29. Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan)

Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was a jazz singer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holiday had a very difficult childhood; her mother Sadie did not maintain steady relationships, and often left home to find work. Young Eleanora dropped out of school after the fifth grade, and was working in a Baltimore brothel when she heard Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five’s recording of “West End Blues”, sparking a lifelong passion for music, and an aspiration to sing, and be known as Billie Holiday. By 1930, she and Sadie had moved to New York City, and when Sadie took a job at a Harlem speakeasy popular with the local jazz musicians, Billie seized the opportunity to sing from table to table for tips. Soon the young Holiday was performing in uptown Manhattan clubs.

Holiday’s big break came when jazz enthusiast John Hammond attended one of her club performances. Twenty-two years old at that time, and hailing from a prominent New York family, Hammond was a correspondent for Melody Maker magazine, a local disk jockey, and a generous benefactor to jazz musicians, offering them the opportunity to record music during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Hammond was enamored with Holiday, and arranged her first recording session with Columbia Records in November, 1933. John Hammond’s role in the development of popular music is hard to overestimate. Not only did he serve as the catalyst for the integration of black and white musicians, he was also the greatest talent scout in pop music history.

Holiday’s first two songs generated modest interest, and earned her a second recording session in 1935, which yielded the hit song “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Over the following seven years, Holiday, regularly paired with New York City’s finest jazz musicians, produced a dazzling body of work considered a pinnacle of popular song interpretation.

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Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) (1915-1959), singer

A Short List of Important Contributors

Lester Young (1909-1959), tenor saxophone
Teddy Wilson (1912-1986), piano, arranger

William “Count” Basie (1904-1984), piano, arranger
Benny Goodman (1909-1986), clarinet
Buck Clayton (1911-1991), trumpet
Freddie Green (1911-1987), guitar
Walter Page (1900-1957), double bass
Jo Jones (1911-1985), drums
John Kirby (1908-1952), string bass
William “Cozy” Cole (1909-1981), drums
Cootie Williams (1911-1985), trumpet
William “Buster” Bailey (1902-1967), clarinet
Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), alto saxophone

Billie Holiday Songs – Excellent Website/Discography
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday”, by Johann Hari, Politico Magazine, January 17, 2015

Singing With Style

Most music historians consider Billie Holiday the greatest female jazz singer, though she possessed an ordinary instrument in terms of range and volume. She fits nicely within my criteria for singing prowess; I prefer plain sounding voices who subtly augment a song, and shun vocal histrionics. Billie Holiday also advanced the art of jazz singing beyond women like Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, by mastering the use of the microphone to bring out these subtleties.

“Billie Holiday sang blues only incidentally. But through her phrasing and conception, much that she sang seemed to become blues. She made more than one thousand records — among them about seventy with Teddy Wilson. She made her most beautiful recordings with Wilson and Lester Young. In the intertwining of the lines sung by Holiday and the lines played by Young, the question of which is lead and which is accompaniment, which line is vocal and which instrumental, becomes secondary.

Charm and urbane elegance, suppleness and sophistication are the chief elements in the understatement of Billie Holiday.

When Billie opened her mouth to sing, the truth emerged. Her voice expressed the damage and vulnerability of her soul with an almost masochistic honesty, from desire and lust, to joy and optimism, to doubt, sadness, and pain. Her mouth was like an open wound, she wore her heart on her tongue. And when she sang about loneliness, she drew the listener into her loneliness.

Billie Holiday didn’t just sing sad or happy songs. That’s what women singers in popular music normally do: sing sad and happy songs. In Billie Holiday’s singing, on the other hand, contradictory emotions and feelings exist simultaneously, blending with each other while contradicting each other. Or, as rock singer Bryan Ferry remarked, “Her style sings of hope…her message is despair.”

— Excerpts from “The Jazz Book”, Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann

Amazon.com Link to “The Jazz Book”, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Gunther Huesmann
Amazon.com Link to “The Oxford Companion to Jazz”, by Bill Kirchner

In this 1935 film short featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Holiday makes a brief appearance at the 4:45 mark:

Ascendance

Billie Holiday is an important omission from the original artist countdown list created in August, 2009. Back then I wasn’t hip to Holiday’s contributions, and only had eight songs in the collection. I suspected it was an oversight, and would require some research to rectify. Back in the early nineties I remember marveling at the Rolling Stone Album Guide’s Third Edition, 1992) five star ratings for all nine volumes of Columbia Records’ “The Quintessential Billie Holiday” collection, a level of consistent respect given to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and perhaps one or two other artists. Over the years I picked up a couple of the Quintessential collections, plus a Commodore Records retrospective to acquire a copy of the protest song “Strange Fruit”. It was only last year that I started the process of creating a representative collection of her music.

My appreciation for her music grows. My interest started with the six to eight-piece jazz bands, and her famous collaborators. I love small band swing jazz, a modernized form of dixieland music; though rhythmically less complex than the Latin and rock syncopation that evolved, the swing rhythm lends itself well to fluid improvisation and clear storytelling. Holiday sings clean and crisp, and adds subtle accents. Her voice does not attempt to dominate or overwhelm. Music analysts often liken Holiday’s style to one of the horn players in the group. Her all-star counterparts do the same, and one gets the sense that the group behaves as a single team, marching forward in step, each voice important to the whole. Classy, restrained and powerful, Billie Holiday interpretations of Golden Age songs created a template for future developments in popular music.

Demise

That an abused or neglected person often makes bad decisions about the company they keep is well known. Billie Holiday had a weakness for handsome and abusive men, particularly those who trafficked in heroin. She started using around 1940 or 1941, and struggled with alcoholism and heroin addiction for the rest of her life. She was arrested in 1947 for heroin addiction, and as a result, lost her New York City cabaret card, her primary means of income and support. She was persecuted her whole life one way or another: for being black, for being female, and for being an addict. Her tragic downfall is well documented; through the fifties her health deteriorated, though she continued to perform and record beautifully, albeit with diminishing power. She developed cirrhosis of the liver in 1959, and was arrested for drug possession while on her death bed. Holiday died on July 17th, 1959, just forty-four years old.

Although I devoted more than a hundred hours this past year listening and researching her music, it feels like more investigation is required for the best complement of songs. To close, here’s my favorite Billie Holiday song. In order, the soloists are Benny Morton (trombone), Billie Holiday (vocal), Teddy Wilson (piano), Lester Young (tenor saxophone), and Buck Clayton (trumpet).

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.
When you’re laughing, oh when you’re laughing,
The sun comes shinin’ through.

But when you’re crying, you bring on the rain,
So stop your sighin’, be happy again.
Keep on smiling, ’cause when you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you.

— “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin

Billie Holiday Song Notes:

1. Most of the recommended songs can be found on the Columbia Records compilation called Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles.

2. “Strange Fruit”, “Billie’s Blues” and “On The Sunny Side Of the Street” can be found on Commodore Records compilations.

3. “Lover Man” can be found on Decca Records compilations.

4. “Body And Soul”, “Fine And Mellow”, “What’s New?” and “I Loves You Porgy” can be found on Verve Records compilations.

Billie Holiday Songs:

When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), Billie Holiday ★★★★★

Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Must Have That Man, Billie Holiday ★★★
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Billie Holiday ★★★
The Very Thought of You, Billie Holiday ★★★
Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday ★★★
God Bless The Child, Billie Holiday ★★★
These Foolish Things, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★★

Loveless Love, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
St. Louis Blues, Benny Carter & His All-Star Orchestra ★★
Body And Soul, Billie Holiday ★★
Body And Soul (Alt), Billie Holiday ★★
Billie’s Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Billie Holiday ★★
Lover Man, Billie Holiday ★★
More Than You Know, Billie Holiday ★★
Long Gone Blues, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy To Love, Billie Holiday ★★
My Last Affair, Billie Holiday ★★
Me Myself And I, Billie Holiday ★★
Mean To Me, Billie Holiday ★★
Easy Living, Billie Holiday ★★
My Man, Billie Holiday ★★
I Cover The Waterfront, Billie Holiday ★★
Trav’lin’ Light, Billie Holiday & Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra ★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
Pennies From Heaven, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★
I’ll Never Be The Same, Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Billie Holiday
What’s New?, Billie Holiday
Fine And Mellow, Billie Holiday
I Wished On The Moon, Billie Holiday
Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday
I Cried For You, Billie Holiday
This Year’s Kisses, Billie Holiday
Moanin’ Low, Billie Holiday
A Sailboat In The Moonlight, Billie Holiday
Sun Showers, Billie Holiday
He’s Funny That Way, Billie Holiday
You Go To My Head, Billie Holiday
I Can’t Get Started, Billie Holiday
Ghost Of Yesterday, Billie Holiday
Swing! Brother, Swing!, Billie Holiday
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Billie Holiday
Solitude, Billie Holiday

Related Songs:

Body And Soul, Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra ★★★
Body And Soul, Louis Armstrong ★★★
Body And Soul, Benny Goodman Trio ★★

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ottilie Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz Band ★★

Easy Living, Wardell Gray ★★
Easy Living, Bill Evans ★★

God Bless The Child, Blood, Sweat & Tears ★★★
God Bless The Child, Stanley Turrentine ★★★

I Can’t Get Started, Bunny Berigan ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Lester Young Trio ★★
I Can’t Get Started, Dizzy Gillespie

I Cover The Waterfront, The Inkspots

I Cried For You (Take 1), Benny Goodman ★★

I Loves You, Porgy, Bill Evans ★★

Lover Man, Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra ★★
Lover Man, Sarah Vaughan ★★

Mean To Me, Nat Adderley

On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Lionel Hampton ★★
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt & Sonny Rollins
On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Louis Armstrong

Pennies From Heaven, Count Basie ★★
Pennies From Heaven, J. J. Johnson ★★

Sailboat In The Moonlight, Ruby Braff ★★

Solitude, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra ★★

St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith ★★★
St. Louis Blues, W. C. Handy

Swing! Brother, Swing! (Live), Count Basie ★★

These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman Sextet ★★★
These Foolish Things, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Ella Fitzgerald
They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Frank Sinatra ★★

The Very Thought Of You, Al Bowlly ★★★
The Very Thought Of You, Dodo Marmarosa & Gene Ammons

The Way You Look Tonight, Frank Sinatra ★★★★
The Way You Look Tonight, Fred Astaire ★★

When You’re Smiling / The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

You Go To My Head, Lee Konitz ★★
You Go To My Head, Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson

168. Elmore James

Elmore James was a guitarist and a singer/songwriter from Holmes County in western Mississippi. Although he started early, and was performing at local dances as a teenager, James was not recorded until he was thirty-three years old. By then he had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and returned to Mississippi, where he worked at his brother’s electrical shop. It was there he modified an acoustic guitar for electric amplification, and together with the use of a slide, Elmore James created his distinctive guitar sound. Beginning in 1951 with “Dust My Broom”, James recorded a series of minor rhythm and blues hit songs. Diagnosed with heart problems early in life, James died of a heart attack at the age of forty-five.

Elmore James’s raw electric sound influenced a generation of American and English rock musicians. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac were enamored with his music. In their prime, the Allman Brothers Band regularly played two Elmore James songs (“Done Somebody Wrong” and “One Way Out”) in concert appearances. And Stevie Ray Vaughan is famous for his interpretation of “The Sky Is Crying”. James has been described as a loud and raucous performer, with a rough voice that crackled with emotion, halfway between yelling and screaming the words. Rock and roll legend Little Richard considered him one of the few authentic rockers. His greatest legacy may be as a songwriter; several of his compositions are now considered blues standards, recognizable to all aficianados of the blues genre.

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Elmore James (1918-1963), slide guitar player, vocals, songwriter

The Broomdusters – Noteworthy Support Musicians

Little Johnny Jones (1924-1964), piano
Odie Payne (1926-1989), drums

Primary Influences:

Robert Johnson (1911-1938), singer, guitarist, songwriter
Tampa Red (1904-1981), singer, guitarist, songwriter

John Peel Wikia Page for Elmore James

Frank Zappa on Elmore James

“Elmore James – even though Elmore tended to play the same famous lick on every record, I got the feeling that he meant it.”

