Eric Clapton: Showtime’s Exceptional Documentary, ‘Life In 12 Bars’

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One of the few joys of this brittle and brutal winter is that the Winter Olympics are taking place. I was never a huge fan of the Olympics, but the Rock Chick watches these things religiously. Naturally, when we got married she pulled me into watching them with her. Every time I leave the B&V lab and go downstairs she’s got the Games on… I’m beginning to think she’s got money on the Curling event… I told her, when in doubt always bet on Norway. With a nickname like ‘The Fighting Vikings’ you can’t possibly go wrong.

Unfortunately my wife’s Winter Olympics Obsession has prevented me from screening the Showtime Documentary on Eric Clapton, ‘Life In 12 Bars.’ Finally, after meeting my old friend Tomas out for a few drinks last night, with my wife asleep, I was able to pull up the rockumentary. I’ve always been a huge fan of Clapton’s music. However, I have to admit, his latter career has puzzled me a bit. I haven’t found anything I can really get into since Me And Mr. Johnson his tribute to Robert Johnson. And if I’m being honest, that one disappointed me when compared to his brilliant blues album, From The Cradle. I posited a theory about the latter stages of Clapton’s career before on B&V, Analysis: Clapton’s Late Career – Is He Making Amends?. I think my frustration with Clapton’s late career stems from reading his autobiography. He’s one of the few people who I’ve read an autobiography by and thought less of the person afterward. However, seeing this documentary has completely turned me around. I think this arresting look at Clapton does a lot to help give the man’s life more context than his writing did. Oh, Eric, I just can’t stay mad at you.

In the first hour of the documentary alone, he goes from illegitimate child (like Jack Nicholson, he thought his grandma was his mother and that his mom was his sister) to the Yardbirds, to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to Cream to hanging with Hendrix and recording with the Beatles on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” And again that’s just the first hour of this two hour-fifteen minute film. That’s a pretty wild ride. I’ve always felt that rock and roll sprang from the fertile roots of the blues and blossomed out in all sorts of different ways. Eric Clapton just may be the living embodiment of that theory.

He began his career as a blues purist and left the Yardbirds after he felt they’d turned “too commercial” or “too pop-sounding.” After joining, leaving and rejoining John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers he recorded one of the most influential blues albums of all time, Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton only to leave and form Cream. Cream is where Clapton really broke into America. When he arrived in America, there’s a scene where they ask him what he’s listening to and he immediately shines a light on Jimi Hendrix and the Experience who hadn’t broken over here yet. Then he quickly added a list of black American bluesmen. Clapton and some of his other compatriots in the British Invasion brought black blues music back to America. It’s really cool to see Muddy Waters and B.B. King interviewed and hear them talk about how much those “English kids” did to help them. Thank God they did.

The documentary then follows Clapton through the brief career and collapse of Blind Faith, his band with Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker. Clapton retreated to his home in the English country-side where he was joined by keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. In the span of one year, 1970, these guys recorded Clapton’s solo debut (Eric Clapton), George Harrison’s landmark debut solo album All Things Must Pass and Derek and the Domino’s Layla…And Other Assorted Love Songs. That’s one hell of a year. I don’t think I’ve ever been that productive, that’s for sure. The build-up to the writing and recording of Clapton’s signature tune, “Layla” was a bit overwrought. I get it, it’s a great song, but there’s a lot more to Clapton than just that song. And I think everybody knows about his affair with Pattie Boyd, Harrison’s then wife. During those recording sessions in that momentous year of 1970 is when the heroin snuck in. Man, is that an insidious drug.

And this is where the documentary turns dark. They cover Clapton’s dissolution into heroin addiction and his retirement to seclusion. He was gone, out of sight for four years. When he finally kicked smack he emerged as an alcoholic. And when I say alcoholic, I mean the biggest asshole drunk I’ve ever seen. I described this documentary as unflinching mostly for the way it handles this portion of Clapton’s career. Clapton stood up on stage and made some horrid racist statements because he was drunk off his ass. Here’s a man who had carried the banner for black musicians in the 60s, spouting racist bullshit from the stage in the 70s. It just goes to show you how lost he really was.

