Best of March 2013: Peter Banks, Toto, Eric Clapton, Jon Anderson, Boz Scaggs, Tony Levin, the Beatles

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Yes fans joined in a celebration of Peter Banks’ life after the guitarist passed last month, and dug into a pair of talks with Jon Anderson as the founding vocalist explored his old band’s shared legacy.

Banks played on the prog legends’ initial two recordings through 1970, while Anderson sang lead for Yes over two stints between 1968-1980, and then again from 1983-2008.

Elsewhere, our monthly reader poll — based on views for original content at Something Else! Reviews — focused on forgotten favorites from the often-overlooked Toto, as well as a cool new unplugged session featuring Larry Carlton and Robben Ford.

SER Sitdowns with Denny Seiwell (of Paul McCartney and Wings fame) and Tony Levin (the Stick Men, King Crimson) also earned Top 5 spots for March 2013. Seiwell also explored his love for jazz, while Levin discussed his role in the David Bowie comeback project.

Boz Scaggs took time away from talking up his terrific new recording Memphis to delve into a few older favorites, while Eric Clapton’s current release did much to conjure up the atmosphere of some of his most popular solo recordings from four decades back.

Then, in an interesting turn of events, the initial Beatles installment in our famous/infamous Suck Series made a triumphal return — after missing the readers’ Top 10 in February. That marked just the third month since the item’s publication, back in December 2011, that it failed to chart.

Guess arguing about “The Long and Winding Road” just never gets old …

No. 10: GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: Major discovery: Beatles songs themed on the word “long” are bad karma — as our heavily debated list includes both the perfectly titled “Long, Long, Long” and treacly “Long and Winding Road.” We called the latter, in a point of deep contention for many Beatles fans, “this syrupy ballad.” Even at three-and-a-half minutes, it seemed to be overly long and, yes, winding. Well, to us, anyway. (Originally posted on December 27, 2011, but still going strong with our readers.)S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso

[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]

No. 9: ONE TRACK MIND: BOZ SCAGGS ON ‘LOWDOWN,’ ‘MISS SUN,’ ‘LOAN ME A DIME,’ OTHERS: We took a break from our non-stop heavy rotation of Boz Scaggs’ new Top 20 album Memphis to dig further back into his stirring catalog of sophisticated soul, sizzling R&B and gritty blues. Scaggs goes in-depth on fertile collaborations with Toto’s David Paich and with Duane Allman. He also talks about how a mid-1960s stint in London fed into a lasting connection with Georgie Fame, and takes us inside the construction of his most recent previous album — the Speak Low standards set recorded with Gil Goldstein’s Septet. Oh, and we couldn’t talk Scaggs without giving Silk Degrees a spin, right? — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Boz Scaggs stopped in to talk about touring with Dukes of September, his long layoff in the 1980s, and how he got his groove on in Memphis.]

No. 8: ONE TRACK MIND: JON ANDERSON ON ‘AND YOU AND I,’ ‘ENDLESS DREAM, ‘I’VE SEEN ALL GOOD PEOPLE,’ OTHERS: Jon Anderson stopped by before embarking on a new solo tour of Australia and New Zealand to discuss a few key moments from his career — including key Yes tracks from Close to the Edge and The Yes Album. In an exclusive SER Sitdown, Anderson talks at length about working with former Yes bandmates Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye. His musical relationship with Wakeman, who was a part of Yes over three stints between 1971-97, continues into this decade, with The Living Tree studio album and tour. We also take a look back at his time with Peter Banks, who passed earlier this month, and Anderson makes his selection for the most overlooked project in Yes’ storied career — the largely dismissed 1994 project Talk, which would be the last to feature Kaye and Trevor Rabin. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Anyone can recite, bass line and verse, their favorite moments from Yes’ 1970s era. It’s trickier when you get deeper into their more recent output.]

No. 7: ERIC CLAPTON – OLD SOCK (2012): Like 461 Ocean Boulevard, but with better singing, Eric Clapton’s Old Sock is similarly thin on original songs, swerves into an amiable island-inflected vibe, and never gets too far outside of its super-mellow box. That said, the guitarist Clapton has become, beginning with his late-1990s effort Pilgrim, a vastly improved vocalist. No matter the material, Clapton’s new-found commitment to conveying a lyric remains the most interesting thing about his more recent recordings — and Old Sock is no different. Content once just to growl and shout, Clapton has discovered a rich complexity of vocal sounds, and his albums — timid though they may often be conceptually, with nowhere near enough solo space — have become much better for it. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Yardbirds co-founder Jim McCarty joined us for a talk about the band’s legendary guitarists, from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page to Jeff Beck.]

