Artwork in music is mostly an afterthought these days. A small, thumbnail photo shows up when we stream a song from our phone. But, for decades when vinyl was king, album covers played a crucial role in the success of a record. Think about what Sgt. Pepper or Led Zeppelin IV or Dark Side of the Moon would be without the packaging.
Bob Heimall was responsible for creating some of the most iconic LP art from artists like the Doors, Carly Simon, Jim Croce and John Lennon, and he showcases it in his book, Cover Stories – Tales of Rock Legends and the Albums That Made Them Famous.
He talks about taking a job with Elektra Records and almost immediately dealing with Jim Morrison and the Doors. He also tells us how he helped Carly Simon, who was a brand new artist at the time, develop her image. He also talks about having to put together albums from Jim Croce and John Lennon after both passed away.
Jefferson Starship – Sidney High School – 10/24/21
Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Mickey Thomas – Jefferson Starship has had some extraordinary vocalists pass through their band.
Add Cathy Richardson to the list.
The 52-year old singer played the lead role in the off-Broadway musical, Love Janis, several years ago, then joined J. Starship back in 2008. Her voice is a force of nature.
On a rainy, Sunday night about an hour north of Dayton, I was not sure what to expect here.
The band opened with “Find Your Way Back,” and I swear it sounded like Thomas was up there singing. I’m not talking about direct copying, but Richardson just nailed it. She seems to know just what to give each song. She was tender on “Miracles,” yet boisterous on “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
David Freiberg, the remaining founding member, is 31 years Richardson’s senior (!), but was absolutely amazing as well. His role in the band has changed over the years, sometimes playing bass or keyboards in the past, but here he sang.
And boy did he sing.
The band paid tribute to those great Balin ballads, like “Count on Me,” “With Your Love,” and “Runaway,” and the 83-year old sang every one of them. And those songs aren’t easy to pull off.
Jefferson Starship is touring in support of an album they released last year called Mother of the Sun, and the pair of tunes, “It’s About Time” (sung by Richardson, and co-written by Grace Slick), and “Setting Sun” (written and sung by Freiberg), fit in excellently with the band’s older material.
Guitarist Jude Gold gave a nod to the Airplane days, taking a solo performance of “Embroynic Journey” (which originally appeared on the album Surrealistic Pillow).
Freiberg sang the rocker “Jane,” which he co-wrote, before they unleashed their show-stopper – Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” – and Richardson just let her voice loose on their one. Just wow.
Even though the band has gone through multiple lineup changes, they are obviously in the capable hands of the stellar Richardson and the ageless Freiberg (who’s FIVE years older than Mick Jagger).
I was thoroughly impressed. This incarnation of Jefferson Starship is the real deal. —Tony Peters
Jefferson Starship has gone through a lot of changes over the years. First, rising from the ashes of the previous Jefferson Airplane, it was a vehicle for Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg.
Over the years, and numerous lineup changes, the band scored many hits, like “Miracles,” “Count on Me,” “Find Your Way Back,” and “Jane,” which was co-written by Freiberg.
The band is currently out on the road in support of their brand new album called Mother of the Sun, and from the band, we welcome David Freiberg and vocalist Cathy Richardson.
We talk the new album, which features several nods to the past, including a brand new song, “It’s About Time,” co-written with Slick, and another song written by former vocalist Marty Balin. The album also features a live version of “Embryonic Journey,” a song dating all the way back to the Jefferson Airplane days.
Chris Hillman is one of the unsung heroes of popular music. Starting out as bassist for the Byrds, the band was part of the American answer to the Beatles, electrifying the lyrics of Bob Dylan on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but showing they could write trailblazing material of their own in songs like “Eight Miles High.”
Hillman introduced Gram Parsons to the band and their all-country Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the result. Hillman followed Parsons to the Flying Burrito Brothers, also took part in the Stephen Stills-led Manassas, recorded some solo records and eventually found surprising success on the country charts with the Desert Rose Band in the 1980’s. Hillman chronicled all of this in Time Between – My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother and Beyond from BMG Books, now out in paperback, and as an audio book, narrated by the author, from Random House Audio.