It’s an important part of the story, his addiction and alcoholism, but they really blow past his solo music. He recorded some really great music in the 70s and 80s, 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand just to name a few but the documentary just focuses on the alcoholism and the personal problems he faced. I guess I never realized how bad things got. Again, it’s important in understanding Clapton the artist to go through all this harrowing stuff but I felt the music of his solo career got short shrift. This is no happy tale. The man, like Gregg Allman, lived the blues. Naturally the last part of the documentary focuses on the tragic loss of his son, Conor. It finally ends on a lighter note when it highlights Clapton’s rehab clinic in Antigua. B.B. King gives a nice toast to Eric at the Crossroads Music Festival that is worth the price of admission.

I think everyone who is interested in music, the blues and Clapton will find this vital viewing. There are a lot of interviews, photos and film footage that I’ve never seen. I might also say, after watching the documentary, I was reminded of spending a whole afternoon back in my single days, just listening to Clapton’s monumental box set, Crossroads, which I think is the perfect sound track to listen to after you’ve seen the movie. Or, if you’re OCD like me, you’ll end up listening to the Yardbirds, Mayall, and now I’m in the middle of Cream headed to Blind Faith and on my way to Derek and the Dominos… I’ve got a lot of music to listen to between lady’s downhill races…

P.S. – At the beginning of the documentary Clapton appears to be on Skype. He gives a heartfelt speech about the passing of the legend B.B. King. In the midst of that he recommends a record by B.B., Live At The Regal. Clapton, in this case, is spot on – it’s one of the greatest live albums and one of the greatest blues albums of all time. It’s wonderful to listen to B.B. and his audience and the amazing rapport they had. It’s essential B&V listening.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982

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I heard recently that like Paul Simon, who has decided to call it quits on touring, Elton John has announced he’s retiring from the road. While this is sad news for all rock and roll fans in general and Elton fans more specifically, the news could be worse. Poor Neil Diamond just announced he was retiring from the road due to Parkinson’s. I hated to hear that. A friend of mine saw Diamond in Wichita once… he said the blue hairs went crazy after Neil stood up and said, “If you want to, you can sing along, but if you’ve got any guts you’ll stand up and dance…” My buddy says it’s as close as he’s going to get in his lifetime to seeing Elvis. I was also told by a backstage hand once that during soundcheck, Neil chain smokes and cusses like a sailor…Oh, to be a fly on the wall. You gotta love Neil Diamond, but I digress.

Again, while the news that Elton is retiring from the road is sad, in light of some of the huge losses the rock and roll world has seen over the last few years – Petty, Prince, Chris Cornell, Lemmy, Glenn Frey, Bowie (to name but a few) – at least Elton is going out on his own terms and not feet first. Elton is a rock and roll survivor, managing to get through drug addiction and alcoholism to find joy, contentment, marriage and fatherhood waiting at the other end. Good for him! I certainly hope he continues recording because I’ve loved his late career LPs, from Songs From the West Coast all the way through Wonderful Crazy Night. It’s nice that he’s going to take this “victory lap.” The man is simply put, an Icon. The tour is supposed to last three years…And here I thought I struggled to say goodbye. The Rock Chick says it always takes me about a half an hour to leave a party… gotta get one more hug/handshake/joke told…

For those of you who only know Elton from The Lion King (and I feel sorry for you), let’s step back a bit… It’s hard to overstate how huge Elton was in the early 70s. From 1970 to 1976 he was the king of not only the rock charts but the pop charts as well. He was even big in the Soviet Union, which in the Cold War was no minor feat. Not only was his music popular, the albums he produced during that period are some of rock’s greatest: Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, 11-17-70 (Live), Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy. That’s a pretty staggering discography. Elton was to the first half of the 70s what Michael Jackson was to the 80s, The Beatles to the 60s, Elvis to the 50s or dare I say, what Sinatra was to the 40s. And like Sinatra or Elvis, you only need one name to identify Elton… although now I guess it’s Sir Elton.

He and his songwriting partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin rank up there with Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards as far as I’m concerned. His backing band during most of his “golden” period were also a pretty top-notch outfit: the intrepid, often overlooked but fabulous Davey Johnstone on guitar, Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. These guys could play great, hard rocking tunes like “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” or one of my favorites, “Elderberry Wine” or turn it down for any of Elton’s intricate, beautiful ballads. In the early 70s they really were untouchable. But, like happens to all artists, both physical and artistic energy begins to wane. It’s hard to sustain white-hot, fiery success like that forever.

