More on The Blue Eyed Soul of Adam Lambert
Thanks to a very astute reader who called us out on our “Top Ten Things to Know About Adam Lambert” for failing to include African American musical influences in Adam’s performances. We are grateful to Thea for calling our radio show on that specific topic. While I had made a couple of references to James Brown and the origin of British Rock in American Blues, there is so much more to uncover.
While Adam names his musical influences in the rock music of the 70s and 80s, he has not to my knowledge mentioned why there are times during a bluesy, soulful rendition of Whole Lotta Love that we just need to respond “Hallelujah!” or after he sings “You want it, you need it” – “A-men!” He brings the earliest of blues techniques, the “the call and response” derived from slaves working in fields and naturally taken to church.
For those acoustic WLL performances, Adam launches the song with a bluesy attitude, languorous and sultry then smoothly slides his voice in gospel runs to holding the high notes until we practically beg for mercy. It’s not just WLL of course, how many other songs in the “Blue” acoustic second act?
Would you love a “Blue Eyed Soul of Adam Lambert” album? From where do people think his ravishing Whole Lotta Love interpretations spring if not from root and branch of African American music, voices and performance, stamped with his own personality? If you haven’t heard this before – the ultimate A Change is Gonna Come from the Zodiac Show. Too much? Remember the venue. Adam styles his performance accordingly and for the Zodiac Show – nothing is over the top!
The Bluesiest of Bluesy Whole Lotta Love Fantasy Springs Push back your chair, relax and just go slooooowwwww…..
Can’t resist posting this rendition of his “Try Me” live from Zaire 1974 by the Godfather of Soul himself Mr. James Brown
I REALLY want to hear Adam sing Muddy Waters\’ Hoochie Coochie Man Just listen to the lyrics – how much fun would this be?
Before British Rock — there was the Blues
While we have referenced the origins of the British rock music Adam cites, we are delving a little deeper and undertaken this analysis of African American cultural influences in Adam’s work, whether song selection, genre of music he uses in his enterpretations, style and stage performance. Meant to be an ongoing project – I am working on a PhD in “The Meaning of Adam Lambert” – we will continue to gather our readers’ input and keep the discussion going. We have taken this far and wide already – but there is more.
Here is an absolute gem of a performance by Long John Baldry who brought American Blues to Britain, singing “Got My Mojo Workin’” and accompanied by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on a 1964 Beatles TV special. Wow!!! If I get to heaven, I hope they will all be there to repeat this performance. Baldry was highly talented, gay and out. Always fashionable, he was flamboyant in style and an imposing figure at well above six feet tall, precursor to Freddie? Baldry did pave the way for a generation of musicians who followed by recruiting them and exposing them in his live shows as well as recordings. “Mojo” was written by Preston Foster yet often attributed it to Muddy Waters who incorporated it into his live act and recorded it.
Rod Stewart and Elton John owe him their careers and at various times, Mick Jagger, Jack Bruce and Charlie Watts were members of one of his bands while Keith Richards and Brian Jones played on stage. Add to this list Ginger Baker and Jeff Beck while Eric Clapton credits John as his inspiration to the play the Blues. Taken together, Baldry fostered the “who’s who” of British rock.
Earlier Post “Adam will be Adored in Britain”
Glam Nation Tour
The whole theme as Adam has articulated is meant to evoke New Orleans of the early 1900s and opens with Voodoo mysterious, shrouded then takes us through the Blues and pops out with Mardi Gras, joyful, spreading the party glitter with dance and pomp.
The choreography, the drums are unmistakably tribal in fashion.
Spiritual Roots Born of Hardship and Joy
Whataya Want from Me, Sleepwalker, Soaked, Broken Open, Aftermath
Before there was a “rock” or a “roll”, before there was a “twist” or “shout”, there was Gospel, Jazz, Blues, Soul, Rhythm & Blues, Boogie Woogie and Rock & Roll, all born of the African American culture of the Southern United States, growing out of Louisiana and Georgia and spread out to the cities by performers and recording artists.
The labels for this music are evocative of the emotions and feelings of the singer, just as Adam does with his Second Act “Sapphire”, the Bluesy Soul sound permeating those songs in his Glam Nation Concert. It is in this set with the simplest of accompaniments, that Adam’s voice truly shines.
“Soul” is more than a name for a particular musical sound, one must be possessed of “Soul” to perform the songs. The ability to express the deep emotions, the angst of frustrations in life and love, is integral of course and from wherever the feelings and memories are in the recesses of his mind, Adam pulls them out and performs with authenticity.
You must have heard the Gospel in Adam’s “Whole Lotta Love” encores. The gospel “runs” go way up to hold the high notes in the heavens, then the “call and response”. By now, everyone is praising God with a Hallelujah for sending us the best voice in his choir of angels. Even the non-believers can buy that.
