This Historic Day In Music: John Lennon

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York – September 29, 2019

Like every other obsessed fan of The Beatles that I know, I have accumulated a sizable collection of books about The Beatles.

One of those books is Beatlesongs by William J. Dowlding.

The front cover of this 1989 Fireside paperback proclaims that its pages contain: “Firsthand quotes, little-known facts and details about the production of each song/album, including: where song ideas came from, who contributed how much to each song… and much more!”

The back cover states that “drawing together information from sources that include interviews, insider accounts, magazines, and news wire services,” Beatlesongs has “a complete profile of every Beatles song ever written.” The bibliography, for instance, lists forty books.

Mr. Dowlding then, in each song’s profile, organized the information he gathered under headings: Chart Action, Authorship, Recorded, Instrumentation, Miscellaneous, Comments By Beatles and Comments By Others.

(Under that last heading, I now know that “Albert Gore, politician, and wife Tipper, played ‘All You Need Is Love’ as their wedding recessional.”)

Authorship is the one that has fascinated me the most.

The reason for this heading is the not-so-obvious fact that, even though every song they wrote while they were in The Beatles was published under both of their names, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not actually co-write all of those songs.

Some Beatles’ songs are “John songs” and some are “Paul songs.”

Mr. Dowlding created a full/partial credit system to estimate the division of songwriting labor for each “Lennon & McCartney” song.

For example…

The Authorship of “Eight Days A Week” is tabulated as: McCartney (.9) and Lennon (.1).

“She Loves You” is Lennon (.5) and McCartney (.5).

“Let It Be” is McCartney (1.00).

From the many hours that I have spent over the years pouring through the pages of Beatlesongs (and other more recently published sources), I have discovered that the vast majority of the Beatles’ songs I have listened to the most often; the songs I have loved so much that I learned to play them, sing them and perform them… have been “John songs” – Authorship: Lennon (1.00).

They have been…

“Nowhere Man”

“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

“You Can’t Do That”

“It Won’t Be Long”

“I Call Your Name”

“All You Need Is Love”

“Come Together”

…to name a few.

As clichéd as it may be, it is still so true: my life has been incalculably enriched by the songs of John Lennon.

I therefore could not let this day go by – October 9, 2020: the 80th anniversary of the day that John Winston Lennon was born – without paying tribute to him – without in some small way again saying “Thank you, so very much” – here on sixstrstories.

So, to wrap things up, what “John song” should we listen to?

How about one of the best!

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Finding Covers – “Boots of Spanish Leather”

I awoke this morning with a song in my head.

The song was “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan.

But Bob wasn’t singing it.

Martin Simpson was.

Martin Simpson is the exceedingly accomplished British Folk musician rightfully revered as one of the best acoustic guitarists on the planet.

I first heard Martin Simpson sing and play “Boots of Spanish Leather” in the late 1990s.

Back then, Martin would travel each December to southeastern New Hampshire to join local fingerpicking phenom Ed Gerhard for a Christmas Guitar Concert held in the sanctuary of a local church.

My daughter and I attended many of these truly magical evenings and the instrumentals and songs – often including “Boots of Spanish Leather” – that Martin presented ranked high among our favorites year after year.

Martin released a live recording of his rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather” in 1999 on his Bootleg USA album. He contributed a studio recording to the 2001 Red House Records compilation A Nod To Bob: An Artists Tribute to Bob Dylan on His Sixtieth Birthday.

That’s the performance I know and love and was the music that started my day.

I heartily recommend that you take a few minutes and listen to this.

Martin was accompanied on that track by bass guitarist Doug Robinson and cellist Barry Phillips.

In the liner notes to the A Nod To Bob CD, Martin writes: “I think that no one took me further than Dylan, or showed me more possibilities. I’m still exploring the roads and sidewalks, dare I say it following the signs. Some of those songs feel like mine now. Thank you, we all owe you so much.”

I think it is safe to say that Martin Simpson definitely succeeded in making “Boots of Spanish Leather” his own.

Martin Simpson was born on May 5, 1953 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He got his first guitar at age twelve, gave his first paid performance at fourteen and recorded his first solo album – “Golden Vanity” – in 1976 at the age of twenty-two. His 21st solo album – “Rooted” – was released in 2019.

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards honored Martin as the Instrumentalist of the Year in 2002, Musician of the Year in 2004 and having the Best Album – “Prodigal Son” – in 2008.

“Boots of Spanish Leather” originally appeared on Bob Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, in 1964.

