Happy 65th Nick Lowe!

This week we indulge in a bit of nostalgia for a true rock hero, Nick Lowe. One of the central figures of New Wave music in the late ’70s, Lowe is a musician, singer, songwriter, producer who’s done great work for decades.

In 1979 Lowe wrote a song that became a big hit for Elvis Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. The track appeared on the U.S. release of Costello’s third album “Armed Forces”, one of five albums that Lowe produced for Costello. The video below includes Lowe sitting in with Costello in 1987. The lyrics are for all time.

Lowe also wrote “Cruel to Be Kind” in 1979, and it appeared on Lowe’s second album, “Labour of Lust”.  The video is apparently a reenactment of Lowe’s wedding to Carlene Cash (playing herself in the video), granddaughter of Johnny Cash.  Dave Edmunds, another icon of New Wave and bandmate of Lowe’s in Rockpile, plays the limo driver.

Fun fact: both of Lowe’s songs were among the videos played on MTV’s first day of broadcasting on August 1, 1981.

In 1987 Nick played on John Hiatt’s album “Bring the Family”, a recording that marked the beginning of the upward trajectory in Hiatt’s tremendous career. The other musicians who played on that album were guitar virtuoso and musicologist Ry Cooder, and session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner. That lineup came together again to release an album as “Little Village” in 1992. Here’s a performance of “Fool Who Knows” featuring Lowe on vocals.

Lowe’s latest effort, released in October 2013, was a Christmas album. His voice is clear as ever. While it’s a bit late (or early) to play Christmas music, file the thought away and just listen to a bit of this track.

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Danny Gatton – The Greatest Guitarist You Never Heard Of

Been waiting to write this post all year.  September 4th was the birthday of the late Danny Gatton – the best guitarist the world never heard of and one of the best guitarists of all time, period.  Nicknamed “The Humbler”, Gatton combined dazzling technique with his own creative fusion of rockabilly, blues, jazz, country and a bit of everything else.

He grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and spent much of his life playing close to home. His aversion to touring may have been a major factor in his lack of commercial success, but he was a musician’s musician. Legend and innovator Les Paul said of Gatton, “He could do anything the other guy could do … and do it better”.

“Funhouse” from his 1993 album “Cruisin’ Deuces” shows Gatton’s massive technique delivering tasty solos that don’t easily fit into any genre.

Gatton’s closest brush with mainstream fame may have been his Grammy nomination for the track “Elmira Street Boogie” which showed off his bluesy, rockabilly side.

For those who got to see Danny play live, a favorite stage trick was his slide work with a beer bottle. His solo starts around 4:20 in this video, and don’t worry about the beer dripping from the fretboard of his Fender Telecaster – at around 5:30 he cleans it up!

Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello!

Since his first single was released in March 1977, Elvis Costello has remained a prolific artist ranging all over the musical spectrum.   His new album “Wise Up Ghost” is due out in mid-September, and it’s a collaboration with hip hop legends The Roots.   The collaboration was conceived when Costello performed on the Jimmy Fallon late-night TV show, where The Roots gig as the house band.

The first track from the new album, “Walk Us Uptown”, will certainly whet your appetite to hear the full release.  Costello’s sinister vocals coupled with Questlove’s drums and jazzy Roots bass lines are an intoxicating mix.

The title of Costello’s first album “My Aim Is True” was drawn from the 5th track “Alison”.  While “Alison” was not a hit single at the time, it’s become a favorite in Elvis’ catalog.  Give a listen and then listen to “Less Than Zero”, his first hit from that same album.

And finally, Questlove published a memoir in June 2013 titled “Mo’ Meta Blues”. Here’s a link to the New York Times review The Big Man Under the Afro, and His Music.

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Happy Birthday, Sir Elton!

March 25th is Elton John’s birthday – he turns 66.  He’s expected to release a new studio album later in 2013, but his most recent efforts involve a collaboration with the Australian electronic dance duo Pnau.  In the 2012 release “Good Morning to the Night – Elton John vs Pnau”, samples from John’s catalog are woven into new electronica tracks.

The first video below is an interview with John, Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes telling the story of how they got together and what they’re up to. The second clip is Pnau’s “Phoenix” that pulls heavily from “Grey Seal”.  Click here (Pnau ) to get to  the Pnau artist page with a link to the title track of the new album.

Elton John shares a birthday with Aretha Franklin (Happy 71st Queen of Soul!), and the two appeared together for a benefit concert / TV special 20 years ago.  Half way through this clip you’ll see a chorus of superstars who sang at the event.

Couldn’t finish this post without including a favorite song from a favorite Elton John album. “Come Down in Time” is a gem from the flawless “Tumbleweed Connection”.

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