There is one undeniable fact about Johnny Gill’s Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum career. The singer/songwriter/producer sure knows how to rub music fans the right way. Gill further fortifies that inimitable legacy with his latest release, Game Changer II (J Skillz Records/Kalvary). Like its predecessor, 2014’s Game Changer, Gill’s eighth solo studio album arrives packed with an avalanche of hits. In fact, the singer has already claimed an R&B No. 1 with the set’s lead single “Soul of a Woman.” Inspired by Gill’s mother Annie Mae, the song praises the power of women—which is exquisitely captured in its accompanying video co-starring Emmy Award winner Tiffany Haddish.
GC II’s second single, which went top ten on the charts, is: “Perfect.” Extolling the virtues of natural beauty, strength and intellect, the sultry ballad reunites Gill with his New Edition bandmate Ralph Tresvant. But ballads weren’t the only thing on Gill’s mind while recording this project.
The 11-track set boasts several up-tempo, genre-bending tracks such as the Latin-spiced “Fiesta” featuring icons Carlos Santana and Sheila E., the reggae-tinged love song “Only One” and “That’s My Baby,” a sumptuous tribute to one of Gill’s biggest heroes, Luther Vandross. Rounding out the guest cameos is After 7 lead singer Kevon Edmonds on “Home.” And on “So Hard,” Gill teams up again with legendary producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the masterminds behind his 1990 breakthrough hit “Rub You the Right Way.” (Gill shares the creative inspiration behind each GC II selection, including three bonus tracks, following the bio.)
“I wanted to focus on including more tempo because I haven’t recorded those kinds of songs in a while,” says Gill of recruiting Jam & Lewis, Gregg Pagani and Elvis “Blac Elvis” Williams, among other producers. “I like to party as well. So they came up with nice tempo records that allowed me to be Johnny without compromising who I am.” As the formidable next chapter in Gill’s career, Game Changer II underscores once more why he is a long-distance legacy artist with a brand that’s ever-evolving. The new album builds on the career renaissance that predecessor Game Changer ushered in five years ago. That project detonated five R&B hit singles, including the No. 1 “This One’s for Me and You.” In fact, in every arena that he has entered, the volcanic-voiced Gill has been a game changer. Discovered at 16 years old, he released two albums through Atlantic Records. He next joined now-iconic boy band New Edition, helping them segue melodically from novelty to longevity on timeless classics such as “If It Isn’t Love” and “Can You Stand the Rain.” As a linchpin of legendary Motown Records’ ‘90s comeback roster, Gill exploded as a solo artist with an indelible one-two punch from producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (“Rub You the Right Way”) and L.A. Reid & Babyface (“My, My, My”). Alongside Gerald Levert and Keith Sweat, Gill established L.S.G., the powerful R&B supergroup behind the sexy smash “My Body.” He also formed another supergroup, Heads of State, with New Edition peers Bobby Brown and Tresvant. After a 15-year solo hiatus, Gill made a stunning return to the game with 2011’s Still Winning. The set peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 and No. 4 on the magazine’s R&B album chart. Then came the pivotal Game Changer on Gill’s own record label J Skillz.
That move also signaled another phase in Gill’s multi-faceted career: entrepreneur. With GC and GC II now under his belt, Gill has signed Tresvant to the J Skillz roster. The pair are worked on Tresvant’s first solo album since 2006. “We’ve got some great stuff coming beyond the ‘Perfect’ single,” says Gill of the album, which was released this year. The pair have just teamed up again for Ralph Tresvant new single, “All Mine”, on Ralph’s solo project. After their partnership resulted in the 2019 hit “Perfect”; why mess with perfection? This time with Ralph taking the lead of course. With production again from Gregg Pagani, “All Mine” is as cool and comfortable as any song ever recorded by either artist. Following Johnny’s involvement in the 2017 television ratings bonanza The New Edition Story, Gill recently completed filming a role in Spinning Gold. In the forthcoming biopic about Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, Gill plays Clarence Burke Jr. who was the lead singer of the Five Stairsteps (top 40 hit “O-o-h Child”). A fervent believer in giving back, Gill is a longtime supporter of the L.A. Speech & Language Therapy Center, which provides treatment and services for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other diagnoses. “Music is so universal and can be so healing to our souls,” says Gill. “I love watching these children work through their problems, evolve and do things no one ever dreamed they could.” With his ongoing projects and a wish list that includes recording a Christmas album and a covers album of R&B classics by Vandross, Al Green and more (“All the greats I grew up listening to,” says Gill), the singer clearly isn’t planning to step out of the game just yet. Ask the secret behind his career longevity, Gill laughs and says, “If I knew what the secret was, I’d bottle it up and sell it. All I can say is I still have a passion for music. And there’s still a platform out here for me to express myself and inspire people in a world that still needs a lot of work.” Whatever Johnny Gill has coming next, fans can rest assured of one thing. He never just plays the game. He changes it … every time.
