Decade of Difference

Decade of Difference: Waylon Jennings

Today would have been Waylon Jennings’ 84th birthday. The singer personified the outlaw country genre in the 70s, but Jennings had been performing since the 50s. He achieved his stardom by rejecting the Nashville sound of the day, choosing to perform in a stripped down honky-tonk style that rejected the use of legions of session musicians. His stance as an anti-Nashville artist drew others, including Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and the outlaw country movement was born.

Born in Texas, Jennings began performing as a twelve year old. Quitting school at fourteen, he moved to Lubbock and took a job as a radio DJ, where he met Buddy Holly. Holly mentored Jennings on guitar and produced his first single in 1958. Jennings came on with the Crickets as temporary bass player on their last tour and was also scheduled to fly on the plane ride that ended in Holly’s tragic death in early 1959, but he gave up his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from a cold.

Early in his career, Jennings signed to A&M Records, making for an odd pairing with Herb Alpert, who wanted Jennings to be a pop musician. Waylons’ insistence on pure country put an end to that record deal.Moving to Nashville, Jennings moved in with Johnny Cash, and by the early 70s was recording songs written by Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver.
His 1976 album Wanted: The Outlaws was a collaboration that defined outlaw country to a wider audience, and for the following six years Jennings was a fixture in the country charts. Drug abuse and the decline of interest in outlaw country slowed his career – but he quit drugs and returned with the supergroup The Highwaymen to record several hits through the late 80s and early 90s.

While his sales declined over his later years, Waylon Jennings remained a popular musician thanks to his pioneering work in the 70s. He died of complications from diabetes in 2001.

2021-06-14T07:57:28-04:00June 15th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste is another successful musical talent educated at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, he graduated (along with classmate Trombone Shorty) in 2004. Only a year later Batiste released his first album, Times in New Orleans as a seventeen year old..

Moving to New York, Batiste studied at the Juilliard School and began performing in the city. He released a second live album in 2005 based on those early shows. Diversifying his sound, Batiste formed Jon Batiste & Stay Human, playing impromptu outdoor concerts mixing jazz, R&B, gospel and pop. The group released their first full length album in 2013 which topped the jazz charts.

Jon Batiste & Stay Human was selected as the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert a position they have filled since the show’s debut in 2015, Displaying his versatility, Batiste has performed in the Check Berry and Fats Domino tribute on the Grammy awards show, toured with the Dap-Kings and won a Grammy nomination.

Batiste has been active as a composer, working with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to score the 2020 movie Soul. They won both the Academy and the Golden Globe Awards that year. With the Oscar win, Batiste became only the second black composer to win the award, after Herbie Hancock in 1987.

2021-06-11T09:29:34-04:00June 14th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Widespread Panic

Dating back to 1986, Widespread Panic cultivated a dedicated audience for their jazz and blues influenced Southern rock by constantly touring. The group holds the record for the most sold out shows at Red Rocks in Colorado with 60.Typically the band will play multiple nights at a venue with each show consisting of two sets of largely unscripted improvisational music.

John Bell and Michael Houser met in 1981 at the University of Georgia and began playing as a duo. In 1984 the pair added bassist Dave Schools and in 1986 childhood friend Todd Nance joined as drummer with the group making their first appearance as Widespread Panic. By 1992 the band had reconfigured and began a nationwide tour and in 1993 had their first national record release.

Widespread Panic had their most active years in the late 90s and early 2000s. A free CD release party in Athens drew a crowd of more than 80,000 and the band headlined two nights at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. In 2002 the group lost founding guitarist Michael Houser to pancreatic cancer. A second founder, drummer Todd Nance passed away in 2020.

While the band does not tour as extensively as in earlier years, they do have many dates scheduled for this year. They also have released a steady stream of concert recordings taken from their decades of live shows.

2021-06-10T07:45:04-04:00June 11th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Blackberry Smoke

What does southern rock sound like in the 21st century? Thanks to Blackberry Smoke, it sounds a lot like it did in the 20th century as the band has stuck to the formula pioneered by the Allman Brothers , Lynyrd Skynyrd and others to create a sound steeped in hard rock, blues and country.

The band members met playing in various bars around Atlanta and formed the group in 2001. Unable to choose a name, the band took the advice of Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes who suggested “Blackberry Smoke” – for no reason other than it wasn’t used by anyone else.

After recording their first album in 2003, the band went on the road to tour, and that consumed the next five years of the group’s life.