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Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five + One

The legendary Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five…

  • Edward “Kid” Ory – Trombone
  • Louis Armstrong – Cornet & Vocals
  • Johnny Dodds – Clarinet
  • Lil Hardin Armstrong – Piano
  • Johnny St. Cyr – 6-String Banjo

…made their first recordings – for OKeh Records, in Chicago, IL – on November 12, 1925.

This incalculably influential New Orleans Jazz quintet gathered to make their last recordings on December 13, 1927, again for OKeh and in Chicago.

However, on this day, the Hot Five added an equally hot sixth: Blues guitarist and fellow OKeh recording artist Lonnie Johnson.

Two tracks were cut at this December 13 session: “Hotter Than That,” a Lil Hardin Armstrong composition and “Savoy Blues” by Edward Ory.

In his liner notes to the Columbia/Legacy CD Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five And Hot Seven Recordings, Volume 3, Gary Giddens explains that “Hotter Than That” is “based on a strain of the New Orleans anthem ‘Tiger Rag.'”

He quite accurately describes the recording as being “a succession of marvels.”

My favorite part of this joyous performance comes at 1:55 when the scat-singing Armstrong and the acoustic 12-string-picking Johnson begin trading licks in a dazzling bit of call-and-response improvisation.

Give a listen for yourself!

 

In the same liner notes, Mr. Giddens offers this assessment of “Savoy Blues.”

“It begins with a zany oom-pah figure, accenting first and third beats and suggesting a countryish air emphasized by Louis’s opening solo and the commiserating ensemble. Then Johnson plays a four-bar transition, changing the time to a jazzy four and triggering an episode by the two guitarists that has the effect of crossing a period blues record with a cutting edge jazz disc.”

Whew! Guess you better check it out! (That four-bar transition starts at :53.)

 

“Hotter Than That” b/w “Savoy Blues” by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five was released in 1928 by OKeh Records on a 10-inch, 78 rpm disc, #8535. On the record label, “Hotter Than That” was identified as being a “Fox Trot.”

As my motto says…”Good music doesn’t get old.”

Do you agree?

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Light Amidst Dark – “Six Feet Apart”

My son turned me on to this song by Luke Combs in August.

He asked if I could teach him how to play it and, over the course of a couple of Sunday afternoon FaceTime guitar lessons, I did.

“Six Feet Apart” was written – two verses and a chorus – by Luke Combs, Brent Cobb and Robert Snyder on April 14, 2020. Their songwriting session had been scheduled before the start of the pandemic.

Luke debuted the song during a live-stream at-home performance on April 15.

Give a listen.

 

Talk about hot off the presses!

Luke, Brent and Robert captured so much of what so many of us have been feeling for all these months in a perfectly charming package of melody, lyrics and harmony. And Luke’s no-frills performance delivers the goods with warmth, sincerity and soul.

My favorite line comes at the end of the second verse. I’m pretty sure that, even after “this thing” is over, I will also still “probably over-wash my hands.”

Luke Combs released a full-band rendition of “Six Feet Apart”- recorded in a studio with everyone wearing masks and sitting in separate rooms – on May 1, 2020.

P.S.: If you want to try playing “Six Feet Apart” for yourself (as I’ve been doing)…

  • Hint #1: That sweet Gibson acoustic Luke’s playing is tuned down one half-step.
  • Hint #2: Fingering chords in the Key of G, Luke never uses a regular D major chord.

P.S.S.: Thanks, Tom.

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This Historic Day In Music: Buddy Holly

If asked, I could easily put together a list of my ten favorite Buddy Holly songs.

In no particular order…

  • “That’ll Be The Day”
  • “Not Fade Away”
  • “Oh Boy!”
  • “Everyday”
  • “Word Of Love”
  • “Peggy Sue”
  • “Maybe Baby”
  • “Well…All Right”
  • “It’s So Easy”
  • “True Love Ways”

But if I had to pick just one to put in this post, I’d have to go with: “Well…All Right.”

 

“Well…All Right” was recorded on February 12, 1958 at the Norman Petty Recording Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Buddy sings and plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by Joe B. Maudlin on bass and Jerry Allison on cymbals. Buddy, Joe, Jerry and Norman Petty – who produced the recording – are all given songwriting credit.

“Well…All Right” was released by Coral Records on November 5, 1958. It was the B-side of the 45-rpm single on which the A-side was “Heartbeat.”

