RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll

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I know I’m late to the game on mourning Chuck Berry… Unfortunately, my Corporate Overlords have had me sequestered in Las Vegas at a conference since Saturday when the news broke that the Rock’n’Roll Legend Chuck Berry had passed away at the age of 90 years old. I haven’t had a chance to come up for air to express the sadness I feel at his passing. I hate it when work interferes with music. When I go out to Vegas for these conferences it’s a bit like entering Biosphere… I don’t see the sky or the sun for seven or eight days. Likely everything I could say, will have already been said, but Hell, I don’t even know what’s been said. I’ve been under what feels like house arrest at a casino for a week….and I’ll admit, there are worse places to be under house arrest, but I digress.

If I were to sculpt the Early Rock Music Mount Rushmore, it would have Elvis (The King), Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and naturally, Chuck Berry. These artists are the foundation for everything that came after them. The influence of those acts is indescribable. As anyone who has read B&V before knows, in my opinion America has had many Presidents, but it’s only had one King… and that’s Elvis Presley. But, that said, the Vice President of Rock and Roll, for me has always been Chuck Berry. The thing I always loved about Chuck Berry besides the great songwriting, was that he was the first Guitar Hero rock star! Yes, Elvis had the moves and the voice… but Chuck not only sang and duck walked, he played a mean guitar.

And what a guitarist he was. He never gets the credit that is his due on the six string… So many people were influenced by Chuck Berry as a guitarist – there would be no Keith Richards without Chuck Berry – its difficult to overstate his influence. John Lennon once said, “if you want to find another name for rock ‘n’ roll just call it Chuck Berry.” Everyone who got big in the 60’s/70’s either covered Chuck or wrote a song like Chuck would….

The Beatles did “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “No More Monkey Business.” As solo artists John Lennon (“You Can’t Catch Me”), George Harrison (various tunes) and Paul McCartney (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”) each covered Berry either on record or in concert. The Stones most famously did “Carol,” a real gem of a cover and also “Around and Around” on ’12×5′ their second (and an essential) album. The Stones later did an original tune, “Star Star” that is as pure of a Chuck riff as I’ve ever heard. Berry was as much of an influence on the Stones as the Blues giants they imitated in their early days. As a solo artist Keith Richards covered “Run Rudolph Run” as a Christmas single and produced the fabulous documentary “Hail, Hail Rock N Roll” around a special Chuck Berry concert.

I’ll never forget a scene in “Hail, Hail…” where Berry is schooling Richards on a tune they’re playing in rehearsal. Keith plays the riff, and to these uneducated ears it sounds perfect. Chuck stops the band and says, “If you’re going to play it, play it right…” then lays the riff down again. Keith, clearly agitated, listens to Chuck replay the riff and realizes, yes, he got it wrong. Keith then dutifully replays the riff exactly as Chuck did. I fell out of my theater chair. The perfection was spectacular.

Artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and REO Speedwagon, yes REO, covered “Little Queenie.” Although you’ll have to find Springsteen’s version on a bootleg… you’re on your own there. The Stones covered it live as well. “Let It Rock,” which is a mammoth tune was covered most famously by Bob Seger and became his de facto concert ending/encore song. I saw Drew Abbott, Seger’s guitarist play that song at Kemper arena one time and it was mind blowing. Seger even name checks Berry on “Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” when he says “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his riffs…” If anybody has heard the early Seger tune “Get Out of Denver” I defy you to tell me that’s not a Chuck Berry influenced tune. The fast, galloping, nasty guitar riff is signature Berry. Hell, Jerry Garcia covered “Let It Rock,” and it was oddly wonderful.

One of my favorite covers of a Berry tune is, and yes, those of you who have read B&V will have already guessed, The Faces doing “Memphis.” Ronnie Wood plays a wonderfully distorted guitar line and Rod Stewart just nails the vocal. The only Berry cover by those guys I like as much or better might be “Sweet Little Rock N Roller” done on Rod’s under rated solo disc, ‘Smiler.’

The list of covers could go on and on… Let me just say that every band you love, if you love classic rock, was influenced by Chuck Berry. Hell, AC/DC did “School Days.” I can’t list the number of acts who’ve done “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Reelin and Rockin.” Linda Ronstadt even did “Back In the USA.” I mean, holy shit, Linda Ronstadt? What’s next, my wife’s cat doing “Maybellene?” If only….

Chuck wasn’t perfect… a lot of rock and rollers and musicians also had a dark side. Elvis, James Brown… name anybody who made it big and they probably had demons they were wrestling with. But those demons fueled the artistry that created some of the greatest rock music ever heard.

Chuck Berry was a true American original. While he’s left us, his influence will always be felt when a guitarist steps to the front of the stage and lays down a nasty, beautiful, dirty, fast riff.

RIP Chuck! You are already missed!

Put on “Maybellene” this weekend and play the – “how many songs were based, in part, on this song” game – the list will be long…. Hail, Hail, baby!

Cheers!

Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return

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*image shamelessly stolen from the Internet

My apologies to my readers, that I haven’t been posting as much or as regularly lately. I was on vacation with the Rock Chick in the Dominican Republic all of last week. I hadn’t been on a vacation in 2 years and finally the Rock Chick laid down the law… the next thing I knew I was soaked in rum and sun screen. I will say the DR is beautiful and the people are warm and welcoming. If anything goes astray with the Rock Chick my next wife will certainly be Dominican… The weeks prior to my vacation my Corporate Overlords had me traveling all around the U.S. from Herndon, VA to San Francisco to Salt Lake City… the grind of the road, such is life. As a result, I haven’t had much time to devote to BourbonAndVinyl. And let’s admit it, it’s been a shitty year for music thus far in 2017.

As luck would have it, Joe Bonamassa brought his band to Kansas City last night. Let me be the first to say, WOW. I have converted to the church of Bonamassa.

It was my buddy Stormin’ who first turned me on to Bonamassa. Stormin’ and our mutual friend Matthew got heavily into the blues a number of years ago. Matthew tried to turn me onto Tab Benoit (sp?). He was ok… but then Storm told me to buy the Bonamassa album, ‘The Ballad of John Henry.’ I must say, Joe clicked for me a lot more so than Tab did. The last time I was in Denver, Storm played me another Bonamassa album, whose title escapes me and I was again blown away by Bonamassa’s virtuoso playing. Then I saw him on VH1 on a special from Red Rocks playing Muddy Waters tunes. That’s when I knew I was a fan. If you haven’t seen that concert film, I highly recommend it.

It was a few months ago, my friend Drummer Blake reached out and said, “Let’s go to Bonamassa.” I jumped at the chance. Once again, a little over year later, I found myself nursing a martini in the Drum Room awaiting the Four Horsemen… Although I must admit it was The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse – Slight Return, as not all 4 of them were present last night. There were six of us in total and we were drinking like escaped convicts before the show, which is always good concert prep. I always ask myself before a show, “What would Hendrix do?” It was truly great to be in the presence of the Salinapocalypse again. I must say, one of the Horsemen, Spalding (name obscured to protect the guilty) is a rather finicky food guy… even ordering drinks was an ordeal. As a result of all that we didn’t skip out of the Drum room until 15 minutes prior to the show.

The line to get into the beautiful Midland Theater – and not enough can be said about what a beautiful, old theater the Midland is – was around the block. Apparently the draconian security measures to get in the theater were causing unusual delays. If we have to stand out in the cold for 45 minutes to see the blues, the terrorists have already won, my friends. Instead of being 15 minutes early and being in our seats for the start of the show, to my surprise Bonmassa started promptly at 8pm. We missed the first 20 minutes of the show, standing in the cold waiting to get through the fucking metal detectors. A couple of us peeled off and ducked into a bar to miss the frenzy. I would have thought a stage hand would have leaned into the dressing room and told Joe, “Say man, you might wanna give it 30 minutes…” Que sera, que sera.

I quickly rushed through the darkened and packed theater to my seat in the 14th row… my thanks to the niece of one of the Salinapocalypse for getting us great seats… and spotted Joe on stage. I was taken aback by how much he looks like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies… I was ready for him to say, “What do you want to hear next Mr. Anderson…” He had a great backing band that included Anton Fig of Letterman fame on drums and Reese Wynans from Double Trouble on keyboards. He had a small (2) horn section, and 2 back up singers from Australia who moved continuously though the show, giving the players a nice visual counterpoint.

And what a band they were. As Joe himself said, these guys were nominated for a Grammy. They were tight and amazing all night. I loved the constant interplay between the different instruments all night long. And what can I say about Joe’s guitar playing. The man is truly one of the best I’ve seen. He melted our faces off, in a good way. Drummer Blake claims he is the absolute best guitarist out there. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that yet, but the fact that Bonamassa played Clapton’s “Pretending” and just owned it, goes a long way toward making his case. They did a great version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” which I’ve always associated with B.B. King and it was scorching. The most impressive moment for me, personally, was a cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” It takes some stones for a guitar player to rip through Clapton, B.B., and Jimmy Page covers and hold his own.

The guitar solo’ing was simply other worldly. Joe can bend a note around a corner. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of beautiful guitars the guy played, although even I have to admit the paisley one was funny looking. At one point after shredding through a guitar solo, Joe brought it way down and was quietly playing some slow, bendy notes, and someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you Joe!” It was a great moment. The rapport he has with his audience and their allegiance called to mind the crowd on B.B. King’s seminal live LP “Live at the Regal.” There is a genuine bond there you don’t see as much these days. The guy just killed it on guitar and he was able to do that for 2 and half hours… Just a fantastic show. I highly recommend anybody near a venue he’s playing at, get out to see him as this tour is winding down…

After the show, the Salinapocalypse and I slipped into a tavern across the street from the show to debrief. Everybody was impressed with the band. The conversation eventually turned toward the subject of whether Rock was dead. The concern is that there aren’t enough young kids out there playing the guitar, or learning any instruments. It’s all electronics now, DJs and rappers. I was moved at how much genuine concern and, yes, love of rock and roll was being expressed at that table. If you’re out there and you’re young, there’s still time. Pick up and instrument and as Ronnie Lane’s dad used to say, “then you’ll always have a friend.”

