George & the Sitar

Once upon a time, there was a guitarist named George Harrison who lived in Liverpool, England. He played in a band called The Quarrymen with his friend Paul McCartney and bandleader John Lennon. As time went by, said band recruited drummer Ringo Starr and turned into the mega-platinum recording artist known collectively as The Beatles. I suppose I’m skipping a lot, but I also want to mention that Beatles producer George Marin said “that’s a first rate guitar” in reference to Harrison’s playing when hearing it for the first time.

Fast forward a few years and George Harrison gets into Indian music — especially playing the sitar. For most of us, myself included, “Norwegian Wood” (This Bird Has Flown)” was our first real exposure to the exotic sounding instrument. Here’s an interesting demo or working version of the tune.

I’ve read a few things about the song “Norwegian Wood.” I think you have to give The Beatles some creative kudos for all that’s happening in it: telling a story, Everly Brothers style harmony, the use of sitar, and it’s all done within a very short time frame. It’s a pretty unique piece of music.

If memory serves me correctly, Harrison was turned onto Indian music while filming The Beatles’ film “Help!” and got connected with sitarist Ravi Shankar. Following their exposure to sitar, other bands hopped on the sitar/Indian kick and launched the “raga rock” thing with songs like “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones.

There are a few Harrison compositions which went deeper into the Indian vibe like “Within You, Without You” and “The Inner Light”, both great songs in their own right. Years later, The Concert for Bangladesh was another exposure to both Shankar and Indian sitar music for me. After Harrison’s death, The Concert for George also featured Indian music including Shankar’s daughter Anoushka on sitar. Harrison’s son, Dhani, also played guitar in the same concert lineup. According to Wikipedia, Dhani ,”is named after the sixth and seventh notes of the Indian musical scale, dha and ni.”

I could spend some time describing what a sitar is and other music instruments, but I will leave those searches up to you. The only thing left to say is Ravi Shankar is also the father of musician Norah Jones.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!


Lawdy Mama

Where were you in 1988? That was the year I graduated from high school, but it was also a time when the “Box Set” of CDs was a trend. I remember some big blues artists had them like Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters. “Crossroads” was the title of the Eric Clapton box set, which I distinctly remember checking out of my local public library and dubbing to some low quality 120 minute cassettes. (I wasn’t willing to pay full price, but wasn’t going to let these good songs get away.) In my mind, Eric Clapton was an important guitarist and this was a collection which I needed to hear. Basically, the collection spanned his different bands and collaborations. There are plenty of blog-worthy songs, but one song I instantly liked was a live BBC recording entitled “Lawdy Mama” by Cream.

Clapton didn’t write the song, but was apparently inspired by the Junior Wells version of the same tune, which featured Buddy Guy on guitar.

According to Wikipedia, the Junior Wells version is credited as “traditional”. From what I can tell, the first recording of the song was by Buddy Moss in 1934. I also like the Louis Armstrong version.

If you listen to blues music, this song/progression is pretty recognizable. There’s a similar song called “Got to Hurry” by The Yardbirds which was also included in the Clatpton box set. What I like about this song is its simplicity along with its bouncing feel.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Lenny Craig Paul Miller Band

So I was re-reading my last blog post about Seventies Rock and, in particular, Lenny Kravitz. Then I started thinking about Kravitz’s bandmate/guitarist Craig Ross. Ross and Kravitz co-wrote another rocking song a friend of mine had that I didn’t. “Where Are We Runnin’?” was released on Lenny’s 2004 album entitled Baptism. I was digging the guitar sound and some speedy riffs during the solo and found a track of only the guitar.

Then it hit me! Part of the rhythm guitar sounds a lot like “Jet Airliner” by The Steve Miler Band. There may be a dash of KISS influence in the Lenny Kravitz song, too.

Incidentally, this massive hit for The Steve Miller Band wasn’t written by Stevie “Guitar” Miller. It was written by Paul Pena.

Naturally, the Paul Pena tune and the Lenny Kravitz song don’t really sound alike to me, but they are definitely related. I wonder where Pena got the idea to write “Jet Airliner”? Maybe Craig Ross time traveled and gave him the idea?

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Are You Gonna…Rock?

Every once in a while you hear a song that restores your faith in rock and roll — at least I do. For me, the most obvious example is Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” off the album with the same title. They both were released in 1993 when grunge music was part of the mainstream. This song punched me right between the ears.

