Does Anything Last Forever?

I don’t know. But one thing that has lasted a very long time is the career of Michael McDonald. Since his early days with Del-Rays, Michael has been entertaining folks for almost 50 years. So let’s celebrate the birthday of one of our true national treasures with a deep cut from his first solo LP in 1982, If That’s What It Takes:

And here’s Michael and Kenny singing a big hit they wrote together:

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Measuring the Silk Degrees with Boz Scaggs

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Boz Scaggs had been playing music for a long time before he became a household name. He played with Steve Miller after meeting him as a teenager in a private school in Texas in the late 50s, the same place where he got his nickname ‘Boz’. He recorded his first album in 1965 after a gigging stint in Sweden, then came back around to play with the Steve Miller Band in the late 60s. He then recorded his 2nd solo album with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section in 1969 which included a blossoming session guitarist, Duane Allman, who contributed a legendary solo on Loan Me A Dime.

Boz was 6 albums deep into a career, slowly mixing more soul into his bluesy rock when the 1976 album, Silk Degrees, seemingly came out of nowhere and hit #2 on Top Albums chart as well as #6 on R&B albums chart, selling over 5 million copies and spawning 3 Top 40 hits. His late 70s trilogy of albums [Silk Degrees, Down Two Then Left and Middle Man] laid out a blueprint of smooth soulful pop rock for a new generation of musicians and kick-started the genre of West Coast music. Not to mention he ‘accidentally’ got the future members of Toto together by assembling all of them in a room at the same time.

I talked with Boz during his 2016 tour with Michael McDonald. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

Me: I consider you the Godfather of West Coast music. Has anyone ever told you that?

Boz: No I’ve never heard that expression. Wow. I’m a little surprised by that one.

Me: Can you just take me back to the sessions of Silk Degrees? What was the feeling going into that album after the popularity of Slow Dancer?

Boz: Well I learned something with Slow Dancer. My record company had a base in Los Angeles. I had for the first time made an album with West Coast musicians. I had worked in Muscle Shoals before, so I was familiar with the idea of an artist working with studio players. I did have a band and I made several records with the band. Working with the staff producer from Columbia Records with the Motown rhythm section on Slow Dancer got me to L.A. and familiarized me with the possibilities of working in the studio with high level producers, particularly with studio musicians, so I became acquainted with the scene.

I found a group of players and a studio with a sound I wanted to work in. My ideas and demos could now be fleshed out in a broader way with these musicians, like they could read into your mind and see where you were going. That, and a connection in having met a young arranger and co-writer, David Paich, who was one of the young studio musicians I was working with. David & I went off to write things together and he was able to flesh out some of the material that I had rough sketches of and turn it into beautiful well-crafted work.

Me: The rhythm section is phenomenal on those three albums [Silk Degrees, Down Two Then Left & Middle Man]. They went on to form Toto and you have obviously a hand in doing that. What did you think those guys brought to the album that made it so successful?

Boz: Well they were young, but they were seasoned pros on the session scene in LA. They were on the cutting edge of music that was being recorded in popular music at the time. They had their own individual styles. They had a band since they were in high school, junior high school actually, so they were a unit. They were tight. And when I came along, it was a sort of a natural fit.

Me: What songs have you written that you have enjoyed the most by other artists?

Boz: Well, Rita Coolidge did We’re All Alone and that one was a wonderful surprise. That’s the first one that comes to mind and I was very honored by her rendition.

Me: You have had a 50-year career. You’re still going strong. What advice can you give other musicians to have a career like yours?

Boz: I think playing live is really the most important thing, to be in front of people, to be in the same space and open up your artistry. I think that does more to connect your music and to inform yourself about what you’re really trying to say.

 

The Rise of City Pop

In the mid to late 70s, the economy of Japan was booming and a new generation of folks were looking for music to complement their new sophisticated lifestyle. Rising out of the ashes of the country’s folk scene and taking a cue from the blossoming West Coast music scene on the side of the Pacific, City Pop was born.

Blending synth funk, smooth jazz fusion and disco with the slick L.A. sound to create an urban contemporary feel, City Pop became the music choice for upwardly mobile Japanese in the late 70s through the late 80s.

Here’s a sample of some City Pop artists and songs from that time:

West Coast Music Magazine Special Edition 2017

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The newest edition of West Coast Music Magazine is available to purchase. There are great articles of and interviews with Michael McDonald, Ned Doheny, Hamish Stuart (of the current 360 Band), Geyster, America, Al Sunny and Cool Million. Plus albums reviews from lots of 2017’s NuCoast releases as well as contributions from West Coast DJs, aficionados and lovers all around the world. You can order your issue by going here.

Did The Eagles Steal Some Gold?

This is a question I have often asked myself over the years, especially when I read another article about Don Henley suing someone. Did the Eagles steal the opening drum beat from Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away for their own #1 hit, Heartache Tonight? I have never read where they have credited Andrew, acknowledged the influence or paid him any money. The evidence is pretty damning and you can listen to the video below for audio proof.

Here’s the quick story: Andrew Gold was writing songs in late 1977 for his next album, All This And Heaven Too. He and songwriting partner, Brock Walsh, were particularly inspired by Queen’s We Rock With You stomp – bom-bom clap, bom-bom clap – and wanted something similar but softer for a song they wrote about Andrew’s new girlfriend, SNL’s Larraine Newman. That song was Never Let Her Slip Away and when he recorded it, he asked Freddie Mercury to sing back up vocals on it, as well as Timothy B Schmit and J.D. Souther. The song only reached #67 in the Summer of 1978.

Sometime within that year J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey were jamming together, writing songs for the Eagles next LP – the forthcoming The Long Run – when they stumbled upon a future hit, Heartache Tonight. Bob Seger helped out with the chorus and Don Henley helped to polish the song before recording it. Also by now Timothy B Schmit was an official Eagle. Heartache Tonight was released in the Fall of 1979 and became a #1 hit before the end of the year, garnering a Grammy nomination as well. The drum beat after the opening chords is very similar to Andrew’s in Never Let Her Slip Away, so similar that I assumed it was a sample. Hmmmmm….

What’s so ironic is that 2 people – J.D. Souther and Timothy B Schmit – helped to create Andrew’s song which the Eagles seemingly ripped off. Was it a coincidence? Unintentional musical osmosis? Eagles & Andrew were on the same label, Asylum. I feel like they needed to throw Andrew some dollars or some credit or both. But no one sued, it became a non-issue and all was OK, until….

2013 – Haim releases Days Are Gone featuring the song, The Wire, which includes the almost exact same intro as Heartache Tonight with no credits to any of The Eagles. Interestingly no Eagle has sued Haim, to date. I’m guessing that’s because the trail is very muddy and may be better left alone.

So to recap Haim (most likely) stole from the Eagles who (highly probably) stole from Andrew Gold who (didnt really steal, but was inspired by) Queen.

Watch this video for aural proof and tell me what you think:

The Everlasting Presence of Fleetwood Mac

“Energy is contagious – either you affect people or you infect people.” -Anonymous

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I can’t think of a better quote to describe the success of the band, Fleetwood Mac. Although they had many lineup changes, there’s only one that mattered – Bob Welch is replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. In fact their career should be broken down like this: BBN (before Buckingham Nicks) and ABN (after Buckingham Nicks).

The addition of those two musicians didn’t just change the dynamics and direction of the band. It didn’t just help create one of the biggest selling albums in the world to date. It did something even better to create their legacy. It kept Fleetwood Mac as a Top 40 radio presence for a decade and a half.

Factoring out FM radio in the 70s and classic rock radio from the 80s and beyond, Fleetwood Mac and specifically Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had their voices on pop radio for a 15 year span. Stevie’s addition to the band sparked even more creative energy from Christine McVie who wrote some of her best songs during this period. It’s no wonder when Bill Clinton had the band ‘reunite’ to play his inauguration ball in 1993, the sparks flew again, culminating in the #1 1997 live album, The Dance.

Take a look at this run* to see how they never left our ears from 1975-1990:

1975: Fleetwood Mac-Over My Head

1976: Fleetwood Mac-Rhiannon, Say You Love Me

1977: Fleetwood Mac-Go Your Own Way, Dreams, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun

1978: Kenny Loggins-Whenever I Call You Friend (uncredited duet with Stevie), Walter Egan-Magnet & Steel (backing vocals by Stevie & Lindsey), Bob Welch-Sentimental Lady (backing vocals by Lindsey & Christine McVie)

1979: Fleetwood Mac-Tusk, John Stewart-Gold & Midnight Wind (backing vocals by Stevie, guitar by Lindsey)

1980: Fleetwood Mac-Sara & Think About Me

1981: Stevie Nicks w/ Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers-Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Robbie Patton-Don’t Give It Up (Backing vocals by Christine McVie)

