18th November 2020
We started the month well with some strong vocals from some strong ladies, we visited some Texas Gentlemen and joined in some flash-mobs. On the dance-move front, we joined the thousands of people jiving to Jerusalema while taking some time to consider things heading toward extinction. A mixed bag, but would you expect anything less from Loving the Music?
This series of blog articles cover a week of mini-feature posts from the Loving the Music Facebook page and group. This makes it easier for our music-loving community to search through our ever-growing archive of songs, backstories and trivia.
Aug 1st – 7th: Musicians Featured
Janis Ian – The Texas Gentlemen – Flash-Mobs – Master KG – Thesis ZA – Kabza De Small – Van Morrison – Beth Hart & Jon Bonamassa – Tedeschi Trucks Band – The Box Tops – Jim Croce – T Rex
1st Aug: I’m starting this month with a mini-feature on a singer/songwriter/activist and philanthropist that I have enormous respect for, Janis Ian. I was fortunate enough to meet Janis Ian in the early ‘80s when a friend of mine interviewed her for the local newspaper after her Cape Town show at the 3-Arts Theatre. What struck me is how tiny she is! Even seeing her performance didn’t prepare me for how diminutive this dynamic lady is in real life.
The first song that she wrote about an inter-racial relationship, Society’s Child, put her in the firing-line from radio stations and sponsors who found the song too controversial for their audiences. In her 2008 autobiography Society’s Child, she tells of the hate mail and death threats received as a response to the song. A radio station in Atlanta that played the song was even burned down. In Janis Ian’s own words, “I conceived the song when I was 12, wrote it at 13, published it at 14, became known at 15, and was a has-been at 16”.
The song was released three times between 1965 and 1967 when it finally managed to peak at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, achieving sales of 600,000 singles and 350,000 albums. To start today’s selection it is only fitting that we start at the beginning with a 16-year-old Janis Ian performing the controversial song, Society’s Child / Baby I’ve Been Thinking, on the Smoother Brother’s comedy show. 😎
Where Janis Ian’s controversial song, Society’s Child, put her in the cross-hairs, her 1975 album Between the Lines changed the industry’s opinion. Where she was once considered a one-hit-wonder, she was now lauded.
The bitter-sweet observation of adolescent life, At Seventeen, struck a chord with the record-buying public of all ages, sexes, races and religions. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, #1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts, and won Janis her first Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance in 1976.
Janis Ian’s songwriting genius and power of observation are evident on every track of the Between the Lines album, and her poignant song Tea and Sympathy can be compared to Jaques Brel’s The Old Folks for whimsical pathos.
“I was born into the crack that split America.” Janis Ian writes. Her early inclusion in the folk music scene of the 1960s helped shape her prodigious songwriting talents while she was still in her teens, and her skill has only improved through the years. I can’t possibly do a mini-feature on Janis Ian without including the song that resonated in all that heard it, At Seventeen. 😎
Following the success of the Between the Lines came the 1979 album Night Rains with another international hit, Fly Too High, which reached the #1 spot in numerous countries, including South Africa. Janis Ian’s hasn’t released a new album for a few years, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t busy. Between a busy touring and performance schedule, she also devotes her time and energy to The Pearl Foundation.
The Pearl Foundation grants scholarships for adult continuing education. She founded this initiative after she and her brother convinced their mother to fulfil her lifelong dream of attending college after she was diagnosed with MS. Pearl saw her dream come true when she graduated with a Masters degree.
What started as Janis auctioning off some showbiz memorabilia to raise funds evolved into the Pearl Foundation. Each year at least 90% of funds raised from the sale of merchandise, donations from fans, and contributions from Janis herself are disbursed to various educational institutions to fund scholarships.
In 2013 Janis Ian won her second Grammy, this time when her autobiography recording, Society’s Child, took the honours for Best Spoken Word Album. With 21 studio albums and numerous compilations to her name, Janis continues to be an inspiration.
With her 1993 Breaking the Silence album, Janis Ian came out as a lesbian and in 2003 married her partner, Patricia Snyders with whom she has a stepdaughter and two grandchildren. Whatever controversy and viscous barbs from the likes of Bill Crosby (it is an ironic and well-documented tale) may have been hurled at her along the way, Janis seems to have bounced back each time even stronger than she was before.
