Say 1971 to keyboardist Lee Carroll, and he replies, “it was a great year for music.
“Look at the list of songs: You have Jethro Tull with ‘Aqualung,’ ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’ There was James Taylor, Elton John, Rod Stewart ‘Maggie May.’ Marvin Gaye ‘What’s Goin’ On’ — that album was a milestone in popular music. Carole King came out with ‘Tapestry,’ though we’re not playing any songs off that album.”
Carroll, 64, has put together for the Downtown Arts Center’s Sunday Sessions concert series, which will take the audience back to the tunes of an era when the United States was going through a lot.
“Seventy-one was the last year of the Vietnam War; it was the year that Nixon declared the war on drugs; I was in the draft,” says Carroll, who went to college in 1971. “I was (number) 110 in the draft and they went to 90, and they stopped.”
There really was a cultural divide and a renaissance that came about in the mid-’60s and continued on into the mid-’70s, when some of the greatest pop music ever recorded came out.
Just as current hitmakers underscore the events of today, there was a rich soundtrack being written as the 1960s gave way to the ’70s.
“When I grew up, when I was a young teenager, the Beatles hadn’t happened yet, and the music was Elvis,” Carroll says. “When the Beatles came along and I was 13, 14 — whatever I was — all of a sudden, that was my music, and it wasn’t my 8-year-older brother’s music anymore.
“And there really was a cultural divide and a renaissance that came about in the mid-’60s and continued on into the mid-’70s, when some of the greatest pop music ever recorded came out.
“Then there was another phenomenon, which was pop radio, and then there was the college FM radio, which was everything. So stuff that wasn’t played on Top 40 radio, you go to FM radio and you hear Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and stuff like that. So there’s a tremendous amount to draw from. The problem was narrowing it down.”
Not every musician in Sunday’s show has a memory of when that music was new: “The funny thing is we have quite a few people in the show who weren’t even born in 1971.”
Carroll spent years touring with Exile and The Judds, then he took an extended break from playing before becoming active in Lexington, playing with a wide variety of bands and artists, including Tin Can Buddha and his own band, C The Beat.
The 1971 concert is primarily organized by Carroll and by equally experienced and active percussionist Robby Cosenza, and they brought in a lot of collaborators, including guitarist Ben Lacy, Joshua Wright, Maggie Lander, Chris Dennison, Tripp Bratton, Erin Reynolds, and Coralee of Coralee and the Townies.
The funny thing is we have quite a few people in the show who weren’t even born in 1971.
“They all know this music,” Carroll says. “Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m 18,’ Cat Stevens ‘Wild World’ — these were such big hits, you still hear them on the radio today. Paul McCartney ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ T Rex ‘Bang a Gong’ — these are chestnuts.”
Carroll says the advantage of putting together a show like this, particularly tackling such a broad swath of musical styles is, that a lot of the musicians already know each other well.
“Sometimes there will be two people on stage; sometimes there will be 15,” Carroll says. “We’ll take different approaches to pull it off faithfully. We’re trying to fairly faithfully duplicate the sound of the music as recorded and not stretch too far out on it. We want to capture the period, musically.”