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The term “Classic Rock” was coined to describe a certain type of radio format, which plays a specific kind of rock. and roll music.
While opinions may vary about which musicians, or what songs, ought to be played on these stations, there are two bands that are always included no matter what, The Guess Who, and Bachman, Turner-Overdrive. The Guess Who’s mega-hit, American Woman, is a classic-rock staple that blends together the perfect combination of clanking guitar, screaming vocals, and teenage rebellion. Flip the coin over, and you’ll find BTO’s anthem Takin’ Care of Business. TCB is spontaneous, and rowdy, and one of the most recognizable songs of all time. Like American Woman, it revolves around a hot riff, screaming vocals, and a crystalline guitar solo. Both songs, as well as a host of other classic rockers, were written by Randy Bachman.
Bachman, whose career spans 60 years, has written some of the best-known songs of the rock and roll period, including several number-one hits. For the last decade, he has produced Randy’s Vinyl Tap, which appears Saturday’s at 7pm, Sundays at 6pm, on Canada’s CBC Radio One, and Sirius channel 169. A natural storyteller, he discusses the classic-rock era, and presents the music and artists who are important to him. He said, with a laugh, “that comes from having eight kids. I had to learn to tell bedtime stories. These are my rock and roll bedtime stories.”
One of his favorite tales explains the origins of The Guess Who’s number-one hit, American Woman.
The band was just a struggling act who toured non-stop across Canada and the US, barely making a living. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, the band could work in the US because they had a work visa which was commonly referred to as a Green Card. Upon their latest entry into the US, they received instructions to report to the Selective Service which meant the genuine possibility of being drafted and sent to Viet Nam.
Instead of reporting, the Canadian band returned home. One night, not long after their close brush with the American war machine, the band was playing a gig in Ontario when a string snapped on Bachman’s guitar. He said, “Burton Cummings (the lead singer of the Guess Who) told the audience we were going to take a break while I changed the string. So I got on my knees in front of his piano, and I’m hitting the notes, and tuning the new string, and as I’m tuning up the guitar, I play the riff from American Woman.
I’m just tuning the guitar, but the audience, their heads all jerk at this riff. So I see that they're interested, and I don’t want to forget this, if it's making heads turn around. Cummings comes running up on stage and asks what are you doing? I say listen to this riff! Play something! So he played a harmonica solo, then a piano solo, and then I yelled out to him to sing something! He says what do I sing? I say, sing anything! And the first thing out of his mouth is “American Woman, stay away from me. American woman, mama let me be '' and he sang it over and over.
The crowd sensed that we were making this up. I did a guitar solo, and we played it for around ten minutes, and when we were done he came up to me and asked, Do we have something here? And I say, yeah, we really have something here! Cummings wrote the rest of the lyrics, and we recorded it a few weeks later and it went to number one in the US before the DJs realized that it was an anti-Viet Nam protest song sung by four Canadians!”
BTO’s mega-hit, Takin' Care of Business, came about when Fred Turner, the lead singer, lost his voice.
Bachman had written TCB several years earlier, but it had never been recorded. Up until then, it had, what he describes as "a lame chorus" that, despite Randy’s plea, neither The Guess Who, nor BTO would deign to record. The night that Turner’s voice faltered, Bachman, who had never sung leads before, was forced into the role, and saw his big chance. He instructed his band mates to follow him through the now famous chord progression, then stepped up to the mike and began belting out the song. This time, when he got into the chorus, instead of trotting out, what he described as a sappy, Beatlesesque vocal break, everyone, except him hated, he spontaneously sang the now-famous lines ``And I’ve been taking care of business, everyday. Taking care of business, every way, Taking care of business, it's all mine. Taking Care of business, working overtime.” And just like that, one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded sprung to life.
