Monday, July 6, 2020

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Canned Heat

(Canned Heat Image via Pinterest)

The band formed in 1965 in Northbridge, California by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (bottleneck guitar) and Bob “The Bear” Hite (vocals). The boys were blues fanatics and started a jug band with drummer Frank Cook and they would appear at the odd gig around LA. Canned Heat were dedicated to revive the Blues and to that extent would compare favourably to John Mayall in the UK. With the addition of Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine (lead guitar and formerly of the Mothers of Invention) and Stuart Brotman, Canned Heat were finally formed. Their name came from a Tommy Johnson song entitled "Canned Heat Blues" recorded in 1928.

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The group honed their craft playing in clubs around LA and perfected a mixture of country blues, modern electrification and driving boogie woogie. Canned Heat recorded their first album in 1966 which included two versions of Rollin’ and Tumblin (with and without harmonica), Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, and John Lee Hooker’s Louise. The album was produced by Johnny Otis but did not get released until 1970 under the title Vintage Heat.

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The credited line up was Hite, Wilson, Cook, Vestine, and Stuart Brotman. Brotman left the band in 1966 and was replaced by Mark Andes (Spirit). Larry Taylor (Moondogs) eventually took over as bass player in 1967 when the band went under the management of Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Canned Heat signed for Liberty Records in the same year and released the single “Rollin’ and Tumblin’" with "Bullfrog Blues" on the B side.

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Later their label released their first album called Canned Heat, which was made up of re workings of old blues songs. It sold reasonably well.

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Canned Heat continued to gig and appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and wowed the audience. They gained a bit of a “bad boy“ reputation with drug taking allegations and this endeared them more to their fans but did have ramifications behind the scene. Band manager Skip Taylor was forced to obtain the $10,000 bail by selling off Canned Heat's publishing rights to Liberty Records President Al Bennett when they were busted. Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra replaced Frank Cook as they were recording their second album, Boogie with Canned Heat. The album had a more R&B feel and included "On The Road Again" and "Amphetamine Annie" which was rather tongue in cheek but arguably the first “anti-drug” song of the decade.

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'On the Road Again' featured Wilson’s clear vocals and exemplary harmonica and became the band's break-out song enjoying worldwide success.

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Skip Taylor and John Hartmann in keeping with the old blues tradition christened the band members with nicknames: Bob "The Bear" Hite, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, Henry "Sunflower" Vestine (and later Harvey "The Snake" Mandel), Larry "The Mole" Taylor and Fito de la Parra. On stage ‘Heat’ was electrifying and performed blues standards as well as their own material. The popularity of the band ensured rock fans were given the full blues treatment. In 1967 they appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, CA and in the following year they became residents at the Kaleidoscope on Sunset Boulevard east of Vine and played the first annual Newport Pop Festival.

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The group also toured Europe and the UK in 1968 to promote their new album "Living the Blues" (1968) which featured "Going Up The Country." The single was another enormous hit worldwide and went to #1 in 25 countries. "Going Up the Country" became the title track in the documentary movie directed by Michael Wadleigh (1970) and the unofficial theme song of the Woodstock Festival.

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The next album Hallelujah (1969) was blues-based but within days of its release, Henry Vestine left the group. Harvey Mandel joined the band and they played two dates at the Fillmore before appearing at Woodstock.

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In 1970 the group released Future Blues with Wilbert Harrison song "Let’s Work Together" the single.

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Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the band soon after to join John Mayall and Henry Vestine returned to the Heat on guitar, accompanied by bassist Antonio de la Barreda, they recorded Hooker”N Heat with John Lee Hooker. Before the album was released Alan Wilson died from a drug overdose.

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Hooker’N Heat became the first album in Hooker's career to make the charts, topping out at #73 in February 1971. John Lee Hooker was a fan of Alan’s harmonica work. Joel Scott Hill, (Moby Grape) was drafted in as replacement and the group continued to tour the world. On the next album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was "Rockin’ with the King" which featured Bob Hite and Little Richard.

