Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jeff Goldblum's Not Dead -- He Just Forgot His Mantra (BOTB Results and More)


(Image from Fanpop)

I'm a guy who enjoys finding connections, inter-relatedness, and surprising twists. It's something I just like to play around with.

This post was originally intended to give the results of my last Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post and perhaps offer a couple of creative tidbits to the few readers who venture by this blog, but I wanted to do more than just share these things in a bland list, so I decided to see if I could create some interesting segues of connectedness for today's post.

Let's see...

1.  Well, today is October 22, 2014, one week since my last BOTB post.  It's also the 62nd birthday of actor Jeff Goldblum, who was born on this day in 1952.

2.  Jeff has been the subject of persistent, recurring internet and media rumors and hoaxes regarding his alleged death, including ones from 2012 and 2009.  He is actually NOT dead.

3.  The Michael Jackson song "Billie Jean" is also about rumors and allegations. This song has had many covers made of it, including the ones by Robert Randolph and The Civil Wars I featured last week.  I was expecting Robert Randolph to win this battle, but that was okay since my main goal was to feature him as an artist, and I think that worked out pretty well.  Plus, The Civil Wars even got a couple of votes, which is also great and entirely understandable -- they do have amazing singing ability.  But I also have to vote for the wonderful music of Robert, and in the end, he wins this going away, 8 to 2 with my vote.

4.  Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video was also parodied by Steve Martin in the opening of the January 6th, 1984 debut of the short-lived comedy TV show, "The New Show":


5.  Guess who also appeared in that January 6th The New Show premier? Yep -- Jeff Goldblum.

6.  He's appeared in a ton of things. Among the many movies Goldblum has appeared in is The Big Chill, the 1983 movie about a group of University of Michigan friends reuniting after the suicide of one of them. HERE'S the scene of them in the procession of cars driving to the cemetery.

7.  Michigan is also the site of a real funeral home that offers a way for mourners to stay in their cars for more than just the drive to the cemetery. Here's a recent news item about it:  "Michigan Funeral Home Provides Drive-thru Option".  Using that 6-word headline as the basis for a rhyming 6-word Newsday piece, I came up with this little rhyme:

Michigan helps advance the mortuary arts,
with funeral choices for mourning hearts,
after one home made this adoption:

A policy that provides the chance
to grieve during a drive-thru glance;
A busy, "mourners on the go," option.

8.  Speaking of a drive-thru -- there are many claims as to which restaurant had the first one, but In-n-Out Burger and Jack in the Box were two places where they were adopted early.  Millions of cheeseburgers have been handed out from drive-through windows ever since.

9.  And did you ever see the 1986 movie, The Fly with Jeff Goldblum?  Cheeseburgers are also a recurring motif in that film, and THIS CLIP gives one short snippet of them being used.

10.  But for short film snippets featuring Jeff Goldblum, most people would have to say this 3-second clip from Woody Allen's 1977 movie Annie Hall is probably one of the most memorable.  It's his only appearance in the film:


11.  A mantra is a repeated word or syllables used to focus and quiet the mind during meditation.  Supposedly, it is during this time of inner quiet that one's thoughts can become enlightened.

12.  "Quiet Thoughts" is also the name of a jazzy jam I added a lead-guitar track to over at wikiloops.  I haven't shared any of my music in quite a while here, so I wanted to include one as part of this BOTB-update post.  I do have some new music I've been working on for a long time, and I hope to have it finished soon, but in the meantime, I hope THIS TUNE, with my attempt at a jazz lead I did back in March of this year is enjoyable.  I really liked the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar tracks created by the other wikiloops jammers and 1 wanted to add a lead. I don't have what I'd call great jazz chops -- I just like to play:

http://www.wikiloops.com/backingtrack-jam-16481.php
"Quiet Thoughts"

13. Do you know who else likes to play jazz music?  Jeff Goldblum.  Read about it HERE.  As Jeff also says in the article, "I just like to play."

Yeah, Jeff -- me too.