I’m not known for keeping up with the latest and greatest things in music (or in general) so maybe that’s what appealed to me about this song — its retro vibe. By the way, Lenny Kravitz apparently played drums on the recording while Cindy Blackman apppeared in the video (directed by Mark Romanek). The song has some great guitar licks in it and a driving beat. Kravitz and guitarist Craig Ross share the songwriting credits. I’ve heard this song described as Hendrix-influenced or Hendrix-derivative. Maybe it’s the insanely appropriate video, but I’ve always thought of this song as more of a Seventies rock thing.

Speaking of Seventies rock, 10 years later in 2003, is when Aussie rock band Jet came out with “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”.

This song off the “Get Born” album shares a lot of the same elements of the Kravitz tune….hard driving, guitar driven, make you want to get off your ass and move. I suppose the black and white album cover reminds me of The Beatles’ Revolver, but that’s probably where the similarities stop.

By the way, Carlos Santana apparently proposed to that drummer (Cindy Blackman) from the “Are You Gonna Go My Way” video and the two got married onstage. So I guess the only thing to say in conclusion is “Yes, she is going to be his girl and she is gonna go his way.” Rock on, Carlos. Viva, Seventies Rock!

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Phil’s Fill of The 80s

I don’t know why, but Genesis and Phil Collins have been on my mind lately. I was a teenager during the 80s and Genesis was a HUGE band during that time. I was never really big into them per se, but they had a lot of hits and my classmates used to rave about the band’s concerts/light shows. Here’s an example of my personal connection to the band…I spent a summer night at my buddy’s house and his oldest brother was into Genesis. My friend said, “Yeah, he works late so he’ll probably get up around noon tomorrow and crank up Genesis.” Sure enough, that’s what happened.

I have to give his brother some kudos for playing the song “Mama” on vinyl…AND on the family console stereo. For whatever reason, I can vividly remember said oldest brother singing along with the “Ha-ha, ha, haaaa” lyrics. I guess it was kind of freaky to me. So was the MTV video if I remember correctly.

As for the song, it’s pretty percussive. Apparently guitarist Mike Rutherford came up with the drum machine pattern for this song. Then you have Tony Banks doing the whole synth thing. (No disrespect, but I had to look up their names. Phil Collins always seemed to grab most of the spotlight. All three share songwriting credits on this one.) I guess I’m kinda conflicted about Genesis. This song is “kinda 80s”, but it’s also a pretty unique song in addition to that. Same for the band. A singing, songwriting drummer like Phil Collins is pretty unique, but they also had a synth sound and a box guitar as well. They were kinda pop, kinda prog. There should be a points system for all of these things.

I reserve the right to re-visit Phil Collins in the future. I liked some of his soundtrack stuff and other Genesis tunes.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

The K.G.B.

Call this a spur of the moment, off the cuff, bit of musical blogging inspiration…and, hopefully, a bit of fun. A month or more ago, I came across this song on YouTube and it cracks me up every time I watch this performance of “Manchildby the Kyle Gass Band.

You might recognize the follicly-challenged frontman as one half of the comedy rock band Tenacious D with his counterpart Jack Black.

The lyrics are a big part of why I find this song so funny, but the delivery and commitment of Gass are also part of the equation. Pay attention to the 3:08 mark and you’ll see Mick Jagger has got nothing on the stage moves of Kyle Gass. The music in this song rocks and the lead guitarist plays a tasty solo as well.

Getting back to the lyrics, you have references to cow tipping, Lucky Charms, grilled cheese sandwiches, Slip n Slide, and, of course, lack of TV parental control. What’s not to like!

Viva, Kyle Gass Band!

Till next time keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Silver Machine

When you hear the unique name (more specifically nickname) “Lemmy”, what pops into your head? A Rickenbacker bass…a big dude with a wart on his face…the band Motörhead? Maybe all of the above.

I never knew too much about the guy or Motörhead before watching the 2010 film biography called “Lemmy”, but I have some appreciation for him now. If nothing else, this film turned me on to the song “Silver Machine” by his pre-Motörhead band called Hawkwind. Hawkwind is usually described as space rock…whatever that means.

I liked this song the first time I heard it. Sure, there are spacey elements on the recording, but it’s basically a boogie woogie rock and roll song. That said, lyrically, it’s a unique piece of work. It’s not that I can’t remember the lyrics, they’re just different enough to keep it interesting.

If you think the song couldn’t get any freakier, you should hear the version recorded by William Shatner.

By the way, this isn’t my favorite track on Shatner’s “Seeking Major Tom” album, but it seemed relevant. Getting back to the Hawkwind version, Lemmy didn’t originally sing the lead vocal. That was handled by songwriter/Hawkwind bandmate Robert Calvert. Sylvia MacManus also shares a songwriting credit on “Silver Machine.”

