Decade of Difference

Decade of Difference: Drive-By Truckers

PHOTO CREDIT: Brantley Gutierrez

The Drive-By Truckers became one of the most respected alt-country acts of the 2000s by applying equal parts history, folklore, politics, and character studies to present an unvarnished image of the South.

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley started the band in 1996 after the pair had performed together since the 1980s. The band has had a fluid lineup – the original group that appeared on the debut album, 1996’s “Gangstabilly” was gone except for Hood and Cooley by the time they released a live record in 2000.

For 2001’s 2 disc Southern Rock Opera, the band expanded to a three guitar lineup like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band whose history plays into the album. While touring in support of the widely praised record one of the guitarists left and Jason Isbell was added to the lineup.

Continuing the fluidity in their lineup, Jason Isbell announced his departure from the group after three years. Soon the band added longtime friend Spooner Oldham and embarked on an acoustic tour followed by a new record “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark”. The mammoth 19 track record was hailed as a southern gothic masterpiece.

2020 saw the release of two albums from the band. First came “The Unraveling”. With a four year gap between records it was the longest period DBT had gone without a new record. They made up for it by releasing “The New OK” a few months later.

2023-03-21T16:23:27-04:00March 24th, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Chaka Khan

Photo courtesy of the artist

With a career spanning five decades, Chaka Khan has embraced changing musical tastes.  From her early work winning Grammys as the lead vocalist for the R&B group Rufus to her success with the first crossover hit to feature a rapper and in collaborations with a wide range of musicians Steve Winwood, Ry Cooder, De La Soul and Chicago, Khan has truly earned her name as the ‘Queen of Soul’.

Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Khan describes her Hyde Park neighborhood as “an island in the middle of the madness” . Her parents were supportive of music and three of the five children would go on to have professional careers in the industry.

Khan was playing in a local band when members of Rufus spotted her and asked her to join. The group caught the attention of musician Ike Turner who flew them out to Los Angeles to record at his studio. Turner wanted Khan to become an Ikette; she declined stating she was “really happy with Rufus. But Ike’s attention was certainly a boost.”

Chaka Khan started her solo career in parallel with Rufus, scoring her first hit with the disco tune “I’m Every Woman”, written for her by Ashford & Simpson. Rufus finally dissolved in 1983 but had one more hit with Khan before they were gone.

In 1984 Khan had her first million selling solo hit with “Feel For You”, written by Prince and featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica. The track won the Best R&B song Grammy. To date Chaka Khan has won 10 Grammys and placed singles on the charts in four decades.

2023-03-21T16:26:45-04:00March 23rd, 2023|

Decade of Difference: George Benson

Photo courtesy of the artist

For many music fans, George Benson’s career may be defined by his best selling and award winning 1976 album “Breezin’”, which won the artist Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Record of the Year. Benson followed this with three more Grammy wins in 1980, 1993 and 2006 and is one of the most awarded Jazz guitarists.

George Benson began his career s a singer, recording his first record as an eleven year old and forming his first rock band at seventeen.Working initially with a guitar hand made by his stepfather, Benson got interested as a teen in jazz and was soon playing professionally with Brother Jack McDuff before forming his own jazz ensemble as a twenty-one year old.

Early albums established Benson as a premier guitarist, but it was the move into more pop oriented music in the 70s that made Benson a star.

!976’s “Breezin” was only the second time in his professional career that Benson sang on his record. Quincy Jones encouraged him to look for other opportunities and Benson did, delivering a string of top 10 R&B and pop singles in the 70s and 80s.Over his long career George Benson has received 10 Grammys.

Criticism of Benson comes from jazz purists who claim he has abandoned the genre with his frequent and successful forays into pop and R&B. To that he quotes jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine: Someone asked him: ‘Stanley, you’re a great saxophone player. Why do you play that funny music?’ He said, ‘Because I want to.’”

2023-03-21T16:35:39-04:00March 22nd, 2023|

Decade of Difference: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Photo By:  Vladimir Title: King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard Source: Flickr License: CC-BY-SA 2.0

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard got started in Melbourne, Australia in 2010 and are prolific – producing 23 albums over their 13 years plus an additional 14 live recordings.

The bandmates all attended school in the Melbourne area. Joey Walker and Eric Moore met while attending music school and they added the remaining members when they all played together as an informal jam band. The band has a reputation for exploring different genres and using innovative recording techniques. As an example, the group recorded vocals for one song on their debut full-length album by having the vocalist sing into an iPhone, with three other iPhones scattered in the studio to also record.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have explored lots of different styles and formats with their many records. Early on the group recorded a ‘cult western audio book’ telling the story of outlaws, child soldiers and more set in the US west. The group also released an album with elements of fantasy and touches on the concept of mind control. Their Quarters album released in 2015 is appropriately named – consisting of four songs each 10 minutes and 10 seconds in length

In 2017 the band met a promise to release five studio albums in a single year and those included a sci-fi concept record, an improvised jazz record and an experiment in microtonality.

