Doug “Cosmo” Clifford was the drummer for the legendary band, Creedence Clearwater Revival – recording seven studio albums, and charting 12 songs in the Top 40, many like “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son,” woven into the fabric of our American culture. He helped keep that music alive in the concert scene with bassist Stu Cook in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – a band that just hung up their shoes last year.
With a little extra time on his hands, Clifford did some spring cleaning and came across a stack of tapes that he’d forgotten about – among them a solo album that he recorded back in 1985, but never released called Magic Window. Now, 35 years later, that record is finally getting its release.
We chat about the early beginnings of CCR, what a crazy year 1969 was for the band (3 albums and a historic performance at Woodstock), and how some of his musical buddies have been holding up during this pandemic.
When the Allman Brothers Band’s debut album arrived in 1969, it sounded like nothing else – an amalgamation of southern blues, hippie rock and jazz improvisation. But brothers Duane and Gregg had been honing their craft for years before, perfecting this blend of disparate styles. Four albums from Allman Brothers Band Records reveal their road to greatness – through experimentation and detours. Each is making their digital debut.
Allman Joys – Early Allman
This is the brothers’ earliest recordings, dating back to 1966, when Duane and Gregg were fresh out of high school. “Gotta Get Away” is an excellent slice of driving, garage rock, with Duane on distorted guitar, but Gregg is so young, you can’t even tell it’s him. “Oh John,” another original, is kind odd with its strange chord changes and keyboard sounds. It was actually recorded at the legendary Bradley’s Barn! “Street Singer” a Roy Acuff composition, is slow but interesting. “You’ll Learn Someday” a Gregg original, has a decent chorus. But, why “Ol Man River”?
Way before “Bell Bottom Blues,” Gregg wrote “Bell Bottom Britches,” a so-so original. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” is really good and actually got some radio play. Although the track sounds out of phase. All of a sudden, on “Doctor Fone Bone,” Gregg actually sounds like himself. These tracks were all released in 1973, but have been out of print ever since.
Hourglass – 1967
This early Allman band featured Gregg on organ and vocals and brother Duane on guitar (although you can barely tell he’s there quite often). Also of note is Johnny Sandlin on drums, a frequent collaborator of the Allmans over the years.
The album leads off with “Out of the Night,” not even 2 minutes in length, it’s a decent slice of horn-driven blue-eyed soul – but no Duane on this track at all. “Nothing But Tears” does feature some soloing from Duane, but he sounds handcuffed. “Love Makes the World Go Round” is a decent take on the Deon Jackson song, but the background vocals are kinda cheesy and this cover doesn’t really add anything to the original.
Also on the record is a very early Jackson Browne composition called “Cast Off All My Fears” – Duane has a pretty cool fuzz guitar here. This sounds more like the Beau Brummels or something like that, then real soul. They do Curtis Mayfield’s “I’ve Been Trying” but Gregg is struggling to sound older, and the track sounds forced. “Heartbeat” is tepid, just not passionate. The production is watery and no punch.
Not surprising, the most rockin’ thing on here is a Gregg Allman original, another version of “Gotta Get Away,” this time featuring some searing Duane guitar, a juiced up, and a pounding beat; it’s the best thing on the record. Unfortunately, it’s still not as good as the original cut as the Allman Joys.
Any momentum is soon lost by the banjo-led Del Shannon cover “Silently” – ugh. Then comes “Bells,” with a spoken piece and fazed out guitar – this is just dreadful. What the band lacked was a real solid direction.
Hourglass – Power of Love
We have producer Dallas Smith to blame for the atrocity that was Hourglass’ debut. He was brought back for the followup, Power of Love, but he seems to have given more creative control to the band this time around. The album cover featured testimonials from Neil Young and Stephen
Stills, who were both in Buffalo Springfield at the time.