While many know this, some do not, that Muddy Waters wrote the song on which WLL is based. Here’s the info from Wiki Answers:
“It is not exactly correct that Led Zeppelin wrote “Whole Lotta Love” even though they claimed themselves as the song author in their original album. Willie Dixon wrote the lyrics. The song was originally entitled “You Need Love” was put out by Muddy Waters in 1962. “You Need Loving” was put out by The Small Faces in 1966. Led Zeppelin recorded “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969.
It’s no surprise that Led Zeppelin found a lot of inspiration in American blues. If a person would trace the history and evolution of one of Led Zep’s biggest hits, “Whole Lotta Love” back…it’s roots are with Muddy Waters. Willie Dixon wrote the lyrics and sued Led Zeppelin in 1985. They settled out of court. On the CD version of the song, Willie Dixon was given his due as the person who wrote the song.
Not only did Led Zeppelin “borrow” the song from Willie, they “borrowed” the vocal styling of the song from Steve Marriott of The Small Faces, who recorded the song four years earlier than Led Zeppelin.”
This is but one feature of Adam’s vocal abilities – those majestic Gospel runs which he uses often enough, even in some unusual places. Sounds like vocal acrobatics. There must be an African American ancestor somewhere in his family tree. Elvis too started with inspirational, gospel music.
Let yourself luxuriate in this non plus ultra performance of Mad World & Whole Lotta Love Denver by Adam. It makes me holler “hallelujah” and rise up!
Joy and Fun – theatrical & energetic
Cab Calloway – One of the hippest and stylish performers of the post war era. See this performance of Minnie the Moocher – his dress, dance and that call/response gospel technique.
The style of Bob Fosse is unmistakable in the straight legged strut and the cane action! Fred Astaire in funky tails in choreographer Hermes Pan’s classic “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”
Style and Performance
Test question – what rock and roll, outrageous performer rocked the eyeliner first? And the costumes! The hair! None other than Little Richard, the effervescent, can’t-tie-him-down designer of “flamboyant”. Rockin’ & Rollin’ “Lucille” Get up and dance people!!
Smokey Robinson, the composer/performer of Tracks of My Tears signaled his approval with a very rare mentor’s standing ovation at the end of Adam’s original, exquisite acoustic performance of “Tracks of My Tears”.
Randy Jackson raved after Adam performed “A Change is Gonna Come” – his comments are on the video included here
On Rat Pack week, Jamie Foxx was blown away by Adam’s Feeling Good and that’s before the opening sequence with a swagger down the lit staircase! When I hear “Feeling Good” I think Sammy Davis Jr.
AI Musical Director, Rickey Minor credits Adam for his originality of presentation and ability to execute what he visualized.
Covers From Adam’s Idol Song List
These choices reflect songs and musical genres of African American performers.
Adam’s Acknowledged Influences
“Michael Jackson has been a huge influence on me,” Lambert said. “I mean you really look at male pop stars, and the theatrical ones who really took it to the limit are few and far between. Michael still in my mind owns the label ‘King of Pop.’ He did things that nobody else will ever come close to doing,” Lambert told ET, after Michael Jackson’s death.
In addition to MJ, Adam has referenced another African American contemporary innovator, Prince as one of his idols and while we haven’t heard any Prince songs, Adam’s covers of Michael Jackson’s are emotionally powerful. From his pre-Idol days, I have a recording of Adam singing “You Can’t Win” from the Wiz. Unfortunately I am unable to find a recording anywhere on line, I can’t post it here. His first audition song was “Rock With You” and “Black or White” put Adam at the top of the Idol competition in short order by presenting a polished and emotional performance.
It was a Smokey song that hooked me, the sublime Tracks of My Tears.
We are grateful to Thea for calling our radio show on this topic and starting this fascinating study!
It wasn’t that we were unaware, but we should have included this aspect of Adam’s music and his success in the Top Ten.
Adam is not the first “Blue Eyed Soul” singer on my playlist which includes Hall and Oates, Robert Palmer, the “Black Irish” Commitments and that other Irish guy, Van Morrison.
We appreciate all the very considerate, knowledgeable and informed comments we received on this subject so they are included here.
I have taken it totally for granted my whole life that African American music is the basis for just about all modern Popular music, I was brought up on Jazz and Blues as my Dad is a big fan of this type of music and I love it too, in fact people like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday Ella Fitzgerald and all these people are a big feature in my music collection and I regularly listen to them.
