Steve Winwood Rocks

Steve Winwood 2017

After more than a half century on the international stage, Steve Winwood has not lost a step in the quality of his musicianship and performance. We got a chance to catch him in Philadelphia on April 22, 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed the wide range of classics as performed by Winwood and his uniquely arranged band.

Backing Winwood were two multi-instrumentalists rotating on guitar, bass, organ flute, and saxophone, along with a dedicated drummer and a dedicated percussionist. Winwood himself moved from guitar to mandolin to traditional organ with left hand bass to complement his distinct, soulful lead vocals. This set the stage for unique, jam-band style performances all night.

Winwood opened the show with a beautiful mandolin-led performance of “Back in the High Life Again”, the title song from his tremendously successful 1986 album Back In the High Life. However, this would be the first of only three songs from his solo catalog.

Steve Winwood band 2017

The group quickly shifted to the organ to deliver a bluesy version of the traffic classic, “Pearly Queen.” This would be the first of many tunes by his former band that he would perform this evening with other highlights including “Dear Mr. Fantasy” from Traffic’s 1967 debut album, “Empty Pages” from 1970’s John Barlycorn Must Die and the cool, jazzy title track from The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. Winwood also played a couple of fine songs from his 1969 supergroup Blind Faith, the hard-rock, riff-fused “Had to Cry Today” and a funked up version of the classic “Can’t Find My Way Home”.

Throughout the night, the five-man group broke into great musical jams, either leading into or during the middle of the highly recognizable tunes and, later in the evening, they were joined by a sixth member on backing vocals. Steve’s daughter Lilly Winwood helped out her Dad on his mid-eighties hit “Higher Love” as well as the mid-sixties classic “Give Me some Lovin'”, which was his breakthrough hit as a teenage vocalist for the Spencer Davis Group. Lilly had alos opened up the show with a fine solo acoustic set.

 

All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass DVDThe chronological framework of Classic Rock Review spans the years 1965-2000 in order to coincide with the rise and fall of the traditional, artist-driven, hard-copy “album”. Nearly mirroring this time span and on a parallel track is the meteoric rise and fall of Tower Records, a record “superstore” with humble beginnings to cult-like status to mainstream worldwide success to sudden demise. Directed by Colin Hanks, All Things Must Pass is a feature-length documentary that examines the company’s origins, serendipitous growth, culture, influence and its legacy.

The promise of this story is in the opening script; “In 1999 Tower Records had over a billion dollars in sales by 2004 the company was bankrupt…” However, in reality, this documentary unfolds in proportion to real time events, with much more attention spent on the decades of growth and expansion in the company and much less (not enough) focused on the sudden and shocking collapse of Tower Records and the recorded music industry as a whole.

Russ Soloman in Tower SF, 1968aThe focal point of the documentary is Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, who got started at a young age working in his father’s variety drug store in Sacramento, California in the 1940s. Solomon’s experience in the record industry started by selling used records from the soda fountain jukebox and slowly led to Russ focusing solely on the wholesale and retail record sales of the multi-purpose drug store. After an initial attempt and failure at running an independent record store in the 1950s, Soloman incorporated Tower Records in 1960 and had several years of steady growth in Sacramento. In 1968, Solomon opened a 5,000-square-foot store in San Francisco, which lauded itself as having the “largest inventory anywhere” and met with immediate phenomenal success. Solomon then replicated this model with an even larger location on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which caught the attention of many popular rock artists and record industry insiders.

Much of the documentary talks about staff who started as simple clerks and rose to the highest executive positions when the company grew and expanded. These stories are somewhat interesting but a bit too “inside baseball” for the passive viewer. The documentary does do well in talking about its culture and relaxed atmosphere, with no dress code and an implicit tolerance of drinking and drugs with the only real “rule” being to show up everyday. Soloman claimed he had a “Tom Sawyer” style of management, letting his staff enthusiastically do the hard work and giving them the freedom to get the work done in their own style. Many of these workers were musicians or music fanatics, creating an ideal social atmosphere for the customers they were looking to attract. The documentary includes on-camera commentary by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl as well as a really cool 1974 audio advertisement by John Lennon.

Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, Tower Records grew nationally and internationally, with sales and profits rising each year until the company did over a billion dollars annually by the end of the century. Then came the collapse of terrestrial retail as digital technologies emerged starting in the year 2000 when, after 40 years of consistent growth, sales flat-lined. By no means was this collapse due in total to outside forces and some of the key players at Tower own up to mistakes. One major mistake was the panicked sale of Tower’s Japanese outlets which, ironically, are now the only store locations that are still operating today.

Empty Tower store, 2006

A native of Sacramento, Hanks spent seven years on this documentary and presents the story expertly, bringing the record store experience back to those of us who grew up in that era. The most vivid and haunting scenes coming at the very beginning and very end with a completely empty but still-in-tact Tower location in a retail strip-mall, showing the passing of a cultural pastime.