When asked why he thought the song became so popular, Bachman said, “BTO did songs that were kind of caveman that anybody could sing along with. When You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet was number one, we were touring England, Ireland, and Scotland, and everywhere we played, I don’t think there was a female in the audience.” He continued, “Guys loved BTO. It was the rowdy soccer guys who were diggin' these anthems coming out to the shows. We made the album Four-Wheel Drive to be purposely like that. Randy goes on, “I had no idea that it was going to be a hit record. It was just supposed to be an album filler. Even now, when the song comes over the radio, the car next to me, people are smiling, and they’re singing along, and I want to yell, hey, that's me!”
Danish rockers Volbeat and the almighty Ghost from Sweden debuted their co-headlining arena tour in Reno, Nevada at the Reno Events Center. Both bands played huge sets and premiered new songs for the biggest little city.
Openers Twin Temple started to wake the crowd up and set the stage for two huge rock acts.
Volbeat’s frontman and guitarist Michael Poulsen puts on quite the show. After a few driving tunes, an acoustic guitar and stand came out. Poulsen dipped into his best Elvis impersonation. Poulsen ripped into a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, still hanging on to a touch of the Presley influence. It slowly transformed into their song "Sad Man's Tongue" off their sophomore record Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil which references Cash a couple times.
Going through the concert photographs later, I saw his in-ear microphone had a little image of The King on it.
Lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, formerly of Anthrax, had a contagious smile and his guitar work held attention. You can tell he loved every minute of it.
Volbeat plays an approachable type of harder rock that unites all ages of fans. It seemed like everyone in attendance was singing along to 'Last Day Under the Sun", with a chorus catchier than the omicron variant.
During "Wait a Minute My Girl" two gentlemen that could’ve passed as ZZ Top, came out for a saxophone and piano interlude. I think they came out from the floor.
Volbeat played a live premiere of “The Devil Rages On” for Reno’s virgin ears.
“So you like the devil’s stuff, huh?” Poulsen said.
A great segue to occult-prog-arena-black-metal-Grammy-winning group Ghost.
Just like Ghost, Volbeat is a hybid, a cocktail of sound and inspirations. Throughout the 16 song set they played Metallica-like tunes, chugging on low strings, but Volbeat sounds best when they introduce the rockabilly vibe. When I looked behind me and saw a sweet elderly couple swing-dancing, I realized why my mom, who’s normally not a metal head, is such a big fan.
Volbeat played six songs off their eighth and newest release Servant of the Mind (which dropped December of 2021), including three singles; "Wait a Minute My Girl", "Shotgun Blues", and another live premiere of "Becoming". They also played a few lighter tracks from their previous album Rewind, Replay, Rebound.
When he’s not revving up the crowd, Poulsen also produces Volbeat’s albums alongside Jacob Hansen. Outside of work with Volbeat on live and studio releases, Hansen has worked with The Black Dahlia Murder, Anvil, and Dutch metal pioneers Pestilence.
Co-headlining situations can be a little odd. The first band acts like the closer too. After a big ole set Volbeat played their final number “Thank you, Reno” where they walked around exchanging hands in the air, guitar picks and drum parts for cheers.
Usually, between bands, the house lights come on and some high-energy rock music follows to keep the crowd’s energy peaked… that’s not the way Ghost works. Instead, there was some sort of ambient, one-note Gregorian chant for a sobering amount of time. If Ghost were adored any less, the crowd would’ve turned on the show. But they knew what was in store.
Ghost didn’t just play a huge set, 19 songs spanning their entire career (including “Ritual” and “Satan Prayer” from their debut black metal album Opus Eponymous). They also came bearing gifts after the two year gap since they've rocked the Reno Events Center.
Ghost performed their new singles “Call Me Little Sunshine” and "Hunter's Moon", their slamming cover of Metallica's "Enter Sandman", and the world premiere of unreleased track "Kaisarion" from their forthcoming album Impera.
The gifts weren’t merely sonic, there were also visual treats. Ghost revealed the new Nameless Ghoul look (each member of the band wears face-concealing masks) and lead singer Tobias Forge unveiled the new Papa Emeritus IV character.