By the end of the 70s Elton had started writing songs with other people. I don’t believe he and Taupin were estranged, but Elton decided new lyricists might give him a spark. The almost constant touring and partying probably weren’t helping, but we don’t judge here at B&V, especially Rock Stars. Surprisingly, by the latter half of the 70s Elton had also slowly separated from his backing band… first Olsson and Murray and later with Davey Johnstone. Along with all this change to the creative unit, Elton’s fortunes on the charts began to slow down. The chart topping juggernaut finally came to an end. I have heard some theorize that the cooling in his commercial success was a backlash to Elton’s admitting he was bisexual in a magazine article. 1976’s Blue Moves, his second double-album in 3 years only produced one hit song, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” The album’s melancholy tone seemed to signify that something had ended…

While the backlash was probably real, it’s hard to understate how much music changed in the latter half of the 70s. Punk rock blossomed in 1976-1977 and that changed everything. Elton wasn’t the only artist who was knocked back on their heels by the new attitude and energy of punk. Facing that, while dismantling his backing band and forging new songwriting partnerships was probably difficult and would have been for anybody. Luckily, by the time 1982 rolled around, Elton was slowly (literally) getting the band back together. He’d already pulled Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray back into his band. He had never fully stopped writing songs with Taupin. The final piece was put in place with the return of guitarist Davey Johnstone. In April of 82, with the support of his “classic” line-up, Elton released Jump Up! The album’s hit single was a beautiful Taupin lyric honoring the late John Lennon, entitled “Empty Garden.” I’ve always thought of that record as a minor come back for Elton… but I think I may be the only one who feels that way. The real comeback came with 83’s Too Low For Zero. 

Coincidentally by April of 1982, I had become an adult and could legally buy beer, which seemed like a huge deal at the time…”walk like a man…” By May of that year I had graduated from high school. I was getting ready to head off to a new life at the University that upcoming August. I spent that summer working in a local restaurant as a busboy, utterly filthy work, for minimum wage but I was happier than I’d ever been. I also spent the summer going out every night to drink beer with my friends or as was more likely the case, hanging out with my girlfriend… Ah, 1982. I was in love for the first time. And when I say, “in love,” I mean it in all the tragic, dramatic, painful intensity that youth brings. “Ah to be young and feel love’s keen sting…” One might say I had the tunnel vision of any narcissistic, in-love teenager who was drinking a lot of beer. So I was utterly surprised when my mother appeared in my bedroom to announce we were attending the Elton John concert at Starlight Theater. I had heard my brother, who was always light years ahead of me on music, listening to Elton’s first volume of Greatest Hits seemingly constantly through the shared wall of our bedrooms, but I didn’t remember him asking for these tickets for his birthday. At the time, I was focused on more temporal things…

And, here’s the thing that bugs me to this day. I didn’t want to go. I tried to get out of it. I wanted to go and park in some dark corner of the neighborhood with my girlfriend. I was listening to a lot of Van Halen at the time. I was a Stones and Zeppelin guy. I didn’t think I really knew a lot of Elton’s music, save for what I was hearing coming out of my brother’s room. I mean, everybody knew the hits, they were hard to avoid. To make matters worse, I’d be attending with not only my brother but with my parents. When you’re a teenager the prospect of spending a beautiful summer night with your parents is as appealing as a dental appointment. The show we were attending was the first of two dates at the Starlight Theater. The second show, July 7th was going to be broadcast on a radio station and blasted across America (what I’d give for a bootleg of that show!) so we weren’t even going to be a part of the broadcast. We attended the July 6th show. Last but not least, the Starlight Theater was a gentile, beautiful outdoor theater in Swope Park. Starlight had only recently started allowing rock concerts to be held there – while I’ve seen Bowie, Rush and Soundgarden at Starlight since then, that would have been unthinkable until my senior year in high school. Starlight was more known as a musical theater destination. My Fair Lady, anyone? I remember thinking, well it’s Elton, no wonder he’s playing Starlight, he’s mellow…. or so I thought.

I remember standing in the hot July night, trying to look like I wasn’t really there with my parents, sitting on the other side of my brother wistfully missing my girlfriend… we’d seen each other earlier that day, I have no idea what was wrong with me. Mere hours apart were enough to turn me into Rimbaud. I had to admit, begrudgingly to myself, that we had really good seats – in the center and just far enough back I could see over everybody. I quietly noted to myself to ask dad where he scored the great seats. I was still lukewarm on the whole thing when the opening act came out. I have vague memories of that part of the show, but I remembered it was a female lead singer. I finally Googled it and it was Quarterflash, a one-hit wonder whose song “Harden My Heart” was big at the time. The only thing I truly remember about Quarterflash’s set was that Elton himself came and stood on the side of the stage and watched the show. I went from cynical teenager to utter fanboy at just the sight of Elton. He was dressed exactly like he is in the picture I used for this post. He had the black cowboy hat and a sport coat on. His mere presence changed my attitude.

Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The lights dimmed and the electronic keyboard/synthesizer opening to “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” started and in a fog of smoke, out comes Elton. The band launched into the song with a ferocity I had not anticipated. I was familiar with the song from the local rock station, KY/102 but hearing it live was like trying to pilot a 747. Every other thought in my mind – my girlfriend, my impending departure to college, even thoughts of ice cold beer – all melted away. I was mesmerized. What followed was simply one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. I have thought back and I wonder if it was the low expectations I carried in that made me respond to that show, but I don’t think it was. They were on fire that night. At the end of “Funeral,” Elton picked up his piano bench over his head and threw it to the back of the stage where it crumbled into pieces. I don’t know why, but my father thought that was hysterical. Every time Elton did it, and he did it a lot, my father doubled over. Me, I just thought it was cool.

The mix of hits and deep tracks was amazing. I hadn’t realized how much of his music I knew. He played songs everybody knew, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Empty Garden” (which was the new one), “The Bitch Is Back,” and “Pinball Wizard.” He also played deeper tracks, which, somehow, most of which I knew. “All the Girls Love Alice,” “Where To St Peter” and best of all “Teacher I Need You,” a song he announced by saying, “Most of these songs I pick for you, this song, I play for me…” Even the handful of songs he played that I hadn’t been familiar with, “Ticking,” “Elton’s Song” or “Chloe” were executed with such brilliance, I walked out of there loving them. The band must have been on stage for over 2 hours.

If my misty, gimlet-eyed memory serves me, they ended the main set with a crushing version of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” They returned to the stage and mellowed things out with “Daniel,” before revving it back up with “Crocodile Rock.” Now, I’ll admit “Crocodile Rock” has never been a favorite of mine, but that night, after all this band had put into the performance, I was up on my feet and dancing like everybody else. The last song they played, and I still remember this, was Jerry Lee Lewis/Beatles medley consisting of “Whole Lotta Shakin Going On/I Saw Her Standing There/Twist And Shout.” I walked out of Starlight wordlessly with my parents and brother, all of my self-consciousness about being with my family washed away. I had just witness rock and roll Royalty put on an amazing show. While Elton’s banter in between songs seemed a tad stilted and slightly shy, his playing had been that of a crazed, confident rocker.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons that night. First and foremost, Elton John kicks ass. There is nothing mellow about the guy. I also learned, always buy the ticket and see the show. It’s important to open yourself up to all things music. And, last but not least, try not be to so whipped… Well, ok it took me a few more months and a brutal break up to learn that last one… “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word” actually played on the radio during my break up, so that seemed fitting. I’m sad to hear that Elton is retiring from the road. He’s truly one of the greatest rock’n’roll showmen of all time. It’s my hope I can talk the Rock Chick into going to the KC show. I’ve gotta see him one more time. After seeing him in 1982, I kept my ear tuned to what he was doing… do yourself a favor and check out any of the albums he’s put out since 2001, especially Songs From the West Coast and The Diving Board, you’ll thank me later…

Congratulations Sir Elton John on your impending concert retirement. I certainly appreciate the time I spent with you in 1982.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records

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“Well the blues had a baby and they named the baby ‘Rock and Roll'” – Muddy Waters, “The Blues Had a Baby”

I was a fan of the blues before I even knew what the blues were. I can still remember in the movie The Jerk, when Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, is asked by his brother if he’d like to come out on the porch and sing the blues… Martin deadpans, “No, there’s just something about that music that depresses me.” That was my only impression of the blues. I grew up in the suburbs of a small, midwestern, American town and the blues were not something you heard on the radio. My parents weren’t exactly musical people and that didn’t help. So I really didn’t know anything about the blues except this vague impression that it was “downer” music. The only blues song I’d probably ever heard at that point was the amazing B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and that’s a pretty sad song. I used to like to put that on mix tapes when I broke up with someone, but those records are sealed.