All Things Must Pass was released on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group on September 13, 2016.
~

Led Zeppelin:
Standing Against Time

by Julia Dragomirescu

Led Zeppelin IV album unfolded

I hear the “ding dong” sound as I enter the vinyl record shop. The smell of antiques wafts gently through the air, beckoning to the wanderer to enter a realm of nimble-fingered guitarists and pre-Raphaelite-faced singers. Enchanted, my eyeballs focus on the simple black lettering, shifting from one category to the next. My eyes refocus on the last one labeled “Rock.” Rushing to the stack, I madly flip through it, reaching further and further, holding my breath when the holy grail appears before my eyes: Led Zeppelin IV! I knew today would be my lucky day. And it doesn’t even smell that bad. Proud of my extraordinary find, I whisk it away to my house and gently open the sleeve. Before doing so, I analyze every minuscule detail of the cover, noticing that it bears no title. A strange old man catches the viewer’s eye, he carries a gigantic bundle of sticks on his back and has a simple wooden walking cane. This painting has a countryside background nailed onto what appears to be the wall of a peeling building when the front and back cover are viewed together. When opening the inner sleeve, a charcoal background lights up the wise old man and the lantern that guides his way. He stands atop a cliff, as intricate as a spider web, while peering at the miniature town below him. At last, the shiny black disc slides into my hands. Mysterious symbols appear on the label. Not paying much heed to them, I laboriously place the vinyl record on the player. I gently pick up the needle and anticipate the first chords of the singer and guitarist in harmony. I can feel the music flow into my ears physically shaking my heart and reminding me of the power and force of music, especially Led Zeppelin’s music. I will now take you on a journey to discover the answers to the following questions: Why is Led Zeppelin, a band from the 1970s, still popular today with audiences, especially the younger generation? What has caused their music to survive while other bands have been forgotten?

I decided to start off my research by looking more closely at general facts about the band in order to test my own knowledge and maybe find out something new. I went on Led Zeppelin’s music portal and found that they were an English rock band that started up in 1968 by Jimmy Page, the producer and guitarist of Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant became the vocals of the band as well as the harmonica accompaniment. John Bonham thumped away on his drums while John Paul Jones played the bass guitar, mandolin, and was the keyboard master of the group. The band mostly played hard rock songs, with a few softer more acoustic songs in between. Led Zeppelin’s inspiration came from African-American blues singers, such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. From there they developed their signature sound: a turbulent, guitar-oriented blues rock medley. Led Zeppelin experimented further by incorporating reggae, funk, soul, Celtic, classical, Indian, pop, Latin, Arabic and country behind the blues and folk background of many of their songs. They are considered valuable today for their ongoing commercial success, past artistic achievements and influence over others then and now. All of their original studio albums reached the top 10 of the Top 100 Billboard of the US, with their sixth album, Physical Graffiti, rising to number one. Ok, wait, stop! I thought. These statistics are great, but are they the true representation of why and what makes Led Zeppelin popular with young people today? I decided the answer was no. I steered away from electronic sources and chose to go old-fashioned.

Led Zeppelin on stage in 1969

In Barney Hoskyns’ book Led Zeppelin IV, he describes the mood of the recording room when the band first met. The future members knew that something great had happened right from the very beginning when they stepped into the room. In the studio, there wasn’t much to see. John Paul Jones recalls the dim atmosphere of the room; “It was wall-to-wall amplifiers and terrible, all old,” but that didn’t bring them down one bit as Page took the lead and corralled them all into action: “Jimmy counted it out and the room just exploded.” Bonham followed and set the rhythm and beat with his drums while the rest just fell into place. Plant became the focus with his booming voice and Page joined in to support him, complementing each other. John Paul Jones bass guitar set the right tone, as they harmonized “Train Kept a-Rollin” an old Johnny Burnette Trio rock n’ roll song. Together, they created the perfect jigsaw puzzle. This description, (not much of a scene really), was a good start to understanding the band’s dynamic but didn’t give me any concrete descriptive details to paint a picture on why the band was a success today.

Hitting a dead end, my first intention was to actually contact the real band members and get them to tell me their perspectives and experiences with younger people of my generation. I grabbed my laptop and found some fan mail and official websites with email addresses. I first tried to contact Robert Plant since he is my favourite member of the band. I spent a long time scanning Google search results and I found absolutely nothing. Disappointed, I tried the other band members and found an email address for Jimmy Page. I emailed him and asked him for an interview. The email came back to me and stated that the address did not exist. Frustrated, I remembered that I read a while ago an interesting blog post about the band’s references and inspirations for songs. I found a name attached to that article: Steven Markham. I emailed him, asking him for an interview, trying to seem professional despite being a high school student. He emailed me back immediately, success! I shouted quietly in my head because everyone else in the house was already in bed asleep.