*   *   *   *   *

Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley on September 7, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas.

He made his first professional recordings for Decca Records in Nashville, Tennessee on January 26, 1956.

He recorded his first and biggest hit – “That’ll Be The Day” – on February 25, 1957 at the Norman Petty Recording Studio in Clovis, New Mexico.

Over the very short course of his career, Buddy Holly – songwriter, singer, guitarist, performer & recording artist – produced one of the most important and influential bodies of work in the history of Popular Music.

Buddy Holly died on February 3, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa. He was 22 years old.

What Buddy Holly song would you have picked?

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This Historic Day In Music: The Last Hard Day’s Night

The Day: Monday, August 29, 1966

The Location: San Francisco, California, USA

The Venue: Candlestick Park (Opened: 1960, Demolished: 2015)

The Event: A Beatles’ Concert

 

 

The Significance: The Beatles’ Final Public Performance 

Members of The Beatles:

  • George Harrison – Guitar & Vocals
  • John Lennon – Guitar & Vocals
  • Paul McCartney – Bass Guitar & Vocals
  • Ringo Starr – Drums & Vocals

The Beatles’ Road Crew: Mal Evans

Concert Promotion: Tempo Productions

Poster Design: Wes Wilson

Concert Sound: McCone Audio-Visual; Mort Feld, sound mixer.

Number of Microphones Used On Stage: Five (for vocals only)

Official Photographer: Jim Marshall (Coined the phrase: “The Last Hard Day’s Night.”)

Catering: Simpson’s Catering

Special Guests: Joan Baez & Mimi Fariña

Opening Acts (In order of appearance):

  • The Remains
  • Bobby Hebb (accompanied by The Remains)
  • The Cyrkle
  • The Ronettes – with Elaine Mayes filling in for Ronnie Spector (accompanied by The Remains)

Master of Ceremonies: Gene Nelson, disc jockey at KYA 1260 AM.

Ticket Prices: $4.50, $5.50, $6.50.

Number of tickets available: ~30,000

Number of tickets sold: 25,000

The Beatles’ Take: $84,500

Weather: Partly cloudy; Temperature: 50-58º F; Gusty winds: 10-20 mph.

Gates Open: 6:30 pm

Concert Start Time: 8:00 pm

Time of The Beatles’ Performance: 9:27 – 10:00 pm

Set List (All songs by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, unless otherwise noted):

  • “Rock & Roll Music” (Chuck Berry)
  • “She’s A Woman”
  • “If I Needed Someone” (George Harrison)
  • “Day Tripper”
  • “Baby’s In Black”
  • “I Feel Fine”
  • “Yesterday”
  • “I Wanna Be Your Man”
  • “Nowhere Man”
  • “Paperback Writer”
  • “Long Tall Sally” (Richard Blackwell, Enotris Johnson & Richard Penniman)

Instruments & Equipment Used By The Beatles:

George Harrison:

  • Epiphone Casino ES-230TD Electric Guitar (with Bigsby Vibrato Arm/Tailpiece and pickguard removed)
  • Rickenbacker 1965 360-12 12-String Electric Guitar (w/capo at the 7th fret)

John Lennon:

  • Epiphone Casino ES-230TD Electric Guitar

Paul McCartney:

  • Hofner 1963 500/1 “Violin” Electric Bass Guitar (with pickguard removed)

Ringo Starr:

  • Ludwig 4-Piece Drum Set (finished in Black Oyster Pearl) with a 22-inch bass drum, a 20-inch ride cymbal, 18-inch splash cymbal and 14-inch hi-hat.

Instrument Amplification:

  • American-made Vox 120-watt Solid State Super Beatle Amplifiers. (There were 7 of these amps on stage and they were used by all of the groups in the show.)

Concert Recording: Done by Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ press officer, on a portable cassette tape recorder with a hand held microphone; at the request of Paul McCartney.

And here it is!

 

Immediate Post-Concert Transportation for The Beatles: an Armored Vehicle from the Loomis Armored Car Service with an escort of eleven San Francisco Motorcycle Police Officers.

