Vivascene Eclectic Playlist

We begin with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, and take the listener on a great ride of splendid, eclectic performances, finishing up with The Stones’ great 2017 cut from Blue & Lonesome.

RY COODER and TAJ MAHAL ~ from the album GET ON BOARD


“The long awaited reunion of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal was highly anticipated, to say the least, and it proved a tasty treat. Of course, I don’t think there are many releases by either gentleman that fail to thrill me. This current release, GET ON BOARD, is a little extra special. ‘Cause in conjunction with their pairing, they shine a light on Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry for the current generation of blues lovers and players. Brownie and Sonny spread the Piedmont Blues to the world through the Forties and Fifties, now Ry and Taj do the same.” ~ RP / Vivascene 

“Sonny and Brownie would walk through the crowd to the stage of the Ash Grove [famed folk club on LA’s Melrose Avenue], one of them was blind, the other crippled, and just that walk was a performance. They’d sit on stools and belt it out. You could study Sonny with his harmonica technique and Brownie with his guitar technique – it was all there to be learned if you could.” ~ Ry Cooder

“I got a bunch of instruments and took the train down to LA.   Every day we played, and inched back to a place where we could see something was happening for us.” ~ Taj Mahal



“There’s a song called “New Horizons,” which was at a really tough time in my life. I’d not long lost my father. There was quite a lot of death around me, and I was having to cope with that and work out how you handle that and what you do and how you can get through it. It’s very poignant to me.” ~ Justin Hayward

The song was written by Hayward for the Seventh Sojourn album released in late 1972 (October in UK, November USA). He was expecting the birth of his first child at the time, and perhaps feeling a bit anxious. His daughter, Doremi, was born in December 1972.

Justin’s vocal is heavenly, and his lyrics are a work of art, like many in Hayward’s career.  Here’s a small example:

Well I’ve had dreams enough for one

And I’ve got love enough for three

I have my hopes to comfort me

I got my new horizons out to sea



“Musicians understand each other through means other than speaking.” ~ Ry Cooder

“I heard Ry Cooder playing slide on Taj Mahal’s debut album, and I said ‘man that’s for me.” ~ Duane Allman

Ry Cooder is a great American musician with a penchant for the exploration and expert covering of long forgotten traditional music.  He has made music that touches on America’s musical heritage.  On his 1970s series of releases that began with 1970’s eponymous debut, and continued through a pair of albums in ’72 (‘Boomer Story’ and ‘Into The Purple Valley’) and on 1974’s Paradise and Lunch, which many consider one of his very best, Cooder dug deep.

One of the traditional songs included on Paradise and Lunch was the gospel hymn, “Jesus On The Mainline.”  On this gem, Ry Cooder shines in upfront gospel vocalising, enhanced by some tasty Salvation Army band horn parts arranged by Motown’s go-to brass player George Bohanon.  Much of the gospel feel derives from the involvement of The Golden Gate Quartet, a group Cooder had known for a while and whose roots reach back to 1934.  

“At a certain point, I had worked up enough of a relationship with those singers to where we could go in a studio and attempt to capture some of that sound in a very minor way.” ~ Ry Cooder

The artwork and photography on Paradise and Lunch, as with many of his records, is the work of Susan Titelman, Ry’s wife at the time.  Susan’s brother, Russ Titelman co-produced Paradise And Lunch, as well as adding some bass guitar.



“I think the only thing my voice has lost over the years is the innocence. I feel like I sing better than ever now.” ~ Dion

“I perform on some of these blues cruises with Taj Mahal and The Fabulous Thunderbirds where you can really rock out. It’s great. You get all these doctors and lawyers and such and they put on wigs and really let loose. They let the music fill them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And they dance. Boy, do they dance.” ~ Dion

“This is another song that started as phrases I wanted to sing. ‘I stepped into love.’ The lyric does a good job of describing what happened when I first met Susan. We were both teenagers. She was new to my very Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, and she was a redheaded transplant from Vermont. Bam bang boom!” ~ Dion

“Billy Gibbons was a joy to work with on this. There’s nobody like him.” ~ Dion

DEVON ALLMAN  ~ from the album TURQUOISE


“I’ve known Samantha forever now and she’s such a phenomenal talent, her voice and guitar playing are smokin’ and her new band are world class… ” ~ Devon Allman

