Saturday, September 13, 2008

Johns: Robert & Johnny, Johnnie & Joe

Robert & Johnny: We Belong Together
Johnnie & Joe: Over the Mountain, Cross the Sea


Both of these come from the Doo Wop Box, a box set my wife picked up at the library a couple months ago which has given us a ton of great doo wop ditties we never would have brought into our collection otherwise. I don't know anything about either of these duos, other than that they fit the theme and they're good songs!

Johns: John Michael Stipe

R.E.M.: Radio Free Europe


Just a quick post to pay tribute to my favorite John... John Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

Here is JMS at his murky, muddy best. "Radio Free Europe" is from R.E.M.'s debut album Murmur.

Also... please be on the lookout for Peter Buck's stolen guitar.

Johns: John Mayall

John Mayall: Have You Heard


I mentioned here that John Mayall was the center of the British blues-rock scene of the 1960s. Most of the major figures in the scene perfected their art in Mayall’s band the Bluesbreakers, before going off on their own. Most notably, that’s Eric Clapton on lead guitar on Have You Heard. Jimmy page also did time in John Mayall’s band. Mayall himself plays harmonica, piano, and rhythm guitar, and does a fine job in each case.

So why isn’t John Mayall better known? First of all, there is his voice. Mayall almost always insists on taking the lead vocals. To be kind, his voice is an acquired taste.

I think there is also another reason. John Mayall’s artistry belonged to a particular time and place. As blues-rock faded from view, Mayall tried to adapt and change his sound to fit the times. He relocated to California and his sound mellowed, but he never sounded comfortable or passionate about what he was doing on his 1970s releases. More recently, he has tried to return to his earlier sound, but he doesn’t seem to be able to recapture the early spark. But, for a brief moment, he created some of the most impassioned music you could ever care to hear.

Bonus Track:

Fleetwood Mac: Drifting


Back here, I made a side comment about Fleetwood Mac starting out as a blues band. Original members included Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass, and Peter Green on lead guitar and vocals, as well as Jeremy Spencer on slide guitar. Spencer is the only one who did not come out of John Mayall’s band. Fleetwood and McVie are the only remaining original members, and their last names are where the band got its name.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Johns: John Cafferty

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band: On The Dark Side


Hailing from Narragansett, Rhode Island, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band originated in 1973, starting out as a J. Geils Band clone (Cafferty claims they modeled themselves after the Boston group).

On The Dark Side is from the soundtrack of the 1983 film, Eddie and The Cruisers, which was about a fictional band whose leader, Eddie Wilson, mysteriously disappears after his car crashes over a bridge - his body was never found. Eddie's singing comes from John Cafferty, The Beaver Brown Band fills in musically for The Cruisers.

If you overlook the heavy handed Springsteenesque approach and the fact that this is yet another rewrite of Neil Diamond's Cherry Cherry, it's not bad, it has cheesy Pop appeal. Apparently, the band will soon be appearing on the upcoming reality series, Loder's Run: The Quickening and best of all, they're still available for corporate bookings!

Johns: John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice: Trance Manual


John Vanderslice is a singer-songwriter that makes indie rock that sounds like a more mature version of Death Cab For Cutie. I've had the pleasure of seeing him perform twice now, and both times I was impressed by how unaffected he came off as. Despite his music being rather serious and somber most of the time, he seemed to be all smiles and acted jovial with the crowd.

He has collaborated numerous times with fellow amazingly talented John, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, having produced a few of The Mountain Goats' albums and having had Darnielle contribute to the lyrics to his highly acclaimed album "Pixel Revolt", which the track I have here is from. He's an artist that seems to generally fly under the radar of many music fans, including me sometimes, but always surprises me with his talent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Johns: Johnny Jenkins

Today, Johnny Jenkins is credited as the man who gave Otis Redding his shot. But he was a hard working bluesman and axe slinger in his own right.

His 1970 album, Ton Ton Macoute!, was originally to be a Duane Allman solo project. Duane went with the Allman Brothers instead but did lend his slide guitar to about half of this Nawlins, swamp blues, voodoo-drenched disc.

Johns: Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha Brooke: Made of Gold


When I told my wife what this week's theme was here at SMM, the first thing she asked me was, "So... does Jonatha Brooke count?" Then she made me promise that I would offer up some of Jonatha's music for everyone. Jonatha is one of my wife's favorite artists, and someone who I have come to enjoy over the past couple of years as well.