A Review: Under the headline, Beatles Strike Out At The Ballpark, Philip Elwood wrote in the San Francisco Examiner:

“The whole evening’s production was an expensive and thoroughly synchronized bit of highly commercial machinery. Each of the preliminary throw-away acts did their stint to indifferent crowd response, and soaked up the minutes until The Beatles appeared. Then came the screams…”

Sources of Information:

  • Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles’ Last Concert by Eric Lefcowitz, with photos by Jim Marshall. Published in 1987 by Terra Firma Books.
  • Beatles Gear: All The Fab Four’s Instruments, From Stage To Studio by Andy Babiuk. Published in 2001 by Backbeat Books.
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Sparklers: “Shufflin’ The Blues” by T-Bone Walker

This is the seventh installment of this category featuring recordings of outstanding performances by noteworthy guitarists – or – outstanding guitarists giving noteworthy performances. 

That introduction used to include this explanation: It was inspired by whatever god oversees the shuffle mode of my iPod classic during my morning walks.

Well, that’s exactly what happened today! So, when this piece poured out of my headphones this morning, I knew that I simply had to introduce you to…

“Shufflin’ The Blues” by T-Bone Walker.

Give a listen! You’re about to hear 3 minutes and 22 seconds of electric Blues guitar fabulousness spanning 11 choruses of the 12-bar Blues progression in the key of C.

 

“Shufflin’ The Blues” was written by Aaron “T-Bone” Walker. It is from the 1959 Atlantic Records LP T-Bone Blues. The performance you just listened to was recorded on December 14, 1956 in Los Angeles, California. Nesuhi Ertegun was the producer.

The musicians on that track are:

  • T-Bone Walker – Electric Guitar
  • Lloyd Glenn – Piano
  • Billy Hadnott – Bass
  • Oscar Bradley – Drums

Aaron Thibeaux Walker was born on May 28, 1910, in Linden, Texas. By the age of 15, he was performing professionally on the Blues club circuit in and around Dallas.

Under the title “Oak Cliff T-Bone,” Walker cut his first record in 1929, singing and playing acoustic guitar. He made his first significant recordings with an electric guitar in 1945.

T-Bone Walker is now widely recognized as The Father of the Electric Blues Guitar. He has been readily listed as a primary influence by such major musicians as B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix.

Aaron Walker passed away on March 16, 1975, in Los Angeles, California.

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“Crazy Blues” – The Centennial

One hundred years ago today – August 10, 1920 – Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds recorded “Crazy Blues.”

The recording was made in the New York City studios of OKeh Records. Ralph Peer, the recording director for OKeh in New York, supervised the session.

“Crazy Blues” was the first Blues recording by an African/American singer.

The vocalist, Mamie Smith, was 37 years old. She had sung and danced and played piano on the Vaudeville circuit since she was 10.

“Crazy Blues” was written by African-American composer Perry Bradford in 1912. Originally called “Nervous Blues,” Bradford changed the title for its original sheet music publication in 1915.

The members of the Jazz Hounds who accompanied Mamie Smith on the session were:

  • Perry Bradford – Piano
  • Ernest Elliott – Clarinet
  • Dope Andrews – Trombone
  • Johnny Dunn – Cornet
  • Leroy Parker – Violin

Today, this type of Blues is referred to as “Classic Blues:” a female vocalist with at least a piano for accompaniment, all instrumentalists playing in the Jazz style of the times.

In 1920, however, this was something new.

Give a listen.

 

The success of “Crazy Blues” b/w “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Taint No Fault Of Mine)” by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds took everyone by surprise.

Especially OKeh Records.

75,000 copies of the 78-rpm disc – #4169 – were sold in the first month after its release and 1,000,000 before six months had passed.

“Crazy Blues” proved that there was a very real market for music by African-American artists. American record companies soon began recording and releasing such records in earnest. Established performing artists including Bessie Smith (“Empress of the Blues”), Alberta Hunter, Sara Martin (“The Blues Sensation of the West”), Ma Rainey (“Mother of the Blues”) and Victoria Spivey became recording artists as well.

In 1924, OKeh recorded Ed Andrews, the first male Blues singer/guitarist.

By the late 1920’s, five different record companies competed for sales in this new category, one that they called “Race Records.”

A few years after the release of “Crazy Blues,” Metronome magazine boldly proclaimed: “Blues are here to stay!”

As I always say, “Good music doesn’t get old.”

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This Historic Day In Music: The Carter Family

In the evening, on August 1, 1927, The Carter Family – Alvin Pleasant Carter, his wife Sara Dougherty Carter and Sara’s younger cousin, Maybelle Addington Carter – made their first recordings.

The recording session took place in a make-shift recording studio located on the second floor of the building used by the Taylor-Christian Hat Company at 408 State Street in downtown Bristol, Tennessee.

