Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who's afraid of the "Inner Mounting Flame?"

It's Halloween.  It's a time to scare someone, and to get scared.  Some people might play some eerily spooky music for a night like tonight.  As for me, I'll play some jazz fusion that's "frighteningly good."

For that, I'll turn to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the band's debut album, "The Inner Mounting Flame."  MO set the bar pretty high in the fusion world, led by fiery guitarist Mahavishnu John McLaughlin.  But it went beyond him.  He had a uniquely trailblazing group of players behind him.  On violin, Jerry Goodman could match him note for note.  Jan Hammer had a sound all his own on keyboards.  Rick Laird was solid on bass, and Billy Cobham provided some of the most muscular drumming around.

It was the kind of jazz that reached across easily to rock fans and touched them in a special way.  That was the magic of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In a Marty Robbins state of mind

Thoughts of Arizona have been crossing my mind today.  The desert, the heat, the dry air, the cacti.  That western touch.

I've been doing a bit of research on the Glendale area in particular.  Which brings me around to the music of Glendale native Marty Robbins.

I grew up on Marty's music.  He was all class.  He put the "western" in country-western music, with so many cowboy songs and gunfighter ballads.

He may have sung a lot about Texas, particularly El Paso.  But he was an Arizona guy, through and through.  And that voice of his ... well, that was like pure gold.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When the rain comes ...

Don't take this as trying to be "cute" in a very serious situation.  I'm sending out best wishes today to the people on America's East Coast, who are now being or are about to be affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Millions of Americans over a huge path -- even far inland -- are expected to feel the impact of this historic storm in one way or another.  Here's a Crossover Music Channel wish that our friends over there stay safe, as dry as possible, and that the effects aren't too devastating.

Beach goers watch waves generated by Hurricane Sandy.  (Photo Credit ABC News)

Friday, October 26, 2012

The passion behind the music (Part 5 of 5): More "playing for change"

I started the week with a look at musicians from around the world who were featured in the multimedia music project "Playing for Change," which created a separate non-profit organization called the Playing For Change Foundation which builds music schools for children around the world.

Playing for Change logo
The organization's goal was to "inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music," featuring all local musicians.  They weren't famous people, many of them were musicians off the streets, but some of them came to be known largely because of the project.

The foundation is dedicated to creating and supporting music schools, mainly in developing countries. Three music schools and a total of seven music programs have been created since 2008:
  • Ntonga Music School, Gugulethu, South Africa
  • Bizung music and dance school, Tamale, Ghana
  • Ecole de musique de Kirina, Kirina, Mali
  • Tintale Village Teaching Center Tinatle, Nepal
  • Mitrata Nepal village Music Program, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • The Hari Kul Music School, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Intore Culture and Music Center, Kigali, Rwanda
 But, going back to the first article in this series, it takes a special kind of person to care about the music that much, and what music does to enrich our lives and the lives of others around the world.  It takes a special kind of person with a true passion for their art to enrich lives in that way.  It can be enriched by world-famous musicians, those trying to do something with their music in clubs where they play for tips or beers, local musicians playing on sidewalks or dirt pathways where all they get out of it might consist of  loose change or the odd candy bar or two.

That's the literal definition of "playing for change."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The passion behind the music (Part 4 of 5): A busking we will go

Paul McCartney in disguise in the film "Give My Regards to Broad Street."
Benjamin Franklin used to do it.  Paul McCartney's done it.  Tracy Chapman's done it.  Tom Jones has done it for charity.  Rod Stewart used to do it back in the early 1960s.  Sting has done it.  The Violent Femmes were discovered while doing it.

What did all of these people do in common?  Busking, also known as street performing.

There's even a scene from McCartney's 1984 film "Give My Regards to Broad Street" that shows him in disguise, singing a totally reworked version of "Yesterday" with people walking around him, occasionally giving him money (which was later given to the Seaman's Mission).

And then there's Springsteen, captured on video performing with a street musician in Copenhagen in 1988.

Long live the buskers, wherever they might be!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The passion behind the music (Part 3 of 5): The "world series" of street musicians

Major League Baseball's World Series gets started tonight.  You can bet that both cities represented in the fall classic this year -- San Francisco and Detroit -- have their share of fine street musicians.

Let's go find out just how good they are, starting the "first inning" with Detroit.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The passion behind the music (Part 2 of 5): Stop and hear the sounds

I came across an interesting story on Facebook last February that is perfect for the blog this week.  It's a story that -- if we read it, take it to heart, think about it -- can reach inside our souls and maybe, just maybe, help us to spend some time taking stock of our priorities and maybe reconsider them a bit.