P.S.: Glad you're not dead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Billie Jean"


It's October 15th, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

Last Time, I chose The Last Time and focused on legal battles over copyrights and a controversy about how an original song can maybe really be an unoriginal cover.

Today, I'm staying away from controversy and just offering two covers of a very well-known song -- with both of them done live. I think each version brings some unique elements to the song, and I'm curious to see what everyone thinks.  Plus I'm hoping to again introduce you to a musician you might not be familiar with.

And as a side note -- even though the original song was released in the '80's, this battle features two versions that have both been recorded in THIS century!  That's kind of unique for us BOTB bloggers, lol!

Let the Battle Begin!

In January, 1983, Michael Jackson released the second single from his all-time sales-leading Thriller album: "Billie Jean." It reached #1 in many countries and has sold a gazillion copies.  It's an extremely popular song and is so well-known that it would likely win against almost any cover version.

And there's a ton of cover versions out there.  Besides the original by Michael Jackson and his live performance of it from Motown 25 that introduced the Moonwalk to the world, there's a dark acoustic version by Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, a version played on guitar by a young Korean (with over 25 million views),  a fun one by The Bottle Boys, a cool creative drum/keyboard choreographed version by duo M. Henry/J. Robinett, a soulful version by one-man band Scott Dunbar, and an almost endless supply of others.  I could probably do BOTB posts only on Billie Jean for the next ten years and not run out of material.

However that's not really my desire.  I like the song well enough, but as with my BOTB posts featuring Concrete Jungle and Ode to Billy Joe, I've got a specific artist in mind that I want to highlight more-so than the song.  In fact, I only decided on Billie Jean for this battle because I started with the artist and searched for cover songs that he'd done.

So let's start with his version of the song...

But first -- If I mention "pedal-steel guitar" to you, what do you think of?  If you're familiar at all with the instrument, you might go with the traditional playing in country songs. Or maybe something like the country-ish pedal-steel parts played by Jerry Garcia in Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well."

If that country  music sound is all you think of, you've probably never heard of Robert Randolph. Robert's approach to pedal-steel is a little different than the traditional country one. Having started in the 'Sacred Steel' Christian gospel music tradition, Randolph brings a lot of soul to his pedal-steel playing, and he melds it with blues, rock, and jazz influences. Take a listen to his instrumental rendition of "Billie Jean" from 2004, recorded live for a European TV show, and see what you think:


If you like this, I heartily encourage you to check out some of his other work, like a newer 2013 single, a sadly under-heard rockin' single from 2006, an awesome cut from his 2004 Austin City Limits performance with Luther Dickenson, a gospel-like 2010 performance at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, Robert doing Hendrix in 2013 in a jazz setting as part of a Les Paul tribute night, or any of a long list of his other You Tube videos.  You can also visit his official website to learn more.

Next, it's time for the competitor:

When I was searching for a worthy adversary for Robert Randolph, I first thought of featuring Chris Cornell or the young Koren guitarist I mentioned above.  But then I ran across another cover of this song by the highly-acclaimed-but-now-defunct duo, The Civil Wars. I'd heard some of their Grammy-winning work before and have been struck by the amazing interplay of their vocals. I'd seen "Poison and Wine", really liked "Barton Hollow", and thought "The One That Got Away" was haunting and powerful.  But I hadn't really heard them live and in this performance I was taken by how much fun they seem to be having doing this 2011 version of Billie Jean.  It's a radical contrast to their brooding songs and their tension-filled collaboration and eventual breakup. Have a listen:


Your Vote

So now it's your turn:Which version of Billie Jean do you like better? The rockin' instrumental one with the great pedal-steel playing by Robert Randolph, or the sparse and fun acoustic version with the wonderful harmonizing by The Civil Wars?

I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive. 

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- be careful what you do; don't go around breakin' young girls' hearts....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon Updates: BOTB Results & Newsday Rhyme

(Image from NASA)


Hopefully you don't take this as yet another sign of the impending apocalypse, but I'm actually posting something on my blog besides a Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post!

Today was a Blood Moon -- a total lunar eclipse, the second of the tetrad of 2014-2015.  It was thankfully very clear where I live and I was up early and got to see it this morning.  It was absolutely gorgeous and very cool.  I took several photos, but my iPhone either couldn't focus on it or focused on the foreground and left the moon as a small dot in the picture.  Not too impressive, so I hope you don't mind that I borrowed an image from NASA.

I've been wanting to try and be a little more active on my blog (a familiar refrain), so while I don't really have anything of major significance to share, I'm going to use the occasion of this lunar eclipse to at least give the results of last week's BOTB post.  Plus I'll also offer a teensy morsel of "the creative outlet of StratPlayer" by including a rhyming Newsday piece.

Battle of the Bands Results


In my last BOTB post, I shared two versions of The Last Time, with the second one done by a band that was attempting to rip off the Rolling Stones with unoriginal material before lawyers managed to save the trampled rights of the holders of the original copyrights.  OR -- I shared two completely different songs, with the second of them done by a band who was bullied into surrendering its rights to entirely original material by zealous lawyers unleashed by the greedy owners of the first song.  It depends on your perspective, I suppose.

In the end, regardless of the intents of those involved, the Verve agreed out-of-court to relinquishing all the rights to Bitter Sweet Symphony, and these became 'the same song' for all intents and purposes.

Personally, I think it's clear that the Verve relied heavily on the sample of the symphonic production of The Last Time done by the Oldham Orchestra.  But the issues gets murky as to what, if any, agreement was in place for using that sample, "how much" of the sample was OK to use, and who exactly owned the rights to that sample.  I also think if the Verve had only used the sample as a small part of a larger composition that was clearly "different" from the sampled work, there might not have been as much of a fight,  Or -- unfortunately -- if the song had not been a successful hit, likely no-one would have cared as much. Money tends to affect perspectives.

In the voting from the BOTB post, the results are a 5-5 tie as to which song is the favorite "version" (with the esteemed Mr. McCarthy voting for the Oldham Orchestra). So it's my job to break the tie.  I was a bit surprised by how many people didn't really care for either version, with the Verve song called "boring." I find myself liking both versions for different reasons. But I think that while it's a bit repetitive and relied entirely too much on the original sample, Bitter Sweet Symphony is the better song. It's deeper lyrically, has very interesting production (this is one of those 'headphone songs' where you hear a ton of cool snippets in the background), and an infectious groove.  I like the guitar riff in The Last Time, but that damn sample used in Bitter Sweet Symphony will plant itself in my brain for days. ;)

So I break the tie by going with The Verve, making the final vote:

The Verve 6, The Stones 5, Oldham Orchestra 1

Rhyming Newsday

Back in August, was the last time I posted a "Newsday" item.  I originally did these as "Tuesday Newsday 200" stories, where I'd write a 200-word story based on a recent news item that I'd found.  The last time I did it, I went for a different approach.  I took the headline and created a short rhyming piece based on the words in that headline.  It was fun to do, so I'm doing it again for today.

Here's the headline I'm using with a link to the story itself:

"Woman says she dug up dad's grave 'with respect'"

This headline has nine words, so I'm going to use those as the basis for a nine-line piece where each line has exactly nine words, and where each line also uses the words from the headline in the proper order.  Oh -- and there has to be a rhyme scheme, too.   

See what you think:

=====

Woman omitted in the will still wanted her share;
 
She says her dad really meant to be fair,

but that she was cheated by her sister's neglect.


And so she dug up a plan to finally uncover,

what had been closed up, and she would recover

the real copy of her dad's will to inspect.

 
Yet she got nothing from the grave but regrets;

It wasn't a will -- he'd been buried with cigarettes!
 
Desperate, she rummaged his casket, but still with respect.

=====

Thanks for reading!

I'll be back on the 15th with another BOTB post, and maybe even sooner.  And now you can't say I only post once in a blue moon -- blood moons work, too.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "The Last Time"



It's October 1st, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.


Last time, I featured a controversial musician in Henry Kaiser; Now I'm choosing a different type of controversy for this Last Time.

Let the Battle Begin!

