Monthly Archives: March 2013

After 50 years, Clapton is still god…


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 Eric Clapton‘s 50th anniversary tour came through Dallas, Texas March 19th at the American Airlines Center. This tour is not getting the publicity of The Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour, and it seems typical of Clapton to not toot his own horn like Mick and Keith do. Although it is not getting the attention of the media like The Stones tour, it is an equally important milestone in Rock n Roll history. On a beautiful spring evening in Dallas, the 67 year old guitar god proved that he is every bit the musician he has ever been.

Musician is a title that is earned and I don’t use lightly. Eric Clapton is a virtuoso musician of the highest level. In his understated, “Slow Hand” way he took us on a kaleidoscopic tour of his rich musical legacy. And what a tour it is…

I scored my tickets from a good friend I work out with. He called late Monday afternoon with the good news. Making it to a concert on a Tuesday night can be a little challenging and unfortunately we were late for the opening act The Wallflowers. This is Bob Dylan‘s son, Jakob Dylan‘s band. We sat down in our seats just in time to hear their best know song “One Headlight” . They sounded great, but we only heard  their last four songs. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the arena was completely full for The Wallflowers. Apparently, most of the fans that attended the show had no problem being on time for the 7:30PM start time. This is the first concert I’ve been to in years where so many fans turned out for the opening act. Very impressive, and a great indication of the popularity of this great band.

After a brief intermission, Eric quietly strolled onto the stage with his incredible band:  Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Steve Jordan (drums), Chris Stainton (piano and keyboards), and Willie Weeks (bass), along with the amazing  Paul Carrack (organ and keyboards), Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar), and Michelle John and Sharon White (backing vocalists).  Instead of kicking off the show with a bang, Eric started out the concert with two acoustic dominated songs: “Hello Old Friend” (A greeting to the crowd) and “My Father’s Eyes”.  Both songs featured great pedal steel solos by Greg Leisz.  After the first two songs, Clapton greeted the crowd by talking about how much he loved Dallas and that he considered it a second home.  He then kicked it up a notch as the band launched in to “Tell The Truth” from his great Album Layla.  This song featured outstanding  solos from all three guitarists.  Doyle Bramhall was amazing as  he played his guitar Hendrix style (he plays left handed, with a right handed guitar that is turned upside down, so the bass strings are on the bottom and the treble strings are on the top).  Up next was a song from Clapton’s new album “Old Sock” called Gotta Get Over.  This song stood up well against all the other well known hits that Clapton played.    A powerful cover of the Albert Collins song Black Cat Bone featured amazing guitar work by Clapton and Bramhall.  Clapton then went back to his Derek and the Dominos days and performed Got to Get Better in a Little While.  This song was smoking hot!  It was a huge bonus that Clapton was touring with Paul Carrack.  Paul is a living legend in England.  He is sadly, only moderately well known in the U.S.A.  Paul took the first of three turns at lead vocal with “Tempted” from his days with Squeeze.  This magnificent song was magnificently sung by one of the best “Blue Eyed Soul” singers on the planet.  It is also very appropriate that Eric Clapton occasionally played the roll of  “side man” to another singer/song writer.  It hearkened back to the days    when he toured with Delaney and Bonnie.  He had several times in his 50 year career that he just wanted to be the guitar player in the band.  Next Clapton played the first song from his days with Cream as the band almost blew the roof off the arena with an extended version of Badge.  This song brought the crowd to it’s feet for the first time in the show.

Clapton took a chair next and did an “unplugged” set that included Driftin’ Blues, (Written by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers) a uptempo reggae version of Tears  in Heaven that was only marginally effective, a great version of Lay Down Sally, Wonderful Tonight, and Layla.

Paul Carrack then returned to sing his great hit from his days with Ace:  How Long (Has this been goin’ on?).  Clapton turned in one of his best solos of the night during this song.

