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Keys To The Highline

Bobby Keys

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What It Is…
New York City’s Highline Ballroom was the site of a grand music summit on July 28, 2011. The venue was packed to the rafters with fans, friends and industry folk who came out to see a creme of the crop group of session musicians that for the most part comprise The Rolling Stones touring band. Ostensibly brainstormed as a night to feature long time Stones cohort saxophonist Bobby Keys, the group became Band 2 (dubbed for the number on their rehearsal room) when Keys preferred to shine the spotlight in a more communal fashion. If you’ve turned on the radio in the last 40 years you’ve undoubtedly heard the Texas born Keys. His saxophone solos grace “Brown Sugar”, Dion’s “The Wanderer”, Elton & Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”, he was a Mad Dog for Joe Cocker and a “Friend” of Delaney and Bonnie. He first met The Stones during their 1964 tour of the U.S. and later joined the band during sessions for what became the “Let It Bleed” album. He shares a birthday with Keith Richards and also shared some now legendary carousing, including being “exiled” in France, in the basement of Villa Nellcote, during the summer of 1971.

After an introduction by longtime NY rock disc jockey Ken Dashow, the band slid into the show with a jazzy “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, cast in the style presented on Tim Ries’s “The Rolling Stones Project” recordings. Nearly every tune required some change of personnel and multi-instrumentalist Ries acted as defacto stage manager and band leader for the evening. The show progressed “revue” like with players entering and leaving the stage as song arrangements required. Working their way around a stage strewn with innumerable instruments, microphones, music stands, stomp boxes and cables the group took turns as soloists, duos and trios, voices with simple horn accompaniment and/or acoustic guitar through full on rockin’ ensemble.

Can’t You Hear Them Rockin’

Bobby Keys took the stage joking that in 30 years on the road he’d never been given a microphone to speak into and claimed he “might take it home”. Relating a story of his youth that correlated hearing King Curtis and “leaving” school Keys led the band through a really sweet version of Curtis’s 1962 tune “Soul Serenade”. One truly timeless melody. I dig Willie Mitchell’s version also. Later in the evening he presented a loose version of Booker T. & The MG’s instro “Bootleg”. Things really got rockin’ when the audience caught a hint of the slippery opening riff to “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” and with the full band on stage the tune took on barnburner status. Keys wowed everyone with a note perfect run through his classic solo over the latin influenced coda.

The show made a couple detours from The Stones catalog. The Beatles were referenced twice with Lisa Fischer singing “Come Together” in similar fashion to Rosetta Hightower’s version and Fab Faux Bassist Will Lee doing a Stax inflected “She’s A Woman”; one of my favorites of the evening. Ries presented an original in progress with daughter Chelsea at the microphone. Lisa’s, Ann Wilson style vocal on Led Zep’s “Rock N Roll” closed the first set with a bang.

There were many highlights during the night. Bernard Fowler sang lead on that most beautiful and heartfelt of Stones songs, “Wild Horses”, with Blondie Chaplin harmonizing. Always makes me think of Graham Parsons. Blondie opened the second set with a scratchy reggae tune and sang a gorgeous rendition of the evergreen “Smile”. Tim added some great accompaniment on soprano sax. That tune began life as a melody written by another chap named Chaplin (Charlie) in the 1930’s and with added lyrics was made famous by Nat King Cole in the early 1950’s. The unquestionable grand slam of the show was “Gimme Shelter” with Lisa’s spectacular vocal and Sugar Blue’s haunting harp playing. The original vocalist on this foreboding juggernaut was Merry Clayton, who set the bar super high for all who followed. Lisa not only met that “threatening storm” head-on but blew it back a few clicks. The encore sent everyone home on an up note with the audience spontaneously joining in on the chorus as Bernard sang “Ruby Tuesday”.

Wish List
Considering the talented horn section and the Stones-centric spin of the show it was surprising to find tunes like “Brown Sugar”, “Live With Me”, “Bitch”, “Happy” and maybe even the obscure but great “I Got The Blues” missing from the presentation. I would have also been glad to hear some more tunes specifically featuring Keys at center stage. Maybe next time, which I truly hope there will be.

SkeletonPete Says:
This jammy stage session was a nice peak at the The Stones mega-talented backline in action on their own. It had the relaxed mood of sitting in your living room while a slew of musician friends play their favorite tunes. Though the audience might have been hoping for a “Keef” sighting, the overall presentation did not suffer without it. Though essentially famous as a backing band, each member could easily star in their own right (and often do) and that was clearly the point of this showcase.

