Monday, March 31, 2014

Ravi Shankar

Image from Rolling Stone

The great sitar player Ravi Shankar began to tour in the fifties and became famous in the sixties. In 1967, he was presented on the Dick Cavett show and performed at the Monterey Pop Festival. He also played at Woodstock. Shankar had an enormous influence on the music of his era. He introduced Indian ragas to Western audiences, and gave sitar lessons to John Coltrane and George Harrison, who helped him put on the Concert for Bangladesh.

Shankar continued to make music for the rest of his life. He died in San Diego in 2012 at the age of 92. His daughter Anoushka Shankar is a sitar player too. Another daughter, Norah Jones, is also a well-known musician.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mary Chapin Carpenter and her memorable symbolic shirt

Image from Montana Standard

American musician, singer and songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter is ten years younger than the musicians I grew up with; I discovered her much later.

She has produced 12 albums, sold 13 million recordings and been nominated for 15 Grammies, of which she has won five. In 2012, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Written in the late eighties, This Shirt is definitely her one of her greatest songs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Susan and Terry Jacks and The Poppy Family

Image from Regenerator Records

Terry and Susan Jacks married in 1967. Their band, the Poppy Family, originally included tabla player Satwant Singh as well as Craig McCaw on lead guitar.

In 1969, the group struck gold with That's where I went wrong. In 1970, another big hit, Which way you goin', Billy? was at the top of the charts for 17 weeks. Susan and Terry were briefly married. 

Where Evil Grows became popular in 1972; Good Friends reached star status the same year. In 1973, the group disbanded and Susan moved to Nashville to pursue a solo musical career.

In 1974, Terry Jacks had a huge hit with Seasons in the Sun. In 2009, a widowed Susan returned to Vancouver and performed in the hometown once again. She was interviewed by David Ingram.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mock Duck

Joe Mock album cover from rateyourmusic 

In 1967, the year I went to UBC, Joe Mock was playing with a psychedelic band called Mock Duck. The band included a dulcimer, and could be heard around the university area.

Mock later joined with Rick Scott and Shari Ulrich to form a folk trio called Pied Pumpkin. Mock and Scott also played as a duo under the name of Pied Pear.

Mock later lived and made music in Japan and France, and can still be seen on occasion playing with his old band-mates.

In 2000, Pied Pumpkin did a concert tour and produced a new CD. In my neighbourhood, they did a great concert at the Surrey Arts Centre.

Pied Pumpkin image: CBC Music

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Eve of Destruction, the Green Berets and Galveston

Image from Pop History Dig

In the sixties, US involvement in the Vietnam War and the conscription of Americans for that war were major North American preoccupations.

In 1965, Barry McGuire came out with a song called Eve of Destruction. Written by nineteen-year-old P.F. Sloan, it is a dramatic and wide- ranging critique of contemporary society: "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin..."

In 1966, Sergeant Barry Sadler recorded his hit The Ballad of the Green Berets. It expresses the romantic, tragic, and proud ideals of a young soldier still untried by war. Sadler was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the time.

Jimmy Webb wrote Galveston. Glen Campbell popularized the song, which poignantly expresses the feelings of a young soldier as he remembers the beach back home, and the girl he left behind:

"Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying before I dry the tears she's crying, before I watch the sea birds flying in the sun, at Galveston."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jefferson Airplane with vocalist Grace Slick

Image of Grace Slick from

The band got their first gig in San Francisco in 1965, and vocalist Grace Slick joined them in '66. They went on to the Fillmore, the Berkeley Folk Festival, the Monterey Jazz and Pop Festivals, and Woodstock.

This band, with psychedelic backdrop and album covers, openly described the drug culture. Grace Slick closes White Rabbit (a reference to Alice in Wonderland), with the infamous exhortation to the hip kids of the sixties.

"Feed your head" means partake of the mind-altering drugs of the time; take a "trip" on LSD or speed or magic mushrooms.

