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May 032012

I could do without the drummer’s mullet and Dennis Miller, but how blessed was Matthew Sweet during his Girlfriend-era breakthrough (yeah, I know, it wasn’t “overnight”) to have been surrounded by the likes of Robert Quine, Richard Lloyd, and, in this clip, is that Peter Holsapple I see?

What other relatively “unknown” musicians come to mind who seemed to burst onto the scene with the benefit of cool surrounding musicians, musicians who were more than ace session men and women?

This thread is not to suggest that Sweet and other musicians who will be named didn’t actually do the work to arrive at their blessed state.


  51 Responses to “Blessed”

  1. machinery

    Mathew Sweet in Terms of Endearment. Neat factoid there.

    Does Costello count … backed by, ahem, The News?

    Lenny Kravitz really seemed to burst on the scene fully formed. But he was mostly backed by himself.

  2. tonyola

    Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails also fits in the fully-formed-by-himself category.

  3. diskojoe

    How about Graham Parker & The Rumor?

  4. This was not his first major label record, just his first good one. I saw MS preform “Girlfriend” in it’s entirety a few months ago. My YouTube video gets tons of hits and comments. I think this record really connected with people. His new band was pretty good at playing the parts like it was 1992.

  5. Although pub rock vets were set up to back Costello and TO, it’s bot quite the same. David Gilmour sponsored/produced/played on Kate Bush’s debut, but were there other stars involved?

    The first Jackie Lomax lp, with 3 Beatles, Clapton, et al is more like it.

  6. Sid Straw had an impressive list of people on her first album including Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin, Marshall Crenshaw, Eric Ambel, Jim Keltner, Daniel Lanois, Marc Ribot, Bernie Worrell, Van Dyke Parks, and more.

  7. tonyola

    Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets had a high-power list – Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Chris Spedding, Bill MacCormick, and all of Roxy Music except Bryan Ferry.

  8. cherguevara

    Sheryl Crow glommed onto her (then) boyfriend’s jam session and it got steered into being her first album. Those guys might’ve played sessions, but they weren’t “session guys,” it was more a circle of songwriters and players – Brian MacLeod from Wire Train, David Baerwald from David&David, Kevin Gilbert from Giraffe, Toy Matinee and, well, Kevin Gilbert. All hosted by the amazing engineer/producer Bill Botrell. Too bad I’m not a fan of Crow’s or I might actually like that album!

  9. Also, and I’m not kidding here, doesn’t that clip of Matthew Sweet on the Dennis Miller show sound like it was sped up too? Miller’s voice doesn’t sound natural. Am I losing my mind?

  10. Yeah but wasn’t that after he was in Roxy Music?

  11. cliff sovinsanity

    I was going to suggest that there were 4 twelve-string guitars jangling backstage.

  12. Lindsey Buckingham and Stephanie Nicks?


  13. cliff sovinsanity

    How about John Mellencamp getting help from Mick Ronson on American Fool ? He was also fortunate to have Kenny Arnoff in the band.

  14. I think it’s just a Holsapple look-alike. But that is Sara Lee from the Gang of Four on bass.

  15. tonyola

    But American Fool was Mellencamp’s fifth album and he even had a few minor hits under his belt (“I Need a Lover”).

  16. Like Sweet, Straw came out of the Golden Palominos scene. That was a funny time, with all those cult-hero musicians and a few young, good-looking musicians pulled in to make a bridge to the “college-rock” scene.

  17. Not quite the same as what I’m looking for, but along the same lines: young, unknown recruits brought into a veteran band.

  18. That’s a little more like the Kate Bush-David Gilmour collaboration, with a veteran producer guiding a young artist. Not quite the same as an unknown artist suddenly being surrounded by a crack band of cool musicians.

    To be clear, the artist’s “breakthrough” album, like Sweet’s Girlfriend, need not be their first album. I did not realize, however, that American Fool was JCM’s fifth album!

  19. Yep, and he had three songs in the Billboard Top 40 even before that album’s release.

  20. How about Nick Lowe hooking up with Dave Edmunds, who had already had a hit with “I Hear You Knocking”?

  21. Still, that’s one guy with one hit to his name – and it’s not like Lowe was a young unknown within the English music scene.