“I practiced a lot.  I listened to a lot of records.  I think the key to being a good musician is just to have big ears, and to listen, and to just try and be in the moment and play what you feel – because that’s what people connect to.” ~ Samantha Fish

“Tom Petty’s famous duet with Stevie Nicks, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” is the only cover song on the CD [Turquoise].  The Petty/Mike Campbell penned rock classic is faithfully done, but in a slightly slower tempo than the original.  Ruf Records blues-steeped stable-mate Samantha Fish takes the swagger-filled female lead and Allman displays how big an influenced Petty was/is on his vocal style.  Devon shares “Tom Petty has always been one of my favorite artists. This song totally takes me back to my youth.”  Allman and Fish go together like bacon and sizzle, and they memorably render this track with a southern-kissed twist.” ~ RP / Vivascene

AMOS LEE ~ from his self-titled debut album


Amos Lee emerged in the mid 2000s, balancing his love of classic singer/songwriter folk with blues, country, and 1970s style R&B. The Philadelphia native first became serious about performing while attending the University of South Carolina. After graduating with a degree in English, he taught elementary school before deciding to pursue a music career full-time.

Amos Lee is a throwback to a more organic sounding pop time period brandishing a smooth soul voice and a knack for literate, thoughtful and sensitive lyrics. While drawing upon an array of influences including Bob Dylan, Bill Withers, John Prine, and Otis Redding, Lee garnered critical praise — and chart success — with albums like his eponymous 2001 Blue Note debut 

Lee croons through his mellow eponymous debut with a singular sense of his time and place that adds weight to his already heartfelt songs. I was fortunate to see Amos Lee open for Bob Dylan in support of this release. The audience wasn’t receptive to his short set; but his cool performance really impressed me.

Amos Lee released his self-titled debut on Blue Note in 2005 with the aid of Lee Alexander (bassist for Norah Jones).

“It’s (Arms Of A Woman) been something that’s brought a lot of peace to a lot of people that I know, and I’m really grateful to have written it. It wasn’t autobiographical in that it was romantic -it was probably autobiographical in that I think we all long for that feeling. I remember singing that song to my Uncle Jerry when he was passing. I went to his room and that is what he wanted to hear. There are different ways that people can be touched by it. To me, it’s more of a song of the basic comforts of another human being. Nothing more and nothing less.” ~ Amos Lee

I am at ease in the arms of a woman

Although now,

most of my days are spent alone.

A thousand miles,

from the place i was born

But when she wakes me,

she takes me back home



Eric Clapton had completed his successful 1975 There’s One In Every Crowd World Tour that included his first Australian concert dates when he and a couple members of his touring band (bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jamie Oldaker, keyboardist Dick Sims, and backup vocalists Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy) convened at Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, to begin recording his fourth studio album, ‘No Reason To Cry.’

The studio, owned by The Band, was a converted bordello. It offered a communal atmosphere and Eric called on a great number of his musical friends to help out on the songwriting and recording to supplement the couple of blues covers he had planned. The back of the album lists a large number of these friends, among those being Ron Wood, Bob Dylan, members of the Band, Jesse Ed Davis, Billy Preston, and Georgie Fame.

The opening song on No Reason To Cry, was a song written by Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of The Band, titled “Beautiful Thing.” It has a loose, relaxed feel and features some nice guitar interplay between Clapton and Wood, and choruses sung by Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy. Eric’s vocal performances throughout the Seventies have been continually attacked by numerous critics over the years; but I feel that its looseness here compliments the song well. 

STEPHEN STILLS (demo release)


“There were times I thought I was going to turn to the blues, but then I’d hear better blues players.” ~ Stephen Stills

“I feel like I’m just learning how to play the guitar. I mean, really learning to play the guitar.” ~ Stephen Stills

“Treetop Flyer” is an excellent classic track from 1991’s ‘Stills Alone’ album, a recording of nearly all unaccompanied mostly-original acoustic songs that is now out of print.  

It’s the story of a Vietnam veteran who came home from the war with a marketable new skill: the ability to fly aircraft under the radar. When these pilots returned home from combat to a public that often shunned them, turned their backs on them, and wouldn’t give them a job, these vets found a way to make money. They utilized this skill in running drugs, guns, and whatever other contraband someone would pay them to deliver. I dearly love the crispness of Still’s Martin acoustic guitar on this song.