1981/1982: Lindsey Buckingham-Trouble, Stevie Nicks & Don Henley-Leather & Lace

1982: Stevie Nicks-Edge Of Seventeen & After The Glitter Fades, Fleetwood Mac-Hold Me & Gypsy

1983: Fleetwood Mac-Love In Store, Stevie Nicks-Stand Back & If Anyone Falls

1984: Stevie Nicks-Nightbird, Lindsey Buckingham-Go Insane

1985: Stevie Nicks-Talk To Me

1986: Stevie Nicks-I Can’t Wait, Needles & Pins (w/Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)

1987: Fleetwood Mac-Big Love, Seven Wonders & Little Lies

1988: Fleetwood Mac-Everywhere

1989: Stevie Nicks-Rooms On Fire

1990: Fleetwood Mac-Save Me

*all songs were Top 40 hits

Westcoast CCM

Since the dawn of Christian rock in the early 70s, CCM (contemporary Christian music) artists have been trying to figure out ways to cross over to the mainstream. TIn the late 70s and early 80s they figured the best way to do it was through the aqueduct of Westcoast smoothness. Outside of Chris Christian’s I Want You, I Need You in 1981none of them had much success, but they still created some funky grooves while spreading their love from above. Eventually after Amy Grant’s pop breakthrough in 1991, other artists, such as Michael W. Smith and Kathy Troccoli, followed her into the Top 40.

Here’s a montage of Westcoast CCM artists from 1978-1984.

A Smooth Thanksgiving

If you like WestCoast pop rock and soul, this was a good week for you. On American Top 40 for the week ending November 21, 1981, Casey was calling them nice and smooth this week. Let’s see where those hits fell:

Coming in at #39 up from #49, it’s Turn Your Love Around by George Benson. This future Top 5 pop and #1 soul hit is like the nexus of Westcoast. Released from George’s new greatest hits ‘collection’ it was written by Bill Champlin, Steve Lukather and Jay Graydon who also produced and plays guitar on it. The Linn drums were programmed by Jeff Porcaro with piano by Jai Winding and synth bass by David Paich. It won a Grammy for Best R&B song.

Moving up 3 spots to #37, we have I Want You, I Need You by Chris Christian, the first and only CCM artist to cross over to the pop charts until Amy Grant in 1985.

At #36 we have a former Top 10 hit, Hard To Say by Dan Fogelberg. Dan’s a borderline WC artist but I put him and this song here because of the backing vocals by Glenn Frey.

We hit some West Coast soul with Stevie Woods at #34 with Steal The Night  then we zoom up to some Fleetwood Mac solo careers – Stevie Nicks with Don Henley at #21 duetting on Leather and Lace and breaking into  the Top 20 at #19, Lindsey Buckingham with the future Top 10 single, Trouble.

Can I take this moment to point out the radio presence that Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks, with and without Fleetwood Mac had? From the moment Fleetwood Mac entered the Top 40 on December 6, 1975 with Over My Head, we heard the combination of LB, SN and/or FM as they had at least one single in the Top 40 for the next 15 years. I’ll save the list for another post. Back to the charts….

Sandwiched between the solo Macs at #20 is the first Top 40 hit for Al Jarreau. We’re In This Love Together was on its way down from a peak of #15.

At #17, The Dude (or Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) Quincy Jones with Just Once with vocals by James Ingram, the 2nd Top 40 hit from his 1981 album which garnered 6 Grammys. James’ duet with Patti Austin, Baby Come To Me was released as his One Hundred Ways was peaking at #14 in the Spring of 1982. It would be another year and a handful of General Hospital episodes later before it would hit #1.

#16 is Barry Manilow with another hit that he didn’t write, The Old Songs. This one was by Westcoast artist David Pomeranz, whose version was on his 1980 LP, The Truth Of Us.

The Top 10 gives us the one-two punch of Mike Post and Christopher Cross. #10 is Mike’s Theme from Hill Street Blues with the jazzy stylings of guitarist Larry Carlton. And #9 is the former #1 hit for Christopher Cross which won him an Oscar – Arthur’s Theme.

The Little River Band keep their Top 10 streak going with The Night Owls down one to #7.

And the #1 song this week, beginning a phenomenal 10 week run – produced by John Farrar, written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick and featuring a guitar solo by Steve Lukather – the biggest song of the 80s – Physical by Olivia Newton-John.

Whether of not you can  remember where your were during that week in 1981, I can guarantee you had a smooth Thanksgiving.