Written By Braddon S. Williams

James Taylor: Sweet Baby James

I’m not here to claim James Taylor as an influence, but he certainly has filled my ear holes with interesting sounds.

He has lived a life filled with extreme highs and lows, so in that sense I guess he has inspired me as someone who doesn’t quit. I like that.

I like his Sweet Baby James album, too. Released in 1970, Sweet Baby James was recorded when Taylor was essentially homeless. Things got better from there, but when they got better, he became a junkie. Then he got clean. Along the way he racked up awards, huge sales, adoring fans, and a supremely impressive portfolio of songs.

I think a lot of what contributes to James Taylor’s success (aside from his obvious talent) is his inherent likability. Music fans want to be moved by people with kindness and wisdom. I think that is a lot of what draws me to the man’s music. I can’t really think of him as an underdog, but he has worked steadily at his craft and he has faced his demons, and these things are important to me.

Sweet Baby James has Fire And Rain, Steamroller Blues, Country Road, and that fabulous title song…and it has James Taylor picking magic on his acoustic guitar and singing in that voice that makes everything seem like it’s going to be okay.


Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

Just thinking about Jim Croce brings back tons of memories of my childhood and my formative years of learning to play guitar.

Jim Croce released You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in 1972, so I would have been 10 years old at the time. I remember being fascinated with the title track, hearing it constantly on AM radio and buying the single. The tale of the pool hall hustler and the revenge of the man named Slim who was wronged just painted this vivid picture in my adolescent mind; very cinematic.

This was a trait of country music, but Jim Croce’s stuff was a hybrid of rock, folk, blues, and country and it was simply “feel good” music.

When I was learning to play guitar I had a teacher who had me pick up a songbook of Croce’s stuff and taught me to finger pick. This gave me an inside look at how these songs were composed and performed, and it carries a lot of wistful nostalgia with the memory.

This album contained so many great songs, like Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels), Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy), New York’s Not My Home, Photographs And Memories, Hard Time Losin’ Man, and the incredibly moving Time In A Bottle.

If you don’t like Jim Croce, I don’t know if we can even have a legitimate friendship!

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

I dearly love Tori Amos. She is a fearless artist who stands up for her beliefs and follows her vision no matter what the current musical climate dictates.

In 1992 Tori released her solo debut, Little Earthquakes, a treasure chest of great songwriting. Due to the unique quality of her vocals, acoustic piano based songs, and overall originality of her writing, Little Earthquakes sounds as fresh now as it did then…the mark of a true artistic statement.

The emotions and reactions that all these songs provoke have given them deep meaning to the listeners who have followed Amos with cult-like intensity throughout her career, whether they identify as outsiders, abused, misunderstood, angry, or simply as human beings with intelligence and hearts.

Some of my favorite Tori Amos songs are on this album; Silent All These Years, Leather, Precious Things, Crucify, Girl, Little Earthquakes, Winter, Tear In Your Hand, and China. A friend once said of Tori that she is probably the closest thing that humans have in actually hearing an angel sing.

He has passed over and I hope he can still hear Tori sing. R.I.P. “Cosmic” Harvey Hevenor.

Influences And Recollections of A Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

John Coltrane: Giant Steps

One of the most influential and gifted sax players in history, John Coltrane, released Giant Steps (1960) not long after completing recording Kind Of Blue with Miles Davis.

Coltrane’s playing on these landmark jazz records was revolutionary at the time and legendary for all time. His tone was a thing of beauty and his choices of chord patterns to solo over were soon known as Coltrane changes.

Even his melodic phrasing earned the colorful title of “sheets of sound.”

When I’m in the mood for pure jazz, the two artists I invariably go to are Miles and Coltrane, the twin towers of excellence.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Al Di Meola: Gypsy

Al Di Meola’s Elegant Gypsy (1977) was an exceptional jazz fusion instrumental album that covered a lot of ground in both electric and acoustic guitar styles.

Di Meola could play faster than anyone I had heard at that time, but he always sounded both classy and passionate. He wasn’t playing fast just for the sake of speed.

His compositions were full of great melodic ideas and transitions, allowing the rhythm section and keyboards to shine as much as he did.

Big time talent was all over Elegant Gypsy: Steve Gadd and Lenny White on drums, Jan Hammer and Barry Miles on keyboards, and a stunning duet/duel on flamenco guitar with Paco de Lucia on the track Mediterranean Sundance.

My personal favorite songs were Race With Devil On Spanish Highway, Flight Over Rio, Elegant Gypsy Suite, and the awesome acoustic track Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil.

Di Meola eventually gave up electric guitar for many years to concentrate on acoustic, classical, and Latin styles. In 2006 he finally returned to the electric and I’m glad he did, because he just has magnificent talent, tone, and a sound that is all his own.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Stanley Clarke: School Days

Another pioneering virtuoso bassist from the jazz fusion explosion of the 1970’s, Stanley Clarke rose to fame with Return To Forever and also put out a string of excellent solo albums. Probably the best known (and my personal favorite) was School Days (1976).

The song School Days kicked off the album with one of the best bass riffs of all time and featured Clarke’s ripping bass solo with blinding speed and plenty of slap ‘n pop.

Desert Song was an acoustic number with Clarke on standup bass and John McLaughlin on guitar.

The closing track, Life Is Just A Game, showcased Clarke on a brief lead vocal, plus an insane guitar solo from Icarus Johnson and an equally thrilling bass solo where Clarke matched the guitarist’s speed and intensity note for note. Some of the drummers on the album included Steve Gadd and Billy Cobham, and George Duke contributed some keyboards.

School Days is a great album from one of the best bass players in the game.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius released his (self titled) first solo album in 1976. Helping Pastorius out were some heavy hitters in the jazz community, like Herbie Hancock, Lenny White, Hubert Laws, Don Arias, Wayne Shorter, Randy & Michael Brecker, Narada Michael Walden, and Sam & Dave, who contributed vocals on the funky and soulful Come On, Come Over.

The opening cut, Donna Lee (by Charlie Parker) displays Jaco’s flawless use of harmonics, and establishes his mastery of the electric bass. Jaco Pastorius is not just a collection of bass solos, though.

Jaco proves himself as a team player throughout; keeping a cavernous deep pocket and being subtle when needed, and stepping forward and displaying dizzying technique at the perfect times.

Even when other musicians are in the spotlight, Pastorius is a joy to listen to at all times. The man had such personality in his playing style, and his tone on the fretless bass was unmistakably his trademark.

There have been countless bass players (and musicians in gerneral) who have been influenced by Jaco, but he truly was one of a kind.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind