousand copies of Live At Leeds arrived, there was a problem. The record sleeve stated that Live At Leeds had been recorded during October 1975. There was nothing John could do about this. Not with, Live At Leeds due to be released in October 1975.

John held his breath as the critics had their say on Live At Leeds. He needn’t have worried. They were won over by the album. Its fusion of folk rock, jazz, psychedelia and rock was a winning combination. Especially, the way John combined his worldweary vocal with the washes of his guitar. Bather in effects, it gave the album textures and hues. John’s trusty Echplex was proving to be a potent secret weapon. It played an important part in Live At Leeds’ sound and subsequent success.

As Live At Leeds went on sale, the ten thousand copies began to sale. Quickly, they disappeared. Even without a record label behind Live At Leeds sold well. John’s loyal fans all seemed desperate to get a copy. This must have left Island Records ruing their decision to release John’s live album Live At Leeds.

In the past forty years, Live At Leeds is now regarded as a classic live album. The album that was released without a record company, back when record companies were king, now rubs shoulders with the greatest live albums in musical history. That’s why Live At Leeds has been rereleased so often.

The latest rerelease of Live At Leeds comes courtesy of UMC. Their Deluxe Edition is a double album. The first thing you notice is that the track listing is different. That was the case on Universal’s 2010 rerelease. Back then, Live At Leeds’ track listing was expanded to eight tracks. It’s the same track listing the features on the 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds.

Disc One.

Disc One of the 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds opens with upbeat May You Never, followed by Live At Leeds’ epic Outside In. It’s followed by Spencer The Rover, another track that wasn’t on the original version of Live At Leeds. However, No Mistake and Bless The Weather featured on the original version of Live At Leeds. What’s changed is the running order. That was the case back in 2010. Neither My Baby Girl, nor You Can Discover featured on the original version of Live At Leeds. Nor did Solid Air close the concert. The whole concert has been reprogrammed, with I’d Rather Be The Devil (Devil Got My Woman) being omitted from disc one. This change of running order isn’t new. 

No. That was the case the last time Live At Leeds was reissued in 2010. Back then, further tracks were added. This made sense, as John and his band didn’t just turn up and play six tracks. They played for a couple of hours. However, there was a limit to how much music could fit on an LP. So, only six tracks were chosen. Now, forty years later, the CD allows music lovers to hear more of the tracks John Martyn and his band played on 13th February 1975.

Disc Two.

On Disc Two of the 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds, there’s the version of I’d Rather Be The Devil (Devil Got My Woman), which was on the original version of Live At Leeds. It features on disc two of the 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds. So does So Much In Love With You, Clutches and Mailman. Other tracks include rehearsals of May You Never, The Message, Outside In, Head and Heart and Clutches. The additional tracks that John played live on 13th February 1975 are a very welcome addition. They allow you to discover what one John’s sets in the mid-seventies sounded like. In some ways, the original version of Live At Leeds was almost a snapshot of John live. The 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds is almost like John Martyn uncut. Similarly, the rehearsals are a welcome addition.

As for the rehearsals, they allow you to compare the rehearsal to the live version. No two tracks are the same. That was the case throughout John’s career. You could see him on two consecutive nights, and he’d play the tracks in different ways. He remade old favourites, giving them a new twist. It was as if John never wanted his fans to grow tired of him. They never will.

Forty years, and five reissues of Live At Leeds later, and still, John Martyn fans haven’t tired of his classic albums, including his classic live album Live At Leeds. While some purists prefer the original version, that John sold from his house, which is now a collector’s item, the expanded 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds  is a very welcome reissue. Live At Leeds features one of John Martyn’s legendary concerts, and for his legions of fans, is a reminder of a musical maverick live in concert.

JOHN MARTYN-LIVE AT LEEDS (DELUXE EDITION)

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GUITAR SLIM GREEN’S “STONE DOWN BLUES” WITH JOHNNY AND SHUGGIE OTIS.

GUITAR SLIM GREEN’S “STONE DOWN BLUES” WITH JOHNNY AND SHUGGIE OTIS.

Guitar Slim Green was never the most prolific of musicians. That’s despite his career lasting four decades. However, during that period, Guitar Slim Green only released a handful of recordings. This included his one and only album, Stone Down Blues, which features Johnny and Shuggie Otis. It was released in 1970, five years before Guitar Slim Green’s death aged just fifty-five. Since then, Stone Down Blues has never been rereleased. That’s until now. BGP, an imprint of Ace Records have recently reissued Stone Down Blues which showcases the multitalented Guitar Slim Green. His story began in Oklahoma in 1920.

That’s where Guitar Slim Green was born Norman G. Green on 25th July 1920. Growing up, Norman played guitar. As he daydreamed, he had dreams of making a living as a musician. However, that seemed just a dream. Even when Norman moved to Las Vegas in his early twenties. 

