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From the Court to Foreigner – The Story of Ian McDonald

24 Sep

Ian McDonald is one of those tremendously talented musicians who has flown under the radar for far too long. Some musicians need the spotlight. Others create music solely for the music. It may seem like a foreign concept to some, but those who master it are true musical kings. McDonald is also…diverse. Yes, that is the correct word. He is a multi-instrumentalist, proficient with the sax, flute, vibraphone, keyboard, and guitar, with a penchant for classical composition. It is this range of musical interests that allowed him to share his talents with several acts, no matter how different they may have been. Thus, McDonald is the subject of today’s “Same Artist, Different Place.” In under a decade, McDonald created two completely different works with two completely different bands.

Let’s start with one of my favorite bands, King Crimson. Despite their short existence, the band created one of the most inventive progressive rock compositions of all time – In The Court of the Crimson King. McDonald served as the main composer for this album, and he also suggested the purchase of a Mellotron which made a triumphant appearance on the album.

Here’s “I Talk to the Wind,” the second track on In The Court of the Crimson King. McDonald’s flute work is most prevalent in this piece. It is a soothing lullaby that features pleasant harmonies and elegant percussion. Listen for McDonald’s classically inspired flute solo at around the 3:00 minute mark. It is a Moody Blues inspired piece, focusing much of its attention on composition and instrumentation – a staple for an expanded progressive rock movement that bands like King Crimson founded. Now, with that fresh in your mind, here is…

Why? Well, Ian McDonald was one of the founding members of the New York City rock band Foreigner. “Feels Like the First Time,” which appears on Foreigner’s eponymous debut album, was released in 1977, eight years after “I Talk to the Wind” appeared on King Crimson’s debut. McDonald played guitar, woodwinds and keyboards in Foreigner. He also provided work on the drums, horns, and vocals on the album. Face it, the man is a musical jack-of-all-trades.

Oh, one more thing, you know the saxophone in T.Rex’s “Get it On (Bang a Gong)?” Yup, Ian McDonald.

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John McVie – From the Bluesbreakers to The Chain

5 Jul

John McVie? Isn’t he the bassist from Fleetwood Mac? Absolutely. But he wasn’t always in Fleetwood Mac. Welcome John McVie into this week’s installment of “Same Artist, Different Place.”

McVie got his start by playing in High School with a cover band. This has become an almost hackneyed opening to all musician stories, but High School cover bands are truly the way that most famous musicians get started. So the lesson here is to seek out the talented musicians in your High School (like McVie) and latch on to their band. Can’t play an instrument? No matter, be their manager or something. Let’s get back to reality.

McVie played music from the Shadows with his band Krewsaders until leaving school at 17 for tax inspector training. Music, at that time, became a side hobby until bassist Cliff Barton turned down a part in a new Chicago-blues style band called John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and suggested that Mayall give McVie an audition. Mayall listened and was impressed with McVie. So, Mcvie, with no formal training in music, was accepted into the Bluesbreakers. Mayall gave him albums from B.B. King and other blues musicians to study.

Before Fleetwood Mac, there was the Bluesbreakers, who would later become known as a talented platform band, where English musicians went before becoming famous with other acts (kind of like The Yardbirds). Musicians like Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, “Sugarcane” Harris, Andy Fraser and Aynsley Dunbar played with the band. The band was exceptionally talented and it sustained itself with tremendously talented musicians.

After Clapton and Bruce left the Bluesbreakers (they would later form Cream), Mayall added guitarist Peter Green in 1966 and soon after added drummer Mick Fleetwood. I bet you see where this is going. McVie developed a great relationship with Green and Fleetwood and after Green was replaced by Mick Taylor he started a new band which he called Fleetwood Mac, after his beloved rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie. It didn’t take too much convincing to get Fleetwood over to the new band and after McVie became dissatisfied with Bluesbreaker’s move towards Jazz he joined the new band in 1967.

The rest is history.

Here is McVie playing “All Your Love” with the Bluesbreakers (Eric Clapton on guitar).

Sad News Clarence Clemons Stroke and Same Artist, Different Place

13 Jun

Sad news in the wide world of music today. Clarence Clemons, long-time saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, has reportedly suffered a massive stroke. At 69, he has since had two brain surgeries at a Florida hospital and is currently in responsive and stable condition. It was earlier reported that Clemons sustained full paralysis of the left side of his body, but latest news suggests that he has been moving his left hand. This is excellent news and the next few days will be vital to the healing process. We send our best wishes to this rock saxophone pioneer and wish him a speedy recovery.

The news about Clemons got me thinking about the other members of the E Street band. Clemons has performed with Springsteen for 40 years now and his body of work is extraordinary. But what about some other long-time E Street band members? All of the original 1972 members of the E Street Band can mark the Springsteen-led band as their first major musical appearance. So we need to dig a little later to find a candidate for the new Music Court category Same Artist, Different Place.

Guitarist and vocalist Nils Lofgren has performed with the E-Street Band since ’84, but Springsteen was not his first major gig. At 17 years old Lofgren was recruited by Neil Young to play piano and guitar for After The Gold Rush despite his inexperience. Youthfulness did not prevent him from performing capably during the production of the album. He earned himself a brief role with Crazy Horse and played on their self-titled premiere album. Here is a Lofgren original entitled “Beggar’s Day” which is track four on the album.

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