Maybe it will help us to stop, listen, and appreciate some of the most beautiful sounds that can surround us in our busy lives.

I'm reprinting the story as it appeared on Facebook.

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

“Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

“A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till without stopping, and continued to walk.

“A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

“The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

“In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

Joshua Bell
“No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

“Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

“This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

“One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

“If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

Monday, October 22, 2012

The passion behind the music (Part 1 of 5): Playing for Change

A musician friend of mine in California -- Steen Berrig, a mean blues harp player -- sent me a link recently to a blog post at Sonoma Music Scene, titled "Tips or beer ... do we play for free?"  It talks about the challenges that talented musicians have in making a living (or any money at all, for that matter) doing what it is that they love:  playing music.

How many musicians out there devote hour after hour to their greatest passion in life, through practice or performance time, in order to entertain us or just to make people's day a bit brighter, and do it for so little in return?  How many other professions out there require that same kind of time, and how many of those professionals would be willing or expected to give so much for so little, as much as musicians seem to be expected to do?  But they still do it, and it's their passion for that musical gift that makes them do it.

The blog article that Steen passed along to me reminded me of street musicians, displaying their talents on so many sidewalks in so many areas around the world, with instrument cases or cups or cans or hats sitting out for passers-by to toss coins or paper currency into if they feel so inclined.  If we live in a fairly populated area, the street musician is easy to find.  Many of them are truly gifted.

How much time out of our busy day are we willing to spend to pay attention to what it is that they're doing?  How much time out of our busy day are we willing to spend to just stop for a minute or two and enjoy what's being provided for us?  Do we reward them, or are we more likely to save that spare change in our pocket for a candy bar to satisfy our taste buds?

How much are we willing to pay to those who enrich our lives in such subtle ways, as musicians do?  Or are we content to have them just "play for change?"

This is a week dedicated to those with so much passion and talent for music that they end up "playing for change."

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Battle of the "People Get Ready" versions

In the world of soul music, there's one song that I know I could go on and on with when it comes to all the different versions of a song that have been performed by scores of various musicians from all across the musical globe.

The song is "People Get Ready," written in the early 1960s by Curtis Mayfield and gaining popularity first with the group Mayfield was in, The Impressions.  Rolling Stone magazine named it the 24th greatest song of all time, and deservedly so among modern music.

It's a song that is indeed timeless, and even though it's a gospel-tinged classic it touches the heart of just about anyone who listens to it.

I did a music playlist in another blog of mine back in early February of this year, back when my wife was thinking of performing this song herself.  I included a variety of versions so she could get a good taste of how it's been done through the years.  In that blog alone, I came up with 15 different videos of the same song.

A VIEW FROM THE MIDDLE (CLASS):  My music playlist for today (February 2, 2012 edition)

It's too hard to pick just one favorite version of this song, because each one of them is performed with tons of heart, soul, and gospel feeling.  You can't beat that.

One of the versions has been performed by The Chambers Brothers, with lead vocals done by my friend Lester Chambers.  Lester's performing again Saturday night, October 20, at The Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, CA, along with his band The Mud Stompers.  If you're in the area, I encourage you to check it out.  Chances are that they'll do another rendition of "People Get Ready," and Lester will sing it with just as much heart, soul, and gospel feeling as he did in the 1960s.

Lester Chambers and The Mud Stompers at The Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, CA

So, people, do get ready for a stone-cold soul classic.  Don't feel like you have to choose the best version on this one.  Just sit back and enjoy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Battle of the "Solsbury Hill" versions

When Peter Gabriel wrote a tune that referenced -- at least in part -- his departure from the progressive rock band Genesis to embark on what would turn into an even more successful solo career, he may not have given much thought to the different versions that would be recorded or performed by other musicians in the years to come.

There's been the synth pop duo Erasure, a (sometimes) Peter Gabriel sound-alike in Dave Matthews, Kyte, Scala & Kolacny Brothers, and Sarah McLachlan.

To my ears, no one does it better than the writer and original performer.  Feel free to voice your own opinion.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Battle of "Birdland" versions

Joe Zawinul's "Birdland" was a song I first started diggin' a lot when my high school's jazz band had the good taste to try and take it on around the time it came out in 1977, with the Weather Report album "Heavy Weather."

It's become a jazz staple ever since it was released.  That's a good thing.  My favorite version comes from the band that first performed it, with Jaco Pastorius' "singing" bass lines and Wayne Shorter's perky sax helping to lead the way.

As for my wife, the singer, I know which version she'd choose as her favorite:  The Manhattan Transfer's cover with vocals.  I know this because she loves to sing along with it.

