Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


bb

THE title ‘King of the Blues’ wasn’t just a pun on his surname. BB King, who passed away in Las Vegas on May 14, was easily one of the most influential bluesmen of all time, matched in terms of following only by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. And he was definitely the most lasting of the legends, ruling the stage from the early 1950s till almost the end. Sixty-plus years at the very top is something very few musicians have achieved.

As news of his death spread, I was asked by Mumbai’s Mid-Day newspaper to write a tribute. For those who missed that in the May 16 edition of the newspaper, I am attaching the link below. The article sums up King’s life and contribution to music, and also talks of his biggest songs like ‘The thrill is gone’, ‘Lucille’ and ‘3o’clock blues’.

After King, a few others have successfully attempted to carry forward the blues. Buddy Guy, the other two Kings Albert and Freddie, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and Bonnie Raitt have been some of them. Today’s audiences are fairly familiar with their work, thanks to regular release of albums and the availability of their concert footage on YouTube. Many others are clued in to the modern blues-rock artistes, and in India, the Mahindra Blues Festival, has been a platform for some big contemporary names.

Yet, the music of the older masters remains largely unexplored among today’s younger lot. Their names would be familiar, as they have been mentioned in interviews by the likes of Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton. Now, with the passing of the legendary King, it might be ideal to start digging back into the work of all those greats who preceded or were contemporary to him. Those days, the blues was pure and unadulterated, and needless to say, was a delight to hear.

One may, of course, start with King’s live records ‘Live at the Regal’ and ‘Live at Cook County Jail’, or his studio album ‘Lucille’ or his collaboration with Clapton on ‘Riding with the King’. Besides that, here are 10 artistes one must check out:

Robert Johnson: A huge inspiration on greats like Muddy Waters, Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, Johnson recorded only 29 tracks in a brief career. He died a violent death at the age of 26, apparently of poisoning . His songs ‘Sweet home Chicago’, ‘Love in vain’, ‘Crossroads blues’, ‘Terraplane blues’ and ‘I believe I’ll dust my broom’ have become major blues anthems.

Son House: In many ways, he was the father of the Delta blues, as he was the mentor of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. His style was rooted in the cottonfields of Mississippi, and he played often with the other blues pioneer Charlie Patton.

Big Bill Broonzy: His biggest achievement is of popularising the blues outside the US, doing concerts in Europe, South American, Africa and Australia in the early 1950s. He was also known for guiding many younger players, with Muddy Waters, Little Walter Jacobs and Memphis Slim acknowledging his role.

Muddy Waters: Born McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters was called the father of the electric blues. Almost single handedly, he made the Chicago blues scene turn into the world’s most vibrant music centre in the 1950s and 1960s. His rendition of ‘I’m a hoochie coochie man’, ‘Got my mojo working’, ‘I got my brand on you’ and ‘I’m a man’ are hugely successful.

T-Bone Walker:
A huge influence on BB King and Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker was the man who first took the music electric in a big way. His guitar technique was unique, and he was known for his perfect timing.

Bessie Smith: The empress of the blues, Bessie’s music retains its power and emotion to this day, despite facing limitations in recording techniques during her era. Although primarily known as a blues singer, she was equally at home with jazz, vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley material.

John Lee Hooker: Best known for songs like ‘Boom boom’, ‘Dimples’ and ‘Onions’, Hooker was known for his unique vocal timbre and brilliant guitar style. Despite being rooted in tradition, he also had a mass commercial appeal, specially in the 1990s.

Leadbelly: Huddle Ledbetter or Leadbelly was a notorious womaniser and convicted killer, who claimed to have twice sung his way out of prison. Musically, he was best known for keeping the country blues tradition alive, and played various instruments like 12-string guitar, bass, accordion, harmonica and piano.

Elmore James: It’s said that the most copied guitar sound in the blues is that of Elmore James’ bottleneck riff in ‘Dust my broom’. It was a sound he developed at age 12 running a broken bottleneck down a wire stung to his shack in Mississippi. James has been a huge influence on many slide guitar players.