Things have gelled better in the year since their debut. Gregg’s singing is more assured, the band sounds more confident, and everything appears more together. “Power of Love” is actually decent song. It’s not a direct soul rip off, but something different, and Duane is allowed to add some tasty fills. It was penned by the Muscle Shoals’ gods Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. But most of the record is written by Gregg. “To Things Before” has the same chord progression that would be used to better effect on the Allman’s “Melissa” and has echoey background effects which are unnecessary.
A lot of these songs are just not memorable, Gregg was still finding his way. “Changing of the Guard” is so so, and an okay chorus saves “I’m Not Afraid.” “I Can’t Stand Alone” is better, maybe a little too poppy a chorus, but it’s progress, and how bout that fuzz guitar from Duane! The horns are mostly gone and so are the cheesy background vocals – also a marked improvement over their debut. Eddie Hinton’s “Down in Texas” is much closer to the blues rock of the Allmans. “I Still Want Your Love” is an atypical Gregg song, it’s actually bouncy – but it does feature a gritty vocal.
Their cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” got the exposure on the Allman Brothers box set years ago. This jazzy interpretation is just instrumental, and features Duane on sitar
Duane and Gregg
These tracks feature future Allman drummer Butch Trucks and were done as demos for the band 31st of February. “Morning Dew” features some electrifying guitar from Duane. The sessions were helmed by former teen idol Steve Alaimo. “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” sounds like a garage recording. “Down in Texas” is a better version of the Eddie Hinton song that they cut with Hourglass.
Most importantly, this is the first appearance of the Allman Brother classic “Melissa.” Gregg’s voice is a little tentative here, but the Duane fills are very nice. The arrangement is delicate and the chords are slightly different in the middle section. The very next track, “I’ll Change For You” sounds like a variation on Melissa, with similar chords and feel. In fact, much of this material is gentle in nature. “Back Down Home With You” is better, more soulful.
The tapes for this record are in pretty bad shape, with drop outs and loss of sound in channels, definitely apparent when you listen in earbuds. The driving “Well I Know” is the closest to something that the Allmans would become, Duane does a pretty nice solo.
All in all, there’s at least a couple of revealing tracks on all four releases. If you’re a dedicated Allman fan, these are definitely worth adding to your collection. —Tony Peters
Lisa Mills is a soul/blues singer who belts out her music in a raw, melodic and soulfully-honest way with blues, gospel and soul influences. Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, she now lives in Alabama. We first talked with Lisa back with her I’m Changing album in 2014.
Her latest project, you might call a soul/blues tour de force – The Triangle. With the guidance of producer Fred Mollin, the idea was to travel, in one week’s time, to three different musical hotbeds – Memphis, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and record there. But, they took this idea a step further – only recording songs that were originally recorded in each of those cities. The result is easily the finest, most passionate set of songs Lisa has ever put together.
We chat with Lisa from her temporary home in Germany about picking all the great soul covers on the album, plus how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the album’s promotion.
Marty Stuart has won multiple Grammys, had big hits on the Country charts, like “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” with Travis Tritt, and has played with a who’s who of country legends. In 1999, Stuart recorded a concept album called The Pilgrim. Based on true events from his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the album is a story of tragedy, loss and redemption. Featuring guest performances from Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, and more, it was a heady project for sure.
Unfortunately, the album was deemed out of step by his then-record label, who didn’t know what to do with it. Yet, the album’s commercial failure help set Stuart on a truer path musically. Now, 20 years later, he’s revisiting project in a beautiful, hard cover book called The Pilgrim, a Wall to Wall Odyssey from BMG books. The 187 page coffee table item is chock full of essays about the writing and recording process, plus fantastic photographs, many that Stuart took himself. In addition, the set comes with a bonus CD of this landmark album.
We talk to Stuart about the events that led to The Pilgrim, how he chose the guest artists, and what advice Johnny Cash gave him after the album’s commercial failure.
With the release of first the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and then A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), we’ve been reminded of the genius of Mister Rogers. Omnivore Recordings first put out It’s Such a Good Feeling last year, which collected songs from various releases over his career. Now, they dig deeper with a quartet of albums that Rogers released, all four making their digital debut.