Jonatha Brooke began her career in the early '80s by pairing with vocalist Jennifer Kimball while the two were both freshmen at Amherst College in Massachusetts. After a few years of playing the local circuit billed as Jonatha and Jennifer, the duo (now known as The Story) released their first album, Grace in Gravity, in 1991.

By 1994, however, Brooke and Kimball had split. 1995's Plumb, although it is credited as Jonatha Brooke & The Story, is actually Jonatha's first solo record. The track I have offered here, "Made of Gold," is the song that introduced me to Jonatha's music, and has grown to be one of my favorite tracks from her. It's a powerful song that Jonatha says was written at a time when many women she knew were struggling through some sort of physical or emotional abuse. A great example of her songwriting talents.

Side note: Jonatha Brooke's latest album was released last month. It's a collection of songs featuring Woody Guthrie's words set to Jonatha's music.

Johns: John Gorka

I am amazed that John Gorka is still available on day 4 of Johns week. In honor of that fact, I thought I would post four of his songs, to give an idea of his consistency. Gorka has a wonderful baritone voice, and his lyrics always manage to put across his ideas beautifully. His melodies and guitar playing never call attention to themselves, but always serve the song perfectly. As it happens, the four songs I have present a fifteen year span in exactly five year intervals.

John Gorka: Jack‘s Crows


John Gorka hit the ground running. 1991 saw the release of the album Jack’s Crows, which included what has become one of his signature tunes, I’m From New Jersey, which was presented during Fifty States week. Here is the title track.

John Gorka: My Invisible Gun


Of all the songs I am presenting, My Invisible Gun, released in 1996 on the album Between Five And Seven, shows Gorka working with the fullest arrangement. The production on this sounds to me like an attempt at crossover success, but is still an enjoyable track.

John Gorka: Let Them In


By 2001, on the album The Company You Keep, Gorka was back to using sparer arrangements. Guests on this album included Ani DiFranco and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Let Them In is a political song from an artist who is not usually known for them.

John Gorka: The Lock Keeper


Finally, 2006 saw the release of Writing in the Margins. The Lock Keeper has the sparest arrangement of any of the tracks I am presenting. The song features little more than voice and guitar, but little else is needed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Johns: J. J. Cale vs. John Cale


J. J. Cale: Closer To You


John Cale: Adelaide


According to our usual sources, John W. Cale changed his name to "J. J." way back in the mid sixties at the urging of a "sunset strip nightclub owner" so as not to be confused with John Cale of the Velvet Underground. To be honest, it's hard to mistake the former Cale's seminal swamp of laidback southern/cajun bluesrock, which helped define the Tulsa Sound, for any of the various genre incarnations, from seventies folk-pop to the stylized artrock and protopunk of the eighties and nineties, that the latter Cale turned to after leaving the Velvet Underground at the end of that same decade. But I suppose it would be a bit startling to show up at some venue expecting to hear J.J.'s expansive, improvisational original takes on the songs that made other people famous -- Clapton's After Midnight and Cocaine, Lynard Skynard's Call Me The Breeze -- only to be confronted with a weird dude playing noisy experimental dronerock on the electric viola.

More likely comparisons would put J. J. Cale against fellow guitarslinging bluesrock jamsmen Clapton and Mark Knopfler, while the vast bulk of the work of John Cale might be more easily confusable with anyone from John Cage to Patti Smith, both of whom he's collaborated with in the past. That said, John Cale's early work has a bit of the same summery rock and roll sound that has made J. J.'s career, and J.J.'s not afraid to experiment. Here's the evidence for both.

Johns: Ms. John Soda

Ms. John Soda: Plenty Of


Back in Horns Week, writing about the Tied & Tickled Trio, I mentioned the little solar system of bands that surround German electronica/post-rockers the Notwist. Well, here's another planetoid: Ms. John Soda. Michael Acher, a principal in both the Notwist and the TTT, is present once again as half of this duo. Acher programs the beats and composes most of the songs while Stephanie Bohm (keyboardist in the instrumental band Couch) incants her icy cold vocals over top. Most of their songs are a little bouncier than the one I've chosen—uptempo mixtures of IDM and guitar rock, not too far from the Notwist's sound, but with Bohm's near-monotone voice carrying every song. "Plenty Of" is the closer from their most recent album, 2006's Notes and the Like. It's among my favorites the band has ever done, largely because of the ominous, hypnotic feel.

Johns: John Flynn

John Flynn: Dover

[purchase Two Wolves]

Back here, I described the workings of a successful political song. John Flynn, with Dover, has provided a remarkable example. The song manages the neat trick of honoring our fallen soldiers in Iraq while also delivering a strong message against the war.

