Ali Farka Touré: “Soukora”

Ali Farka Touré, an African musician and one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen, was born on October 31, 1939.  Touré was born in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in the northwestern Malian region of Tombouctou.

Touré became known as “the African John Lee Hooker.” His musical styles had many similarities to the American blues man.  But the similarities likely came from the underlying connections between African music and the blues.

I first discovered Touré’s music in the 1990s from the album Talking Timbuktu (1994), where he was joined by Ry Cooder. Earlier, Touré had retired from music to concentrate on his rice farm.  But his producer convinced him to make the album.

Talking Timbuktu went on to win the Grammy for Best World Music Album. Allmusic notes that on the album Ali Farka Touré is “singing in 11 languages and playing acoustic and electric guitar, six-string banjo, njarka, and percussion, while teaming smartly with an all-star cast.”

My favorite track off of Talking Timbuktu is “Soukora,” which Touré wrote. I do not even know what the song is about.  But the guitar strings hypnotize me into thinking I have a sense of the music I might hear in heaven.

In this short version of “Soukora,” Sékou Bembeya Diabaté joins Ali Farka Touré on the song.

Touré won another Grammy in 2006 for his album  In the Heart of the Moon, recorded with kora player Toumani Diabate.  But Touré never got to accept the award.  He died in his sleep from bone cancer on March 7, 2006.

He left a beautiful music legacy to the world that many are still discovering. Happy birthday wherever you are.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Fats Domino on “The Perry Como Show”

    Fats Domino, who passed away this Tuesday on October 24 at the age of 89, was one of the great early rock and rollers. His piano playing, his rhythm, his voice, and talent for performing helped set the foundation of rock music, influencing others as he remained a beloved legend through his lifetime.

    Domino was born as Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. in New Orleans on February 26, 1928. He got his first break when bandleader Billy Diamond heard Domino at a backyard barbecue in the summer of 1947. Diamond gave Domino his nickname “Fats” because the young man reminded him of famous pianists Fats Pichon and Fats Waller.

    Domino gained national attention with his recording of “Fat Man” in 1949, but the release of “Ain’t That A Shame” in 1955 broke through on the pop charts. Pat Boone’s recording of the song written by Domino and Dave Bartholomew went to number one on the charts because it received more airplay during that racially segregated time, but Domino’s version still hit the top ten.

    “Blueberry Hill,” released in 1956, became Domino’s biggest hit. The song from 1940 — which was written by Vincent Rose, Al Lewis and Larry Stock — had been recorded by others but Domino’s take on it became a rock and roll classic. He recorded several other classics between 1956 and 1959, including “I’m Walkin’.”

    Although most known for his early work, Domino continued to be active even in recent years. In August 2005, some reported that he had died in Hurricane Katrina, but he survived despite losing all of his possessions and having to be rescued. In 2007, he performed in New York for the first time in twenty years.

    Domino’s work influenced many artists through the years. Elvis Presley spoke of how Domino influenced him, and artists like Paul McCartney and John Lennon recorded Domino’s songs. His rhythm also influenced ska musicians. And many credit his work as helping break down racial barriers in the early rock and roll years.

    On May 25, 1957, Domino appeared on “The Perry Como Show.” He performed two new songs, “Valley of Tears” and “It’s You I Love.” Then, later in the show, he reappears with Como as some teens “take over” the show with Domino singing “I’m Walkin’.” Check it out.

    RIP Fats.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    James Brown Records Live at the Apollo: Oct. 24, 1962

    On October 24, 1961, James Brown gave an amazing performance for his final night of a run at the Apollo.  The show was recorded and would be released as an album in 1963 called, Live at the Apollo.

    Although James had attained a level of stardom in the R&B genre due to his live shows, he had not yet had mainstream recording success.  That all changed with Live at the Apollo, which became his first major breakthrough album.

    Brown had a lot riding on the recording.  Syd Nathan, the head of Brown’s label, King Records, refused to record the show, so Brown financed the recording himself.  Even his band members in The Famous Flames felt the extra pressure that night.