However, without even knowing it, I was already a fan of the blues. Every band I liked played blues-based music or as it was known, “blues rock.” My first love, the Rolling Stones, were basically a blues cover band for the first five years of their career and still play the blues today (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). Led Zeppelin’s music was steeped in the blues so much they were sued for copyright infringement. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Faces, Foghat, AC/DC, Humble Pie, the list goes on and on, were all either blues rock or at the very least performing blues covers. People think of the young Bob Dylan as a folkie, but I hear as much Robert Johnson in his early music as Woody Guthrie… I had no idea “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” was a blues cover… I thought it was just a Foghat song. Oh, the ignorance of youth… It wasn’t until I purchased, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, the Blues Brother’s live album, Briefcase Full of Blues that I realized the blues were more than just sad, acoustic based songs. The blues were powerful and joyful and simply amazing all at the same time. God bless John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. A lot of criticism was leveled at the Blues Brothers, but that was an amazing band – Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn and an amazing horn section… Sure Belushi was no Sam Cooke on vocals, but he was committed. I love it when he says, “I suggest you buy all the blues albums you can,” in between songs. Sage advice, indeed.

It’s easy I suppose, especially when you’re young, to hear a band and not realize they were influenced heavily by other artists, the artists that came before them. It’s easy to hear Van Morrison’s band Them doing their version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” (perhaps the definitive rock version of that song) and not realize how heavily influenced he was by Muddy Waters’ version. As a young kid I heard Cream’s version of “Rollin’ and Tumbling'” and thought it was their song. After hearing the Blues Brothers I began to explore the roots of all this rock and roll music I was listening to, and started reading liner notes and writing credits, and realized there was a world of blues artists I hadn’t realized existed. Searching and seeking out the blues was really the root of my life long obsession with musical spelunking.

There were names that my Rock Star heroes were dropping in interviews, the names of their heroes. There were the Three Kings – B.B., Freddie, and Albert. Albert Collins was another guy I heard a lot about. Then I discovered the legend of Robert Johnson, which is a whole other blog post. All of these men were Titans of the Blues. But there were others – names that conjured awe and fear all at the same time… Who was this Howlin Wolf person? That’s a pretty scary moniker… and then I heard that otherworldly voice. But the one name that always caught my ear, that made me feel we were talking about someone special, was Muddy… Muddy Waters. That name conjures up the very Delta where the blues sprang from. It was as if this Muddy Waters was the personification of the blues. His name was spoken of in such reverential tones you just knew he was important. I assumed, wrongly, that this was a person who had lived and sang the blues and died decades before I was born, like Robert Johnson. I didn’t even realize that Muddy was still alive when I was in high school while all of this musical spelunking was going on. Muddy didn’t pass until 1983. I didn’t even know it was Muddy’s version of “Mannish Boy” that was used so effectively in the movie Risky Business. “All I’m saying is, walk like a man…”

McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters was born in the Missisippi Delta. By the time he was in his teens he was playing guitar, harmonica and singing with the authority of a man much older. He was actually recorded by Alan Lomax on his famous recordings for the Library of Congress. Eventually, like the music of the blues itself, Muddy migrated north to Chicago. Muddy was one of the bedrock foundations of what was known as “Chicago Blues.” He played mostly acoustic blues on record, but in the clubs at night he had a full-on electric band. With Muddy and the legendary Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Otis Spann on piano and Little Walter on harmonica (or as it’s known in blues, the harp) Muddy’s band was probably the greatest blues outfit ever assembled. Muddy was the King of Chicago blues from the late 40’s through the mid-50s. I can close my eyes and see Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield hanging out in southside Chicago clubs hoping to get up and jam with Muddy…

While his fortunes may have waned by the dawn of the 60s, Muddy had toured England and in doing so turned-on a generation of white, English blues musicians from Steve Winwood and Van Morrison to Mick Jagger and Alexis Koerner to his brand of blues. His seminal live album, 1960s At Newport spurred on a whole new wave of popularity and boosted Muddy’s career. That was the first album of Muddy’s I ever heard and man… that voice gave me chills. He’s probably my favorite blues singer. The deep resonance of that voice rumbling around that broad chest… Simply amazing. Muddy’s career continued in a series of ebbs and flows well into the 70s. It was in the latter half of the 70s that a huge fan and follower of Muddy’s, blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winters, approached Muddy to produce an album for him…Muddy’s career had ebbed a bit at that point… he’d just signed a new contract with Blue Sky Records… I don’t think anybody saw anything coming as forceful and joyful as Hard Again. 