Steven Markham, an alumnus of the University of Chester, is an expert on Led Zeppelin’s music and gave his overall impressions of the band:

I think that their strongest point is that they are, individually, superb musicians with a technical mastery of their instruments and voices. Their use of English folk music as well as the usual blues and rock influence also makes them stand out amongst their peers and produces melodic and harmonic structures that are unique. The ‘Rock Gods’ look, style and stage posing also made them iconic figures as did their refusal to ‘play the game’ within the music industry; refusing to release singles, not using their faces on album covers and the brutal management style of Peter Grant”

I also decided to interview some cover bands. I emailed around 20 different bands from the US, UK and Canada. Only 8 bands got back to me: Led Zeppelin 2, Letz Zep, Coda, Led Zeppelica, Crimson Daze, Black Dog, Boot Led Zeppelin and A Whole Lotta Led. However, only 5 of them actually answered my questions. I asked them what originally led them to become Led Zeppelin fans. Robert Miniaci, Coda’s singer, had this to say;

When I was about 11 years old, I was sitting at the family stereo with headphones on listening to the radio. I tuned into a local station and there was a song on already a third way in. I didn’t know what the song was, the title, or who the band was. What happened to me was that I was struck with this incredible feeling. This energy that made the hair on my arms rise. I never heard a song like this. In that instant it was the most incredible song I had ever heard. So, eventually the song ended with a blistering guitar solo. The DJ came back on, and said, ‘Well that was Black Dog by Led Zeppelin.’ The very next day I was going through my older brother’s record collection, because I had a feeling he had some Led Zeppelin records. Sure enough I found an album, that had no writing on it, nothing to indicate who created this record. I was to learn that this was Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album. From that moment onward, it became a discovery of Led Zeppelin. I was immediately addicted to their music. I had to learn everything about them, and what their music was all about. I spent hours locked in my bedroom listening and learning, and singing along. To this very day, I still feel the same about the band and their music.”

My second question was trying to probe what they thought made the band stand out, what was specifically unique to Led Zeppelin. Letz Zep’s Billy Kulke exclaimed;

With Zeppelin, all the musicians are masters of their instrument, pushing back the boundaries of music. All four members contributed to the sound and the appeal of the band. Yes, there had been rock bands, and great musicians before, but not a band with all four trailblazing in a way Zeppelin did. To compare with other bands, they may fall onto a successful formula, then flog it to death. Zeppelin never sat on their laurels, but were always looking to advance, and change, and try new things. They were never content to sit on past glories. Whatever your mood, there is a Zeppelin period that satisfies this: the raw power of “Whole Lotta Love,” to the acoustics, and the prog-rock of No Quarter.”

Greg Reamsbottom from A Whole Lotta Led had an enthusiastic response;

It’s about how the music makes you FEEL. Bands like the Sex Pistols technically sucked in terms of musicianship (a problem Zeppelin certainly didn’t have!) but they made you FEEL something…that’s what counts! Led Zeppelin’s music SWINGS…the way the guitar, bass and drums lock together (always described as “tight, but loose”!) just works…few bands have that little bit of magic. Add Plant’s stratospheric vocals and you have something unique. It’s basically just the blues (something primal) with a heavy, psychedelic twist.”

One thing that really grabbed me when I was just starting to get to know Led Zeppelin was not only the amazing riffs and vocals, but also their strange and mystical lyrics. I think the creativity of their lyrics cause the listener to be compelled to hear more. Steven Markham contrasts two of their styles and the impact Led Zeppelin’s music has on him:

When you play their acoustic and ‘quieter’ tracks there is a melodic beauty that transports you to simpler times, somewhere between Merrie Olde England and Tolkien. When they turn up the volume there is a primal energy that erupts through the speakers.”

As I delved deeper behind their inspirations and meanings of their songs and albums, I found a multitude of references. Jimmy Page was clearly the major contributor to Led Zeppelin’s more odd and “spiritual” songs. It is evident that he had vast knowledge on the occult, folk mythology and fantastical literature and was fascinated by it. He has been described by Barney Hoskyns’ as, “a satanic Paganini [playing Dazed and Confused on stage], an evil minstrel with his face obscured behind a curtain of black hair.” Mr. Markham’s article on Led Zeppelin caused me to become more interested in the band. Since childhood, I remember being fascinated by books and story-telling. My dad would read fairytales and myths to me (almost) every night before bed. I remember the way he would “present” them to me, describing them in such a way that the characters appeared real. Anyways, I also remember that I would listen to the music channel on TV, watching different videos of Abba, Bee Gees and other vintage bands. I didn’t realize then, but music is a form of story-telling. It captures the audience with a particular rhythm or beat and lets the lyrics follow naturally. A lot of Led Zeppelin’s songs cover different topics like Led Zeppelin on stage in 1973love, mythology, religion and folk stories. This is one reason why I love music and why I liked particular songs by Led Zeppelin, like Stairway to Heaven. However, I thought that this was not the case for everyone, especially other young people who listened to music because it made them feel a certain way. Now, that’s in general of course and doesn’t apply directly to the band. So, I decided to look online in chat forums that were geared towards the younger generation.