Another hit was Somebody to Love. In 1968, the band  made the cover of Life magazine. In 1996 Jefferson Airplane made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In this 2008 video interview, Grace looks back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Carpenters

Image from Lyrics Freak

Karen and Richard Carpenter were a sister and brother duo of singers who rose to fame with songs like We've Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays and Close to You.

During the seventies, the Carpenters sold sixty million records. After years of touring and dieting, a thin exhausted Karen went to hospital. Those close to her knew she was too thin, but back then, eating disorders were little understood and rarely discussed.

In 1980, Karen got involved in a disastrous marriage. A year after that, she filed for divorce, and in 1982, she collapsed and died of anorexia. She was 32.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Mamas and Papas

Image of the Mamas and Papas from mtv

California Dreamin was the best-known hit of this group. Monday Monday was another of their best songs, sung here in 1966.

The plump Cass Elliott, who enjoyed a solo career as well as singing with this band, was also the biggest voice of the quartet. Another Mamas and Papas hit was Dedicated to the one I Love.

The unusually heavy Mama Cass died in London at the age of 32, while doing a gig at the Palladium. The doctor who was called to the scene first  thought that she had died of asphyxiation, which he associated with a sandwich she had been eating at the time. This led to the unkind rumour that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich.

According to the Medical Bag, Cass actually died of a heart attack, possibly associated with the fainting spells she'd frequently experienced. In 1998, the Mamas and Papas became part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks solo

Image from Ultimate Classic Rock

In 2012, in the TV room of the Penn Club in London, I saw a film about the history of a band I was once devoted to: Fleetwood Mac.

The group began in 1967 in London and evolved as a California band in the 70s. The initial combo, Mick Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie, were joined by Americans Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

It was a match made in heaven: the sound that quartet produced was truly divine. Great and early hits included Landslide, Dreams, The Chain, and Rhiannon. Like so many, this band had musical disagreements as well as tragic romances, alcohol abuse and drug problems. They also produced Gold Dust Woman and Never Going Back Again.

When trouble entered paradise in the form of Lindsay's affair with Stevie's best friend, one result was  Stevie's haunting rendition of Sara. The situation also contributed to her loss of control over her pre-concert need for drugs. She and Lindsay could break up, but the musical partnership was harder to walk away from. After her comeback, Stevie speaks of this frankly on film.

Fleetwood Mac reunited in 1997 and made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. According to The Telegraph, the 2013 tour of Fleetwood Mac earned them a cool $17.4 million.

Stevie Nicks once worked as a waitress. While still young, she also produced a solo albums, Bella Donna, with Leather and Lace, and After the Glitter Fades, in which she muses "I never thought I'd ever make it here in Hollywood, I never thought I'd ever want to stay."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Emmy Lou Harris from Boulder to Birmingham

                                      Image of Emmy Lou Harris from listal

Emmy Lou Harris has been singing for over forty years. Making Believe and To Daddy were hits of the late seventies.

In 2009, I heard her sing with other musicians in Massey Hall in Toronto. It was a wonderful concert, including, of course, her great hit and my personal favourite, Boulder to Birmingham. That's not England, but Alabama. Boulder, of course, is in Colorado.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jimmy Cliff

Image from Jimmy Cliff website

Born in 1948 in Jamaica, reggae musician and actor Jimmy Cliff took the world by storm with the movie The Harder they Come in 1973. From the time of its release, reggae was on the cultural map.

Other early iconic songs were Many Rivers to Cross and You Can Get it if you Really Want. Here he sings No Woman no Cry in tribute to the late Bob Marley.

Jimmy Cliff's latest opus is Rebirth. This album celebrates his fiftieth year working in a studio, and 40 years since the historic album The Harder They Come. He is  currently scheduled for tour dates in Japan, the US, the UK and several European countries.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in 1973 image by soundcolourvibration

For me, the greatest song by this group was Teach Your Children.The clear and powerful lyrics of "Teach your Children" still hold a profound resonance.