“Well known as a founding member of the rock group Toto (which released its 14th studio album Toto XIV in March of 2015) and a notoriously seasoned much-in demand A-List session guitarist; Steve Lukather (known to many as “Luke”) is also a wonderful songwriter, skilled arranger, noted producer and cleverly adept vocalist.

Transition, his seventh solo recording, and his second on the Mascot Records masthead, is an abounding mixture of satisfying melodic rock, pop, blues, and funk/jazz-tinged music. Containing a solid batch of quality songs, this diversity of genre and ambiance makes for an extremely gratifying listening experience.

“The album closes with “Smile,” the beautiful song written by famous silent era comedic genius Charlie Chaplin and used as an instrumental theme for his 1936 movie Modern Times. Luke’s guitar gently weeps in melancholy glory with eloquent bending notes curving like the windingly sweeping glissandi tones from a singing saw. The song, performed with only lush keyboard accompaniment, held a special place in his late mother’s heart and Luke gives a sincere and earnest heart-felt perceptive performance of remarkable gorgeous depth and dimension. Comparisons to Roy Buchanan (Sweet Dreams), Larry Carlton (Sleepwalk), or Chet Atkins (Why Worry) can give some indication of the nature of this sweet string-bending harmonic quality; in the end, it’s still distinctively Steve Lukather.” ~ RP / Vivascene 

HERBIE MANN ~ from the album PUSH PUSH


Known professionally by his stage name Herbie Mann, Mann was an American jazz flute player who helped to popularize the flute as a jazz instrument and introduced the music of other cultures into the mainstream of American jazz. His first instrument was clarinet, and when he began his career he was primarily a tenor saxophonist. But, by the late 1950’s he was concentrating on flute, a choice almost unheard of for a jazz musician at the time.

In 1962, Mann recording an album in Brazil with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes and others. In doing so, he became one of the first American jazz artists to embrace Brazilian music and work with Brazilian musicians. He would later incorporate elements of African, Japanese and Middle Eastern music into his repertory.

American blues and soul were also part of the mix with albums and tunes like “Memphis Underground.” 

The title track of his 1971 release, Push Push, was a fine instrumental composition written by Mann that opened the album.  It ran close to ten minutes in length, and featured guitarist Duane Allman and many other fine musician.

Flute – Herbie Mann

Guitar, Soloist – Duane Allman

Guitar – Cornell Dupree

Electric Piano – Richard Tee

Bass – Chuck Rainey

Drums – Bernard Purdie 

Harp – Gene Bianca

JEFF BECK GROUP ~ from their self-titled album


After his departure from The Yardbirds in November 1966, British guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck formed the Jeff Beck Group in London in January of 1967. The group would employ changing personnel, but would make a lasting impact on popular music with its unique approach to blues and rock.  

Truth, released in 1968 would just be credited to Jeff Beck. The first album with Jeff Beck Group credited was in 1969, Beck-ola. These releases were truly an all-star lineup that included pianist Nicky Hopkins, vocalist Rod Stewart, and bass player Ronnie Wood.  

After Jeff Beck had sustained a life-threatening car accident, in 1971 the group had evolved to include vocalist Bob Trench, drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Clive Chaman, and keyboardist Max Middleton. That talented congregate would release the excellent Rough And Ready.

The group’s third release with the eponymous title, was released in 1972. That album was produced by Steve Cropper who brought a slight Memphis vibe to the release that proved to be a brilliant combination of rock, blues, R&B, and soul.

I’m a fan of instrumentals, and Jeff had a couple mighty fine ones on this album. My favorite has always been his cover of a song written by Ashford and Simpson, “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You.” Fifty years on this song still sounds fresh, and cements the legacy of Jeff Beck as one of the masters of his instrument.

Jeff Beck: Guitar

Cozy Powell: Drums

Max Middleton: Keyboards

Clive Chaman: Bass



“Justin Hayward has thrilled millions of fans worldwide with his musical genius that has been demonstrated time after time since replacing Denny Laine in the Moody Blues lineup in 1966. It was Hayward with his expert songwriting, distinctive polished guitar, and divine unmistakable vocals coupled with Mike Pinder’s bold experimentation with the Mellotron that illustrated the path for the band’s progressive and adventurous change of direction that they’ve followed ever since. His 2014 solo album was entitled Spirits of the Western Sky and was recorded in Genoa, Italy and Nashville, Tennessee. The mystical romanticism always prevalent in Hayward’s gifted compositions is again on display, with deeply personal subject matter his general guideline.

