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Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 4:11pm
ZZ Top

Today marks the 65th birthday of a gentleman tasted his first success of note in a band that opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not only earning praise for his tasty licks from Hendrix but also getting the gift of a pink Stratocaster from the guitar god. Those are the sorts of accomplishments that would be enough for a lot of musicians to coast on for the rest of their lives, so we should probably consider ourselves quite fortunate that Billy Gibbons decided to carry on with his music career beyond The Moving Sidewalks to ultimately join forces with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard for what has turned into a 45+ year career with ZZ Top.

Born in Houston in 1949, William Frederick Gibbons was the son of a musician, making it slightly less surprising that, when he got his first electric guitar not long after entering his teens, Billy was off and running, playing in a few bands here and there before starting the unit mentioned above: The Moving Sidewalks, who went on to score a minor hit single with the song “99th Floor.” Given their gigs opening up for Hendrix and The Doors, among others, The Moving Sidewalks might well have gone farther had two of the band’s members – Tom Moore and Don Summers – not been drafted, but while the US Army’s gain was a major loss for the band, it turned out to be a positive development for Gibbons: he and his fellow remaining Sidewalks member, drummer Dan Mitchell, brought in organist Lanier Greig and founded ZZ Top.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 2:22pm
Debbie Gibson

28 years ago today, Debbie Gibson released her first single, a self-composed track which ultimately climbed all the way to the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Not too bad for a 16-year-old, eh?

“Only in My Dreams” was written by Gibson in 1984, two years before she actually recorded it for her debut album, Out of the Blue, but when she spoke to Rhino earlier this year, she was quick to credit her producer for taking her composition and making it such a success. “Fred Zarr, who produced and co-produced all those hits with me, he took what I was doing in my garage on the four-track and elevated it to what you heard on the radio,” said Gibson. “He really helped facilitate my vision, fine-tune it, and elevate it, so I really hold him responsible for that sound.”

Monday, December 15, 2014 - 12:47pm
Free Speech

45 years ago, sax man Eddie Harris released an album with a title that referenced a right guaranteed by the First Amendment…or maybe it was referencing the cost of speech. Either way, it’s still not the strongest entry in Harris’s discography, although – like virtually all of his work – it still has its merits.

Free Speech is often neglected in reflecting on the classic albums in Harris’s back catalog, and part of the reason for that may be that it came out in such close proximity to one of the best and most commercially successful releases of his career: Swiss Movement, a live performance with Les McCann at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Still, you can’t go wrong with a song called “Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova,” and the title track is nine minutes of Harris, Jodie Christian, Billy Hart, and Louis Spears just going to town. The iTunes review for Free Speech suggests that it’s an album which serves as a dividing line of sorts between “stoner jazz” and “jazz that people get stoned to,” possibly because it’s the first time Harris really went to town with his Veritone sax.

Monday, December 15, 2014 - 12:27pm
Sisters Of Mercy

24 years ago today, The Sisters of Mercy started a five-week run at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock chart with “More,” confirming that the three years that had passed since their previous album, 1987’s Floodland, hadn’t done anything to diminish their popularity.

Andrew Eldritch, the driving force of The Sisters of Mercy, had successfully worked with longtime Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman on Floodland, so it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Steinman’s name turn up in the credits of the first single from the band’s eventual follow-up album, Vision Thing. As it turned out, “More” was the only song to which Steinman contributed (he co-wrote and co-produced the track with Eldritch), but, man, talk about a song that makes an impact…

Friday, December 12, 2014 - 3:32pm
Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World

"Dirty City"
Steve Winwood

Steve can shred quite nicely thank you, as anyone who's seen him tear apart "Dear Mr. Fantasy" recently is aware. But despite killing it live, despite putting out one of my favorite albums of the twenty first century, "About Time," independently, doing everything right, the man was fading in impact. So, he signed with Columbia and put out the mainstream album "Nine Lives" to almost no effect in 2008. That's right, rather than stretching out and testing limits Winwood did it their way and few cared. However, there are two killers on "Nine Lives," the opening cut "I'm Not Drowning" and this, where Clapton positively wails.

Friday, December 12, 2014 - 2:07pm
Remembering Ian

29 years ago today, the world of music lost one of its great sidemen and the members of the Rolling Stones lost not only their pianist of choice but also one of their best friends.

Born on July 18, 1938 in Fife, Scotland, Ian Andrew Robert Stewart was actually the first person to respond to Brian Jones’s May 1962 ad in Jazz News to form a rhythm and blues group – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t actually join until June – and he remained part of the band for a year, until Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager, declared that there were too many people in the band and that Stewart didn’t find the image, anyway. Thankfully, Stewart was provided the option to remain in the fold as the band’s road manager – a gig which he accepted – and to play piano on subsequent studio recordings, which he did all the way through 1983’s Undercover. (You can hear him on “She Was Hot” and “Wanna Hold You.”) As Richards said in the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Stewart “might have realized that in the way it was going to have to be marketed, he would be out of sync, but that he could still be a vital part. I'd probably have said, 'Well, fuck you', but he said 'OK, I'll just drive you around.' That takes a big heart, but Stu had one of the largest hearts around."

Friday, December 12, 2014 - 11:48am
Dionne Warwick

Do you know who’s turning 74 today? Or, failing that, do you know the way to San Jose? Because Dionne Warwick’s been trying to find her way there for 46 years now, so if you provided her with that information, you could probably avoid having to spend money on a proper birthday present.

Born in East Orange, New Jersey in 1940, Marie Dionne Warrick – no, that’s not a typo, she eventually changed it – was born into a family of singers: her mother, aunts, and uncles were members of the gospel group The Drinkard Singers. Eventually, Dionne followed suit, appearing with the group when they made local TV appearances in the 1950s, but by 1958 she had joined forces with her sister Delia, a.ka.. Dee Dee, Judy Clay, and Cissy Houston to form The Gospelaires, who evolved into the Sweet Inspirations. It didn’t take long for the group to build a reputation for their harmonies, which in turn led them into a lucrative career as background vocals, singing with Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Ben E. King, and many others.

Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 4:23pm
The Scaffold

46 years ago today, The Scaffold – a British band featuring Mike McGear, otherwise known as Paul McCartney’s brother – earned a #1 UK single (and a #1 Irish single and a #1 Australian single) with a song that had very little chance of ever becoming a #1 single anywhere other than a British territory because…well, quite frankly, it’s just that British.

Derived from a folk song entitled “The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham,” The Scaffold’s biggest hit praises the wonders of a “medicine” – although the word “elixir” probably comes a bit closer to an accurate description – created by the aforementioned Ms. Pinkham, a.k.a. Lily the Pink, and details the various things the compound is capable of curing within the song’s verses. Although having Mike McGear in the band no doubt helped The Scaffold’s profile considerably, the backing vocalists on the song certainly didn’t hurt things any – they include Elton John, Graham Nash, and Tim Rice – nor did the fact that Jack Bruce of Cream played bass on the track.