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The Amazing Blondel Sinfonia

9 Jan

Amazing Blondel

Gosh, I have not done a 60s Band of the Week post in months. You know, when I first started the Music Court back in 2009, my intention was to create an epic music amalgamation. Quite simply, I wanted to highlight newer bands I enjoyed with the perennial sound of the 1960s/early 1970s – the music that made me fall in love with … music! I do not want to lose the latter goal. Thus, my New Years Resolution for the Music Court is to go back to my original intention. While new music, incipient artist profiles, concert reviews, and other keen posts from Music Court writers will crowd the pages of the Music Court as always, I am bringing back the 60s/70s and continuing with the epic band profile list. Amazing Blondel kicks off the year!

Sinfonia is the Italian word for symphony. Two roots in this word. Sym meaning “with” and phon meaning “sound”. It’s a Latin word (symphonia) derived from greek (both usages were for instruments). This mini English lesson does have a purpose; I promise. The consonance associated with sinfonia is ancient. Sweet sounds have always engendered pulchritude and comfort. This was no different in the in the 60s/70s. Available among the genre smorgasbord was a sub-genre of the folk revival called folk baroque. Known musicians like Simon and Garfunkel (“Scarborough Fair”) and Nick Drake explored this genre, which blended English antiquity with modern American sounds. This was just one example of progressive folk/pop.

The Incredible String Band took this genre to new levels with the release of its exceptional album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion. This album implemented medieval instrumentation (oud, flute) and African instrumentation – we can thank the perspicacious Robin Williamson for this. Thus Medieval folk rock was born. Two of the most popular bands from this genre were Pentangle and Amazing Blondel. Amazing Blondel was unique, though. Many bands in the Medieval folk rock genre embraced jazz and electric music influences. Amazing Blondel stayed true to antiquated instrumentation (lute, theorbo, cittern, tabor, ocarina, flute, crumhorn, dulcimer, and glockenspiel). For the flute, they were compared with Jethro Tull, but Amazing Blondel was in a musical class of its own with a multifaceted genre that no one could quite pin down. It was medieval-style music with British performers. I’m just impressed the band was able to find the instruments I listed above. One would think there were (and are now) not many music shops selling crumhorns.

Amazing Blondel was started by John Gladwin and Terry Wincott, two multi-instrumentalists who left harder rock music to form a band that focused more on delicate instrumentation and wispy singing. The band focused on acoustic instrumentation and clearly pulled from a good amount of resources. The band added Eddie Baird after the release of its debut self-titled album in 1970 and started touring with bands like Procul Harum and Genesis (makes sense, right?) The full band released three albums from 1970-1972 and a few more after John Gladwin left. Of the band’s albums, the 1972 release England is my favorite of the band. Why don’t we have a listen?

The strings in this track are mesmerizing. The listener is caught in the instrumental story. The song shifts from a depressed darkness to light fast-paced strings and then back to staccato rhythms over a glum harmonium (may be a mellotron). I was always struck by the proficiency of the musicians. It’s a remarkable little piece and my clear favorite on the album.

“Landscape” is your classic upbeat medieval piece fit with lovely flute, background strings, and mellotron. The vocals are fine and feathery like a soft pillow. It is also just so British, which works so well for all of Amazing Blondel’s music. It is difficult to dislike this song. It’s just beautiful, plain and simple.

The Deity of British Blues – Alexis Korner

8 Sep

Alexis Korner

Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy – Names that are forever linked with their god-like status among the propagation of American Blues – an extensive genre that had an indelible impact on the future molding of rock ‘n’ roll.

On the other side of the pond, British jazz musicians and fans became ensconced with the Blues music of musicians like Ma Rainey and Fats Waller, acquiring much of these tunes from African-American GIs stationed there during the Wars. After the Skiffle craze died down in the 1950s, many Skiffle-influenced musicians turned their attention to pure Blues music. Muddy Waters had a shocking electric (literally) visit to England where he shocked Brits with his amplified electric blues. Some were appalled by his lack of reverence for the classic style, but the youth ate up this edgy playing. Among them was a guitarist by the name of Alexis Korner, who, like the Blues ancestors above, would spark a focus on Blues in Britain and influence a slew of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians. Thus, he too should be considered a true Blues god, and it should come to no surprise that he is often given the moniker of the “Father of British Blues.”

Korner’s elaborate music history is extensive and impactful. It is not easy to keep the plenitude of anecdotes to a minimum, but for the sake of the reader I shall limit my focus to a few stories. Like, for example, in 1969 while touring with a new band, Korner was jamming with a little-known singer named Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, who often performed with Korner at the Marquee Club, was intrigued by Plant’s voice and asked him to join The New Yardbirds…who would soon turn into a rock band called Led Zeppelin with Page and Plant at the helm.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That was in the late 60s. Korner’s career (even though he dabbled in Skiffle) really began in 1961 when he founded Blues Incorporated with Blues harmonica extraordinaire Cyril Davies. Blues Incorporated (like The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Cyril Davies’ All-Stars) was an early example of a “supergroup.” But, in truth, it was just a platform for talented blues musicians to play music. Blues Incorporated, though, has the special mark as the first electrified Blues band in Britain. The band secured a residency at the Marquee (mentioned above) and even established an R&B Night at Ealing Jazz Club.

