Fifty years ago, in 1971, Cat Stevens recorded his first Top 10 hit.
Music journalist Robert Christgau was not impressed. With the Vietnam War still raging Christgau wrote in 1972, “…When Stevens informs the world that we’re all on a peace train, I get annoyed. We’re not, and if Stevens ever stops shaking his head long enough to see clearly for a second, he might realize it.”
Stevens converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and practically stopped touring and making music until 2006.
His hit “Peace Train” got worldwide attention this week.
Tuesday marked the International Day of Peace.
Yusuf collaborated with Playing for Change on a project to celebrate the day that recorded more than 25 musicians from 12 countries around the world, all performing “Peace Train.” Participating artists included The Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons, blues artist Keb’ Mo’, Grammy-winning Americana artist Rhiannon Giddens, and more.
“Shock, disbelief, then grief: emotions experienced by millions of people around the world today, as they learned of the murder of John Lennon. But those who grieved did so not only for Lennon, the man who wrote music that changed music. They also grieved for the passing of an era.” The CBC’s Knowlton Nash told viewers of The National on the day after the rock star was slain.
In 1966, Lennon went to a preview of Ono’s show at the Indica gallery in London, and wanted to contribute to a piece called Hammer a Nail in. But Ono was reluctant to let him, as she recalls in an archive interview in the book. “I said, ‘All right, if he pays five shillings, it’s okay,’ because I decided that my painting will never sell anyway.”
Lennon had another idea, adding in the interview: “I said, ‘Listen I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in, is that okay?’ And her whole trip is this: ‘Imagine this, imagine that.’”
Ono replies: “Imagine, imagine. So I was thinking, ‘Oh, here’s a guy who’s playing the same game I’m playing.’ And I was really shocked you know, I thought, ‘Who is it?’” The BBC’s Fiona McDonald
It’s difficult to imagine. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s hit song track “Imagine”’ celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 9th.
Lennon released the iconic song along with an album and a film by the same name in 1971 with the help of his wife Yoko, who co-produced the record.
“John and I were both artists and we were living together, so we inspired each other. The song ‘Imagine’ embodied what we believed together at the time,” said Yoko. “John and I met – he comes from the West and I come from the East – and still we are together. We have this oneness and ‘the whole world would eventually become one’ is the sense that we will all be very happy together. All these instructions are for people for how to spend eternity, because we have lots of time.”
The 1971 film “Imagine” was one of the first full-length conceptual music films and contains all the songs from John’s “Imagine” album. “Imagine – The Ultimate Collection” will be made available on streaming services to celebrate John Lennon’s birthday this year, on October 9.
Iconic rock musicians have been and are releasing special anniversary albums of recordings made decades ago.
Add The Doors to that list, but you’ll have to wait a bit.
On December 3 a deluxe 50th anniversary reissue of their classic 1971 album, L.A. Woman, will be available. Look for a three-CD/one-LP set that features a newly remastered version of the album on one CD, two bonus CDs of unreleased studio outtakes, and the new stereo mix of the original album pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
L.A. Woman from April of 1971 was the last album The Doors recorded with Jim Morrison, who died on July 3, 1971, at the age of 27. The album reached #9 on the Billboard 200 chart, and yielded two hit singles, “Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm.”
Among the unreleased tracks is the original demo of “Riders on the Storm,” which was recorded at Sunset Sound studio before The Doors relocated to their rehearsal space in Santa Monica, California, to make the album. The demo is available now as an advanced digital track, in addition to an animated companion video.
This week the Country Music Association announced its latest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ray Charles. No description necessary.
The Judds. Mother and daughter singing duo.
Eddie Bayers. A studio session drummer who has played on 300 gold and platinum albums.
And Pete Drake. Who?
Not just any guitar. Pedal steel guitar.
More on Drake in a bit.
Sometime in the mid-1980’s when I was News Director and morning drive host at WUWM-FM Milwaukee Public Radio I got the chance to interview a pedal steel guitar player who also had a guitar manufacturing company in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The musician was in Milwaukee to play in a back-up band for a big country concert downtown.
My steel trap of a mind fails me. Can’t remember the guitar player or the big name country artist on the marquis.