In 1965, The Rolling Stones released their first single in the UK written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger -- The Last Time (Note this wasn't the case in the US.  The band's version of the blues standard, Little Red Rooster, was a #1 hit in the UK but had not been released as a single in the US -- Heart of Stone, also written by Jagger/Richards, had been released in the US in 1964 instead).   

The Last Time became the group's third #1 hit in the UK. Take a listen to the Stones' original version:




In 1997, the band The Verve released a cover of The Last Time, but named the song Bitter Sweet Symphony. It became a hit and is pretty well-known. Take a listen to their version of the song and see what you think:



Wait -- what?  You don't think this is the same song as The Last Time???

Well, I can see why you might think that, but legally it IS the same song, or at least it's close enough to be able to determine who wrote and owns the song:  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are given credit as songwriters, and ABKCO Records, the firm started by Allen Klein, the manager of the Rolling Stones from 1965 - 1970, owns the publishing rights.

To help you understand this, and to hear how these radically different-sounding tunes might be considered "the same song," let me offer you the all-important missing piece: 

Andrew Loog Oldham was the original manager and producer of the Rolling Stones from 1963 to 1967, and during that time he also created "The Andrew Oldham Orchestra" to develop studio talent.  They made various instrumental and cover recordings, with most of them being orchestral versions of Stones songs.  Here's their instrumental cover of The Last Time from 1965:


Ah-hah! There it is -- you hear it?  That five-note repeating line in the strings?  Or is it seven notes? Or more?  Perhaps even a whole song's worth?

Exactly how many notes of this orchestration did The Verve use in Bitter Sweet Symphony?

It matters.  A lot.  Millions and millions of dollars worth of "a lot."

Accusations over the use of the samples from this orchestrated cover of The Last Time degenerated into very messy in- and out-of-court battles and -- as frequently is the case when lawyers, egos, and huge amounts of money collide -- accounts differ.  A few accounts say that the Verve did not have any permission to use any samples of the strings in Bitter Sweet Symphony, but many more accounts say that there was a 50%-50% licensing arrangement in place for "five notes" and that Klein and Oldham felt the Verve ended up using "too much" of the song, voiding that license.

The fact that the song was an international hit may have influenced the opinions as to "how much" of a sample was acceptable to use.  Big money tends to muddy these kinds of questions.

Ultimately, pressured by the lawyers of both Klein and Oldham, the Verve settled out of court (twice) and relinquished 100% of both their rights to the songwriting royalties of Bitter Sweet Symphony as well as all of the publishing rights.  The song was the biggest (and only) hit by the group, and they received no money from its sales, or from it being licensed by to Nike for use in their commercials, or from any of the many other times you may have heard it at sporting events, on TV, or elsewhere.

In fact, none of the musicians who might be considered "writers" of this song likely receives any money from it at all:
  • Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote the original song The Last Time, and even though they're credited as songwriters on Bitter Sweet Symphony, they've received no money from it, having signed the rights to all of their early songs over to Klein and ABKCO Records as part of a 1970 deal that may or may not have been entirely upfront on Klein's part (again -- accounts differ). Keith Richards called the deal, "the price of an education." 
  • David Whitaker was actually the composer who wrote, arranged, and orchestrated the music for the version of The Last Time for the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, but he likely received no money from Bitter Sweet Symphony. I can't find any documentation to verify it, but odds are very good he was paid to do the work in 1965 on a single-time basis, with no rights to any future use of the music.
  • Richard Ashcroft from the Verve wrote all new lyrics, and the band added over 50 tracks of new music to the string sample used in Bitter Sweet Symphony, but thanks to the out-of-court settlements, he and the band have gotten to keep no money from the song either. In 1999, when the song was nominated for a Grammy, Jagger and Richards were listed as nominees, and Ashcroft quipped that "it was the best song Jagger and Richards have written in twenty years."
  • It's interesting also that back during those early days, songwriting was entirely new to Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.  All their previous hits had been covers (Not Fade Away, Time is on my Side, It's All Over Now, etc), and in trying to write songs for themselves, they also tended to "sample" from older songs as well. Keith Richards admitted in the 2003 book, "According to the Rolling Stones" that, 'we came up with The Last Time, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers."  I'm pretty sure the Staple Singers never got any money from Bitter Sweet Symphony either.

