Was it really “The Last Time” for the Rolling Stones???

Posted June 28th, 2013 at 4:58 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

Before they set out on tour this spring, Ray McDonald hypothesized about The Rolling Stones set for their 50 Years and Counting tour …

Now the US leg has come and gone and we know that the band didn’t stick with a single set list for this run. Instead, they shook things up from show to show, adding in requests here and there. Which keeps it interesting not just for the fans who travel from show to show, but for the band, too.

The DC date was June 24th and people are still talking about what might  have been the LAST Stones date EVER in the United States.  Which could help explain why celebrities like Lenny Kravitz and One Direction’s Harry Styles showed up to party with Mick and the Boys. (You can see photo proof on Lenny’s Instagram!)  And while we’re on the subject, Mick Jagger signed up while he was making his way to DC—here’s proof. He’s only shared one photo so far, but it’s a good one.

I’ll save you from asking the inevitable: no, I didn’t go to the show. I’ve seen The Rolling Stones six times and each show was wonderful. I would have loved to have been at this historic event, but ticket prices were ridiculous–a good seat cost almost as much as my first car. Four hours before the show, I took a look online and saw the box office had floor seats available for 640 bucks, plus service charges. And that wasn’t a scalper–that was the actual box office price! Now, not every seat in the arena cost that much, but if you’re going to see a show like that, you want to be able to see every little twist and shout.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a twinge of regret as the night went on and my Facebook feed started filling up with glowing reviews from friends who did bite the bullet and buy tickets.

Like Mark Finkelpearl and his son,  Max.

Mark Finkelpearl and his son Max at the Rolling Stones concert in Washington, DC June 24, 2013. Father and son couldn’t pass up the chance to see the legendary band play what might be their last US show ever. (photo courtesy Mark Finkelpearl)




Mark loved that he could share a very special event with his son, a special show the pair could never, ever, EVER forget.

In an email, he told me it was fabulous to see  guitarist Mick Taylor back on guitar with the band once again, even if it was only for two songs (“Midnight Rambler” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, in case you’re wondering).

Max loved the show, too. “It was really an incredible experience from seeing everyone wearing their different Stones shirts from across the years to the intricate stage to the quality of the music. There was something classic about the show and yet the band did not feel old at all.”

Reading all the great reviews and seeing the incredible photos from the show posted on the  Washington Post (which claims Monday’s show came 17,917 days after their first US gig) and USA Today  sites, along with the DC setlist posted on the Stones online home  is… well… “Satisfaction” enough for me. Which, by the way, was the last song of the encore.

Of course the Stones aren’t home resting up after their DC date. They’re playing at the world’s biggest music festival, Glastonbury, on Saturday.  Keith Richards told the BBC he’s a bit concerned about the English weather forecast this weekend (it’s notoriously rainy at that fest), but he’s laughing off comments that, at an average age of 69, the band is “too old.”






A string of dates in London’s Hyde Park follows Glastonbury and then…well, who knows. It really could be  “The Last Time”…but I wouldn’t be so certain.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Pianist Scott Cossu’s World of Music

Posted June 27th, 2013 at 9:36 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC

Pohick Bay Park, Virginia (photo: D. Bekheet)

Pohick Bay Park, Virginia (photo: D. Bekheet)

I went  to a picnic recently at a park in Virginia. It was a lovely day, with giant trees framing views of the Potomac river. That verdant setting  reminded me of a disc I hadn’t listened to for a while — “Emerald Pathways,” a 2002 jazz album by American pianist and composer Scott Cossu.

Cossu is getting ready to release a new album this fall called “Lullaby.”  “It’s going to be featuring several pieces from my past Windham Hill recordings that are unavailable now because Windham Hill was bought by RCA,” Cossu tells VOA’s Jazz Beat.

“Lullaby” will also showcase five new tunes by the prolific New Age jazz pianist, who in the mid-1970s developed a strong passion for world music.

Scott Cossu

Scott Cossu (photo: Tor Clausen)

Cossu studied music at Ohio University. There, he met music teacher Hamza El Din, a renowned Egyptian musician. Hamza, who was best known for his oud-playing, changed Cossu’s direction, and became the biggest influence on his music career.

