R.I.P. George Jones

Posted April 26th, 2013 at 5:10 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

George Jones, arguably the greatest country singer ever, died today.


It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. The Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Famer was 81 years old and lived what you might call “a hard life.” But it was still a shock to see the obituaries start popping up on my facebook feed.

Today, we call anyone who’s had one hit song a star. George Jones was the real deal. He had No. 1 songs in five decades: the ’50s to the ’90s, recorded more than 150 albums and dozens of hits.  Music historians regard him as one of the most important and influential singers in American popular music history.  His long string of hits include “She Thinks I Still Care,”  “Walk Through This World With Me,” “Tender Years” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The latter is often atop  industry lists of the greatest country music singles of all time, not to mention one of the saddest songs ever written. Some days I think it is…other days, the crown goes to another one of his hits, “The Grand Tour.” This version is especially cool because it features an intro by the one-time Mrs. George Jones, the late Tammy Wynette.

George Jones’ life story reads like one of his songs.  Born with a broken arm, he gained the nickname “No-Show Jones” when an especially rough patch found him missing more concert dates than he actually played.  He earned millions of dollars from his concerts and record sales and lost much of it to bad business decisions, drug and alcohol abuse and expensive divorces.   He was famously stopped  for driving to the liquor store on a tractor because his wife had taken away his car keys.  This actually happened twice: the second time he was on a riding lawn mower.    We could spend days talking about the ups and downs and arounds of George and Tammy’s relationship —it played out just like a soap opera with multiple separations and divorce filings.  Known as the “King and Queen of Country Music” the pair recorded several classics, including “Golden Rings.”

There are some wonderful George Jones appreciations on the web already. If you’d like to read more about him, I suggest starting with the New York Times story and the extensive coverage in the Nashville Tennessean.
I hate it when living legends pass on to become just plain ol’ legends.   As George sang just a few years ago “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

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!

Start Them Up!

Posted April 25th, 2013 at 7:24 pm (UTC+0)

By Ray McDonald

Let’s play a game, shall we? Let’s assume that the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary tour, which starts on May 3 in Los Angeles, will be their final outing. It could very well be: the youngest member, Ronnie Wood, is 65, while elder statesman drummer Charlie Watts is 71 and has been grumbling about having to play at more outdoor festivals. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 69, and while they appear in good health – at this point, I think we can agree that Keith is indestructible – who knows what the future holds?

So – in the words of an early Stones hit, “this could be the last time.” Now, here’s where you get to be creative. When the boys take the stage for their final appearance on their final tour – which songs will they play? Looking at the set lists for the  “50 and Counting” shows they did last year, I see the Stones played 22 or 23 songs per show, but I’m betting sheer adrenaline will keep them onstage a bit longer for the final gig. Here are my picks for their last-ever concert.

1) “Start Me Up” – obvious but fitting. Keith’s opening notes will get the crowd pumped and ready.

2) “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll”

3) “Grown Up Wrong” – obscurity from “12 x 5” where Mick Taylor can shine on slide guitar (Mick played in the band from 1969-1974 and will appear on the upcoming tour).

4) “Monkey Man” – a “Let It Bleed” track where Mick can ham it up.

5) “Happy” – Keith gets his turn at the mic.

6) “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – classic track from “Beggars Banquet.”

7) “Rough Justice” – high-energy track from “A Bigger Bang.” Later Stones material seems too often overlooked.

8) “Get Off Of My Cloud” – the Stones kicked off their 2012 shows with this 1965 rocker.

9) “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” – let’s give it up for the horn section!

10) “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – a “Sticky Fingers” favorite with more horn workouts.

11) “Gimme Shelter” – peak intensity from “Let It Bleed,” perhaps my favorite Stones album.

12) “Midnight Rambler” – another great “Let It Bleed” track where Mick can get busy on harmonica.

13) “Miss You” – their 1978 nod to disco, ramping up the energy level again.

14) “Doom and Gloom” – c’mon, they have to play one of their latest singles. Mick says the crowds only want the classics, but they’ve been working this one in.