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Disagreements among the band members led to unrest and eventually line-up changes just as the public’s musical tastes were changing. Canned Heat fortunes started to dwindle and by the time they signed for Atlantic most of the group were battling alcoholism and or drug dependency. Under new management attempts were made to rekindle past glories and in 1981 the album Kings of the Boogie was recorded.

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During a live performance in April of that year Bob Hite collapsed and was later found dead. The group continued and had a hugely successful tour of Australia in 1982. However discord continued among band members and eventually this led to yet more line-up changes. The group has reformed over the decades and toured in Europe butnNone of the original band from 1965 remain with only Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra (drums) in the lineup. Larry "The Mole" Taylor died in 2019 after a long battle with lwith cancer, and Harvey "The Snake" Mandel continues to tecord and perform as a solo artist.

( Video Courtesy: tergorion Published by Youtube Channel)

Worth a listen
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (1967)
Bullfrog Blues (1967)
Going up the Country (1968)
On the Road Again (1968)
Let's Work Together (1970)

Reviewed 6/07/2020

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Nat King Cole (1919 -1965)

(Nat King Cole Image via Pinterest)

Nathaniel was the son of a minister and learned to play the piano when he was very young. Nat regularly played in his father's church from the age of 11 and was an accomplished pianist by the age of 12. He became equally conversant with jazz, gospel and the classics. He would often sneak out of the house to listen to jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Earl "Fatha" Hines, and Jimmie Noone when they played in the local clubs. Still at school Nat Cole formed a band with his older brother, Eddie Coles, (bass) and they became a popular local attraction as 'Eddie Coles Solid Swingers'. They made their recording debut in 1936.

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He earned his nickname “King” from his fans who rated him as the business as a jazz pianist. Nat joined a touring theatre group performing ‘Shuffle Along’ a revival of ragtime. The show folded in Long Beach, California, and Nat King Cole decided to stay there. Initially Nat Cole formed the "King Cole Swingers,” with Oscar Moore (guitar), Wesley Prince (double bass) and Lee Young (drums). When the drummer failed to appear they played as a trio. Later when Nat moved to LA he called the group’s title to 'King Cole and his Swing Trio, then in 1939, the 'King Cole Trio'. Nat would frequently sing in-between the instrumental segments until his singing became more popular. Lionel Hampton was keen the trio should join his band and they recorded a series of recordings. Cole was considered a leading jazz pianist and frequently was asked to perform as a session musician on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton. Nat however decided his career lay elsewhere and his big break came in 1943 when Johnny Mercer signed him to Capital Records.

(Capitol Records Building Image via Pinterest)

Nat stayed with the recording company for the rest of his career. Much of the success of Capitol Records including their round building came from the revenue generated by Nat’s record sales. The circular office was completed in 1956 and became known as "the house that Nat built." His trio format provided a welcome alternative to the big bands for small clubs, especially during the war years and many other musicians started their own trios, these included: including Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Tommy Flanagan and blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles. Nat's first vocal hit for Capital was “Straighten up and fly right” (1943) and sold over 500,000 copies.

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A series of hits followed including 'I love you for sentimental reasons' which became a number one hit.

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By 1946 Nat changed to become a ballads singer and recorded "The Christmas Song" (1946). He made several versions of this in his career.

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By the late 40s the trio had become a backing for Nat smooth vocals and Oscar Moore decided to leave and was replaced by Irving Ashby. In 1948, Johnny Miller left the Trio to be replaced by Joe Comfort, and Jack Costanzo joined on bongo. To accommodate these changes the group's name was adapted from 'King Cole Trio' to 'Nat King Cole and his Trio'. Capital recorded a massive body of work from 1948 to 1949 which included many songs which would become great hits including "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune "Unforgettable" (1951). Nat teamed up with Nelson Riddle and from their first session came Unforgettable which became and international success.

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Over the next nine years Nat and Nelson produced many classics including: My first love and last love, Night lights. Somewhere along the way, A blossom fell, and Ballerina among many others.

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He also worked with Billy May and came up with Walking my baby back home.

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Now backed by heavy orchestration the Trio was officially disbanded in 1953. By this time many jazz fans felt Nat had become too commercialised and he was heavily criticised for selling out. However Nat King Cole never totally abandoned his jazz roots and recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight in 1956.