Howlin’ Wolf: Born Chester Arthur Burnett, Howlin’ Wolf was best known for his dark and brooding voice, and his innovative harmonica and guitar work. He was a major influence of British rock stars like Steve Winwood and the Rolling Stones.

Summing up: Besides King, these were 10 early legends to begin with. There are obviously many more and the list of greats from the pre-1950s era includes names like WC Handy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Jimmy Reed, Memphis Slim, Charlie Patton and Memphis Minnie, to name a few.

In many ways and like Muddy Waters, King was the bridge between their music and the modern blues sound. His work will stay on forever.

This blogger’s tribute to BB King in Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper appears on http://www.mid-day.com/articles/remembering-blues-legend-bb-king/16214191


Fazal

Fazal Qureshi

Concert: The Journey Continues…

Musicians: Fazal Qureshi, Rahul Sharma, Andres Hagberg, Ahmad Al-Khatib, Sabir Khan, Sanjay Divecha, Sridhar Parthasarathy, Varun Sunil

Date and venue: May 13, St Andrew’s Auditorium

AROUND 7.35 pm on Wednesday evening, the melodic notes of Rahul Sharma’s santoor mingled with the sounds of Ahmad Al-Khatib’s elegant Middle Eastern string instrument oud. The alaap, jod and jhala portions of raag Basantmukhari met the equivalent scale of the Arabic musical system. Over the next three hours, one heard different combinations in which eight musicians fused Indian classical, Arabian music and European folk-jazz.

The occasion was the concert ‘The Journey Continues’, held at Bandra’s St Andrew’s Auditorium to mark the 96th birth anniversary of tabla legend Ustad Allarakha, which actually took place a fortnight ago on April 29. After shows in New Delhi and Pune, the last leg in Mumbai also featured tabla exponent Fazal Qureshi, Swedish flautist-saxophonist Andres Hagberg, sarangi player Sabir Khan, guitarist Sanjay Divecha, mridangam player Sridhar Parthasarathy and percussionist Varun Sunil.

The mix of musical styles went well with the concert’s theme of ‘Connecting 3 Worlds’. The evening began with the recitation of spoken percussion syllables by students of the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music. The host Darshan Jariwalla then introduced the evening’s concert, after which Rahul Sharma and Ahmad Al-Khatib got together.

The latter temporarily left the stage after raag Basantmukhari, and Rahul continued with raag Charukeshi, played in two compositions set to rupak and teen taal. Here, Fazal played wonderful portions, and he remained in great form for the rest of the show, showing mastery in both the traditional and experimental styles.

Rahul’s performance was followed by the appearance of Andres, who began by introducing two rare flutes – a contemporary silver flute coated with platinum, and an old-style plastic flute without fingerholes on the main surface. His command on the flute, and on the soprano saxophone in the latter half, was simply amazing.

Post-intermission, Fazal, Ahmad and Andres were joined by Sabir Khan and Varun Sunil, with Sanjay Divecha and Sridhar Parthasarathy coming towards the end. A Sufiana piece fronted by Sabir on vocals was followed by Ahmad’s composition ‘The dance of Salma’, an effervescent tune he had written for his young daughter. Sabir again showed his vocal prowess on ‘Panihaari’, based on a Rajasthani folk tune. The tune had some smooth sarangi and soprano saxophone passages.

One of the evening’s highlights was Ahmad’s composition ‘Two rivers’, which had a marvelous lilt. Andres’s Swedish folk lullaby took the audience into another world, and ‘Creation’ meandered effortlessly, with Varun Sunil excelling on the percussion instrument cajon, and having an interactive session with the crowd. The final piece was an untitled jazz fusion piece composed by Rahul. Sadly, because of time limitations, the piece – and the show – ended rather abruptly.

The evening, presented by LIC and co-sponsored by Dena Bank, had many highs in terms of musical quality and innovative compositions. However, one wished Sanjay Divecha and Sridhar had been given a few more pieces, with the former appearing on only two. In that sense, the time could have been managed better, with maybe a shorter speech by the compere.