But I did get a great story about the pedal steel guitar. About its design. Its sound. How difficult it is to master, requiring use of fingers, thumbs, hands, legs, knees and feet.
A feature on this rather unusual musical instrument was a perfect public radio story and mine went the typical 8-9 minutes with sound bites and audio clips.
Needless to say my interviewee who not only played but actually made the twangy guitars was passionate about them. I saved one particular sound bite for the end of my report where he said his dream was to see one day where a pedal steel guitar shared center stage with a major symphonic orchestra.
Obie Yadgar, a famous classical music announcer I worked with at WUWM followed my program and during our daily morning chat between shows he got a chuckle about the very thought of a pedal steel up there with violins, violas, and cellos.
The subject of my feature returned home to Tennessee with tape of the report and played it for Pete Drake, also a Tennessee resident with the reputation of being the world’s best and most famous pedal steel guitar player. I was later informed Drake wept when he heard what I put on the radio. Drake played on 118 Gold and Platinum albums in his career. In addition to his solo work Drake won awards for his music with artists ranging from Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to Elvis Presley and George Jones.
Here are just a couple of recordings you can hear Drake’s pedal steel.
“Lay Lady Lay” peaked at #7 on the Billboard chart in 1969.
Elvis and the Jordanaires recorded with Pete Drake in a studio in May of 1966.
A heavy smoker, Drake died of lung disease in July of 1988. He was 55. From the Country Music Association:
Country Music as the world knows it wouldn’t sound like Country Music without the pedal steel guitar. And the pedal steel wouldn’t sound like pedal steel without Pete Drake.
Drake helped define the sound of the pedal steel on some of Country Music’s most enduring hits, among them Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
He was born Roddis Franklin Drake in Augusta, GA, on October 8, 1932. Brothers Bill and Jack were also musicians, playing together as the Drake Brothers; later, Jack played bass for Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. However, young Pete’s real inspiration came from watching Jerry Byrd play lap steel on the Grand Ole Opry. Drake went back to Georgia and bought a single-neck Supro lap steel for $39 at a pawnshop. As he heard and saw players like Leon McAuliffe adding pedals and necks, he built his own instrument, one that had four necks and a single pedal. He also formed a band in Atlanta called Sons of the South, which counted Jerry Reed, Roger Miller, Jack Greene, Doug Kershaw and Joe South among its members at one point or another.
In 1959, Drake moved to Nashville with the goal of playing on the Opry, as his hero Byrd had. He backed Don Gibson, Marty Robbins and Carl and Pearl Butler, but he didn’t take to road life, so he decided to stay in Nashville and try to become a session musician.
One night, while Drake was playing for Carl and Pearl Butler at the Opry, Roy Drusky heard him and asked him to play on an upcoming session. The song they cut that day, “Anymore,” became the first hit to feature Drake’s steel, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Drake quickly became known as part of Nashville’s A-Team of session players, and estimated that he regularly played on three sessions a day, five days a week. As his studio bookings increased, Drake bought a Nash Rambler, giving him a place that he could nap for an hour or so between sessions on Music Row.
Drake could make the pedal steel sing, moving a bar across its strings to make it swoop and sigh, and pressing its pedals or squeezing its knee levers to make it moan. The pedal steel, Drake liked to say, was the closest instrument to the human voice.
Not only could he make the pedal steel sing, but he could also make it talk. Literally. After seeing a film with musician Alvino Rey and his “talking” steel guitar, Drake developed one of his own.
Drake used his “talk box” on station breaks for Nashville radio station WSM-AM and on records like Roger Miller’s “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” and Jim Reeves’ “I’ve Enjoyed as Much of This as I Can Stand.”
In 1966, Drake played on sessions for Elvis Presley’s How Great Thou Art album. He also appeared on the soundtracks for Presley films “Spinout,” “Easy Come, Easy Go,” “Double Trouble,” “Clambake” and “Speedway,” work that opened doors to acceptance in the pop and rock realm.
He played on Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, recorded in Nashville in 1967, as well as on Dylan’s subsequent albums, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait. The Dylan recordings led to an invitation from George Harrison to fly to London and play on sessions for his All Things Must Pass album. At those sessions, Drake met a 20-year-old Peter Frampton and demonstrated his talk box for the fascinated young guitarist (Frampton would take the effect to multi-Platinum heights a few years later on records like “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do”). Drake also invited Ringo Starr to Nashville and, within a matter of days, was producing Starr’s Beaucoups of Blues album with Country musicians, marking the first time a Beatle had recorded in the United States.