The song addresses the older generation, exhorting them to "Teach your children well...
And feed them on your dreams..."

Then it asks children to "teach your parents well," and reminds the young that "You of tender years can't know the fears your elders grew by..."

Both generations are advised to look beyond the generation gap in the memorable lines:

"So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you." I'm still impressed by how these young singers were able to express what sounds like the wisdom of old age.

Before it burned down, the hometown community centre was a quonset hut left over from WWII. Teach your Children was one of the songs that we, the young of the sixties, cranked to high volume. When the great cavernous space was full of the palpable vibrations of the music, we closed our eyes and danced. 

Other great hits of this group were Marrakesh Express and Our House.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Carlos Santana

                         Image of Santana from Santa Clara University

Introduced by a friend from California, Carlos Santana's music came into my awareness with his 1971 hit Black Magic Woman.

Carlos Santana was born in Mexico and grew up in Tijuana and San Francisco. Son of a professional violinist father, he began playing guitar at age eight.

With his band Santana, Carlos played at Woodstock, and they produced their first record the same year, an instant hit that soon went gold, and then platinum. He was twenty-two.

By 1971, the band had produced two more successful albums. A couple of years later, along with guitarist John McLauglin, he became devoted to a spiritual guru called Sri Chimnoy. A few years later when the guru proved to be too controlling, Santana left him, disillusioned.

Santana's band changed personnel as he pioneered the synthesis of Afro-Cuban music with American blues.  By the late nineties, he had sold 50 million records. In 1999, his songs received nine Grammy nominations and in 2013, the Rolling Stone listed him as Number 15 on David Fricke's Rolling Stone list of The Hundred Greatest Guitarists of all Time.

In 2002, Carlos Santana produced an album called Shaman. In 2009, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Billboard Latin Music, and in 2013, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bob Marley

Image from NYU

Bob Marley was an iconic musician who, together with his band, the Wailers, brought reggae to the world spotlight. Born in Jamaica in 1945, Marley formed his band before age twenty, then lived in Trench Town in Kingston.

This place is beautifully evoked in No Woman no Cry, a song, written by fellow Jamaican Vincent Ford. His band's first big hit, this song helped Marley rise to the top of world music before his tragic death of cancer at the age of 36.

According to Biography, he invited people to stand up for their rights, and he survived an attempt at assassination in 1976. As his widow Rita explains, threatened by Bob's influence, and his plans to do a peace concert, the government sent attackers with guns against the band that preached brotherly love. Exodus, his ninth album, was produced the following year.

One good thing about music, said Marley, was that "when it hits you, you feel no pain." He also said that individuals must emancipate themselves from mental slavery and that "none but ourselves [could] free our minds."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bette Midler

Image from

A woman of many talents, "The Divine Miss M" was born in Hawaii in 1945.

The song that brought her the greatest fame was The Rose, which she sang first for a movie of the same name. Amanda McBroom composed the song that became such a huge hit for Midler.

A Broadway star in the sixties, she later became a screen actress.

Another big movie and musical hit for Midler was written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar. The title? The Wind Beneath my Wings.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Eric Clapton

Linda McCartney caught this image of virtuoso electric guitarist Eric Clapton in 1968.

At the time, this British rocker, lead guitar for Cream, was showing just what his new instrument, the "subtle and delicate" "psychedelic Gibson" and its wa wa pedal could do.

On a recent tour, Clapton has performed in Singapore, Dubai and Bahrain. Currently between gigs, he will appear in April  with his band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Now nearly seventy years old, Clapton is a three time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of his most famous songs is Layla.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The dark side of the sixties: Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix

Image of Janis Joplin from biography

Musical geniuses Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix all died at 27. Jim fled legal trouble at home and breathed his last in a Paris apartment. Hendrix cast off his mortal coil at the Samarkand in West London, and Joplin left this world from the LA Landmark.