Photo Gallery: Bobby Keys & Band 2 @ Highline Ballroom

The Rolling Stones touring squad, alias Band 2, cooked up a night of horn driven jams at New York’s Highline Ballroom on July 28, 2011. Full story is here.

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Photo Gallery: Music of Stax Records @ Highline Ballroom

Eddie Floyd, Vocals; Steve Cropper, Guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn, Bass; Lester Snell, Keyboards; Anton Fig, Drums. Full coverage of this show can be found here.

Click any image to enlarge and launch viewer. All photos copyright 2011 Peter Parrella.

The Music of Stax Records @ Highline Ballroom, NYC

Click Image to Enlarge. Photo Copyright Peter Parrella 2011
Full Photo Gallery is here.

A Brotherhood of Soul

On Sunday evening June 26, 2011 Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom heated up for a soul revue featuring The Music of Stax Records. With the neo-soul movement in full bloom and folks intent on partying like it’s 1965, there’s no better time to turn attention to the musicians who originally forged that sound. If you hear song titles like “Soul Man”, “Green Onions” and “Dock of the Bay” you could probably sing, hum or whistle those tunes in a heartbeat. They have become part of the world’s cultural memory. If you hear the names Steve Cropper or Donald “Duck” Dunn, the response might be less automatic. In truth those tunes and so many others like “In the Midnight Hour” would not exist without those gentlemen and their cohorts of the time organist Booker T. Jones and their drummer the late Al Jackson Jr..

As The MG’s and part of the “house band” for Stax Records in Memphis Tennesee, these musicians built on the promise Elvis made ten years earlier with a mixture of country and blues that came to be known as “soul music”. It’s not the Motown kind of soul music which was quite purposefully pop in comparison. Stax stayed a lot closer to the chicken coop and while the label’s stars could spruce it up in shark skin and mohair with the best of them you always got the feeling that Wilson Picket might cut you; Diana Ross – well – probably not.

Raise A Hand!

The evening opened with Cropper and Dunn, working with keyboardist Lester Snell and Paul Schaefer Late Night Band drummer Anton Fig, playing some of their classic instrumentals. They effectively laid out the signature bass grooves, buzzing Hammond B3 and stinging guitar licks of “Hip-Hug-Her”, “Booker-Loo”, “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo” and of course “Green Onions”. Cropper, showcasing his sparse playing style, made every note count on the melody of “Summertime”. “Duck” and Steve have been life long friends and play with an intuitive ease to prove it. It’s all done with an almost imperceptible nod, a half smile, or sometimes a bemused stare. It’s fun to watch these guys having fun.

When singer Eddie Floyd was introduced to the stage and launched into “Raise A Hand” the show shifted to high gear. Just one day past his 74th birthday Floyd was a dynamo traversing the stage continuously, working up a sweat and pulling pretty ladies out of the audience to dance with him. The audience responded in kind, and quickly got on their feet dancing along to classic tunes like “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, both authored by Floyd. “On A Saturday Night” had the audience singing along oblivious to the fact that it was really a “school night”.

Play It Steve!

As expected set ender “Soul Man” blew the lid off the place. Current recognition of the Stax label’s monumental contribution music can be traced in part to the continued success of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s “The Blues Brothers”. A loving and hilarious homage to the music they loved. “It’s always on cable TV” Cropper noted. “New” Blues Brothers joined Floyd on stage for this number, trading lead lines, mock boxing and ultimately genuflecting to kiss the ring of the soul pontif.

The band gifted the Highline crowd with a surprise performance of “Dock of the Bay” as the encore; the posthumously released Otis Redding song apparently one that Floyd had declined to cover. But, with a pinch of “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” thrown in for spice it turned into a fitting and respectful remembrance and closed the show with the audience whistling its plaintive refrain.

A Royale Salute

Steve Cropper’s new album titled “Dedicated” is due for release in early August. It’s a salute to the music of early R&B group The “5” Royales and guitarist Pete Pauling. The star studded CD includes performances by Steve Winwood, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Brian May, Delbert McClinton Spooner Oldham, B B King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Jordan. Promises to be an exceptional listen. Pre-order link is below.

Dedicated