Nearly ten years after they first were featured in this space, ZZ Top has, with the passing of bassist Dusty Hill, ended its tenure as the longest-running music group with an unchanged lineup. To call this the end of an era is an understatement, as would be any attempted summation of the band’s history and legacy. The trio consistently embodied the total rock and roll package, and today’s Jam is a small tribute of gratitude to their commitment, sound, and style:
The past year has offered more than its fair share of challenges, and unwrapping a new calendar while casting out the old one isn’t likely to offer the degree of actual page-turning transformative catharsis many colloquially proclaim to expect and for which all hope.
Whatever the nature and trajectory of the new chapter that commences tomorrow, we pause here– unprecedently for this feature, on a Thursday— to acknowledge one last strike this current year struck in the taking of the captain of music’s all-name team and, along with Clarence Clemmons and Bobby Keys, a charter member of the most elite and exclusive cadre of rock and roll saxophonists, Alto Reed, who yesterday lost his battle with colon cancer.
With Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Reed was the author of many essential rock horn licks and, as featured in today’s Jam, perhaps its most singularly memorable sax line. Seger called Reed his band’s ambassador and true rock star. Let this lonely, wintery wail never be far from your ear:
Eddie Van Halen was, until this week, a living legend. Cancer erased the first part of that, but he forever will have a prominent place in the pantheon of popular music, his monumental guitar work an essential element of rock music. While the lineage of his sonic legacy flows into harder rock and metal artists, his own music retained a melodic accessibility that helped maintain his mainstream appeal.
I’m too young to have experienced the phenomenon of Van Halen as it was happening, but I still can remember the time in middle school when I first heard “Right Now” and “Jump,” which, together, are this week’s Jam:
Smile and play the hits, of which there are many.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy passed on to a more soulful realm late last week. Murphy played with Howlin’ Wolf and many other blues and rock ‘n’ roll notables, including Memphis Slim, and was a member of the Blues Brothers. This week’s Jam has three parts: first, a 1963 selection featuring Murphy with Memphis Slim; second, a portion of Murphy’s appearance in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, in which he played a fictionalized version of himself and appears alongside Aretha Franklin, who portrays his wife; and third, a 1978 live performance by the Blues Brothers that features Murphy:
It’s fair to say that every band that made it big played in a bar at some point on its way up. It’s equally fair to say that the J. Geils Band was the best bar band to make it big. Last month, guitarist J. Geils died at the age of seventy-one. Along with singer/hype-man Peter Wolf (the face of Facebook), Magic Dick on harmonica, and some other guys with less interesting names, they brought high-energy, Boston-barroom-soaked rock and roll to the national stage. The best snapshot of their sound came on Live: Full House, an album recorded in Detroit in 1972. The band’s later success on the pop charts, with hits like “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” provided a surprising– and, one assumes, more lucrative– second act for the group, but, minus a few reunion efforts, it would be their last. Geils himself had a muted solo career, making two blues albums with Magic Dick and in the mid-1990s and some jazz recordings a decade later.
Happy early birthday, George Harrison.
Butch Trucks, drummer, Allman Brothers Band founding member, and uncle of modern guitar legend Derek, died this week. Even as the ABB tapered off its touring schedule and eventually concluded its historic run, Trucks continued a vibrant performance life, playing both with established musicians like his band mates and forming new bands with younger players.
One of Trucks’ lesser publicized projects was his personal blog. He started it about a month before this site went live, and it remains the most memorable thing I read online during that period. After speaking, essentially exclusively, through his drumming for decades, his unfiltered, direct, intelligent written communication revealed more of the personality behind his rhythm. And the writing was revealing. He wrote about controversial points in the band’s history, racism, Duane, Dickey, Skynyrd, the reality of his own upbringing, and more, and he even read and responded to reader comments. A rare opportunity to peer inside the active mind of one of the many pillars of rock and roll. The second half of 2011 was his busiest time on the site, which felt like it should have been shut down at any moment by a band PR rep, and he didn’t post there after 2013, but it is essential reading for any fan of the Allmans.
If you want to read something else, here’s an interview with Trucks and Jaimoe, the band’s other original drummer, in connection with the 40th anniversary tour two years ago. Otherwise, I’d recommend leaving all that behind for now and getting into these jams.
A lot of people thought 2016 was, mostly in an admittedly abstract or indirect way, a bad year. Most agree that 2017 will be another year. Before we get there, though, we must make it through today and tomorrow. In the course of doing so, many inevitably will turn their (hopefully not too lonely) eyes to the former home of Joe DiMaggio on Saturday night. This is a Jam: