On Christmas Day, bluegrass legend Tony Rice passed away. His career began 50 years ago, and he helped define the progressive end of the genre. Here is Tony on stage in 1988 with a group of young musicians who have become legends in their own rights.
The banjo player on stage is Bela Fleck, who would form the progressive jazz group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in that same year of 1988. The fellow with the awesome hat is Roy “Future Man” Wooten, playing percussion on the SynthAxeDrumitar. His incredible brother Victor is on bass.
The dobro player on stage is Jerry Douglas, the undisputed master of that instrument. He’s played with artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Ray Charles to Elvis Costello, and is a regular member of Alison Krauss and Union Station. Here’s Jerry interpreting Paul Simon’s “American Tune”.
The fiddle player on stage is Mark O’Connor, who has recorded 45 albums in as many years. His recordings have made the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass charts. Here’s O’Connor playing with the Boston Pops.
And lest we get away without paying enough attention to Tony Rice, here he plays “Shenandoah” after an intro music lesson. Skip to 1:40 if you want to bypass the lesson, but don’t skip the beautiful guitar playing.
The 2021 Grammy nominations were announced on Tuesday, and rather than the big news being who wasnominated, the buzz has been about who was snubbed. High level – sales and popularity don’t count for much.
Tops on the snub list is The Weeknd. His single “Blinding Lights” from After Hours set a new record for most weeks in Billboard’s top 10, 40, and the video below has been viewed nearly 300 million times on YouTube. Nary a Grammy nom for The Weeknd. Maybe it’s all the blood.
K-pop superstars BTS released their first single in English this year, and the video has been watched 650 million times on YouTube. In fact, the video broke the YouTube record for most concurrent viewers when it debuted – over 3 million. The song earned them their first Grammy nomination, in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance catagory, but nothing more.
Getting a lot of press today for her negative comments on the Grammy process, Halsey has never been nominated for a Grammy for her own music. Her third studio album Manic, released in January of this year, was her best seller out of the blocks. It includes “Without Me”, her top single of all time that has racked up nearly 500 million views.
My last post was about Elton John’s Jewel Box collection due out in two weeks, but this past Friday Joni Mitchell beat him to the market with a 5-disk box set of her own. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) features her very earliest recordings and wraps up before the release of her first album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull.
Rolling Stone has a nice article on the box set that links to an August 1965 recording of Joni’s first original composition, “Day After Day”. Joni had been singing folk songs in cafes in her native Calgary, and this song, her vocals and guitar playing sound very much born out of that background.
Less than two years later, in March 1967, Joni recorded this performance of “Both Sides Now”. It was not long after Mitchell had written the song and about the same time Judy Collins released her Grammy Award winning version. Witness Mitchell’s rapid evolution as a writer, lyricist, singer, and musician with a unique style as you compare this performance to “Day After Day”.
Apologies to Joni for bringing up Elton John twice in her post, but since announcing his Jewel Box collection, Sir Elton put out a really special recording not included in that set. “Come Down in Time” from Tumbleweed Connection, an album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a personal favorite. This jazz version apparently was recorded before the album version, and it features an extended jazz improvisation.
Jack White was the musical guest on last night’s Saturday Night Live, and in a possessed six-minute performance he threaded together a full century of music history of mixed genres, as only this musicologist can. The performance starts with lines from the “Don’t Hurt Yourself” collaboration he did with Beyoncé for her Lemonade album, shifted into “Ball and Biscuit” from the White Stripe’s Elephant album, and quoted lyrics from Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus is Coming Soon”, a 1928 gospel song about the Spanish Flu epidemic.
So, here you go with the SNL performance, followed by Beyoncé’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, a live performance of “Ball and Biscuit”, and the original “Jesus is Coming”. The full lyrics to Johnson’s song are straight out of today’s headlines.
White’s second performance last night included a nod to Eddie Van Halen, who passed away on Tuesday. White played his own tune “Lazaretto” on an EVH brand guitar, and did some “tapping” at 2:40 – the stylistic touch Van Halen perfected if not invented.
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“.