I’m not sure what Rock And Roll Fate brought me into the company of the Salinapocalypse crowd, but I can say, I’m sure glad it did. Without Drummer Blake I’d have missed the Joe Bonamassa show and that would have been missing out on something really special.

Until next time, Cheers!

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!

Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)

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Just when I thought I was done buying Jimi Hendrix albums…..he pulls me back in.

A few weekends ago, sitting around the house with the wife on a late summer evening, just chillin as the kids say, I flip on Showtime and they’re showing a Hendrix documentary entitled “Electric Church”. It was centered around the 1970 Atlanta Pop Music Festival and Jimi’s performance there. Naturally the movie had to cover the naked, druggy aspects of the crowd, the shock of the locals (I wish Lester Maddox had run for President, how much fun would that have been?) and the horrified reaction to the hippies and their music. It reminded me a lot of what the 1974 Ozark Music Festival must have been like (see my earlier blog entry on that one). After setting up the stunned Georgia residents as a backdrop, the documentary finally got to the performance. It was a reconfigured version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch Mitchell was still on drums, but Jimi’s pal Billy Cox was on bass and what a difference he makes. The Experience came on around midnight on July 4th, 1970 and I must say I was blown away. My wife, a Hendrix novice, but a good rock ‘n’ roll woman, turned to me and asked, “How does he make those sounds with the guitar, he’s amazing.” How does he indeed?

As usual with me, when I see a documentary like Electric Church, I run immediately to the computer to check it out on the internet. It was then I discovered there was, if you will, a soundtrack to the documentary, or more simply put, a concert album, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival that was just released. I love Hendrix, but I must admit, his live stuff is a bit of a blind spot for me. My Denver pal Don (*name changed to protect the guilty) saw Jimi at the Fillmore East and when they invent time travel, that’s my first stop. Naturally, I own all of Jimi’s studio albums released while he was alive – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland which are possibly the greatest first three albums of any artist short of the Beatles. I even own the box set anthology West Coast Seattle Boy, which has outtakes and pretty much everything I hadn’t heard before. It burrows so deeply into the archive it contains Hendrix recording covers of the Band in a hotel room with a tape recorder.

But Hendrix’s live stuff, for me, was a bit more narrow. I bought the only live album he released while he was alive, Band of Gypsies, which is fabulous, but it’s a bit of anomaly of a live album. Most live albums are bands playing established, familiar songs. Band of Gypsies on the other hand was a live album of all new material that Jimi did to fulfill a contract he’d signed on the hood of a car. It wasn’t recorded with The Experience, but his new group, the Band of Gypsies. I followed up that purchase with Live at the Fillmore East, which were the outtakes from the recordings that resulted in Band of Gypsies so once again, it was live stuff, but none of the Hendrix canon.

I finally delved into The Jimi Hendrix Experience live with the sprawling box set Winterland. It was culled from three nights of concerts in San Francisco and captures the Experience a few weeks prior to the release of Electric Ladyland. It’s awesome, but it’s like Springsteen’s Live 1975-1985 or Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology, it’s so sprawling it doesn’t really give you the feel of an actual concert the way that some of Dylan’s bootleg series does, like Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which is just one show recorded and released, as is.

Enter Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival. Much like the documentary that it sprang from, I was truly blown away by this show. Instead of the all new songs like Band of Gypsies, this is Hendrix playing the songs I was familiar with. It was just one epic performance. The opening salvo of Fire, Lover Man, and Spanish Castle Magic is just amazing. Hendrix is coaxing sounds out of his guitar that neither my wife nor I had ever heard before. For me, Hendrix was one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, ranking up there with Muddy and B.B. Disc 1 of Freedom has two of his most amazing blues performances I’ve ever heard committed to tape, Red House and Hear My Train a Comin’. The solo’ing on those songs may be the greatest accomplishment ever on the guitar as an instrument. Its simply mesmerizing.

I didn’t have a live version of All Along the Watchtower in my collection but he does a nice version here, although he screws up the lyrics a bit on the front end. But thats one of the things I love about a live album that’s just a single show. It’s warts and all and it makes it distinctive. Great versions of Purple Haze and Foxey Lady are here but it’s Hey Joe, Stone Free and especially the amazing, epic version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) that will have you reaching for the volume knob and asking, “Holy shit, is that a guitar?”

The show ends with the obligatory Star Spangled Banner, this time with actual fireworks going off in the background (see Electric Church, it’s pretty amazing imagery) which leads into a new song, Straight Ahead. After it’s over you’re left simply in awe of what The Experience – and let’s not forget Billy Cox and his aggressive bass playing and the intrepid drumming of Mitch Mitchell – could do on a steamy 4th of July in Georgia.

Do yourself a favor and pick this gem up quickly. Turn it up loud and, as always, enjoy!

Cheers!