On Quora, in a topic called “What is so great about Led Zeppelin?”, a 21-year-old named James Cook made two interesting comments:

The music they created defined a genre, transforming rock music from a tired rehash of old blues standards into a whirling dervish of musical energy and primal force. Songs like Immigrant Song and Kashmir transport the listener to distant lands…..When you listen to a Led Zeppelin song, you’re listening to something other than four men in a cramped studio. You’re listening to fifty years of blues music driven into a frenzy by Jimmy Page’s studious years of listening to every release by the American blues masters. You’re listening to all the folkish tradition of the English countryside in Robert Plant’s vocals. You’re listening to the musical theory and melodical genius of John Paul Jones. You’re listening to John Bonham, whose drumming style once led Jimi Hendrix to comment, ‘Boy, you’ve got a right foot like a rabbit!’ When you’re listening to a Led Zeppelin song, you’re listening to the combined output of four of the most talented musicians who ever lived, along, of course, with that unknown factor.”

On another website titled, Debate.org, there was a poll taken where users answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the question, “Is Led Zeppelin the best rock ‘n’ roll band of all time?” 78% said ‘yes’ and 22% said ‘no.’ KaeciMill compared Led Zeppelin to other bands for the ‘yes’ section;

No other band has achieved their level of musical sophistication as well as having a catalogue as unique and accomplished. In the decades following Zeppelin there have been metal bands who surpassed them techniquely. However, Zeppelin had better song writing abilities and that is why their songs remain timeless. If you play a later era album by The Beatles you could argue the songs are as good if not better than Zeppelin’s but they fall short musically with uncompromising artistic statements. In comparison, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd lack certain aspects of career fulfillment. Sabbath’s late 70s work pales miserably in comparison to their early achievements and lacks the diversity of Zeppelin. Pink Floyd may have released musical masterpieces like “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon” but certainly were not as prolific, with only 3 or 4 defining albums. Zeppelin has 6 pretty much undeniable classic albums, that’s excluding their last two. In the years to follow no other group has released 6 albums of that calibre in their career. Even artists as great as Hendrix can’t make that claim, despite how profound their influence. Even 90s greats like Nirvana can’t reach Zeppelin’s level of artistic fulfilment.”

In the ‘no’ section Anonymous makes some disagreeable comments,

Led Zeppelin were half of a great band. As everyone seems to say, Led Zeppelin had one of the greatest-ever rhythm sections in all of rock music. Bonham and Jones were incredible not only in how good they sounded, but also in how they were, as players, capable of getting out of the way and providing an underlying propulsion for Plant and Page to work on. But Plant and Page were the problem; the prior is, let’s face it, not a very good singer, and the latter, while a very good guitar player, sacrificed actual depth in his song writing for pretentious myth-making. So what Led Zeppelin ended up being was a great drummer and bassist adding propulsion to shallow, nerdy totems. Art should have higher standards.”

What!? I thought after reading that. I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but that was a little crude, I concluded.

I tried to find someone on the forum, Quora, that lived in my area. I found a few kids that lived close by and tried to contact them. I was wondering if I could see their personal collection of vinyl records and the stories behind how they got them, especially the Led Zeppelins. I got about 3 people to agree to give me their email. Most of them had around the same collection that I had which made me really dispirited. The one kid that had a more extensive collection told me that he now lives in Barrie [he forgot to update his profile]! Seeing that I couldn’t find anyone with an extraordinary vinyl record collection, specifically with Led Zeppelin records, I settled with my dad’s (technically mine as well) potpourri. Since I had failed in finding a stranger that I could conduct a live interview with, the next best thing was to interview my dad who also influenced my music taste.

As you enter our condominium suite the kitchen is the first thing you see. A very homey looking island counter and black accessories creates a warm and pleasant atmosphere. As you pass the kitchen area you realize that the boundaries blur between different spaces and all of a sudden you find yourself in the living room. Dark bookshelves line the walls with various subject matters. Paintings of different sizes stand out against the coffee hued walls. When you reach the spiral staircase to your left, you notice a large collection of records. As you skim through, it is clear they are separated by categories, like jazz, pop, electronic and rock. In the rock section you’ll find Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III and Physical Graffiti. In the CD section you’ll also find The Best of Led Zeppelin and Latter Days: Best of Led Zeppelin Volume 2. After coming into the room and pretending that I was at an interview with a person I hadn’t met before, I sat down on the futon, setting the mood for a casual and relaxed session. I asked, “What caused you to become interested in Led Zeppelin?” as I was getting ready to scribble down on my notepad what he had to say. “Their expressive music: the melody as well as the lyrics. Also, at the time when I started to love hard rock music, in the Communist [in Romania] era, a contributing factor was my growing love for the English language and the Occidental [Western] life. This also powered my desire and the dream I had to ‘escape.'” Satisfied with the unique answer I had received, I continued: “What do you think are the band’s strongest points? What makes them stand out when compared to other bands?” He replied,

Besides what I have already mentioned previously, both the melodies and lyrics, I believe Led Zeppelin is one of the best bands due to their genre diversity but also, at the same time, being able to maintain their characteristic orchestral line. Also, Robert Plant’s exotic voice definitely makes them stand out from the crowd.