You Are Special
Coming and Going
Honestly, now more than ever, the world needs Mister Rogers. His sheer brilliance was right there in front of us the whole time. But, we were too busy being adults. Now, when we feel our most vulnerable, just like a child, it’s music that touches us deep, and gives us comfort.
Three of the albums came out in 1992, followed by Coming and Going, which came out in 1997. Each album is only loosely based on the title. Mostly, it’s just Rogers doing his thing.
He’s backed, as always, by the multitalented Johnny Costa, who is talking and singing too – just on the piano. These recordings, just like the TV show, are a dialogue, not just between Rogers and his audiencem but also between Rogers and Costa. Also part of his erstwhile band is Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion.
Each disc opens with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and closes with “You Are Special,” providing a familiar bookend.
When he spells out the word FRIEND in “You Are Special” or asks questions like “why aren’t live babies like my other toys” in “Some Things I Don’t Understand,” you realize Rogers had an ability to relate to exactly how a child felt.
He also tells stories, like on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – but here we get to see his genius. We know in the story, the girl ate porridge, but he changed it to “lunch” – far more understandable for everyone. The accents of the story are punctuated by Johnny Costa’s melodic piano. Again, at the end of the story, there’s changes. The bears made their beds, fixed Baby Bear’s chair and divided the remaining lunch. Then, they discussed how afraid having Goldilocks in their house was.
“I’m a Man Who Manufactures” features some great piano, we just take it for granted. This was the first introduction to jazz for thousands of little people.
“It’s You I Like” – Rogers isn’t a gifted vocalist, but there’s such a warmth in these recordings – even as adults, you can’t help but get goosebumps. His gift is capturing the wonder of children, like in “Pretending.”
He’s also not afraid to tackle very complex emotions too, like with “The Truth Will Make Me Free,” which deals with why we shouldn’t hide our feelings.
“You Are Growing,” the classic title track, somehow has this genuine yearning. “Are You Brave” is the kind of song that we need during troubling times. “Are you brave above and under especially when you’re inside out.” He reminds kids to take their time growing up before the addition lesson of “One and One Are Two.”
Time and again, Rogers deals with unsavory feelings, like fear, as in “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny.” He not only says it’s ok to feel that way, he assures that you’re not the only one who feels that way. The same goes for dealing with anger in “What Do You Do”? Rogers doesn’t sweep these feelings under the rug. Instead, he assures us that it’s normal to feel that way.
Sophisticated thoughts like “Sometimes People Are Good,” approach the complex idea that things aren’t black and white – sometimes people are good and those same people are bad. Yet, he has this way of explaining things so that everyone gets it.
“Going to Marry Mom” is cute, covering a feeling that a lot of us boys who admired our mothers feel. That’s followed by the silly “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”
From the album Bedtime, when Rogers sings “I’m Taking Care of You,” it doesn’t sound corny, it sounds reassuring. “I Like to Be Told” expresses everyone’s desire to know what’s coming next.
The sweetness of “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” – in the hands of a more adept vocalist, this could’ve been a hit song – the lyrics are beautiful. “Many Ways to Say I Love You” – who thought that there’s the “cooking way” or the “eating way” to say those three words? “Nighttime Sounds” normalizes the evening noises that can be scary.
The Coming and Going album came out five years later in 1997. By this point, Rogers’ voice seems a little raspy. Whimsical songs like “I Like Someone Who Looks Like You,” are intermingled with “Be Brave, Be Strong” to a light, marching beat, exuding confidence. “Look and Listen” is another one of his classic of tunes, while “I Like to Take My Time” lopes along with Costa adding accents.
There’s a pair of complex thoughts here too – “I’m Still Myself Inside” and “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True.” Rogers shows off his ability to change his voice on songs like “Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft” and “Museum Wares.”