(Video Courtesy: Classic Mood Experience by Youtube Channel)
Nat continued to produce a steady stream of classic singles and albums such as 'Love is the Thing', 'The Very Thought of You', 'Where did everyone go' and 'Let's face the music and dance'.

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In 1956 Nat landed his own TV Show, The Nat King Cole Show on NBC-TV and featured many other popular singers including: Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, and Eartha Kitt. Despite its historic interest the program had a look warm appeal and only lasted one year.

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At a time when America was particularly sensitive to racism the end of the Nat King Cole Show was due in no short part to the lack of sponsors willing to invest in a program showcasing an African American artist. Nat King Cole fought racism all his life and refused to perform in segregated venues. Despite the short lived TV success his hits kept coming with "Smile", "Pretend", and "If I May."

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All becoming best sellers. Nat’s appeal extended beyond English speaking fans and he recorded in Spanish, travelling to Cuba in 1958 to record an album (the first of three).

(Video Courtesy: Nat King Cole by Youtube Channel)

In 1962 Nat hit the top of the charts with a Country & Western song 'Ramblin' Rose,' and now at the height of his career he recorded many successful albums and singles including LOVE.

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He was working a punishing schedule when his health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Nat King Cole died quietly on 15th February 1965 leaving behind an extraordinary body of work but also (not a lot of people know this) a treasure trove of as yet unreleased recordings held in the archives of Capital Records. During his long career he appeared in many short films, and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958).

(Video Courtesy: Cinegrar by Youtube Channel)

He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, The Blue Gardenia (1953) and Cat Ballou (1965), which was his final film.

(Video Courtesy:NELSON GONÇALVES by Youtube Channel)

Something which Nat loved to do was appear on other artists recording, sometimes uncredited and others under various aliases. Some of the names like 'Nature Boy' and 'The King' were so transparent but others such as 'Sam Schmaltz', 'Shorty Nadine', 'Lord Calvert', 'Eddie Laguna', 'Aye Guy' etc. were clearly a private joke.

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Worth a listen:

Nat King Cole
Nature boy (1948)
Mona Lisa (1950)
Too Young (1951)
Unforgettable (1951)
Sweet Lorraine (1955)
Routge 66 (1955)
When I fall in love (1957)
Stay as sweet as you are (1957)
Stardust (1957)
Love letters (1957)
The very thought of you (1958)
Unforgetable (1961)
Ramblin Rose (1962)
Lazy crazy days of summer (1962)
That Sunday, that Summer (1962)
L-O-V-E (1964)

Louis Armstrong
Muggles (1928)
St Louis Blues (1929)
Ain’t misbehaving (1929)
Lazy River (1931)
All of me (1932)
Stardust (1938)
Mack the knife (1955)

Ella Fitzgerald
A tisket, A tasket ( 1938)
Oh lady be good (1947)

Earl Hines
57 varieties (1928)
I ain’t got no body (1929)

Ertha Kitt
I want ot be evil (1953)
C'est Si Bon (1953)
Just an old fashioned girl (1956)

Frankie Laine
Sixteen tone (1955)
Wheel of fortune (1961)
Riders in the sky (1962)

Reviewed 3/07/2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A mini history of disco

(pink disco ball Image via Pinterest )

After the success of Rock’n’Roll many African American artists started to explore their musical heritage and look beyond blues and R&B for inspiration. The terms ‘funk’ and ‘rock’n’roll were euphemisms for sex, with the former referring to the smells of intimacy and the latter the act. James Brown was probably the first popular funk performer and literally forged the new genre of African American music by changing emphasis from the 2nd and 4th beats (backbeat) to a downbeat rhythm with accent on the 1 and 3 counts (of 4 beats to the bar).

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In Funky music, guitars and the horn section were used to drive the rhythm and beat with bass lines the centerpiece of the song. Much less emphasis was placed on harmony and the rhythms of funk became more complex with fewer chord changes. The same formation had been seen in bebop jazz. Initially funky music was live music and not dance music which suited jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. These musicians started to merge funky rhythms into their cool jazz.