I keep tabs on Janis Ian’s wonderful life through her Facebook page where she interacts with her followers with quips, comments, views, hysterical narratives called ‘conversations with my wife’, and some great Haiku. It’s a fun and worthwhile page to follow. It is nice to see that she is still the same dynamo of loveliness that I met briefly all those years ago.
There was a lot of choice for the final song of today’s feature, but I have decided to remain with the giant hits, this time the song that reached #1 here in South Africa, and most other countries, Fly to High. Thanks for indulging my love of Janis Ian and her music today. I hope that the rest of your day is full of music. Catch you tomorrow. 😎
2nd Aug: A few months ago I featured a song from a band that I knew little of, and possibly wouldn’t have gone out of my way to listen to. To me, the name The Texas Gentlemen conjured up images of a quaint Southern Country band. Although they have played and recorded there fair share of Country tunes, the latest album, Floor It, shows this very talented band in a completely different light.
I was turned on to the promo track, Ain’t Nothin’ New when it was as a feature of the week on Radio Caroline. It was almost like listening to a lost track from Little Feat. The clever play of rhythms and styles in the funky Jazz-Rock infused song made my ears prick up immediately.
The album was released late last month, and as promised when I first featured the initial promo song, I’m keeping you posted now I have had a chance to listen to the whole album. Well, I have, and I am more than just impressed, I am completely blown away. This is going to remain on repeat until I get to grips with all the cleverness that The Texas Gentlemen have imbued this album with. Here’s Ain’t Nothin’ New.
After hearing the first promo track from the July 2020 release, Floor It, I listened to some of their other albums. In general, they struck me as excellent musicians, and although there were some superb tracks, they weren’t my cup of tea. But the new song ‘Ain’t Nothing’ New’ had caught my attention and I promised myself (and you) to revisit the band when the album was released.
Bandleader Beau Bedford, Nik Lee, Daniel Creamer, Matt McDonald, Scott Lee and Ryan Ake came together as a band while they were all playing for other artists in their home state of Texas. They picked up a resident band gig in Dallas, and on the spur of the moment, they threw together a bunch of musician friends and improvised a few favourite tunes. Apart from acting as a backing band for a host of big names and therefore gaining a reputation as the next ‘The Band’, their own brand of music was becoming the main focus.
The Texas Gentlemen’s debut album TX Jelly was recorded in a marathon session at the iconic FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. The Gents recorded 28 songs over the course of 96 hours, taking full advantage of the studio’s rich musical legacy. It contains some great songs which show
When describing the second full-length release on their website, they start “prepare your eardrums to be hit with everything from woozy, brass-fueled Dixieland-style jazz (“Veal Cutlass”), to slinky, chicken-scratch country funk (“Bare Maximum”) to lushly orchestrated pop-soul balladry (“Ain’t Nothin’ New”)—and that’s all in just the first 10 minutes of playtime.”
I’ve chosen Bare Maximum as the second song choice. You’ll see that any trace of Country has definitely been left behind in this explosion of funk.
As previously mentioned, The Texas Gentlemen have played thousands of hours on stage and in the studio for some huge names. It was when they backed the legendary Kris Kristofferson (then 80-yrs-old) at his return to the Newport Folk Festival that their fame spread even wider.
Of their own music, David Creamer says “We’re a group of five, and when you hear us play you’re hearing the influence of five different musicians working together as one unit. Everyone has the freedom to suss out their parts and do the thing that fulfils their creative spirit, but at the same time there’s trust in one another to always be serving the song.”
This disciplined freedom has seen a band who was ostensibly a backing band evolve into an outfit that may well earn the reputation of the new Little Feat. These are musicians who have paid their dues and are now shining in their own right.
When I first heard today’s final song, She Won’t, I thought it was a gentle but intricate song, but at 3:30 things go apeshit with a Jazz Funk Boogie instrumental that I can’t not share. Thanks for joining me today to visit The Texas Gentlemen. I can’t recommend this album enough to anyone who loves a healthy dose of fine boogie. 😎
3rd Aug: Today’s theme is all thanks to a wonderful post from my friend and Loving the Music member, Greg May, who over the couple of years I have known him has fed some very tasty music my way. He’s delivered yet again, but this one isn’t of a band as such, but more of a happening.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a bit emotional when I see musical flash-mob performances. I think it’s the reactions and expressions on the faces of the stander-by’s, especially the children that bring it on. I’ve seen some wonderful ‘spontaneous’ performances in the past and thought I would share some with you today.