In a world that seems crazier than ever, it’s too bad we no longer have a daily visit to Mister Rogers Neighborhood. But, he did leave us plenty of comfort and direction in these fine recordings. —Tony Peters
Out of Chicago come The Claudettes – their music grabs elements of jazz, blues, surf rock and punk, and the results are what the band likes to call “garage cabaret.” They’ve just recorded their fifth record, called High Times in the Dark, for Forty Below Records. It was helmed by Ted Hutt, who’s produced Old Crow Medicine Show, the Violent Femmes and the Dropkick Murphys.
The results of the collaboration is easily their best album to date – a perfect showcase for singer Berit Ulseth. Johnny Iguana is the keyboardist, he also writes all the songs. He has an impressive list of collaborations, including being Junior Wells’ piano player, as well as stints with BB King and Buddy Guy.
Canadian rocker Sass Jordan is probably best known in the States for a pair of gritty albums in the mid-90’s and hit singles like “Make You a Believer” and “High Road Easy.” She won a Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of 1989, she’s portrayed Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love Janis, and she dueted with Joe Cocker on a song from the Bodyguard soundtrack. But, all along, the best word to describe Sass is REAL.
Her latest project, Rebel Moon Blues, embodies that description, featuring seven blues covers, casting a wide net over the genre – from Willie Dixon and Elmore James, to Rory Gallagher and Taj Mahal. Plus, she’s written a brand new original that fits in perfect with this hallowed material. Everything was done live in the studio with her signature, whiskey-soaked vocals over top.
Sass talks about the origin of this project and the fun process of picking the songs. Plus she talks about how she was able to have raw rock hits, even during the height of Grunge.
Robin McAuley is probably best known for his stint in the McAuley Schenker Group in the late 80s/early 90s – putting songs on rock radio like “Anytime” and “When I’m Gone.” McAuley has also spent time in Grand Prix, Survivor and Far Corporation.
His latest project is a star-studded affair – Black Swan features McAuley on lead vocals along with Reb Beach of Winger and Whitesnake on guitars, Jeff Pilson of Dokken and Foreginer on bass, and Matt Starr of Ace Frehley and Mr. Big on drums. The combination of all four of these great musicians manages to sound both familiar and fresh.
McAuley talks about how this all-star lineup came about, how vampires inspired one of the new songs, and how he almost died earlier in the year!
2020 marks Johnny Mathis’ 64th anniversary as a recording artist. He has never stopped touring and recording since his first album was released back in 1956. “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful” are just a smattering of his timeless hits.
He continues to stay busy in many ways – he’s recently dueted with both Freda Payne and Dionne Warwick on two new songs, plus Second Disc and Real Gone Music have been reissuing some of Johnny’s albums from the Seventies, including a “lost” record with him and the funk band Chic. In addition, he’s recently guested on the season finale of Criminal Minds.
Johnny is currently on the road with his Voice of Romance Tour, coming to a city near you.
We talk with Mathis about the “Voice of Romance” moniker, plus he tells us how he beat out NBA legend Bill Russell in a high jumping competition (and what he thinks of the hoopster’s singing ability!). Mathis also talks about his other interests outside of music and gives us the story behind his classic song, “Misty.”
Marshall Crenshaw has spent the last 40 years creating memorable, melodic-laden rock songs, scoring hits with songs like “Someday, Someway” and “Whenever You’re on My Mind.” Plus, he co-wrote “Til I Hear it From You,” a big hit for the Gin Blossoms, and he’s had several bit parts in some Hollywood movies, like La Bamba and Peggy Sue Got Married.
Well everything old is new again – when Crenshaw was issuing albums in the 1990’s and early 2000s, vinyl was dead – so those records only came out on CD. Now, he’s regained the rights to those albums and has started reissuing them, with bonus tracks – and on…you guessed it, vinyl. The first in the series of reissues is Crenshaw’s 1996 album, Miracle of Science, which also features some brand new material.