He talks about recording little snippets of songs he was involved in exclusively for the audio book. He also tells us about a pivotal session he did with Hugh Masekela that helped give him confidence as a musician. And, he discusses the anniversary concert for Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Before the mid-90’s success of the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller were part of the Bootheels, a quartet led by bassist/vocalist Luther Russell. Although the group’s time was short – they only played a handful of gigs, they left behind some incendiary music – documented in 1988: the Original Demos from Omnivore Recordings.
Russell later formed the Freewheelers before joining Big Star drummer Jody Stephens in the Those Pretty Wrongs. Bootheel drummer Aaron Brooks would later work with Moby, Lana Del Rey and others.
We chat with Russell about the crazy circumstances that led to the forming of the band, how their rehearsal space evolved into a small, but packed-out concert venue, and why the Replacements were such a huge influence on the group. He also talks about upcoming projects, both solo and with Stephens.
New England singer/songwriter Dar Williams has been putting out music for over 30 years. She’s played with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ani DiFranco and Joan Baez, among others. She’s also written several books, including What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities – One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open Mic Night At a Time.
Her latest album is her first in six years, called I’ll Meet You Here. We talk about the inspiration for many of the songs on the record, including “You Give It All Away,” which deals with the current state of streaming music, and “Today and Every Day,” which talks about the little things we can do save the world. She also revisits a song from her very first album, “You’re Aging Well.”
Tito Jackson is part of one of the most talented musical families in history, the Jacksons. With the Jackson 5, their first four singles for Motown Records all went to Number One, including “I Want You Back,” and “ABC.”
After leaving Motown in the mid-Seventies, Tito began showcasing his multiple talents, writing songs, playing guitar and keyboards on many albums, especially those of his family members. But, it wasn’t until 2017 that he put out his first solo record, Tito Time.
Now he’s back with a brand new project, Under Your Spell, and it’s star-studded affair, with contributions from Stevie Wonder, Joe Bonamassa, George Benson, Eddie Levert and more.
We talk with Jackson about the project and how he coaxed legendary producers Gamble and Huff out of retirement to pen one of the songs on the new record. He also tells the story of how, as a young boy, he broke a string on his father’s guitar – an act that got the ball rolling for the Jackson 5.
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Craft Recordings)
The album that started it all – reissued on “grass green” vinyl!
The most famous jazz instrumental of all time isn’t by Miles Davis or John Coltrane, it’s from an unassuming pianist and his trio. Vince Guaraldi composed “Linus and Lucy” in 1964 for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a television special that amazingly never got released. Yet, the album introduced us to this rollicking piece of music, which has become synonymous with the Peanuts’ franchise. It also paved the way for A Charlie Brown Christmas, one of the most famous holiday albums ever recorded, which came out the following year.
Craft Recordings has just issued a “Baseball Card Edition” on “grass green vinyl” (referring to the front cover of Charlie Brown, sitting on top of the pitcher’s mound). This version is exclusively available at Target stores, and comes with a sheet of eight baseball cards, depicting the various Peanuts characters. The card backs are especially fun, revealing that Charlie Brown has never won a game, Lucy’s fielding average is .000, and Snoopy’s favorite sandwich is a Hero.
The music, outside the aforementioned “Linus and Lucy,” is less familiar, but just as enjoyable. Guaraldi had a way of creating melodies that are friendly and fun – something often elusive in the jazz genre.
“Oh Good Grief” sets the mood, with its walking bass of Monty Budwig, followed by the bossa nova of “Pebble Beach” (which reminds me of the old standard, “That Old Feeling”). Guaraldi is all over the piano here, but still manages to not sound “busy.” The Charlie Brown character seems to do a great deal of contemplating and “Happiness Is” is perfect for his self reflection. “Schroeder” is clever in referencing his idol, Beethoven, while the gentle “Charlie Brown Theme” gently swings.
Side two opens with “Linus and Lucy” – it’s funny, it’s called A Boy Named Charlie Brown, but in typical “Charlie Brown fashion,” others steal the show. Colin Bailey’s ride cymbal really jumps out on this vinyl release.
