Tuesday, September 30, 2014

British Invasion Tour!

Well, it's been awhile since I've attended a concert, but looks like I picked a good one to get back into the swing of things! Last week at Harrah's Resort in Southern California, I witnessed the return of rock royalty on the British Invasion's 50th Anniversary Tour! Featuring iconic singers of the '60s rock revolution, the legendary lineup included Billy J. Kramer (&The Dakotas), Chad & Jeremy, Mike Pender (of The Searchers), Denny Laine (of The Moody Blues & Wings), and Terry Sylvester (of The Hollies and The Swinging Blue Jeans). What a treat seeing these musicians share the stage for the first time ever! Originally, Gerry & The Pacemakers were a prominent part of this tour, but after Gerry Marsden's forced pull-out due to illness, The Hollies' Terry Sylvester was a great addition to the ongoing tour. While I know many fans were disappointed to miss out on classic songs like "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'" and "Ferry Cross the Mersey," it was an enjoyable night of fine music!

All ready to go in my Union Jack attire, complete with vinyl record purse (which drew quite a bit of attention; a few people even asked to take a picture of it!). 

The night was really enhanced by the great mix of classic footage and live feed of each musician projected on the large screens on both sides of the stage. My seat was initially much further back but I was upgraded when a nice lady handed me an extra ticket!

Although The Hollies' Terry Sylvester started off the show with a tune that most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with ("I Can't Let
Go"), he really got the crowd going with the hit "Bus Stop," followed by "Carrie Anne." Before he joined The Hollies in 1968 (replacing Graham Nash on the higher harmonies), Sylvester was a guitarist/vocalist with another British Invasion group, The Swinging Blue Jeans. It was great hearing him wail their hit single, "Hippy Hippy Shake" (#2 in the UK in late '63). He was a pleasant surprise and sounded really great! Here's classic footage of The Hollies performing "Carrie Anne," with Terry Sylvester playing guitar on the left.

Next in the lineup was another famous Liverpool musician, Mike Pender of The Searchers, and this guy was adorable! OK, maybe that's the wrong description because he really rocked
on guitar and his voice sounded fantastic, but his banter in between songs was, well, adorable. He had a great set of songs including "Sugar and Spice," "Don't Throw Your Love Away," "Love Potion No. 9," and "Needles and Pins" (even gave credit to Sonny Bono for writing that last one). All his famous guitar licks sounded spot-on on his beautiful Rickenbacker. Like The Hollies, Swinging Blue Jeans, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and The Beatles, The Searchers also emerged from the Merseybeat scene and have that distinct, jangly-guitar sound. It was great hearing it live! Here's The Searchers' remake of The Drifters' 1961 hit "Sweets For My Sweet," his lead-off tune on this tour.

The third act of the night was the folk rock duo Chad & Jeremy, and these
talented blokes were hilarious!. They opened with the a cappella "You Are She," their last hit single from the '60s (or "we're going to sing this Acapulco for you," as Chad called it), but I can't for the life of me find the original recording (no thanks to YouTube and iTunes). But I was very impressed with their tight harmonies, and throughout the night, they even proved "they've still got it" with their guitar skills. They had the audience rolling with laughter as they told entertaining stories, even making fun of their appearances on American TV shows like Batman and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The backing band did join them on a few numbers like "Yesterdays Gone," "Willow Weep For Me," and "A Summer Song." I thoroughly enjoyed this guys. Here's classic footage of the duo's first hit single, 1964's "Yesterday's Gone" (arranged by film composer John Barry).

After a brief intermission, another Liverpool lad was up next, Billy J. Kramer (originally with The Dakotas). While I most enjoyed the first half of the show, this part wasn't bad, but just not what I was expecting. Billy J. was a stud during the British Invasion, but I think he may of been having an off-night, plus I wasn't a fan of his current long hair. In the '60s, his manager was Brian Epstein (who also managed The Beatles), so Billy J. did give a nice tribute to Brian Epstein with his performance of a newer song called "To Liverpool With Love," and mentioned how he fought for Epstein to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy J. was friends with The Beatles, and he performed several of his hit songs written by Lennon-McCartney, including, "Bad To Me," I'll Keep You Satisfied," "From a Window," and "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" Here's a delightful 1964 performance of "Little Children," produced by George Martin; wasn't Billy J. a absolute doll back then?!
For the final act of the night, Denny Laine of The Moody Blues concluded the show on a high note, killing on guitar and sounding great on vocals. Although likely unfamiliar to much of the audience, I was
pleasantly surprised by one his songs, "Say You Don't Mind," which became a hit when recorded in 1972 by Colin Blunstone (lead singer of The Zombies). Denny's set was surprisingly short but definitely sweet, finishing with The Moody Blues' first hit in 1964, "Go Now." After a standing ovation, the encore was a great "all hands on deck" rendition of Paul McCartney's "Band On The Run" (as Denny Laine was also a member of Wings with McCartney from '71-'81, this seems totally appropriate). So fun seeing all the musicians of the British Invasion tour having a blast together. Here's more great footage of Denny Laine leading The Moody Blues on "Go Now."

Thanks again to all these talented Brits for treating us to a great night!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Farewell to a Songwriter

This month on the 11th, we lost 83-year-old Bob Crewe, a New Jersey-born songwriter, dancer, singer, manager, and record producer. He was known for producing, and co-writing with Bob Gaudio, a string of Top 10 singles for The Four Seasons. He was also known for his hit recordings with  Freddy Cannon, Lesley Gore, Oliver, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, and Roberta Flack.

Here are just a few of those hit records Crewe co-wrote and produced. Written with Bob Gaudio (keyboardist/backing vocalists of The Four Seasons), "Big Girls Don't Cry" was the second #1 hit for The Four Seasons in 1962, spending 5 weeks topping the charts, like its predecessor "Sherry." Sung mostly in falsetto by Frankie Valli, this song helped The Four Seasons become the first rock-era act to hit the top spot on the Hot 100 with their first two chart entries.

First made famous by The Rays in 1957, Bob Crewe's "Silhouettes" appeared on the charts again in the mid-'60s with Herman's Hermits. Crewe saw a couple embracing through a window shade as he passed on a train and quickly set about turning the image into a song. From 1965, this Hermits' version reached #5 in the US and #3 in the UK. 

Another Crewe and Gaudio collaboration, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" was originally released as a single by Frankie Valli in 1965, however, was more successful when recorded by The Walker Brothers in 1966. A #1 hit in the UK and #13 in the US, this version was an imitation of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" style, including a wordless chorus, strings, and echo effect, with the Walker Brothers even sounding like the Righteous Brothers.

"Music to Watch Girls By" was the first Top 40 hit by Bob Crewe using his own name, recorded by his group The Bob Crewe Generation. Crewe first heard the song performed in a "jingle demo" for a Diet Pepsi commercial, composed by Sidney "Sid" Ramin. The big-band, horn-driven recording went to #15 on the pop chart and #2 on the Easy Listening chart. According to Greg Adams, writing for All Music Guide, the song "exemplified the groovy state of instrumental music at that time."

And finally, we'll conclude with a 1967 single by Frankie Valli, the Crewe/Gaudio tune "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Reaching #2 and becoming one of Valli's biggest solo hits, this song has had a major cultural impact, with hundreds of cover versions, many of which have been on the charts themselves in different countries. The song is a staple of television and film soundtracks, even being featured as part of the plot of some films, such as when the lead characters sing or arrange their own version of the song.

Farewell to the talented Bob Crewe. Your numerous hits will continue to play on.