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At the same time soul music evolved through the 50s with its origins were deep in R&B and gospel music. Simultaneous development in the cities of the north and south of North America gave soul music a wide appeal and the definitive sound can be heard in Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" (1967).

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When the two genres were brought together, disco was born. The movement started in the late sixties with dance records like Dance to the Music by Sly and the Family Stone. Like many other early disco performers Sly Stone had come from a funk-oriented background. Disco music puts equal accent on all four beats and could be heard in discothèques (French word for nightclub). Mixed race venues and dance clubs for gay people had sprung up in all major cities in the West.

(Video Courtesy: Sly & The Family Stone by Youtube Channel)

With less emphasis on live performances, the new centre of attention was Disc Jockeys (DJs) who played recorded music to the audience. Often they would talk to the crowd in a radio show kind of way. The appeal for disco spread and by the early 70s discos were everywhere. What brought us all to the dance floor was a dance craze called, The Hustle which was originally a Hispanic line dance, popular in New York City and Florida. It had a Salsa-like foot rhythm fused with swing ant the rock step (taken on the left foot) happens at the beginning of the count – "and-one, two, three" rather than at the end of the count as in swing – "left, right, rock-step".

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The popularity of disco meant dance records soon began to receive radio play and respectable sales. New disco sounding records with strong pop hooks were soon produced to encourage crossover success. One of the first "Disco Hits" was "Never can say goodbye" by Gloria Gaynor (1974). The gay scene also got its own icons with the Village People. Their single "In the Navy" not only was a massive hit but is thought to have boosted US naval recruits. Disco songs had a steady four on the floor beat, often with soaring and reverberated vocals usually accompanied by prominent, syncopated electric bass lines and strings, horns, electric pianos, and electric guitars used to create a lush background sound. Unlike rock’n’roll lead guitars were rarely used and orchestral instruments such as the flute were sometimes featured for solo melodies. In truth, the creative disco sound was a combination of musicianship and behind the scenes mysteries of the control panel with their studio based sound engineers.

(Video Courtesy: Village People by Youtube Channel)

Whilst early disco sound was largely an urban American phenomenon there were others chipping away in Europe including Giorgio Moroder (Italian) and Jean-Marc Cerrone. Giorgio Moroder was one of the principal architects of the disco sound and worked with Disco Queen, Donna Summer.

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At first disco hits had a pounding beat with relatively slow tempos (approx. 90-110 bpm [Beats Per Minute]) then as the music became more popular the tempo was stepped up to 110-140 bpm. Emphasis was on dancing and the disco song started to get longer than the standard three minute, pop tune. Tom Moulton invented the disco-mix which involved making two copies of the same song, remixing them into a longer version then transferring this new recording to another track. 7” vinyls were too small for accommodate extended disco mixes and so the 12” single was introduced. In 1976, 12-inch discs were packaged in a collectible picture sleeve. The new format brought a huge Disco explosion which reached its peak after the release of Saturday Night Fever movie. The Bee Gees became disco icons and John Travolta (Tony Manero) set the style with his fitted Qiana polyester shirt, well cut suit and platform shoes. Ladies under the glare disco ball wore flowing Halston dresses and tripped the light fantastic in high heels or platforms.

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The Disco era is sometimes cynically referred to as the "Age of the one hit wonders," as many performers came and went. Already established artists like Rod Stewart (Do ya think I’m sexy?), Kiss (I was made for lovin you) and Cher (Take me home) also dipped their toe in the new trendy disco sound. Memorable one hit wonders included Alicia Bridges "I love the nightlife" (1978); French singer, Patrick Hernandez’s ‘Born to be alive,’(1979) ; and Anita Ward's "Ring my bell," (1979) among many, many others. By the end of the 1970s, disco was dominating the charts and influencing other soul genres. A Swedish group who had previously won the Eurovision Song Contest (which is usually a big disadvantage) made the recording world sit up and take note as literally Abba made disco music their own. Definitely not one hit wonders, the chart toppers poured forth as they dominated the world for most of the seventies. Whilst in America, groups like The O'Jays, The Commodors and The Spinners continued to turn out the disco hits.