After the WW2, Britain was a miserable place to be, Rationing continued and most of the country was in ruins. Music was predictable and tame, and the concept of Teen Culture hadn’t been thought of. Young people however were just discovering Blues music via the GIs who were stationed here, and there was far less racism here than in the US which meant that when eventually the entertainment industry realised that there was a market for this type of music they brought blues musicians over from the US and many were delighted that they were so well respected over here, and didn’t have to ‘sit at the Back of the bus’ and other such nonsense. My Dad has always loved telling me about how Billie Holliday had to travel in the servants lift and this things have stayed with me all my life.
When eventually British musicians such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin began to make music for themselves they took what they had learned from the African American blues musicians they loved and made it their own, initially playing covers of the Blues songs they loved and giving them their own special twist, and eventually writing their own songs and bringing about the birth of British Rock Music, Heavy Metal, Glam Rock and almost everything else connected with Popular music in the UK.
What should also be remembered and is often forgotten is the role Jewish musicians played in the story of Jazz and Popular Music. Many of the great White Jazz musicians were Jewish, eg. George Gershwin, Al Jolson, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. And Jewish Businessmen were very involved in promoting and financing African American Musicians.
I see a lot of this history reflected in Adam, and this was one of the things which attracted me to him in the first place. when he sand Feeling Good, it wasn’t Muse I was thinking of but Nina Simone, and I was delighted when he sang Change is Gonna Come, and with such feeling, and he obviously had a brilliant relationship with the African American Musicians he was working with on the show.
I didn’t find it surprising at all when I learned that many of the songs which helped African Americans express their feelings about racism in the Jazz age are being used to express feelings about Homophobia, and Adams part in softening attitudes towards gay people in the US is a mirror image of the part played by people like Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Junior in changing the attitudes of white Americans towards people of colour there, and this is one of the reasons why he is so socially important now in the 21st century, and one of the reasons I support him so avidly and will continue to do so.
Thanks! We really welcome your comments and contribution to this fascinating project.
I have talked about the roots of British rock in American Blues. Long John Baldry talked about buying records from American sailors arriving in Liverpool and how he developed his “Blue Eyed Blues” sound which ultimately led to the British rock music.
Baldry discovered Rod Stewart who teamed up with Jeff Beck for some powerful Blues.
I’ve lost it now, but one of the first albums I ever bought was Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart on vocals, before Stewart became a star in his own right.
In the Beatles we hear Rockabilly and covers of Chuck Berry as well. They brought everything they heard together.
I am writing more on the subject – stay tune!
I will leave you with something to read and something to listen to.
Thanks so much!
Absolutely! Glad you picked up on Adam’s incredible ability to sing the blues. He is a joyful person and yet I have never heard anyone sing pain any better; don’t know if this is from his life experiences, his natural emphatic nature, or his super acting abilities. All I know is that Adam can sure sing the blues and I would certainly love that kind of album! On another train of thought; (bear with me here, honestly I am not nuts!) Adam has a Jewish background on his Mom’s side. In ancient Israel there was a branch of the tribe of Levi whose responsibility and gift was music and worship in the Temple. Is it possible that Adam is a descendent of this tribe? God’s gifts have no time expiration. Hmmm, just further food for thought!(By the way thanks for a great blog and all the info!)
I love, love, love his “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0Oq_7jYUvo from the New Year’s Eve Upright Cabaret show. It is soooooo bluesy and soulful. I would adore a blue eyed soul album from Adam.
Yes!! I include this in Adam’s Blues/soul sound. Maybe if we start a campaign, we could get them thinking. It doesn’t have to be covers either, Adam can perform this way with almost any song!
I will add “…..Don’t Call Me Anymore” to the playlist for the show.
OMG, A “Blue Eyed Soul Of Adam Lambert” Album would be a dream come true for me & I’m sure many others! That man touches the depths of my soul so deeply when he sings! Please, please Adam do this!!
Thank you for bringing this up.
Love & Light Always.
*I also agree with Mary-Ellen above, brings tears to my eyes to think of it but it seems oh so possible!
Thank you for this amazing blog!
Good topic, and how can we not acknowledge the man whose songs were banned because they were too sexy, and seem tame compared to several of Adam’s WLL renditions – Marvin Gaye !
Give a listen to “Sexual Healing” and “Let’s Get It On”
Beautiful voices both !!
Hi Kate, yes, after the first “Acoustic WLL” I wrote “move over Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get It On) and Righteous Brothers with Unchained Melody, this is the new song for seduction.
What do you suppose happened after I watch twenty-seven versions of WLL from the Tour? Don’t answer that!
It’s never too early in the day to listen to these.