Blackberry Smoke had a breakthrough in 2012 with their third album
Whippoorwill. It appeared on both the rock and country charts and laid a foundation for their successful career touring and recording.

Today they have two number one country albums to their credit and have firmly established themselves as a modern version of what a good old 70s southern rock band would sound like in concert.

This years’ You Hear Georgia celebrates the bands twentieth anniversary with a love song to their home state, produced by Georgia native Dave Cobb. Two additional touring musicians appear on the album and have been fully integrated into the band bringing them to seven members, and Warren Haynes also appears on the album and shares songwriting credit on some of the tracks.

2021-06-09T07:48:38-04:00June 10th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Dr. Dog

It is not often that musical collaborations started in middle school amount to much of anything, but in the case of Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog that is just what happened. Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman began playing music together in eight grade and from the start preferred performing their own original songs versus covering others. There are quirky aspects of the band that go directly back to that time – like all of the band members having nicknames that begin with “T”.

By the early 2000s the pair were active in several music projects while also spending time on Dr. Dog, but by 2005 it was mostly all Dr. Dog, with the band completing their first US tour. Dr. Dog made heavy use of the internet to promote themselves. In 2007 they released an album’s worth of material online for free, placing one song a week on their website for download throughout the summer. This and several late night TV appearances through the early 2000s helped build the band’s popularity.

Now with ten studio albums and fifteen years of touring under their belts, Dr. Dog has made an announcement that surprised their fans in different ways. Earlier this year the band announced that their 2021 tour would be their last – that Dr. Dog would be retiring from touring. At the same time the band said that this was not an end for the group, but that whatever they were going to do going forward was just not going to include touring.

Fans in the Commonwealth will get the first opportunity to see Dr. Dog on their last tour when the band plays as part of Goose’s FRED Festival at LOCK’N Farm on August 20-22.

2021-06-08T07:31:56-04:00June 9th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Fleet Foxes

A high school friendship in Seattle between Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset grew over a shared appreciation for the music of Bob Dylan and Neil Young and eventually resulted in the formation of Fleet Foxes in 2006. With a sound that drew heavily on late 60s pop and British folk, the band gained popularity through word of mouth, and had success with music streamed from their MySpace account.

By 2008, the band had undergone some lineup changes, and also released their first EP and LP to positive critical reviews.. The album sold reasonably well in the US, but even better in Europe and their tour dates there and in Australia were typically sold out. Billboard named the album their Critic’s Choice album of the year for 2008.

Fleet Foxes followed the 2008 album with a Grammy nominee in 2011’s Helplessness Blues. Following the tour supporting the album drummer Josh Tillman left the band for his own solo career as Father John Misty. Robin Pecknold moved to New York and enrolled at Columbia University while also touring in his own. The other band members took on their own side projects, and it was six years before another Fleet Foxes album appeared.

No such hiatus occurred before the bands most recent release Shore, but the process was quite different. Pecknold recorded the album without the help of the remaining band members, using musicians at several studios around the world.

2021-06-07T00:05:29-04:00June 8th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Paquito D’Riveria

Cuban Paquito D’Rivera was born into a music loving family. His father a musical instrument salesman, exposed him to classical music and the jazz of Duke Ellington at an early age. He also took Paquito along on visits to famous Havana music clubs like the Tropicana. It is no surprise that the son began music lessons early, starting to play saxophone at five years old.

By seventeen he was a featured performer with the Cuban National Symphony and at twenty five he was a founding member of Irakere, a group that fused classical, lazz and Cuban music. By 1980 D’Rivera had become dissatisfied with the Cuban government – especially its position that jazz and rock represented “imperialist” music and should be discouraged. While on tour in Spain he sought asylum at the American embassy.

It did not take long for D’Rivera to settle into the US jazz scene, releasing his first two solo albums in 1981 and 82.

After relocating to the US from Cuba, Paquito D’Rivera continued his work towards fusing music of his homeland with jazz and classical by becoming a founding member of the Dizzy Gillespie organized United Nations Orchestra. The ensemble focuses on the influence of Latin and Caribbean music on jazz. In addition to his contributions to jazz, D’Rivera has had a successful career in classical music, appearing as a featured performer with symphony orchestras worldwide. He is also an award winning composer who has been faithful to his roots with music that aims to build bridges between different musical styles.

This long career has brought Paquito D’Rivera many awards including eleven Grammys and a National Medal of the Arts. The National Endowment of the Arts describes his influence this wat “he has become the consummate multinational ambassador, creating and promoting a cross-culture of music that moves effortlessly among jazz, Latin, and Mozart.”