“I have been juggling many different music of worlds for close to 40 years now because of Hamza El Din,” said Cossu.

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2013_06/JazzBeat_Scott_Cossu_diaa_bekheet_june2013.mp3]”Because of his [Hamza El Din’s] influence, I became a much more prolific composer, realizing and opening my mind up to how to be able to absorb many cultural influences mixed with my own.” Cossu said.

More Jazz Beat here

In the mid-1990s, I profiled Scott Cossu on my Jazz Club USA on VOA Arabic. Here’s the show.


Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Stormy Monday: Goodbye, Bobby “Blue” Bland

Posted June 24th, 2013 at 3:51 pm (UTC+0)

by Ray McDonald


Robert Calvin “Bobby” Bland died on June 23 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 83. The Associated Press quoted his son as saying he died due to an ongoing illness.

He was known as Bobby “Blue” Bland — or, the Sinatra Of The Blues. Born in rural Tennessee, he moved to Memphis, and like so many other hopefuls gravitated to the Beale Street music scene. Bland was a longtime friend and associate of fellow Beale Streeter B.B. King — Bland even served as the guitarist’s valet and chauffeur at one point. In this 1977 clip, you can see the affection between the two blues masters as they tear into “The Thrill Is Gone.”



I was a latecomer to Bobby “Blue” Bland, but once I heard his voice, I was a goner. A friend of mine owns a compilation of his greatest hits from the 1950s and ’60s, and they’re just magical records. Recorded with a large orchestra, they push his vocals to the front. The sonic sheen only magnifies the pain in his lyrics. I can imagine these songs pouring out of smoky clubs and bars late at night, in a time when audiences were segregated and Bobby’s music was a treasure waiting to be discovered by young white ears.  Eric Clapton and David Bowie were among the new generation of musicians to record his songs, and in 1978, none other than Whitesnake recorded his hit “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.” In 2008, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red recorded the album “Tribute To Bobby,” which reached 18th place on the UK chart.

Bobby himself recorded into the 21st Century, by which time he’d ascended to the musical pantheon. He entered the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

Let me take you back to 1962 for this snapshot of Bobby “Blue” Bland in his prime. Dim the lights and appreciate the voice we all have lost on this Stormy Monday.





Joyride with Banjoist-Singer Cynthia Sayer

Posted June 17th, 2013 at 8:40 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC

Cynthia Sayer Press Shot by Gary Spector.

Cynthia Sayer Press (Courtesy photo:Gary Spector.)

It’s been relatively rare to see a woman playing banjo, but Cynthia Sayer has made a name for herself on the instrument, playing not only jazz, but also a mix of  music ranging from tango to classical, Western to pop.

“When I started to play the 4-string banjo, I didn’t have a reference to banjo at all. I learned from a woman named Patty Fischer, and I had no idea that time that women players were so extremely rare,” said Sayer in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat.


Sayer’s Discography

  • ATTRACTIONS with Bucky Pizzarelli

Joyride brings together a terrific group of musicians, including two who work with rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Listen to more music and interviews here on Jazz Beat

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Figuring Out Kanye West

Posted June 17th, 2013 at 4:44 pm (UTC+0)
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By Ray McDonald


Kanye Omari West: who is he? Is he the challenging, creative rapper responsible for some of the best hip-hop releases of the past decade? Or is he a self-important irritant who, among other incidents, highjacked Taylor Swift’s big moment at the 2009 MTV Awards show and more recently lashed out at photographers after walking into a pole?

We’re all, every one of us, a mixture of good and bad. On Tuesday, June 18, Kanye West releases his sixth solo album “Yeezus,” and he’s been promoting it by projecting videos from the album on public sites worldwide.

Kanye engages me emotionally, more so than just about any other modern pop music artist. On the one hand, I can’t stand his enormous ego – on the other, who else would find such an audacious way to publicize his work? Kanye’s shown a keen interest in art and fashion, working with such industry leaders as Louis Vuitton and Italian shoemaker Giuseppe Zanotti. There’s a restless intellect at work here, and it keeps me scouring the media for new reports of his creativity – and public missteps.