Las Vegas was home to Norman G. Green until 1947. In 1947, Norman G. Green decided to move to California. That’s where his dreams came true. Norman G. Green became a musician, and Guitar Slim Green was eventually born.

Norman’s inspiration was one of music’s most flamboyant showmen, T-Bone Walker. He had pioneered the electric guitar. Through listening to T-Bone Walker, Norman developed his own distinctive style. His distinctive style resulted in Norman making a breakthrough.

This came when Norman got the chance to work with J.D. Nickelson. Norman featured on the singles, Strange Woman Blues and Bouncing Boogie. They were released on Courtney Records. Not long after this, Norman released his debut single.

Alla Blues was credited to R. Green and Turner, and released on the J&M Fullbright label. This song would eventually become a blues standard. The followup to Alla Blues was Baby I Love You, released on the Murray label. It was credited to R. Green, and essentially was, Norman’s debut solo single. The two singles were well received, and showed the future Guitar Slim Green evolving from a country blues singer, to a much more urban, contemporary sound.

Having released his debut single, Guitar Slim Green moved to Fresno, where he played alongside Jimmy McCracklin and L.C. Robinson. Then in 1957, Norman headed to Los Angeles, where he formed his own band.

In Los Angeles, Guitar Slim Green and his band The Cats recorded two singles during 1957. This included My Woman Done Quit Me, where Guitar Slim Green takes charge of the vocal. Both singles were produced by Johnny Otis, who would reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life in 1970. Before that, Guitar Slim Green had more music to make.

Another two years passed before Guitar Slim Green released another single. Scratch My Back was released in 1959, and would be the last single Guitar Slim Green released until 1968.

Having been away from a recording studio for nine years, Guitar Slim Green was keen to record some new music. So, he recorded singles on the Gee Note and Solid Soul labels. These singles sunk without trace. Guitar Slim Green’s career looked as if it was at a crossroads. His music critics remarked, hadn’t evolved. What Guitar Slim Green needed, was someone who could get his career back on track. 

Luckily, Johnny Otis was about to reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life. Johnny had turned his back on music for much of the sixties. Instead, he had been concentrating on Democratic politics and community projects. However, he still kept practising. By the end of the decade Johnny was ready to make a comeback. 

Encouraged by his friend Frank Zappa, Johnny Otis returned to music. He signed to Kent and recorded two albums, Cold Shot and Snatch and The Poontangs. Johnny also signed Preston Love to Kent, and produced his Omaha Bar-B-Q album. The other artist Johnny Otis signed to Kent was Guitar Slim Green.

Although Guitar Slim Green had released a number of singles, he had never released an album. This was about to change. Johnny and Guitar Slim Green set about to write material for Guitar Slim Green’s comeback album. 

Eventually, Guitar Slim Green and Johnny had penned ten tracks. Shake Em Up, Bumble Bee Blues, Make Love All Night, My Little Angel, You Make Me Feel So Good, Big Fine Thing and Play On Little Girl. 5th Street Alley Blues and Old Folk Blues were written by Guitar Slim Green. Johnny contributed This War Ain’t Right. These ten tracks would become Stone Down Blues.

When recording of Stone Down Blues began, Guitar Slim Green played guitar and added vocals. Producer Johnny Otis played drums. Johnny’s seventeen year old Shuggie Otis, played bass, guitar, piano and harmonica. Roger Spotts played piano on Bumble Bee Blues. Once Stone Down Blues was completed, it was released in 1970.

On the release of Stone Down Blues in 1970, on Kent, the album sunk without trace. For Guitar Slim Green, Stone Down Blues was an inauspicious end to his recording career. Never again, would he set foot in a recording career. Five years later, Guitar Slim Green was dead, aged just fifty-five. His musical legacy included Stone Down Blues, Guitar Slim Green’s only album which deserves to be reappraised. That’s what I’ll do.

Shake Em Up opens Stone Down Blues. It’s Guitar Slim Green’s attempt to launch a dance craze. he unleashes a chiming, crystalline guitar. He’s accompanied by a funky rhythm section. It comes courtesy of Shuggie and Johnny Otis. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green vamps his way, accompanied by some searing, blistering licks. They play their part in a contemporary sounding track, where Guitar Slim Green delivers a guitar masterclass.

Bumble Bee Blues sees a return to a much more traditional bluesy sound. The arrangement is slow, moody and bluesy. As the rhythm section create a churning arrangement, Shuggie blows a blues harmonica and a piano plays slowly. Guitar Slim Green delivers a needy, hopeful vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, the blues harp blows. It’s joined by the rhythm section and piano. Together, they provide a glorious bluesy backdrop, before Guitar Slim Green returns, to deliver a hopeful vocal.

