Tag Archives: John Fogerty

A Musical Tribute to Memphis.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 12.06.58 AMMemphis, Tennessee is the birthplace of rock and roll. It’s where the King of Rock & Roll lived and died. It’s where the Delta blues stopped for a drink on Beale Street before heading up to Chicago. And it’s where my late brother Peter managed the city’s finest luxury hotel, The Peabody. So, let’s celebrate Memphis in song…

1. Long Way from Memphis (The Automatics)

This cut is by a band of English ex-pats living in Los Angeles. The drummer (Paul Crowder) is friend of mine. He’s also a great video editor. I met him while working on “Behind The Music”. Saw him and the band play live at a club in Los Angeles and they opened with this fine rock & roll tune – which includes an Elvis sighting in Kalamazoo.

2. All the Way to Memphis (Mott the Hoople)

Mott the Hoople - MottFor years I loved this song – but I had no idea what Ian Hunter was singing about. The song was my favorite on the 1973 album “Mott”, which was the follow-up to “All The Young Dudes.” Listening to the song over and over, I can now tell that it’s about Hunter losing a guitar and having a hard time getting it returned to him. Never knew there was an Oriole, Kentucky – but it’s lucky for Ian, because Oriole rhymes with Rock & Roll if you pronounce it that way. The song’s best line? “It’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll, from the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl.”

3. I’ve Been to Memphis (Lyle Lovett)

Of course Lyle Lovett’s been to Memphis. This song, like so many songs with a Memphis connection, mentions a lot of other towns – and women – along the way. I love the honky-tonk feel of this one.

4. Memphis In the Meantime (John Hiatt)

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 12.09.23 AMJohn Hiatt ditches Nashville so he and his lady can “get good and greasy” in Memphis. The band on this track is an all-star group: Hiatt (acoustic guitar), Ry Cooder (electric guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums). Nice company, huh? Ronnie Milsap, it’s your loss.

5. Graceland (Paul Simon)

While John Hiatt goes to Memphis to enjoy the down and dirty rhythm and blues with some boozy babe, Paul Simon is traveling on a pilgrimage seeking benediction and redemption. The title track of one of Simon’s greatest albums, it has some of his finest lyrics – and Simon nails the allure and power of Memphis and The King’s mansion. I have just one quibble with Simon. The Mississippi delta can surely shine like a National guitar – but it’s not “the cradle of the Civil War.” That infamy belongs to South Carolina. Just ask General Sherman’s troops.

6. I’m Going to Memphis (Johnny Cash)

The Man in Black got his start in Memphis with Sam Phillips and Sun Records: part of the Million Dollar Quartet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. In this song, credited to Alan Lomax and associated with Memphis Slim, Johnny is journeying to Memphis to see and do a lot of strange things. I don’t think Johnny’s on the same holy pilgrimage that Paul Simon is going on.

7. Going Back to Memphis (The Levon Helm Band)

Levon_Helm_1Levon Helm and his band are having a great time on this rollicking, rocking track.

The whole thing is a party, led by Levon at his gravelly best.

One of rock and roll’s best examples of a guy who can lead a band from behind his drum kit, Levon takes another journey through song to the great musical Mecca on the Mississippi.

8. Memphis (Chuck Berry)

“Long-distance information, get me Memphis, Tennessee.” Thus, Chuck Berry begins one of the most oft-covered tunes ever written about Memphis. Chuck says he recorded this one at his office in St. Louis on an $80 Sears Roebuck reel-to-reel. (Although $80 was a lot of money in those days.) With its surprise ending, in which we learn that “Marie is only 6-years old,” this is one of those perfect rock and roll songs that Chuck Berry churned out so magically in the 1950’s. It’s another reason we’re all Chuck’s children.

9. Guitar Man (Elvis Presley)

Elvis Guitar ManThis is a great comeback Elvis track, proving that the King of Rock & Roll had survived Hollywood and emerged with his voice and flawless sense of rhythm and dynamics intact. Jerry Reed, who wrote the song (and could also play guitar like a-ringin’ a bell) had a minor hit with the tune in 1967 — but Elvis’ cover (with Reed on guitar) became a chart topper. Recorded in Nashville in the late 1960’s, it was re-remixed and re-released four years after The King’s death, scoring him a posthumous #1 hit on the country charts in 1981.

Here’s a clip from the ’68 Comeback Special. There’s some fun stuff at the top, then Elvis tears into a bit of “Guitar Man”, proving he’s still the King of Rock & Roll.

10. Johnny Bye-Bye (Bruce Springsteen)

bruce-bye byeIn this short, dark and complex song, Bruce ties Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry together. The Boss starts out with the opening lyrics of Chuck’s “Bye Bye Johnny,” (“She drew out all her money from the Southern Trust, and put her little boy aboard a Greyhound bus”) then pivots to a meditation on the death of Elvis, from his rise to stardom (“Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand, a one-way ticket to the promised land”) to his death at Graceland (“They found him slumped up against the drain, a whole lot of trouble running through his veins”).