Remember what I said about the youth loving electrified Blues music? Well, where do you think they went to hear this music? And who do you think inspired them to pursue this music? So when I tell you that Korner played with musicians like Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Paul Jones, Eric Burdon, and many, many others, you should not be too surprised. Most of the early Blues musicians in Britain are linked with Alexis Korner in some way. He is like the Kevin Bacon of British Blues. And when Cyril Davies left Korner to form his All-Stars he played with musicians like Nicky Hopkins and Long John Baldry until he died far too young in 1964. The All-Stars were led by Baldry who created Hoochie Coochie Man, featuring a singer named Rod Stewart. Page also had a few All-Stars jam sessions, adding individuals like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, and Mick Jagger to the mix.

But back to Korner for one more story before I urge you to watch this documentary about him.

Blues Incorporated was asked by BBC radio to broadcast a session in the early 60s, but the producer only had room for six musicians. The seventh member of the group with a singer named Mick Jagger. Jagger was asked to gather some friends and play the normal spot at the Marquee. The friends he gathered were Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart on piano, Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums. The band went by the name of  Rollin’ Stones after a Muddy Waters tune.

Cyril Davies on vocals and harmonica. Alexis Korner playing a mean acoustic guitar. Released in November, 1962.

Born Under a Bad Sign – Albert King

23 Jan
Albert King

Albert King

When the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame announced 2013’s inductees, one name stuck out to me as well deserving of the honor. That’s not to say that I am not happy for Rush, Heart, and the other bands and artists who are being inducted, but The Velvet Bulldozer stands out. Albert King (one of the 4 kings of blues guitar) will be posthumously inducted into the Hall, and, if he was still alive today, I’m sure he would accept it with amicable poise.

Before we talk a little bit about Albert King’s impact on music, it is important to know that King was a true musician. He was a wonderfully kind individual and when he hit the stage he put all things aside and just played music. He loved music. He loved the guitar. His passion for melody and harmony was apparent in his playing, and his infectious, friendly personality made him beloved on and off the stage.

King’s career traversed the 1960s. He first played professionally with The Groove Boys from Arkansas and then moved around the midwest during the 1950s hooking up with various musicians and labels. What remained consistent was his Flying V guitar (as you see above) which, like George Harrison, he named Lucy.

In 1961, King landed his first major hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” which reached number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart. He released his first album The Big Blues in 1962. Ike Turner played piano on the studio version of “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” which is track seven on the album. Listen to it below:

Classic electric blues. King’s voice is velvety with excellent vibrato. His guitar skill is evident. The man knew how to get feeling out of his Lucy, and his clean, bright and whiny playing style has been imitated by those he has inspired (Derek Trucks, Joe Walsh, etc.).

After the release of The Big Blues, King’s popularity continued rising in the Midwest and, in 1966, he rode that popularity to Stax records where he signed in 1966. There, with the widely influential Booker T & the MGs, he recorded premier blues tracks, including his most famous track, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The track, also the name of his first album with Stax, helped propel him to all of America and other countries.

“Born Under a Band Sign” is a unique song because of King’s unique guitar, which bathes ears with an authentic twang. The looping bass line carries the song, and the horns further accentuate the song’s comfortable bluesy power.

It Never Rains On The Music Court – Albert Hammond’s Illustrious Career

20 Jul

Albert Hammond with his son Albert Hammond Jr.

If you are of the Millenials generation the name Albert Hammond might immediately spark images of the curly-haired Strokes’ guitarist. Yeah, that guy in the picture. But who is the dude next to him? That, my friends, is Albert Hammond, father of the Strokes’ guitarist and tremendous musician in his own rite. Hammond has been releasing and writing music for over 40 years and has skillfully adjusted to the transformation of music along the way. In 2008, he was inducted into the songwriter’s hall of fame (source for picture above). Let’s explore the musical life that is Albert Hammond.

Artist: Albert Hammond

Origin: Gibraltar

Genre: Singer/Songwriter – Mainstream


Albert Hammond was born in London but grew up in Gibraltar with his Gibraltarian parents. Hammond, like many other musicians, left school to pursue music and first found a small market in the emergence of Spanish rock. While his first band, The Diamond Boys, wasn’t successful, it did help Hammond get performance experience and this came in handy later in his career.

1966 can be pointed to as the year Hammond broke out of his shell and started succeeding at song creation. He partnered with singer/songwriter Mike Hazelwood and helped form Family Dogg, a British vocal group, that also featured Steve Rowland. Hazelwood and Hammond not only performed with Family Dogg, but also became one of Britain’s most successful songwriting teams, scoring with hits like “Little Arrows.”