I guess it's a good thing for the Stones that the Staple Singers didn't have aggressive ex-mangers with powerful lawyers, too...

'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die

Your Vote

So now it's your turn: Do YOU think that The Last Time and Bitter Sweet Symphony are the same song? And which "version" of the song do you like best?  The "original" reworking of an old gospel song by The Rolling Stones or the "sampled" reworking by The Verve?  Or maybe you prefer the 1965 orchestral version by David Whitaker and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra.

Also -- be sure to add your thoughts on the whole issue of "whose song" this is -- did the Verve rip-off the Stones and get caught? Or did they get bullied by lawyers and unfairly give up the rights to their original work?

I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive. 

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- May today not be The Last Time you get to enjoy this Bitter Sweet Symphony of life, but always be sure to cherish every minute you have!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Ode to Billy Joe"



It's time again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.


 Catch-up from Last BOTB

As has happened before, things have been hectic lately and I didn't get a summary post up from my last BOTB battle, so let me close that one out before starting a new one. In that last BOTB, I went for the tune, "Concrete Jungle," where I was expecting a one-sided battle, and it did end up being pretty heavily weighted towards Bob Marley (with Wayne Perkins playing guitar).  My vote also goes towards that original version.  I definitely like Ceu's, and think the overall vibe is pretty cool, but Bob (and Wayne with Chris Blackwell's production) easily gets my vote -- and I doubt anyone is going to be surprised. So in summary, that gives Bob Marley a pretty solid win at 8 to 3.

I expected Bob to win, although I must admit that a few people surprised me when they voted for Ceu.  But really, that's OK -- musical taste is entirely subjective. No matter how much sophisticated justification any person, even a professional "critic," tries to wrap their review in, every critique ultimately boils down to, "well, this is just what I like."

A big reason I went with "Concrete Jungle" was to highlight the uncredited playing of relatively-unknown guitarist Wayne Perkins, and I hope everyone enjoyed learning a little bit about him. This time I'm again offering a battle featuring a guitarist who is not widely known, but unlike Wayne (whose playing most people seem to appreciate), this guitarist himself is often a topic of radically opposed opinions.

And frankly, I have no idea how this battle will turn out.

Let the New Battle Begin!

In 1967, singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry released a song from her debut album that reached #1 on the pop charts, as did the album itself -- both entitled "Ode to Billie Joe".  A simple, casually-sung song with deeper lyrics about indifference in the face of suicide and hidden family drama, it resonated well with the listeners of that era.  Originally intended as an eleven-verse 7-minute song, verses were removed and it was redone as a potential single.  The shortened version heightened the mystery by not revealing why Bill Joe jumped off the bridge, or what he and the narrator were seen throwing of it earlier.  Here's the 1967 version done by Bobbie Gentry:




This is one of those songs that has been covered a gazillion times (and many of them are great covers -- I may revisit this song again for some future BOTB).  The song even inspired a book and a 1976 movie starring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor which was directed by Max Baer, Jr. ("Jethro Bodine" from the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show).  In the book and movie, author Herman Raucher took Bobbie Gentry's song and added his own "repressed-homosexuality" rationale for Billy Joe's suicide -- Bobbie Gentry specifically never gave a reason, nor did she ever say what Billy Joe and his girlfriend threw off the bridge.  The ambiguity allowed each person to think of their own reason, and she stressed that it really wasn't even important -- the "point" of the song was the family's indifference, as they sit there nonchalantly discussing the boy's suicide while not even recognizing their daughter was his girlfriend.  HERE and HERE are some additional articles about her and the song.

I find it interesting how many ways this song touches on the topics of personal opinions -- in the song, the family casually voices theirs about Billy Joe without realizing the girlfriend is right there; the ambiguity Bobbie Gentry left in the song allows each listener to form their own opinions as to why Billy Joe committed suicide; the rationale imagined by Herman Raucher evokes strong opinions; and the movie itself is both panned or loved, depending on who's review you read (most critics leaned towards the "panned" side).