11. King’s Call (Phil Lynott)

Another musical meditation on the death of Elvis Presley: this one’s a deeply personal tribute by Thin Lizzy’s lead singer, Phil Lynott – who also died tragically young, passing away at the age of 36 in 1986. “King’s Call” is a track from Lynott’s first solo album – and if the guitar playing sounds familiar, that’s because Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler sat in on guitar and backing vocals. I love this tune.

12. Memphis Monday Morning (Bobby “Blue” Bland)

BB BlandAs Phil Lynott sang in the previous track, “It was a rainy night, the night The King went down.” So perhaps Mr. Bobby Blue Bland is singing about that very night, as he takes us through this jazzy, bluesy walk through the late night/early morning streets of Memphis. Along the way, he name checks my brother’s hotel and several other Memphis locations. The musicianship on this track is awesome: a little cool jazz mixed with the blues for all you classy cats.

13. Big Train (From Memphis) (John Fogerty)

Classof55The great John Fogerty’s tribute to Sam Phillips and Sun records is dominated by the train imagery evoked in so many songs from and about Memphis. (By the way, I had the honor of meeting Sam Phillips in the late 1990’s when I interviewed him for Rick Nelson: Behind The Music. We sat at the same Formica kitchen table in Sam’s Memphis house where he sat with Elvis when he told the future King of Rock & Roll that he was selling his contract to RCA. No brag, just fact.) This song was on Fogerty’s hit 1985 “comeback album” Centerfield, and was covered the next year by the living Sun Records legends: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Alas, only The Killer is still with us at the age of 79.

14. Night Train To Memphis (Dean Martin)

DinoDino gets into some pre-rock & roll, country swing on this song, written by Beasley Smith, Marvin Hughes and Owen Bradley.

Somehow, Dean Martin makes everything he does sound groovy and utterly cool.

Given that Dean was one of Elvis’ biggest heroes – and that Elvis tried to emulate Dino’s sound – it’s only fitting that the King of Cool have his spot in this Memphis themed lineup.

15. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)

DylanIn this fabulous track from Blonde on Blonde, Dylan puts together perhaps the greatest word collage in the history of rock & roll. And among all those words, he keeps referring to “the Memphis blues”, which he obviously has again – though he (and Jerry Reed’s guitar man) are stuck in Mobile, Alabama at the time. If this song had been sung by Ian Hunter it would be completely incomprehensible, but Dylan makes the words quite clear even if the meaning is elusive. Who cares? It’s great. It rocks. And it’s the last tune on this tribute to Memphis, Tennessee – the birthplace of rock & roll.

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The Top 10 Rock & Roll Singers of All Time.

Ever since The Beatles turned me on to rock and roll at the age of 5, I’ve been singing along to the radio, trying to recreate the style and power of the great rock voices that inspired me.

Some signature performances, like Roy Orbison’s operatic masterpiece “It’s Over” and Freddie Mercury’s incredible “Bohemian Rhapsody”, challenged my limits as a singer. On my best day, I couldn’t reach those soaring heights of vocal power — but trying to sing along with Roy and Freddie made me a better singer.

I’ve been singing in rock and roll bands since high school, and there’s nothing like trying to cover a classic song to make you appreciate the artist who sang that song on the record. Just listen to teenage Stevie Winwood sing “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group — or Bob Seeger tearing through “Get Out Of Denver”. Those performances literally leave you breathless.

Over the years, I’ve become a connoisseur of fine rock and roll vocals. So, just to start one of my favorite arguments, I’ve come up with a list of the Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time. This is not a list of my favorite singers. Indeed, many of my favorite singers – Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Paul Rogers to name a few – did not make the list.

This is a list of the ten best rock and roll vocalists who ever picked up a microphone.

1. Elvis Presley

Elvis is King. Period. And I don’t want to hear from a bunch of folks who can’t get that bloated, drug addled Elvis out of their minds. Elvis put rock and roll on the map because his voice was magic. There is a quality to Elvis Presley’s voice that thrills the listener – in the same way the sound of Paul McCartney and John Lennon singing harmony gives you goose bumps. Every rock and roll singer after Elvis has been singing in his shadow. That’s why Elvis was the first inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. (The Hall of Fame website calls him “the undisputed King of Rock and Roll”.) Listen to Elvis sing “Trying To Get To You” – and bow down to The King.

