Ten Years After – Ssssh

Released just before guitarist Alvin Lee’s blistering performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, “Ssssh” is blues rock at its absolute best. The band set out to capture something close to their live sound in the studio. While less elaborate than their previous album “Stonehenge” (which Alvin Lee admits was Ten Years After showing off what they could do in the studio) it is no less ambitious.

Most of the songs here are blues rock scorchers. That’s what Ten Years After did best, which they proved at Woodstock. On “Ssssh” Alvin Lee proved what an amazing talent he was on six strings and Ten Years After proved what an incredible band they were, be it live or in the studio.

Jimi Hendrix – Nine To The Universe

The name Jimi Hendrix needs no introduction; quite possibly the greatest rock guitarist that ever lived, his reputation is legendary.

To those who grew up around Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, the name Jim McCarty is also a name of legend, albeit local legend. Starting out in Mitch Ryder’s rocking R&B band, The Detroit Wheels in the ’60s; signing on as guitarist in The Buddy Miles Express, joining forces with drummer Carmine Apice and bassist Tim Bogert as part of the supergroup Cactus, and later forming The Rockets with Amboy Dukes vocalist Dave Gilbert and legendary Detroit drummer Johnny “the bee” Badanjek in the ’70s; and finally founding the no compromise blues/rock band Mystery Train in the ’80s, it’s no wonder McCarty’s name is so recognized around the Motor City.

The thing is, up until three years ago, I had no idea Detroit guitar legend Jim McCarty had ever played with Jimi Hendrix. Local legend joins forces with world-renowned legend Jimi Hendrix. How could I have missed this? I have to admit that at first, I was embarrassed that I had no idea this collaboration ever took place. Then again “Nine to the Universe” didn’t come out until 1980, a decade after Hendrix’s death. Plus, the collaboration is only on one of five songs on this album, appropriately called “Jimi/Jimmy Jam”. There’s  are so many great moments in rock and roll, I guess a one-off like this can easy to slip between the cracks. The bottom line is, I’m just glad to have a copy of this album, so I can listen to these two legends playing together, today.

Ray Charles – Genius Live In Concert

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ray Charles perform live in 1986. Even though this album was recorded 22 years prior, it perfectly captures the magic I will always remember experiencing that night.

I remember watching Ray dancing in his seat, swaying and stomping his feet as the music he was playing and singing took him over, and as he took over the entire audience. I remember Ray being so taken over at one point, he jumped out of his seat, dancing on the stage to his band’s music. Nobody worried that he was blind; this was too sublime a moment for God to allow anything to go wrong. I remember Ray’s quick wit shutting down a close to the front row heckler with just a few words. No more was to be said; that evening belonged to Ray Charles.

I remember that night, experiencing a “Genius Live in Concert”. There is no other way to describe Ray Charles perform. A “Genius Live in Concert” is exactly what this album captures.

Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

In a 2009 interview, Florence Welch cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as one of her musical heroes, specifically noting the song “White Rabbit” as having changed her life. I knew there was a good reason I love Florence + The Machine’s music so much.

Although decades separate the music both women created, I hear a lot of Grace Slick in Florence Welch. Sure, there are differences. Florence Welch isn’t one to copy; she is too much of a true artist. Still, the vocal stylings of Grace Slick are impossible to not notice in Florence’s voice. The same goes for the independent “f*ck you, we do what we want” attitude of both in regards to their music.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (and Jefferson Starship) has forever been one of my favorite female vocalists. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine forever will be.

Cream – Best of Cream

The original power trio.
The original supergroup.

Cream was Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. By 1966, each of them had established reputations as possibly the best rock musicians on their respected instruments. It became quite the buzz when the three decided to join forces and form Cream.

Cream only stayed together for a little less than three years. But during that time, they released four albums (one of them a studio/live double album) and left a legacy that still influences bands more than fifty years after their final album came out.

As the title implies, “Best of Cream” is a compilation of the best tracks from those four albums. One of the best things about it, at least for American record buyers, is the inclusion of “Spoonful”, a song omitted from the US release of their debut album, “Fresh Cream” in 1966.

More Of The Monkees

Say what you will about the Monkees. Yes, they were a band made for a television show. Yes, they didn’t play on all of their early stuff (because of the TV show’s filming schedule preventing it). But they were a talented band. They did push for, and eventually did play, not just sing, their own songs. And even though they had an incredible group of talent writing their songs (Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka among them) they started penning their own.