Henry Kaiser is a guitarist who also evokes strong opinions -- or at least he does among the people who know about him.  He has appeared on over 250 albums, and yet most people have never heard of him.  But when they do hear him play, they tend to form opinions pretty quickly. Kaiser leans towards experimentation, "outside" playing, effects-laden sounds, and has typically been branded an "avant-garde" guitarist. People I've introduced Kaiser to have usually either loved him or hated him.

Frankly, I go back and forth myself -- some of his stuff I really like, and some just strikes me as jarring and discordant.  But he's covered so much ground, played with so many highly-talented people, and experimented in so many ways, I have to respect him for continually trying to stretch both himself and the ears of his listeners. HERE and HERE are some positive introductions to the world of Henry Kaiser. But if you look on YouTube, you can also find video of him where he is declared to be the "Worst Guitarist Ever."

In 1988, Henry Kaiser released an album with his band at the time called "Those Who Know History are Doomed to Repeat It".  It was essentially a "cover album" and remains my favorite Kaiser album (although his "Yo Miles" tribute to Miles Davis with Wadada Leo Smith is also interesting, as are his multiple albums with David Lindley).  'History' has an awesome long cover of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star" melding into "The Other One," but that's much too long of a piece for any BOTB battle (many of the other covers are Captain Beefheart songs, so that pretty much tells you where Henry's coming from).

Also on "History," Henry Kaiser and the band also do a cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe,"  and I think it is one of the better things I've heard from Henry Kaiser.  The interplay between his crazy-vibrato-bar guitar and the violins is great, that wild second solo beginning at the 5:20 point gives me goosebumps, and the ending jam is excellent. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, and I couldn't find the track on You Tube, so I had to make my own video.   So below is the video I made from the song, with images of Kaiser, various shots of bridges over the Tallahatchie River, and one of Bobbie Gentry.  Take a listen and see what you think:




Your Vote

So there you go -- now it's your turn to express your opinion: Which appeals to you more?  The sparse, simply, evocative original by Bobbie Gentry, or the updated, edgy version by Henry Kaiser with the outlandish guitar?

I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again the end of next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- stay off the Tallahatchie Bridge!  Ain't nothin' worth jumpin' off it!  Call someone -- anyone.  Heck, call me and I'll help talk you off it!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Concrete Jungle"



Happy September! It's time again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their  readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.


In my last BOTB post, I offered two versions of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." I thought it might actually be a close battle since I really like both versions.  But I was wrong.  Very wrong.  The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were severely trounced.

Well, in this post, I'm going completely in the other direction -- I'm featuring a battle where I fully expect it to be a one-sided victory.  I'm doing this for two reasons:  
  • One -- Since I was so off-base about my expectations in the last battle, I'm curious to see if what I think is one-sided ends up being more evenly matched than I predict; and 
  • Two -- I want to highlight a really great song that I've always loved, and in the process, expose you to a sadly unknown and under-appreciated guitarist that you're probably unaware of.

Let the Battle Begin!

In 1972, most of the world had never heard of Bob Marley. In the early part of that year he and the Wailers found themselves broke, dumped by CBS Records, and stranded in England following a failed tour. There they were introduced to record producer Chris Blackwell, who gave them plane fare home as an advance for doing a record for Blackwell's Island Records  The subsequent album, "Catch a Fire," was recorded in Jamaica and the UK, and released in 1973.

The record had mixed commercial success but caught the attention of world critics, even though some traditional reggae fans considered it "overproduced" and not representative of true reggae. However, many now view it one of the greatest reggae album ever made -- it ranked #123 in Rolling Stones's top 500 albums of all time from 2003.

Track one on the album was the song "Concrete Jungle"  -- it's been one of my most favorite songs ever since I first heard it.  Here's the video of that original version from 1973:



Awesome song, isn't it? Moving and evocative. I absolutely love it.