Johnny and Shuggie Otis provide a driving arrangement on Make Love All Night. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a bravado fuelled, vampish vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, he unleashes a searing guitar solo. All the time, crystalline guitar licks and the rhythm section drive the bluesy arrangement along, as Guitar Slim Green struts his way through the lyrics to Make Love All Night, one of Stone Down Gone’s highlights.

Guitar Slim Green takes centre-stage on My Little Angel. Meanwhile, Johnny’s drums provide the heartbeat and Shuggie’s bass adds a bluesy hue. Flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s soul-baring vocal, as he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak to hear. His guitar playing is just as good. Especially when accompanied by Shuggie on piano. He’s the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green, as he unleashes some of virtuoso licks and tricks.

Slow, moody and bluesy describes 5th Street Alley Blues. That’s down to the rhythm section and chirping, searing guitars. They join the piano, and play slowly, as Guitar Slim Green delivers a despairing vocal. As he sings: “where can my baby she went down 5th Sreet Alley and left me in misery,” it’s as if Guitar Slim Green’s lived and survived the lyrics.

A bass bounds, guitars ring out and hi-hats hiss on Old Folk Blues. Guitar Slim Green seems to be paying homage to John Lee Hooker. Both his vocal and guitar are similar in sound. Guitar Slim Green is like a man inspired. He unleashes some searing, ringing licks and a vocal full of emotion and hope. 

This War Ain’t Right was an ant-war song penned by Johnny Otis. As Guitar Slim Green delivers a slow, pensive vocal, a jangling piano plays. It’s accompanied by a shuffling rhythm section and chiming, chirping guitar licks. However, Guitar Slim Green’s vocal takes centre-stage. This allows you to focus on the lyrics. That’s until it’s time for Guitar Slim Green to unleash what’s easily, one of his best solos. After that, he considers the folly of war, on this poignant anti-war blues.

The tempo rises on You Make Me Feel So Good. Straight away, the piano and rhythm section drive the arrangement along. They provide a backdrop for Guitar Slim Green’s vocal. It veers between joyous, to frustrated. Later, Shuggie unleashes a blistering guitar solo, as Guitar Slim Green vamps his way through the lyrics. Shuggie proves the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green, as they drive each other to greater heights.

Big Fine Thing sounds as if it was recorded in the late fifties. It’s best described as a vintage sounding blues, with much more stripped down sound. As the rhythm section leave space, Shuggie blows his blues harmonica. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a vampish vocal, paying homage to his “Big Fine Thing.” He also unleashes some crystalline, searing licks. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Shuggie’s bluesy harmonica. Together, they add the finishing touches to this vintage sounding blues.

Play On Little Girl closes Stone Down Blues. It sees the tempo drop. It’s slow, broody and bluesy. The rhythm section join a jangling piano and Guitar Slim Green’s crystalline guitar. As it rings out, flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s despairing, hurt-filled vocal. It soars above the arrangement, as he lays bare his broken heart. Accusingly and despairingly, he sings “Play On Little Girl keep on playing till you break up your happy home.” The way Guitar Slim Green sings the lyrics, it’s as if he’s been there, and survived to tell the tale.

For forty-five years ago, Guitar Slim Green belatedly released his debut album. He had been a musician for twenty-three years, but had only released a handful of singles. When Johnny Otis reentered Guitar Slim Green’s career, he got him a recording contract with Kent.

Back then, Kent were no longer the powerhouse they once were. Neither was Johnny Otis. He was once one of the biggest names in R&B. However, music had change. That’s partly why Johnny sat out much of the sixties. Then in the late sixties, he made a comeback. Johnny signed to Kent and released two albums. Despite their quality, they didn’t fare well. Johnny Otis, it seemed, was no longer a big star. However, he was a talented musician and producer. This made him the ideal person to kickstart Guitar Slim Green’s career.

Together, Johnny and Guitar Slim Green wrote the ten tracks on Stone Down Blues. Johnny brought his seventeen year old son onboard for the recording of Stone Down Blues. The young virtuoso almost stole the show on several occasions. This seemed to spur Johnny and Guitar Slim Green on. They unleashed a series of spellbinding performances. Guitar Slim Green was like a man reborn. Surely, his career was about to be reborn?

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Guitar Slim Green’s debut album, Stone Down Blues sunk without trace. It was the age old story. Stone Down Blues was the wrong album at the wrong time. Blues was no longer as popular. While the blues enjoyed a brief resurgence in interest, music had moved on. What also didn’t help was that Kent was no longer the force it once was. So, it’s no surprise Stone Down Blues failed to be heard by a wider audience. Hopefully, that’s about to change.

Stone Down Blues, Guitar Slim Green’s debut album, was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records. This is a welcome reissue of a long-lost, and hugely underrated album, Stone Down Blues where blues virtuoso, Guitar Slim Green made a welcome comeback.

GUITAR SLIM GREEN’S “STONE DOWN BLUES” WITH JOHNNY AND SHUGGIE OTIS.

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