Thursday, July 7, 2011

More Californian Sounds

American Response to the British Invasion: Part 8 (Final)

First gaining popularity in the late 1960s, the music of the rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival remains an airplay essential on American and worldwide radio. Although they originated in the San Francisco Bay area, CCR are considered Southern rock stylists with genres ranging from country rock to swamp rock (isn't that a great term?!). Initially forming in junior high, the band had a few setbacks at first due to the military draft, but eventually settled with primary songwriter John Fogerty as lead vocalist/lead guitarist, with his brother and rhythm guitarist, Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford. Released as a single for their second album in January 1969, "Proud Mary" was a Bayou-influenced rock song that became an international hit, peaking at #2 on the charts (the first of five consecutive singles to hit #2 for the the group). Written by John Fogerty about his high spirits after being discharged from the Army Reserve, this swamp rock song is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and has become the group's most covered song with over 100 cover versions by other artists.

Coming into prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, American singer Janis Joplin was known during the height of her popularity as “The Queen of Rock and Roll,” as well as “The Queen of Psychedelic Rock.” Originally from Texas, her bluesy vocal style (albeit uniquely raspy) attracted the attention of Big Brother, a psychedelic rock group among the bursting San Francisco music scene, and after their breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, the group gained national attention. Eventually going solo in 1969, Joplin’s success was a breakthrough for women in the male-dominated world of rock music and is ranked #28 on the list of the 500 Greatest Singers of All Time. Performing “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” on The Dick Cavett Show with her backing band The Kozmic Blues Band in 1969, Joplin’s shows her passion and intense devotion to her craft.

One of the first San Franciscan groups to achieve mainstream critical and commercial success was Jefferson Airplane, a founding band of the psychedelic rock movement. Inspired by the emerging folk rock scene in 1965, lead singer Marty Balin formed this hybrid group, and with the addition of co-lead vocalist Grace Slick the following year, they gained international popularity with a string of hit albums. Their 1967 album was a key recording of the "Summer of Love" with huge hits like "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" (see Psychedelic Rock Week). Like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick was influential as a prominent woman in the rock music scene of '60s. Released in September of 1969, "Volunteers" is a psychedelic rock/acid rock song written by band members Marty Balin and Paul Kantner, as performed live at the Woodstock Festival that same year.

An extremely influential folk rock supergroup of the 1960s was Crosby, Stills, & Nash (and sometimes Young), initially formed by the trio David Crosby (of The Byrds), Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (of The Hollies). All three musicians had left/disbanded from their previous groups due to friction and personal issues, and while having a jam session at an informal gathering (possibly at "Mama" Cass Elliot's house), they discovered their intricate vocal harmonies gelled really well together. Releasing their self-titled debut album in May 1969, they were in demand for touring, thus bringing on Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young to play guitar. The group's second live performance was at Woodstock where they performed their first single "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Written by Stephen Stills about his former girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins, this folk rock reached #21 on the charts, and has since been named one of the 500 Greastest Songs of All Time. Definitely a treat to hear this masterpiece live at Woodstock.

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