    I’m surprised we’re not finding more examples like Sweet and Straw. I haven’t pulled out the albums and checked the credits yet, but I believe Jesse Winchester’s first two albums involved not only producer Robbie Robertson but other members of the Band. He may count.

  22. cherguevara

    How about Trevor Rabin? I was just reading up on him a bit, he made several albums, both solo and as part of various bands. But his breakthrough was 90125, which didn’t start as a Yes album. He had met Chris Squire and Alan White, who were part of his project, and then it evolved into being a re-vamped Yes.

    But most interesting, I thought, was this juicy tidbit:

    “Rabin almost did not make the 90125 tour, because of a swimming accident in Florida just before the 1984 tour kicked off. According to interviews from the period, Rabin was injured severely when a large woman hit his midsection while jumping into a hotel swimming pool. He endured an emergency splenectomy and returned to Yes in time to begin the tour.”

  23. I did not know that. Rabin definitely would have made this Blessed list had his work with the Yes guys appeared under his own name. Instead he’s in that closely related category with Buckingham and Nicks.

  24. We could include the first Loggins and Messina album Sittin’ In. Kenny Loggins was an unknown in 1971 when Columbia teamed him up with Jim Messina, who not only was with Poco and Buffalo Springfield but was also developing a rep as a crack independent producer. The album, which also had top session help, was originally intended to be a Kenny Rogers solo album. Messina ended up taking a near-co-artist role with the album being officially released as Kenny Rogers with Jim Messina: Sittin’ In. The official Loggins and Messina name was used for the second album. Sittin’ In remains to this day something of a landmark album and is certainly one of the best-sounding records of its time.

  25. John Wesley Harding’s first album had Bruce and Pete Thomas, Steve Donnelly, Kenny Craddock, Andy Paley, Kirsty MacColl and Peter Case. That one definitely qualifies. I agree with the Syd Straw nomination, but she had alrady made at least some mark as a back up singer and one of the Golden Palominos featured vocalists. JWH was right outta nowhere.

  26. GREAT one! Blessed, indeed.

    Does JWH live in our area now, geo? I thought I’d heard that.

  27. Normally I couldn’t give you credit for a duo (see Lowe and Edmunds, earlier), but the strange knowledge you have exhibited is worth a band full of established musicians backing Kenny Loggins – or Rogers, which I assume was a typo:)

  28. tonyola

    Oh, damn – this is what I get for writing this late. Hey, Rogers or Loggins – what’s the difference? Both “Coward of the County” and “Keep the Fire” are wretched songs, right?

  29. I SUMMON ALEXMAGIC to write his review of the lost Rogers-Messina album!

  30. I really dig Syd Straw, but if you’re describing her as one of the “young, good-looking musicians”, well that’s a strange characterization. She seemed to revel in her weird looks, topped off with the cat’s eyes glasses that hadn’t been seen on anyone with the exception of Mink Stole for twenty five years.

  31. He married a local and they moved to Chestnut Hill about a year ago. He is around a lot, doing odd things like a talk at the Free Library about David Copperfield as well as lots of shows. I saw him a couple of weeks ago at the Tin Angel and he was really terrific, better than ever.

  32. Another one is Sam Phillips. She had three Christian albums as Leslie Phillips and on the third one she hooked up with T-Bone Burnett. He surrounded her with some real heavy hitters. Her debut Sam Phillips album had Burnett, Jerry Scheff, Mickey Curry, Steve Jordan, Alex Acuna, David Miner and Buell Niedlinger as well as some Van Dyke Parks arrangements. It’s a really beautiful sounding record.

  33. Don’t forget Astral Weeks. Richard Davis!!! Van Morrison wasn’t brand new, but that line up is totally incongruous with an English invasion pop star, even one that thought himself a bluesman. That record completely changed the perceived “depth” of Van the Man.

  34. Another Robbie Robertson produced nobody was Hirth Martinez. His “Hirth from Earth” record is really good. The record was very lush, with huge string and horn sections tastefully deployed as well as Russ Kunkel, Garth Hudson, Chuck Rainey and Ben Keith. And all of this talent was in support of a guy singing light samba styled songs about topics like alien abduction.

  35. Yeah, but she was nerdy cute in a way that was just coming into bloom. Wasn’t it just 5 or so years later that the nerdy cute brunette with catwoman glasses and Ethan Hawke in her hit song video would set up the eventual career of Zooey Deschanel et al?

  36. That’s right. He was featured once, either here or on the original listserv. I’m pretty sure BigSteve “sponsored” my introduction to him. I tried to contact him a couple of times for an RTH interview but never heard back.

  37. Dave had four top ten UK hits before he and Nick joined forces, but I agree, that this collaboration isn’t really the same thing as the Sweet/Straw examples.

  38. cherguevara

    The thing is, if you are making a record as a new artist then people are investing in you. On top of that, it is a big chance to make a big splash – not only for the artist but for all of the people involved. You only get one first impression.

    So it’s no surprise that top people can be found on first (or breakthrough) albums. To me, Matthew Sweet’s coup was getting those guys in his live, touring band. Norah Jones had Bill Frisell on her first album, but he didn’t tour with her.

    I knew a recording engineer who pointedly preferred to work on first albums. He would turn down known artists to work with unknowns because the risks and potential rewards were greater. Once you’ve reached the echelon of putting out a major-label album, you gain access to the world of heavy hitters (at least, you did back in earlier days). Getting those folks psyched enough to stay in your touring band, that’s the trick.

  39. bostonhistorian

    To use another Sweet, Rachel Sweet’s first Stiff LP had Blockheads Norman Watt-Roy and Mickey Gallagher, Brinsley Schwarz, and Lene Lovich on backing vocals. Then, on her first tour, she was backed by The Records.

    Not huge names maybe, but not your average session folk either, unless you were recording for Stiff.

  40. mockcarr

    I’m grateful I wasn’t going to have to be the one to say this. How often in these performances, do the vocals sound like the best thing?

  41. I did some poking around on the internet and it’s been confirmed that my videos are in fact running fast. I don’t get all the tech stuff surrounding it but it has something to do with an upgrade and apparently, the solution is that I need some kind of plug in or something. I just wanted to let you guys know because I know how much you worry.

  42. cliff sovinsanity

    Jeff Baxter appeared on his 3rd album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. I don’t know if this matters at this point, what if it did.

  43. Happiness Stan

    Kate Bush is an interesting one, sure she had the talent and the songs to get there on her own, but given her tendency even in the early days to not enjoy the trappings of fame and to withdraw from the limelight, it’s certainly valid to ask how much Gilmour’s encouragement brought her to the point of signing to EMI and recording The Kick Inside, and whether she would have found the drive to have done it alone.

  44. Happiness Stan

    Apropos of not very much, JWH was born in the same town as me and went to the same school. He was three years below us, and I don’t think I knew him, although a very large group of kids from his year used to get very animated about my first band, one of only two punk bands in town, and I’ve often wondered if he was among them.

  45. Happiness Stan

    Stiff were like a DIY no-budget Motown, with everyone playing on everybody else’s records and being their backing bands.

    Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” was Eric with Ian Dury on drums and Nick Lowe on guitars and bass. Any case of his riding to success on their coat-tails rather falls down as the record wasn’t (and never has been) a hit, and also at the time of recording neither Dury or Lowe were any better known outside of the London pub-rock scene than Eric.

    By the time Rachel Sweet recorded, they were well-known, so I think the case for her is valid. I always thought it was a shame that she never broke through.

  46. Happiness Stan

    How about Rod Stewart? He’d been on the scene a long time without making a huge impression, but on his first album was backed by Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, while the second had all of the Faces, who carried on playing on his albums while he sang on theirs, until he went solo and back to being not very good any more.

    Given his output since he left them I still think that he was riding on their coat-tails rather than the other way round.

  47. Remember, though, Rod had already been blessed by being hired to sing in Jeff Beck Group.

  48. Happiness Stan

    Interestingly enough both of their albums with Rod completely bombed over here on their release, I hadn’t realised until I checked just now that the first one was a hit in America.

    I’d still posit that it wasn’t until he hitched up with the power of the far more well-known, established (and essentially more stable – Beck’s nothing if not quixotic) Faces, one of the best loved British bands ever, that he broke through to the mainstream and went from journeyman vocalist to huge star, which he was never going to do with Beck.

  49. How about Ellen Foley with either:

    1) Meat Loaf
    2) Mick Ronson & Ian Hunter
    3) The Clash

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