His father, Ray West, was a photojournalist, while his mother Donda was chair of the English Department at Chicago State University. He and his mother spent some time living in China, and by all reports he suffered greatly when she died suddenly in 2007 after complications from cosmetic surgery.

Although “Yeezus” leaked late last week, I haven’t heard the entire album; in a typical twist of unpredictability, he brought in one of my favorite producers, Rick Rubin, just days before its release. It’s practically guaranteed to open at number one on the United States pop album chart.

On June 15, Kanye West had his first child, a daughter, with his girlfriend, reality-TV star Kim Kardashian. So he has little hope of escaping the rigors of celebrity in the era of the 24-hour pseudo-news cycle. Just do me one favor, Kanye – keep your head up when you walk. You never know what you might run into.

What’s your opinion of Kanye West and his testy relationship with fame?


A few tunes to honor Dad

Posted June 14th, 2013 at 12:33 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

June 17th is Father’s day in the US. Last month, we celebrated Mother’s Day in song,  now it’s equal time for dear old Dad.

When I set out to document Father’s Day in song, I was thinking that songwriters didn’t have the same enthusiasm for “dad songs” that they do for the mom variety. But I was wrong–there are plenty of songs honoring fathers and an equal number of sad ones chronicling the messy side of fatherhood. I’ve picked four of my favorite Dad Songs to share with you—these aren’t the best or the most famous, they’re just ones that speak to me.
Zac Brown put a cover of Cat Steven’s Father and Son on a recent project, and Irish band Boyzone scored a huge hit with it, but the original still shines. While there is tension between the father and son in this song–the father not understanding why his son wants to live his life the way he does, in interviews, Cat Stevens says his own father was always supportive of his career choice. Sometimes a song is just a song…

John Mayer’s big hit “Daughters” won many awards, including the 2005 Song of Year Grammy, but it’s actually a song for fathers, not just about daughters. It’s Mayer’s reminder to Dad (and to Mom, as well) to nurture their daughters in childhood, because he believes father-daughter relationships affects girls’ adult relationships with men.

The daddy classic from The Temptations is another tough one, subject wise–Mom is being questioned by the kids about their late father. I bet you’re going to sing along with her answer when the chorus comes around:”Papa was a rolling stone…” There are a million versions of this song floating around the web, but I just love the hot pink suits they’re wearing in this one.

While the title of this one is “A Boy Named Sue”, it’s really all about his desire for revenge on his Dad, the man who gave him a name usually reserved for girls. The song started out as a poem by humorist Shel Silverstein, but is best known as a huge hit by Johnny Cash. Silverstein said his inspiration was his friend, writer Jean Shepherd, a man with a feminine-sounding name. Johnny Cash had to be talked into recording this one by his wife, June Carter Cash –good thing he listened to her, because “A Boy Named Sue” was his biggest hit single. Cash first recorded the song in 1969 during his famous concert at San Quentin prison in California. This version was recorded a few years later in Denmark. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you any more of the story…

And here’s a bonus extra — John Prine’s “Unwed Fathers” , simply because it’s a song that I think everyone in the world needs to hear at least once in their lifetime.  Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash and the band Deer Tick have all recorded great versions,  but I don’t think anyone does it better than the man himself. Grab the tissues, because it’s a real heart-breaker.  As John says in his intro, it’s a song about a group of people you don’t hear too much about–unwed fathers, the men who aren’t living with the mothers of their children. In this case, it sounds like he’s singing about a couple of teenagers and their baby.

Those are my picks for Father’s Day. Let me know what’s on your playlist of favorite Dad-Songs.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Ben Tucker, R.I.P.

Posted June 4th, 2013 at 7:44 pm (UTC+0)
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Jazz bassist and composer Ben Tucker has been killed in a strange and terrible accident.

The truest tribute to any musician is his or her music. And, for all his accomplishments as a musician and businessman, Tucker was  best known for writing the song “Comin’ Home Baby,” a wonderfully funky tune covered by jazz and pop artists alike.