No. 6: SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JON ANDERSON, AT PEACE EVEN AS YES BEGINS LATEST TOUR: As Yes prepares to kick off a new tour featuring performances of three classic albums, departed co-founding frontman Jon Anderson wonders what might have been. See, he was the one who first floated the concept. “It’s a good idea,” Anderson tells us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “I actually talked about doing that, a couple of times before.” Yes begins this new tour, featuring complete readings of 1977’s Going for the One, 1972?s Close to the Edge and 1971’s The Yes Album, with dates continuing through May across the U.S. and into South America. Anderson co-wrote and sang on all three albums. — Nick DeRiso

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No. 5: LARRY CARLTON WITH ROBBEN FORD – UNPLUGGED (2013): There’s a reason these guys have fronted countless recordings, even while appearing as first-call sidemen with everyone from Miles Davis to Steely Dan to Joni Mitchell. Every time one of them picks up the guitar, it’s an encyclopedic wonder. Not that you’d ever put them together: Larry Carlton, who eventually turned to smooth jazz, and Robben Ford, later a blues guy, would seem to have little in common. But on their third recent collaborative release — and Carlton’s first-ever acoustic album with Ford — is a definitive reminder about the old saw involving opposites and attraction. This stripped-down format puts a still greater focus on their utter musical symbiosis. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Guitar legend Robben Ford on his new Louisiana-themed roots release, and working with George Harrison, Miles Davis, Kiss (yep … Kiss!) and Joni Mitchell over the years.]

No. 4: SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: DENNY SEIWELL ON PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS, OTHER THINGS: Denny Seiwell had played with Zoot Sims and J.J. Johnson before joining Paul McCartney and Wings. His work on 1971?s Ram, in fact, arrived even as he played dates with Billy Joel and James Brown, among others. Elsewhere, Seiwell worked with Art Garfunkel, Rick Danko of the Band, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin and the Who. Still, it’s his time with McCartney, which included a stint through 1973 in the first lineup of Wings, that remains his signature moment in rock. In this SER Sitdown, Seiwell talks about that seminal association with Wings, even while going deeper into some of other fascinating career intersections — and his belated return to jazz, always Seiwell’s first love. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Henry McCullough remembers the initial tour by Paul McCartney and Wings, and discusses his decision to leave the band some two years later.]

No. 3: SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: TONY LEVIN ON DAVID BOWIE’S NEW SINGLE, NEW STICK MEN ALBUM: A first-call bassist boasting appearances on more than 500 albums, Tony Levin is giving nothing away to age, even as he approaches his 67th birthday. In the past few months, he’s put out the most ambitious album of the Stick Men’s career, appeared on the surprise new David Bowie single, and is now set to tour with Peter Gabriel; two former bandmates in King Crimson; and his own group through the rest of 2013. Deep is Levin’s third release with the group in three years, but easily his most ambitious — both in scope and in presentation. In an exclusive new SER Sitdown, Levin tells us that Markus Reuter (who joined the Stick Men in ’11) has played a major role in the band’s recent flurry of activity. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tony Levin talks about working on John Lennon’s final sessions, his trio project with David Torn and Alan White, and the future for King Crimson.]

No. 2: DEEP CUTS: FORGOTTEN GEMS FROM TOTO: Brutally described in a review of their eponymous 1978 debut by Rolling Stone as pros with no poetry, the effortlessly polished and sleekly listenable Toto has been dismissed from the first. Imagine every critic’s surprise, then, when the group went from occasional radio presence to pop music supernova with 1982?s IV. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a shock they these guys were really, really good. Yet, it did then — and, in many ways Lukather says, it still does now. Scratch the surface of those misconceptions, though, and you’ll find something more than the snarky comments ever allowed. We did just that, ignoring Toto’s many familiar hits to find a few deep-cut favorites to prove the point. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steve Lukather on the high points from his lengthy career with Toto, and how they are carrying on after the departure of two Porcaro brothers.]

No. 1: ORIGINAL YES GUITARIST PETER BANKS (1947-2013): AN APPRECIATION: Peter Banks, original guitarist for progressive rock legends Yes, has passed away, confirms former band member Billy Sherwood. Banks, 65, played on the first two albums by Yes, suggested the name and even created the band’s first logo. He was the initial Yes member to be fired, starting a long string of ugly departures, and he is now the first to pass. “As a Yes fan, this is sad news indeed,” Sherwood said, via Facebook. “It was an honor to work with Peter on many productions. He will be missed.” Banks was part of both Yes’ 1969 eponymous debut and the 1970 follow up Time and a Word, having first played with stalwart bassist Chris Squire when they were in the Syn — a precursor to Yes, it turns out, in more ways than one. — Nick DeRiso

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