While the albums cover a wide range of topics, there are recurring characters, leading to the term ‘Gizzverse’ to describe the narrative running through their albums.

2023-03-08T10:44:00-05:00March 9th, 2023|

Decade of Difference: James Keelaghan

Juno award winning Canadian folk artist James Keelaghan has been called ‘Canada’s finest songwriter’ by the esteemed music critic Dave Marsh. Keelaghan is well known for his storytelling during concerts, giving the back story on many of his songs. Keelaghan specializes in historically based songs rooted in Canada and US history.

One of his most famous songs relates the tale  of the devastation of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 in the state of Montana. Fifteen smokejumpers parachuted in to fight the fire. When the winds turned they trapped and ultimately killed twelve of them. Keelaghan tells this true story of the smokejumpers’ experience through the point of view of Dodge, one of the only 3 remaining survivors.

James Keelaghan has won one Juno award and received nominations for two others. Along with Latin musician Oscar Lopez .he recorded a unique record of celtic latin fusion, a style they dubbed “Celtino”.

Regarding his interest in historical tales, Keelaghan says that it is as much a matter of the story finding him rather than him working to research possible songs. He says that often he will have a fan mention some obscure happening, and when Keelaghan follows up, he finds a song.

Only during the past decade has he decided that music is truly his career. Previously he worked on the assumption that soon he would go back to school and train as a lawyer.

2023-03-08T10:32:18-05:00March 8th, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Stone Roses

The English band the Stone Roses started with a bang. Their debut album released in 1989 was praised, hailed as one of the greatest British albums ever recorded. The band won four New Music Express awards that year and released multiple UK top 40 songs from the album. Sales and distribution was hampered by a legal dispute. The band, wishing to capitalize on their acclaim, wanted to sign with a major record label but they were already under contract and the smaller company did not allow the group to leave easily.

The group formed in 1983 when bassist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire, old school friends in Manchester, reunited. They had played off and on in a series of bands. After six months of rehearsals, the Stone Roses began playing gigs and working on album material. It took another couple of years before the Stone Roses recorded a demo, leading to their signing for their initial record.

With the legal problems surrounding the first record, the Stone Roses were not able to complete their sophomore effort for five years. The release was also slowed by changes amongst and around the band, ultimately leading John Squire to leave.

The band was just not the same. The second album Second Coming was followed by a tour which was almost universally criticized. Brown’s vocals were described as “so off-key it was excruciating to have to listen”. New Music Express described the song I Am the Resurrection as “more like the eternal crucifixion”.

The group broke up in 1996 and each band mate did their own thing. A reunion came in 2011 which featured Ian Brown and John Squire playing together for the first time in over a decade. A reunion tour was scheduled and the band announced they were working on new material. The tour happened but there was no new album. The group split again in 2017.

Photo By: Silly Little Man Title: The Stone Roses at Heaton Park  Source: Flickr License: CC BY-SA 2.0

2023-02-28T13:35:21-05:00February 28th, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Burt Bacharach

Photo by: Olaf Heine/Courtesy of the artist

Burt Bacharach’s six decade plus career of songwriting success began with a country song written with his longtime songwriting partner Hal David in 1957. The pair met in a songwriting office in New York’s Brill Building and their first recorded hit composition was The Story of My Life which Marty Robbins took to number one. This was followed by successful songs recorded by Perry Como and others. Bacharach had continued success in the early 60s with songs for the Drifters and Chuck Jackson before establishing the relationship that would produce some of his biggest hits.

Bacharach and Hal David would write well over 100 songs in the early sixties and Bacharach began taking a role in the studio. It was there he met Dionne Warwick and her sister Dee Dee. The songwriting pair and the sisters recorded a tune as Burt and the Backbeats. Soon he realized that Dionne Warwick had a special voice and began penning compositions for her. A steady string of hits flowed through the sixties.

Burt Bacharach had an impressive string of success in the sixties and early 70s with hit songs written by he and Hal David and recorded by Warwick plus Academy Award and Tony wins. Add in his marriage to the high profile actress Angie Dickinson and seemingly nothing could go wrong for him.

It did go wrong. Bacharach, David and Warwick split in a flurry of lawsuits and the marriage ended in divorce. Bacharach was most disappointed by the split with Hal David, reflecting in his 2013 autobiography on how many great songs they could have written if they had stayed together.

Bacharach experienced a commercial resurgence with a new songwriting partner in the 80s. He and new wife Carole Bayer Sager wrote two number one hits and won a Grammy before that relationship ended in 1991. Later in life he found himself rediscovered by newer artists, including a successful collaboration with Elvis Costello.