A majority of the setlist was pulled from their two most recent albums Meliora and Prequelle. They started the set with “Ashes” and “Rats”, a creepy bubonic intro and radio single from Prequelle, an album steeped in references to The Black Plague of 14th century Europe, often comparing those times to the political and social landscape of present-day.
Though Ghost almost always deals with Satan and the darker side of life, their dips into pop and their conviction, sexual jokes, and showmanship always keep the mood light and exalted.
During downtime, Forge (Papa) has fantastic banter. He always finds a way to be hilarious, charming, and a little naughty.
They also highlighted their popular EP Seven Inches of Satanic Panic (what a name!) by playing both "Mary on a Cross" and "Kiss the Go-Goat", two extremely catchy tunes that continue Ghost down a path from genre to genre.
Ghost dips between devilish metal (with often uplifting and passionate messages) to a mix of pop and arena rock. They keep shifting, but the music is still honest, entertaining, and enthralling.
Mid-set they played “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen”, a song with an addictive chorus and sudden drop into a surf rock vibe. They treated fans to their favorites "Cirice", "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" and "Dance Macabre".
Before the encore, they ended with “Year Zero”. It’s haunting chorus/intro features a choir proclaiming the names of the devil.
Both Volbeat and Ghost treated Reno to a show of epic proportions during a time where most people are clinging for any normalcy, fun, community.
Psychobilly… doom and black metal… arena rock… there are endless ways to categorize music and place it into neatly managed boxes, but the best music transcends. Often, the best music cannot be tied down to a few words.
Both co-headliners on this rock tour are united by fusion. Even when it seems like all hope is lost, music always finds a way to pull us back together to cheer for our favorite artists and revel in the community of our fellow music lovers.
In 1970, the US Congress passed the law which created the DEA and declared marijuana to be more dangerous than cocaine, meth, oxy, and fentanyl. With a stroke of Richard Nixon's pen, the Controlled Substances Act was born, and along with it, millions of college and high-school students immediately became felons. Soon, the prisons began filling up with kids, and now, 50 years hence; we're only just beginning to clean up the mess made of people's lives, and the trillions of dollars of negative impact on the US economy. Into this fray, in 1971, waded two of the counter culture's most enduring social commentators, and comedic performers, Cheech and Chong.
We caught up with Tommy Chong on a socially distanced zoom call from the plant laden 30,000 sq ft grow room of Ed Alexander's SoL Cannabis. After coming on the screen, and a couple of brief moments of introduction, when Chong realized what he was looking at, he began laughing and said, “oh wow. I am impressed! Would you look at that?” Behind us were pot plants of every variety, including the famous Wedding Crasher, and several purple-flowered varieties. Speaking to us from his Los Angeles home, his voice still sounds very much like the comedic characters he portrayed in the early 70's. However, it was soon apparent, the businessman has only marijuana, and a certain “in the moment” presence about him in common with those personas.
Beginning in 1971, Cheech and Chong's comedy spoofed the effects of the drug culture as it was being stereotyped by the establishment. His most famous character, The Man, was a nameless, drop out,who was fundamentally lazy, and continuously chasing his next high. The character never held a job for long, nor maintain relationships with family, or friends outside of Cheech. He was a really nice guy, who was fun to hang around with until the marijuana was gone, and then he'd drift away to the next party. However, he was also a jokester, and a philosopher, who seemed to understand the absurdity of the conservative norms of his time. Cheech's character was the mainstreams’ pigeonholed Mexican-American. He owned a run down, yet still somehow exotic lowrider 1964 Chevy Impala SS. It was tricked out with a butterfly hood ornament, blue fuzzy carpet on the dash, tassels around the window frames, a custom chain link steering wheel, and the declarative license plate, “MUF DVR.” The Love Machine sticker on the window, and its unmatched colored replacement driver's door, were the calling card for a guy continually on the prowl, and Cheech's frenetic character was the perfect partner for the weirdly Zen like Chong. Despite their characters wildly differing personalities, the comedian's meshed well, and the duo's records, movies, and nightclub comedy became touchstones for an entire generation of kids fed up with the war, the rules, and their lack of an effective voice within society. Bear in mind, kids were being drafted to Vietnam, where, as the Barry McGuire song, The Eve Of Destruction said, they were old enough to kill, but not to vote.