So did you make it all the way through the song and hear all that fabulous guitar, like the cool overdubs in the intro, and especially that blazing solo that dissolves into that haunting echo-laden feedback? If not, go back and listen again -- I'll wait...

When I first heard this song, I was blown away. I mean, I love the whole album, and the songs and the infectious reggae are great, but the guitar on this song and "Stir it Up" REALLY got my attention. The album credits list Peter Tosh as the guitarist. So I made it a point to buy several other Peter Tosh albums and yeah, they were decent reggae records, but there was something missing. On his solo albums or later Bob Marley and the Wailers albums, he never again played guitar with the same amazing lines like he had on "Concrete Jungle."

And I always wondered why.

Here's a clue:  A 1973 video Bob Marley and the Wailers made where they play along with "Concrete Jungle" -- there's plenty of live parts mixed in, but the original recording is also still heavily in the mix.  Check out Peter Tosh (in the cool hat). For some reason, his fingers don't quite seem to match the guitar lines you hear in the background, and even more surprising, that killer guitar solo is totally gone, now replaced by one done on keyboard.

Huh...

It wasn't until years later that I discovered the truth:  Peter Tosh did NOT play all that awesome guitar.

When Chris Blackwell was doing post-production work on "Catch a Fire" in London, he decided to add a lot of overdubs to the record.  There are many uncredited musicians who played on this album.  In Island Studios at the time happened to be a session guitarist from Muscle Shoals, Alabama named Wayne Perkins.  It turns out that Wayne is actually the guy who did all the wonderful guitar playing on "Stir it Up" and "Concrete Jungle."

Wayne Perkins? Who??? I'd never heard of him -- have you?

It's too bad -- he's done a lot of great work.  HERE's a list of his recording and composing credits. And below is a video of him talking about recording on "Stir it Up" and "Catch a Fire" with Chris Blackwell:


I smile when he talks about how he couldn't "find the 'one' to save his ass." Reggae is all about the backbeat -- the emphasis is on the 'two' and the 'four' of the four-beat measure. And damn -- that solo still gives me goosebumps, too. :) 

Wayne even almost ended up in the Rolling Stones. After Mick Taylor left, they auditioned several guitarists as part of the recording of their album "Black and Blue," before choosing Ronnie Wood. Wayne's playing can be heard on "Hand of Fate" and "Fool to Cry." He's also added guitar to many other artists, including some really tasty guitar on Joni Mitchell's "Car on a Hill" from "Court and Spark."

Wayne's done some solo stuff too -- some sadly under-heard solo stuff. HERE is a video of the title tune, "Mendo Hotel," from his 1995 album, and HERE is "Many Rivers to Cross" from his 2006 album "Ramblin' Heart."

So there you go -- now you know the secret guitarist on the Bob Marley classic, "Concrete Jungle."

Oh, yeah -- "Concrete Jungle!" This is supposed to be a Battle of the Bands post, right???

Well, try as I might, I could not find many decent covers of this song, and it's one I absolutely wanted you to know about.  There are several other songs with the same name, including a Black Label Society one that Alex might like, ;)  But these other songs are not the Bob Marley tune.

However, after some searching, I finally found one that I think might be worth sharing as part of a BOTB post. It's by the Brazilian singer, Ceu.  She's evidently been performing  this song since her debut album in 2005.  Below is one of the better-recorded videos I've found of that song, although it was made in 2007, when her English pronunciation was not quite as smooth as later phone-made videos I found.  But this video has the best production and a really smooth Latin jazz feel.  There's no Wayne Perkins guitar here, but I still like it quite a bit.  See what you think:



Your Vote

So which appeals to you more? Bob Marley's awesome original version with the uncredited Wayne Perkins playing guitar, or the smooth, sensual, jazzy interpretation by Ceu?

I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again the end of next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- be sure to do what you can to help tame the concrete jungles around you!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Loose Ends: BOTB Results, Seven-Tag, Newsday, and More


Hey all!

Due to my always-hectic schedule, it was again looking like I was not going to get a new post made between my last Battle of the Bands (BOTB) post and the next one coming up in just a few days (September 1st), but I managed to squeeze in some time. 