(Video Courtesy: ABBA by Youtube Channel)

Come the eighties a twin development had emerged in recording, between shorter versions suitable for airplay and extended DJ versions for the disco. The cost of producing disco music had escalated and unlike simpler pop music, disco music required a lot of studio musicians, the latest in recording technology and an army of technicians to produce. Anti-disco rallies were organised by US Rock Stations and one major event turned into a riot. Punk rock and then new wave replaced disco music in the charts as the disco club scene became passè. Dance music of future decades would owe a debt to the disco phenomenon but by the eighties disco was dead. The influence of electro-music on soul music forged new metamorphoses into a softer more lush style called contemporary R&B. A new order of artists emerged including Luther Vandross, Prince and Michael Jackson. Female R&B singers such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson became very popular during second half of the 1980s.

(Video Courtesy: Ricardo Gutiérrez by Youtube Channel)

Worth a listen
James Brown
Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (1965)

Aretha Franklin
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (1967)
Sly and the Family Stone
Dance to the Music (1968)

Gloria Gaynor
Never can say goodbye (1974)

The Hues Corporation
Rock The Boat (1974)

Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra
Love's Theme (1974)

The Jackson 5
Dancing Machine (1974)

Barry White
You're the First, the Last, My Everything (1974)

Lady Marmalade (1974)

The Blackbyrds
Walking in Rhythm (1975)

Gloria Gaynor
Never can say goodbye (1975)

Van McCoy
The Hustle Van McCoy (1970)

Bee Gees
Jive Talkin' (1975)
You Should Be Dancing (1976)
Stayin' alive (1977)

The Four Seasons
December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) (1975)

Silver Convention’s
Fly Robin Fly (1975)

Donna Summer
Love to Love You, Baby (1975)
Could It Be Magic (1976)
I feel love (1977)

Helen Reddy
I Can't Hear You No More (1976)

Dancing Queen (1976)

Silly Love Songs (1976)
Goodnight Tonight (1979)

Marvin Gaye
Got to Give It Up (1977)

Boney M
Daddy Cool (1976)
Ma Baker (1977)
Rivers if Babylon (1977)

Rod Stewart
Do ya think I’m sexy (1978)

The Commodors
Three Times a Lady (1978)
Le Freak (1978)

Cheryl Lynn
Got to Be Real (1978)

Barry Manilow
Copacabana (At The Copa) (1978)

Chaka Khan
I'm Every Woman (1978)

Patrick Hernandez
Born to be alive (1979)

Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer duet
No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) (1979)

Electric Light Orchestra
Last Train to London (1979)
Shine a Little Love (1979)

Michael Jackson
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (1979)
Rock With You (1979)
Off the Wall" (1979)
Thriller (1983)

Kool & the Gang
Celebration (1980)
Rick James
Super Freak (1981)

Carol Jiani
Hit N' Run Lover (1981)

The Weather Girls
It's Raining Men (1982)

The Pointer Sisters
I'm So Excited (1982)

1999 (1983)

Lucky Star (1983)

Irene Cara
Flashdance (What A Feeling) (1983)

Angela Bofill
Too Tough (1983)

Thelma Houston
You Used To Hold Me So Tight (1984)

Village People
In the Navy The Village People (1979)
Sex Over The Phone" (1985)

Reviewed 1/07/2020

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Joni Mitchell

(Joni Mitchell Image via Pinterest )

Roberta Joan Anderson was born in 1943 in Fort McLeod, Alberta. The nine year old Roberta contracted polio and spent a long time in hospital where she became interested in singing. She could play the piano then later taught herself to play the guitar and ukulele. She was raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and as a teenager busked and played in local coffee houses before moving to Toronto where her original approach soon attracted attention from folk audiences. In 1965, she married Chuck Mitchell and took the surname as her stage name. The marriage did not last and Joni Mitchell moved to New York in 1967, where she released her first album, Songs to a Seagull (1968).