Bacharach and his first partner Hal David were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and in 2012 received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress.

2023-02-28T20:22:47-05:00February 27th, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Jorma Kaukonen

Jorma Kaukonens’ 50 plus year career began in his hometown of Washington DC when he and friend Jack Casady formed their first band, the Triumphs. Later, attending Antioch college, Kaukonen learned the fingerpicking style of guitar playing and got his introduction to the music of the Reverend Gary Davis which became an integral part of his performances.

Moving on to northern California, Kaukonen enrolled at Santa Clara University where he played in coffee houses and accompanied Janis Joplin on some acoustic demos. From there Kaukonen helped form Jefferson Airplane, followed by Hot Tuna and when that band broke up, he continued a solo career he began when Hot Tuna was still active.

Jorma Kaukonen has continued his solo career and work with Hot Tuna over the decades. His career has also been marked by numerous collaborations, from working with Jaco Pastorius to collaborating with former members of the Grateful Dead.

2022 was a landmark year for Kaukonen. Paired with Jack Cassidy, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo continued their five decade plus career with Hot Tuna marking the 50th anniversary of their first studio record Burgers.

The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House was released, bringing a piece of often-whispered-about rock ’n’ roll history to modern turntables. The record is a fly-on-the-wall document capturing a rehearsal between Kaukonen and Janis Joplin, both at the time up-and-coming musicians in the Bay Area of California.

Kaukonen and Joplin met in 1962 at a hootenanny while he was attending Santa Clara University, and he began accompanying her at gigs around the area. “At the time, with this tiny little coffee shop that I doubt held more than 40 or 45 people, she needed somebody to back her up. We were just fooling around backstage, and we just kind of liked each other musically,” Kaukonen said.

2023-02-21T12:13:56-05:00February 22nd, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Cory Wong

Cory Wong at 2021 Newport Jazz Festival       Adam Kissick/Newport Jazz

Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist Cory Wong was introduced to classic rock and jazz by his father as a pre teen. Starting piano lessons at 9, Wong had an interest in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, leading him to learn to play the bass and start a band. Moving on to the University of Minnesota, Wong focused on jazz, recording two albums with Minnesota based jazz ensembles.

Wong worked as a studio musician and toured with a variety of artists before meeting the members of Wulfpeck at a house party in 2013. Recognizing a connection, Wong has appeared on all of the bands’ records following that session.

In 2016 Cory Wong released his debut solo album. The eclectic mix of jazz, funk, R&B and rock was mostly instrumental but featured another Wulfpeck collaborator, vocalist Antwuan Stanley  on a few tracks. The record established a pattern for following releases from Wong – mostly instrumental but featuring a special guest artist. This has included keyboardist Jon Batiste. The pair collaborated on 2020’s Meditations, which earned a Grammy nomination.

Wong’s latest studio release Power Station is influenced by 80’s funk and pop and features his current tour band mate Victor Wooten.

2023-02-21T08:09:33-05:00February 21st, 2023|

Decade of Difference: Steely Dan

Steely Dan never fit the mold that formed most big bands in the ’70s. Usually the bands worked hard through the club circuit, established themselves in their region, then went national. Steely Dan did none of that. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, with the assistance of producer Gary Katz, shaped their accessible mix of melodic hooks, complex harmonies, and time signatures in the studio. While they did initially work as a performing band, it was in the studio that their popular sound was crafted, supported by a cast of top flight musicians.

The late Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were the core of the band, formed after their meeting at Bard College. After playing in a variety of different jazz and rock bands, the pair began composing songs together with the idea of going into songwriting. Next, they played in the backing band for Jay and the Americans.

Finally in 1972 they formed Steely Dan with four additional musicians, including Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. The first album was a success with two top 10 singles but the supporting tour was not mainly due to the poor preparation of the band.

Almost all of the Steely Dan albums in the ’70s featured a different cast of supporting musicians. Recruited to record and perform a single album, the members included Michael McDonald and for the jazzier records, notable jazz musicians including Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour and the Crusaders.

There still was no working band, but the records were all big sellers. 1977’s Aja hit the top 5 within three weeks of its release and featured three hit singles. The album won a Grammy and has won praise as an outstanding example of a jazz-rock album.

In 1981 Becker and Fagen announced they were splitting up. Each artist released their own solo albums, and it was not until 1993 that the pair reformed for another Steely Dan album. From 2003 through 2017 the band prepared more effectively for touring and launched several successful tours.

Walter Becker died of cancer in 2017 and Donald Fagen has been true to his statement after his death that he would keep their music alive by continuing to tour.

Photo By: Raph_PH  Title: SteelyDanO2291017-17  Source: Flickr License: CC-BY-2.0

2023-02-20T09:33:24-05:00February 20th, 2023|