And there are several quick things I want to offer you: 

Battle of the Bands Results


First is to summarize the results from my last BOTB post:

I admit I was at least a little bit surprised.  I really like the Red Hot Chili Peppers' version of "Higher Ground" and I was expecting a halfway decent showing for them in the voting.  But this ended up being a battle where the original by Stevie Wonder ran away with it.

I guess this is a case where the cover version is good, but not quite good enough.  But that's what I get for picking a Stevie Wonder song.  I mean, I love the RHCP's vibe, all the fun guitar parts added, and Flea does fabulous on the bass, but in the end, I have to agree with the vast majority:  Stevie Wonder's version is THE version of "Higher Ground."  There are very few artists who can top Stevie Wonder, and that's evident in this song:  Every note, every phrase, and every beat come together to make a fabulous recording, and with my vote Stevie ends up winning this battle by a dominant 9 votes to 1.

Come back on Labor Day Monday for my next BOTB post (it's already written and queued up) -- I'll reveal "the secret guitarist" in one of my favorite songs and ask you to choose what version is better. I'm interested to see if this next battle also ends up being a one-sided run-away. 

Tagged to Give Seven

I was tagged on Facebook by my buddy DL Hammons as one of seven writers. The task is to:
  • Go to the seventh page of your current WIP
  • Go to the seventh line on that page
  • Take the seven lines beginning with that line and share them
Well, OK...  I have several WIPs at the moment, but the most recent thing I've worked on is a science-fiction short story that seems to think it wants to become a novel.  Here are the required seven lines:

=====
     "I realize you consider these negotiations as crucial," he said, "but you have to understand that you're gaining nothing with your impatience. You've just made a huge tactical error by presenting your offer too soon. Now it will take even longer for them to eventually accept it." 
     She glared at him. "But you don't understand. I don't have time for these games. I need these negotiations finished as soon as possible. You need to help me get this done. That is why you are here." 
     Corvan snorted. "No, Ambassador. I am here because my ship is in your cruiser's cargo bay and you're holding my crew prisoner."
=====


So there you go.  I was also asked to tag seven other writers, but I'm respectfully going to decline.  It's fun to take part, but this is one ripple I'm not sending downstream.  But if you're a writer and have an interest in taking part, you're free to consider this a blanket tag.

WRiTE Club

Speaking of DL Hammons, let me remind you all that his WRiTE Club 2014 is still underway and is nearing the point where the third-round winners are chosen.  If you have not voted in this contest of awesome anonymous writers, please do so! You have until Noon on Sunday August 31st to do so -- you can visit the nine bouts currently open for voting at DL's web site.  Nothing is required for you to vote other than to add a comment, and every vote counts! 

New Newsday Twist 

Finally -- since this supposed to be a blog about my creative output -- let me offer you a short writing snippet.

Over the course of this blog, I've done several "Newsday Two-Hundred" postings where I take an item in the news and generate a 200-word piece of writing about it. They're fun to do, and I'll probably do more in the future, but today, I decided to add a twist.

I still start with a recent news item, but I'll limit myself not to 200 hundred words, but to a word-count determined by the headline. For instance, if the headline has ten words, I'll write ten lines of ten words each; if the headline has six words, I'll only write six lines of six words each.  Also, the headline words will still be in each line, in the correct position. 

Get it?  Well, if not, maybe it will make more sense once I show you one.

HERE's the link to the news item I'm using for today's inspiration, which has the following headline:

"Human skull donated to Goodwill store in Texas"

Okay.  That's eight words, so I'll write eight lines of eight words, using those headline words in the proper order.  Oh -- and why not make it rhyme?  See what you think:

=====
Human beings can be very odd at times:
A skull discovered, but not left from crimes.

It was donated by someone no longer living;
Using another person to do the actual giving.

Not a product that Goodwill tends to carry,
although what's sold in each store does vary.

'Tis a sad case of charity in excess:
Someone was dying to be generous in Texas.

 =====

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!