Category Archives: Appreciation of Others

For Once in My Life — An Appreciation of Michael Henderson

I think I own everything that Stevie Wonder has recorded and released, going back to the early 1960s.  On a recent plane ride to Omaha with my iPhone in shuffle mode I stumbled across a live recording of “For Once In My Life” that Stevie made at a London nightclub in 1970.

The first thing I noticed was that the tempo was brighter than on the studio recording.  The second thing I observed was the absolutely killer bass line that I was ready to attribute to James Jamerson.

It turns out the line was not by Jamerson but by Michael Henderson, a then 18-year old phenomenon who who soon catch the eye of Miles Davis.  Here’s a snippet from the live show.

I’m not the only one that’s been taken by how good this line is.  There are at least two YouTube videos that pay homage to Henderson’s bass playing, including this one.


New Bottles for Old Wine — Van Morrison and Moondance

I’m always impressed with artists that take a tune for which they are famous and change it in a way that is faithful to the original yet fresh.

In the mid 1990s Van Morrison started performing a “big band” version of Moondance, his hit from 25 years earlier.  Here’s one performance from 1995 that features Georgie Fame on organ.

I’ve always enjoyed this song and we will be adding it to the Top Shelf repertoire (with horns of course.)

An Appreciation of Quincy Jones’ Early Work

“Hey, you should perform One Mint Julep” suggested a friend after hearing The Top Shelf perform at a show in New York City last year.

I finally decided to follow up on this and went on a YouTube listening spree.  I found several great renditions, including one by Sarah Vaughn and, of course, the 1961 monster hit version by Ray Charles.

It turns out both versions were arranged by Quincy Jones.

The recordings also remind me of Soul Bossa Nova, Jones’ own composition released a year later.

You may know that tune as the theme to the Austin Powers movies.

Will we do these songs at our upcoming show at the Cutting Room on January 31, 2014? No promises… but…

In the meantime, here are some YouTube clips for your enjoyment.

Soul Bossa Nova (1962)

The “laughing” instrument is a Cuíca.  I also love the two piccolos playing the melody in harmony.

Soul Bossa Nova (The Late Show with David Letterman)

Not sure of the date, but probably 2002.  Check out the great flugelhorn and “mumbles” solo from Clark Terry.

One Mint Julep (1961)

Ray Charles’ instrumental hit.  The band just kills.

Why do Wedding Bands Massacre “Mustang Sally”?

Even though I like playing “Mustang Sally” I try to avoid performing it with The Top Shelf because EVERY bar band, wedding band, and R&B band in the US performs this song.  Indeed, this particular ditty, a wedding-band staple that’s as common as “In The Mood” has become a source of amusement and derision for working musicians all over the country (see to get an idea of what I’m talking about.)

So, given that so many bands perform the song, why is it that so many mangle it?

To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s start with the version by Wilson Pickett, which I think remains the gold standard for this song.

Wilson Picket’s version of “Mustang Sally”

In addition to the groove being absolutely perfect, listen to the “turnaround” at 0:52 (the turnaround is what you use to get from the end of one verse into the beginning of the next verse.)  Notice that the band stays on the “I” here.

Now, contrast this with a typical “wedding band” version of the song.

Danny D and The Decades’ version of “Mustang Sally”

In addition to the tempo being way too fast, listen to what the band does starting around 0:46 into the tune — they go to the “V” and perform a collection of Lawrence Welk-inspired rhythmic accents.

This is about as “Pat Boone” as it gets.

Sadly, A LOT of wedding bands perform the song this way, which made me wonder who was the first to introduce this turnaround, and why did it catch on?

Needless to say, I was shocked to discover that the band most likely responsible for this approach to “Mustang Sally” was — The Rascals!

Yes, the same band that gave us “Groovin'”, “How Can I Be Sure”, “People Got To Be Free” and countless other hits started as a phenomenally good “blue-eyed” soul cover band. Indeed, their first big hit, “Good Lovin'”, was a cover of a song originally recorded by the Olympics.

So, how does The Rascals’ version stack up?  It’s terrific.

The Rascals’ version of “Mustang Sally”

Just listen to how slow and greasy this version is, how much empty space there is, and how they handle, the “V” turnaround at 1:04.  I still don’t like the “V” with the accents, but at this tempo, and in their hands, it works.

As for the thousands of bands that perform this tune, here’s my advice: You’re not the Rascals; don’t play the “V” turnaround (known as “that wedding band s%^t”) and please slow … the… tune … down.

Note: Mark Prentice, bass player and assis­tant music producer for the The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream, points out that the original version of this song was released in 1965 by its composer, Sir Mack Rice, and contains the infamous “V” turnaround.  Mark also notes that the Rascals’ recording predates Wilson Pickett’s but was released after.  See

An Appreciation of Imelda May

Almost a year ago after performing with The Top Shelf at a wedding in Waltham, Massachusetts, I checked into my hotel room, tired, but not ready to go to sleep.

Rather than read my dog-eared edition of Ulysses I decided to do some channel surfing and stumbled across a great PBS special called Jeff Beck’s Rock ‘n Roll Party honoring Les Paul.

This may have been the best post-gig channel surf ever as the band was smokin’ and every song was a gem.

One of the standout performers was Imelda May, a killer singer from Ireland best known for her rockabilly recordings but who on that night performed a bevy of Les Paul / May Ford masterpieces.

I recently came across Imelda May again when I was looking for some new material for our July performance at The Cutting Room.  There’s a lot of great stuff in her book, but the song that best suited the band was “Inside Out.”

Here’s Imelda’s performance from the Graham Norton show.

Trying to Explain the Difference between Soul and Rock


I’ve been working with a lot of college-aged musicians and singers who are not well-versed in Motown and Soul music.  So far, not one of them has asked me “what is soul music” and I’m relieved as I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to answer it without stammering and stating that soul music has, well, “soul”…

This hasn’t stopped me from thinking about just what is is that makes Soul music Soul music and how it differs from Rock and Pop.  I think I’ve found a song that does a good job of illustrating the differences.

Let’s listen to Just One Look and hear how it differs in the hands of a pop group and a soul artist

The Hollies’ Version

Here’s a version of the song that was a monster hit for The Hollies in the UK in 1964.

Great song and great performance.

Doris Troy’s Version

Here’s the original version performed by its composer, Doris Troy.  It reached number 10 on the US Singles chart.  This version just oozes soul.


Which version do I prefer?  I really enjoy both (and enjoy watching the baby-faced Graham Nash in the video) but the Doris Troy version really does it for me.

More Great 21st Century Soul and R&B

Last year I wrote a blog post about how there’s been an onslaught of artists that are producing truly world-class R&B and soul, including Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, and Shemekia Copeland (not to mention Adele and Bruno Mars).

Here’s a very worthwhile addition to this list:

A friend told me about Chrissi Poland almost a year ago and I’m delighted to report that the stars have finally aligned and Chrissi will be joining us for our upcoming show. See The Top Shelf at The Cutting Room on June 7 for more information.

(and yes, it is entirely “possible” that we will perform this song on June 7. Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh!)