— Frank Zappa, “Good Guitar Stuff or Stereotypifications?”, Guitar Player Magazine, January, 1977

“Well, Elmore James is an acquired taste, and I happen to really like Elmore James, and I like all blues-type guitar players and all that sort of stuff. I happen to think that what they play really means something, as opposed to most of what happens on most rock and roll records – it’s very calculated sound effects that fit the song. But to say that a person has to start with Elmore James before he graduates up to fire-breathing guitar playing status is stupid, because you really don’t need to. If you don’t have any feeling for that type of music, why involve yourself with it? I would rather see a guitar player totally ignore that realm of music in an honest way – saying, “That’s just not my stuff” – than get a cursory glance of it and say, “Now I understand it,” because they’ll just do a parody of it. You’ve really got to love that stuff. I really hope that one of these days that sort of blues comes back. Everything else comes back. And I think that kind of music is great.”

— Frank Zappa, “I’m Different”, by Tom Mulhern, Guitar Player Magazine, February 1983

A Late Addition To My Collection

It appears no videos exist of Elmore James performing. He died shortly before he was scheduled to participate in the American Folk Blues Festival, a yearly European tour of blues musicians, much of which was recorded for posterity.

Elmore James played a variety of blues styles. This one is called “Shake Your Moneymaker”.

Here is one of his most faithful disciples, Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac, channeling his inner Elmore James. Spencer’s contribution to Fleetwood Mac relies heavily on his devotion to James.

Elmore James music is a late addition to my music knowledge. Five years ago, there were only four Elmore James songs in the collection. Since then I added Elmore James’s original versions of songs I already knew, and my recent investigations prompted me to add several more. There are now eighteen worthy choices, and I imagine a few more of these simple, lively songs will be added to the list as time goes by.

Elmore James Song Notes:

1. There are two versions of “Standing At The Crossroads”.

Elmore James Songs:

Shake Your Moneymaker, Elmore James ★★★
Dust My Broom, Elmore James ★★★

Done Somebody Wrong, Elmore James ★★
The Sky Is Crying, Elmore James ★★
Standing At The Crossroads, Elmore James ★★
Dust My Blues, Elmore James ★★
Look On Yonder Wall, Elmore James ★★
Stranger Blues, Elmore James ★★
It Hurts Me Too, Elmore James ★★

Got To Move, Elmore James
Madison Blues, Elmore James
Standing At The Crossroads (Alt), Elmore James
Whose Muddy Shoes, Elmore James
Sunny Land, Elmore James
I Can’t Hold Out, Elmore James
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Elmore James
Happy Home, Elmore James
My Bleeding Heart, Elmore James

Related Songs:

Crossroads Blues, Robert Johnson ★★★
Crossroads (Live), Cream ★★★★

Done Somebody Wrong (Live), Allman Brothers Band

For You Blue, The Beatles

Got To Move, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Got To Move (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★

I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom, Robert Johnson

I Can’t Hold Out, Eric Clapton ★★

Madison Blues (Live), Fleetwood Mac

New Strangers Blues, Tampa Red

One Way Out, Sonny Boy Williamson II ★★★
One Way Out (Live), The Allman Brothers Band ★★★★

Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Muddy Waters ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Cream ★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Bob Dylan ★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, The Seldom Scene

Shake Your Moneymaker, Fleetwood Mac ★★★

The Sky Is Crying (Live), Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble ★★

TV Mama, Big Joe Turner ★★★★

130. Mose Allison

Mose Allison is a singer and piano player from Tippo, a small community in northwestern Mississippi. As a schoolboy Mose worked on the family farm, while learning to play piano and trumpet. After a two year stint in the U.S. Army, Allison graduated from college, and in 1956 he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a jazz musician. By 1957, he issued his first album of songs, and Allison enjoyed a successful career that lasted until his retirement in 2012. As a lyricist, he is revered for his wry humor and his sharp observations of modern society. His influence on other musicians, especially younger British Invasion musicians of the sixties, exceeds his popularity.

Mose Allison (1927-2016), piano, vocals, songwriter

In Depth: Mose Allison, by Ken Smith, PropergandaOnline.com
“An Interview with Jazz and Blues Singer Mose Allison”, by Thomas Brewer, December 2010

MoseAllison

Men Of A Certain Age

I like this picture. It reminds me of dear old Dad; I have a couple pictures where Dad looks like this, with a neatly trimmed beard and a peaceful, pleasant demeanor. I have this theory that men of that era wore beards because they admired the great basketball star Bill Russell, but the more likely connection is to Beat Generation culture. Both Mose Allison and my father, who died in 2003, were born in 1927. They followed a similar path in early life. Both enlisted in the military in 1945, and once their military obligation was served, received a college education paid by the G.I. Bill. And it seems fair to suggest they had similar beliefs about society.

“For the benefit of critical listeners, Mose has shared his view about the state of the world: the domination of money over everything, the growing lack of empathy on the part of the powers-that-be for the population, wars and more wars, and an underlying hypocrisy in society.”

— Thomas Brewer, December 2010

Young Man Blues

In the old days,
When a young man was a strong man.
All the people,
Stand back when a young man walked by.

But nowadays,
The old man got all the money.
And a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days.”

– Mose Allison

I first experienced a Mose Allison song when I heard The Who’s wild version of “Young Man Blues” from Live At Leeds. It’s hard not to notice; The Who’s version is incredibly rambunctious and belligerent. At one minute and twenty-seven seconds, Allison’s more sedate and succinct version holds the distinction as being the shortest four star song in the collection. Another example of simple phrases with a powerful, timeless message, my favorite kind of lyrics. Over the years, more clever Mose Allison songs trickled into the collection until there were enough to merit a blog profile. The older I get, the better his economical vocal and piano style sounds. Allison separates himself from other post-World War II pianists with his thinking man’s social commentary.

“Straight ahead,
Knock ’em dead.
Pack your kit,
Choose your hypocrite.

Well you don’t have to go to off-Broadway,
To see something plain absurd.
Everybody’s crying mercy,
When they don’t know the meaning of the word.

— Mose Allison

Mose Allison Song Notes:

1. In all cases, the earliest version of any given song is recommended. For instance, try the 1962 version of “Your Mind Is On Vacation”.

Mose Allison Songs:

Young Man Blues, Mose Allison ★★★★

Parchman Farm, Mose Allison ★★★
If You Live, Mose Allison ★★★
I’m Not Talking, Mose Allison ★★★

I Don’t Worry About A Thing, Mose Allison ★★
I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out!, Mose Allison ★★
Your Mind Is On Vacation, Mose Allison ★★
Fool’s Paradise, Mose Allison ★★
Everybody Cryin’ Mercy, Mose Allison ★★
The Seventh Son, Mose Allison ★★

Trouble In Mind, Mose Allison
Gimcracks And Geegaws, Mose Allison
It Didn’t Turn Out That Way, Mose Allison
Your Molecular Structure, Mose Allison
Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Mose Allison
Don’t Forget To Smile, Mose Allison

Related Songs:

Young Man Blues (Live), The Who ★★★

Parchman Farm, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ★★
Parchman Farm Blues, Bukka White ★★

I’m Not Talking, The Yardbirds ★★
I’m Not Talking (Live), The Yardbirds ★★

The Seventh Son, Willie Mabon ★★
The Seventh Son, Johnny Rivers ★★

Trouble In Mind, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry ★★
Trouble In Mind, Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers ★★
Trouble In Mind, Dinah Washington & Ben Webster ★★

Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Ray Charles

156. Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed is a blues singer and songwriter from Dunleith, Mississippi. Reed moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1943. After a short stint in the Navy, he returned to Mississippi to marry his sweetheart, and then returned to Gary, Indiana, where he worked in a meat packing plant, and played blues music at night. From 1953 to 1966, Reed was a popular recording artist with the local Vee-Jay Records label. He was ill-equipped to handle the life of a touring musician, and his severe alcoholism kept his epilepsy undiagnosed for many years.

Jimmy_Reed_RF_004

Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed (1925-1976), singer, songwriter, guitar, harmonica
Eddie Taylor (1923-1985), guitar, vocals

BluesHarp.Ca Biography of Jimmy Reed

Reed is an odd figure in pop music history. He was illiterate, and his music was very simple. Many songs are standard twelve-bar blues, with subject matter a bit less bleak than his contemporaries. He was the first blues musician to have a top 40 hit on the Billboard charts (“Honest I Do”, #32 in November, 1957). Tempos are relaxed, and Reed sings as though he’s half-awake. The best Jimmy Reed songs put you in a sleepy trance. Perhaps the strangest quirk is the presence of his wife Mary “Mama” Reed singing along on famous songs such as “Bright Lights, Big City”, “Big Boss Man” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”. Her guide vocal may have been necessary so that Reed knew the words, and when to sing them. Reed left an unlikely and remarkable legacy. He was particularly popular with the Rolling Stones, who recorded several of his songs early in their career.

Jimmy Reed Song Notes:

1. Both monaural and stereo versions of “Big Boss Man” are included in the collection.

2. Good sound quality for most songs can be found on the The Very Best of Jimmy Reed and The Very Best of Jimmy Reed, Vol. 2 compilations.

3. “Blues For Twelve Strings” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do (Alt)” can be found on 12 String Blues.

Jimmy Reed Songs:

Big Boss Man, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Take Out Some Insurance, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Baby, What You Want Me To Do, Jimmy Reed ★★★

Found Love, Jimmy Reed ★★
I Ain’t Got You, Jimmy Reed ★★
Baby What’s Wrong, Jimmy Reed ★★
Bright Lights, Big City, Jimmy Reed ★★

Hush, Hush, Jimmy Reed
Honest I Do, Jimmy Reed
Little Rain, Jimmy Reed
Blues For Twelve Strings, Jimmy Reed
Baby What You Want Me To Do (Alt), Jimmy Reed

Related Songs:

Baby What’s Wrong, The Rolling Stones ★★

Big Boss Man (Take 2), Elvis Presley ★★
Big Boss Man (Live), Grateful Dead

Bright Lights, Big City, The Rolling Stones ★★

I Ain’t Got You, The Yardbirds ★★

138. Booker T. & The M.G.’s

Booker T. & The M.G.’s (Memphis Greats) are a rock quartet from Memphis, Tennessee. They are best known as the Stax Records house band. Together with The Memphis Horns, the M.G.’s provided a spare, soulful background for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and other singers in the Stax Records “stable of artists”. In addition to their duties as house band, the quartet released music under their own name, several of which are among the finest rock instrumentals. Compared to the smooth “Sound of America” emanating from Detroit’s Motown Records, the Stax sound is sharp and stinging, funky and soulful.

Booker-T-and-the-MGs

Wikipedia Biography of Booker T. & The M.G.’s

Booker T. Jones (b. 1944), organ, piano
Steve Cropper (b. 1941), guitar
Donald “Duck” Dunn (1941-2012), bass
Al Jackson, Jr. (1935-1975), drums

Lewis Steinberg (b. 1933), bass (1962-1965)

All band members contributed to songwriting and music production.

Official Website for The Memphis Horns

Wayne Jackson (b. 1941), trumpet
Andrew Love (1941-2012), saxophone

Pop Instrumentals

Sometime in the early to mid-seventies, the pop instrumental started to fade away, and soon powerful radio stations stopped promoting songs without singing. Instrumentals had a long history as part of the popular music scene. In 1938, Artie Shaw’s version of “Begin The Beguine” was a #1 Billboard hit for six weeks. The instrumental maintained a consistent presence on popular radio during the sixties and seventies, comprising a small but significant percentage of total songs played. In the mid-seventies, disco instrumentals “TSOP” by M.F.S.B. (1974) and “A Fifth Of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy (1976) both hit #1 on the Billboard charts. The genre’s last gasp came around 1985, when “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer, became an international hit, through its association with the movie Beverly Hills Cop.

