Alabama Shakes Perform “Hold On”

Listen to this track by Alabama rock ‘n’ soul, and so much more quartet Alabama Shakes. It’s “Hold On” a storming track as taken from their word-of-mouth meteoric 2012 debut Boys & Girls. The song is a single from that record, pulling in a myriad of influences from eras past.

Particularly evident is a strain of classic soul music that sounds like it came from Otis Redding’s pen is interwoven into the lines and the general feel on this song, and on others. But, the spirit of early ’70s British blues rock and hard rock, with traces of Led Zeppelin, the Faces, and the Stones, isn’t undetectable either.

Alabama Shakes
Photo: Pieter M. van Hattem / Contour by Getty Images

There’s something ineffable that roots the young band firmly into the now as well. In tapping into traditions of the past as they do, they somehow escape the cliches completely.  To rise above bar band blues, and to become a part of a grand continuum of disparate and complementary styles instead is a tremendously difficult feat.

It’s not been easy for many bands working out an identity in these kinds of musical milieus without the term ‘retro’ being mentioned. Carving a unique path through a musical landscape marked by many broad and asphalted sonic highways is a rare accomplishment. But, I think Alabama Shakes have done it.

But, how? Read more

The Yardbirds Play “Heart Full of Soul”

theyardbirdsheartfullofsoul-519504Listen to this track, a slice of fuzztone-sizzling, proto-psychedelic raga rock from vital blues-rock champeens and garage rock forefathers The Yardbirds. It’s the band’s 1965 hit single “Heart Full of Soul”, the second single released after the departure of talented, and deeply earnest, purist blues guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton would be succeeded by another upcoming guitar player of considerable reknown –  Jeff Beck.

One of the sore points that drove Clapton to seek his fortunes elsewhere was the band’s movement away from the blues and into other areas (read: the pop charts). Their intial single in this new direction was the blantantly commercial “For Your Love”, which was certainly a hit, and modeled after a Beatlesque pop sound, which Clapton couldn’t get behind. He left to join John Mayall’s group, the Bluesbreakers.

Initially, Clapton was to be replaced by Jimmy Page. But eventually the spot went to Jeff Beck on Page’s recommendation when Page himself balked at leaving his lucrative session player salary. The Yardbirds would get Page later, though. And despite his stylistic rigidity at the time, Clapton would later befriend the Beatles, and be one of the only guests to play on one of their songs.

As Chuck Berry once said: you never can tell. Read more

The Black Keys Play ‘Your Touch’

Here’s a clip of indie-blues rock two-piece champeens The Black Keys.  It’s their song “Your Touch” as taken from their 2006 record Magic Potion.  Warning: This clip involves a lot of gun play, murder, ghosts, unabashed lip synching, and not a bass player in sight, good people.  This is the blues as it was meant to be , haunted by the spirits of Hound Dog Taylor, also a bass aversonist of some renown, and of course Junior Kimbrough, a man who the ‘Keys covered heavily in their earlier career.  Yet, this isn’t exactly blues, is it?

One thing about the Black Keys – Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitar, and Patrick Carney on drums –  is that even if it’s hard to deny that they’re playing music that is heavily indebted to the blues, they are positioning the blues not so much as roots music interpreted by an indie band so much as a framework for another kind of modern indie guitar rock. In the Black Keys world, if rock music is the baby sired by the blues, than the sire still has something to teach the mouthy little brat after all.

The skill it takes to pull off that stylistic inversion is not to be compared, even if the knee jerk reaction is to draw a parallel with the White Stripes. Read more

Otis Rush Sings “I Can’t Quit You Baby”

otis_rushHere’s a clip of soulful blues belter Otis Rush with a version of his 1956 single on the Cobra label ” I Can’t Quit You Baby”, a landmark single in his career that established him as a first-tier Chicago blues artist along with kindred spirits Buddy Guy and Albert King.

With his powerful voice, and stinging left-handed  guitar work, Otis Rush began his career as a hitmaker on the Cobra label, recording with Ike Turner, and scoring several R&B hits, including this one, from 1956-59.  Today, Rush’s talent drastically outweighs his fame. Yet his early singles on the Cobra label established his voice in electric blues scenes in Chicago and beyond.

And “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is a song that would become a part of the blues canon because of its unprecedented intensity. Led Zeppelin’s version of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby” on their first album in 1968 brought the song to a mainstream rock audience. This band who borrowed so heavily from other blues musicians and their songs sticks pretty close to the Otis Rush’s here, perhaps because they had yet to make their name, or maybe that they saw no way to improve it.