I reached my third and final question, “Can you describe the impact their music has made on you?” I inquired.

It makes me feel good, better. It relieves all stress that has been accumulated throughout the day.”

His answer was concise and simple which I liked very much because he described the number one reason why people like music: it brightened their mood after a demanding and tiring day. I gave a quick smile, shook his hand and said that it was a pleasure to be here, “Thank you.” I walked out the door and immediately came back in. Now it’s time to get back to work, I thought as I cracked my knuckles and sat quietly while the noise of the keys clacking accompanied my thoughts.

A recurring topic came up while I was doing my research, so I thought it would be interesting to learn more about it. That problem was the copyright conflict Led Zeppelin had with other artists. In Barney Hoskyns’ Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band he claims that other bands, not just Led Zeppelin, that appeared from the British blues upswing of the 60s, stole riffs from African Americans who were also ripped off by their contracts from the 40s and 50s! Hoskyns describes Jimmy Page’s attitude toward this notion as indifferent and callous and was awarded song writing credit when he didn’t deserve it. Robert Plant clearly states Page’s actions back then,

I think when Willie Dixon [Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was stolen from Muddy Water’s “You Need Love” which was purloined from Dixon] turned on the radio in Chicago 20 years after he wrote his blues, he thought, ‘That’s my song.’ When we ripped it off, I said to Jimmy, ‘Hey, that’s not our song.’ And he said, ‘Shut up and keep walking.'”

Jimmy ended up blaming Robert in an interview with Guitar World that he was supposed to change the lyrics but didn’t fulfill the task. But does this change the value of their music? I thought to myself. I decided to ask the tribute bands what they thought of the situation. Coda brought out what I think is one of the truest responses,

I guess the band should have given credit at the time the albums were released. I feel those early blues songs inspired the band and that they had no other intention but to pay homage to the early blues legends. They were fans of the music and loved it to death. Remember, the blues is like a quilt. Everybody absorbs what came before them, they will pay homage by playing those songs, then adding to them, their own brand of inspiration. It’s a story that every one contributes a chapter to. Remember also, that one single person cannot be given full credit for creating the blues. That’s impossible. The king of the Delta Blues himself, Robert Johnson, didn’t create the blues, and probably interpreted lyrics and songs in his repertoire that he heard orally from someone before him. But I would never take that title away from him and his stature in blues history. He helped influence so many! So back to the point of your question. I fully believe with all my heart, it all boils down to inspiration.”

A Whole Lotta Led had an equally true answer,

Zeppelin freely admitted that they used/borrowed/ripped off stuff from the guys that influenced them…it’s always been that way, and we still see this in music today. They were certainly inspired by such songs, enough so that they sometimes copied them verbatim, but Zeppelin took those songs and made them “their own,” playing them in a way no one had thought of before.”

Going back to my opinion, I don’t think the copyright scandal necessarily devalues their music because they truly reinvented the songs they “borrowed.” It is true that what they did was wrong, not properly crediting the artists they were inspired from, but that doesn’t change the fact that fans love their music regardless.

Overall, I think that people love Led Zeppelin and they have stood the test of time because of the raw power and synergy of their music. Led Zeppelin will continue to be one of the greatest rock bands of all history.

~

Julia Dragomirescu is a Romanian-born Canadian. Currently in her last year of high school at John Fraser Secondary School, she decided to take a course called Writer’s Craft this year. It is a class where students discover different styles of writing like poetry, narrative, satire and new journalism; as well as what techniques to use to improve their writing. She has a love of reading and has now discovered a love of writing. which has led Julia to become passionate about discovering new stories about various subjects.

~

Works Cited

  • Email interviews (including attempted) with Steven Markham, Boot Led Zeppelin, Led Zepplica, Sam Rapallo, A Whole Lotta Led, Black Dog, Crimson Daze, Letz Zep, Get the Led Out, Dread Zeppelin, Lez Zeppelin, Fred Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin 2, Talztop, Michael White & The White, Song Remains the Same, Led Zeppelin Show, Crunge, Coda, Scott Calef, Paula Mejia and Dave Lewis
  • Hoskyns, Barney. Led Zeppelin IV. New York, NY: Rodale, 2006. Print.
  • Hoskyns, Barney. Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Print.
  • “Is Led Zeppelin the Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Band of All Time?” Debate.org. Debate.org, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. .
  • Live interview with lifelong fan Alex Dragomirescu
  • Markham, Steven. “The Occult Symbolism of Led Zeppelin.” Mysterious Times. WordPress, 03 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. .
  • “The Led Zeppelin Portal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
  • “What Is so Great about Led Zeppelin?” Quora. Quora, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. .

The Orchestra Stuns Atlantic City with Classic Rock Performances

Electric Light Orchestra in 1970The former members of the Electric Light Orchestra and the Electric Light Orchestra II joined forces and combined their musical prowess for the first time to hold an unforgettable performance at the Resort Casino Hotel in Atlantic City on January 2nd. Going under the moniker themselves “The Orchestra,” the two groups managed to bring classic rock hits with an orchestral touch to the thousands of guests who watched at the casino’s Superstar Theater. The Orchestra performed hits like “Strange Magic,” “Evil Woman,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Do Ya,” “Telephone Line,” and “Sweet Talkin’ “Woman.”

