Billy Vera has spent his entire life in the entertainment business. Although he is best known for his 1987 surprise #1 hit “At This Moment,” he’s also had roles in many movies and TV shows, and he’s written and performed some of the themes for those TV shows. But, it doesn’t stop there.
Vera has had a long career as a voice-over announcer, so odds are you’ve probably heard him at one time or another. He’s also an avid record collector and music historian who’s penned the liner notes to many collections and box sets, even winning a Grammy for his work on a Ray Charles set. His twists and turns are documented in his new book, Harlem to Hollywood from Backbeat Books.
He talks about what he learned from having both of his parents in the entertainment business growing up, how the first song he ever got published became a hit for Ricky Nelson. We also discuss what it was like winning over the hard-to-please crowd at the legendary Apollo Theater, getting signed to Atlantic Records, and writing a #1 hit for Dolly Parton.
Of course, we save room to get the story behind how the TV show Family Ties helped propel a six-year old non-hit of his to the top of the charts.
NRBQ has been making music, some brilliant, some downright indescribable, for over 50 years now. All Hopped Up is their fifth album, originally issued in 1977, and it’s finally been reissued by Omnivore Recordings, who even found some bonus tracks.
From their 1969 debut album, NRBQ specialized in genre-hopping, mixing party rockers alongside avant-garde jazz, while tender ballads rubbed shoulders with novelty numbers.
That eclecticism certainly prevented the band from gaining much traction or mass popularity, but it made for interesting albums and incendiary live shows.
All Hopped Up marked the debut of the “classic” NRBQ lineup that would stay intact for two decades – Terry Adams (keyboards), Joey Spampinato (bass), Al Anderson (guitar) and new arrival, Tom Ardolino (drums). It also was the first LP the band issued independently, on their own Red Rooster label. Continue reading NRBQ – All Hopped Up (Omnivore Recordings) (review)→
Massive set tracks the band’s ascent from college radio darlings to worldwide superstars
R.E.M. were one of the unlikeliest of global rock bands. Hailing from the college town of Athens, Georgia, the band’s unique blend of 60’s jangle pop combined with a hip aesthetic, quickly grew from word of mouth to commercial success story, and helped usher in the alternative rock movement that would follow into the 90’s.
At the BBC is a brand-new, multi-disc collection that charts this trajectory – you really hear the band mature right before your ears.
It might seem odd that a band from the southern US would best be summed up in a collection of their recordings from England. Yet, at closer look, R.E.M.’s wry humor, art aesthetic and (at least initial) aloofness were all closer to British in nature. Continue reading R.E.M. – At the BBC (review)→
Singer/songwriter Tony Joe White passed away on October 25th at the age of 75. A singular artist who will never be replaced, White created an entire genre of music all his own, Swamp Rock. A purist in every sense of the word, he even recorded his latest album in a horse barn.
Tony Peters had an opportunity to talk with White just a few months ago, on the eve of the release of his latest album, Bad Mouthin’. Much of the interview centers on the stories behind the songs on the record – many of which are tributes to the artists that influenced him over the years.
He also tells us the stories behind his two most-famous songs – “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” which Brook Benton took to the top of the charts. White also recalls being asked to join Elvis Presley on tour and what a thrill that was.
We also found some bonus interview footage where he discusses his role in a recent movie by Shelby Lynne. Join us as we pay tribute to Tony Joe White.
Various Artists – Stax ’68: A Memphis Story (Boxset) (Stax)
To say that 1968 was a bad year for Stax Records might be the understatement of the year. The label, known for releasing it’s own brand of southern soul, was still reeling from the loss of their biggest and brightest star, Otis Redding, killed in a plane crash the previous month. Then, in April, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in the same Memphis hotel used by many Stax artists for meetings. Finally, the company was informed mid-year that, in signing a distribution deal with the much-bigger Atlantic Records, they basically forfeited the rights to their entire back catalog of songs and many of their artists.
There’s more than enough excuses in the previous paragraph to close up shop. Yet, Stax Records carried on. Stax ’68: A Memphis Story is a five-disc boxset that delves deep into that fateful year 50 years ago, containing every A and B-side of each single the label released in 1968, along with a booklet, detailing the chaos that was going on, inside and outside the walls of this pioneering record label. Continue reading Stax ’68 – A Tale of Triumph Over Tragedy (review)→
Canadian guitarist Colin James had a breakout hit album with his last release, 2016’s Blue Highways. And, while I liked that album, I think his brand-new record, Miles to Go, is better in every way, and should earn James another truckload of accolades.
First, the tracks on this new album just sound bigger. The playing is tighter – he’s kept the same guys intact for some time now and their playing has definitely gelled. The guitar is grittier (there is a picture of a Sears-Roebuck Silvertone on the inner sleeve, and it don’t get any more grittier than that!). James’ singing, while always decent, seems to have taken on a more assured quality. Continue reading Colin James – Miles to Go (review)→
The Doors – Waiting For the Sun (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Rhino Records)
Band’s only #1 album with improved sound, rare mixes and live tracks
Things were not well when the Doors went in to record their third album in 1968. Their first two records (The Doors and Strange Days) were built on repertoire the band had been playing live for years, but that well had just about run dry. Plus, leader Jim Morrison was becoming increasingly erratic as his substance abuse ramped up, often not showing up to recording sessions. Under these adverse conditions, the band completed Waiting For the Sun, recently reissued in a 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition from Rhino Records.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Greatest Hits (Craft Recordings)
Best-selling album is back in print after many years
One of the key elements of throwing a good party is the music. Are you going to subject your guests to ads every three songs on a lousy streaming service, or are you going to grab a turntable and show just how cool you really are? While Moondance and Pet Sounds are obvious choices for spins, you really should choose something more exotic, yet familiar. That’s where Greatest Hits from Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 comes in. This great album, criminally out of print for decades, is finally made available again by the fine folks at Craft Recordings. Continue reading Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Greatest Hits – Back on Vinyl→
Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (Swan Song/Warner) (remastered)
The black sheep of the Zeppelin cannon gets the deluxe edition treatment, but – what’s wrong with it?
There’s a reason that The Song Remains the Same is the last album in the Led Zeppelin catalog to get remastered. The band has been very frank in their opinion of their original live album; Robert Plant even calling it “a load of rubbish” at one point. It was recorded at the end of a long tour in 1973 and issued largely without the band’s consent in time for the Christmas holiday of 1976. So is it really that bad? Continue reading Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (review)→