Janis Joplin, the first female rock superstar, sang at Woodstock, led Big Brother and the Holding Company to the top of the charts, and enjoyed a solo career with such hits as Me and Bobby McGee and Mercedes Benz. She was engaged to be married when, alone in her room, she overdosed on heroin.

Jim Morrison, one time leader of The Doors, is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. The rebel genius rocker died in that city of a drug overdose combined with alcohol.

Image right from wikimedia commons.

Brilliant guitarist Jimi Hendrix also overdosed under mysterious circumstances in London. He is buried in Renton, Washington, near his home town of Seattle.

Image below from the Daily Mail, which in 2009 carried a story alleging that his manager murdered him for money.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Taj Mahal

Image from Rubber City Reviews

Born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, this brilliant musician took the stage name of Taj Mahal after the idea struck him in a dream. At the time he was at the University of Massachusetts, studying Agriculture.

An old blues song with many variations and versions, his hit Corinna was also sung by Bob Dylan, and Ray Peterson, and Muddy Waters.

Other early Taj Mahal hits were She Caught the Katy, You're Gonna Need Somebody and Cakewalk into Town.

Years ago, he too played the Egress on Beatty in Vancouver. He gives an online guitar lesson in old style Mississippi swamp blues, using a piece called Catfish Blues. He talks about the walking pace of this music and its roots in Senegal, Mali and Gambia.

These days, Taj Mahal is alive and well and still touring.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lightnin' Sam Hopkins

Image from allmusic

Lightnin' (Sam) Hopkins was selected by David Fricke in Rolling Stone as one of the hundred greatest guitar players of all time.

Among his great hits were Trouble in Mind, Lonesome Road, Baby Please Don't Go, Abilene, and Short Haired Woman.

Born in 1912 in Texas, Sam played with Blind Lemon Jefferson when he was only eight. Discovered by a talent scout in 1946, he was given the stage name Lightnin' when paired with a piano player called Thunder.

Sometimes pulling his lyrics out of the air, in what he called "air songs," Hopkins made music till the seventies. He died in 1982.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Image from New York Magazine

Odetta Holmes was a well-known figure in the sixties folk music scene. She never used her last name, was called simply Odetta.

Her musical work was admired by a civil rights hero of the time, Rosa Parks, who was, according to Odetta, her number one fan. Another friend and musical admirer, Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have called her the Queen of American folk music.

A noteworthy hit was the ballad of the railroad labourer, Take this Hammer. Another was The House of the Rising Sun.

Here she introduces and sings one of her best-known songs, a mix of blues and uplifting gospel, This Little Light of Mine.

The world lost a great voice when Odetta died in 2009, aged 78.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Image from allmusic

Bad Moon Rising came out when I lived with two girl friends in an apartment on West Fourth and Dunbar in 1969. Judy found Creedence  irresistible; she played their music constantly.

It's this song, Heard it Through the Grapevine, that takes me back in time to that lovely building with its corner window.

We girls thought the landlady was batty, and were afraid of being hit by the ash that balanced precariously on the end of her eternal cigarette.

We were also convinced that she shared her gin and showed her faded charm, including her bra straps -- scandalous in those days, not to mention grubby -- to the three boys who shared the flat across the landing. Then she gave us shortbread at Christmas, and we decided she might be okay.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ewan MacColl

Image of a young Ewan MacColl from Peggy Seeger

"The first time ever I saw your face, I thought the sun rose in your eyes, and the moon and stars were the gifts you gave, to the dark and the empty skies, my love..."

Deeply romantic, The First Time took all my attention when first I heard it. Well, not quite all. In the old Arts I building at UBC, I happened to be sitting near a young man I knew, though not very well.