The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) was originally an arena band that toured the world from 1971-1986. In the late 1980s, however, the arena band branched out and gave birth to a symphonic rock band called The Electric Light Orchestra II (ELO II). Both bands are well known for their extravagant performances, unique approach to rock music, and individual personas that garnered a huge following over the years.

Joining The Orchestra are original ELO Members Lou Clark and Mik Kaminski. ELO II members Gordon Townsend, Eric Troyer, Parthenon Huxley, and Glen Burtnik also joined as members of the newly formed super group.

The Resort Casino Hotel was a fitting venue for the arena band’s reunion. The Superstar Theater is well known for its amazing musical concerts all-year round, which actually help the resort stay in operation. Ever since the dawn of online gaming, which offers not only convenience when it comes to slots and staple casino games but also through their integration on mobile as well as daily freebies that seem to be absent in land-based casinos. As a way to drive tourists and revenues back into the city, casino establishments are expanding their entertainment options to the public, and this includes holding big concerts with marked-down prices. Tickets for the concert were sold for only $25, $35 and $45 via Ticketmaster.

The 1965 Album of the Year

Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

As a final wrap up of our final classic year review, 1965, we still needed to decide on an Album of the Year for that year. This was a unique situation, because all other classic years reserved the Album of the Year until the end of the review period but, in the case of 1965, we’ve gone with the “50 Years Ago Today” process of reviewing each album on (or near) the anniversary of each album’s release date.

For quite a while, we had decided that one of the two Bob Dylan classics from that year, Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited, would fill this top honor for 1965. For most of this year, I had championed the album that I personally reviewed (and my longtime favorite of all Dylan’s works), Bringing It All Back Home. There were two simple reasons for this – it came first and it perfectly intersects at the point of Dylan’s folk climax and rock n’ roll inception.

On the other hand, J.D. Cook had reviewed and championed Highway 61 Revisited as the album which “honors his past but also points a big bright burning finger towards works yet to come”. At one point, I had challenged Mr. Cook to debate the merits of each album and put it up for a public survey vote (much like we had for 1980’s Album of the Year). However, you really can’t put the two up against each other like a sporting competition so, after careful consideration I have decided to capitulate and concede Mr. Cook’s position. After all, this is Classic “Rock” Review, and there is little doubt that Highway 61 Revisited is closer to a traditional “rock” album out of the pair.

Like a Rolling Stone single by Bob DylanBeyond that, Highway 61 Revisited contains incredible musical benchmarks, from the innovative “Ballad of a Thin Man” to the exquisite gem “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” to the epic folk/Western “Desolation Row”. Further, this album is the first to include a heavy piano and keyboard presence, not only blazing the path in this regard, fully setting the template for countless rock albums to follow. Then there is the true classic part of this album, the opening track “Like a Rolling Stone”, a composition with a perfect balance of structure and improvisation, freak and thought, poetry and melody, which makes this song one of the very finest of the entire 20th century.

Finally, there is the true tipping point of the decision – the story behind the album’s title. As told in this River of Rock article; “as a teenager near Duluth, Minnesota, a young Robert Zimmerman used to daydream about riding down Highway 61 to the legendary musical locales of America.” Here, I believe, lies the true heart of rock n’ roll, not just the static situation, but the ongoing journey, whether it be in retrospective reflection or introspective vision. Highway 61 must always be revisited.

Merry Christmas 2015!
…..Ric Albano, Editor

~

The Led Zeppelin Enigma

My Led Zeppelin Collection

I recently read an article by NPR intern Emily White in which the 21-year-old pretty much bragged that, despite possessing thousands of songs, she has never really purchased music. In David Clowery’s response to the article, he pointed out that the artists are the ones most hurt by file-sharing and other forms of “free” music.

I tend to side with Clowery’s view that all artists should be compensated and copyrights should be respected. But in contrast to this believe, I have my own example of what I call the “Led Zeppelin Enigma” where I personally feel entitled to access to any Zeppelin recording free of charge for the rest of my life.

In my early teens I was a Zeppelin fanatic (still am, really) and I bought ever single one of their albums on vinyl. In those days, records were about $6 to $7, but that was still about half of my weekly take that I got on my paper route. Years later as LPs faded, I once again bought each and every Led Zeppelin album on CD, including the newer box set and BBC Sessions collections. This cost even more as CDs by top-shelve acts typically went between $12 to $15, despite the fact that compact discs ultimately had a fraction of the manufacturing and packaging costs of traditional vinyl. So when the technology confluence of recordable CDs, mp3s, and digital downloads hit in the late 1990s, you’ve got to forgive me for feeling like I had a “license for life” for much of this music (not just Zeppelin but many others that I had bought on vinyl and CD).