For a few years in my early childhood, my mother taught an adult exercise class at the local high school, a precursor to today’s aerobic classes. She collected quite a few pop instrumental records by artists like Herb Alpert to use as exercise music. By the time we acquired singles of “Soul Limbo” and “Hang ‘Em High” by Booker T. & The M.G.’s, she no longer taught the class, but still enjoyed these popular, but not jazzy songs. Compared to others my age, I think I take a far greater interest in these songs of the past. I still enjoy them very much.

Here’s a fine performance of the band’s biggest hit, “Green Onions”, followed by related artists The Mar-Keys playing their biggest hit, “Last Night”:

Time Is Tight

I’ve included two videos of the 1969 hit “Time Is Tight”. The first is from late December, 1970. My mom and sister, my best friend and I sat in the rafters at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, as far back as possible, to see Wilbert Harrison, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, and then Creedence Clearwater Revival headlining. It is no coincidence that Creedence sounds like Booker T. & The M.G.’s; the two bands admired one another, and spent time jamming while in Oakland. I recently became aware portions of this concert were videotaped. Memories like this are so sweet; I wish I could reminisce with Mom, and thank her for that night, and everything else.

The second video is one of my favorite YouTube discoveries since starting the music blog, a fine homemade video from Belgium in 2009. “Time Is Tight” is the rare song I could hear every day and never grow tired of. I could wake up every morning, take my marching orders from Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper, venture out into the world and embrace the day. Duck Dunn passed away in 2012, and Al Jackson, Jr., the “Human Timekeeper”, was murdered in his home in 1975. All four men are masters of rhythm, and legends of popular music.

Booker T. & The M.G.’s Song Notes:

1. My version of “Green Onions (Live)” is hard to find. It can be found on the 2-CD set Concert For The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

2. I have two versions of “Soul Limbo” and “Time Is Tight”. The best mix of “Soul Limbo” can be found on the album Soul Limbo. The monaural version of “Time Is Tight” is best and worth finding, but is not currently available on iTunes.

Booker T. & The M.G.’s Songs

Time Is Tight, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★★★
Green Onions, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★★★
Soul Limbo, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★★★

Groovin’, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★★
Green Onions (Live), Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★★

Soul Dressing, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★
Slim Jenkin’s Place, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★
Over Easy, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★
Melting Pot, Booker T. & The M.G.’s ★★

I Got A Woman, Booker T. & The M.G.’s
Comin’ Home Baby, Booker T. & The M.G.’s
Hang ‘Em High, Booker T. & The M.G.’s
Behave Yourself, Booker T. & The M.G.’s
Hip Hug-Her, Booker T. & The M.G.’s

Related Songs:

The following songs feature most or all members of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, also known as the Stax Records rhythm section:

(I Love) Lucy, Albert King ★★
Oh, Pretty Woman, Albert King ★★
Laundromat Blues, Albert King ★★
Crosscut Saw, Albert King ★★
Kansas City, Albert King ★★★
The Hunter, Albert King
As The Years Go Passing By, Albert King ★★★
Born Under A Bad Sign, Albert King ★★

As The Years Go Passing By (Live), Boz Scaggs ★★★★

Gee Whiz, Look At His Eyes, Carla Thomas
B-A-B-Y, Carla Thomas
I’ll Bring It On Home To You, Carla Thomas

Please Uncle Sam (Send Back My Man), The Charmels ★★
As Long As I’ve Got You, The Charmels

Knock On Wood, Eddie Floyd ★★★★
Big Bird, Eddie Floyd
Love Is A Doggone Good Thing, Eddie Floyd
I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do), Eddie Floyd ★★

I Got To Love Somebody’s Baby, Johnnie Taylor
Ain’t That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One), Johnnie Taylor ★★
Who’s Makin’ Love, Johnnie Taylor ★★★

What’ll I Do For Satisfaction, Johnny Daye

You Can’t Run Away From Your Heart, Judy Clay

I’m A Big Girl, Mable John
Your Good Thing (Is About To End), Mable John ★★★

Last Night, The Mar-Keys ★★
Sack O’ Woe, The Mar-Keys ★★

(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, Otis Redding ★★★
(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay (Take 2), Otis Redding ★★★
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), Otis Redding
Hard To Handle, Otis Redding ★★
I Can’t Turn You Loose, Otis Redding
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, Otis Redding ★★★
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Live), Otis Redding ★★
I’ve Got Dreams To Remember, Otis Redding
I’ve Got Dreams To Remember (Alt), Otis Redding
Love Man, Otis Redding
My Lover’s Prayer, Otis Redding ★★
Pain In My Heart, Otis Redding ★★
Respect, Otis Redding ★★★
Respect (Alt), Otis Redding
Shake, Otis Redding ★★★
That’s How Strong My Love Is, Otis Redding ★★
These Arms Of Mine, Otis Redding
Tramp, Otis Redding & Carla Thomas ★★
Try A Little Tenderness, Otis Redding ★★★
Try A Little Tenderness (Take 1), Otis Redding ★★

I’m Going Home, Prince Conley ★★

You Don’t Know Like I Know, Sam & Dave
Hold On, I’m Comin’, Sam & Dave ★★★
Soul Man, Sam & Dave ★★★★
Soothe Me, Sam & Dave ★★
I Thank You, Sam & Dave ★★
Wrap It Up, Sam & Dave ★★
You Got Me Hummin’, Sam & Dave
When Something Is Wrong Is My Baby, Sam & Dave ★★
Soothe Me (Live), Sam & Dave ★★

You Don’t Miss Your Water, William Bell ★★★
Any Other Way, William Bell
Everybody Loves A Winner, William Bell

In The Midnight Hour, Wilson Pickett ★★★★
Don’t Fight It, Wilson Pickett
Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do), Wilson Pickett ★★
634-5789, Wilson Pickett

More Related Songs:

Comin’ Home Baby, Mel Tormé ★★

Groovin’, The Rascals ★★★★
Groovin’, Willie Mitchell ★★

I Got A Woman, Ray Charles ★★★★
I Got A Woman, Elvis Presley
I Got A Woman, Jimmy Smith ★★

2. Van Morrison

George Ivan “Van” Morrison is a singer/songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland. An only child, Morrison’s working class upbringing proved to be ideal for a future musician. His mother was outgoing, and loved to sing and dance at gatherings of friends and family, while his more reserved father was fascinated by American culture, and an avid collector of American country, folk, jazz and blues records. Van received his first guitar when he was eleven, and soon thereafter was participating in local music groups. His broad music tastes prompted him to learn the saxophone and harp, and by the time he finished secondary school, he was working full-time and playing music in Irish showbands.

In April 1964, Morrison answered an advertisement for a harp player for a rhythm and blues band. He showed up at the audition to check out the local talent, although he was already rehearsing with another superior group, who began a short but impressive residency at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast. Soon thereafter this quintet changed their name from The Gamblers to Them. Within a couple weeks they were filling the room beyond capacity. Though shy when not performing, Morrison became a dynamo on stage, singing and jumping and playing his saxophone and harp, and overnight Them became Ireland’s greatest rhythm and blues band. At the time, Belfast was considered a remote outpost of the British Empire, but word of their popularity filtered down to Dick Rowe of Decca Records, who went to see the band in Belfast and then invited them to London for an audition.

Van Morrison (b. 1945), singer, songwriter, guitar, alto saxophone, harmonica

Sir Van Morrison with his daughter Shana Morrison at his knighthood ceremony, February, 2016:

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Big Time Operators

The record business is historically predatory, where naive musicians, eager for popularity, sign record contracts that benefit the company.  Without proper legal representation, the musicians sign away most of their rights to the music, and some companies do their best to keep the musicians poor, hungry, and reliant on continued success. Once the musicians no longer produce popular music, they are ignored or discarded. The next few years of Van Morrison’s professional career were traumatic, as he endured two consecutive bad record contracts, experiences that shaped his public persona and music for decades afterwards.

Them’s recorded output of about fifty songs between 1964 and 1966 has aged well. In hindsight, they belong with the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as among the best British rhythm and blues bands. They had a couple of hit songs, though their greatest and most influential song, “Gloria”, was relegated to the B-side of their powerful, uptempo rendition of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go”, considered by many the definitive reading of the song. “Baby Please Don’t Go” b/w “Gloria” has to rank among the greatest singles of all time, and for “Gloria” to go unrecognized as a hit song by Decca executives is, at best, perplexing.

Restless to capitalize on the initial success, band manager Phil Solomon contacted New York pop producer Bert Berns to come to London and work with the band. The collaboration produced a second hit song, the Berns composition “Here Comes The Night”, but more importantly, it signaled the beginning of a short but important partnership between Berns and Morrison. When Them broke apart in the summer of 1966, Morrison accepted Berns’s invitation to come to New York and work for Bang Records as a solo performer.

If anything, the record contract with Bang was even more onerous than the Decca deal.  It gave the company the rights to Morrison’s music for five years, as well as full ownership of the master recordings for all songs.  Even when Morrison had legitimate work expenses, he found it impossible to earn a living wage, as creative accounting methods denied the artist his expenses and earned royalties.  Berns’s association with frightening “associates” discouraged the artist from excessive complaint.  Musically, the brief collaboration with Berns was valuable  — Morrison learned much about music production, plus he created “Brown Eyed Girl”, his first solo hit and still his best known song.  But when Berns died suddenly in late 1967, and Berns’s wife Ilene cited the artist’s combative relationship with her deceased husband as a contributing factor, Morrison was faced with the most harrowing of circumstances.  The unsympathetic widow bound him to his agreed contract, while shadowy criminal figures discouraged Morrison from seeking employment elsewhere.

Rescued By Warner Brothers

Van escaped New York City for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he performed incognito with a trio for several months.  It was during this time that the songs and sound for Astral Weeks, his first major collection, takes place.

“He makes his way to the stage at the Catacombs, joining Bob Kielbania, who plays upright bass, and flutist John Payne, who is trying for a spot in the tour group.  He gets his guitar tuned, carefully adjusts the mike placement, brows knit, anxious that everything be right.  He begins with ‘Cyprus Avenue’.  He’s so involved with it, so into it, that you have the feeling you’re involved in a very intimate communication with him.  He winces and strains to bring the song up from far within him, producing at times a strangely distant sound that carries a lyric of loss and disillusionment.  He sings with great care, making certain that none of the lyrics, none of the tone and intonation are lost to the audience.  He is a performer beautiful to watch in his absorption.  He has total control over the number and, by now, over most of the audience as well.”