After all, listen to Rush’s performance on the clip.  Get a load of that opening note that immediately rivets the audience to their seats, pulling their eyes and ears stageward.  This is as powerful as any rock performance, and Rush seems to be able to pull this out of himself with very little effort, making his presentation something to behold.

Otis Rush embodies something here which was true to his generation as an electric blues elder statesman.  I find much of the electric blues genre in modern times to be slavish, and very often plain erstatz. Yet, Rush is the real thing, exuding confidence, showing mastery while never showboating, and putting across a performance based around his material, as opposed to one based around a set of aesthetics that have become associated with blues performance .

Rush’s powerful and confident guitar chops influenced the playing of both Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield.  And let’s not forget fellow lefty guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who would later go on to influence even more guitarists of both blues and rock persuasions alike.

Otis Rush continued to record and perform until a 2004 stroke took him off of the road.


Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Play ‘Burn it Off’

Here’s a clip of crunchy rock ‘n’ roll iconoclasts and bass guitar aversionists Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with “Burn It Off”, a slab of steaming blues-rock that Jagger & Richards wished they’d come up with first.  The song hails from the ‘Explosion’s 2004 disc Damage.

A curious band is the Blues Explosion, a  group which utilizes the essence of the blues without actually playing it, avoiding blues based rock cliches by drenching their sound with distortion and sheer RAAAARGGH!

There’s no other word, folks.

But, by the time they’d recorded this album, and this song in 2004, they’d embraced conventional songwriting too, besides the aforementioned RAAAARGGH!.  And the results show them to be a tight little rock ‘n’ roll group, albeit without a bass player – two guitars and a drum kit would always be enough for these guys.  And they took their time on the songs too.  For instance, there are actually songs on this record over three minutes long! The punk aesthetic is there  as it’s always been, of course. But the year zero stance has been shelved.

On this song you get the impression that the band has done away with shunning the Stones, and has rather beaten them at their own game instead. And I love the video which is pure Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation. Cool!

A rock ‘n’ roll proverb to consider: when rocking, don’t cast down your idols.  Build on their shoulders. This approach, of course, is always preferable.  So here, the band works with producer-drummer Steve Jordan, who’s actually worked closely with Keith Richards on his solo projects.  Yet, also present on this record is DJ Shadow in the production chair, a sampling wizard and turntablist a million miles from traditional rock music.  It’s these kinds of moves that make me believe that, as Neil Young once put it, hey hey my my rock ‘n’ roll will never die.

For more information about Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and more music too, check out their MySpace page.  Prepare yourself for some unstoppable rock ‘n’ roll-punk-indie-psycho-billy, though.


The White Stripes Perform “Rag and Bone”

Here’s a clip of minimalist indie-blues titans The White Stripes with their 2007 single “Rag and Bone” as taken from my favourite album of theirs, Icky Thump.

Besides the appeal of the song’s central riff, which spectacularly tears up the seats, I think the thing I like most about this track is that is brings out the role-playing in which the Whites have always engaged.  Putting personas out there which frame the music they make has always been their strength, initially posing as brother and sister, and wearing their tri-colors proudly.

The White Stripes recorded the album Icky Thump in Britain, where the band named the album after an expression native to the North of England ‘Ecky Thump’.  The expression is a tame expression of shock or frustration.
The White Stripes recorded the album Icky Thump in Britain, where the band named the album after an expression native to the North of England ‘Ecky Thump’. The expression is a tame expression of shock or frustration.

And in this song, they’re really having fun, playing out these roles as door-to-door scavengers, vaguely menacing, but ultimately harmless.  The rag and bone seekers roughly parallel Jack White’s real life interest in collecting and pulling musical styles together; blues, country, rock, folk, and even latin music is referenced on the album.  Perhaps it’s not that much of a stretch to look at the Whites as musical rag and bone merchants.

After the first Raconteurs record, I wondered about the state of the union where the White Stripes was concerned.  Songwriter Jack White promised us in the rock press that the Raconteurs is a real band, not a side project or hobby band.  Where I was glad that White would be working with Brendan Benson again, it made me worry about whether Meg would hang up her sticks.  Meg White is a great drummer for the band she’s in as anyone with any sense knows, and it would be a shame not  to continue to hear that trademark thump-crash-drunken-Bonham style behind Jack’s growling guitar and vocal yelps.

I worried too that even if the Stripes would remain to be going concern, that White’s A-material would be channeled into the Raconteurs.  It seems that this isn’t the case either. For me, Icky Thump is their best record, stealing the spot where I’m concerned, from 2000’s DeStijl, which held the crown for a while.