Now, I’ve long since stopped downloading music as I’ve pretty much got my classic collection in order. And I haven’t quit buying music but I am a lot more judicious over what I spend my money on and I now give much preferential treatment to independent and local musicians. It really is all a moral paradox to contemplate but I feel I’ve been more than fair with the music industry and I do believe that industry will ultimately be just fine. I am optimistic that a purer market system is emerging through new technology and social media, which further diminishes the corporate “middleman” and gives the artists and producers much more direct access to the consumers.

 

The Rhythm of the Saints
by Paul Simon

Buy The Rhythm of the Saints

The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul SimonEver the artist searching for a new, authentic sound, Paul Simon went to Brazil and employed the heavily percussive samba known as Batucada for his 1990 album, The Rhythm of the Saints. Here Simon fuses his witty pop and folk roots with Latin musical and rhythm techniques by employing nearly 70 session musicians. Beyond the vast number of Latin and African musicians, Simon also brought in contemporary musicians such as guitarist J.J. Cale, drummer Steve Gadd and vocalist Kim Wilson.

The album’s conception came on the heels of Simon’s tremendous success with Graceland, the 1986 release where he worked with South African musicians and vocalists. This gave the composer a taste of world music which he chose to pursue again for his next project starting in the late eighties. While maintaining some musicians from the Graceland sessions, such as the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, most of the backing musicians were from Latin America such as the popular Grupo Cultural Olodum.

Simon produced the album and first recorded most of the rhythm tracks in Rio de Janeiro, starting in December 1989. Guitarist Vincent Nguini performed on several of the tracks as well as helped out with several of the arrangements (and has remained a member of Simon’s band ever since). Overdubs were recorded and the album was mixed at The Hit Factory in New York City in mid 1990.


The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon
Released: October 16, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Paul Simon
Recorded: Rio de Janero, Brazil, December 1989–June 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Obvious Child
Can’t Run But
The Coast
Proof
Further To Fly
She Moves On
Born At the Right Time
The Cool, Cool River
Spirit Voices
The Rhythm of the Saints
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
J.J.Cale – Guitars
Naná Vasconcelos – Percussion

Although not originally intended to do so, “The Obvious Child” starts The Rhythm of the Saints off. As the lead single from this decidedly non-pop-oriented album, the label insisted that it be placed first on the album, (against Simon’s own wishes) and the track went on to be Simon’s final Top 20 hit. The military-type drums were recorded live in an outdoor square and add much contrast to the chanting vocals by Simon above strummed acoustic. The second track, “Can’t Run But”, is built on much more subtle rhythms, a xylophone, and a subtle bass, all too calm and cool against Simon’s signature rapid vocals. There is a slight bluesy guitar in the distance making this reminiscent of some of the Police’s more extravagant tracks, with lyrics that deal with the 1986 Chernobyl incident.

“The Coast” was co-written Nguini and starts with subtle hand drums, like a jungle rhythm in the distance. This song is built on brightly picked electric guitar with notes that nicely squeeze out and builds with some brass before relinquishing to a percussive chorus and starting over again. “Proof” contains good, strong brass horn accents over complex but subtle rhythms that topically rotate through an almost-digital like arpreggio while the bass rhythm uses simple 4/4 duo beats. There are also good vocal variations and plenty of interesting instrumental interludes. “Further to Fly” is more bass driven and almost jazzy in approach, but not quite as rewarding as the previous tracks, seeming like a more improvised, rehearsal-like track.

“She Moves On” may be the first song which reflects the folk roots of Simon, albeit it does have some jazzy bass, horns, and smooth guitars and (of course) a chorus of percussion. Written about Simon’s ex-wife, actress Carrie Fisher, this lover’s lament brilliantly incorporates a female chorus for a single line with great effect. “Born at the Right Time” is just as interesting, with bright guitars, bass, accordion, and a catchy melody which makes this one of the more accessible songs on the album. In contrast, “The Cool, Cool River” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, especially during the verses and kind of takes a left turn in feel and tempo during the ‘B’ sections.

Coming down the stretch, “Spirit Voices” is more music oriented than most of the tracks with a few complementing guitars and a wild fretless bass under Simon’s whimsical vocals. Co-written by Brazilian songwriter Milton Nascimento, this track is uplifting overall. The title track “The Rhythm of the Saints” finishes off the album and, like the title suggests, the percussive orchestra returns with a vengeance to the point of nearly overwhelming the light guitar, bass, and vocals of Simon. The later call and response vocals between Simon and a chorus are almost spiritual in nature.

It is hard to surmise whether The Rhythm of the Saints has an over-exuberance of percussion which distracts from the core song craft or if the opposite is true, meaning these track may not have been quite as interesting without the arrangements. In any case, this album was a critical and commercial success all over the world and yet another high water mark in the long and brilliant career of Paul Simon.

~

1990 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.

Roxy Music

Roxy MusicWhen you’re an early-1970s rock band that tours with your own fashion designer, hair stylist, photographer and “PR consultant”, chances are you’ll take some heat. Roxy Music, the English glam-art band formed by Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and Graham Simpson, was a big proponent of style, so much so that legendary rock critic Lester Bangs said the band represented the “triumph of artifice”, Despite their early detractors, the band proved highly influential to both the glam-rock movement and new wave/punk musicians, including David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cars, Grace Jones, Kate Bush and many more.

