December 13, 2011

Music that has Influenced Me: Greg Lewis

This is the first article in a series where Music is Good contributors discuss the albums that have most influenced them musically. They will include some favourites that they play regularly now, but other choices will be music that they rarely listen to anymore, but had a major influence on their musical development at the time.
My selection begins with the Beatles:

The Beatles inevitably had a major influence upon me musically as I was teenager in their early days. For me this is a turning point album moving from the early fairly straight forward recordings that could be replicated on stage to the later studio based albums like Sgt Pepper. To some extent it reflects my growing up as a person alongside the Beatles ‘growing up’ musically. It is still an album I play regularly with many standout tracks for me such as “Dr Robert” and “Got to Get You Into My Life”.

I never took sides in the UK Beatles versus Stones debate. I liked both. They moved me on musically towards a more blues based musical style. Some of the tracks reflect the growing influence of drugs upon their work – naively though as a 14 year old I never realized what “Mother’s Little Helper” was about at the time.

The late 1960s was a period in the UK when the blues became popular, especially when played live. One of the key musical influences for me has been Eric Clapton, and this is where it started. It is difficult to choose even a couple of tracks to highlight, as all are so good, but “Key to Love” and “Ramblin’ On My Mind” are two of my favourites.

This was the album that led me to folk music. After enjoying this I moved to some of their earlier LPs, and from those to folk music, especially live in folk clubs. A particular favourite track is “America”. Fifty years on I still want to get on a Greyhound bus to explore America!

This just means college to me! I was developing musically, and to some extent Neil Young was the key artist in this progression, leading me to a number of west coast bands. This was the first LP of his that I owned – key tracks are”Southern Man” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”.

Another college record. Never a hit in the UK, but always a student favourite. It summed up the aspirational California lifestyle for us. Standout tracks for me are “Alone Again Or” and “Old Man”.

Such a variation of styles of music. I love “Sir Duke” – one of my top ten all-time tracks, so I couldn’t miss this out. My father played in swing bands and this track gets nearest to that in this list.

There was a lot of hype about Bruce Springsteen when he first came to the UK. As soon as I heard the first few notes of Born to Run I knew why. I have never ever heard anyone perform live that surpasses the Boss for me. Still the CD that I turn to when I want to hear some rock. One of the key three albums on this list. Going to a Bruce Springsteen concert for me is a bit like going to Church! The audience knows their parts virtually automatically, like liturgy for a congregation.

I could listen to the title track daily and never tire of it. This CD introduced me to West African music. When listening to Malinka and Woloff speaking artists from Senegal, Mali and The Gambia you begin to realise the influence that their music has had upon western music through the slave trade taking people to the southern USA and West Indies. “Immigres” is the key track for me.

I did not discover this until its 50th anniversary – how did I miss it? I read a review on its re-issue in the Guardian and went out to buy it to discover what it was all about. I was totally taken in by it – a beginning of an interest in a new genre.

As I explored West African music more I began to really like the Kora as an instrument. Here the guitar and kora come together with two of the leading players. Sadly this was guitarist Ali Farka Toure’s last recording before he died. “Kala Djula” and “Sabu Yerkoy” are the two tracks I like most, although all are favourites.

Only in the last year or so have I developed my interests in jazz further. This exemplifies what is good in contemporary jazz for me – haunting themes, especially led by Benjamin Koppel’s saxophone playing. Again, this is one of the albums that spurred me on to explore the genre further, developing in ways I would never imagine. That is why Music is Good for me!

Near misses – too many! Some of these I don’t listen to as much now as when they were released, hence being on this list rather than the first list, but at the time they were key recordings for me

Layla and Other Love Songs – Eric Clapton
Moondance – Van Morrison
Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin
The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
Thriller – Michael Jackson
But Seriously – Phil Collins
Deja Vue – Crosby, Stills and Nash
Tapestry – Carol King
Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago: This was a very near miss. I still listen to it often, enjoying the jazz/big band/rock fusion.

Inevitably many of my choices come from an era when I was developing musically. So being based in the UK and born in 1950 the Beatles became the major early influence. Since then the key artist has to be Bruce Springsteen for me. Although I have developed interests into other genre over the years, Bruce is always the artist I come back to when I want something comfortable that I know well. I have chosen something from each decade of my life in my selection. I am still exploring music, furthering an interest in jazz and beginning to listen to some classical music. To summarise, John Miles sings it:

Music was my first love
And it will be my last
Music of the future
And music of the past

To live without my music
Would be impossible to do
In this world of troubles
My music pulls me through

John Miles \’Music\’

Filed under Blues, Folk, Jazz, Music that has Influenced Me, R&B, Rock, World