After over fifty years of rock riffage, you’d think (and in some cases, maybe you’d be right) that the well had run dry when it came to shockingly good, riff-driven songwriting. The fact that the White Stripes prove this theory wrong every time they release a record is more than comforting that there’s life in the old girl yet.

To hear more music, wander down to the White Stripes MySpace page.

And also be sure to investigate the official White Stripes website for upcoming releases, tours, and other assorted goodies.


AC/DC Fronted By Bon Scott Perform “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Here’s a clip featuring Scots-Australian rock ‘n’ roll juggernauts AC/DC, fronted by original lead singer Bon Scott in arguably his most convincing performance with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”, taken from the 1976 album High Voltage.

One of my favourite urban myths is that Angus Young wears his schoolboy outfit because he is able to do anything with his guitar on stage while he wears it. Another myth was that when he was an actual schoolboy, he used to rush home from school, grab his guitar, and rush off to meet with his bandmates for rehearsals without changing clothes first. Changing would have cut into his playing time. Yet, I like that the symbolism of conformity and obedience has become something else through him, whatever the real story is. It's an act of defiance to wear the clothes of conformity, while at the same time speaking for the rebellious spirits of an audience.

There is a false split I think having to do with the old dinosaur progressive rock crowd, which takes in stadium rock too, and the short sharp shock of punk rock.  When it comes to the direction of rock music, the two poles are often portrayed as the only games in town in the mid-70s.  But AC/DC proved that straight ahead blues-soaked rock ‘n’ roll music was alive and well, although it took some convincing at first – Rolling Stone magazine panned High Voltage in 1976 as being the lowest common denominator in rock that year – “a new low” they said at the time.  Yet, they’d missed the point.  When you boil everything else away, what this band created was a pure breed rock band, uninterested in pretension of any sort, and putting their own rock ‘n’ roll dreams in practice for the sake of anyone who ever rocked an air guitar or sang into a hair brush.

And that’s what this song was all about – fantasy.  It’s about telling the Man where to stick his golden handshake, his silly rules, his moral standing, and all the other shit that they teach to kids in school.  This was a high-powered statement which, although fueled by the dual engines of Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar and his brother Angus’ lead, really wasn’t much different than Chuck Berry bitching about being in school when all day long he’d been wanting to dance.  It’s rock ‘n’ roll.

Really, this song is about becoming something other than a cog in the wheel, a reality for most of AC/DC’s audience perhaps.  Yet that audience is delivered by three minutes of rock, with Bon Scott as their voice.  And that is what this group understood from the get-go; speak for your audience and they’ll be with you for the next thirty five plus years.  And so they are.

AC/DC newest album Black Ice is out now, and the band are touring it.

Check out the AC/DC official website for information about tours and other stuff.


Paul Butterfield Blues Band Perform “Driftin’ Blues”

Here’s a clip of integrated Chicago blues collective the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with their take on “Driftin’ Blues” as performed at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival.

Although by no means the first racially integrated blues group, the Butterfield band was one of the earliest integrated American blues bands to sign to a major label; Elektra records under Jac Holtzman and with encouragement and leadership from A&R man Paul Rothschild. The band featured Butterfield on lead vocals and harmonica, and Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar, Bloomfield also being well known as the guitarist on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album.

In the attached clip, that’s Elvin Bishop on lead guitar.  Bishop had originally been the rhythm player in the group before lead guitarist Bloomfield left to form The Electric Flag, a band that also played the Monterrey Festival.  Bishop would go on to have a pop hit in “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” a decade later.  The band also featured drummer Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold on bass, both of whom had appeared with Howlin’ Wolf on local club dates in the Chicago area.  Mark Naftalin rounded out the band on organ, a role he would fill for people like John Lee Hooker as well after the group disbanded.

The group’s 1965 self-titled debut album is noted for being one of the first major American blues releases to feature a white lead singer, making it something of a precursor to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton record released the following year, and was in line with the British blues-rock movement in general, where white blues singers were the order of the day. Yet unlike their British equivalents, Butterfield and Bloomfield had grown up in the Chicago area, and frequenting blues clubs where Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and many others practiced their trades.  The guys in the Butterfield group had a solid pedigree, having literally learned at the feet of the masters as opposed to having to get what they needed strictly from the records.  Yet, credibility-wise, they had something of an uphill battle among blues and folk purists.