2021-06-03T07:56:57-04:00June 4th, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield’s career spanned chart topping soul music with the Impressions in the 60s to his leading role in adding urban commentary to R&B in the 70’s and on through his continuation of a career after a devastating accident.

Born in Chicago, Mayfield got his first guitar at ten years old and fell in love with the instrument, often sleeping with it. Jerry Butler was a high school friend and they had a band that would become the Impressions. When Butler left the group for his solo career, Mayfield continued and toured with the Impressions as Butler’s opening act and soon the band had their own hits.

Curtis Mayfield was a key contributor to the Chicago soul scene, forming a record label and writing songs for other artists. By 1970 Mayfield left the group to go solo with his first album Curtis. It has been favorably compared to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On for its social commentary. In 1972 Mayfield his his most successful release with the soundtrack to the blaxplotation film Superfly, selling over 12 million copies.

The success of Superfly drew more work for Curtis Mayfield and on some of the soundtracks he wrote and produced with other artists performing. Artists included Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, The Staples Singers and Mavis Staples. Later in the 70s Mayfields material was more political, including a strong criticism of the Vietnam War and incorporated more elements of funk in the music.

In 1990 Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when stage lighting fell on him. He continued to write and record despite the accident. No longer able to play guitar, Mayfield recorded his lyrics from his bed. He released his last album in 1996.

Shortly before his passing in 1999 Curtis Mayfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2021-06-02T08:11:50-04:00June 3rd, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Charlie Watts

Happy Birthday to Charlie Watts who turns 80 today. He is the oldest member of the Rolling Stones and their first octogenarian. As a child growing up in London, Watts developed an interest in jazz and began collecting 78s. When his parents gave him a drum kit he practiced by playing along with his records. Watts says he was turned on to performing after hearing Charlie Parker records, and he has been a lifelong student of jazz. In addition to his role as drummer in the Rolling Stones, Watts has released several jazz albums with his Charlie Watts Quintet.

Watts transitioned to playing rhythm and blues, joining Blues Incorporated while working in London as a graphic artist in 1962. The band played the blues clubs in the city which the Rolling Stones frequented. By 1963 they had convinced Watts to join the band. The group’s second international hit Get Off of My Cloud highlights Watt’s skills. An unconventional drum structure is used and keep steady throughout the song without Watts missing a beat.

Charlie Watts was trained as a graphic artist and has used those skills with the Rolling Stones, creating cover art, liner material and other promotional items. His continued interest in jazz has resulted in several projects through the years including a cartoon tribute to Charlie Parker, and albums of various jazz combo configurations.

On tour with the Stones, Watts represents the calming influence in the band. Married since 1964 he has one child and one grandchild. Along with the band he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He was also inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2006.

2021-06-02T07:40:05-04:00June 2nd, 2021|Decade of Difference|

Decade of Difference: Alanis Morissette

Canadian born Alanis Morissette started quickly in her music career. Her first album Alanis was released in Canada only, but the dance-pop album went platinum with three singles reaching the top 40. The followup Now is the Time did not fare as well, and her label dropped her after the two record contract concluded.

A move to Toronto and a change of musical partners led Morissette in a different direction and resulted in her third album Jagged Little Pill. Initially it was not expected that this new direction would be immediately successful, but when influential stations in the US picked up the first single from the album, MTV followed by putting the video in heavy rotation. Six singles were released from the album and sales reached 33 million worldwide. At the 1996 Grammys Morisette picked up four awards based on work from the album.

Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was an angry album and opened doors for other uncompromising female songwriters to express feminist views. Morissette says she is OK with that part of her past, stating that “The impulse or the movement or the current of anger is enough to move worlds. It underlies all advocacy, all activism, all showings-up, all standing up for one’s self – all of that is fueled by anger”.

The late 90s saw Morissette have continued success, winning another Grammy for her song Uninvited written for the movie City of Angels. Her fourth album set a record for first week sales by a female artist and won her a Juno award. Continuing to be outspoken, Morissette protested US censorship by hosting the Juno awards in a bathrobe, removing it to reveal a flesh colored bodysuit.

Now married to rapper Mario “Souleye” Treadway, Morissette has three children and balances recording and performing with family life. She says she loves the advance in technology that allows her to do both, even simultaneously at times.

2021-05-31T08:03:08-04:00June 1st, 2021|Decade of Difference|