BourbonAndVinyl has always attempted to shed light on the latter careers of great artists like Bob Dylan or David Bowie. New music by older artists has always been my focus. When Johnny Winters entered the picture for Muddy Waters, and produced three studio albums (and one live album, but I’m only focusing on the studio stuff here), Muddy entered a golden, twilight period in his career. It was certainly one of my favorite periods in Muddy’s career. I could write and write and write about Muddy’s whole, long and storied history, but in the B&V tradition, I’m just focusing today on the Blue Sky Records, Johnny Winters period. If you’re a fan of anybody from Hendrix, who just released a cover of “Mannish Boy” (Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’) to Greta Van Fleet, the music of Muddy Waters is the root of that music. I urge everyone to seek out the three Johnny Winters’ produced albums of Muddy’s post haste…

Hard Again, 1977

The first thing you hear belting out of the speakers on this record is Muddy’s voice as he begins “Mannish Boy.” “Oooooh, yeah, everything, everything gonna be alright this morning…” It’s one of the iconic moments in the blues. This music is loud, brash and so, well, joyful. You can tell everybody involved is having a great time, when you hear the band shout back at Muddy in the call and response of the song. Muddy and Johnny are on guitar along with Bob Margolin. Legends Pine Top Perkins is on piano and James Cotton on the harp (alas Little Walter had passed years prior). Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is pounding the skins and Charles Calmege is on bass. This is big, old-school Chicago blues. There is not a bad moment here. Muddy revisits some of his older, iconic tracks here, like “Mannish Boy,” and also “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (A rare acoustic blues moment here) and “I Want To Be Loved.” They also do some new stuff, the epic “Bus Driver” and “Deep Down In Florida.” This is simply one of the greatest blues albums of all time. It sounds like these guys cut the whole thing live in the studio. Heralded as a “comeback” it proved Muddy still had the power and glory.

I’m Ready, 1978

By happenstance, Muddy was reunited on this album by a member of his classic, late 40s/early 50s band, Jimmy Rogers on guitar. Hard Again gets all the attention, but I almost like I’m Ready better. The way Muddy and Jimmy weave together their guitars, much like Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood do, is mesmerizing. Margolin jumped over to bass. You throw in Johnny Winters on guitar and it’s a pretty amazing trio of axes. The title track opens things up and it’s a great version of a Muddy classic. Muddy not only wrote his own stuff, but he sang a bunch of Willie Dixon’s songs with the great “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” included here in a rousing version. “33 Years” is another stand out blues track. That good time, happy vibe continued over from the first album. These guys had found blues gold and they kept it rolling on this second album of the trio. Another must have blues album from Muddy.

King Bee, 1981

After a live album (which is definitely worth checking out), the team reconvened in the studio for the third and alas the final installment of this trio of superb records. By this time, Muddy’s health had begin to fail and he was forced more often than not to cancel his live performances. His great touring band made most their money from concerts… if a show was canceled, they didn’t get paid. This caused a schism between Muddy and his manager and the rest of the band. The big party sound of the first two albums is gone and Muddy sounds like he’s settled into a sadder, bluesier mood here. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a farewell vibe. They only managed to bang out part of the album and had to augment it with outtakes from the Hard Again sessions. It’s too bad that money always seems to get in the way. I still think this record is essential listening. The title track is still great and I love this version of “Champagne and Reefer,” later covered by Buddy Guy and the Stones, live. Muddy’s favorite drink was champagne, why not sing about it, I mean, there are worse pastimes. On the extended version, the last track, “Clouds In My Heart” was the perfect capper on what was an amazing three record run.

For me, these three albums are a great place to start your Muddy Waters collection. For his early work, a nice place to start is the excellent Muddy Waters: The Anthology which collects over 50 of Muddy’s earliest recordings from 1945 to 1953. You can start at the beginning with Anthology or start at the end with the Johnny Winters’ produced albums, but I urge all of you to start somewhere on adding Muddy Waters to your collection.

Listen to these records and you know, deep down, “that everything, everything, everything gonna be alright this morning…”

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Lookback: Warren Zevon, His Essential Albums

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“I want live alone in the desert, I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe, I want to live on the Upper East Side and never go down in the street…” – “Splendid Isolation,” Warren Zevon

I find myself thinking a lot about Warren Zevon these days. I know most people only know him from his “novelty” single, “Werewolves of London,” which is a shame, because he put out so many more great songs. It’s like only knowing Randy Newman from “Short People.” There’s so much more if you just investigate… Zevon was simply one of the greatest lyricists and songwriters who ever lived.