Sure, they made their name as TV stars, but the Monkees considered themselves first and foremost, to be musical artists. Change that…they were musical artists. They were also a significant part of my childhood.

Peter Torke, the Monkees’ bassist and one of its vocalists, died today from a rare form of cancer. Somehow, that hit me just as hard as the loss of Bowie or Tom Petty. Maybe the Monkees weren’t as trend setting or as influential as those two, but it still hurt just as much.

As any artist does, the Monkees became a part of me; they shaped me. Yeah, their 1960’s television show, styled after the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” movie, and their debut eponymous album are what really grabbed me initially, but it was their songs that came after that grabbed and held on to my interest.

“Mary, Mary”, “I’m a Believer”, and “Steppin’ Stone” are just a glimpse of what the Monkees had to offer after their initial impact. Sure, the Monkees were a commercial creation for television’s sake, but their sustained success was because of their collective musical talent. Peter Torke was perhaps more significant in that than any of the other band’s members. I will miss him.

Glass Harp – Synergy

Jam bands have reputations for playing live sets filled with long improvisational solos. It’s not so much a specific genre as it is a philosophical approach to musical performance. Along with their late 1960s contemporaries the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, Glass Harp helped define what it meant to be a jam band in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

On record, Glass Harp had more of a progressive rock sound than the southern rock influences of the Allmans or the west coast trippy psychedelics that the Dead were known for. But like most early jam bands, Glass Harp’s albums often incorporated the musical leanings of their peers while holding on to a style that was all their own. In that realm, Glass Harp’s second album, “Synergy”, is best described as a Progressive rock album with flairs of psychedelic and southern rock. A deep cut rock album from 1971 that shouldn’t be passed up by any music lover or record collector.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

…or should I say “In the Garden of Eden”.

That is what the title song was originally supposed to be called. But when you’re too inebriated, sometimes the words don’t come out right when you try to tell your bandmates the title of the killer new song you wrote. Eastern philosophy and mysticism was hugely popular in 1968, and the drunkenly slurred title sure had that mystic vibe to it, so Iron Butterfly decided to call the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” instead.

The song is a 17 minute psychedelic epic based around a heavy blues riff that fills the entire second side of the album. An edited down version, eliminating among other pats, a two and a half minute drum solo in the middle, was release to radio stations in 1968. It became Iron Butterfly’s biggest hit single. The album followed suit, eventually selling over 30 million copies. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is considered by many to be the very fist heavy metal song.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Gold

Despite coming from the San Francisco Bay area in California, Creedence Clearwater Revival had a sound rooted in the Delta blues of the deep south. It wasn’t until many years after I had first heard them that I learned they weren’t from Louisiana or Mississippi. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made that assumption when they first heard CCR.

Creedence was one of the most successful bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that success came with a price. The band had a bitter split up in 1972 and numerous lawsuits resulted over the rights to the use of their music. At one point, while pursuing a solo career, lead singer and primary songwriter John Fogerty was sued over royalties for performing CCR songs on stage; songs that he himself had written. The rift between the members ran so deep that even when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than 30 years after the band’s demise, Fogerty refused to take the stage with the other members at the ceremony.

Gold is a great collection of the biggest hit songs by Credence Clearwater Revival. All of the songs on it are timeless staples of classic rock radio. The album cover is also one of the coolest released by any band. Four silhouettes, one representing each band member is die cut and cascade layered, one on top of the other. Behind each silhouette, there is a photo of the band member in the silhouette.

Great album cover. Great band. Great songs. There’s nothing not to like here.

Procol Harum – Grand Hotel

Procol Harum was a band that could combine classical and rock music better than most any other band. “Grand Hotel” was Procol Harum’s first studio album without guitar virtuoso Robin Trower who left to pursue a solo career in 1972. Fortunately, Trower’s departure didn’t affect the band’s sound very much. Like their previous albums, “Grand Hotel” was an avant-garde blending of baroque era classical music with blues and rock.

Because of its unique combination of styles “Grand Hotel” is an album I can listen to almost any time, although I prefer it to be at times I can really focus on the interplay of all the musical elements and shifting rhythms and time signatures. Although not a concept album by definition, “Grand Hotel” is an album that should be listed to as a whole. As with most Procol Harum records, it is obvious that the goal when recording it was not so much to have a hit single as it was to album that is an intriguing listening experience.