Lemmy said he was kicked out of Hawkwind for “drug snobbery”… meaning his bandmates were doing certain drugs while he was doing others. What a way to go. Incidentally, the visual of “Silver Machine” is also forever tied to this six foot tall gal named “Stacia” who used to dance on stage with Hawkwind. I guess buying her a tambourine wasn’t really necessary.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Like a Rolling Spirit

I ran across a list of close to 200 different recording artists who have tackled the well-known Bob Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone.” There are enough unique versions to do a week’s worth of blog entries on it, but the one that really grabbed my attention was the band Spirit.

How would you describe this version? The words which pop into my mind are “trippy” and “ethereal”. Talk about making a song your own! Wow. I wonder what Bob Dylan would think of it?

I’m no expert on the band Spirit, but here are a few things which pop to mind. They had a hit with the song “I Got a Line on You” and also recorded the eco-friendly tune “Nature’s Way” as well. Another important aspect of Spirit’s Dylan cover is the unique voice of Randy California.

His real name is Randy Wolfe. I didn’t know this until today, but the name “Randy California” was actually given to him by Jimi Hendrix when they played together in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. (Hendrix was Jimmy James. Thanks, Wikipedia! )

I wonder what sort of effects were used on this particular recording? I thought I could hear a rotating Leslie speaker effect on the vocals, but I could be wrong. The studio version is from the “Spirit of ’76” album, which also includes some additional cover songs.

It’s interesting to think about the Hendrix-Randy California-Bob Dylan circles of influence. Hendrix was a big Dylan fan and even recorded his take on “Like a Rolling Stone” as well.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Stones Dream: A Tale of Two Ronnies

At the risk of starting my own personal blog overkill, I had a bizarre dream last night which is still fresh in my mind. The gist of the dream is this….Somehow or another The Rolling Stones ended up playing in Baldwin City, Kansas. This is the home of my college alma mater. It’s almost like the band knew someone on campus and were just hanging around jamming. I ended up in a jam or a practice with them. I honestly don’t know if I was playing an instrument. For the record, this was some kind of 70s lineup of the Stones, but I think Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood were both there along with Bill Wyman on bass. Mick Jagger and Keef were there as you might expect. I’m not sure about Charlie Watts, but someone was keeping the beat.

There are two specific songs which popped up in this dream, but neither of them are Stones originals. The first one is a fairly obscure Jimmy Reed tune called “Mr. Luck”.

I think I was trying to work up the nerve to ask Keith Richards if we could play it in the key of “F” instead of “G” for some reason.

As the dream continued, the Stones practice migrated from a practice hall on a hill and morphed into a gig in a meadow. At this point, the band opened with an odd choice: “What’s Your Name” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Maybe Mick Jagger was thinking small town Kansas residents only listen to Skynyrd? I don’t think Mick was really on his game with this song selection for the band, but that was the dream.

It’s strange how dreams mash up people, places, and things. Maybe the Stones can play next year’s Maple Leaf Festival? That’s the only logical conclusion I draw from this one.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Mayans, Jaguars, & Knives (Oh My!)

One film which has been on my “to blog” list for awhile is 2006’s “Apocalypto”, which was directed by Mel Gibson. This is not a film for everyone. Why, you may ask? It’s in subtitles. It has graphic violence. It’s over 2 hours long. Despite these three points, this film really sucks me in every time I see it. The film takes place in the jungle and involves a hunter named Jaguar Paw along with his family and fellow villagers. (I guess it’s around the year 1500 in Yucatan, Mexico, but that never really mattered to me.) They live peacefully enough until one day a rival tribe overtakes the village and carts off the villagers to become human sacrifices.

I would have guessed this movie was released in the 90’s, but that’s probably due to the large number of characters with piercings and tattoos. (Who would have guessed during 1502, those styles would come back again? ) Perhaps listening to James Horner’s “Tapir Hunt” is better than trying to describe the freaky, savage vibe to “Apocalypto.”

There are a few different themes explored throughout the film like family, fatherhood, faith, survival of the fittest, and even man’s place in the natural world. So what makes this such a great film?

A few things pop to my mind. First, there are some great villains. The main dudes behind the raid on the village are cold, vicious types. Along the same lines, their costumes are pretty amazing, too. The leader of the bad guys is decked out in some sort of big cat jaw headdress and carries his obligatory skull trophies on his person. He and his henchmen also carry stylish but deadly obsidian knives, spears, etc. A blowgun also makes an appearance. Quite a bit of jewelry, too.

One synopsis of this film described the main character taking “a hero’s journey”. That’s true, but it’s also a bit like throwing your anthropology textbook into a blender with “Alice in Wonderland”. It’s savage, it’s freaky, but it’s also entertaining.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!