P is for Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters’ second album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic as their first.

RB1001_POINTER_SISTERSThe Pointer Sisters had a bunch of big hit singles in the 1980s [LISTEN to snippets], but it is their early work I want to concentrate on. The group was a quartet at the time – Ruth, Anita, Bonnie, and June – raised in Oakland, California by their minister-parents, who were NOT encouraging them to sing secular music.

They must have nevertheless listened to a varied mix of musical genres because that’s what showed up in their early recordings. Their eponymous first album yielded a #11 pop single, Yes, We Can Can [LISTEN to the album version].

Their second studio album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic. Here is the iTunes preview.

1. Bangin’ on the Pipes/Steam Heat (Medley). The seemingly autobiographical first part segues into the song from the 1954 musical Pajama Game. Though it only went to #108 on the pop charts, it became an early signature song with the group performing it on The Carol Burnett Show broadcast of September 28, 1974. LISTEN to a live version of Steam Heat.

2. Salt Peanuts [LISTEN]. This Dizzy Gillespie’s bop classic allows the sisters to sound like horns, sing scat, and bend harmonies. I remember them performing this on Carol Burnett for laughs, with the hostess unable to keep up with the frenetic pace.
(They were on the Burnett show frequently in that period; here’s the lengthy skit Cinderella gets it on from November 29, 1975.)

3. Grinning in Your Face [LISTEN]. Bonnie Raitt played slide guitar on this Son House blues number.

4. Shaky Flat Blues. Written by June, Anita and Bonnie, it suggests a much earlier time.

5. That’s a Plenty/Surfeit, U.S.A. (Medley). A Dixieland feel.

6. Little Pony [LISTEN]. Music by Neal Hefti, and previously performed by Count Basie, with exuberant lyrics by Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert.

7. Fairytale [LISTEN]. Written by Anita and Bonnie, it made it to #13 on the pop charts and the Top 40 on the country charts. It won them their first Grammy, for Best Country & Western Performance by a Group, AND the sisters became the first black vocal group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. The song was covered by Elvis Presley.

8. Black Coffee [LISTEN]. Bonnie sans her sisters on the torch song immortalized by Peggy Lee, and later sung by k.d. lang.

9. “Love in Them There Hills”. This early sound of Philly song written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, with Roland Chambers, is an OK three-minute B-side [LISTEN]. But here, it’s over eight minutes [LISTEN!] with a hypnotic middle section that is “a cosmic, free-flowing funk jam” that predated those 12-inch dance records. I used to turn off all the lights in my apartment to listen to it.

Eventually, Bonnie left to be a solo act with Motown, and the other three had some of their biggest hits. The Pointer Sisters still perform. While June died in 2006 of cancer, both Issa Pointer, Ruth’s daughter with Dennis Edwards of the Temptations; and Sadako Johnson, Ruth’s granddaughter, have been part of the group, on and off.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

O is for Oasis

Do you recognize the Stevie Wonder song the chorus of Step Out by Oasis echoes?

oasisOasis is a British band of the 1990s and beyond, about which I know relatively little:

1) The group has often been described as Beatlesque,
2) The members have occasionally been accused of copyright infringement, and
3) The band, for a time, included brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, who fought a lot, as brothers in these sagas often do.

I have but one album, and it’s the album that everyone who has but one Oasis album owns, the one that starts with a revisiting of the Gary Glitter song Hello [LISTEN].

Oasis had their first UK number one single in April 1995 with Some Might Say[LISTEN] … Although a softer sound led to mixed reviews, Oasis’ second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was a commercial success, becoming the fourth best-selling album in UK Chart history with over four million copies sold. The album spawned two further hit singles, Wonderwall [LISTEN] and Don’t Look Back in Anger [LISTEN], which also reached numbers two and one respectively. [They got to #8 and #55 in the US, respectively]. It also contained the non-UK single Champagne Supernova [LISTEN] —featuring guitar playing and backing vocals by Paul Weller—that received widespread critical acclaim and peaked at number one on the US modern rock chart [and #20 on the US pop charts].

