Aug 152019

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20. Santana – Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries (Willie Bobo cover)

Santana takes Willie Bobo’s 1966 horn-driven Latin jam and turns it into a guitar-driven Latin jam. There are some nice keyboard parts and lots of catchy percussion, as well. It’s a song short on lyrics, but even those few lyrics are not well done here. What really translates is the jam and the guitar. The song helps highlight Carlos Santana’s incredible talent on guitar by layering against the repetitive structure of the original. – Mike Misch

19. Joe Cocker – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Nick Ashford cover)

It’s not uncommon for a live song to be stretched out a few more minutes than the studio version. But when a cover of a two-minute-forty-second song ends up being over 12 minutes long, you know there’s been some improvisation happening. And Joe Cocker’s cover of the Motown song, popularized by Ray Charles but first performed by Nick Ashford (pre-Ashford & Simpson), has plenty of that. Cocker does all the vamping one would expect, but his backing band, in particular on the keys and the drums, jam out on some extended instrumentals over the course of this song. It has plenty of elements of the 1966 original, but it’s far bluesier in this setting. When the sparse bridge hits, it’s a welcome respite from the driving of the first 5 minutes, but it doesn’t last. The jam slowly picks back up, heavy on guitar, and finishes as strong as it started. – Mike Misch

18. Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain (Big Mama Thornton cover)

Janis Joplin’s gut-wrenching performance of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival helped make her a superstar. Somehow she topped herself when covering the song again at Woodstock. For the show at Monterey, she was filmed wearing a conservative-looking yellow outfit, and was fairly subdued (by Janis’ standards), letting her voice do most of the work. In the ensuing years, she left Big Brother and started her Kozmic Blues Band. With the large group backing her at Woodstock, she gave a full-bodied performance, looking almost like a mad scientist conductor, singing and dancing and moving the band in different musical directions. – Curtis Zimmermann

17. Joe Cocker – Feelin’ Alright (Traffic cover)

Traffic’s classic track was less than a year old before Joe Cocker released his cover of it on With a Little Help from My Friends in May of 1969. Three months later, Cocker and the Grease Band used it to give Saturday afternoon’s festival crowd permission to “feel your feet,” let loose and party. Dave Mason’s original arrangement on Traffic featured acoustic guitar supported by Steve Winwood’s piano and a tight Chris Wood sax break, all held together by Mason’s dream-like vocals. Cocker and keyboardist Chris Stainton are joined here by Bruce Rowland’s congas right out of the gate. Pacing faster than the original, and with the Grease Band’s falsetto backing vocals providing an amusing counterpoint to Cocker’s wailing, the ensemble grinds through a jam that eventually ends way too soon. – Frank Minishak

16. Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Born Under a Bad Sign (Albert King cover)

Paul Butterfield was another performer with a new band, or line-up, trying to win over the audience; in his case, Butterfield added a brass section, including a young David Sanborn on tenor sax. Butterfield was a veteran performer compared to many present, but time has been unkind to his school of overcooked hollering. Thankfully his harp, as well as the brass section, bring some grit to an otherwise stolid showing, with guitar and keyboards noodling ineffectually in the background. It’s a shame, as the song is, in other hands, one of the more revelatory staples of any electric blues handbook. Astonishingly, rather than being written a century ago by some ancient sharecropper in Missouri, it was written by William “Private Number” Bell and Booker T. Jones, first played and made famous by Albert King in 1967. – Seuras Og

15. Janis Joplin – Summertime (Porgy and Bess cover)

500,000 hippies sloshing through the mud probably wasn’t what George Gershwin had in mind in 1934 when he first wrote “Summertime.” The song, written for the opera Porgy and Bess with lyrics and contributions by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, made an appearance at the Woodstock festival thanks to Janis Joplin. She had reinterpreted the standard as a psychedelic blues-rocker with Big Brother and the Holding Company for the 1968 album Cheap Thrills. Backed by her Kozmic Blues Band at Woodstock, the group added blazing horns to the song, giving the whole track a more explosive feel, well-suited for a festival crowd. – Curtis Zimmermann

14. The Band – Long Black Veil (Lefty Frizzell cover)

“Long Black Veil” is a rare contemporary country song that has both the lyrics and feel of well-worn folk tune. It tells the story of a married woman who visits the grave of a man who gave his life rather than admit to their affair. Lefty Frizzell originally recorded the country classic in 1959. By the time the Band included it on their 1968 alt-country rock classic album Music From Big Pink, it had already been covered by numerous artists, including the Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, and Joan Baez. The Band’s performance at Woodstock does not veer too far from their album version. The group’s harmonies strain under the, um, weight of singing in front of hundreds of thousands of people. But the song’s folky-vibe fit in well with the Band’s spirit of playing salt-of-the-earth style music for the masses. – Curtis Zimmermann

13. Bert Sommer – America (Simon & Garfunkel cover)

Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli dubbed Bert Sommer “the lost bard of Woodstock.” In his first public performance as a solo artist, the Long Island, New York native, and protégé of festival producer Artie Kornfeld, captivated the first day crowd during his 10-song set. Photogenic with a smooth voice made for the times, the singer/actor had been gaining notoriety for his role in the hit musical Hair. Unfortunately, with no appearance in the watershed 1970 documentary film, Sommer’s career faded after Woodstock. His version of Simon & Garfunkel’s mild protest song (from 1968s Bookends) was called a high point of his Woodstock set and garnered what’s said to be the only standing ovation of the festival. Sommer’s delicate vocals and acoustic guitar are supported by Ira Stone’s organ and a near-perfect, compact, arrangement. Paul Simon himself has given Sommer’s studio rendition, produced by Kornfeld, the highest praise. – Frank Minishak

12. Blood, Sweat & Tears – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Brenda Holloway cover)

Count me among the legions who didn’t know that Blood, Sweat & Tears’ number 2 hit had scraped into the top 40 two years earlier. At Woodstock, BS&T stuck close to their rearrangement of Brenda Holloway’s original; if they were unnerved about the size of their audience, they never showed it. If the audience seems a bit complacent, it may be because the song had peaked on the charts a good four months earlier, so BS&T didn’t have the element of surprise that Santana or CSN had. But a mild audience doesn’t make a mild cover; everyone came through here, making for a song that uplifted even if it didn’t inspire. – Patrick Robbins

11. Jefferson Airplane – Somebody To Love (The Great Society cover)

The question of whether an artist can cover his or herself has been the subject of discussion here in the past, so you get to decide whether “Somebody to Love,” written by Darby Slick, and first performed by The Great Society, with Darby’s then-sister-in-law Grace on vocals, is a cover. The original Great Society track has its folkie charms, but sounds dated, while the energy and power of the Airplane version has turned it into a rock classic that still sounds fresh today. The Airplane was supposed to be the headliner of day 2 of Woodstock, following, among others, Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and The Who. But delays kept them from taking the stage until about 8:00 AM the next morning, resulting in one of the most famous band introductions from Slick — “All right, friends, you have seen the heavy groups. Now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, yeah. It’s a new dawn!” Interestingly, if you watch the movie, or listen to the original soundtrack, that intro leads into “Somebody to Love,” while in reality, the band opened with “The Other Side of This Life,” a cover of a Fred Neil song. The altered realty was appropriate, because Slick and her bandmates had used the long wait to perform to ingest a fair amount of LSD, and the performance of “Somebody to Love” (like much of the Airplane’s Woodstock set), is therefore a bit meandering and jammy (and Slick’s eyes a little glazed), but it was powerful, and a great example of a band at the top of its game. – Jordan Becker


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