That flaw apart, the show was well-received, with Fazal putting it succinctly by announcing towards the end: “We’re running out of time, but thankfully not running out of audience.” The fact that most people stayed till the end gave an indication of how much they were enjoying.

A time for tributes


Cliff

THE air was nostalgic. On Saturday night, members of Santa Cruz’s Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana arrived with friends for a special double tribute, featuring songs of the Beatles and Cliff Richard. And since both the acts have been hugely popular in India, a large section of the crowd sang along and danced.

First to come on were The Awesome Foursome, which did the Beatles tribute. Comprising bassist/ vocalist Desmond Taylor, lead guitarist/ backing vocalist Barry Murray, rhythm guitarist/ vocalist Dicky Pereira and drummer Benny Soans, their selection included ‘Love me do’, ‘PS I love you’, ‘A hard day’s night’, ‘Day tripper’, ‘Drive my car’, ‘And I saw her standing there’, ‘I’ll follow the sun’ and ‘Rock and roll music’. They took a while to settle in, as their attempt to replace the harmonica parts of ‘Love me do’ with a guitar seemed a bit odd. But slowly, the audience slowly got up and made it to the dance floor, specially on ‘And I saw her standing there’ and ‘Rock and roll music’. In structure, the voices were a shade different from the originals, but the members sang with an enthusiasm that pepped up the crowd. Yet, they were at best an average act, relying more on the popularity of the tunes than on musical prowess.

After guest singer Cyril filled in the gaps with his original songs, sadly taking more time than one wanted, the group The Cliff Richard Experience took over. With two members common from the Beatles tribute band, the line-up consisted of vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Desmond Taylor, lead guitarist/ backing vocalist Barry Murray, bassist/ vocalist Ryan Taylor and drummer Sylvester Chaves. The musicians began with a few numbers by Cliff’s backing band The Shadows, with Barry Murray excelling on the parts originally played by guitarist Hank Marvin. On the Cliff songs, Desmond Taylor displayed a timbre very close to the India-born British star, and dazzled on the hits ‘Bachelor boy’, ‘Congratulations’, ‘Summer holiday’, ‘The young ones’, ‘Devil woman’, ‘Constantly’, ‘Travelling light’, ‘Living doll’ and ‘Goodbye Sam, hello Samantha’.

The evening began a little after 8 pm and went on till past 10.30. Naturally, the attendees, many of who were 50-plus, left with a song on their lips and a spring on their feet. The Beatles tribute was so-so, but the Cliff one was far better. Yet, as many people knew the songs, they had fun.

THE Beatles and Cliff nights weren’t the only tribute performances to take place in the recent past. In fact, more and more local bands have been specialising in such single-artiste homages. This is besides the foreign bands that keep coming off and on.

On April 30, there were two other gigs in Mumbai, and two more in Bangalore. All of them were by Indian bands. At the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Nariman Point, the music of ace Weather Report and solo bassist Jaco Pastorius was remembered by well-known Mumbai electric bassist Karl Peters, with accompaniment from guitarist Sanjay Divecha, keyboardist Karan Joseph and drummer Adrian D’Souza.

Nearby, at Irish House in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai band One Night Stand did a special set of Dire Straits numbers, at an event held to launch vocalist-guitarist Mark Knopfler’s latest Universal Music solo album ‘Tracker’. While guitarist and vocalist Sarosh Izedyar played the role of Knopfler, the band also included rhythm guitarist NS Padmanabhan, bassist Arvind Iyer, drummer Ramesh Krishnamurthy and keyboardist Sushil Gawandi. The set list included popular tracks like ‘Sultans of swing’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Money for nothing’, ‘Down to the waterline’ and ‘Walk of life’.

On the same night, in Bangalore, north eastern band Girish and the Chronicles did a Led Zeppelin special at Vapour Pub, whereas MAD Orange Fireworks did a Pearl Jam set at Hard Rock Café.