—  Eric Kraft¹

Representatives at Warner Brothers Records caught wind of Morrison’s whereabouts, and wanted to sign him directly to the music label.  But Van was in a real bind.  The existing contractual obligations to Bang Records, not to mention his immigration status, were significant obstacles, as Warner Brothers believed that Ilene Berns would sue any competing label.    First, Morrison married Janet Minto, his longtime American girlfriend, which rectified his immigration status.  Warner then carefully negotiated a settlement with Ilene Berns and Bang Records.  Finally, record executive Joe Smith personally handled the non-public business of extricating Morrison from his contract with the label’s Italian representatives for $20,000 in unmarked cash.¹

Finally, with some stability in his professional life, Morrison moved to upstate New York and began his recording career in earnest.  His first album for Warner Brothers, Astral Weeks, is considered by critics one of the great achievements in rock music, though it’s a stretch to consider it “rock”.  It is an innovative passage of music, long poems, steeped in the memories of his Irish heritage, and accompanied by a sensitive jazz combo led by bassist Richard Davis.  Astral Weeks did not sell well, so there was some pressure to follow up with a marketable product.  Moondance did not disappoint, featuring shorter songs with a pop sensibility, and is also considered a definitive collection of Morrison’s music.  These two records epitomize the breadth of expression that would follow in his long, prolific career; his songs cover a wide range of subjects, sung almost exclusively from a first person perspective.  He often reminisces about days gone by and the simple happiness he found in youth.  Morrison is well read, and uses his knowledge of religion, philosophy and literature to reflect a personal quest to understand life through his music.  He uses big bands, generally six to ten players, with horn sections and the occasional orchestral backing.  Over the years he moved to northern California, and then back to Northern Ireland where he lives today. “Van The Man” has produced thirty four albums of original material, not including several dozen songs released in subsequent collections.  He has been awarded the Order Of The British Empire, and is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

A short list of musical contributors to Van Morrison’s music:

Jay Berliner (b. 1940), guitar
Richard Davis (b. 1930), double bass
Connie Kay (1927-1994), drums
Jef Labes, keyboards
John Platania, guitar
Jack Schroer (1944-1995), saxophone
David Hayes, bass
Albert “Pee Wee” Ellis (b. 1941), saxophone, arranger
Candy Dulfer (b. 1969), alto saxophone
Georgie Fame (b. 1943), keyboards, vocals

A Love That’s Divine

My serious interest in Van Morrison and his music began in 1989, a landmark year in my life.  I had given up drinking and drugs in 1987, and for the first time in adulthood was in the midst of a long period of uninterrupted sobriety.  I attended self-help meetings that emphasized a belief in a higher power, something I never quite embraced.  I was feeling healthy, doing well at work, and was single and unattached for the first and only time since college.  During the summer of 1989 I met and started dating my wife.  I think it was my work friend Greg Vaughan who piqued my interest in Van Morrison, and suggested the album Avalon Sunset.  I bought the album and listened to it regularly that summer and fall.  I remember discussing “Have I Told You Lately” with Greg, and him suggesting the song was not about romantic love, but rather agape, a divine, universal love.  I’ve always remembered that, and use that as an example of ambiguous lyricism, a favorite trait of good songwriting.

There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the one, to the one.

(Note: All lyric quotes by Van Morrison unless otherwise noted.)

I started collecting Van Morrison albums in earnest.  Avalon Sunset was rapidly followed by Enlightenment and Hymns To The Silence, all of which contained spiritual songs of varying religiosity.  My general appreciation for spiritual music increased.  I prefer it when the message is conveyed in traditional popular styles such as bluegrass and country music, rather than by a church choir.

Morrison is the only musician who became an all-time favorite midway into his career.  In the case of The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Los Lobos, and for a shorter period, David Grisman, I became enamored with their music at first or second listen.  Van The Man’s music was there in the background during the late sixties and early seventies, songs like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Into The Mystic” and “Jackie Wilson Said” on the San Francisco AM and FM radio stations.  I bought the Wavelength album in 1979, and even went to my first Van Morrison concert at Freeborn Hall in Davis, California, but I can’t remember much about it.  My music collection portrays this gap between Morrison’s popular period and my spiritual “awakening” to his music, with few favorite songs from the mid-seventies through the mid-eighties.  In retrospect, it’s a shame I didn’t know that Morrison lived in Marin County and performed regularly around San Francisco when I was growing up.

Van Morrison And The Fame Game

While preparing to write this profile, I read Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography “Can You Feel The Silence?” for a second time.  It is a comprehensive, and at times unpleasant, look at Van’s career through the turn of the century.  Though Heylin is clearly a fan of the music, he spends an inordinate amount of time psychoanalyzing the introverted Morrison, whose least favorite thing in life is to be analyzed.  And yet, I am compelled to offer a few sympathetic thoughts.

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that I have personality characteristics that suggest Asperger’s Syndrome, or high functioning autism (HFA).  After reading about it and taking a few online tests, I’m convinced this is a good general description of how my mind works.  I score highly on IQ (intelligence) and AQ (autism) tests, and poorly on EQ (empathy) tests.  I’m focused on a few subjects of interest, with limited to no interest in other things.  Historically, I’ve often used drugs and drink to feel happy and ease my mind, and in middle age I struggle with mild paranoia and depression.   I have a harsh sense of right or wrong, with scant gray area between the two.  On the other hand, I can see some things in clearer, less complicated ways than others, and have a powerful memory for facts and numbers.  Knowing I’m a little different, I worry what other people think of me, and I overcompensate, often making the mistake of being too talkative with others.   It’s unlikely a professional would diagnose me with Asperger’s Syndrome, but there are hidden struggles, especially in social situations.

Van Morrison was obsessed with music from an early age.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, and is a voracious reader, perhaps in his quest to both understand life and write a great song.  He is a synesthete; he refers to the sounds of his music in terms of “shapes”, much like Bob Dylan assigns colors to music.  In concert, he is a fully engaged perfectionist who listens carefully to his musicians, and expects them to sensitively react to his voice and actions.  And he despises the fame game, from strangers who approach him in public to share stories and wishes, to the tabloid writers who capitalize on the details of his personal life.  And he’s been very forthright and honest about it.

Amazon.com Link to “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

In my life I’ve had two friends who were quite famous.  Earl Anthony was perhaps the greatest professional bowler of all time, and during the seventies he was a highly personable and well spoken celebrity, with millions of adoring fans.  I played golf with Earl once or twice a week for a few years, and got to know him very well.  I had made the decision that I would treat celebrities as ordinary people, and avoid asking questions about their profession.  And this worked great with Earl; he was interested in all sorts of things, from nature to high finance.  After knowing him a while, Earl would share some of his bowling experiences, which of course was immensely fun and enjoyable.

I don’t remember exactly where this story comes from, but the best story about Earl comes from an interaction with a longtime member of our local golf club.  Apparently this member had never heard of Earl, and asked Earl whether he liked to bowl, and Earl answering nonchalantly to a series of questions:

“Do you like to bowl?”
“Yes, I like to bowl.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your highest score?”
“300.”
“Really? No way. So how many times have you rolled a 300?”
“Oh, about 650 times in sanctioned competition.”
“What? No way! Have you ever won a tournament?”
“Yeah, about 150 tournaments worldwide.”
“No way!”

Another friend of mine who is well-known is Tom Doak, who designs golf courses for a living. By comparison he is a minor celebrity, but he is very influential within the golfing community. I became friends with him through an Internet discussion group that discusses golf architecture. He is a recognized authority on the subject, with a photographic memory of thousands of golf holes he studied in his long career. He dropped out of the math program at MIT and transferred to Cornell University for landscape architecture, because he knew he wanted to be a golf architect. His online personality is very funny and outgoing, but in person, he is shy and reserved until he feels comfortable. In normal conversation, Tom tends to steer the conversation to golf courses.  Tom and his band of talented course “shapers” build beautiful and natural looking golf courses, modern works of art.  His approach to golf course construction is similar to Van Morrison’s approach to music.  He allows his artists to improvise within the context of the overall plan.  If he doesn’t like something, he gives general instructions to change the shapes to make it look and play better.

Ballyneal_3Best_printGolfing at Ballyneal — Getting The Shapes Right (Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

 When my wife was a young woman, she dated a well-known professional football player for a short period of time.  Recently she told me how disruptive his fame was in social situations.  The two of them could not enjoy a restaurant meal without several interruptions from well-meaning fans.  “Oh, sorry to interrupt and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so-and-so from somewhere, and I wanted to tell you this and that about myself.  Oh, and by the way, could you sign this for me?”

Once Van Morrison is comfortably surrounded by trusted friends, he’s probably a lot like everybody else, happily participating. On some evenings he probably likes talking about music, and the greats of the past. How tough it must be to be famous, spending your whole life dealing with people who want your time, attention and business. A couple years back, my wife volunteered for a local golf tournament raising money for Parkinson’s disease. The great basketball player Bill Russell was there, adding his presence to the list of celebrities. After the golf round, he sat mostly alone, with his back to the after-party. He’s a kind man and a great man, but he doesn’t want to endure small talk and he doesn’t want to explain why. Another friend who once played golf with Mr. Russell said that as soon it was clear everybody was there to play golf, he opened up and was very charming.

Why Must He Always Explain?

Biographer Clinton Heylin takes Morrison to task for excessive complaint in his 1991 double album Hymns To The Silence.

“Hymns To The Silence, his first double album of original songs, devotes almost the entire first volume to whingeing about “Professional Jealousy”; how the singer is ‘not feeling it any more’; the fact that he just wants an ‘Ordinary Life’; and why he can’t find ‘Some Peace Of Mind’…This indulgent exercise culminated in ‘Why Must I Always Explain?’, a song that in four minutes seemed to offer a prima facie case for clinical paranoia…As Steve Turner has written, ‘The irony of “Why Must I Always Explain?” was that the thrust of his songwriting had always been explanation, giving his public detailed information about his problems, hardships, and spiritual adventures.”¹

I like Hymns To The Silence; I listened to Disc 1 dozens of times during those happy days of sobriety and courtship.  Perhaps the difference between me and a professional critic like Mr. Heylin is that he gets completely outside his self and interprets the songs from the author’s perspective.  I listen to the songs and think about how they relate to me.  When Van sings about “Professional Jealousy” it reminds me when other engineers who were promoted ahead of me.  The rollicking “Ordinary Life” always made me think about how much I like a simple, regimented life.  I’m not sure who the ‘Village Idiot’ is, but I can relate to that character.  It’s impossible to deny the personal attack of “Why Must I Always Explain?”, but still I’m looking for how the music relates to me and my life.

“Well I get up in the morning and I get my brief,
I go out and stare at the world in complete disbelief.
It’s not righteous indignation that makes me complain,
It’s the fact that I always have to explain.

The world is so crazy these days; sometimes you just shake your head and wonder what the people with power are thinking.  I can relate.

Van Morrison writes a lot of songs.  There’s something for almost everyone: songs about love and spirituality.  Songs about growing up in Belfast, and songs about getting away from it all and being alone.  For those who like happy-go-lucky novelty songs, there’s not much of that.  Van’s a pretty serious guy.  He’s like Woody Allen — every year or so he goes into the studio with a group of musicians and knocks out another collection of songs.  He records quickly, looking for first impressions and early inspiration from his musicians.  Songs are often completed in one or two takes.  Then he takes his favorites out on tour and refines them.

Seeing Van Morrison Perform In Concert

During our courtship, Cheryl and I saw Van in Berkeley a couple times, then I stopped attending his concerts for a while.  In May, 1994, Morrison released Live In San Francisco, which featured several guest stars and a more soulful sound.  It’s a wonderful record, and I bought Days Like This, the next studio album. But my true Van Morrison epiphany came in September, 1998, the last time he visited Portland, Oregon.  It was a big tour with Bob Dylan, not to mention a thirty minute opening set by Lucinda Williams, who was at the peak of her popularity.  They played at the Rose Garden, the largest venue in town, and not particularly well suited for concerts.  Dylan and Morrison took turns headlining on this tour.  On this evening, Morrison came out second and performed a stunning set of upbeat music, focusing much of his attention on well known songs, perhaps the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen.  Wow songs, one after another.  Poor Bob Dylan had to follow Van that night, and his voice and his live performing abilities are no match for Van The Man’s power.  After a few laconic songs we headed home.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to see Morrison perform every time he travels to the west coast, which usually means a weekend in San Francisco every year or two.  It seems we visit San Francisco as tourists more than I ever did as a longtime Bay Area resident.  I’ve met a few of Morrison’ most devoted fans, who travel from the east coast and even Europe to see him perform, and I’ve be invited to join a private discussion group, which I enjoy very much.  It’s fascinating to read the comments of his longtime fans, and what they liked about each show.  Among the devoted fans of his music, my tastes are pretty conventional.  I have my favorites, which can be figured out by my song ratings.  Many of his longtime fans love to hear the lesser known and rarely played numbers that Van sings and plays on occasion.  Like all of my favorite performers, Morrison’s concert playlists vary from year to year, though several songs remain in the rotation for decades.

In the fall of 2000, I was driving through Austin, Texas with a friend, and stopped at a outdoor record stand to see what they had.  Just looking through the bins I came across a 2-CD collection called Emerald Dreams, a live performance from Dusseldorf, Germany in December, 1998.  I bought it and stuck it in the car CD player, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites.  It was a similar show to the one I had seen in Portland, essentially the same band with a couple of special guest stars added.  The concert footage from that show is now floating around on YouTube, and two songs from the show are included here.  Over the years I’ve collected a number of concert recordings, and my iPod collection has dozens of these recordings filling out my collection.  These are prized belongings, and among my favorite and most played songs I own.  Since many of these are not readily available, I recommend substituting them with studio recordings or commercially available live albums.

In the grand scheme of 20th century popular music, where does Van Morrison fit?  Rather than the typical comparison to other rock musicians, Morrison should be compared to the great small bandleaders.  As a matter of coincidence, the careers of three men named Louis are quite similar to Morrison: Louis Jordan, Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong.  The three Louis all sing, swing, and play a horn, and they surrounded themselves with musicians with the ability to improvise.  Morrison brings a greater lyrical sophistication, though his songs tend to be a bit less complex musically than pop standards of the twenties and thirties.  The confessional nature of the songs, blurring the lines between romantic and spiritual love, and the repeating mantras of his message wash over the listener in each ninety minute performance, where not a second of time is wasted, and the music flows seamlessly from song to song.  He is my favorite live performer ever, and there’s a sense of urgency to see him again before he retires.

In The Garden

This fall Van Morrison will release “Lit Up Inside”, a book discussing selected lyrics from his lifetime of work.  I’ll be curious to see which lyrics are discussed.  Among the dark horse choices I’m pulling for is “All Work And Play” from the 2002 album Down The Road.  I doubt music scholars, or Van himself, give the bouncy “All Work And No Play” much thought, but sometimes a few simple thoughts does it for me.  It shouldn’t always be deep and profound; that’s not how life goes.  These words evoke a strong image for me.

I’d like to be somewhere else,
Like to be all by myself.
Like to be down at the beach,
Relaxing at the sugar shack.
Hot dogs, coffee black,
Coca Cola, kicking back.

I get most of my spiritual input from music.  Morrison’s shout outs to musicians mean more to me than his references to great authors and poets.  “Real Real Gone” finishes with the following words of wisdom.

Wilson Pickett said, “In the midnight hour,
That’s when my love comes tumbling down.”
Solomon Burke said, “If you need me,
Why don’t you call me.”
James Brown said, “When you’re tired of what you got,
Try me.”
Gene Chandler said, “There’s a rainbow in my soul.”

I enjoy the adaptation of the W.B. Yeats poem “Before The World Was Made”. Both Yeats and poet William Blake were revered for their simplicity. There’s no need to view the world in an overly complicated fashion. We’re human beings, the dominant species on the planet. We’re not separate or special in any regard. We want food and shelter and comfort, and most of us want sex and love, too. My sense of wonder resides in the beauty and diversity of all this life, evolving on Earth for over 500 million years. It is improbable, amazing, and impossibly complicated, the mountains and the oceans, and the fields of grass that turn from green to gold each summer, in the valley where I live.

“If I make the lashes dark,
And the eyes more bright.
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right.
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed,
I’m looking for the face I had,
Before the world was made.”

— William Butler Yeats

I could have saved Van Morrison years of theosophical longing if he had just asked me, but we would have missed out on a lifetime of lovely thoughts. Despite my atheistic beliefs, I enjoy songs about God and the mysteries of the divine. A hundred years from now, the song most likely to endure as an example of his poetic genius will be “In The Garden”.

“And you went into a trance,
Your childlike vision became so fine.
And we heard the bells inside the church,
We loved so much,
And felt the presence of the youth of
Eternal summers in the garden.

And as it touched your cheeks so lightly,
Born again you were and blushed,
And we touched each other lightly,
And we felt the presence of the Christ,
Within our hearts,
In the garden.

And I turned to you and I said,
No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the father in the garden.

No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the Father and the Son,
and the Holy Ghost,
In the garden, wet with rain.”

Van Morrison Song Notes:

1.  “Precious Time” is regularly featured in concert performances since its debut on Back On Top.  I have never heard a satisfactory live performance of this song.  It is the rare Morrison song where the studio version is clearly superior, thanks to Pee Wee Ellis’s fine closing solo.

2.  My college sweetheart was named Andrea.  She was about five foot four, from the head to the ground.  And her name is A…

3.  Van Morrison is sometimes criticized for a lack of facility as a guitar and saxophone player.  Although he is not a virtuoso player of either instrument, I enjoy his guitar and sax solos a great deal, and consider that an integral part of his musicianship.

Van Morrison Songs:

The Story Of Them Featuring Van Morrison

Gloria, Them ★★★★★
Philosophy, Them
One Two Brown Eyes, Them
Baby Please Don’t Go, Them ★★★★
Here Comes The Night, Them ★★
Mystic Eyes, Them ★★★
I Like It Like That, Them
I’m Gonna Dress In Black (Alt), Them
Little Girl (Alt), Them
Turn On Your Love Light, Them
I Put A Spell On You, Them
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Them ★★★
Hey Girl, Them
Friday’s Child, Them
Richard Cory (Alt), Them ★★

Blowin’ Your Mind

Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison ★★★
T.B. Sheets, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks, Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
The Way Young Lovers Do, Van Morrison
Madame George, Van Morrison ★★★
Ballerina, Van Morrison ★★
Sweet Thing, Van Morrison ★★★
Slim Slow Slider, Van Morrison ★★

Moondance (2013 Deluxe Edition)

And It Stoned Me, Van Morrison ★★
Moondance, Van Morrison ★★★★
Crazy Love, Van Morrison ★★★
Caravan, Van Morrison ★★★★
Into The Mystic, Van Morrison ★★★★
Come Running, Van Morrison ★★
These Dreams Of You, Van Morrison ★★★
Everyone, Van Morrison
Glad Tidings, Van Morrison

Into The Mystic (Take 11), Van Morrison ★★★
Moondance (Take 22), Van Morrison
Glad Tidings (Alt), Van Morrison
These Dreams Of You (Alt), Van Morrison ★★
Caravan (Mono), Van Morrison ★★
I Shall Sing (Mono), Van Morrison

His Band And The Street Choir

Domino, Van Morrison ★★★

Tupelo Honey (Remastered)

Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison ★★★★
I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative), Van Morrison
Wild Night, Van Morrison ★★★
Wild Night (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Friday’s Child: Live At the Pacific High Studios

Into The Mystic (Live), Van Morrison ★★
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Ballerina (Live), Van Morrison
Tupelo Honey (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Wild Night (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Domino (Live), Van Morrison

Saint Dominic’s Preview

Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★
I Will Be There, Van Morrison
Listen To The Lion, Van Morrison
Saint Dominic’s Preview, Van Morrison

Hard Nose The Highway

Warm Love, Van Morrison ★★

It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue (Live), Van Morrison

Veedon Fleece

Fair Play, Van Morrison ★★
Who Was That Masked Man, Van Morrison
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River, Van Morrison
Bulbs, Van Morrison

Wavelength

Kingdom Hall, Van Morrison
Natalia, Van Morrison ★★
Wavelength, Van Morrison

Into The Music

Bright Side Of The Road, Van Morrison ★★★★
And The Healing Has Begun, Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game, Van Morrison ★★

Beautiful Vision

Beautiful Vision, Van Morrison
Cleaning Windows, Van Morrison ★★★

Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart

Celtic Swing, Van Morrison
Rave On, John Donne, Van Morrison

A Sense Of Wonder

Tore Down A La Rimbaud, Van Morrison

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

Foreign Window, Van Morrison ★★
A Town Called Paradise, Van Morrison
In The Garden, Van Morrison ★★★★★
One Irish Rover, Van Morrison ★★

Rave On (Glastonbury, England, June 1987)

Foreign Window (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison

Poetic Champions Compose

I Forgot That Love Existed, Van Morrison ★★
Queen Of The Slipstream, Van Morrison
Someone Like You, Van Morrison ★★★
Alan Watts Blues, Van Morrison ★★★
Allow Me, Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed?, Van Morrison ★★

Irish Heartbeat

Irish Heartbeat, Van Morrison & The Chieftains
Marie’s Wedding, Van Morrison & the Chieftains

Avalon Sunset

Whenever God Shines His Light, Van Morrison ★★
Coney Island, Van Morrison ★★
Have I Told You Lately, Van Morrison ★★★
When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God, Van Morrison
Orangefield, Van Morrison

Enlightenment

Real Real Gone, Van Morrison ★★★
Enlightenment, Van Morrison ★★
So Quiet In Here, Van Morrison
See Me Through, Van Morrison
Youth Of 1,000 Summers, Van Morrison
In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll, Van Morrison

Bang Masters

Brown Eyed Girl (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Hymns To The Silence

Professional Jealousy, Van Morrison ★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore, Van Morrison ★★
Ordinary Life, Van Morrison ★★
So Complicated, Van Morrison
Why Must I Always Explain?, Van Morrison ★★★
Village Idiot, Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through Part II (Just A Closer Walk With Thee), Van Morrison ★★
By His Grace, Van Morrison
All Saints Day, Van Morrison ★★
On Hyndford Street, Van Morrison
Be Thou My Vision, Van Morrison ★★
Green Mansions, Van Morrison
Pagan Streams, Van Morrison
Carrying A Torch, Van Morrison

Too Long In Exile

Big Time Operators, Van Morrison
Lonely Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
Gloria, Van Morrison
Moody’s Mood For Love, Van Morrison ★★
Before The World Was Made, Van Morrison ★★★

A Night In San Francisco

Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison
Beautiful Vision (Live), Van Morrison
I’ll Take Care Of You/It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Days Like This

Raincheck, Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This, Van Morrison ★★★
Ancient Highway, Van Morrison
In The Afternoon, Van Morrison ★★

How Long Has This Been Going On

Who Can I Turn To?, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame
Sack O’ Woe, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame ★★

The Healing Game

Rough God Goes Riding, Van Morrison ★★
Fire In The Belly, Van Morrison ★★
Sometimes We Cry, Van Morrison

The Philosopher’s Stone

Naked In The Jungle, Van Morrison ★★
Drumshanbo Hustle, Van Morrison
Flamingoes Fly, Van Morrison
Street Theory, Van Morrison

I Like Candy – 1998 Christmas Special

Chicken (Live), Van Morrison
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Raincheck (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance/My Funny Valentine (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Rough God Goes Riding (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Give Me A Kiss (Live), Van Morrison
That’s Life (Live), Van Morrison
In The Afternoon (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Satisfied (Live), Van Morrison
Summertime In England (Live), Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through/Soldier Of Fortune/Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again/Burning Ground (Live), Van Morrison

Back On Top

Philosopher’s Stone, Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight, Van Morrison ★★★
Back On Top, Van Morrison ★★★
When The Leaves Come Falling Down, Van Morrison ★★★
Precious Time, Van Morrison ★★★

Norwegian Wood Festival (Oslo, Norway, Jun 2000)

Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Vanlose Stairway/Trans-Euro Train (Live), Van Morrison ★★
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Think Twice Before You Go (Basel, Switzerland, December 2000)

Think Twice Before You Go (Live), Van Morrison
Fire In The Belly (Live), Van Morrison
Domino (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Brown Eyed Girl (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Help Me (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Down The Road

Meet Me In The Indian Summer, Van Morrison ★★
Steal My Heart Away, Van Morrison
Choppin’ Wood, Van Morrison
All Work And No Play, Van Morrison ★★★
What Happened To PJ Proby?, Van Morrison
The Beauty Of The Days Gone By, Van Morrison