John Flynn is based in the Philadelphia area, and can often be heard on the wonderful station WXPN, where I first heard him. In addition to his adult material, Flynn is also responsible for some wonderful kid’s music.

Purchase note: I have provided the link to purchase the album directly from John Flynn’s web site. It’s a little pricy, but Flynn is a self-everything indie artist who needs the support.

Johns: Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman: Amazing Grace


I can't believe I made it all the way to Tuesday and I still get Jonathan Richman!

Here is the closing track from his 1976 self-titled album. Richman's personality and song delivery is always off-kilter, tentative, stripped to the threads of what holds a song together. I still remember how I felt when I heard this song for the first time: after an album's worth of kinda kooky songs—"Abominable Snowman in the Market," "Hey There Little Insect," "Here Come the Martian Martians"—he closes with this simple, affecting interpretation of the classic. Hearing Richman's interpretation is like hearing the song for the first time. It's almost childlike—innocent, free of pretense, pure.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Johns: Johnny Horton

Johnny Horton: Cherokee Boogie


This isn't the most P.C. song, but (musically) it sounds good to my ears. Cherokee Boogie was released on Johnny Horton's last record, The Spectacular Johnny Horton, which came out in 1960. That same year, Johnny Horton was killed in a head-on collision caused by a drunk driver on a Texas bridge.

Wikipedia reports some interesting "facts" related to Horton's death:

"Johnny Horton reportedly had experienced premonitions several months before his own death about the possibility of dying in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. He always said that if he was in a head-on situation to drive into the ditch. His accident took place on a bridge so there was no ditch for which to head.

In connection with these premonitions, a story circulates that Horton, known to detest musicians who drank, had agreed to send his friend Merle Kilgore a message from beyond the grave. Ten years later, Kilgore heard from a group of psychics from New York of an apparition in a cowboy hat, whose message was 'the drummer is a rummer and can't hold the beat.' (recounted in "The View From Nashville", by Ralph Emery)

Both Horton and Hank Williams were married to the same woman [Billie Jean Jones] at the time of their death, and played their last shows at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas."

Johns: John Forte'

John Forte' - Hungry (feat. Ben taylor)


I am hopping on an airplane for Boston tomorrow morning so this will be my final contribution of the week. The one comes from ex-Fugee member/current Fort Dix Federal Prison inmate, John Forte'.

As the title of one the tracks on John's 2002 album, I, John, states; what a difference a day makes. Almost like a scene right off a VH1 Behind The Music special, one day John is a Grammy nominated producer living the high life in the club scene with a promising brand new solo deal. Next, some shakeups at the record label leave an album with no promotion and have an artist struggling to make ends meet on the road in back alley clubs. Artist meets drug dealer...drug dealer needs female drug couriers...artist knows many a female...couriers get busted...roll over on dealer and artist...sting nets artist with 1.5 million dollars of liquid cocaine...14 years federal pound you in the ass prison.

During John's trail and while under house arrest John recorded what would become I, John. Personally, it's one of my favorite hip-hop albums. It has great flow, excellent guest spots and an undercurrent theme of someone analyzing their life while facing 14 years.

John is eligible for parole in 2013.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Johns: Joan Jett

Joan Jett: Fake Friends


In the interest of gender equality (not to mention it's a Catalan version of the name [female]), here is Joan Jett... One of the coolest rockers that ever picked up a guitar.

I, like all'a y'all, I love Rock And Roll, so... Since Rock and Roll is a rule-breaking genre already, lemme be the theme-buster! From here on out, bring on your Ivan, Juan, Jan, and Ian... or what have y'alls...

Johns: Johnny Thunders

Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers: Born To Lose [purchase]

Johnny Thunders: You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory [purchase]

Johnny Thunders may have had a junkie's appetite for self-destruction and few figures in rock history have certainly done less with more. Hell, in terms of pure work ethic, Gram Parsons looks good by comparison. But, make no mistake, Thunders was a monster talent and is absolutely essential in the "godfather of punk rock" discussion. As lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter with the New York Dolls and then co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter with The Heartbreakers, he married street-smart lyrical content to a fearless, Chuck Berry-via-Keith Richards guitar sound that profoundly influenced every NYC punk band that played CBGB in the mid-'70s and every British punk band that wished it did. You can also hear the Thunders influence throughout the first wave of LA punks, in bands like X, Gun Club, The Blasters, Lone Justice, and then later, Guns 'N Roses.