Here’s Step Out, which was removed from the Morning Glory album and relegated to a B-side. Stevie Wonder now has a co-writing credit; do you recognize the Wonder song this chorus echoes?

Apparently, the band has broken up and Noel Gallagher says the band will NEVER reunite, but that this album will be remastered soon.

ABC Wednesday – Round 14

N is for the Neville Brothers

Got to see the Neville Brothers on Thursday, August 6, 2009 at
River Front Park in Albany,

NevilleBrothersThe Neville Brothers, an American soul/funk/rhythm and blues group, was formed in 1977 in New Orleans, Louisiana, consisting of Art (b. 1937), Charles (b. 1938), Aaron (b. 1941), and Cyril (b. 1948).

But long before then, the brothers were involved in music. The Meters formed in 1965, led by Art on keyboards and vocals, and later including percussionist/vocalist Cyril. They had some R&B hits, but they were best known for backing other artists, for which they were thrice nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including this past year.

Meanwhile, Aaron had hits going back to 1960. His biggest solo record was Tell It Like It Is [LISTEN], a #2 pop smash in 1967.

The first Neville Brothers music I heard regularly was the second LP, Fiyo on the Bayou, from 1981. I didn’t know then that, of the three songs that got lots of airplay on my favorite radio station at the time, Q104, two – Hey Pocky Way [LISTEN] and Fire on the Bayou [LISTEN] – had been Meters songs; the third song was Sweet Honey Dripper [LISTEN].

They were never a hits group but were a very popular touring band. Their albums from 1989, Yellow Moon, and 1990, Brother’s Keeper, were the most successful; LISTEN to the title track of Yellow Moon [LISTEN].

Aaron, by contrast, WAS more commercially successful, as a solo artist. His duet with Linda Ronstadt, Don’t Know Much [LISTEN], went to #2 in 1989.

Got to see the Neville Brothers on Thursday, August 6, 2009, at River Front Park in Albany, doing a mixture of Meters, Neville Brothers, and Aaron Neville songs, plus covers such as the Temptations’ Ball of Confusion [LISTEN].

ABC Wednesday – Round 14

G is for the Guthrie family

Arlo Guthrie was not a singles artist, but did have a modest hit with Steve Goodman’s train song, City of New Orleans.

Arlo Guthrie, and his father Woody

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an iconic American individual – songwriter, musician, political activist. He had a huge effect on Pete Seeger, whose group the Weavers, recorded So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh [LISTEN to Woody’s version]. He also hosted a young Bob Dylan in his hospital room, after he had been diagnosed with the Huntington’s disease that would kill him. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as an early influence.

I saw a video of Michael Feinstein, who tended to Ira Gershwin’s papers the last six years of the lyricist’s life. Feinstein was asked who is missing from the discussion of the Great American Songbook, musical standards written by Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, and the like in the first half of the 20th Century. Feinstein suggested Woody Guthrie, whose This Land Is Your Land is at least as beloved as Someone To Watch Over Me.

I wrote about Woody previously HERE.

One of his sons, with his second wife Marjorie, was Arlo Davy Guthrie, who became noteworthy from his performance of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, a satirical talking blues song about 18 minutes in length [LISTEN], which was the basis of a movie in which he played himself; it’s now a Thanksgiving tradition. He performed at Woodstock; LISTEN to the studio version of Coming Into Los Angeles. He was not a singles artist but did have a modest hit with Steve Goodman’s train song City of New Orleans, #18 in 1972. Here is his version of his father’s Oklahoma Hills. Arlo has toured with Woody’s old chum Pete Seeger. (Arlo on the late Pete Seeger.)