15) “Paint It Black” – one of my all-time favorites. Here’s where I really miss Brian Jones.

16) “When the Whip Comes Down” – good, vicious rocker from “Some Girls” that they fit into some 2012 shows.

17) “One Hit (To the Body)” – another great rock workout, this one from the 1986 “Dirty Work” album.

18) “Dandelion” – a psychedelic obscurity from 1967. I may be the only person on earth who loves this song.

19) “Play With Fire” – ominous 1965 song with a great Jagger vocal. The boys need a couple slow tracks to prepare  for the final stretch.

20) “Brown Sugar” – this one will get the crowd charged up for the finish.

21) “Sympathy For The Devil” – this is how they ended their 2012 shows…


1) “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – …and this is how they kicked off their encores.

2) “Honky Tonk Women”

3) “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – this was their concert closer. A perfect send-0ff, featuring the ultimate rock guitar riff.

It won’t happen like this, of course. I realize that some of these songs will never be disinterred. Still, that’s my ultimate Rolling Stones set list. Now – what’s yours? Just to get you in the spirit of things, here’s a clip of Eddie Vedder sitting in with Mick and the lads on “Wild Horses,” recorded on September 28, 2005 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.




My New Favorite Holiday

Posted April 24th, 2013 at 4:52 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

I have a confession to make: my new favorite holiday is April 20th, AKA Record Store Day!

Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait 51 weeks until the next celebration.

I know what you’re saying–who needs to go into a bricks and mortar store when you can download a song on your phone or computer in seconds? People like me. The ones who still love looking at cover art and reading the back to see who played triangle on track seven or the name of the third assistant engineer.

While we’ve lost many of the major record store chains in the US, there are still thousands of independently owned record stores (defined as “a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50% music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70% located in the state of operation”) open around the world. The third Saturday of every April has been designated as the day we celebrate these great institutions.  Record stores all over the world participate.   (That link will take you to the official Record Store Day website, where you can find an independent record store open and ready to serve you, wherever you are.)






Jack White was the 2013″official ambassador of Record Store Day” and to celebrate that honor his label, Third Man Records, opened their Third Man Recording Booth in Nashville to the public.




This is a historic piece of machinery: a 1947 Voice-o-Graph that is thought to be the only public vinyl recording booth in the world. You step in and can record up to two minutes of audio (a song, poem or even a love letter!), which is then pressed on to a six inch vinyl record.




Brendan Benson, who plays with White in the The Ranconteurs, demonstrates how it works in this Jack White-produced video.

Third Man Records also offered up a few special releases for Record Store Day, including gems from the White Stripes catalog and a Jerry Lee Lewis live set recorded at Third Man’s 2011 Record Store Day celebration. But they aren’t the only label and artists participating.

Warner Brothers put out a special edition of Cream’s “Live At The Albert Hall”, a three LP vinyl boxed set with a book. The set has been remastered and there are only 1500 available. They’re also offering 7500 copies of a four disc colored vinyl set (with a 12 page booklet)  of The Flaming Lips “Zaireeka.” What’s particularly cool about this set is how you play it! You’ve got to cue up the four discs, each on its own turntable, and then start them simultaneously.

Razor and Tie’s offering was a set of the first five Emerson, Lake & Palmer LPs pressed on picture discs.  There’s a double seven inch single on Omnivore of two songs recorded by the Old 97s and Waylon Jennings  in 1996 (but previously unreleased). Tompkins Square is reaching even further back into the stacks for a set by Charlie Poole and the Highlanders dating back to 1929.  And MGMT’s treat is a cassette sea preview of their new record “Alien Days.”

The Record Store Website has a complete listing of all the stores that participated worldwide and all the special releases, along with some audio and video treats. Among them is a preview of Sarah Jarosz’  “Live At The Troubadour.” In an interview last year, the 21-year old Grammy nominee told me that, while she’s still partial to Austin’s Waterloo Records, she’ll stop in as many shops as she can while out on tour —always searching for an undiscovered gem!

Record Store Day may be over for another year, but some of those goodies are still available! If you missed out, it’s only 350 or so days until my new favorite holiday rolls around again–I’ll give you plenty of advance warning.