He was chubby, his appearance unprepossessing. The day we heard Ewan McColl's song, I glanced over as he was writing something down. Poetry, I thought, but the words I read without his knowing pierced me with sadness: "I feel fat and unloved." Now MacColl's song evokes this memory.

Ewan MacColl was born to a socialist family in Lancashire and was involved in the various aspects of the theatre of England and later the US. His third wife Peggy Seeger, who still sings with her son Calum MacColl, was half-brother of Pete Seeger.

Ewan and Peggy sang traditional songs like old Scots ballad Johnny Lad, which I associate with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. As well as having three children together, Ewan and his wife collaborated in England and America on a variety of social, musical and theatrical projects.

Ewan MacColl also wrote the great fishing classic The Shoals of Herring, later famously sung by Liam Clancy. Ewan died in 1989. The First Time, inspired by Peggy, has been sung by Roberta Flack, Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul and Mary, and many other artists.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Phil Ochs and his great song Changes

Image from

Phil Ochs composed protest songs that showcased the concerns of struggling workers and the civil rights movement, as well as anti-war songs.

Joan Baez sang his composition There but for Fortune, and a movie was made about him with the same title.

Though his protest songs are still known, among his most famous and enduring songs is Changes, a sad love song with a philosophical aspect echoed in Joni Mitchell's Circle Game. This classic was sung by Neil Young last year at the Farm Aid benefit.

Born in 1940, Phil Ochs took his own life at the age of 36.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Peter Paul and Mary

Image from Everett Collection/Rex USA published in people following the death of Mary Travers in 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary formed an important part of the folk scene in the late sixties, singing songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.

Other great hits of this memorable blend of voices were their own creation, Puff the Magic Dragon, sung here with the Irish Rovers and Lemon Tree.

Friday, March 7, 2014

John Prine

Image of a young John Prine from concertvault 

I first heard John Prine in a tiny old Vancouver club on Beatty Street. The Egress hosted a variety of fascinating musicians. Not the super-famous, but the specialists and the second tier. Among many others, the newly widowed Mimi Farina played the Egress, as did the virtuoso harmonica duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.

John Prine also showed up there, warming up for another act, as I recall. It was in that place I heard his hilarious song The Accident. about a fender bender at a four-way stop. Another of his zany ballads was Dear Abby, in which the friendless Bewildered, whose "feet are too long," writes in to ask for advice on a unique problem: "My stomach makes noises whenever I kiss."

Heard John Prine on Folk Alley the other day. He sounds much the same. This last time, he was singing a quirky lyric about how a hen-pecked husband escapes from his nagging wife's criticism by fantasizing himself in a bar down the road and across the river.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Don McLean

Album cover image from English Exercises

Don McLean is perhaps best known for a long ballad called American Pie and an apostrophe to Van Gogh, in which he discusses the artist's painting. The song is called called Vincent, after the artist, or Starry Night, after the painting.

In long-ago Kitimat, dressed top to toe in pale grey, I danced to American Pie, heard the line "Drove my Chevy to the levee" and wondered what a levee was. It was the first time I'd heard the word.

McLean is still on the folk circuit. In 2011 he performed at the Glastonbury Festival, and last year he toured the US, Canada and Australia.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Country Joe and the Fish

Image of Country Joe at Woodstock from cjfishlegacy

Undoubtedly his most famous song was this protest song against US involvement in the Vietnam War. Showcased at Woodstock, this song also expresses the band's cynicism about the business aspect of war production.

"Come on Wall Street don't be slow...he sings
"There's plenty of money to be made
Supplying the army with the tools of the trade."

This band started at Berkeley, with the Free Speech Movement against the war. Bill Belmont gives a brief historical context.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Al Stewart

Image from slicethelife

"On a morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turn back time, you go strolling down the street like Peter Lorre, contemplating a crime." So begins Year of the Cat, written and sung by Scottish music man Al Stewart. Another great hit is Time Passages.

As well as these songs, with their complex and poetic lyrics, this versatile musician produced songs with historic content, such as this song about Nostradamus and his prophecies.