The Guthrie family is musical. Arlo’s “sister is record producer Nora Guthrie.” Arlo’s children “have also become musicians. Annie Guthrie writes songs and performs, and also takes care of family touring details. Sarah Lee performs and records with her husband Johnny Irion. Cathy plays ukulele in Folk Uke, a group she formed with Amy Nelson, the daughter of Willie Nelson. Abe Guthrie was formerly in a folk-rock band called Xavier and now tours with his father. Abe Guthrie’s son, Krishna, is a drummer and toured with Arlo Guthrie on his European tour…”

So music is a Guthrie family affair.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

F is for the Fogerty brothers of CCR

CCR even appeared at Woodstock, though most people don’t remember that.

Stu, John, Doug, Tom

John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook met in junior high school, and soon backed John’s older brother Tom on some gigs. Eventually, they became a band, with Doug on drums, Stu – formerly on piano – switching to bass, and Tom on rhythm guitar, as John became “the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter.” In Tom Fogerty’s words: ‘I could sing, but John had a sound!'” That he did.

The group had a hit with their second single, a cover of Susie Q [LISTEN], in 1968, but then received massive success in 1969 and 1970, with five #2 hits, including three in a row. Has any group ever done that while NEVER having a #1 single in the US? Don’t think so.

1969 [LISTEN to all]: Proud Mary (#2), Bad Moon Rising (#2), Green River (#2), Down on the Corner (#3). Plus three Top 10 albums.
1970 [LISTEN to all]: Travelin’ Band (#2), Up Around the Bend (#4), Lookin’ Out Through My Back Door (#2). And a #1 album.

They even appeared at Woodstock, though most people don’t remember that; I had forgotten myself. Their performance was “not included in the film or soundtrack because John Fogerty felt the band’s performance was subpar.” That was a reflection of tensions in the band.

John Fogerty had taken control of most aspects of the band’s direction, to the chagrin of the others, so Tom Fogerty decided to quit, and the band continued as a trio. John then wanted a more democratic process with Stu and Doug, but it was John’s sound that made the band and putting out an album with all of the band writing songs turned out to be a commercial and critical failure.

The band broke up in 1974, and the label put Chronicle, Volume 1, “a collection of Creedence’s twenty hit singles, in 1976,” a double-LP set. For all my affection for their sound, this was my first CCR album, though I did acquire a couple of the earlier albums later on. That greatest hits collection included the single version of the last hit, a cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine [LISTEN], while the CD version of the album has the 11-minute rendition [LISTEN].

John performed as a solo artist but didn’t sing CCR songs for emotional reasons tied to the group’s terrible contract with Fantasy Records, by which he would have to pay performance royalties, for a decade and a half. He got sued for sounding too much like John Fogerty on a song he recorded for another label in the mid-1980s, which was eventually settled in his favor. But he never really settled his dispute with brother Tom who “died of an AIDS complication in September 1990, which he contracted via a tainted blood transfusion he received while undergoing back surgery.”

This is also sad: “In the 1980s and 90s, new rounds of lawsuits between the band members, as well as against their former management, deepened their animosities. By the time CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, John Fogerty refused to perform with Cook and Clifford. The pair were barred from the stage, while Fogerty played with an all-star band that included Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Tom Fogerty’s widow Tricia had expected a Creedence reunion, and even brought the urn containing her husband’s ashes to the ceremony.”

Stu and Doug worked as session musicians and on other people’s albums before forming “Creedence Clearwater Revisited in 1995 with several well-known musicians. Revisited toured globally performing the original band’s classics. John Fogerty’s 1997 injunction forced Creedence Clearwater Revisited to temporarily change its name to ‘Cosmo’s Factory,’ but the courts later ruled in Cook’s and Clifford’s favor.”

The chance of a CCR reunion is remote. While John has recently suggested, after years of rejecting the idea, that it was theoretically possible, Stu and Doug don’t believe it will ever happen. But John’s solo career is thriving.

(I realize that quite a few of these family tales are less than happy. It DOES get better.)


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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