MORE often than not, tribute nights end up being great fun, simply because most of the audience knows the songs by heart. Normally, a large section of attendees consists of those who are thoroughly familiar with the works of the original artiste.

Over the past few years, many Indian musicians have specialised in the works of specific artistes. Gary Lawyer has regularly done Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley nights, and each time, the response has been overwhelming. A few months before his death, Nandu Bhende did a memorable Beatles night. There have been Pink Floyd tributes by Mumbai’s Para Vayu and Delhi’s Think Floyd, whereas Mumbai’s Zedde has done Guns N’ Roses specials. One Night Stand has earlier done Iron Maiden and Deep Purple events.

Besides the Indian bands, one has seen many foreign acts do tributes of the Beatles, Eagles, Eric Clapton, Bee Gees and Abba. However, unlike most local performers, these bands actually specialise in a select artiste, and travel across the world not only singing their songs but also impersonating their stage mannerisms and looks.

A few factors determine the success of a tribute band. The first obviously is that the musicians should be able to retain the persona of the original artiste. If the singer’s timbre is very similar to the hit act, it’s always an advantage. This doesn’t, however, mean that one must blindly copy the earlier song. Sometimes, a completely different version of the same number helps. Here, half-hearted attempts simply won’t do.

The second thing is the selection of songs and their order of playing. Usually, tribute bands choose the most popular tunes, with the intention of attracting the maximum number of people in the crowd. But at times, it’s always good to throw in a surprise by choosing a rarer track.

Finally, of course, comes audience participation. Many in the crowd are invariably familiar with the originals, but because of that, some of them also tend to get critical, instead of simply having fun. At such tribute shows, if the primary purpose is simply to let loose without thinking too much about the intricacies, one can always enjoy oneself. The heartening thing is that most of the time, that’s what people come for and end up doing.


OF late, one has been witnessing the release of many Hindi films with multiple music directors. And we’re not talking of movies with two or three composers but even, hold your breath, six or eight. In many cases, the musicians are unknown.

Check out some such examples.

‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’ has Madboy/ Mink, Sneha Khanwalkar, Blek, Peter Cat Recording Co, Joint Family, IJA and Mode AKA.

‘Khamoshiyan’ has Jeet Ganguli, Ankit Tiwari, Naved Jafar and Bobby-Imran.

‘Ek Paheli Leela’ has Dr Zeus, Amaal Malik, Tony Kakkar and Meet Bros Anjjan.

‘Dharam Sankat Mein’ has Meet Bros Anjjan, Shamir Tandon, Sachin Gupta and Jatinder Shah.

‘Hawaizaada’ has Mangesh Dhakde, Rochak Kohli, Ayushman Khuranna and Vishal Bharadwaj.

‘Roy’ has Ankit Tiwari, Amaal Malik and Meet Bros Anjaan.

To top it all, ‘Dilliwalli Zaalim Girlfriend’ has eight composers for eight songs – Yo Yo Honey Singh, Dr Zeus, Tiger Style, Indeep Bakshi, Jatinder Shah, Meet Bros Anjjan, Milind Gaba and Jassi Katyal.

Noticed something? Barring Vishal Bharadwaj, these films do not boast of any really established names. The list either contains those who have tasted success in the past couple of years only, or those who have been around for a while without making much inroads, or completely unknown names. And from the look of it, one may think Meet Bros Anjjan are the busiest musicians in the world today.

The question, of course, is whether one needs so many music directors for a single movie. One can understand cases where, in the past, films had two or three music directors (‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, ‘Chalte Chalte, ‘Fiza’ and ‘Aashiqui 2’), but is there any point having more? The only reason one would think of having eight men for eight songs may have nothing to do with the quality of the music, but probably be related to having an eye on the record book.

The trend has its pluses and minuses. One thing in its favour is that by having multiple composers, one can always give a chance to promote newer talent, instead of relying on the same few names. The other advantage is that having multiple music directors would lead to more variety.