Meet Me In… (Tempodrom, Berlin, June 2002)

Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Naked In The Jungle (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★★
Hey Mr. DJ (Live), Van Morrison
Meet Me In The Indian Summer (Live), Van Morrison
Sometimes We Cry (Live), Van Morrison
Early In The Morning (Live), Van Morrison

Perugia, July 2003

When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Evening In June, Van Morrison
Meaning Of Loneliness, Van Morrison ★★
Stop Drinking, Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon, Van Morrison
St. James Infirmary, Van Morrison ★★

Nights In November (Germany, November 2003)

I Will Be There (Live), Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon (Live), Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Like It Like That/Kansas City (Live), Van Morrison
Back On Top (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Philosopher’s Stone (Live), Van Morrison ★★
And The Healing Has Begun (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Gloria (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Little Village (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Have I Told You Lately (Las Vegas) (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Goldfish Bowl (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game/You Know What They’re Writing About (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★

Live In Toronto (September 2004)

All Work And No Play (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Magic Time

Stranded, Van Morrison ★★
Celtic New Year, Van Morrison ★★
Keep Mediocrity At Bay, Van Morrison
The Lion This Time, Van Morrison
Magic Time, Van Morrison
They Sold Me Out, Van Morrison

Live At Austin City Limits

Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple, Van Morrison
Behind The Ritual, Van Morrison
End Of The Land, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks: Live A The Hollywood Bowl

Sweet Thing (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Born To Sing: No Plan B

Born To Sing, Van Morrison
If In Money We Trust, Van Morrison
Pagan Heart, Van Morrison

Miscellaneous YouTube Video Recordings

Celtic New Year (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore (LIve), Van Morrison ★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Precious Time (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Related Songs:

Gloria, The Doors
Gloria, U2

Baby Please Don’t Go, The Amboy Dukes
Baby Please Don’t Go (Live), Lightnin’ Hopkins ★★★
Don’t Go Baby, John Lee Hooker ★★

Turn On Your Love Light, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★
Turn On Your Love Light (Live), Grateful Dead

I Put A Spell On You, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ★★★★
I Put A Spell On You, Nina Simone ★★
I Put A Spell On You, Creedence Clearwater Revival ★★★★

Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s All In The Game, Tommy Edwards ★★

Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles ★★★★

Moody’s Mood For Love, King Pleasure ★★★

I’ll Take Care Of You, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, James Brown ★★★
It;s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – Lost Someone (Live), James Brown ★★
It’s A Man’s World, James Brown ★★★★

Sack O’ Woe, The Mar-Keys ★★
Sack O’ Woe, Manfred Mann

My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker ★★★★
My Funny Valentine, Artie Shaw & His Gramercy 5 ★★
My Funny Valentine, Elvis Costello ★★
My Funny Valentine, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet & Chet Baker
My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis ★★

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra ★★★
That’s Life (Live), James Brown ★★★★

Help Me, Sonny Boy Williamson ★★★★
Help Me, Charlie Musselwhite ★★

Early In The Morning, Sonny Boy Williamson
Early In The Morning (Live), Eric Clapton

When You’re Smiling/The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Don Gibson ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles ★★★

Just Like A Woman, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

 

¹  Excerpts from “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

4. Los Lobos

Los Lobos is just another band from East Los Angeles, California. The original quartet all attended the same high school; Louie Pérez and David Hidalgo were in the same graduating class at Garfield High School, and bonded over a mutual interest in lesser known musical artists such as Ry Cooder and Randy Newman. Conrad Lozano and Cesar Rosas were already a year or two out of school, and playing in local bands. Like most aspiring young American musicians, they listened to the diverse sounds of the late sixties and early seventies, perhaps the peak era for creativity and growth for guitar-based popular music. British greats The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, soul musicians James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone, and guitar virtuosos Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were among the influential artists of the era. For young men growing up in the Chicano neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, local stars Ritchie Valens and Thee Midniters served as inspiration, in a town with a rich musical heritage. Though they played modern music in their own bands, the four young men who would become Los Lobos forged their long partnership by learning traditional Mexican folk music together.

los-lobos

Conrad Lozano (b. 1951), bass, guitarron, vocals
David K. Hidalgo (b. 1954), guitar, accordion, vocals, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
Cesar Rosas (b. 1954), guitar, bajo sexto, vocals, songwriter
Steve Berlin (b. 1955), saxophone, keyboards
Louis Pérez (b. 1953), guitar, jarana, percussion, vocals, songwriter

Three drummers who have contributed to the band are:

Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez, drums, percussion
Cougar Estrada, drums, percussion
Victor Bisetti, drums, percussion

Los Lobos on Wikipedia
Official Los Lobos Website
Los Lobos Tour Dates & Setlists 1983-Present (Unofficial)

The band spent many hours at Cesar’s house, listening to his mother’s record collection for study, and learning the intricacies of this complex music. The band began to perform at local social functions in 1973:

After lots of living room rehearsals they played at that Florence tardeada/tamalada. The response was amazing and overwhelming for both the audience and the guys. Here were five hippie-looking Chicanos playing for an audience that ranged from teenagers to gray-haired abuelitas. The grandmothers were amazed. Tears welled up in their eyes to hear the music of their heart being played by these youngsters. It was a sign that the musical legacy of Mexico would be perpetuated, albeit with a new, creative, universally appealing twist. Dave recalls, “At that point, we knew we had hit on something.”¹

In its early inception, the fifth band member was Francisco Gonzalez, a gifted harp and mandolin player. In this 1975 documentary video, Gonzalez has a dominant role as lead singer and band spokesperson. The highlights are the introduction, where Gonzalez explains the band’s motivation for learning the traditional songs, and the performance of “Sabor A Mí” at about 10:30 into the documentary.

Small “p” Politics

In 1976, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was recruited to provide the music for Sí Se Puede, a charity album for the United Farm Workers of America. In 1978, they produced their eponymous first album, which sold a limited number of copies. By then, Francisco Gonzalez had left the group. In the future, he would serve as the musical director for El Teatro Campesino, a theatrical troupe that served as the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers, and a teacher of son jarocho, a musical style from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Little has been written about Los Lobos; to date, no comprehensive biography exists. However, the band’s role in the growing Chicano movement of the sixties and seventies was analyzed in Stevan Cesar Azcona’s book Movements in Chicano Music: Performing Culture, Performing Politics, 1965-1979. Azcona concludes that Los Lobos, who spoke English as a first language, wore beards, and dressed in American working clothes for gigs, used musical excellence rather than overt protest as a political statement:

I submit that it was the particular musicality of the Lobos, within the traditional styles of son and huapango, which excited audiences. The technical musical proficiency of the group as instrumentalists, coupled with the improvisational aspect of the son jarocho, in the words of Loza, “affected not only the performance of the son jarocho, but also the manner in which it was heard and evaluated by Chicanos.”²

The Lobos Go West (Of The River)

Los Lobos spent several years performing folk music in East Los Angeles and surrounding cities. But they hadn’t lost interest in electric guitars and rocking music. Pop music had experienced a period of relative stagnation, but the late seventies brought a wave of new bands reverting to simpler forms of rock and roll music, with shorter songs and often rudimentary musicianship. Some bands displayed their societal disaffection with anger and violent behavior. The punk rock movement was growing, and Los Angeles was a hotbed for this new direction in pop music.

The band experimented with electrified instruments at gigs, and took note of the burgeoning punk scene in Hollywood and Los Angeles. They attended concerts and befriended members of the local bands The Plugz and The Blasters. The quartet reorganized for electric music, with Louie Pérez moving to drums and Dave Hidalgo learning accordion in addition to his guitar expertise. They developed a new repertoire of music, Tex-Mex polkas and straight ahead rock and roll songs, while maintaining their Mexican-American roots and sensibilities. In January, 1981, they received their “big break” opening for The Blasters at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood. They became a fixture on the punk rock scene, and eventually signed a contract with Slash Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. In 1983, they released …and a Time to Dance, their first major label record. The short, seven song EP sold modestly, but enabled the band to begin touring nationally to develop a larger audience.

Here is the band performing in 1984, the subject of its second short documentary in a decade. Steve Berlin, who previously played saxophone in the Blasters, has been added to complete the quintet which has remained intact for thirty years.

Who Is That?

For the first seven years after college, I lived in an old apartment in East Palo Alto, on Woodland Avenue just across San Francisquito Creek from Palo Alto proper. It was a third story apartment with a balcony, and you entered from a central hallway. My next door neighbor Keith and I worked for the same company, and we became loingtime friends after spending three years living across from one another. For a year or so, Keith had a roommate, Mike Murphy, who would come home periodically with a few record albums. One evening, with the doors open between the apartments, Mike played some music which got my attention immediately. It was either “Serenata Norteña” or “Evangeline”.

“Mike, what is that?”, I demanded.
“That’s Los Lobos. You’ve never heard Los Lobos before?”
“No.”

And that was that; I went in to their room, listened carefully for the next 10-15 minutes, and have been in love with the band ever since. I bought a copy of their new album, How Will The Wolf Survive?, plus their first EP as soon as I could find it. I went to my first Los Lobos concert with Mike Murphy later that year, at the old Keystone in south Palo Alto. Thanks to the Internet, the date must have been June 1st, 1985. We were in the middle of the small, packed dance floor bouncing around, just a few feet from the band. I remember the impassive look on Dave Hidalgo’s face as the audience reveled. I also remember Murphy being appalled when I spent something like twenty bucks for a six pack of Michelob beer, only to give four of the beers away when I returned to the fray.

Since then I’ve seen the band perhaps fifteen to twenty times. They always perform at a high level, but like every band some concerts are better than others. At a San Jose Cinco De Mayo celebration in 1990, salsa great Willie Colón opened for Los Lobos and played for three hours, in what appeared to be an act of sour grapes for not headlining. Later that year, we took Cheryl’s youngest daughter to her first rock concert, at the Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga. One of the great concerts was in May 2004, at the tiny Catalyst club in downtown Santa Cruz. It was right after they released their album The Ride to commemorate thirty years together as a band. I drove down from Portland, listening to The Ride a couple times to familiarize myself with the new songs. My old neighbor Keith joined me for dinner and the concert. By then the band had added a dedicated percussionist, with Louie Pérez moving back to the front of the stage as a third guitarist. It was loud in there, and we were blazed, and the songs from the new album came alive. Then there was a 2010 concert at an old theater in Ventura, California with an old college friend which didn’t go well. The acoustics were awful, and before the concert started I witnessed this great big guy lift a much smaller man up by his neck and hold him helplessly against the wall for a good thirty seconds before letting him go. It’s scary to see violence like that close up. Finally, in July of 2011 my wife and I saw Los Lobos at the Portland Zoo. There wasn’t any room to sit down when we got there, so we opted to stand right in front of the stage. The band was on and sounding great. In the middle of the concert, a very tall, athletic woman and her boyfriend moved up to the little dance area, right in front of Cheryl, not only obscuring her view, but also occasionally bumping into her while we all danced in place. She was really pissed. For a moment I thought they were going to go! That girl was big and strong; I don’t know if that would have been a good idea.

America’s Greatest Band

With about one hundred and sixty songs, Los Lobos retains their position as having the third most songs in my music collection. They remain in my top five with four titans of popular music. What an interesting subject to write about! Evaluating bands quantitatively, by the number and quality of songs, makes perfect sense to me. I don’t understand how some bands with just a few good songs receive the type of recognition that has eluded Los Lobos. So why do I love Los Lobos so much?

On the “Introduction” page of the blog I have a list of general criteria for evaluating music. I wrote a rough draft six years ago, and the review of Los Lobos prompted me to take a second look at this section. The Introduction page has been edited and updated.

A. Clear, Understandable Singing: Call me old fashioned, but I like the style of singing where the lyrics can be easily understood. I like plain, controlled singers, and don’t care for singers who sustain notes unnecessarily. Overly emotive singing has the opposite effect; songs lose their emotional impact. Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles are examples of good singers who don’t wail and sing effectively.