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!

Remembering Richie Havens

Posted April 23rd, 2013 at 8:31 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

In all honesty, that’s a stupid title for this blog post. How could we ever forget a guy who looks and sounds like this???

It was that opening performance at Woodstock in 1969 that catapulted Richie Havens into the history books, but did you know that it almost didn’t happen that way? Richie was supposed to play fifth, but the opening act got caught in traffic. Havens and his band had helicoptered to the upstate New York festival site, so they were ready to step in when organizers asked. In his book about the festival, producer Michael Lang said he chose his “emergency opener” because “of his calm, but powerful demeanor.” The set went overtime because the next act was also stuck in traffic…which led Richie Havens to improvise what became one of the most iconic moments of Woodstock.


Richie Havens was part of the ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene,  a peer of Joan Baez, Fred Neil and Dave Von Ronk.  He was one of the few African-American singer-songwriters plaging folk music, but fit right in with his distinctive, soulful voice and charm.

Richie Havens performs at the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I. on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)While

Richie Havens released close to 30 albums, but as good as his studio releases are, it is his performances that captured the most acclaim. He honed his skills the old fashioned way: starting out singing doo-wop on the street corners of his Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York, moved up to a gospel choir and then the folk clubs of Greenwich Village.  While he was a good songwriter, Havens was also an exceptional song interpreter.  In interviews and in shows, he’d tell the story of spending three days learning to sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” practicing the song over and over again the stairwell. One night, a man who heard him singing stopped him and said it was the best version he’d ever heard. Havens always ended the story and started the song saying “That’s how I first met Bob Dylan.” George Harrison was said to enjoy Richie’s version of “Here Comes The Sun,” too.

In addition to singing, Richie Havens devoted much energy to environmental causes, creating the Natural Guard, a group that teaches children about the environment. He also founded The Northwind Undersea Institute, a children’s museum in the Bronx.

While his most famous performance was more than forty years ago, Richie Havens continued to carry his message of peace and love into the 21st century, only retiring from performing last month.  A few years ago, he visited VOA and shared a few stories and songs with us, including this updated version of “Freedom.”


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!

I’ll Remember April

Posted April 23rd, 2013 at 12:44 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC

It’s April, and what better time to listen to that classic song of lost love,  I’ll Remember April. Though the song has been sung by any number of great singers, including June Christy, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra, I particularly like the version by the smoky-voiced Julie London from 1956.


I’ve also been enjoying a new, jazzy version, from an album by  Elli Fordyce and Jim Malloy.


I recently had a chance to talk with Elli Fordyce about her musical journey. During our chat, you will hear songs from her albums Something STILL Cool and Songs Spun of Gold. [audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2013_04/Jazz_Beat_Elli_Fordyce_Diaa_Bekheet_April2013.mp3]

More on Jazz Beat, Jazz Club USA


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.

What A Feeling!

Posted April 19th, 2013 at 6:20 pm (UTC+0)
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By Ray McDonald

There was no shortage of pop-rock topics to blog about this week:

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its 2013 Induction Ceremony on April 18. The Canadian rock band Rush finally made it in after years of stonewalling by critics, and that would have made a great post.

And then there is Record Store Day, which takes place on April 20. I spent much of my youth in record stores big and small, and sorely miss them…sitting at home scrolling through songs in ITunes will never take the place of flipping albums while breathing in the mixed aromas of vinyl, cardboard, and patchouli incense.

However, they both pale in comparison to another event…an anniversary of earth-shaking cultural impact. It was 30 years ago this week (April 15, 1983, to be exact) that the movie “Flashdance” opened in the United States. Viewers were treated to big hair, driving 80s synthesizers, and Jennifer Beals dancing her way into our hearts (sometimes getting soggy in the process).