“Hayward’s trademark heavenly honeyed tenor vocals and sweet guitar are emphasized on the first cut titled “In Your Blue Eyes.” The mid-tempo rocker could fit quite nicely on a Moody Blues album, and proves the point that Justin has always been, first and foremost, an excellent songwriter. His track record of leading off with a strong track is once again his scheme here. Hayward’s electric guitar flourishes are tastefully elegant.

“Wordsworth’s definition of all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” could without doubt pertain to Justin Hayward’s music. The songs are paradigms to the many fine bliss-filled musical moments and memories that Hayward has provided during his purposeful and illustrious career.” ~ RP / Vivascene 

PAUL SIMON ~ from his self-title album


Master songwriter Paul Simon’s eponymous 1972 album was his American solo debut; and his first release since the farewell Simon and Garfunkel album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Some fifty years later, it has remained a favorite of mine. It contained the huge hits “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Mother and Child Reunion,” and “Duncan.”   

“I don’t listen back to my old albums very much, but this is one I did go back to after I heard all these indie bands were doing some of these songs, like ‘Peace Like a River.’ And I thought, ‘God, this is a good record.'” ~ Paul Simon

“It was a present for my thirteenth birthday. I was a fan of Elvis by then, and I expressed some interest in playing guitar. My dad was a musician, and he bought me the guitar. It cost $50 or something like that. It’s a cheap guitar, a Stadium. I never heard of that make. It has that kind of look of those guitars you bought in the five-and-dime store. But, I loved it. The first thing I did was to try and tune it, and I broke a string.” ~ Paul Simon reminiscing on his first guitar.

The gently flowing “Peace Like a River” always has held tender memories for me. These memories place it near the top of my favorite Paul Simon tunes. My only Paul Simon concert was in 1999 at the MGM Grand Gardens, from the front row, when he shared the bill with Bob Dylan. The sound at that venue was always atrocious, but being up close, the sound wasn’t too bad.

Peace Like A River

   Guitar, Vocal – Paul Simon

   Bass – Joe Osborne

   Drums – Victor Montanez



“The blues echoes right through into soul, R&B and hip hop. It’s part of the make-up of modern music. You can’t turn your back on the blues.” ~ Ronnie Wood

The Rolling Stones included a searing take of “Ride ‘Em on Down” on their 2016 release of blues classics. This covers collection paid tribute to the post-war Chicago blues that first got the Stones rolling and inspired their very name. Since then, the blues have served as the band’s foundation, but this effort was their first all-blues release.

Blue & Lonesome was bashed out in three days, which gives the effort a raw power. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood create guitar sparks and Jagger plays perhaps the best blues harp of his career along with producing still-vital vocals. The Stones sound like a band playing together in the same room and having a good time doing it.

“Ride ‘Em on Down” was written by Tommy McClennan and Bukka White and was first recorded and released by Tommy McClennan in 1940. The track dates back to the 1930’s when Delta blues great Bukka White penned the track under the title “Shake ‘Em on Down.” Chicago blues singer Eddie Taylor recorded the track in 1955 as “Ride ‘Em on Down,” the version that inspired the Stones to cover the track.

“The thing about the blues is it changes in very small increments. People reinterpret what they know – Elmore James reinterpreted Robert Johnson licks, as did Muddy Waters. So, I’m not saying we’re making the jumps that they made, but we can’t help but reinterpret these songs.” ~ Mick Jagger 

“Ride ‘Em on Down” features a scorching harmonica solo courtesy of Jagger. 

“This is the best record Mick Jagger has ever made. It was just watching the guy enjoying doing what he really can do better than anybody else… And also, the band ain’t too shabby.” ~ Keith Richards talking about the singer’s harmonica skills. 

Ride ‘Em On Down – Personnel 

    Vocals, Harp – Mick Jagger

    Guitar – Keith Richards

    Guitar – Ronnie Wood

    Bass – Darryl Jones

    Drums – Charlie Watts

    Organ – Chuck Leavell

    Piano – Matt Clifford