While very popular in the U.K., the band’s lush, highly produced tracks, prominently featuring electronic synthesizers, were not widely embraced in the United States. Like his band mates, lead singer Ferry was an ex-art student, and saw rock n’ roll as performance art. Eno, who became widely known for his ambient productions, proved to be a pivotal influence over David Byrne and the Talking Heads.

They are perhaps best known in the U.S. for their music videos, each a minor cinematic masterpiece. A seamless integration of music and film propelled Roxy hits, including “More Than This” and “Love Is the Drug”. Some of their best work came late in their career, including the great make-out album Avalon, which showcased Ferry’s theatrical, crooning voice.

The band continued to perform through the early 2010s, remaining true to their dedication to style and production values. We agree with Rolling Stone magazine, which ranked Roxy Music number 98 on their “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. The brought the swag, the sex appeal and the surreal to every show they performed. On the 42nd anniversary of their first appearance at the Great Western Express Pop Festival, we celebrate one of the most influential bands of the rock era.

~

Article by Marcelo Molina

 

The Rolling Stones in 1967

The Rolling Stones in 1967Let’s talk for a moment about controversy. The fact that we occasionally have double album reviews (that is reviews of two single albums by the same artist) may be a bit controversial, as some have suggested that each album is worthy of a review by CRR, is worthy of its own singular review. However, we do have strict internal guidelines which must be met in order to present a double review. In order of importance, these are – 1.) Albums released during same calendar year, 2.) Same primary performers on both albums, 3.) Same basic genre or sound (within reason), and 4.) Same producer. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk for a moment about controversy.

We had planned on doing a double review of The Rolling Stones (UK) albums from 1967, Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. However, upon listening and researching, it was clear that these albums do not meet criteria 3 or 4 above and further, TSM Request is not a very good album (just a very controversial one). So we decided to do a single review on the January 1967 album Between the Buttons yesterday and talk about the rest of the band’s 1967 material in this blog today.

Flowers by The Rolling Stones As we mentioned in Between the Buttons review, that was the last to have separate releases in Britain and America, with the US version including both songs from the January, 1967 double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday”, while excluding the songs “Back Street Girl” and “Please Go Home”. All four of these tracks were included on the piecemeal, American only album Flowers, which was released in June of ’67 and also included songs from the British version of the 1966 album Aftermath, along with the September 1966 single “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”, and three previously unreleased tracks dating back to December 1965 – “My Girl”, “Ride On, Baby”, and “Sittin’ On a Fence”. By the time of that release, work on the next album was well underway.

Their Satanic Majesties Request was released on December 8, 1967 after a long recording process due to some court appearances and jail terms within the band. Although it is the first album produced by “The Rolling Stones”, there were few moments when the entire band was present in the studio at the same time. Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager and producer of their first five albums, got fed up with the band’s lack of focus and eventually quit. Lead vocalist Mick Jagger admitted that the result was “a lot of rubbish” because “anyone let loose in the studio will produce stuff like that”. The band experimented with many new instruments and sound effects with guitarists Brian Jones and Keith Richards leading the way in creating elaborate (albeit mainly unfocused) soundscapes. At one time, the band was considering making the project a psychedelic Christmas album. I

Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling StonesCritically, the album was viewed as a poorly conceived attempt to outdo The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released in June ’67). the production quality came under particularly harsh criticism and the Band would not again attempt to produce an album independently. The album does include a few interesting compositions which make it part of many rock fans collections. Bassist Bill Wyman composed and sang vocals on “In Another Land”, which was allegedly about the fact that Wyman was the only band member who didn’t take L.S.D. at the time. It was released as a single but credited to Bill Wyman and not The Rolling Stones. “Citadel” contains a catchy guitar riff, which is unfortunately offset by an overkill of effects. “2000 Man” starts off acoustic with a beat and is probably the best song on the first side. The best song on the album, by far, is “She’s a Rainbow”, a true gem among otherwise mediocre material. It has a catchy and bright piano by session man Nicky Hopkins, the use of Mellontron by Jones, rich lyrics by Jagger, and a driving rhythm led by drummer Charlie Watts. The song also has some orchestration and strings arranged by future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

As 1968 got underway, the band soon turned back to the blues-based rock n roll that brought them to fame in the first place. Jimmy Miller would produce their subsequent albums, starting with the classic, Beggar’s Banquet.

 

The Beatles’ Last Audition

At the end of the Beatles last ever live performance (on a London rooftop) John Lennon jokingly said “I hope we passed the audition”. Well, there was actually a time when the band had to pass auditions and the last of these instances happened 50 years ago today, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios for the first time.

Although the actual recordings made that day were nothing spectacular, several events happened that day which would change the course of rock history…

Special Feature on Beatles’ 50th Anniversary of First Abbey Road Session