Then the concert went to a whole different level and I had one of the concert experiences that stay with you for a very long time… Clapton walked up to the microphone and said “Now, it’s Robert Johnson time!”  I’m sure there were many in the arena that missed the significance of that moment, but it was not lost on me.  Without Robert Johnson there would be no Rock-n-Roll.  Few people know that 13 of his known recordings were made on the third floor of 508 Park Ave. in Dallas.  Eric Clapton has been personally involved in saving and protecting this important historical property.  Clapton and his band tore through Stones in My Passway, Love in Vain, Crossroads, and a powerful cover of Little Queen of Spades.  This was what you paid to see.  Powerful, raw blues guitar by the greatest living blues player on the planet.  The last song before the encores was J.J. Cale’s song Cocaine.

The band return for two encores, Sunshine of Your Love, which was amazing, and Paul Carrack sent us all home with a rousing cover of the Joe Cocker song “High Time We Went”.

This tour is coming to an arena near you.  I think it’s high time you went…

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Posted in Life Events, Live Performance Reviews, Rock Music | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Guitar Legend Alvin Lee: Dead at age 68…


745px-Alvin_LeeI hate to write another homage to another dead musician, but Alvin Lee, the legendary Blues Guitar player and founder of the band Ten Years After, died last week due to complications from a routine surgery.  I have to write about him.  He was too great to let this moment pass.

These things run in threes.  There are those that call this anomaly a “Trifecta” .  Somewhere in heaven there is a rehearsal studio and Alvin Lee, Van Cliburn, and Reg Presley are all jamming together.

Alvin Lee was an extremely underrated Guitar player.  He rose to prominence in 1969 when Ten Years After was featured in the documentary film “Woodstock”  His incendiary 11 minute jam on “I’m Goin’ Home” brought the house down.  I never get tired of hearing it.

Ten Years After had 12 albums in the Billboard top 200.  Although they only had one top forty hit, “I’d Love To Change The World” from their great album A Space in Time.  I have always loved this album and since it contains Alvin Lee’s biggest hit, I thought I would post this album to my blog and share it with anyone who hasn’t heard it before.  It’s a great one to own on vinyl.  It sounds great, it’s kind of psychedelic, and it’s just great music.

A_Space_in_Time

Here is “A Space in Time” in it’s entirety.  All of the songs on this album  were written by Alvin Lee except “Uncle Jam” that was co-written by the entire band.

Side 1

One of These Days

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 The music fades in and the Blues begin.  Great harmonica on this song in addition to Alvin Lee’s great blues guitar work

Here They Come   Spacey is all you can call this tune.  I can hear the “space in time…”  

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I’d Love to Change The World  The year is 1971.  The Vietnam War is raging.  There is enormous disenchantment with the way the world is heading.  The feelings are global.  Protest songs are everywhere.  That’s one reason I love this song.  Everyone else was trying to claim they had all the answers.  Alvin Lee had the courage to say “I don’t know what to do…so I’ll leave it up to you…”

The technique of using electric and acoustic guitars in this song and the previous song shows the influence of Led Zeppelin.  But still there is a lot of originality here.  This song is the only Alvin Lee composition to make it into the top forty.  It was #40 in 1971.

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Over the Hill-Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock N Roll You

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 These last two songs merge into each other.  This song sounds so much like a lot of rock music that is coming out of Indie bands.  What’s old is new again… Then side one ends with a classic rocker.

Side 2

Once There Was a Time

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 I love this acoustic blues intro of this song.  It sounds ancient, like it came from one of the original Mississippi Delta Blues players.

Let The Sky Fall

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 This song has a typical R&B bass line and yet it is not typical in any other way.  It also continues the “Spacey” sound of the record.  There is a great “Trippy” guitar solo from Alvin in the middle of the song.

Hard Monkeys

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This  song also got some good airplay.  It is a song about drug addiction.

I’ve Been There Too

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 This song has a great sound and when Alvin Lee sings “I’ve been there too…”  I believe him.  The power chord chorus is great, as well. This song also gives you insight into how great a guitar player Alvin Lee was.