Can’t resist – for the younger readers! “Unchained Melody” http://bit.ly/bcJSjq
Marvin Gaye – “Let’s Get It On” http://bit.ly/bnMUHl
Well, that new “improved” WLL San Francisco might just be the only one needed ! That and the one from Nashville where I see a whole lotta Elvis …. speaking about “blue eyed soul”, Elvis was one of the first. Sam Phillips knew what he was doing, Elvis was the perfect vehicle to bring “black” music into the American mainstream.
Just watched the Marvin Gaye link …
Can’t help make the comparison – A black man being overtly sexual on TV in 1976 was shocking & groundbreaking.
Adam Lambert, a gay man, being overtly sexual with Tommy & the dancers ( menage a trois) in 2010 is equally groundbreaking.
A change is indeed coming, and I am thrilled that it doesn’t seem to be shocking at all, I find myself saying “what is the big deal” … but maybe that’s just me
Let’s not forget Elvis who brought black music to white kids. And the Beatles did several covers of black artists. -Long Tall Sally, Mr. Postman.
Good Golly Miss Molly, Twist and Shout – more???
Lest we forget…Led Zep’s “original Whole Lotta Love” was derived from a song by Willie Dixon. a Mississippi Delta Blues artist, called “You Need Love”, circa 1962. Adam’s acoustic versions of WLL have that same languid, bluesy, soulful feel. Here’s a link to the 1963 recording of it by Muddy Waters:
More recently Steve Marriott & Small Faces came out with “You Need Loving”:
Personally, Adam now OWNS this song, WLL! I’d love for him to make a blue-eyed blues album!
Ah the research for this avocation is never done! Last night, I listened to some Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, along with John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker, Billie Holiday along with 27 versions of WLL. Saw Muddy Waters perform eons ago. I believe I was underage at the time, maybe 18. Thanks so much for the links!!! And the reminder of the origin of WLL. By the time this is over, we will all have quite a collection of old favourites that live in perpetuity.
Libralamb7, thank you for that Muddy waters song, I can’t believe I never saw that before, very interesting
Funny, I see a lot of Adam’s vocalizing as coming from Cantorial songs. Perhaps Juneau could look into that aspect of Adam’s singing.
I love the idea of a Blue-Eyed Soul album by Adam but, that being said, after watching his Zodiac Show performance of “A Change is Gonna Come” I realize I’d like to hear him do songs with less ornamentation. Some is good, but I have also noticed that with his performances of Whole Lotta Love he sometimes (in my opinion) takes the ornamentation too far. I don’t mind the improvisational aspect, and I’m not even certain how I distinguish that from the ornamentation, but I DO hear s distinct difference between the two. I think he just needs to scale it back a bit while still being true to the spirit of what he is doing. Does this make any sense at all?
Hi Susan, thanks for your note. I do understand what you are saying. “Change is Gonna Come” is but one style and it is bold and anthemic, within the huge range of music we are talking about, and Whole Lotta Love has a distinctive gospel voice at times. There are many songs in his Act II or “Blue” in his concert that are completely different and reflect the emotions of soul in a way that few performers sing today and the accompaniment is acoustic and minimal. Some are so melodramatic they are almost operatic and he has the voice to carry it.
In WLL, do you mean the runs he does are ornamentation?
Think of “Tracks of My Tears” as an example in completely the other direction. So quiet and sensitive, quite the opposite of the past renditions with a whole orchestra behind him.
So glad you took the time to write!
Yeah, Led Zep got sued (and lost) when WLL came out, and justifiably so. Regarding ornamentation: I actually find Adam to be one of the much lesser offenders when it comes to over-ornamentation (which drives me crazy when it’s overdone) so when he does use it, it doesn’t bother me so much. I find WLL less ornamented than improvisational, more skat than ornamentation.
Glad you mentioned this – I have addressed this issue earlier. WLL was based on a Muddy Waters song.
Let’s just acknowledge that American music ( Jazz, Rock ‘n Roll) would not exist without the American scourge of slavery and the African traditions that the slaves brought with them. It is what helped them survive and was the one thing they could have of their own. Mix that in with the southern hillbilly Celtic tradition of western music and we are where are today.
It is a deep psychic primitive thread to the universe that resonates in all of us. When Adam growls ” Waaaay dowwwn inside” everyone gets it ! They always have and always will !
I agree with Shannon on this, Adam is very appropriate and tasteful with his vocal ornamentation, He may be ‘More is more’ with his clothes, but one of the many things I noticed about him from the start was that he never did what annoyed me about many American singers which was unnecessarily complicated vocal runs just to show off, I’ve never seen Adam do that, he just does what is necessary for the emotion of the song.
“If I Can’t Have You” is a very good example.
Especially the studio version as the live performance was too shortened to get the full effect, there isn’t a wasted or unnecessary note on there, it’s all perfectly paced and soft and powerful in all the right places to convey the full emotion of the song.