    Live at the Apollo has long been one of my favorite live albums. Listening to the recording, you can feel the energy in the room. My favorite track is “Try Me,” which James had originally released as a single in October 1958. Below is his performance at the Apollo.

    After the release of Live at the Apollo in May 1963, the album sold more than a million copies and spent 66 weeks on Billboard’s album chart.  Brown made the right bet on what became a hit album.  It boosted his crossover appeal for the rest of his career.

    Pitchfork notes the importance of the crossover, with a symbolic transformation of R&B into Soul, marking “the dawn of a decade when sharing experiences and points of view across an entire culture meant more than just crossover success.”  In other words, the album “was the true beginning of the 60s.”

    Rolling Stone ranks Live at the Apollo as the 25th greatest album of all time.  Not bad for a record that the record company did not want to record.

    What is your favorite song on Live at the Apollo? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Flying Burrito Brothers Song That Includes a Tribute to Bobby Kennedy

    I have probably heard “Sin City” by the Flying Burrito Brothers more than a hundred times.  But I never realized that one of the verses is about Robert F. Kennedy until reading an interview with Steve Earle.

    In the interview, Earle recounted how the song’s co-writer Chris Hillman explained the Bobby Kennedy connection.  The following verse is about Kennedy.

    A friend came around,
    Tried to clean up this town;
    His ideas made some people mad;
    But he trusted his crowd,
    So he spoke right out loud;
    And they lost the best friend they had.

    In another interview from many years ago in The Los Angeles Times, Hillman confirmed the above verse was about Kennedy. Hillman also explained how he and Gram Parsons came to write the song.

    Hillman woke up one morning with the opening lines of the song in his head: “This old town’s filled with sin, it’ll swallow you in….”  He immediately woke up his roommate Parsons, who soon came up with the melody for the song.

    Parsons and Hillman, who both had recently experienced relationship breakups, completed the song in about thirty minutes.  And they both ended up singing it on the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969).

    Bobby Kennedy was not the only person referenced in the song.  Hillman, who still had bad feelings about the breakup of his former band The Byrds, included an allusion to that band’s manager Larry Spector.  Hillman considered Spector a thief, and the man lived on the thirty-first floor of a condo.  Hence the line:  “On the thirty-first floor a gold plated door / Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain.”

    Hillman further explained that they wrote “Sin City” as a cautionary tale to “people like Gene Clark from the Byrds, who came here from Kansas with all that talent and all bright-eyed and talented and idealistic, and the whole thing just swallowed him up.”  Unfortunately, that cautionary tale could equally refer to the tragic young death of Parsons.

    “Sin City” remains one of the great collaborations between two great singer-songwriters. While the original recorded by the songwriters remains definitive, there have been a couple of nice covers through the years. Below in a performance from 1989, k.d. lang and Dwight Yoakam do the song justice.

    Finally, here is a wonderful version by Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings (Buddy Miller is also there on guitar).

    And that is the story behind the song.

    What is your favorite song by the Flying Burrito Brothers? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Song of the Day: Dion’s “Sanctuary”

    Among many hits, many know Dion for is his 1968 recording of Dick Holler’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” Still, much of the folk music recorded in the 1970s by the rock and roll pioneer remains overlooked. Thus, it was a nice discovery to hear Dion’s recording of another song by Holler called “Sanctuary.”

    Dion’s album Live at the Bitter End, August 1971, which was only recently released in 2015, is full of gems. But “Sanctuary” is one of those songs that grabbed me right way.

    “Sanctuary” is more personal than “Abraham, Martin and John,” where the singer recalls arriving in San Francisco. He contemplates the despair of events going on around the country. Despite the unrest, the singer finds some solace in having “John and Mary/And Sanctuary/ And Telegraph Avenue.” AllMusic concludes that the song is “an utterly poignant, melancholic masterpiece that you can’t believe you haven’t heard more often.”

    “Sanctuary” is a beautiful song about finding some personal peace amidst the turmoil of the world. And it remains timely now more than forty years later.

    There currently is not a separate version of Holler’s “Sanctuary” on YouTube, but you may hear it in this video for Dion’s entire Live At The Bitter End, 1971 album. We have queued the video to start at “Sanctuary” at the 39:10 mark.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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