Converting overwrought drama into box-office gold, “Flashdance” ended the year as the third highest-grossing film in the United States. Budgeted at seven million dollars, it took in an estimated 200 million dollars worldwide. It marked the first collaboration between producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who went on to give us such mega-hits as “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Top Gun.” It influenced the nascent video industry – MTV was only two years old at the time – and generated a smash hit soundtrack album. Featuring performances from Irene Cara, Donna Summer, and others, the album sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. It won a Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special. Supervising the soundtrack was the late Phil Ramone, a super-producer who died last month at age 79.

Beyond the numbers lay its impact on popular culture. Girls everywhere took to wearing leg warmers over their jeans while sporting off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, while aerobic dance studios began popping up like mushrooms after a heavy rain. Today, “Flashdance” is a fondly-remembered cultural artifact. Jennifer Beals turned down the opportunity to appear in a sequel, which was never made. Its legacy lies in the ever-present tie-ins between movies and videos, and of course, its enduring online presence.

Happy 30th birthday, “Flashdance!”

Remembering Scott Miller

Posted April 19th, 2013 at 2:55 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Scott Miller (courtesy Loud Family)






Scott Miller died this week at 53.  Critics and fellow musicians would refer to the former  Loud Family singer as “one of America’s most underappreciated songwriters.” He was he kind of artist who devoted fans just knew would be HUGE… if only more people had the chance to hear him.


Before he started Loud Family, Scott formed a power pop band called Game Theory in the early 1980s. That’s when I first heard his songs.  They weren’t played on the radio here in Washington, I only learned of the band because of my friend Jamie in San Diego. He loved the band so much he made it his mission to expose all his friends to songs like “Erica’s Word”

Game Theory went on to release 8 albums, but they’re all long out of print.  After that band broke up, Miller formed Loud Family,  putting out a handful of records (studio and live) and EPs  before calling it quits in 2006.   But Scott Miller never stopped writing, he just changed things up a bit.  Instead of putting out new songs, he started a blog. Which turned into the book “Music: What Happened?”, a look at his favorite songs from  1957 to 2009, picking ’57 as a start date because it’s the year that rock and roll was born.  It’s an interesting book—Miller even instructs us on how to listen to the songs he spotlights.

I think my favorite of his record reviews is for the Jackson Five’s 1970 hit “The Love You Save.”

“It was years before I noticed that the boyfriends in the second verse had inventor names, as in, “When Alexander called you, you said he rang your chimes”–Alexander Graham Bell, get it? Making this a very clever but bizarre song, since the chorus conceit is traffic safety (Stop the love you save may be your own/Darling look both ways before you cross me”). Anyway, it’s a devastatingly catchy chorus tune, Berry Gordy’s polyrhythm-venturing production is exactly right, and the vocal trade-off from Michael to Jermaine works surprisingly well.”

If you’d like to read more of Scott Miller’s thoughts on music, his website has links to a few chapters and you can also listen to some of the songs he cites as favorites.

While he hadn’t been recording recently, his website notes that Scott had been planning to start working on a new Game Theory album, Supercalifragile, later this year and “was looking forward to getting back into the studio and reuniting with some of his former collaborators.”

I noted earlier that the Game Theory CDs are out of print. Scott Miller’s webmaster wants to make sure that fans are able to hear his music, so she  is making them available to you as free downloads—at least for a limited time. Details here.


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!


Posted April 18th, 2013 at 5:05 pm (UTC+0)
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By Eric Felten

According to Variety, the superhero flicks lined up for this summer’s silly-film season are being scored with music that breaks the genre’s tired molds. I can’t say that I’m convinced. The sound of superhero soundtracks has  for years been dominated by orchestral angst: Heroic, yes, but always drenched in a moody ambivalence meant to convey the fraught inner-life of those in the postmodern hero business. From the sound of the trailer Variety gives us for the latest take on Superman, we can expect more of the same — this time with the kind of epic-fantasy vocal chorus meant to lend the proceedings the grave intensity of a requiem mass in Latin. (Is it just me, or is the Dies Irae from Mozart’s “Requiem” one of the most-ripped-off pieces of music ever?).

Personally, whatever changes are being made to the superhero soundscape, their defining quality remains over-seriousness, and self-seriousness at that. These are comic books, for pity’s sake.