“Blue Charlie Brown” is the longest piece on the album, clocking in at over seven minutes. Guaraldi hits some “blue” notes, and both Budwig and Bailey stretch out here, really catching a groove. “Baseball Theme” is once again playful, perfect accompaniment for the kids’ game, and their shenanigans. The album closes with “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair).” Here, Guaraldi lets his playing swirl behind the swinging rhythm section.
Craft Recordings always go above and beyond on their vinyl reissues, and this is no exception. Mastered specifically for vinyl from the analog tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. The biggest difference is the double bass really jumps out on this version, giving a fat, warm bottom end.
Just as he did with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi creates instrumentals that are warm and inviting. You don’t have to be a fan of jazz to enjoy this. In fact, that’s kind of the point here. It’s jazz for people that don’t like jazz. Yet, this also isn’t a dumbed down version of the genre either. And that’s Guaraldi’s gift, it’s music for everyone. If you’re a fan of the Peanuts’ specials (and who isn’t???), A Boy Named Charlie Brown should be in your collection. The special green vinyl and baseball cards make it even more fun. —Tony Peters
Donna Loren was a fixture of the 1960’s. She was chosen as the Dr. Pepper girl after a nationwide search, and appeared in numerous TV commercials over a span of five years. She also starred in several Beach Party movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, including Beach Blanket Bingo, where she sang her signature song, “It Only Hurts When I Cry.”
Loren was a featured vocalist on the weekly music show, Shindig! and shared the stage with many popular artists of the Sixties. She was signed by Capitol Records and released several singles, was a guest star on manyl TV shows, like Batman, the Monkees and Gomer Pyle, and even designed her own clothes. She did all this before walking away from show business to raise a family in the late Sixties. Whew!
Laura Nyro – Go Find the Moon – The Audition Tape (Omnivore Recordings)
The first steps of a singular artist
The year is 1966, five years before Tapestry; a time when women weren’t really taken seriously as artists. In this climate, Laura Nyro, an 18-year old from the Bronx, who sang, played piano and wrote her own songs, auditioned for two record executives. This brief, but revelatory recording has just been issued as Go Find the Moon – The Audition Tape from Omnivore Recordings.
The first song she showcases is also one of her most enduring. “And When I Die” was first sold to Peter, Paul & Mary later in the year, then featured on Nyro’s debut, More Than a New Discovery in 1967, before being taken to #2 on the Billboard charts in a rendition by Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1968. Here, the demo version is rollicking, and the tempo speeds up and slows as she sings. She sounds young, but exudes confidence beyond her years.
That assurance wanes for an instant as she struggles to play “Lazy Susan.” She recovers nicely with the soulful “Enough of You,” one of a trio of songs on here that she never officially recorded. She’s pouring herself into this, you can just feel it. Another of the unreleased tunes is “In and Out,” which is only a brief snippet, but you get to hear her falsetto.
The set is named after the last of the unreleased songs, “Go Find the Moon,” and for good reason – it’s spellbinding. Nyro alternates between gutsy blues and soaring show tune-inspired vocals. This song alone justifies picking up this collection.
“Luckie” is another song that would appear later – opening her sophomore album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. This nascent version isn’t really more straightforward as just missing the intricate tempo changes that would accompany the released version.
Toward the end of the audition, you can hear the exec ask her
“Do you do any songs other than those that you’ve written”?
To which she abruptly replies
They ask again
“you don’t know any pop songs? “Stardust”? “Moon River”?
Then Laura responds,
“Of course I know there are other songs, and I know a few lines from each one…maybe.”
At this point she attempts to play snippets (and I do mean snippets) of three songs, “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “Kansas City,” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” But, all these fragments show is just how laser-focused Nyro was as an artist. She wasn’t interested in doing songs by other people and even if she did, those songs still sound like Laura Nyro and no one else.
She ends off by playing one last of her compositions, the gorgeous “Lazy Susan,” this time making it through the entire song.
Here is Laura Nyro, her soulful, sweeping voice and her piano, not tethered to any rhythm or pattern, except her own. And, her songs – chronicling the misfits of the New York underground. Can you imagine what must’ve been going through these two executives’ minds?
Go Find the Moon is brief, clocking in at under twenty minutes. Yet, there’s so much magic here, especially in the three unreleased songs. We get to hear the first steps, some confident, a few tentative, of one of the most unique artists in history. —Tony Peters