In my opinion, you should start with L.A.M.F. and then move on to So Alone, but you could do a lot worse than vice versa. And if you don't already have the Dolls' S/T and Too Much Too Soon, what the hell are you waiting for???

As a bonus, here's the Kinks song from which the kid born Johnny Genzale copped his stage name:

Kinks: Johnny Thunder [purchase]

As another bonus, here's The Replacements' tribute to Thunders from their debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash:

Replacements: Johnny's Gonna Die [purchase]

Johnny always needs more than he takes,
Forgets a couple chords, forgets a couple breaks,
And everybody tells me that Johnny is hot,
Johnny needs something what he ain't got,
And Johnny's gonna die.

Johns: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash - Hurt


I guess it was deemed that since I had a hand in coming up with this weeks theme I should get first crack at posting a Johnny Cash track.

It's a blessing and a curse. It's so easy and hard. Which song do you choose? No matter which one you choose someone's gonna leave a, "you should have posted" comment. In the end I decided to go with a cover song.


Because Johnny straight stole this song from Trent. He took the song and made it his own and I am of the belief that history will remember Hurt as a Johnny Cash song while Trent Reznors version will be forgotten.

Johns: John Coltrane

John Coltrane My Favorite Things


John Coltrane's music runs the spectrum from relatively straight-up jazz to the wildest free-jazz that you're likely to ever hear.  The wilder stuff came toward the end of his career (and life) and it has been both praised and vilified.  His earlier, more traditional, recordings are universally praised.  My Favorite Things falls somewhere in the middle, probably leaning toward the more traditional side.  Not being an expert on Jazz, I find this whole record to be eminently listen-to-able, musical, and lyrical.  It's a beautiful piece of work.

He has forty or fifty records that are attributed to him, and many many more on which he plays an important role (including classics like Miles Davis's A Kind Of Blue).

PS: On a side note, I bought this album after Chris Stevens, the DJ on the television show Northern Exposure, referred to it as one of his favorites.  I took that as a recommendation, even if the person doing the recommending was fictional, and picked it up soon afterward. Glad I did.

Johns: John Sebastian

John Sebastian and the J Band: Got No Automobile


Boyhowdy’s mention of the hit to cheese ratio brought to mind the fact that I wanted to post John Sebastian this week. Sebastian first came to light as the leader of The Lovin’ Spoonful. Some people consider their music to be bubblegum music, lumping them in with The Archies, The Monkees, and so forth. But there was always more going on with The Lovin’ Spoonful. John Sebastian would talk in the liner notes to their albums about his influences, from folk and bluegrass to classic blues. In fact, it was a similar musical stew to the one that influenced The Grateful Dead, but with very different results. In particular, Sebastian paid tribute to classic country and bluegrass in the song Nashville Cats.

In due course, The Lovin’ Spoonful broke up, and Sebastian went solo. You may recall his one big hit, the theme from Welcome Back Kotter. And commercially speaking, that was it. No one ever heard from him again.

So what has John Sebastian been up to? He formed a band called the J Band to perform and record the music he always loved best. And that is jug band music. If you don’t know what jug band music is, the jug is played by blowing air over the top, just as you might play a bottle. The band that goes with it usually uses a washboard for percussion. Aw heck, the best way to explain is: give a listen. And enjoy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Johns: John Renbourn

John Renbourn: The Pelican


Digging up those covers of John Henry last week for Darius reminded me of my long-standing admiration for acoustic guitar wizard John Renbourn, who made his name in the seminal britfolk scene of the sixties as a founding member of Pentangle, and remains one of the most respected fathers of the contemporary british folk movement.

As a seventies child, I grew up with John Renbourn's instrumental folk record The Black Balloon as a household deep cut, something which seemed well-worn but which I never heard my father actually spin; I had to dig it out on my own, and when I did, I was hooked, and permanently haunted. The record was one of the first I purchased for my own collection when I left his albums behind with my childhood. Even today, in my quietest, stillest hours, Renbourn's utterly peaceful The Pelican plays in my mind.

Johns: John Cougar

John Cougar Jack & Diane


As a child of the 80's John Cougar always struck me as sort of a wannabe Bruce Springsteen. I suppose there's a little more to him than that, but I have never really been a big fan.  That being said, Jack & Diane has always been a pretty cool song, and since most of the other really awesome Johns have been taken I figured I'd feature it here.  John Cougar has exactly two other songs that I like, so I guess he's doing better than most other artists on the planet.  I give him props for that.