I would maintain that the greatest music ever devised for such an endeavor was the music that captured the comic in the comic book genre. And by that I mean, of course, the theme for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It was composed by Neal Hefti, a big band arranger notable for his work with no less an icon than the great Count Basie (Hefti outdid himself composing and arranging for “The Atomic Mr. Basie” disc of 1958). The “SOCK!” and “POW!” brass punches came by way of another of the greatest big band arrangers ever, Nelson Riddle, who was responsible for the series’s incidental music…

The Odd Couples

Posted April 12th, 2013 at 8:59 pm (UTC+0)
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By Ray McDonald


On April 8th, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J triggered a spasm of public indignation by releasing a duet called “Accidental Racist.” I’ll cover the song in a few minutes – and I’ve posted the video at the bottom of the blog – but first:

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J?

While the idea of pairing the West Virginia-born country star and the New York rapper-actor seems strange enough, it’s only the latest in a long line of musical Odd Couples.

In September, 1977, David Bowie and Bing Crosby recorded the Christmas duet “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” At the time, Bowie embodied the musical avant-garde, while Bing Crosby was in the twilight of his long career as a beloved crooner and actor. He died one month after this performance. It appeared on the TV special “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” and Bowie claims he did the show because his mother was a Crosby fan. The rocker balked at singing “The Little Drummer Boy,” so the composition “Peace On Earth” was written for him to perform as counterpoint. In 1982, RCA Records released the song as an official single. It became a seasonal favorite in the United States and the U-K, and remains my “odd couple” touchstone.



Bing Crosby wasn’t the only member of the old guard to mingle with rock stars. Five years before his death in 1998, Frank Sinatra recorded the album “Duets,” which contains performances with such varied artists as Aretha Franklin, Julio Iglesias, and Barbra Streisand. For me – a connoisseur of strangeness – nothing can touch his rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” featuring Bono of the Irish band U2. Bono must have been pleased, as well, because U2 released it as the B-side on their single “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”



There are even precedents in mixing country and rap. In 2004, St. Louis rapper Nelly teamed with Tim McGraw for “Over and Over.” The song reached number one in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, while selling more than one million copies in the United States.



So, what about “Accidental Racist?” Both Brad Paisley and LL Cool J say they’re proud of the song and stand by its message of tolerance and forgiveness. I feel it’s a sincere, if clumsy – VERY clumsy – attempt to reconcile the past and present in our long, difficult racial history. Listen to the song and tell me what you think.







When Harry Met VOA

Posted April 10th, 2013 at 2:47 pm (UTC+0)
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By Doug Levine

Lots of famous musicians have walked through our doors here at VOA. Everyone from Quincy Jones and Chubby Checker to Kenny Rogers and Aretha Franklin, have come to the studio to chat, to perform or both.   One of our most memorable guests was singer, pianist and bandleader Harry Connick, Jr., who visited back in the ’90s.

Harry Connick, Jr. (AP Photo)

Harry was in town promoting a new CD and he stopped by to talk about it.  By then, Harry had shed his child prodigy image (playing jazz piano standards and classical pieces at age 10 in his native New Orleans) to become an international film, television and recording star.  We were all kind of surprised by how mellow Harry was that day.  No star treatment necessary.  He was reserved, down-to-earth, even a little self-conscious, but totally possessed with that easy-going Southern charm.  At one point, before the interview, he politely excused himself to gather his thoughts in an empty office.  His publicist explained that this was simply one of Harry’s rituals, a little private time before revving up to go on stage, in front of  a camera, or before a microphone to talk about music.

Harry Connick, Jr. never let fame and fortune go to his head.  He remains loyal to his hometown and works hard to preserve its rich musical heritage.  In 1993, he co-founded one of New Orlean’s most popular Mardi Gras parade”krewes,” The Krewe of Orpheus. Harry pays tribute to the Krewe’s 20th anniversary with his new album “Smokey Mary,” named after their fantastic, train-engine parade float pictured in the video below.  The album marks Harry’s return to funk and his signature New Orleans rhythm and blues on tracks like “Dang You Pretty.”



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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