2. Ray Charles

There’s nothing Ray Charles couldn’t sing. The blues, country, rock and roll, soul, and rhythm and blues – Ray knocked them all out of the park. But as versatile as he was, no matter what style of song he sang, he made that tune inimitably his own. If Ray Charles had put a rock and roll band together in the 1950’s, he would have owned the rock and roll top 10. And though he recorded everything from gospel to standards – Ray Charles rocked hard enough to be in the first class inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.  Check out Ray rocking “Baby, What’d I Say?”

3. James Brown

Another member of that first class of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, James Brown is one of those singers that you just don’t even try to cover. Not even in your most drunken moment in a karaoke bar. Even if James Brown didn’t have the most out-a-sight dance moves ever invented, even if he didn’t have the most fabulous pompadour that ever adorned a rocker’s head – he would still have the most dynamic voice in rock and roll history. Like Ray Charles, James Brown didn’t make a lot records that would be considered straight up rock and roll: he was far too funky to play it in 1-4-5. But all you have do is listen to James belt out “(I Got You) I Feel Good” to know why he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

4. Little Richard

Along with Elvis, Little Richard wrote the other half of the rock and roll singer’s lexicon in the 1950’s. Without him, The Beatles don’t wag their heads and sing, “Oooooh!” I can’t imagine what rock and roll singing would be like without the example of Little Richard: the freedom, the abandon, the soaring screams and “wooohs” – the joyous, anarchic, frenetic, rhythm-pounding pulse of his performances have influenced every rock and roller who followed. That’s why, he’s another guy they put in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Imagine what conservative Middle American parents thought when they heard Little Richard sing “Long Tall Sally”. Dangerous, man. Wild and dangerous.

5. Paul McCartney

The best singer in the best rock and roll band of all time, Paul McCartney earns a spot on this list even if his only vocal performance in consideration was a song he released after The Beatles broke up. No singer dares to cover Paul’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” – one of the most spectacular rock vocals of all time. And Paul can still sing this song today at the age of 69. I heard him sing it at Staples Center in Los Angeles a few years back and it was still powerful. Paul McCartney is a force of nature. Here’s he is, decades before his Knighthood, singing “Maybe I’m Amazed” with his other band, Wings.

6. Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin is not just one of the best female rock and roll singers ever – she’s one of the greatest rock and roll vocalists period. There’s never been another woman who fronted a rock band with such a fearless, soulful, and savage style. Like the great blues singers, Janis understood the sexual subtext of rock and roll – but she didn’t sell sex on the stage – she sold the power of the music. She was magnetic and magnificent. All I ask is that other, inevitably lesser singers stop trying to cover Janis’ classic, “Piece Of My Heart”. It just can’t be done.

7. Burton Cummings

Perhaps the least recognizable name on this list – and probably the only Canadian – Burton Cummings is hands-down one of the very best rock and roll singers that came out of the 1960’s. Lead singer for The Guess Who, Cummings sang classics like “No Sugar Tonight”, “American Woman” and “Share The Land”. But if you want to know why I think he’s one of the best rock vocalists of all time, all you need to do is listen to him sing “These Eyes.” Toward the end, when he does a soaring riff on, “These eyes are crying” – it’s one of those vocal moments that try as I might, I’ve never been able to replicate in the shower or in my car. Burton Cummings is a master class in rich, powerful, and exhilarating rock and roll singing.

8. Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey is the best rock and roll screamer of all time. I personally owe him a lot. (Back in college, Fat Dave Silberger compared me to Daltrey, and I still haven’t gotten over his undeserved but much appreciated flattery.) Fronting a magnificent trio – Daltrey’s voice was the fourth instrument in one of the most powerful live rock bands to ever take the stage. Pete Townshend is one of the great rock and roll songwriters of all time – and Roger’s incredible voice made Pete’s ambitious, operatic songs possible. Case in point: “Love, Reign O’er Me”

9. Robert Plant

I was never a huge Led Zeppelin fan back in the day, but in retrospect, maybe it was because I was afraid to cover their songs. Why? Because of freaking Robert Plant! Led Zeppelin was extremely popular inn the early 70’s when I was in my first high school band, but trying to belt my way through Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” or attempt “Stairway to Heaven” was to invite comparison with Robert Plant and, thus, failure. Still, trying to sing along with Plant made me a better singer. I saw him a few years ago at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles during his tour with Alison Krauss. Dude’s still got it.

10. John Fogerty

I love John Fogerty. My father was born in New Orleans, Louisiana – but Berkeley, California native Fogerty had even more bayou in his soul than my dad did. When I was an 11-year old kid, the songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival jumped off the radio and connected with me more than anything other than The Beatles. It was that crunchy, snarling guitar groove – and John Fogerty’s voice: a rolling, driving, inescapable growl – like an unrelenting, passionate Little Richard with more politics than sex on his mind. I devoted myself to screaming through Creedence songs like Fogerty, pushing myself to my vocal limits. But I’ve never approached the master’s performance on “Fortunate Son.” Listen – and, once again, bow down…

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