Ralph Peer, a traveling talent scout for New York City-based Victor Records, had set up the studio and produced the recording session.

The Carters stood together that evening on a small wooden stage in the middle of the blanket-draped room and leaned into the single microphone. Sara played the autoharp and sang lead, Maybelle played a small Stella acoustic guitar and together with A.P., sang harmony.

When the session was done, they had recorded four songs and, though no one knew it yet, they’d made history.

Here’s one of those recordings. Give a listen.

 

Years later, Maybelle would recall this day:

“When we made the record and played it back, I thought it couldn’t be. I just couldn’t believe it, this being so unreal, you standing there and singing and they’d turn around and play it back to you.”

Over the next seventeen years, The Carter Family would record – and listen to the playback of – hundreds of songs. Their music would come to define Country music for decades.

The Carter Family was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988. They were given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

To this day, A.P., Sara and Maybelle are widely referred to as “The First Family of Country Music.”

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The First Record With A Fender

It was a Country record on the Capitol label.

Released in July of 1950, Capitol Record #1124 was available in two formats: a 78 rpm 10″ shellac disc and the more modern 45 rpm 7″ vinyl “single.”

“I’ll Never Be Free” by Bennie Benjamin & George Weiss was the song on the A-side. On the B-side was “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own” by Irving Taylor.

The featured vocalists on the record were Capitol Records artists Kay Starr…

…and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

 

Ms. Starr and Mr. Ford recorded “I’ll Never Be Free” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own” at Capitol Records’ studios in Los Angeles, California on June 28, 1950.

There were two guitarists among the studio musicians gathered for the recording session.

One of them was Speedy West on pedal steel guitar.

The other was Jimmy Bryant on electric guitar.

 

Jimmy Bryant was a 25-year-old, Georgia-born, Jazz-influenced Country guitar player working in the Southern California area. In early 1950 he had become quite well known for his dazzling guitar duets with Speedy West on a local Country music TV show. Although Speedy had been recording for Capitol since late 1948, the June 28, 1950 date was Jimmy’s first recording session.

The instrument that Jimmy Bryant played that day was a Fender Esquire solid body electric guitar.

It would be the first time a Fender guitar was used on a record.

Here now are both of those remarkable and most enjoyable recordings. Give a listen!

Speedy West’s pedal steel is most prominent on “I’ll Never Be Free,” but Jimmy adds in some very tasty fills at the 0:19, 0:42, 1:28 and 2:15 marks.

 

Just To Let You Know: “I’ll Never Be Free” would reach the #2 spot on the U.S. Country chart and #3 on the Pop chart before the end of the year.

Jimmy Bryant’s superb playing is showcased on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own.” He takes the opening solo and then a breathless full solo starting at 1:09. He contributes endlessly inventive counter melodies behind the vocals on most of the verses and all four statements of the chorus.

 

JTLYK#2: The record pictured in those YouTube videos – Capitol Records EAP 1-621 – was a 45 rpm 7″ vinyl EP (extended play) record released in 1955.

 

The Fender Esquire solid body electric guitar was designed by Leo Fender. In 1950, it became the first electric guitar manufactured and sold by Leo’s company, the Fender Electric Instrument Company of Fullerton, California.

 

Jimmy Bryant had been a devoted fan of the Fender electric ever since the Fall of 1949. That was when Jimmy got to try out Leo Fender’s recently-completed prototype for his “standard electric” guitar one night at the Riverside Rancho dance hall in northern Los Angeles.

That prototype guitar was part of the Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from April to October, 2019 BP. I took this photograph there on September 29.

Leo Fender built a second prototype of his “standard electric” – one with all six tuning pegs lined up on the left side of the headstock – in the winter of 1949/50. Finally, when all the details of the design had been decided, the manufacturing of Leo’s guitar began at Fender’s Fullerton facility in March, 1950.

Don Randall, the company’s salesperson, christened the instrument “the Esquire.”

Given how ubiquitous and iconic Leo Fender’s electric guitars – the Telecaster (1951), the Stratocaster (1954) –  have become in the past 70 years, the discovery of these two recordings was a real thrill.

For the discovery of those recordings (and the writing of this post) I am most grateful to Mr. Ian S. Port for his truly exceptional book: The Birth Of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘N’ Roll.

One last detail: Speedy West played a three-neck pedal steel guitar (see picture above) that was custom built for him in 1948 by Paul Bigsby of Downey, California; another major guitar pioneer who plays a big part in Mr. Port’s book.

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