Here, one can have people who specialise in diverse forms like heavy metal, techno, ambient, Sufiana and Indian folk, to name a few genres. Besides having their own style of composing, each composer will have his own set of favourite singers and musicians, as a result of which the overall soundtrack will have many contrasting sets of sounds.
From the business point of view, producers may opt for this fad because instead of paying a heft amount to one established name, they can negotiate with lesser known composers. In every film, they can get a couple of songs for a pittance, as the music director may be too new to demand a large sum.

The more traditional mind will, of course, prefer the older style of having a single composer, who fulfils the need of catering to various styles. Though the great composers of the past had their favourite styles or specific inclinations, they created music of different hues, based on the situations in the film.

Even today, audiences usually look for the work of single music directors in a film. People like AR Rahman, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam and Vishal Bhardwaj, to name a few, come with their own set of expectations from the listening public. Whenever they work on a film, they maintain a certain coherence in the sound, and yet produce songs in different genres. Their names add value and weight to a film.

Yes, there have been exceptions like ‘Aashiqui 2’, where three music directors managed to have a consistent sound. But by and large, multiple music directors tend to go off on different tangents. In many instances, the result is a tasteless bhel puri.

If one looks at what’s really happening, the fact is that most such films haven’t produced any extraordinary music. There have been a couple of decent songs here and there, but what’s missing is consistency. The music directors work in completely different patterns, and at best, create songs that go with a particular situation, without having an impact outside the cinema hall.

Add to that the presence of plenty of wannabes, and the net result is nothing but large-scale mediocrity. Unless the music directors rise above the ordinary and create music that stands out, this fad may last only a few days before slowly fizzling out.


Clapton

WHEN I first heard Eric Clapton, he was 35 years old, exactly half his current age. The year was 1980, and my first exposure came through the songs ‘Lay down Sally’, ‘Layla’, ‘I shot the sheriff’ and ‘Wonderful tonight’ over the radio. The following year, ‘Cocaine’ was played at every college festival in Delhi. Soon, I was hooked to the live album ‘Just One Night’, tripping on newer favourites like ‘After midnight’, ‘Tulsa time’, ‘Setting me up’ and ‘Blues power’ once my ear slowly got trained into appreciating those gorgeous guitar parts.

Clapton, who turns 70 today, has been regular on my playlist since the early 1980s. After the initial exposure, there was an effort to listen to his earlier stuff, beginning with his work for the groups Cream and Derek & The Dominoes, and his solo albums. His contributions to Blind Faith, Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers came later in my life, and at the same time, I tried to keep in touch with his latest releases.

While the initial admiration was more for his guitaring, I slowly began grasping the beauty of his raspy voice. Still, though he became one of my favourite musicians ever, I had two
complaints. One, many of his most popular songs were actually written by others. Even though he gave a completely different twist to his cover versions, only a handful of songs written by him were hugely successful.

Secondly, Clapton has had a fair share of erratic and average albums, specially in the 1980s and early 2000s. While his work till the mid-1970s was memorable, his later efforts were not always consistent, despite some excellent albums now and then. In the latter part of his career, the collaborations with greats like BB King and JJ Cale were brilliant, and so were some of his blues tributes. His rendition of Gary Moore’s ‘Still got the blues’, from his 2013 album ‘Old Sock’ was first-rate. But efforts to write his own stuff were namby-pamby.

These flaws notwithstanding, nothing could stop me from getting back to Clapton after regular intervals. I may have spent months away from other favourites like Pink Floyd, Doors, Jethro Tull and Santana, but Clapton, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan, always kept returning. To pep up one’s mood, nothing seemed better than a live album of Clapton – ‘Just One Night’, ‘Unplugged’, or his tie-ups with Steve Winwood and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

The admiration of the man increased after I read his autobiography, where he not only talks of his music and influences, but about his various romantic interests (including the one with George Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd), his battles with drugs and alcohol, his subsequent attempts to help addicts, and the tragic death of his son Conor, which led him to write the brilliant ‘Tears in heaven’ in ‘Unplugged’.

