I’ve been listening to the Beth Hart / Joe Bonamassa collaborative album Seesaw and it has gotten me thinking about musical collaborations in general. Of course, not all collaborations are destined for greatness, but I’m always intrigued to hear what magic may happen when two great artists get together and play some tunes. So today I thought I’d highlight some collaborations, both studio and live, by great talents that I particularly enjoy and that hopefully you will too. I’ve culled music from several different genres here, from blues rock to jam rock, to 80s pop and even a contemporary take on 1950’s folk rock ‘n’ roll. So it’s kind of a mix, but I think the quality of these songs is generally so good that they would appeal to any music fan. So without further ado, here are five amazing musical collaborations:
1. “Ten Long Years” – B.B. King & Eric Clapton
The collaborative studio album by B.B. King and Eric Clapton was a project that Clapton had wished to pursue for many years. Always an admirer of Mr. King’s blues guitar, the two first performed together at the legendary Greenwich Village haunt Café Au Go Go in 1967. At that point in time, Clapton was 22 and a member of the band Cream. But despite their mutual admiration for each other, the two never recorded together until much later, when they performed “Rock Me Baby” for the 1997 B.B. King duets set Deuces Wild. In an article for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Mr. King stated, “We’d talked about the project for some time. I admire the man. I think he’s No. 1 in rock ‘n’ roll as a guitarist and No. 1 as a great person.”
Well, the full collaboration finally happened in 2000 when Riding With the King was born, a holy occasion for blues and rock fans alike. It’s a great set, gathering music from a variety of different sources, including some B.B. King classics from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Especially appealing is the set’s second track, one of those older blues classics, “Ten Long Years.” The cut is a slow tempo, classic blues vamp, adeptly supported by emotive piano fills and relaxed bass and drums. There are impeccably throaty vocals from Mr. King, who handles the voice duties on this track with aplomb. Lyrically, it’s a timeless ode to lost love, as King laments that he had a good woman but no more. She even brought him breakfast in bed every day – wow! The vocals soon make way for some subtle, smooth but passionate solos traded by King and Clapton. But this song is less about wild soloing than the overall bluesy mood of the piece, and the two legends hit the note perfectly. This is quintessential blues music from two musical masters, and it’s not to be missed.
“Long Time Gone” – Billy Joe and Norah
The idea of Billy Joe Armstrong (frontman of the modern punk band Green Day) and Norah Jones (the pop jazz chanteuse) collaborating on anything other than perhaps picking seats at the Grammy’s seemed almost unfathomable. And then you added in the idea of them covering Everly Brothers folk tunes, and I don’t know about you, but my brain just melted from a lack of ability to process this notion. But not only did it work, it’s great! These two vocalists were born to collide like two pinballs in a vintage Jurassic Park arcade game. Detailed in a Stereogum interview, it all started with Stevie Wonder (what?? This is getting weirder and weirder). The two met each other once when they sang back up for him at a performance, but otherwise, the studio session is described by Jones as a kind of “blind date.”
Well, if this were a blind date, it was like setting up Juliet with Romeo, without the mass violence and tragic deaths of course, because these two produce music that’s vintage pop perfection. Lyrically, this is another song about the end of a relationship, but this time it’s told from the perspective of the one who’s leaving. The singer is heartbroken but vitriolic as well, reveling in the pain she’s going to be causing her dejected lover. The tone of the song is set by cool, lightly swinging bass and drums, performed well by Tim Luntzel and Dan Rieser respectively. Jones and Armstrong provide just enough piano and guitar support – both acoustic and electric – to fill things out. But the main attraction here is the vocals, which mesh and interlock gorgeously in close harmony. Leaving behind his punk persona, Armstrong treats this material reverentially, and Jones adds enough honey-sweetness to the layers that any trace of the sometimes nasal singing from Armstrong is left in the dust. No plans for a follow-up album that I’m aware of, but I sincerely hope for one from this surprising but terrific duo.
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush – “Don’t Give Up”
Does Peter Gabriel qualify as classic rock yet? I don’t know what the cutoff is these days. Well, regardless of its official status, this one’s a classic in my book. It’s also held the status of being one of my favorite songs for over a decade now and I don’t see it slipping anytime soon. Interestingly, the original choice for the female vocal part was Dolly Parton, who declined to do the record. As a replacement, Mr. Gabriel chose his friend Kate Bush, who probably should have been his original pick anyway. Well, sometimes things work out for the best. The song is from Gabriel’s fifth solo album, So, which, to my mind, is one of the best pop albums from the 80s. Yes, it’s easily his most commercial work, but let’s not hold that against him. It’s one of those great albums that manages to balance the tightrope walking-like trick of being both a commercial blockbuster and fantastic artistic achievement.