The Country sessions continued, as well, with Drake playing on records by artists including Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Milsap, the Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, The Statler Brothers, Hank Williams Jr. and Ray Charles. During his lifetime, Drake played on 118 Gold and Platinum albums, but his impact was felt beyond the recording sessions on which he played.
Drake was inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987. The following year, on July 29, Drake died at his Brentwood, TN home due to complications from emphysema. He was posthumously inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame (2007) and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2010).
Drake is the first pedal steel player to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Recording and/or Touring Musician category.
A formal induction ceremony for Bayers, Charles, Drake and The Judds will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater at a to-be-determined date.
File this one under “They just don’t write them like they used to.”
Songwriter/musician Sammy Cahn once said Irving Berlin was one of the two most gifted men of American words and music. The other, said Cahn, was Cole Porter.
In his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder writes about this week’s oldie, “This is a very good, essentially simple song, in spite of its half note triplets, but, as is almost always the case with Porter songs, it is popular as much because of its lyric as its melody. This, however, is not true for jazz musicians who like it for its looseness, which provides ample room for improvisation. Needless to say, the half note triplets are, for the most part, ignored by them.”
How utterly stupid was Uncle Sam in drafting the King? It is estimated that the U.S. Treasury lost $500,000 in federal income taxes while Elvis was in the service. He entered the service in the middle of a very successful career and the estimates are based on projections. In today’s dollars, that works out to be 3,810,086.51.
About Elvis putting his career on hold to serve his country he said, “I’m kind of proud of it. It’s a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it.”
Elvis’ induction opened the door for an army of new teen idols to take over the pop music spotlight. One of them was Canadian Paul Anka who turns 80 today.
“They are all very autobiographical,” says Anka of his early hits. “I was alone, traveling, girls screaming, and I never got near them. I’m a teenager and feeling isolated and all that. That becomes ‘Lonely Boy.’ At record hops, I’m up on stage and all these kids are holding each other with heads on each other’s shoulders. Then I have to go have dinner in my room because there are thousands of kids outside the hotel — ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ was totally that experience.”
The Beatles and the subsequent British Invasion changed everything and the teen idols eventually became yesterday’s news. Anka had to adjust, and did.
“After a few hits I knew I was a writer, and with writers, the power was always in the pen. When I started writing for Buddy Holly and Connie Francis, I felt that it made me different for people — they’d say, ‘Hey, you can write, you can fall back on something’.”
By far, Anka’s biggest writing success came with “My Way” for Frank Sinatra.
But in 1974 Anka’s pen put him back on the charts at #1 despite an uproar by feminists. The National Organization of Women (NOW) gave Anka their dubious “Keep Her In Her Place” award, and Ms. magazine named him “Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year.” Anka who had four daughters at the time insisted his song was a tribute to childbirth.
Time magazine came to Anka’s defense and wrote, “What are you getting on this guy’s case for? We’re in a war. We’ve got a drug plague. We’ve got s*** going on in our country. Give him a break, he’s writing a song about his wife.”
At some point during the controversy Anka decided to begin ending the song live by changing the lyric to “having our baby.”
Outrage over the recording didn’t prevent Anka and his duet partner Odia Coates from landing at the top of he Billboard chart for three weeks.
They perform here on NBC’s “The Midnight Special” in 1974.
The 1973 film “Maurie” highlights the strong friendship between two NBA Hall of Fame players: Maurice Stokes, the black basketball star, and his white teammate, Jack Twyman, formerly of the Cincinnati Royals.
Frank Sinatra recorded the theme from the movie for an album that same year.
Happy Birthday today to country superstar Alison Krauss who turned 50 today.
Born in Decatur, Illinois, she was attracted to bluegrass music and was winning contests at age 10. As of 2019, she had won 27 Grammy Awards from 42 nominations, ranking her fourth behind Beyoncé, Quincy Jones, and classical conductor Georg Solti for most wins overall.
She’s sold more than 12 million records to date and will be inducted in 2021 to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.