An old song, On the Border, sung here in 2002, Stewart says, is about "the Basque separatist movement, the Rhodesian crisis, and the decline and fall of the British Empire." And the fact that it's his only song to make the American top 40 proves that "disk jockeys don't listen to lyrics."

This versatile lyricist has also produced a song about the classical legend of Helen and Cassandra, and another, Manuscript, about the lead-up to the First World War.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Neil Young

Image from The Paris Review

Born in Toronto just months after the end of WWII, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young grew up in Winnipeg.

By the time he co-founded Buffalo Springfield in the mid-sixties, Young had been in several other bands. This one became well-known enough to be inducted into the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame. Young himself was later inducted a second time.

Stephen Stills, whom he met at that time, went on with him to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who became very well-known for such classics as Teach Your Children. How well I remember listening to this song in the cavernous quonset hut that was the community centre in my home town before it burnt down.

One of Neil Young's songs was made a hit by The Guess Who. Another early hit was The Needle and the Damage Done. A song about the effects of drugs on artists, this song implicates more than just the rock stars in the line "a little part of it in everyone. Helpless was another of his well-known songs.

Neil Young's solo tour is planned for 2014. One of the his greatest hits is Heart of Gold. Since it came out in 1970, he's has added environmental activism and philanthropy to his impressive resume. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Arlo Guthrie and the Alice's Restaurant Massacree

Image from MTV

The son of Woody Guthrie, a folk singer of an earlier era, Arlo came to prominence in the late sixties with his tragicomic anti-war ballad, Alice's Restaurant.

One of this song's claims to fame was the fact that it was over 25 minutes long. Alice, living in the bell tower of the church, hosts a Thanksgiving dinner "that can't be beat" and as a gesture of goodwill, the narrator and his buddy take away half a ton of garbage for her.

Finding the dump closed for Thanksgiving, they drive off  "into the sunset looking for a place to put the garbage." When they drop it over a bank, they get cited for littering and have to go to court, where they get fined $50 and have to "pick up the garbage in the snow."

But this song, he tells us, is about the draft, and goes into a hilarious story of being called up. He recounts the dramatic failure of his ploy to get the draft board to think him mentally unsuitable to be a soldier, then tells of getting "inspected, injected, detected, infected, neglected and selected." And fingerprinted.

Here he raises the question. What if, instead of meekly allowing themselves to be drafted, inductees went in there and sang a bar of Alice's Restaurant? If one person does it, they would think he was crazy. But if three people go before the sergeant and sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant, "they might think it's an organization," and if fifty or more do so, it becomes a movement.

He invites the audience to join this anti-war protest, and exhorts them to sing loud, saying, "if you want to end war and stuff" you have to sing it "with four-part harmony and feeling."

In 2005, Arlo sang his classic song again at the Guthrie Centre in New York. He's still touring and his concert dates can be seen here.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dave von Ronk

Image from Rolling Stone

Dave van Ronk harks back to the early days of the Greenwich Village coffee house culture of the Beat poets and the folksingers.

A staple sixties song of the seamy side of life was House of the Rising Sun, sung here in a deeply bluesy fashion by van Ronk. Dave also sang Cocaine Blues, a song whose narrator tells of the craziness of being drug dependent.

In this teaching video, he gives the chords and hammer-ons for Green Rocky Road, a tune van Ronk picked up at a club called The Common, and called his "theme song." In a lighter vein, here's a traditional song called Chicken is Nice. But Dave didn't only sing the old traditional stuff; here he does Both Sides Now, written by Joni Mitchell and made famous by Judy Collins.

Dave van Ronk died in 2002. According to The Rolling Stone, it was he who inspired the recently released movie called Inside Llewyn Davis.

A denizen of New York coffee house culture from an earlier generation, this legendary folkie great championed newbies including Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan when they arrived in Greenwich Village