Johns: John Prine

John Prine: Quit Hollerin' At Me


John Prine: Sam Stone


We've posted several John Prine classics here at Star Maker Machine in the few months since this wonderful collaborative took root, and with good reason: this John knows how to rock the weariness, saving his strength for just the right moment, the perfect sighing phrase, the delicate guitar solo.

As a cover collector, I hear Prine's songbook plenty; no matter who sings it, something of the outsider's awe that characterizes his narrative explorations of topics from love lost to heroin addiction always shines through. But John Prine's power is in his performance, not solely his songcraft; his own take on his work deserves respect and careful listening. Here's one of my favorite live cuts from a decade back, and a much quieter but no less powerful piece from September 2001; though Prine on record makes for some incredible, precious folkpop, his blueswork has been stuck in my brain recently.

As a bonus, head back to this old post about Angel From Montgomery to hear the original songwriter with one of his most famous songs, though most people know it through the work of blueswoman Bonnie Raitt. Something about that emotion Prine brings to the first line -- the way we are immediately confronted with the rough, masculine voice claiming that he is an old woman; the way we accept it anyway -- says everything about Prine: who he is, what he can do, and why we should care.

Johns: John Denver

John Denver: Sunshine On My Shoulders


Some consider him one of of the greatest folk singers we've ever had and others find him incredibly hokey (there were a whole series of jokes about him, not even to mention the Monty Python stuff). But as someone whose family spent many a holiday with his "John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together" album, he will always be okay in my book. And what's wrong with that wanting to buy the world a Coke feeling, anyway?

Submitted by Anne of Curiously Tasty Music

Johns: Johnny Paycheck

Johnny Paycheck: Georgia In A Jug


There two kinds of people in this world: Those who like Johnny Paycheck and those who don't. I'm solidly in the "like" camp. And I really really like this one.

Last year at my other blog I tried to figure out the "perfect" country song. I wasn't looking for the best country song, just the one that best defined the genre (as I understand it). Off the top of my head I came up with a few characteristics that would fit the bill:

(1) Clever lyrics (a pun, a joke, or a play on words, preferably in the title of the song);

(2) A storyline based, at least in part, on regret (good for fostering tears in beers);

(3) A stalwart, but flawed, protagonist;

(4) A peddle steel guitar;

(5) Alcohol (thanks to David Allan Coe and a host of others); and

(6) Reverence for the land, especially the South.

Listening to Johnny Paycheck play "Georgia In A Jug" I realized he did a great job hitting a full 6 out of 6 on my list! (The peddle steel guitar appears in the "Honolulu" portion of the song.)

So maybe this is the "country song" they will send into outer space to show the Martians what the Nashville scene was all about? Anyway, I find it to be particularly funny. Hope you like it.

Johns: John Fred

John Fred & His Playboy Band: Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)


For as long as I can remember I've loved this trippy sixties pop hit from John Fred.

Of course, for the first few years I thought he was saying "Judy In The Sky." The lyrics make about as much sense either way:

Judy in disguise, well that's what you are
Lemonade pies with a brand new car
Cantalope eyes come to me tonight
Judy in disguise, with glasses
Love the sixties.

Johns: John Hiatt

John Hiatt: Real Fine Love


There isn't a whole lot I can say about John Hiatt that I haven't already said over at my own site. I wrote a concert review after seeing Hiatt play this summer, and another post after it was announced he will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting this year from the Americana Music Association. You can find both posts here.

Johns: John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker: Goin To Louisiana


Greatest Bluesman ever? Hard to say, but you sure can make a case for Star Maker Machine favorite, John Lee Hooker. I have a gut feeling that somewhere in that great Blues gig in the sky, John Lee's foot is still tappin' out time steadier than a Swiss watch.

Johns: Dr. John

Dr. John: I Walk On Gilded Splinters


Join Dr. John while he walks on guilded splinters with the King of the Zulu - if you dare!

Roll outta my coffin
Drink poison in my chalice
Pride begins to fade
And y'all feel my malice

Here's a great page with info on Gris-Gris, the landmark album I Walk On Gilded Splinters comes from: Dr. John's Gris-Gris

Johns: John Lennon

John Lennon: Watching The Wheels


Wouldn't it be great if everybody got some second chance? Wouldn't it have been amazing if John Lennon had gotten some second chance?

If he hadn't been murdered by that schmuck?

If Our Man John had been allowed to live out his life, making things we all might have enjoyed? Ug...

I wends my brain thinking about that possibility. That optimitic eventuality...

Unfortunately, we don't get to live in a world where that is a reality...