Clapton has been on the scene for nearly five decades, and released some incredible stuff over the years. To join in his 70th birthday celebrations, here’s my list of favourite Clapton studio albums culled from various phases of his career. Not an easy task, of course, but here goes, in chronological order of their release:

Blues Breakers – John Mayall with Eric Clapton: This 1966 recording was fronted by British blues great John Mayall, who does lead vocals and plays piano and Hammond B3 organ. Clapton joins on electric guitar, with John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac) on bass and Hughie Flint on drums. Popular songs are ‘All your love’, ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Rambling on my mind’.

Disraeli Gears – Cream: The second studio album of rock supergroup Cream, featuring Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. The 1967 record, also recognised for its psychedelic cover artwork, features classic Cream numbers like ‘Tales of brave Ulysses’, ‘Sunshine of your love’, ‘Strange brew’, ‘We’re going wrong’ and ‘SWLABR’.

Blind Faith – Blind Faith: Released in 1969 with a controversial cover, this was the only album by the legendary line-up of Clapton, keyboardist-vocalist Steve Winwood, bassist-violinist Ric Grech and drummer Ginger Baker. Classic cuts include ‘Had to cry today’, ‘Can’t find my way home’, ‘Well all right’, ‘Presence of the lord’ and ‘Sea of joy’.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & The Dominoes: One of Clapton’s best works to date, this 1970 release features the memorable ‘Layla’, which Clapton wrote for Pattie Boyd. Super-guitarist Duane Allman appears on 11 of the 14 songs, which also include ‘Bell bottom blues’, ‘Have you ever loved a woman’, ‘Nobody knows you when you’re down and out’ and a version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little wing’ Bobby Whitlock does a great job on piano and organ.

461 Ocean Boulevard – Solo: Clapton’s second solo studio album, released in 1974, was an indication of the style he was to follow for many years, using laidback pop-infused rock songs laced with blues influences. Hits here included a version of Bob Marley’s reggae hit ‘I shot the sheriff’, ‘Let it grow’ and ‘Willie and the hand jive’.

Slowhand – Solo: The title of this 1977 record was based on the nickname given to Clapton. The first three numbers became classics – namely ‘Cocaine’, ‘Wonderful tonight’ and ‘Lay down sally’. The album was to reach No 2 on the Billboard 200 charts.

From the Cradle – Solo: Released in 1994, this was Clapton’s marvelous tribute to old-school blues, as he played a selection of standards in his own style. On the list were Willie Dixon’s ‘Hoochie coochie man’, popularised by Muddy Waters, Tampa Red’s ‘It hurts me too’, Lowell Fulson’s ‘Sinner’s prayer’ and Leroy Carr’s ‘Blues before sunrise’.

Riding with the King – With BB King: Clapton fulfilled his dream of collaborating with one of his heroes in this 2000 album, which also featured great talent like guitarists Andy Fairweather Low, Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II, keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist Nathan East and drummer Steve Gadd. The version of Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Keys to the highway’ is brilliant.

Me and Mr Johnson – Solo: Another blues tribute, this time dedicated to the legendary Robert Johnson, with Clapton exclusively playing his compositions. Released in 2004, it contains Clapton’s versions of favourites ‘Milkcow’s calf blues’, ‘Love in vain’ and ‘Kind hearted woman blues’.

The Road to Escondido – with JJ Cale: Clapton had over the years popularized two Cale songs ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After midnight’. In this 2006 collaboration, he teams up with his idol on songs like ‘Sporting life blues’, ‘Hard to thrill’, ‘Don’t cry sister’ and ‘Ride the river’. The guests include guitarists Derek Trucks and John Mayer.


Fraser2

Andy Fraser of Free

THE week gone by has been rather sad for rock music, following the death of three outstanding musicians – Toto bassist Mike Porcaro, Free bassist/ pianist Andy Fraser and Twisted Sister drummer A J Pero. While each of them was incredibly talented, they were at their prime in different periods – Fraser in the late 60s and early 70s, Porcaro in the early to mid-1980s, and Pero in the late 1980s.