Chong said, “We were outliers, anomalies in the entertainment industry. Most comedy teams were individual performers who came together to form a team. For example, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, were both singers, but Jerry was so funny, he would interrupt Dino by acting crazy.” With Cheech and Chong, it was a case of the sum of the parts being greater than either of the individuals. Tommy continued, “When we met, Cheech wasn't even an entertainer. He was a draft dodger up in Canada, who was taking any job he could get. He really was that guy starting at the bottom. And me, I owned a couple of nightclubs, which is what supported us when we came down to LA to try to make it. Those nightclubs afforded us the ability to go to open mic nights and things like that.”
When asked what made the characters so popular, Chong said, “When Charlie Chaplin first started out, he was already an accomplished musician, a dancer, and he was almost like acting royalty, because he grew up in the theater. When he started doing movies, his instincts told him his characters had to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” With his success coming during some of the poorest times in the world, it made sense Chaplin's Little Tramp appealed to the masses. Chong continued, “His comedy came out in the depression, and this is when, imagine this, people would work all day for a dime!” It's worth noting Tommy Chong was born in 1938, and the depression didn't end until 1939. “So when we first started out as Cheech and Chong, Cheech and I got together, we said let's do these characters, Pedro and The Man, and we'll follow Charlie Chaplin's rule, that the characters appeal to the lowest common denominator.” With the popularity, and financial success, of their subversive comedy growing, their record producer Lou Adler, and the team, decided to do a movie. “So Up In Smoke was originally going to be called Cheech and Chong's greatest hits, that was what Lou Adler wanted to call it, but when Cheech and I got together, we realized we should do the characters we've always done, Pedro and The Man. That's when we followed the Chaplin rule, the characters appealed to the lowest common denominator.” The movie was made for less than 2 million dollars, and upon release, was almost universally panned by critics. However, it grossed over 40 million dollars during its initial box office release. Since, then, that number has grown to more than 100 million, and pretty much single-handedly created the stoner film genre, which still remains popular.
Most recently, he's developing a character called The Pope of Dope, which when paired with Cheech's character, Sum Yung Guy, promises to be as socially aware, as it should be entertaining. When asked if the personas were a shot at the church’s sex scandal, Chong laughed, and said, “That's exactly the whole point!” He continued, "Actually, it's just an excuse to sing country songs. I'm a country singer from way back. I evolved into rhythm and blues, and jazz, but at my root's is a country boy. I love old country songs, but I like learning new songs because it helps keep the brain working. Continuing, he said, “So the new character, The Pope of Dope, me and Cheech will do an acoustic set, but not as Cheech and Chong. I would be the Pope of Dope and Cheech would be, and he hasn't signed off on it yet, Sum Yung Guy, and his character would be a Chinese guy, because he looks Chinese!
Asked about Covid19, he surprisingly said, “I was made for this lock-down. See, I'm at that age where you've got to stay home? No problem! The thing about old guy's, is there are perks. The secret to my success is, a funny partner, and Cheech was that funny partner. But when we broke up, my wife, Shelby, she stepped in. She's an artist. She's a painter. She's a great cook, and when she's doing her ballet and dancing, I get to watch!” While they did travel together as a comedic team for a long while, and he voiced his pride, and amazement at how she grew into a successful comedian in her own right, he said, “I get a lot of people asking how are you handling getting old. Most people resist it, but I love it. You can relax and enjoy it, or pretend you're something you'll never be again.” With most people finding the social distancing requirements a burden, Tommy said, “It's funny, people will ask if I can't wait to go back to the way things were, but we'll never go back to the way things were. It's gone. Those days are gone. This is a new world we're living in, and I love the social distancing.”
Though presenting themselves as anti-establishment stoners, there were deeper meanings to Cheech and Chong’s seemingly simple comedy skits, and movies. Their era has led to today's green movement,the advancement of feminism, and the rising of egalitarianism across race and sexual lines within the majority of society. His personal contribution to it has been instrumental in the push to legalize marijuana, which has led to a movement to release prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. At 82, Tommy Chong, despite being a Covid 19 shut-in, is still thriving as a husband, father, entertainer, political advocate, and entrepreneur.