But even on an album of standout tracks, this is a standout track, in no small part thanks to Kate Bush. The song leads in with the ghostly bass riff from Tony Levin – actually, I think it’s a chapman stick, but I need to confirm that – and moody, atmospheric keyboards that perfectly set the quiet, somber tone of the piece. The contrast between Gabriel’s raspy, exhausted vocals and Bush’s soaring, uplifting hopefulness is simply sublime, and this verbal interplay between the two singers creates the powerful, devastating, but ultimately optimistic aura of this song. By the time we get to the soulful, gospel-tinged ending, you’ll be singing and tapping your foot right along with them. Simply put, a pop masterpiece from two geniuses of the genre.
Gov’t Mule & Grace Potter – “Gold Dust Woman”
Gov’t Mule and Grace Potter are two giants in the jam rock scene and for good reason. Warren Haynes, the frontman of “The Mule,” as they are often called, and a musician who has played alongside Joe Bonamassa, is a great guitarist in his own right and has added much to the music scene through his membership in bands like The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule. The Mule was initially formed in 1994 when Haynes and Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody discovered a mutual passion for the power trios of the 60s and 70s, including Cream and Led Zeppelin. The formation of the band was complete after recruiting drummer Matt Abts, formerly of The Dickey Betts Band. On the other side of this equation, Grace Potter is a founding member of the band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a five piece outfit that formed in 2005 and that carries a passion for jam and blues rock of the late 60s and early 70s. With their third album in 2010 they found breakthrough commercial success, and they’ve been rocking the jam scene just as hard as ever since then.
“Gold Dust Woman” is a classic song from the blockbuster Fleetwood Mac album “Rumours,” and this performance by the Mule and Potter from the 2010 mountain jam is a splendid rendition of one of Steve Nicks’s signature songs. The performance starts off with just The Mule, featuring Warren’s terrific classic rock vocal stylings and slide guitar pickings, but Potter enters to contribute haunting, shimmering vocals and Joplin-esque growls soon after. But it’s their vocal harmonies that will send chills down your spine and make your hairs stand on end. And don’t be surprised if you even catch yourself hippie dancing along with Grace.
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa – “Close To My Fire”
Whoa. Whoa. Hold on a second, let me take a quick cold shower… ok I’m good now. Seriously, is this not the sexiest track you’ve ever heard?
Strike a match and
set me on fire
Watch it burn and flames getting higher
You light me up, sweet old desire
So won’t you come close to my fire?
Well, Beth and Joe need no introduction around here. The two virtuosos knew each other through the blues touring circuit, having feelings of great admiration and respect, and soon Joe approached Beth about doing an album with him. Although she initially thought she would be singing backing vocals, she soon realized that he intended for her to sing lead on the album. A new amazing star-calibre collaboration was born. Beth Hart is quickly moving up the ranks to become one of my favorite vocalists in the world, and the two of them as a pair just knocks my argyle dress socks right off. To me this is the best kind of duo album – truly collaborative, allowing each to explore and exhibit their greatest talents and yet make music that is significantly different from their solo work.
What I think is so amazing about this track is the amount of restraint both Joe and Beth are able to show in their craft while infusing this piece with so much sex appeal that your speakers begin to smolder and steam as soon as the track starts. Also, I love when these two amazing musicians are able to find cool material I haven’t heard before and make it their own. This particular piece is a song by Slackwax, a German electronic duo. The original version of the song is great too, but Beth and Joe just do wonders with it, positively soaking it with Beth’s ultra seductive vocal styling and Joe’s smoky cool playing. This hazy, dreamy orgy of sound will have you in the mood to be making out with someone in no time.
Five songs, five incredible collaborations. I sure hope we haven’t seen the last of these combinations, especially of Beth and Joe. Who knows? With time maybe we’ll see another new album from this astonishing duo and perhaps even some live shows…
– Brian R.
Did you like these picks? And what’s your favorite multi-artist collaboration? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Or tweet ’em to @BonamassaBlog!