“Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe.” That’s a wonderful line from The Commitments, a sweet little film about a ragtag assortment of Dubliners who form a soul band. Just think about it: like African Americans, the Irish have lived The Blues for centuries. And it shows…in their soul-fire poetry, prose, and music. So, you’re probably thinking “Van Morrison.” No. Today I want you to think “Rory Gallagher.” Heard of him? I hope so. But if not, listen up: he was one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists of all time and is a national folk hero in Ireland. Today would have been his 66th birthday, so let’s take a moment to pay homage to this passionate workingman of the guitar.
Yes, I know that Brian Jones had nothing to do with the recording of the Rolling Stones song “Wild Horses,” but I couldn’t resist using the pun to get your attention as I introduce my birthday tribute to the band’s founder and high priest of psychedelic ’60s fashion. I reckon that Brian Jones was the dandiest heterosexual of the 20th century. And one of the randiest, too, having fathered at least five children with five different women by the time he was 23. But there was also real talent behind that foppish Casanova facade. Brian was one of Britain’s earliest practitioners of Delta blues. A natural musician, he was arguably the most versatile member of the band he formed and christened The Rollin Stones in 1962. And while he didn’t write, sing lead, or play solo on a single song during his career, his prowess as a multi-instrumentalist was unmatched in the rock world. Today would have been his 72nd birthday.
I’ve been following Canadian singer/songwriter Hayden (Paul Hayden Desser) since 1996, when his debut album “Everything I Long For” was released in the United States. Such is my fandom that when the artist came to Pittsburgh in 2004 to perform, I had gotten in touch with his manager, “Skinny,” ahead of time and volunteered to be part of the “street team” to help promote the concert. Following the performance, my future wife Allison Hoge and I, plus Hayden, Skinny, and a few others all went to a 24-hour greasy-spoon diner. A highlight from that late night includes a slightly-overweight middle-aged waitress apologizing to Hayden when attempting to pour him coffee: “Sorry babe, didn’t mean to shove my tits in your face.” But my wife’s favorite memory of the evening is her keepsake from the outing — a vinyl press of Hayden’s third album, “Skyscraper National Park,” which he signed for her: “We shared white toast on September 10 / 2004.” I have a long history with Hayden’s work, right up through his February 2013 release, “Us Alone,” which I’ll be reviewing in detail. But to fully appreciate the significance of his latest gem, allow me to shed a little light on the earlier pieces that all come together to form the total picture of Hayden’s recording career to date. A review by contributor Adam Kukic, host of The Coffeehouse on WYEP fm.
“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” That’s the way George Harrison sarcastically responded to Paul McCartney’s order that he alter his style of playing on “Two of Us,” a song recorded during the tension-filled sessions that would eventually spawn The Beatles’ “Let it Be” album and documentary film. By the time the band entered their late ’60s period, relationships among all four members had become downright hostile. The situation had become so tense that even the usually unflappable Ringo walked out in frustration during the recording of the “White Album” in 1968, planning not to return. Eleven months later, in the midst of what Paul referred to as the “Get Back” sessions, the situation had deteriorated. Following arguments with Paul, and heated exchanges with John that nearly resulted in fisticuffs, it was George’s turn to break free of the band. He left the studio one day and returned with an old friend whose phenomenal playing and gregarious nature brought about some much needed harmony. No one would dare bicker while Billy Preston was on the scene.
The name Stax Records is synonymous with soul music. But did you know that the legendary label of black artists like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, and Isaac Hayes was co-founded by a white woman who began her career as a school teacher? In the late 1950s, Estelle Axton began investing in Satellite Records, a small label started by her brother Jim Stewart, a former bank clerk. Satellite evolved into Stax, a premiere recording studio specializing in soul, R&B, funk, jazz, and gospel music. Said Booker T. Jones of the M.G.’s, “I doubt there would have been a Stax Records without Estelle Axton.” The woman known as “Lady A” marketed the business, ran the Stax record shop, helped choose and develop the label’s artists, and provided inspiration, advice, and encouragement to writers and musicians.
Courtney Jaye is a Pittsburgh-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter who’s accomplished a lot in a relatively short time – from collaborating with artists as varied as Taj Mahal, Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club, and Matthew Sweet, to releasing five studio albums since 2005. Her latest, “Love and Forgiveness,” channels the best of ’70s singer-songwriter pop, including what seems to be a central feed to the melodies and vocal styling of Stevie Nicks. For some this will sound like heavy praise, for others it could be ample reason to stay away. I’m in the first camp. Courtney Jaye’s “Love and Forgiveness” is definitely worth discovering. - A review by contributor Adam Kukic, host of The Coffeehouse on WYEP fm.
He’d have his “superstar” world premiere, of course. On July 12, 1971, the first authorized production of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was staged in my fair city, Pittsburgh, PA. Quite appropriate, actually, considering it’s the birthplace of the man who coined the term superstar: Andy Warhol! The musical starred Jeff Fenholt as a laid-back, hippiefied Jesus, Carl Anderson as a prescient, forewarning Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as a sexy Mary Magdalene. A crowd of 13,000 people turned out to see the play at the city’s domed, space-age Civic Arena, the world’s first major sports/entertainment venue to feature a retractable roof.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto – better known as Tony Bennett — may have been born and raised in Astoria, Queens, but his timeless love song to San Francisco would convince you he’d lived there all his life. Seriously, how could he NOT have left his heart in a place as beautiful as San Francisco? Well, the working-class seaport city of Liverpool, England, may be on the opposite end of the scale when it comes to romantic settings, but four famous rockers left their hearts there, nonetheless. And, like Mr. Bennett, they drew their inspiration from the city they loved. Forty-seven years ago this month, the Beatles released their 24th U.S. single, a double A-side record featuring two songs inspired John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood memories of Liverpool: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.”
Jazz great Miles Davis experienced mixed reactions toward his role as a major architect of jazz/rock fusion. It was seen by some as a sellout of a master’s medium to a more “base” art form. Nevertheless, this new genre exploded in the mid-seventies, and is now considered essential music. What you may not know is that Davis’s one-time wife – a relatively unheralded singer/songwriter named Betty Mabry – introduced him to the rock/funk scene, and planted the seeds of fusion in his music. By contributor Mike Canton, host of The Soul Show on WYEP fm.
There have been more than 1,000 cover versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” the debut single by British progressive-rock band Procol Harum. The hauntingly beautiful song with its Bach-like melody and trippy lyrics was a perfect soundtrack for the Summer of Love. It hit the #1 one spot on the U.K. charts on June 8, 1967, and remained there for six weeks. In fact, it’s one of fewer than 30 singles to have sold over 10 million copies worldwide.