(Video Courtesy: Joni Mitchell - Topic by Youtube Channel)

The album was produced by Dave Crosby and featured Stephen Stills on Night in the City. Dave encouraged the singer to move to San Francisco. Joni’s songs were strengthened by her extraordinarily wide-ranging voice. To begin with she had a range in pitch which covered over four octaves. Joni also used an open or non standard style of guitar tuning which allowed her to strike and slap the guitar. She also used picking and strumming techniques to explore different harmonies. The songwriter’s introspective lyrics and adventurous music won her many devoted female fans and when Judy Collins released her version of Joni’s “Both Sides Now” it became a massive hit in 1968.

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New interest in Joni’s body of work meant her own records started to sell well. Joni moved to California in 1969 where she established herself as leading luminary of folk rock. Joni and Graham Nash lived together in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Graham Nash later memorialized the period in the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Our House."

(Video Courtesy:Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Topic Youtube Channel)

Some of her best commercial works were recorded during the early seventies including Clouds (1969); Ladies of the Canyon (1970); Blue (1971); and Court and Spark (1974).

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By the end of the 70s, her commercial appeal was less obvious although she continued to produce excellent music and transcended into jazz with the albums Hejira (1977) and Mingus (1979) a tribute to jazz bassist Charlie Mingus.

(Video Courtesy:Otis Maculous Youtube Channel)

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By the eighties Joni was recording less and her output included more mainstream pop, with "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" charting.

(Video Courtesy: Hannah Green Youtube Channel)

Critics started to notice a change in the singer’s voice and when she sought medical attention it was discovered she had a compressed larynx with nodules on her vocal chords. Now singing in a lower register she carried on performing and recording. Many of her album covers display Joni’s artwork which has made them very collectable.

(Video Courtesy: musicben2 Youtube Channel)

Joni Mitchell has been a great influence on countless other artists and many have recorded her songs, including: the Counting Crows, Tom Rush, Ian and Sylvia, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dave Van Ronk, Fairport Convention, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Jame Taylor, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Clannad, Paul Young and Prince, among many more.

(Video Courtesy: The70sRocker Youtube Channel)

In 2010 Joni Mitchell was diagnoses with Morgellons syndrome, a rare psychological condition where people suffer delusional parasitosis. She planned to leave the music industry and bring more public attention to the disease however, it was confirmed in 2015, Joni Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm.

Worth a listen:
Big Yellow Taxi (1970)
Chelsea Morning (1970)
Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
Woodstaock (1970)
The circle game (1970)
California (1971)
Carey (1971)
A case of you (1971)
You turn me on I’m a radio (1972)

Reviewed 28/06/2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Bill Haley (1925 - 1981) and the Comets

(Bill Haley Images via Pinterest)

William John Clifton Haley was born in 1925 in Highland Park. Michigan and grew up in Booth’s Corner near Chester. As a child, William lost the sight in his left eye which left him shy and conscientious. The young Haley was exposed to house full of music as his father played both mandolin and banjo and his mother (a classically trained pianist) played organ at the local church. From an early age William wanted to be a singing cowboy and by the time he was a young teenager he proficiently sang, played the guitar, and yodeled. Despite his obvious talents he was a shy boy but found work playing the local amusement parks. There he joined 'Cousin Lee's Band’. The partial blindness prevented Bill from being called up for military service and in 1946 he joined the country band, the Downhomers. The group cut several radio recordings including the solo number, "She Taught Me to Yodel," but Bill left the band soon after to host a local radio programme on the newly formed station WPWA (1590 AM) in Chester.

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There he renewed his acquaintance with local musicians, James Allsman, Albert Constantine and Julian "Bashful Barney" Barnard and together they formed the Four Aces of Western Swing. Several of their country songs became local hits but Bill was keen to headline and sung under different names, including Jack Haley and Johnny Clifton.

(Video Courtesy: HillbillyHepKat59 by Youtube Channel)

On 1949 Bill formed a new band called, The Saddlemen and appeared on stage wearing a ten-gallon stetson hat which covered a kiss-curl, a hair style, which would become his trademark. The Saddlemen proved to be reasonably popular and recorded for several labels. The group was Bill Haley (vocals and guitar), Johnny Grande (piano and accordion), Billy Williamson (steel guitar), Al Thomson (double bass) and Charlie Higler (drums). Higler was soon replaced by Dick Boccelli (a.k.a Dick Richards). Bill’s Halley distinctive spit-curl hairstyle (kiss curl) which was originally to detract from his blind eye caught on in the fifties and became a vogue especially when actor, Tony Curtis was seen on screen with his kiss curl.