Established folk archivist Alan Lomax’s introduction of the band before an urban blues workshop at the infamous 1965 Newport folk festival was something of an indication of how they were perceived: “These guys are imitators, will you (the audience) put up with them anyway? Let’s see if these white kids can really play”, causing something of a stir when the band’s manager Albert Grossman took exception to Lomax’s condescending tone.  Yet, the band proved their worth that day, although they would prove to be a part of the infamy of the day too when they backed up a plugged-in Dylan that evening to a shocked folk-purist audience. The times were, as they say, a’ changin’ in the folk community by 1965.

The Butterfield band burned twice as bright for half as long, and by the end of the 60s, they dissolved entirely.  Butterfield had a number of other projects starting in the early 70s, including his work with a new band Better Days, and his contributions to the solo work of Rick Danko,  and later to Levon Helm, both of the Band.  Butterfield made an appearance in the film The Last Waltz in 1976.  His chops as a blues harp player made him a respected figure in the blues, putting him in good company with the other artists who also appeared in the film.  He was a frequent collaborator with Band bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm, appearing on record and in concert, as well as continuing as a solo artist and session player.

Butterfield’s health was in steady decline by the 80s, a result of years of drug use.  He died in 1987.

For more information and music, check out the Paul Butterfield Blues Band MySpace page.


Rod Stewart performs ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’, with Maggie Bell

Here’s a clip of Rod Stewart’s song “Every Picture Tells a Story”, on which he is joined by two members of the Faces (co-writer Ron Wood on guitar, and Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan on the organ…) as well as blues-rock vocalist Maggie Bell.

A few months ago, I wrote an article on the Faces, mentioning that while Rod Stewart fronted that band, he had a concurrent solo career on the Mercury label. It was, as most rock historians and fans agree, a creative purple patch for him and his associates in the Faces. Of those Mercury albums, 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story is arguably the highest point, the title track being a truly epic work.

Maggie Bell
Maggie Bell, 1971 (Heinrich Klaffs)

I was struck by what an enormous song this is, a travelogue of a young man hitching around the world on a quest to find himself. And Maggie Bell’s backing vocal demonstrates the work of someone who deserved a much wider audience. Bell had been lead singer of the band Stone the Crows (as they were named by future Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, who was impressed by the group on seeing their live act…), and marketed as the British Janis Joplin.

She went solo in 1973 when the band broke up, and in the following year, she signed on to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, maintaining her association with Grant, and working with Jimmy Page on her 1975 album, Suicide Sal. Her career never reached the heights her talents promised, despite the company she kept. Yet on this track with Stewart, she adds an abrasively bluesy kick, answering Stewart’s intensity note for note – which wasn’t easy to do in 1971.

For more information, check out the Maggie Bell official website.

And do check out Rod Stewart’s ’69-’74 period, which has a consistency of quality which boggles the mind, considering the drastic drop-off from that point onward. Black Crowes fans in particular must take note of the importance of Stewart’s output during this period.


The Faces Perform ‘Bad N’ Ruin’, Feat. Rod Stewart

Faces with Rod StewartThis just in! At one time, Rod Stewart was cool. No, really! By the early 70s, Stewart was going strong with an outfit consisting of an amalgam of two bands – Ronnie Lane (bass), Ian McLagan (piano and organ), and Kenney Jones (drums) from the Small Faces, and Ron Wood (guitar) and Stewart himself from the Jeff Beck Group. That group was Faces, aka ‘The Faces’.

But, enough rock family trees for now. The point is that with the Faces and with his early solo career, Rod Stewart rose in stature as one of the premier rock vocalists, taking his love of soul music, Bob Dylan, and a boozy, blues-inflected type of rock music to incredible heights. His solo career, which he worked on concurrently with his work with the band, was also a tremendous four-album run (from The Rod Stewart Album to Never a Dull Moment) of folk-influenced rock music. This was just before the lure of American stadiums, and a number of other mitigating factors laid Faces to rest and set Rodders on the path up the middle of the road to cheeseville. Ron Wood joined the Rolling Stones in 1975, and Kenney Jones would replace Keith Moon in the Who three years after that. But before all that, Rod Stewart was a consistently great rock vocalist. Did I mention how cool he was at one time? Not convinced? Well…

Check out this clip of Stewart fronting the aforementioned Faces on their tale of a modern day prodigal son returning home; 1971’s ‘Bad N’ Ruin’ .

To view the clip, hover over the image below and click on the ‘play’ icon. To enlarge the viewing window click the magnifying glass icon. Alternatively, click on the image to view the clip in a new browser window. Enjoy!

Rod Stewart
To me, Faces should have been much, much bigger. But, at least their traditions have been carried forth in more recent years by bands like the Black Crowes, who owe a great debt to the booze-rock sound which Faces helped to establish twenty years before.