Followers of good old ‘classic’ rock would remember Fraser’s group Free not only for its rock staple ‘All right now’, but also because it was the earlier band of super-vocalist Paul Rodgers, who made waves in the mid-1970s with Bad Company. In fact, Rodgers is considered one of the greatest rock vocalists ever, but there again, much of his success and memorable songs are due to Bad Company.

On its own, Free was one of the most popular bands on the British circuit, shuffling between early hard rock and blues-influenced rock. It released six studio albums, including the successful ‘Fire and Water’, ‘Highway’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. Besides Rodgers and Fraser, who passed away at age 62, it had the incredible talents of guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke (who also joined Bad Company), and later featured keyboardist John Rabbit Bundrick and bassist Tetsuo Yamauchi.

Yet, barring those who followed Free as part of the late 1960s and early 1970s British rock scene, a large number of people outside the UK and US knew it primarily as Rodgers’ earlier band. Thus, the work of Fraser and Kossoff was somewhat overlooked during their hey days, but recognised only much later, specially when people saw footage of their performance of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. In many cases, Bad Company fans became Free admirers later.

FREE is a classic example of the earlier band of a rock superstar (in this case Rodgers). And come to think of it, there are quite a few examples of such outfits, which were on the one hand admired by a select set in its performing days, but became even more famous because one or two of its members became superstars later.

Here, let’s take a look at 10 such names. This isn’t a complete list, but an ideal starting point for those who want to follow the larger repertoire of the more famous artistes we have idolised over the years.

Yardbirds: An extremely popular group on its own, this also was a launch pad of sorts for guitarists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. Hits included ‘For your love’, ‘Heart full of soul’ and ‘Over under sideways down’.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Mayall was one of the biggest names in the British blues scene in the 1960s, and his group Bluesbreakers included guitarists Clapton, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and bassists John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Jack Bruce of Cream.

Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated: Like Mayall’s group, this outfit launched many stars, including drummers Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and Ginger Baker of Cream. Jack Bruce played with both Bluesbreakers and Blues Incorporated, and he and Baker played with Graham Bond Organisation, before they attained superstardom with Cream, along with Clapton.

Mott The Hoople: Best known as the band featuring guitarist Mick Ralphs, who later made it big with Bad Company. The group also featured guitarists Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, best known for his collaborations with David Bowie.

The Byrds: Hugely popular in the mid-1960s with hits like ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ and its cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, it also was the earlier group of David Crosby, part of the legendary Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Buffalo Springfield: The earlier group of Stephen Stills and Neil Young of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, it also featured Jim Messina who later formed country-rock group Poco and earned fame with the group Loggins & Messina. Interestingly, Poco also featured Springfield’s Richie Furay and bassist Randy Meisner, later of the Eagles.

Flying Burrito Brothers: The earlier group of Eagles founding member and multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon and singer-songwriter Gram Parsons.

The Jeff Beck Group/ Faces: Super-singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood, later of the Rolling Stones, were an integral part of guitarist Jeff Beck’s group, before they formed the Small Faces, which later became the Faces. Interestingly, the Faces also had keyboardist Ian Maclagan, who toured and recorded often with the Stones.

Spencer Davis Group: Best known because it featured keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Steve Winwood and his brother Muff. The group is best known for the songs ‘Gimme some lovin’, ‘Somebody help me’ and ‘Keep on running’. Steve later played a leading role in the groups Traffic and Blind Faith, before embarking on a solo career.

Them: A hugely successful Irish band in the mid-1960s, Them featured vocalist Van Morrison, who became a solo legend in his own right. The band was best known for its anthem ‘Gloria’, and was also a huge influence on the Doors.

AS we said, besides Free, we have cited the examples of 10 such bands which featured future greats. For those interested in the earlier work of these phenomenal musicians, it would be a good idea to check out their songs from their early career. There are a lot of unknown gems left to discover.


dylan

Shadows in the Night

Artiste: Bob Dylan

Genre: Evergreens

Label: Sony Music

Rating: ****


BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?

Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.

Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.

The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”

The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.

Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”

‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.

On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”

The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.

Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.

Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.

In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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