This page of my web site will feature an assortment of ideas, videos, interviews, and all sort of other materials, from the silly and plainly promotional to the more sublime and spiritual, that I have found helpful musically and in life. I'll even post some of my writing process and early song iterations for anyone who might be interested.
Some of it is that good gritty material for finding the right path. May we all find it.
The greatness of JJ Cale.
So recently I have been digging into the past. Along with doing other things to my brain, this Covid period has allowed me to start to exhaust my normal retinue of videos and start to dig deeper. Also. as I have been giving workshops on the history of popular music, I have been researching so many of the great stories from music history.
But I will start with what is most recent, and that was the birthday of JJ Cale a few days ago, which sent me back through some of his catalog. Having been a fan for 30 years, I would say that his hits - his classics - are less interesting to me. I know them and have loved them. But either through overplay or a shift in me, I find myself drawn to his large number of quirky songs... the ones with unlikely melodies that nonetheless feel solid, but that go places you don't expect.
This is one of those... I imagine him getting this idea from some misstatement he made, maybe to his wife Christine Lakeland, or who knows. But the magic of this recording is also in the understated accompaniment on the piano and guitar, that go to intervals you don't expect but that really support the sweet mistake at the centre of this song in the coolest possible way, as only JJ Cale could do it.
In fact, that is the thing about JJ Cale. You know it's him. I played a show at the Andover Coffeehouse in Andover, New Hampshire last year and after my set the older man who promoted the show, a solid guitarist himself, came to afterward and congratulated me saying. "Hey, you've developed your own style. It's cool."
That was about the coolest thing anyone has ever said to me, as an artist or musician. That was the idea from the start. JJ defines that idea...
Wish I Had Not Said That - JJ Cale
Henry Gray passed away a week ago at the age of 95. A blues piano legend who played with Howlin' Wolf for 15 years back in the 50s and 60s, he was doing shows well into his 90s. I loved his spirit and his playing, captured so well in Dan Cross's film I Am the Blues. Over recent years, I referred to him often in my shows as living a sort of blues retirement, which is no retirement at all, just playing great til the end.
Check him at out here five years ago, at 90. Wow. Thanks Henry. RIP
The Three of Me
Once in a while a song hits me -- the craft, the performance, the production.
This is one of them. William Bell was a Stax artist many years ago, and they were the ones to release his comeback album. Produced by John Leventhal, this is to me a perfect gem.
If you love singers like I do, you have been struck with that sadness when you see in some performance, live or recorded, that they have lost their skills, or they have greatly diminished with age. Men typically hold on a little longer than women, with some notable exceptions. Tony Bennett seems to still have some semblance of his incredible voice even at 92.
It was Willie Nelson's 86th birthday last week and I went for my favourite birthday tribute to him, by Leon Russell and Ray Charles, who performed Song for You to him on his 70th birthday. Ray was 73 for this performance and he totally knocks it out of the park. Check it out!
Another singer who kept her chops to the end was the amazing Sarah Vaughan. She was the envy of her generation in terms of skill and tone. Sinatra famously said listening to her made him want to quit. This performance, from an album called Crazy and Mixed Up she made when she was 58. He chops were otherwordly even then Check this version of Autumn Leaves, complete with the great Joe Pass on guitar.
RIP Hal Blaine
The death of legendary drummer Hal Blaine who basically played on half of the soundtrack of the 50s to the 70s sent me back through his works. He was known to be a player who gave each song what it needed, very musical and very creative. I'm sure producer Roy Halee and S&G had some input into his magical parts in this tune, but I wonder. It helps that this was one of Paul Simon's true dances with genius as a songwriter, but the percussion on it is so good. Amazing detail about this moving lyric: it never rhymes. The strength of the images, from small to universal, and this killer (Gershwinesque?) melody carry it all so elegantly that you don't really even notice. Take 3:37 for this tune, and check out Blaine's work.
Nils Lofgren's story is almost hard to believe, and the early days of his association with Neil Young in the early 1970s is one of the most incredible parts of it. Here he talks about his work with Neil, good times and tough times. I have a huge amount of respect for Lofgren and his professionalism and musicality.