I gleaned a bit of history on the flash-mob phenomenon and found that spontaneous musical performances is just a small part of the definition. However, we’ll touch on those topics later, in the meantime take a few minutes to yourself and enjoy the show. I am not sure where this treat happened, but here the members of the Volksoper Vienna offered passengers and passersby a special performance of the end sequence of Carmina Burana. It started small, but then magic happened.
I want to live in a world where a flash-mob performance happens at least once, every day of the year. No, I won’t get bored with them, but I would stand a better chance of being in the right time at the right place to witness one.
A bit of trivia for you: The Dictionary definitions claim that he term flash-mob is also the name of a minority group of 19th-century Tasmanian female slaves, an orchestrated mob that, for legal or illegal purposes, assembles and quickly disperses to create awareness about or attention to something (as in politics or advertising), and, of course, robberies and looting. Only at the end of this slightly nefarious list comes performance art.
Of course, there are some sensitive souls out there who don’t want to be seen sullying their name with such a dodgy history. The new term that is being coined is smart-mob. Bless them! I hope it makes them feel better / special / justified / all of the above.
The second flash-mob happening I’m sharing has been well circulated but is just lovely. I know nothing about it apart from the fact it happened somewhere in Portugal. Here’s Stairway to Heaven.
The final flash-mob performance for today is one of my favourites, and of a piece of music that always gets me in the heart, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Apart from being about the only thing I can play on the piano, it’s just so bloody epic that it never fails to mist me up.
I don’t know if the little girl who put the money in the hat knew what she was about to start, but I’m sure it is a moment that she’ll remember forever. There is one sequence of a little girl dressed in red who has climbed up a lamp post to get a better view that is just too lovely.
Thanks for joining me for some uplifting and heartwarming clips. I hope your week started well and carries on that way. Catch you tomorrow. 😎
4th Aug: I wonder if Kgaogelo Moagi (aka Master KG), the young musician and producer from Limpopo Province realised when he began experimenting with music software, that he would start a global craze? Maybe he had an inkling he was on the right career path when his debut album, Skeleton Move, won the coveted AFRIMMA award in 2018 with the title track being voted FM Song of the Year.
His song, Jerusalema, was released in December 2019 and went viral with over 60 million views. With its energetic dance moves, it soon started the trend of disparate groups of people from across the globe posting videos of them performing the dance. There are even dance tutorials and guides available on YouTube if you should want to strut your stuff. Of course, since doing a bit of research my YouTube suggestions is filled with dance clips from all over the planet.
The Lobedu People of Limpopo have various sacred dances, but although there might be some influence here, I don’t think this is one of them. By the way, Master KG sings in his local Khelobedu language, so don’t kick yourself if you can’t understand what is being sung. And talking of singers, this is his sister Nomcebo performing. Talent seems to run through this family. 😎
While compiling the blog archives for the Loving the Music pages I have had the chance to rediscover some artists that I promised to get back to, but never got around to it. When I featured Thesis ZA earlier in the year I could sadly only find one track from them. Happily, that has now changed and I am happy to reintroduce you to this extremely talented duo.
Ayanda Charlie and Ondela Simakuhle met at UCT, and when Ayanda was organising an event and needed some musicians she approached Ondela who was exploring Jazz after she had been classically trained from childhood. Ondela knew Ayanda had a natural feel for music and could spontaneously drop in a third harmony to a song without flinching, so she persuaded Ayanda to sing, and so the spark of Thesis ZA was born.
What started as a six-piece lineup of students dwindled when exam time came around, but the two friends worked at an original for which Ayanda had written the lyrics. Together they crafted their first song, iPhupha. They soon realised this was far more satisfying than playing covers. Even without the six-piece line-up, the gigs were still coming in and the ladies knew that they had to make a serious decision. What transpired is a sound that they loosely describe as a classic, jazz-infused, Xhosa folk, and their debut album, Sondela.
I read all the articles and interviews I could find about Thesis ZA and am struck by how erudite, sensible and focussed these ladies are. However you want to describe their style of music, it is beautiful, and hope I will soon be able to share more tracks with you from these remarkable ladies. Here’s the song Lintloni that features the voices of Ayanda and Ondela, along with multi-instrumentalist Sky Dladla who provides a subtle, yet powerful element to the song. 😎
I‘m leaving you in the capable hands of the Scorpion Kings, those stars of Amapiano, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa. You may remember the names from the recent mini-feature on the phenomenon of the Amapiano sound that is huge here in SA and starting to hit the clubs internationally.
Here they feature the vocal dynamics of Questa Kufet, whom I hadn’t heard of before, but am glad that has changed. This man is a powerhouse and has a voice and style you won’t forget, and although the song is called Mi Amor, I have no idea what he is singing about!
And the beats? As you would expect from the leaders in the Amapiano field, they are slick and distinctly identifiable as a proudly South African groove. Here’s the song Mi Amor. Every time I do a local feature I realise just how much musical history has been and is being made in our diverse, but musically united country. Have lovely Tuesday folks.😎
5th Aug: It’s been a crazy day this side of the Boerewors curtain, and although I don’t have a mini-feature ready for tonight, I am going to share three great tracks of some classic songs
The first comes from good old Van Morrison, singing the 1975 Sam Cooke Classic, Bring it on home to me. This was during his tour to promote the 2017 Roll With the Punches album and filmed at the Porchester Hall in London. A timeless song deserves a timeless voice.
The second classic track is Etta James’ powerful song, I Would Rather Go Blind, performed here by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa. If ever there was a woman who can take on this 1968 Etta song, Beth is it. Although this song has been covered by numerous artists to varying degrees of success, in my opinion, Beth & Jon’s version is the next best thing to the original.
As the final classic track for tonight, I’ve chosen the song written by Fred Neil, made popular by Nilsson, used in the movie Midnight Cowboy, and made into a work of art by The Tedeschi Trucks Band – Everybody’s Talkin’.
I have featured this video before but it fits the theme perfectly and is a masterful performance by one of my favourite bands of the genre. The play between Susan’s voice and Derek’s guitar is a joy to behold. I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of greats. Catch you tomorrow. 😎
6th Aug: I’ve based today’s theme around what used to be everyday events but have now become, or on their way to becoming, obsolete. The idea came when I heard the songs ‘The Letter’ and “Telegram Sam’ played on the same morning. It only took a short leap of the imagination to group “Operator’ with them to finish the perfect threesome of songs.
Checking on some stats I found that since the advent of email and Social Media, the art of writing a letter is fast dying out. Between 2007 – 2013, ‘snail mail’ in the US had dropped by 21% to only 158 billion mail items delivered. Goodness knows where that figure sits now.
Of course, 158bn US letters is still an enormous number, but when you compare it to it Facebook messages that were averaging hits of 4bn per day in 2010 and some estimates of emails being sent daily at 250bn. So, in perspective, there are more emails sent every day than there are US letters in a year.
I don’t know about you, but the last time I received a handwritten anything was a Christmas Card about 8 years ago, however, there is still a fair sprinkling of bills and junk mail. I wonder how many of those 158 billion mail items were written by hand? Sadly, It seems to be a dying art.
Now, to the music – The Box Tops 1967 song, The Letter, was written by the American singer/songwriter, Wayne Carlson, composer of classics like Always on my Mind and Soul Deep. He had included the song on a demo he had sent to his record company, and when the producers were looking for a possible hit, gave the song to a very young group called The Devilles, whose new 16-year-old vocalist, Alex Chilton, delivered a gruff bluesy feel to the lyrics that belied his age.
The band had never been in a recording studio before, but after about 30 takes, they got the basic song down. The horn and string section was added later, as was the all-important aeroplane engine sound clip, some say the element that made the song work.
The Devilles became The Box Tops and The Letter went on to top the charts in numerous countries, but it didn’t stop there. The song also claimed #372 on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the single made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock n Roll.
I wonder how many of the kids in this video wrote to their friends to tell them about the experience? 😎
The second song in my theme of things that are becoming obsolete has already hit its extinction point, telephone switchboard operators. When I was 6-years-old I remember the excitement of having a telephone installed in our house. Prior to that, there was a call-box in the street and if the phone rang, whoever was passing would answer and go and call the neighbour whose call it was. Community spirit in early ’60s London.
In 1964 to place an overseas call from South Africa to England we had to book the call the day before and were allocated a time slot. A far cry from being able to video call, anyone, anywhere on the planet from anywhere there is connection. The stuff of my childhood Sci-Fi fantasies is now everyday normality.
The operator died out in the UK when the last manual exchange in Abingdon, England, ended its service. However, you could still chat to an operator up to 1979 if you ever found yourself on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I’m not sure about elsewhere in the world, but switchboard telephony isn’t the best first-world career choice any more! What better song to choose than Jim Croce and his song Operator. Such a pity Jim left this world so young. The few songs that we have of his are all masterful. 😎
To close our ‘obsolete song concepts’ is one that, although hasn’t died out, has become less popular., the Telegram. The telegram had achieved such popularity by the 1920s, that the largest company, Western Union, was delivering 200 million telegrams in the US every year.
