Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits

Americana.

That’s perhaps the best way to refer to Willie Nelson’s music. Yes, you’ll probably have to tune into a country radio station to hear his songs, but Willie goes far beyond country. The songs he writes are so ingrained with the roots of what America truly was, is, and hopefully will be for years to come.

Willie Nelson has always written his songs from a place deep in his heart. And when he performs a song written by somebody else he always makes the song his own, like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Even though you know he’s not the first to play and sing a particular song, his becomes a definitive version of the song.

Although Willie Nelson is considered to be a country music performer. Even to tag him as one the pioneering artist who defines “outlaw country” seems a disservice. Willie Nelson’s music is beyond that. It defines itself; just as it defines the innocence and pride, the trials and tribulations, the sentimentality and hope of what can only be referred to as “Americana”.

The J. Geils Band – Hotline

The J. Geils Band was always, first and foremost, a live band. That very well might have been their biggest reason for not achieving the success they deserved until their later albums.

I will never understand how some record labels can sign a band, yet do nothing to promote them. The J. Geils Band were in their early years, one of the most popular bands around in their hometown of Boston, MA and in Detroit, MI, and were known nationally for their high energy live performances. With a little push from Atlantic Records, their label during their early career, they could have easily broke out nationally. But because of their strength on the road, Atlantic Records seemed bent on having word of mouth from The J. Geils Band’s live reputation to do all the work; doing little to promote a band destined for success not only on the road but on their records.

Like the five albums before it, “Hotline” was a record that combined the strengths of the five exceptional musicians that were The J. Geils Band.  Seth Justman, who’s wizard-like keyboard talent was a dominant force on the earlier live Geils album “Full House”, and on “Blow Your Face Out” – the live record that followed “Hotline” – was also one of the primary songwriters, along with frontman Peter Wolf, who was a former high-energy Boston area Disk Jockey that left radio to join The J. Geils Band just before their first record. The Geils rhythm section was an incomparable combination of Daniel Klein (DK) on bass and Stephen Jo Bladd on drums, who both always seemed to know just when to throw in those little extra flourishes that gave a song that extra kick it needed at just the right time. Then there was J. Geils himself; a master blues guitarist with a tone so full and a style so fluid, he could swing between power rhythms and tight leads effortlessly; listening to him play, one couldn’t help but be in awe. And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: Magic Dick on harmonica, perhaps the best blues-harp player ever.

Once The J.Geils Band signed with EMI Records, they finally found themselves with a record label that was willing to throw just a little promotion behind them. Just a little was all it took.  The result was a string of The J. Geils Band’s most successful albums in their career. They finally got the success the had so long before deserved.

The J. Geils Band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018.  They have yet to earn the induction recognition they deserve, but I know one day they will.

The Best Of The Lovin’ Spoonful

Question: What does the 1960’s folk/blues rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful and the 1970’s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter” have in common?

Answer: John Sebastian.

Anyone who grew up in the ’70s probably remembers the sweathogs from TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter. If you remember the show, you undoubtedly remember the show’s theme song, “Welcome Back”, performed by John Sebastian, founder and former guitarist and singer for The Lovin’ Spoonful.

The Spoonful formed in the mid ’50s but didn’t release their first album until 1965. They had a solid string of hits that combined elements of folk, blues, and pop, from then until their breakup in 1969. In their early days, especially on their first album, The Lovin’ Spoonful had a heavy jug band influence. (Jug bands played their music on homemade instruments, the name derived from a jug that was sometimes blown into to keep the rhythm of the songs). That influence was less prominent on their later records but one or two jug band songs always made it to their albums.

The spoonful released their greatest hits album after three successful albums and a string of popular singles. Their best remembered song is probably 1967’s “Summer in the City”, which closes out their collection.

After their breakup, guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Sebastian had a somewhat successful career which included penning and performing the theme song to “Welcome Back Kotter”.

The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Kris Kristofferson – Jesus Was A Capricorn

Kris Kristofferson is one of the originators of what is now known as outlaw country. All that really means was that his music, in many ways, eschews traditional country music and at times, crosses over with rock and roll. Kristofferson has a DIY, singer songwriter style that both meshed with and cut across the grain of what was popular in country and rock. He wrote, sung, and played songs that were deep-rooted and highly personal. Much in the way Hank Williams changed the sound of country and influenced rock music in the ’50s, Kristofferson, along with a few other “outlaws” from the ’60s and ’70s, redefined country music for a new generation, opening the door for southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels.

Quite often, Kris Kristofferson’s songs shared as much in common with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as with Merle Haggard and George Jones. Like his other albums, “Jesus was a Capricorn” isn’t an album filled with fiddles and twangy guitars (although there is lap-steel and dobro). It’s an album that focusses on roots and emotion, dedication and defiance.

“Jesus Was a Capricorn”, like the rest of Kristofferson’s catalog, is not really country or rock and roll. He is of that rare breed of performers that fits somewhere in between definitions and outside genres. In a true DIY style, with albums like “Jesus Was a Capricorn”, Kris Kristofferson defined something new with his music; something called outlaw country.

Blues Brothers – Briefcase Full Of Blues

What started out as a comedy/music skit on Saturday Night Live, turned into one of the best-selling blues albums of all time.

Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi were part of the original “not ready for prime-time players” cast on Saturday Night Live when they came up with the concept of a fictitious blues band from Chicago as a way to have some fun, pay homage to their appreciation of blues, soul, and R&B, and fill a slot for a musical guest that was lacking for the show that weekend. Little did they know, it would turn into an opening slot for comedian Steve Martin on his “Wild and Crazy Guy” tour, a hit album recorded from one of the shows on that tour, and a mega-hit movie based on the fake biographies of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues.

They were just having fun with it all; but they had a band of crack musicians backing them up (who also happened to be the SNL band at the time). That’s what really made it all come together and work so well – taking their music, but not necessarily themselves, seriously.

That’s what I think I love most about “Briefcase Full of Blues” – it taught me that you need to think seriously about, and focus on what’s most important to you, but never forget to have fun with it at the same time.

How can I not love this album?

Neil Young – Decade

I was never a big Neil Young fan – until I listened to “Decade”, the three album set that is the epitome of what a record set encompassing an artist’s retrospective repertoire should be.

Poetry, politics, emotion, power, and above all, passion, “Decade” defines better than any other compilation, what Neil Young’s music is all about. The songs were all hand-picked by Young, and with the exception of a few of the CSNY songs that had to be excluded due to contractual reasons, the choices are flawless.

It is an incredible achievement for any artist to leave three albums of worthy material from their entire musical career. It is absolutely amazing for an artist to be accomplished enough to do it from within their first decade alone. Then again, there have been few musical artists who have had the talent to exhume the poetry, politics, emotion, power, and above all, passion, of Neil Young.

Long live rust.

The J. Geils Band – Sanctuary

The J. Geils Band is one of the most underrated bands in the US; except in Boston and Detroit. Boston is understandable. Geils after all, comes from that city. You always love your hometown hero. But Detroit was equally, if not more enthusiastic about The J. Geils Band’s combination of blues, rock, funk, soul, and pop from day one; and Geils loved them right back. They even at one point during an interview, referred to Detroit as their home away from home.

Geils was first and foremost, a live band. If you never saw them perform live, you have no idea what they were all about. Perhaps the album that came closest to capturing their live sound and energy in the studio was their tenth record, “Sanctuary”.

I can’t even pick a favorite song on this album. Every song is my favorite off of it. “Sanctuary” is one of those albums that, when I ignorantly thinned down my record collection, converting everything to compact disc, I never considered parting with. Yes, I eventually bought it on CD, but I was never not going to own this album.

To me personally, “Sanctuary” is memories from my ignorant teenage party days, the album I took refuge in during my early adult years when I felt down and betrayed, and the record I always pulled out when I just needed to f’ing crank it up and jam out.

Musically, it has been and will always be my “Sanctuary”.

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres

Here’s a big reason you should own ZZ Top’s third album, “Tres Hombres” on vinyl and not on CD: they are not the same recording. Sure, the songs are the same, but when Warne Brothers originally decided to release Tres Hombres digitally, someone felt it would be a good idea to remix all the songs, giving it a more ’80s feel.

It was a very bad decision.

The Vinyl version is the way ZZ Top intended “Tres Hombres” to sound. There’s a reason it became ZZ Top’s breakthrough album in 1973 – it was mixed to capture their sound and style perfectly. This was not an ’80s album. It’s mix of Southern roots, Texas blues, hard rock, with a touch of funky Chicago blues had the ’70s written all over it.

Fortunately, someone at the record company must have seen the err in their ways. When “Tres Hombres” was made available on iTunes, they went back to the original 1973 mix.

Even though the album and digital download are the same version again, I still prefer listening to this (and really any album) on vinyl. I love the touch and feel taking the record out of the jacket and sleeve and there’s something magical about dropping the needle in the groove.

Led Zeppelin – Live at the Olympia

One of the greatest things about the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl is bonus content.

Just like when albums started to be reissued on CDs, sometimes the record companies feel the need to include incentives to get music lovers to buy – or rather re-buy – recordings that may already be in their collection.

So how do you get someone who already owned an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s debut album to buy it on vinyl again? You include a previously unofficially released live recording with it as a bonus second album. And if you didn’t still have the original vinyl copy of “Led Zeppelin” because you had a cheap turntable that wore it out way back in the day?

Well…bonus bonus!

The bonus records here is from a French radio broadcast in late 1969 of a Led Zeppelin concert performed in Paris about a month before. Zeppelin’s second album had just been released and the show included songs from both albums, including the John Bonham drum solo extravaganza “Moby Dick”. Bonham’s solo here differs significantly from what appeared on Zep’s first official live album, “The Song remains the Same”.

The thing I find funny, and what is unique with the bonus content included with This vinyl re-release of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut, is that there is more bonus content than original material – four sides compared to two. This live recording could have easily been released as a stand-alone new release, and I would have still bought it. But hey…bonus, bonus!

Journey – Captured

It’s funny how you never forget your firsts. Journey was my very first concert and I remember it like it was yesterday. My two best friends and me, the legendary Cobo arena, my favorite band at the time at the height of their popularity, and a foot-long “torpedo” of contraband that was fired up when Journey took the stage (thank you EZ Wider Unrolling Papers).

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of surprised I remember any of it at all; but I do. Vividly. It was musical experience I will never forget and still ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Some of songs on this album were “Captured” at Cobo Hall, so I just might be on this record.

Yeah, I think that’s me right there! 😅

I guess I’m on a live music kick, I just realized this is the third album in a row I’ve chosen to listen to that is a concert recording. Oh well, I always felt rock and roll is best when it’s performed live.