Family Dogg gave them an opportunity to sing and perform. The band released A Way of Life in 1969. The album’s success can be somewhat accredited to the historical personnel, but we will get to that later. Here is the Family Dogg performing the same-named “A Way of Life,” which appeared as the last track of the album. Just to make it clear, “A Way of Life” was not written by the songwriting duo of Hammond and Hazelwood (written instead by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway). Hammond and Hazelwood’s only conjoined songwriting credits come from track 10, “Moonshine Mary” and track 11, “You Were On My Mind.”

That is how the 60’s ended for Hammond. But despite his successes, Hammond’s true contribution to music came in the 1970s. Hammond and Hazelwood moved to Southern California and continued writing together. Hammond signed with Columbia Records and started showing off his chops. Numerous famous 70’s acts starting covering his material. The list includes Johnny Cash, Elton John, Mama Cass, The Association, Steppenwolf, Sonny & Cher, etc. Hammond, who is bilingual, was able to start making Spanish-language albums. Then, in the 1980s, Hammond wrote several other highly successful songs including “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” He continues to write music today.

If I had to choose a highlight from Hammond’s brilliant career it would have to be the release of his most known, and arguably best song in 1972. The song, “It Never Rains in Southern California,” is such a classic 70’s song. For what it is, it’s great. The song is soft-rock at its finest. It mixes light horns and Hammond’s pleasant voice into the pot and out comes a hit. I’ll leave you with a low-key performance of the song below.

Did You Know: The Family Dogg‘s album A Way of Life featured some pretty special guest musicians in the studio, including Elton John and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Jimmy Page.

60’s Band of the Week: Al Martino

22 Jun

This is the first time I am including a video prior to writing a 60’s Band post. Al Martino, the guest on today’s weekly section, is best known for this 1966 hit. And since he is a vocalist who performed from the early 1950’s to the 2000’s, prior to his passing in 2009, I thought it was important to place him in the rich 60’s vocalist culture. I present to you Al Martino.

Artist: Al Martino (Born Alfred Cini – Martino was adopted from his maternal grandfather)

Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Genre: Italian Pop Crooner


Al Martino will forever be known as one of the greatest Italian-American pop crooners. His trademark deep voice and voluble Italian helped him hit the charts in the 50s, 60s and 70s, an impressive feat for any artist. Martino, or Johnny Fontane for those who recognize him from his role in The Godfather, had to deal with real-life mob implications that slowed down his career, but this did not prevent him from becoming popular three times. Let me explain.

Martino first hit success with his 1952 debut single “Here in My Heart.” He got the recoding gig with BBS, a Philadelphia-based label, after garnering exposure from a first place finish on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show. The song shot up both the U.S. and U.K. charts. It was number one on the first-ever U.K. singles chart earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The song also went number one on the U.S. pop charts for three weeks. The record sold over a million copies and Martino was immediately picked up by Capitol records where he recorded three more hits through 1953, all of which hit the top 40. And then the records stopped dropping.

The mafia took over Martino’s contract and ordered Martino to pay a $75,000 fee upfront which he did to ensure his family’s safety. He then fled to England to avoid the mafia. I guess it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. That was awful, I’m sorry. Luckily, the mafia would not wreck his career any longer, and after a few productive years in England, Martino was able to return to the U.S. in 1958. The next time the mafia came knocking it was fake and he made profit.

It took a few years before Martino was able to establish himself in the U.S. again. He recorded for 20th Century Fox and didn’t do that poorly, but they dropped him. He then got a new deal with Capitol Records in 1962. The music climate had changed significantly in 10 years. Instead of competing with other crooners, Martino was now faced with Booker T., Ray Charles and Chubby Checker. Rock n’ Roll was the rage and Martino was far from this genre. But there was still room for powerful crooners, and Martino was one of them. He started charting again through the early 60s and then in 1966 released “Spanish Eyes,” an adaptation of an instrumental piece by Bert Kaempfert. While the song did only reach 15 on the pop charts it spread like wildfire throughout Europe. The song is no synonymous with Martino.

And when his career began to slow down again, Martino’s friend Phyllis McGuire (one of the McGuire Sisters) alerted him of Paramount’s decision to make a film version of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. She also told him he’d be great for the role of Johnny Fontane, a fading pop idol who needs the mob to land a film role. Martino didn’t need the mob’s help on this one. The real mob taketh, but the movie mob giveth back. The role propelled him to visibility again and he recorded two popular songs in the mid 70s, including a disco version of “Volare,” which is awful, but Europe enjoyed it.

Think about it. Martino was able to transcend music genres. Not many musicians can say they did that. Give the man credit. He overcame obstacles, but still marked himself as a legendary pop crooner.

Here is “Here in My Heart”

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