Playing for Change – Where Have I Been?

Fifteen years ago Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke began filming and recording musicians around the world, mixing down their performances into what has become a decade’s worth of joyous covers.  Several zillion YouTube views, a few compilation albums and several live concerts later, I’ve finally caught on to Playing for Change.  Though clearly not conceived as an exercise in collaborating while social distancing, find some inspiration!

First up is a recent production of The Weight, featuring The Band’s own Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, and a bunch of artists I’ll be researching for weeks.

Next is the exquisite Bob Marley track, Redemption Song.  PfC even edited in some original Bob Marley footage.

I’ll close out with What’s Goin’ On, one of those songs we just need at this time. But if you’re totally digging these videos, check out what might be the first in the series, the sunny Chanda Mama, and a song that surprisingly always makes for great covers Gimme Shelter.

He’s BAAACK!

Dear friends,

After a few years with only a few posts, I’m going to take a run at getting Music Now & Then back up and running.  I know all three of my followers out there are jumping for joy!

March 2020 will unfortunately be remembered as the month so many of us around the world shut ourselves in to protect not only ourselves, but our families, our friends and our fellow citizens of this incredibly small planet from the ravages of the alien COVID 19. With new and old forms of entertainment and diversion part of the formula for keeping sane, I humbly offer my small contributions.

With so much rapid fire information – none of it good – assaulting us at this time, let’s burrow into a vein of tranquil sound to transport us to somewhere soothing and calm.   Morcheeba was formed 25 years ago by vocalist Skye Edwards and brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey.   During a seven year run they released four studio albums.  The third, Fragments of Freedom, included “The Sea”.  Relax, maybe sip a drink, and let this one wash over you.

Now go one notch mellower with “Sao Paolo” from their fourth album, Charango.

After a decade of breakups and reunions, Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey are once agin releasing music and touring as Morcheeba.  Here is the first track from their latest album, 2018’s Blaze Away.

Thanks, Walter Becker

Those of us who have been around awhile have seen many musical heroes pass away over the last couple of years, but today’s news of Walter Becker’s death is especially personal to me.  Steely Dan was, is, and always will be my number one.

In part that’s because their coming of age between 1972’s Can’t Buy a Thrill and 1980’s Gaucho corresponded to mine, in part that the jazz filling my parent’s home when I was a child set my ear for Becker and Fagen’s complex work, and in part that my guitar hero worship was locked on the incredible solos Steely Dan teased out of guitar icons on every album.  Mostly, though, it’s because Becker and Fagen’s perfectly crafted pieces of recorded music never grow old for me no matter how many times I listen to them.

What Walter Becker and Donald Fagen each contributed to Steely Dan’s complex musical compositions, poetic and snarky lyrics, and marathon studio efforts is unknown and likely has no answer.  Like Lennon and McCartney, the fusion of Becker’s and Fagen’s talents was complete and their work permanently joins their two names.   Condolences, Donald, for losing your longtime friend and collaborator.

Walter, thanks for a soundtrack that’s brought me so much joy for many decades.   While I can call to mind pretty much every note of every track you created, I’ll send you off with the Dan’s official greatest hit.  No more pristine, perfectly crafted track was ever put on vinyl.

Catching Up With My Favorites

Over the past few years I’ve come across a few artists that have taken places among my favorites.  So this week I’m checking out what’s new with Lake Street Dive, Snarky Puppy and Chris Thile.

In an amazing convergence, Chris Thile performed with Snarky Puppy at a recent live show.  Chris jumps in to play jazz mandolin at about 2:30. You’ll hear Snarky Puppy’s band leader Michael League say, “We got six minutes, Chris Thile you got four-and-a-half!”. Suitable homage from one supremely talented musician to another.

Chris also dropped by the Steven Colbert show where he played his Punch Brothers song “My Oh My” with Jon Batiste & Stay Human. You don’t often get to see Stay Human play a full song, so check out their work including Batiste’s fantastic piano accompaniment. You’ll see why Thile exclaims “This band!”.

Lake Street Dive’s members seem to have taken time over the winter for some side projects.  Listen to Rachel Price tap into her jazz roots with a 1930’s Gershwin Brothers tune, in a duet with Brooklyn-based guitarist/singer Vilray.

And LSD’s base player, song writer, backing singer and all around super talented Bridget Kearney put out her own album “Won’t Let You Down” a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the video from “Wash Up”.

Roland TR-808 – Iconic Drum Machine

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation, died on April 1st at the age of 87.  Roland has produced a huge range of electronic musical instruments and effects since its founding in 1972, and Kakehashi developed MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that sits at the heart of electronic instrument communication. But no product or invention by Kakehashi and Roland has had more impact on popular music than the TR-808 drum machine.

Manufactured for three years beginning in 1980, the 808 has been used by innumerable artists for nearly 40 years, and it’s said that the 808 is to hip hop what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock and roll.  The 808 was built just before sampling became widespread and produced 16 synthesized approximations to sounds from a bass drum to a handclap.

The first hit record to use the 808 appears to have been Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” from 1982.   Listen to the opening bars and you’ll immediately recognize the iconic sounds.

Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock”, also from 1982, is credited with cementing the 808 into hip hop’s early vocabulary.

Whitney Houston used the 808 to set the beat for her 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.

In 2008, Kanye West built his fourth studio album around the sounds of the 808, and even named the album “808’s and Heartbreaks”. The drum loop in “Say You Will” is all 808.

If you want to get the full scoop on this history of this important piece of technology, here is the trailer to “808” the movie!