(Video Courtesy: HepKat59 by Youtube Channel)

Bill liked to experiment with musical genres and in particular country and rhythm and blues. They recorded Rocket 88 (original by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats) in 1951.

(Video Courtesy: oldolds53 by Youtube Channel)

A year later they released their version of, "Rock the Joint.” Both records sold well in Pennsylvania, which convinced Bill the new style of music could be a commercial success.

(Video Courtesy: Heath Wilson by Youtube Channel)

The Saddlemen renamed themselves, Bill Haley with Haley's Comets and in 1953, recorded "Crazy Man, Crazy." The song is considered by some to be the first ever rock and roll song recorded by white artists and did well in the American charts. Part of the appeal was "Crazy Man, Crazy" was the first rock’n’roll song to be used on the soundtrack for a 1953 television play starring James Dean.

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Soon after, the band's name was revised to Bill Haley & His Comets. Bill tried different techniques and adopted a style of back-slap on the strings on the bass fiddle which he had seen Pee Wee Miller use when he played with Cousin Lee’s Band. Prior to the introduction of drums the percussion bass gave a driving beat to "Rockabilly." Later when drums were added the musical style metamorphosed into "Rock'n'Roll". The group recorded ‘Rock around the clock’ (1954) but it failed to sell, so they quickly released a version of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and it went straight to number one.

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In the UK, Shake Rattle and Roll topped the charts and became the first rock’n’roll song in that country. Elvis Presley recorded his version in 1956, he combined Haley's arrangement with Turner's original lyrics but the song failed to score a substantial hit. When some of the Comets left after a pay dispute Bill hired new musicians to take their place. Between 1952 and 1981 more than one hundred musicians made up the Comet’s line up. No one anticipated the reaction that would come from "Rock Around the Clock" when it appeared behind the opening credits of the movie Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford.

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Not only did it become an instant hit in the US, it sold over one million copies in both Britain and Germany. The same phenomenon occurred in Australia and New Zealand and wherever the film and or Bill Haley and the Comets appeared, there were teenage riots. Bill Haley and the Comets became the first Rock’n’roll group to tour the world. The hits kept coming with “See you later, alligator” and Bill the Comets starred in a couple of rock and roll musical movies Rock Around the Clock (1956) and Don't Knock the Rock (1956).

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As rock’n’roll faded and the English Invasion took over in the sixties Bill and the Comets remained popular outside the US throughout the sixties featuring on many retro tours with the Rock and Roll Revival movement. From 1961 to 1969, Bill Haley and His Comets continued to record but with little commercial success in the US. The group did enjoy popularity in Latin America where they were known as Bill Haley y sus Cometas and had hits with "Twist Español" and "Florida Twist".

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Bill Haley and His Comets became synonymous with the twist dance craze in Latin America and the group made many recordings of Spanish and Spanish flavored material. Bill Haley was fluent in Spanish and recorded a number of songs in the language. However it was their instrumental recordings which the group became mainly associated with. Despite the work Bill lamented the passing of the glory days and more and more sought solace in alcohol. Bill Haley made his final performances in South Africa in 1980 and died from the complications of a brain tumour on February 9th 1981. The five surviving original members of the Comets reunited in 1987 and have been performing together ever since. The five musicians age range is from 71 to 83 with their cumulative age 381 years, an average age of 76. Rock On!

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Worth a listen:
The Saddlemen
Rocket 88 (1949/1951)
Rock the Joint (1952)

Bill Haley and the Coments
Crazy Man, Crazy (1953)
Rock Around the Clock (1954)
Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954)
Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie (1955)
See You Later, Alligator (1956)
Rockin through the rye (1956)
Rip It Up (1956)
Rudy's Rock (1956)
Don't Knock the Rock (1956)
Skinny Minnie (1958)
Skokiaan (1960)
Florida Twist (1961)

Reviewed 26/06/2020