Category Archives: Appreciation of Others

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!)

An appreciation of Jackie Wilson

There have been many discussions about which artist had the greatest influence on Michael Jackson. One name that pops up on many lists is Jackie Wilson.  Consider this clip from the TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream that dramatizes “Mr. Excitement” mesmerizing a young MIchael Jackson.

The actor here is doing a fine job, but readers should really check out the real deal.  Here’s Wilson closing “Shindig” in 1964.

If you look carefully you’ll see the Righteous Brothers and a very young Bobby Sherman joining Wilson on stage.  Willy Nelson was also on the show that night, but I’ve not been able to spot him during the show’s “dance off”.

Here’s another clip of Wilson performing the same song a year later (keep your eyes out for Fontalla Bass).

In addition to Wilson just killing it, I love the house band, which features the likes of Leon Russell, Billy Preston, and Glen Campbell.

(Note: It’s nice to know these folks were in fact mortal.  Check out some problems with the form around 1:50 where only some people in the and move to the IV chord).

I’ll leave you with a clip of one of my favorite Jackie Wilson songs, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” which Wilson recorded in 1967. The Top Shelf performs this from time to time.

And yes, that is James Jamerson on bass even though it’s not a Motown recording.

Covering The Beatles

I love writing new arrangements of familiar tunes but I shy away from Beatles songs as many attempts by others have resulted in horrible failures.  Just listen to the Sleepy’s commercial that uses “In My Life” and you’ll hear what I mean.

That said, there are some exceptions and one truly astonishingly arrangement is Earth, Wind, and Fire’s version of “Got to Get You into My Life”.

Don’t get me wrong; the Beatles’ version is great, but I think Maurice White and company’s take is the definitive version of the song.

There was no way I was going to improve upon this gem, but given that the recording fades out I did write a tag so we could have a tidy ending.

We haven’t performed this for a while but we’ll take this on  — along with some Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears — at our next show at The Cutting Room on June 7.

An Appreciation of Isaac Hayes

Every music part in The Top Shelf book contains two common elements.  The first is a warning to any interloper about making a copy of an individual part:


What can I say? I work hard on these arrangements.

The second element comprises the names of the songwriters as I want my bandmates to know the person or people responsible for composing the gem that is on the music stand.

So, several years ago I had a big surprise when I looked up who composed the three songs that make up our “Sam and Dave” medley:


I had no idea that the creator of Hot Buttered Soul, the Theme From Shaft and the voice of “Chef” on South Park was also an amazingly prolific songwriter and producer for Stax records in the 1960s.

…and the composer of three of my favorite Soul / R&B tunes.

I’ll leave you with Sam Moore and Carla Thomas’ recording of When Something is Wrong with My Baby written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Thank you, Mr. Hayes.


Two Great Bass Lines from a Great Bass Player

Several years ago a very good friend of mine asked me to play bass on a gig and learn what he said was the best disco song ever.  I looked at him skeptically and he quickly pointed out that the song was in fact a really good song, period.

He also said it had a great bass line.

The song in question was Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and after listening I had to admit it was a very good song.  And I liked the bass line and bass tone so much I wanted to know who was the bass player on the track.

A search on the Talk Bass forum revealed that the player in question was Henry E. Davis, the bass player for LTD and the same person that played the great bass line on “Back in Love Again.”  I decided to contact Henry and ask him about how he got his great sound and groove.

Here’s what he had to say about his sound and approach to the Thelma Houston song:

I was influenced by Larry Graham, the Godfather of Thump.  As a matter of fact,  he was the first bass player that I was aware of that played walking octaves.  I had no idea that he played with his thumb when I first heard him with Sly and the Family Stone, but I liked the lines he played so I incorporated his lines into my arsenal of riffs, practiced it until his lines felt comfortable in my hands.  The Graham-influenced style of playing was first explored with my own group. LTD, and then “immortalized” first with Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover”, and then on Thelma Houston’s record.  A lot of producers on subsequent sessions wanted that “Love Hangover thing” on their records.  I complied but didn’t really feel it because those songs/sessions didn’t have all the same elements that the Love hangover sessions did; i.e. the song, the musicians, the studio, the time we recorded, the studio, the joking, the overall mood, etc.  Musical performance is a “thing of the moment” that takes in to account everything involved in that moment; what’s happening influences what happens.

We exchanged more e-mails, discussing basses, strings, pickups, and his excitement over LTD getting back together, as well as a promise to give me a bass lesson when the tour got to New York.  I also pointed out to him that he had achieved a type of immortality in that the recordings he made in the 1970s were being enjoyed 30 to 40 years later by an entirely new generation of listeners.

Sadly, Henry died last year and I never got to meet him and take that bass lesson.  But I am very glad I got to tell him how much I enjoyed his work and how much it had influenced my playing.  Indeed, I’ll be playing at least one of hist bass lines at The Top Shelf’s upcoming performance at The Cutting Room on March 22.

In the meantime, I leave you with two great Henry E. Davis bass performances.  Enjoy.

Lake Street Dive’s “I Want You Back”

My greatest joy in music comes from arranging and orchestration. Arranging is taking an existing song and coming up with a new approach to how it should be scored and performed.  For those readers uncertain of what I mean, a great example of taking a song, turning it on its ear, and delivering a truly brilliant arrangement may be found in Earth Wind and Fire’s version of “Got to Get You into My Life.”

I’m always on the lookout for creative re-renderings, and one of my bandmates told me recently of a novel cover of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.” I have to agree that this slowed-down, acoustic, and sparsely-produced recording by Lake Street Dive is terrific.  BTW, you’ll notice that they keep the Wilton Felder bass line from the original version (and the bass line is one of the best parts of the song.)

Okay, raise your hand if you listened to this a second time (one, two,… yeah, lots of hands.)

While The Top Shelf may not perform this particular song on a given night, when you come out to see us perform you will hear novel arrangements of one or more songs, guaranteed.

An Appreciation of Booker T and the MGs

The Top Shelf has a fun show coming up on February 7 at DROM called From Booker T to Beyoncé: 50 Years of Motown, Soul, and R&B.  We will be performing songs that span five decades including songs from Booker T and the MGs and Beyoncé:

Widely popular in the 1960s, Booker T and the MGs were the Stax Records house band that played on hundreds of recordings by great soul artists including Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Eddie Floyd.  The group also released a number of instrumental albums under its own name and had a huge hit in 1962 with “Green Onions.”

They were also one of the first racially-integrated groups — and they were based in the Deep South!

Here’s a clip of the group performing in 1966 on the show Shindig!  The clip starts with the group playing “My Babe” but then switches to “Green Onions”.

You’ll also note Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass.  The original recording featured Lewie Steinberg on bass; Dunn took over in 1965.

The Top Shelf plans to perform our own take on this tune, but we’ll of course do our best to be true to the source material.