B. Musical Virtuosity: Perhaps more than anything I admire skillful musicianship. Though I lack a formal musical education, I’ve listened for a long time, and believe I can tell who can play. Skillful musicians often play with restraint; it’s not always about being the center of attention. Great musicians and great bands play fast or slow, in different keys and different rhythms, and use their instruments to convey a variety of emotions.

C. Swing It and Move Me: Even as simple as bobbing your head back and forth, music that moves the body is the greatest kind. Dance is the timeless mating ritual, where two people express themselves physically. Some songs are too fast or slow for dance; at any speed I’m looking for songs that move the mind.

D. Different Rhythms, Different Sounds: In recent years, popular music seems to have strayed from the use of complex, danceable rhythms, choosing to play it safe with a 4/4 tempo with the emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beat. This would limit both the creativity of the dance, and the musician’s ability to improvise. My music collection should offer good examples of both traditional and non-traditional music rhythms.

Variety is everything. There should be a grand variety of instruments and sounds, and the recognized masters of the common popular instruments shall be included.

E. The Lyrics and The Story: Defining great lyrics is hard, and may require repeat listenings before they make an impact. More than half of my collection features songs about love, sex, and the concepts of home and God. Since I like “moving” songs, I also have many songs that remind me of trains, or driving along in an automobile. I tend to like simple, direct lyrics, and often tire of deciphering dense, complex subjects. On the other hand, ambiguous lyrics that can be interpreted differently by two people are special. As are catchy songs with unique subjects. I recently added a song called “Plea From A Cat Name Virtute”, sung from the standpoint of the cat trying to cheer up its owner. There are infinite possibilities for a good song.

What constitutes good lyrics is personal, though there are consensus favorites. The lyrics should fit to the melody and the cadence. How the singer emphasizes the syllables is essential. Bob Dylan is a master of punctuating his lyrics. Dylan is also the rare author who tells a long story well. Overly abstract lyrics, and nonsensical lyrics chosen for their sound rather than their meaning, have limited value. As always, there are exceptions. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is rather abstract and nonsensical, but it evokes dreamy imagery well, of plasticine porters with looking glass ties.

F. Exceptions To The Rule: There are exceptions to the rule, good songs about nothing in particular, good songs where the singing is unclear, or the music is crude and amateurish. Once again, variety is the key.

G. Perfect Sounding Music is a No-No: I dislike overproduced music, where every human imperfection is filtered out of the final product. There are few exceptions, as it dehumanizes the music. I have a tough time enjoying modern popular music, though part of the problem is the well established repertoire developed over fifty plus years. In contrast, accomplished musicians can take a loosely rehearsed concept and create something spontaneous and beautiful with limited preparation. Many great jazz and pop songs were completed in just a couple of takes.

H. Variety Within an Artist’s Career Almost without exception, the greatest bands and musicians evolve, and have distinctive stages of their careers. The Beatles are still the gold standard in this regard, from their beginnings as a rock and roll quartet singing overt love songs, to a mature phase, writing songs on a variety of subjects, and incorporating the instruments and studio sound effects deemed best to achieve the desired result.

I. Originality: The first musicians to introduce a new style of music, and the best practitioners of that style, are considered valuable traits. I study traditional forms of popular music, including some that originated in foreign countries. Less attention is paid to recent musical trends, after the demarcations between musical styles started to blur. Even the roots of rap music, a genre I listen to infrequently, can be found in the dub poetry of men like Linton Kwesi Johnson, or the socio-political rants of Gil Scott-Heron.

A songwriter’s original version of a song tends to be the highest rated and most coveted interpretation.

J. Short Songs Are Best: When I first started listening to music, most popular songs were brief, often with a short instrumental break between the second and third verse. Beatles and other pop music songs were two to three minutes long. Before the development of long playing records, and the advanced recording techniques of the late forties and early fifties, musicians were limited to about three and a half minutes per song, the outside limit for recording on 78 rpm records. By the late fifties, jazz musicians were creating longer songs with well developed improvisations, and eventually all musicians followed suit. I tend to like short songs better; longer songs, and especially longer improvisational passages, must conform to a higher standard, as it more difficult to maintain the listener’s interest. Ten minute songs are a rarity, about one percent of the collection, and multiple improvisational pieces by a single artist are the exception rather than the rule.

Analysis of Los Lobos Music

Los Lobos is unique among American bands. They began their professional career playing Mexican music, even though they spoke English as a first language. The folk music they perform is complex; they became accomplished musicians at a young age. Los Lobos evolved from Veracruz folk songs to Tex-Mex polkas, on by the mid-eighties had incorporated elements of both rock & roll and country & western music.

A representative song from this era is “A Matter Of Time”. The story of a man searching for work while his family waits at home is revisited in future songs.

The band’s songwriters tend to not make sweeping statements. Even when composing the rare anthem, the small town reality of life’s struggle remains.

A young girl tosses a coin in the wishing well,
She hopes for a Heaven while for her there’s just this Hell.
She gave away her life, to become somebody’s wife,
Another wish unanswered in America.

People having so much faith,
Die too soon while all the rest come late,
We write a song that no one sings,
On a cold black stone where a lasting peace will finally bring.

A wise man was telling stories to me,
About the places he had been to,
And the things that he had seen.
A quiet voice is singing something to me,
An age old song ’bout the home of the brave,
And this land here of the free,
One time, one night in America.

— David Hidalgo/Louie Pérez

The La Bamba Conundrum

In the early days, Los Lobos featured three Ritchie Valens songs in their live repertoire. While performing in Santa Cruz, California, the Valens family approached the band, and asked them to provide the music for a proposed movie about the young star who died tragically in the same accident which claimed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The band was honored to do so, and provided the music for La Bamba, which became a surprise summer hit in 1987. After toiling in relative anonymity for fifteen years, the remake of the song “La Bamba” became a #1 hit.

This created a dilemma for the band, who created three solid albums of original material to limited national exposure and success. The next few years were difficult, as they struggled to establish their own methods of operation. Rather than attempt to capitalize on “La Bamba”, the band reverted to its roots and released La Pistola y El Corazón, a second album of Mexican folk songs. The Neighborhood followed two years later, which was a good rock record, with well crafted songs and performances, but a frustrating experience for the band, who spent months poring over the tiny details. They went back to the drawing board to find a better way to do business.

“So all we could do at that point was basically entertain ourselves and make the kind of music we wanted to make, and use the instruments we wanted to use, and just completely ignore everything and everybody. And that’s more or less the vibe we went into Kiko with. It was like, ‘Nobody’s gonna tell us shit.'”³

— Steve Berlin

“The core of the song was there. The band would listen to it and the run to our instruments. We’d capture that first impression and a lot of times it would be the run-through of the track, but it had a feel to it — I don’t know, it was something we’d never had before…I realized why I loved Jimmy Reed so much, or Howlin’ Wolf, because that was the way they did records. Nobody knew the songs; they came and did them in one or two takes, ’cause they weren’t gonna waste their time thinking, and they had to move on to the next song. So that’s why they’re so fresh.”³

— David Hidalgo

In 1992, Los Lobos released Kiko, a quantum leap forward in songwriting and musical diversity. Solos are kept to a minimum on these song templates, with plenty of room for improvisational exploration in concert. While still grounded in day-to-day life, there’s an element of psychedelic mysticism from deep within the southwestern United States. Kiko is a great record.

As an eagle soars,
Our spirits fly,
To our gentle rest,
Under loving sky.
Oh sacred night,
On quetzal plumes,
Of dying suns,
And purple moons.
Oh sacred night.

— “Wake Up Dolores”, Hidalgo/Pérez

By the early nineties, the band was augmenting both their studio and live music with additional percussionists. This allowed Pérez to move forward as a third guitarist and occasional singer. In concert, Pérez still plays drums for short periods, especially when they perform the old songs. Here are three songs from Kiko:

“Angels With Dirty Faces”

“That Train Don’t Stop Here”

“Kiko And The Lavender Moon”

Having reached a mature phase of their career, Los Lobos continues to produce new music and tour the world. They have a devoted following, but they receive little national publicity. That they only command small to medium size venues is a bonus for true fans, who get to see the band up close and hear their music in a relatively quiet environment. Their new approach to studio recording resulted in greater productivity. They’ve made twelve albums since Kiko, including three live performances and two children’s records. Of these, my favorites are The Ride (2004) with a number of cameo appearances, and The Town And The City (2006), a loose concept album about Los Angeles, which conveys a tired sense of sadness and concern for their hometown.

Cesar Rosas has evolved as a songwriter. From writing bluesy, “greasier” songs in English, many of Cesar’s best songs are now written in Spanish, and incorporate traditional Caribbean rhythms. “Marciela” from Colossal Head is a crowd favorite.

The Beatles used a variety of studio tricks and tape loops to create their iconic songs from Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A testament to Los Lobos musicianship is their ability to recreate the mood of “Tomorrow Never Knows”:

Dear Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame

Music is very personal, and each person can only hear a small subset of new music. When I was young, there were fewer performers and fewer bands, and the world focused its attention on a few talented artists. By the early seventies, artists like the Beatles, and Charlie Parke, and Sun Ra, had challenged the boundaries of popular music. Since then, the number of gifted musicians has grown, but the frontiers for innovation are more limited. Among post-seventies bands who played traditional dance music, Los Lobos is a rare innovator who incorporated a unique traditional style into their music. Los Lobos plays music of astonishing breadth; no other American band can lay claim to such a wide variety of styles and rhythms. Their songs are grounded in their reality; they do not attempt to make grand, vague statements outside their sphere. To the best of my knowledge, they have never cursed on record or in concert. They sing their songs plainly, and they enunciate well. Their music is often playful; they recorded an album of Disney songs, and a few of their songs have a child-like simplicity. They are very humble in their appearance and presentation. When they were presented with a chance to capitalize on the success of “La Bamba”, they retreated to their own music. They are all family men, with wives and children, though Cesar’s wife passed away unexpectedly in 1999. They have stayed together as a quartet for forty years, and now as a quintet for thirty. From this outsider’s view, they are a clean-cut, great American success story.

“Los Lobos Marks 40 Years of Distinctive, Eclectic Music”, by Chris Junior, Goldmine Magazine, June 2013

I grew up in Palo Alto, the home of the Grateful Dead, but my heart belongs to Los Lobos del Este Los Angeles, four hundred miles to the south. They are closer to my age, and lived close enough where I heard and enjoyed all the same musical influences. I’d like to believe life was not that different for children raised in Palo Alto and East Los Angeles. In conversation they sound like the Californians I know. From the first time I heard them, Los Lobos music resonated deeply with me, and their appearance and behavior is the essence of California cool.

This reminds me of a story. I played basketball in college, at UC Davis near Sacramento, California. For the first couple of years, I was an understudy for Audwin Thomas, the team’s starting point guard, who became one of the school’s all-time leading scorers. He was from Oakland, and in high school the two of us played against each other in a holiday basketball tournament. One day we were talking about that day we played against each other. Before the game, his coach came into the locker room and said, “You can’t let these guys beat you. These guys eat donuts and hot chocolate for breakfast!” Their coach was wrong, as I stopped eating donuts for brunch in junior high.