Uncle Jam

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 The intro is almost jazz.  This is exactly what the title implies…A  Jam.  There is some really great piano playing on this cut.

So Alvin has left us, like Van Cliburn, and Reg Presley.  He leaves behind his wife and daughter.  My deepest sympathy for your loss.  The sudden nature of his death could not have been easy.  His music lives on and his memory should be preserved.

 

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Posted in Life Events, Rock Music, Vinyl | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Van Cliburn’s legacy will be that of a musical ambassador…

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I was saddened to learn of the passing away of Van Cliburn this week.  If it were not for him, I may have never taken up playing the piano.  His victory at the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition launched him into “Rock Star” status immediately.  He is still the only “Classical” musician who has ever had a New York City ticker tape parade.  The album you see above was the first classical LP to ever go platinum.  So if you own a copy, especially an early copy like my copy, you own a historically important LP, even if it is not a rare LP.

He was born in 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana, but moved to Kilgore, Texas in 1941.  His dad was in the Oil & Gas business and his mother was a piano teacher.  My Dad and I knew a very talented pianist in Dallas named Newel Oller.  He grew up in Kilgore with Van Cliburn.  His claim to fame was that he finish second in every piano contest he entered because Van always finished first.  My Piano teacher and her son were close friends of Van and his mother.  I never met him, however, I did see him perform live twice.  Both times he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Van lived in Texas so long that we claimed him as a native.  At the age of 13 he debuted with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.  In 1954 he graduated from High School and enrolled at The Julliard School in New York City.  In 1954 he won the Levintritt Award which included a debut with the New York Philharmonic.  Then in 1958 (the year I was born) he made history.

It is impossible to communicate exactly how stunning his victory in Moscow was.  It was like “The Miracle on Ice” in the 1980 Olympics, when the USA defeated the Soviet Union in hockey.  No American had even come close to winning a major international piano competition.  The United States was considered a backwater of classical music talent.  All the great musicians were born in and trained in Europe.  This was at the height of the cold war.  The cold war was so cold that the jury had to get Nikita Khrushchev’s direct permission to award the prize to Van Cliburn.  He was easily the crowds favorite. After he performed his concerto he received an 8 minute standing ovation.   What set him apart was his more deliberate pace that he took with the music.  In that time people had fallen in love with technical excellence and there was a lot of fast and loud playing.  Van took the time to make music.

He returned to America in triumph.  He appeared on the cover of “Time” magazine.  I love this quote from the Time magazine article describing him as  “The first man in history to be a Horowitz, Liberace, and Elvis Presley all rolled into one.”

In 1962 fans of Van Cliburn in Fort Worth, Texas organized “The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition“.  There is now an Amateur Piano Competition in addition to the main competition.  I entered the amateur competition a few years ago, but was not accepted.  I need to hire a teacher again and practice more. The Van Cliburn competition has done much for international good will.  It’s value cannot be overstated.  This May will mark the 14th quadrennial competition.  The Cliburn is one of the premiere competitions in the world.

Van Cliburn put classical piano playing on the map in the United States.  He caused numerous people to take up the challenge of playing the Piano.  His victory and fame caused my mother and father to encourage me to take up the hobby.  I never dreamed where it would ultimately lead me.

So my condolences to Van Cliburn’s friends and relatives, as well as music lovers everywhere.  The great ambassador of music has left us, but his music and his legacy will never fade.

Here it is in its entirety.  One of the most famous classical LP’s of all time.  The first classical LP to go platinum.  Van Cliburn, Kirill Kondrashin (Who was the conductor in Moscow during the competition)  and The RCA Symphony Orchestra.

First Movement

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Second Movement

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Third Movement

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The performance still resonates today and has inspired countless people to take up playing the piano, including yours truly…

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Posted in Classical Music, Life Events, Vinyl | Tagged , , | 4 Comments