This popularity remained through until the advent of faxes, emails and messaging services when the figures dwindled to the extent that Western Union ceased its telegram delivery service. There are a few companies that still keep the tradition and claim that, although it is extreme old-tech, it won’t die out completely. There are still around 20 million telegrams delivered annually in the US, and Colin Stone of the International Telegram Company explains, “When it comes to urgent hand-delivered messages, the telegram is still the gold standard. People use them for cancelling contracts and sending legal notifications because a copy of the message is retained in our files for 7 years and can be legally verified.”
My closing song for this theme has to be Marc Bolan with T-Rex and the mega-song Telegram Sam. It is always sad when someone as talented as Marc Bolan leaves us so early, but he did leave us with some treasured hits. From today’s posts we have learned that: You can still send a telegram if you can find somewhere to help you, it’s your choice to write a letter, (but you are amongst the very few), but an operator is completely out of the equation! I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of fun for a Thursday. Catch you tomorrow. 😎
7th Aug: My brother Rob very kindly introduced me to this lady a few days ago. I loved what I heard so have decided to do a mini-feature today about Melody Gardot, the American Jazz performer who now lives permanently in France. I was amazed at the strength of this lady when I uncovered a little of her backstory.
She started piano lessons as a child and by the age 16-years-old, she was playing in bars around Philadelphia. She was pretty strong-willed and would only play songs that she liked. This strength of will was needed when in 2003, at age nineteen, she was hit by a car while cycling and ended up flat on her back for a year in hospital with her pelvis broken in two places and serious spinal injuries. But these were just one part of her injuries, I’ll disclose those details later.
Apart from having to re-learn basic skills like walking and brushing her teeth, she also taught herself to play the guitar as she could manage this lying on her back. The piano was out of the question as sitting for any length of time was virtually impossible.
More of Melody’s story shortly – let’s listen to some music. I’m starting today with her own composition from the second album My One and Only Thrill (2009 – Verve), My Heart is as Black as Night. As one of the comments under the YouTube clip says, ’I now understand those old cartoons where men used to wolf-howl at the cabaret singer.’ Indeed!
To carry on the Melody Gardot story, apart from being rendered bedridden for over a year, her accident also damaged her neural pathways leaving her hyper-sensitive to light, hence her trademark dark glasses, and unable to handle loud noises, sometimes finding it hard to listen to anything above a whisper. To further complicate matters, she now has a problem with both short and long-term memory and cannot sense time accurately. Not that you would notice when watching her perform.
You would think that all of these setbacks would stop even the most hardened to cease performing, but Melody Gardot started writing songs which were made available on iTunes under the name Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions, in 2005.
Music played a huge part in her recuperation and subsequent career, and she started visiting hospitals and universities to discuss music therapy’s benefits. She gave her name to a now used therapy program in 2012. I’m sure I am o ne of the many people who are glad that she had the inner strength to carry on with her music. This second track from Melody Gardot is her lovely rendition of la Vie En Rose. This was recorded exclusively for the Paiget luxury jewelers for their advertising campaign before being included on her 2012 album, The Absence.
My last track from Melody Gardot for today comes with quite a backstory. The song is called Preacherman and is set to a very beautifully filmed, and deep piece that honours the death of 14-year-old Emmet Till in 1955.
As Melody explains, “History is there to remind us of how far we’ve come, and every day our journey is to continue with that progress of becoming wiser, more compassionate and more considerate human beings. Remembering Emmett though the song is a way to remind people that there is no need to continue with senseless crimes. Race and racism do no go hand in hand. We are only one race: human.” Emmett Till’s kidnapping, murder, open-casket funeral along with the acquittal and later confession of the murderers shook the core of America and the world and is the impetus for the civil rights movement, the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. This is a powerful video and it is worth watching every second.
Everything that this lady has been through in her 35-years seems to have made her a stronger person. I will be keeping my ear to the ground for any new recordings coming from this lovely lady, excellent songwriter and remarkable performer. Here’s Preacherman. 😎
This article was first published on the Design Train website for Loving the Music
Words © Andrew Knapp
The author does not own the copyright of any of the videos or images used in the article