On the Not In Hall of Fame website, Los Lobos is currently ranked as the 133rd ranked band not in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. A few publications and websites give the band a little more love, but the chances appear slim. When I suggest to non-fans that Los Lobos belongs in the Hall Of Fame, I get either blank stares or comments that I’m crazy. I admit a tendency to latch onto a favorite band with a passion. But only three or maybe four of the top hundred bands in the countdown appear to be personal favorites that look wildly out of place. I’ve studied music reviews for many years, and the rest of my list looks very reasonable, with consensus great artists of rock, jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass and reggae. If Los Lobos has a weakness as an all-time rock band, it would be the inability or reluctance to make the grand statement, the catchy pop song with that memorable hook that everyone knows and loves. Had they done this, I still have doubts whether their songs would have gained widespread acceptance.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to induct Los Lobos is to recognize David Hidalgo, a most versatile and talented musician. Not only a fine singer and songwriter, he has the rare gift of swing, propelling songs forward with his guitar or his accordion. Here’s how Hidalgo and the band sent the Austin City Limits crowd home in 2001:

“There’s a big fat heart,
With an arrow through the middle,
Of this place that I call home.
And when I get lost,
And don’t even got a nickel,
There’s a piece of dirt I call my own.

I gotta say one, two, three,
More things before I go on.

You can’t run and try to hide away,
Here it comes, here comes another day.
You can’t run to try to hide away,
Here it comes, here comes another day.
Where you are, never really far away,
Good morning Aztlan.”

— Hidalgo/Pérez

Los Lobos Song Notes:

1. There are a couple of essential documents to obtain if possible. One is Chuy’s Tape Box, Volume 1, a 1984 soundboard recording from a small club in Santa Barbara. There are only a few thousand copies floating around. It captures the band in rare form with a very enthusiastic audience. The second is a KFOG radio recording of the December 16, 1993 Christmas benefit program in San Francisco, California. Not only was Kiko recently released; it features both acoustic and electric programs, with definitive versions of “A Matter Of Time” and “One Time, One Night”.

Los Lobos Songs:

Sí Se Puede

De Colores, Los Lobos

(Just Another Band From East L.A.)

El Canelo, Los Lobos ★★
Sabor A Mi, Los Lobos ★★★
Flor De Huevo, Los Lobos
La Iguana, Los Lobos
El Cuchipe, Los Lobos ★★★
Guantanamera, Los Lobos ★★★
La Feria De Las Flores, Los Lobos
El Bon Bon De Elena, Los Lobos

…And A Time To Dance

Let’s Say Goodnight, Los Lobos ★★★★
Walking Song, Los Lobos
Anselma, Los Lobos ★★★
Come On, Let’s Go, Los Lobos ★★
How Much Can I Do?, Los Lobos ★★★
Why Do You Do, Los Lobos
Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio, Los Lobos

How Will The Wolf Survive?

Don’t Worry Baby, Los Lobos ★★
A Matter Of Time, Los Lobos ★★★★
Our Last Night, Los Lobos
I Got Loaded, Los Lobos ★★★
Evangeline, Los Lobos ★★
I Got To Let You Know, Los Lobos
Lil’ King Of Everything, Los Lobos
Will The Wolf Survive?, Los Lobos ★★★

By The Light Of The Moon

One Time, One Night, Los Lobos ★★★★★
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Los Lobos
Is This All There Is?, Los Lobos
Set Me Free (Rosa Lee), Los Lobos
The Hardest Time, Los Lobos ★★
My Baby’s Gone, Los Lobos
Tears Of God, Los Lobos ★★

La Pistola Y El Corazón

La Guacamaya, Los Lobos ★★
Las Amarillas, Los Lobos
Estoy Sentado Aquí, Los Lobos ★★
El Canelo, Los Lobos ★★★★
La Pistola Y El Corazón, Los Lobos

The Neighborhood

Down On The Riverbed, Los Lobos
Emily, Los Lobos ★★
I Walk Alone, Los Lobos
Angel Dance, Los Lobos ★★
Little John Of God, Los Lobos
Deep Dark Hole, Los Lobos ★★
Georgia Slop, Los Lobos ★★
I Can’t Understand, Los Lobos
The Giving Tree, Los Lobos ★★★
Take My Hand, Los Lobos ★★
Jenny’s Got A Pony, Los Lobos
Be Still, Los Lobos ★★★
The Neighborhood, Los Lobos ★★

Kiko (20th Anniversary Edition)

Dream In Blue, Los Lobos
Wake Up Dolores, Los Lobos ★★
Angels With Dirty Faces, Los Lobos ★★★
That Train Don’t Stop Here, Los Lobos ★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon, Los Lobos ★★★★
Saint Behind The Glass, Los Lobos ★★★★
Reva’s House, Los Lobos
When The Circus Comes, Los Lobos ★★★★
Arizona Skies, Los Lobos ★★
Short Side Of Nothing, Los Lobos
Two Janes, Los Lobos
Wicked Rain, Los Lobos ★★
Just A Man, Los Lobos ★★★
Peace, Los Lobos ★★★
Peace (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Arizona Skies/Borinquen Patria Mia (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Just Another Band From East L.A. – A Collection

Someday, Los Lobos
Bertha (Live), Los Lobos ★★
What’s Going On (Live), Los Lobos

Live At The Warfield (12/16/1993, KFOG Broadcast) (Unauthorized)

Los Ojos De Pancha (Live), Los Lobos
One Time, One Night (Live), Los Lobos ★★★★★
A Matter Of Time (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Red Headed Woman (Live), Los Lobos
Don’t Worry Baby (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Wicked Rain (Live), Los Lobos ★★★★

Papa’s Dream

Cielito Lindo, Los Lobos
La Bamba, Los Lobos

(I chose the second version of “La Bamba” from this disc. Both versions are moderately interesting.)

Colossal Head

Revolution, Los Lobos ★★
Mas Y Mas, Los Lobos ★★
Maricela, Los Lobos ★★
Manny’s Bones, Los Lobos ★★

This Time

This Time, Los Lobos ★★★
Cumbia Raza, Los Lobos ★★

El Cancionero: Mas Y Mas (4-CD Box Set)

La Bamba, Los Lobos ★★
Goodnight My Love, Los Lobos
I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song), Los Lobos ★★★
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Los Lobos
Alone In A Crowd, Los Lobos
Tomorrow Never Knows (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, Los Lobos (with Paul Burlison) ★★

Good Morning Aztlan

Hearts Of Stone, Los Lobos ★★★
Luz De Mi Vida, Los Lobos ★★
Good Morning Aztlan, Los Lobos ★★★★
Tony y Maria, Los Lobos
What In The World, Los Lobos
Round & Round, Los Lobos

The Ride

La Venganza De Los Pelados, Los Lobos
Rita, Los Lobos ★★★
Somewhere In Time, Los Lobos ★★★
Wicked Rain/Across 110th Street, Los Lobos
Wreck Of The Carlos Rey, Los Lobos
Someday, Los Lobos
Chains Of Love, Los Lobos ★★★

Ride This – The Covers EP

It’ll Never Be Over For Me, Los Lobos ★★

Live At The Fillmore

The Neighborhood (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Maricela (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon (Live), Los Lobos ★★★

Live In Carmel (3/3/2005) (Unauthorized)

La Llorona (Live), Los Lobos
Sabor A Mi, (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Gema (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Acoustic En Vivo

Canto A Veracruz (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Colas (Live), Los Lobos ★★
El Cuchipe (Live), Los Lobos
Two Janes (Live), Los Lobos
Saint Behind The Glass (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Soy Mexico Americano (Live), Los Lobos
Volver, Volver (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Teresa (Live), Los Lobos
Guantanamera (Live), Los Lobos ★★

The Town And The City

The Valley, Los Lobos ★★
The Road To Gila Bend, Los Lobos ★★★
Chuco’s Cumbia, Los Lobos ★★
If You Were Only Here Tonight, Los Lobos ★★
Luna, Los Lobos
The City, Los Lobos
No Puedo Más, Los Lobos
The Town, Los Lobos ★★

Los Lobos Goes Disney

I Will Go Sailing No More, Los Lobos ★★

Tin Can Trust

Burn It Down, Los Lobos ★★
Tin Can Trust, Los Lobos
Jupiter Or The Moon, Los Lobos ★★
Do The Murray, Los Lobos
West L.A. Fadeaway, Los Lobos
27 Spanishes, Los Lobos

Kiko Live

Dream In Blue (Live), Los Lobos
Angels With Dirty Faces (Live), Los Lobos
That Train Don’t Stop Here (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Saint Behind The Glass (Live), Los Lobos
When The Circus Comes (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Arizona Skies (Live), Los Lobos

Disconnected In New York City (Live)

Chuco’s Cumbia (Live), Los Lobos ★★
La Venganza De Los Peladoes (Live), Los Lobos
Little Things (Live), Los Lobos

Chuy’s Tape Box Volume 1 (Live in Santa Barbara, 1/14/1984)

Let’s Say Goodnight (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Our Last Night (Live), Los Lobos
Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I Got To Let You Know (Live), Los Lobos
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Los Ojos De Pancha (Live), Los Lobos
Volver, Volver (Live), Los Lobos
How Much Can I Do? (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Anselma (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I’m Sorry (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Come On, Let’s Go (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
La Bamba (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Sleep Walk (Live), Los Lobos
I’m Tore Down (Live), Los Lobos

One Time, One Night (Live Recordings Vol. 1)

Just A Man (Live), Los Lobos

One Time, One Night (Live Recordings Vol. 2)

Angel Dance (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I Can’t Understand (Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone Intro), Los Lobos
Estoy Sentado Aquí, Los Lobos
Hearts Of Stone (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy (Live), Los Lobos

Miscellaneous

Rolling, Los Lobos
Carabina 30-30, Los Lobos ★★

“Rolling” is a 56 second single, while “Carabina 30-30” can be found on KCRW Sounds Eclectico.

Related Songs:

Sabor A Mí, Eydie Gorme & Trio Los Panchos ★★
Sabor A Mí (Live), Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina

El Cuchipe, Brigitte Bardot

Guantanamera, Evaristo Quintanales ★★★
Guantanamera (Live), Pete Seeger

El Bombón De Elena, Cortijo y Su Combo ★★

Come On, Let’s Go, Richie Valens ★★

Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio, Flaco Jimenez ★★★

I Got Loaded, Lil’ Bob & The Lollipops ★★★

Georgia Slop, Big Al Downing ★★★
Georgia Slop, Jimmy McCracklin (added to Wish List)

Borinquen Patria Mia, Claudio Ferrer y Su Conjunto (added to Wish List)

Bertha (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye ★★★★
What’s Going On (Alt), Marvin Gaye ★★★★
What’s Going On (Live), Chaka Khan

Los Ojos De Pancha, Los Alegres De Terán

Cielito Lindo, Trio Los Panchos

La Bamba, Ritchie Valens ★★★
La Bamba, Los Nacionales de Jacinto Gatica

Goodnight My Love, Jesse Belvin ★★

I Wan’na Be Like You, Louis Prima & Phil Harris ★★★★★

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Nat King Cole ★★★★
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Vince Guaraldi Trio ★★

Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beatles ★★★★
Tomorrow Never Knows (Alt), The Beatles

Midnight Shift, Buddy Holly ★★

Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, Johnny Burnette & The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio ★★
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes (Live), The Beatles

La Llorona, Chavela Vargas ★★
La Llorona, Alberto Vasquez ★★

Canto A Veracruz, Andres Huesca & Trio Huracán

Soy Mexico Americano, Los Cenzontles
Soy Mexico Americano, Los Pinguinos Del Norte

I Will Go Sailing No More, Randy Newman ★★

Buzz Buzz Buzz, Hollywood Flames ★★★
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Jonathan Richman ★★

I’m Sorry, Bo Diddley

Sleep Walk, Santo & Johnny ★★★

I’m Tore Down, Freddie King ★★

Angel Dance, Robert Plant

Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy, Howlin’ Wolf ★★★

¹ Excerpts from “Siendo la Verdadera Historia de Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles”, by Luis Torres (found in liner notes of the El Cancionero: Mas y Mas box set)
² Movements in Chicano Music: Performing Culture, Performing Politics, 1965-1979, by Stevan Cesar Azcona, p. 234
³ Excerpts from “The Hollywood Years and Beyond” by Chris Morris (found in liner notes of the El Cancionero: Mas y Mas box set)