The break-through version of the song was by flutist Herbie Mann, with Tucker at the bass:

It would be taken up, with a lyric written by Bob Dorough, by the singer Mel Torme:

Quincy Jones arranged a version for his studio big band


The surf-guitar band, The Ventures, gave it a try:

And there is even this wonderfully quirky take on the tune, arranged for Kai Winding’s trombone-heavy band:

More recently, “Comin’ Home Baby” was covered by Michael Buble:




Within Them Without Them

Posted June 4th, 2013 at 2:32 pm (UTC+0)
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By Ray McDonald

The Beatles released “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on June 1, 1967 in the United Kingdom. It hit the United States the following day. I was seven years old that summer, and remember walking through our local department store record section with my mother. “Sergeant Pepper” copies were stacked like cord-wood, dominating the floor space. Believe me, it was a big deal.

By late 1966, when they began work on their most influential album, The Beatles were sick of being The Beatles. Their final, tumultuous tour was punctuated by riotous controversy, after John Lennon remarked to a reporter that “We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”

When they gave up touring, The Beatles resolved to expand their creative horizons in the studio – never again would they play their old pop songs for screaming hordes of teenagers. In February of 1967 – halfway through the recording of the album – Paul McCartney came up with the idea of creating an imaginary band to deliver the members’ creative ideas.

When it arrived, “Sergeant Pepper” changed the face of pop music and the larger culture. It placed the album above the single as the preferred medium for delivering music. It embodied the spirit of psychedelic experimentation that had been brewing over the previous year…and it also sold very well. To date it’s moved an estimated 32 million copies, while “Rolling Stone” Magazine named it the greatest album of all time.

When you reach the mountaintop, what then? The Beatles, who retreated to the studio to leave their mop top past behind, found themselves splintering. John Lennon summarized their dilemma succinctly in this 1969 interview clip:




On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney announced his departure from The Beatles, and the band effectively ended. They made wonderful music right up to the end, and to this day they exert tremendous influence on music and pop culture. Last week, Ringo Starr made headlines after announcing he was publishing an e-book of previously unseen photos. It’s out on June 12th. As “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” celebrates its 46th anniversary, let’s  reflect on the moment the members became individuals…and history turned a corner.


Mulgrew Miller, Gone Too Soon

Posted May 29th, 2013 at 8:39 pm (UTC+0)
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Mulgrew Miller, one of the best and most prolific jazz pianists of his generation, has died of a stroke.

Nate Chinen, in the New York Times, reports:  “Mulgrew Miller, a jazz pianist whose soulful erudition, clarity of touch and rhythmic aplomb made him a fixture in the postbop mainstream for more than 30 years, died on Wednesday in Allentown, Pa. He was 57.”

To get a sense of how Miller approached the piano and jazz, here’s an interview with Miller by journalist Jim Luce: 16 Mulgrew Miller 1

And to hear the pianist in action, here’s Miller from a few years ago performing the jazz standard “I Hear a Rhapsody.”

Mulgrew Miller will be sorely missed.

Congratulations George Strait! 60 for 60!

Posted May 23rd, 2013 at 7:39 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

There was a lot of cheering at George Strait‘s house last weekend, but it wasn’t all because the Country Music Hall of Famer was celebrating his 61st birthday….it’s because “Give It All We Got Tonight” (off his 40th studio album “Love Is Everything”) is a number one hit, making Strait the first artist to ever get 60 songs at the top of the charts.

His fans call him the “King of Country” and rightly so. Before this week, George Strait already held the record for having more number one hit songs than any artist in music history.

So when word came that George was getting ready to retire from touring after this year, his fans wanted to make sure he went out on a very high note. So they teamed up with radio stations and some of the biggest country stars around and started “Sixty for Sixty,” hoping to give King George his 60th hit record before he turned 61. They made it just under the wire—his birthday was May 18th!

Over a 32 year career, George Strait has sold more than 68-million albums worldwide and influenced a whole generation of singers and songwriters.



The “60 for 60” campaign website is full of videos by famous fans cheering George on—Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Wynonna and Carrie Underwood are among those testifying to his talent!

Ever humble, the cattle rancher-turned-singer said of his feat:”I didn’t realize we were making history –I just hoped we were putting out music that my fans would enjoy.”
George Strait has one more date on this leg of his farewell tour, round two will take place in 2014. Looking for all 60 of those hits? The complete list is here. Congratulations and happy belated birthday George Strait—no one sings that country swing like you do!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!



VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.



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