What about you?  Who makes you tap your toes along to the driving beat of Zawinul's "Birdland" the most?  Buddy Rich?  Maynard Ferguson?  Manhattan Transfer?  Quincy Jones?  String Cheese Incident?  Or the originators, Weather Report?

Feel free to chime in here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Battle of "Suspicious Minds" versions

American songwriter Mark James penned a classic song made into a hit by a variety of artists, perhaps most notably by the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" himself, Elvis Presley, turning into Elvis' last No. 1 hit in 1969.

It's been covered quite a bit since then, by everyone from country artists like Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam and Ronnie McDowell to Fine Young Cannibals along with a few on top of that.

Who's done it the best?  The debate is on.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Battle of the "You Really Got Me" versions

I heard a song on the leading local classic rock radio station tonight that got me thinking of all the different versions of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

I've heard it done in a family movie called "Picture Perfect."  There's a version by The Chipmunks, for cryin' out loud.

And I haven't even mentioned the blistering cover done by Van Halen.

So, I'll leave it up to the viewers to decide between three of them which was the greatest:  The Chipmunks, Van Halen, and the ones who started it all -- The Kinks.

If anyone chooses The Chipmunks ... well, may the rock 'n' roll gods have mercy on your soul.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bobby Whitlock: The time is now

Bobby Whitlock's been on quite a ride in his lifetime, both musically and personally.  Through failed relationships, a near-death experience, bankruptcy, trusting the wrong people, making a few bad choices.  And those are just the things he's experienced in his adult life.

His childhood was another story entirely, as his autobiography shows.

It appears that things are looking up for him these days, though.  He's still traveling the world, writing new music and sharing the joy of performing in front of audiences no matter where they might be.  And he has the love of his life, CoCo Carmel, as his partner in everything he does.

He's gone through a spiritual transformation a time or two, which shows in the gospel way that he sings.  He sings from the heart, with soul.  I've enjoyed that sound ever since I started listening to the songs off the "Layla" album years ago.  It's a sound that hasn't lost its impact through the years, at least to my ears.

Bobby doesn't just sing with gusto.  He plays the keyboards with it too.  Just watch him playing in newer videos with Steve Cropper, Eric Clapton, or Paul Schafer.  He hasn't lost his touch, not by a long shot.

In people like Bobby Whitlock, we find a lifetime's worth of musical experiences and memories that bring back good times and hard times as well, joy and pain.  It all comes through in the music, and the way that music is played.

Chances are, people like Bobby Whitlock will keep on playing music until the day they die because it's what they love, and it gives them joy to bring so much joy to their audiences.  It may not always bring them monetary riches, although we think or wish that it could because it's deserved based on their talent, but it at least enriches them and us by having them doing it, and doing it so well.

We'll have to keep our eyes and ears open for Bobby and CoCo's latest album release.  Bobby's seen a lot through a lot of years in the music business, working with a lot of people.  He's happy where he's at now.

For Bobby Whitlock, the time is now.


MONDAY:  The introduction, music through Delaney & Bonnie and Friends
TUESDAY:  Moving on to Derek and The Dominos with "Layla"
WEDNESDAY:  The email interview with Bobby Whitlock
THURSDAY:  Bobby Whitlock, post-Dominos
TODAY:  Bobby Whitlock, "The Time Is Now"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bobby Whitlock: The post-Dominos solo years

It would be vastly unfair to say that Bobby Whitlock was just "along for the ride" on the famous coattails of Eric Clapton with the success of Derek and The Dominos and the "Layla" album.

Anyone making that claim hasn't taken a look at the quality of the songwriting and performing found in Whitlock's solo work and his music that's been performed by Ray Charles ("Slip Away"), Tom Jones ("This Time"), George Jones ("He's Not Entitled to your Love"), Sheryl Crow ("Keep on Growin"), and Derek Trucks ("Anyday").

Whitlock released four solo albums in the 1970s -- enlisting the help of people like Eric Clapton, Rick Vito, Duane Allman -- and he garnered strong reviews for his solo efforts.

He is a songwriter's songwriter.  His '70s work showed the same soul-filled flavor as any of the best work he did in the years prior.

No, Bobby Whitlock is not one to ride on anyone's coattails.  His solo work in the '70s was proof of that.

MONDAY:  The introduction, music through Delaney & Bonnie and Friends
TUESDAY:  Moving on to Derek and The Dominos with "Layla"
WEDNESDAY:  The email interview with Bobby Whitlock
TODAY:  Bobby Whitlock, post-Dominos
FRIDAY:  Bobby Whitlock, "The Time Is Now"