Part of my problem these days, is that I hate winter, “always cold, no sunshine.” I’m sure that if I lived in some majestically beautiful Scandinavian country, like Sweden or Norway, I’d love winter. Beautiful blonde people, likely skiing to work and sharing rich chocolates with coffee, synchronized precision timepieces, everyone dressed in colorful snow gear, with complete healthcare coverage. That would be ok. But I live in America’s heartland, where it’s just gray and cold. I find myself thinking about Warren’s brilliantly overlooked song, “Splendid Isolation,” a paean to being alone. That’s how I feel in the winter. No good new music. Football is basically over since my Chiefs lost in the playoffs. Even the Rock Chick is mired in her annual, ritualized winter “funk.” I tip toe around this place. “I’m putting tinfoil on the windows, I’m lying down in the dark to dream.” Oh, Warren we need you.

As I posted last month, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced their annual inductees list (The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees: Getting It Wrong, Again). As usual the list is a combination of the deserving (Nina Simone, The Cars) and the confusingly undeserving (Moody Blues, Bon Jovi). The omissions are more glaring each year. I scan the list, the same way I scanned the ballot this year, because hey, voting is a right people, exercise it… and as usual Warren Zevon’s name was conspicuously absent. Even on the ballot. It’s baffling. While inducting Pearl Jam last year, as a stand-in for Neil Young, David Letterman mentioned he looks forward to coming back to the Hall and inducting his friend Warren Zevon. I look forward to the Hall committee gaining some sanity and having Letterman back to do just that, induct Warren Zevon. Please, induct Warren Zevon… So naturally, since last month, my thoughts occasionally drift back to Warren because of the mess the Hall has made of it.

We live in terribly troubling times. And while Zevon is known for his sense of humor, his biting satire ranks up there with Randy Newman’s, he also had a keen mind for expressing political ideas in his songs. “The Envoy,” “Veracruz,” and the brilliant “Disorder In the House” are great examples. I could use some of that political satire right now. I think we all could. I do often wonder what Zevon would make of the current political situation we find ourselves in.

While I enjoy Zevon’s funnier moments and his political moments, I am still awe of the way he was so open about his struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. Zevon struggled early in his career, but was championed by his friend Jackson Browne who produced his commercial breakthrough, Excitable BoyLinda Rondstadt was also a big, early fan and she covered a number of Warren’s tunes, from the big hit “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me,” (a song Zevon jokingly wrote about Jackson Browne, who bemoaned that all the girls loved him…) to her soulful cover of “Mohammed’s Radio.” After his first two albums, when the acclaim and success finally came, Warren fell into a bad cycle of alcoholism and substance abuse. After Excitable Boy in 1978 it took him 2 years, a lifetime back then, to come back with Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, which was an unflinching look at his addictions. Unfortunately, it would be a recurring cycle for Warren. Every bit of success was followed by a lapse. But unfailingly, through out the rest of his career he sang about his addictions. Considering the tragic deaths of Tom Petty (newly revealed to be an overdose) and Prince, perhaps we should have all been listening to Zevon’s warnings more closely. Zevon also wrote some of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. If “Keep Me In Your Heart For a While” doesn’t break your heart… you don’t have one. His ability to express vulnerability is unsurpassed.

There are certain albums from the Zevon canon that I feel are essential. If you’re not a completist, like I am (I admit it, I have a problem), Zevon has a couple of superb “greatest hits” packages that give you a good feel for his catalog: Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon or I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead are excellent starting places for Zevon’s music. But if you’re like me and you want to delve deeper into what we at B&V feel are his “essential” albums, here is our list. I envy those of you who are uninitiated in the catalog of Warren Zevon… this will be an enjoyable process.

  1. Warren Zevon, 1976. Thought of as his first album, it’s actually his second. This album is Zevon’s masterpiece. The tunes Ronstadt covered are here, “Mohammed’s Radio,” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” One of my all time favorites, a song about heroin addiction, “Carmelita” is also on this record. A tune Zevon wrote for the Everly Brothers (he was in their back up band) opens the album, and it’s brilliant, “Frank And Jesse James.” Two of his best, heartbreaking ballads are here to, “Desperados Under the Eaves,” and “Hasten Down the Wind.” Conversely, I’ve never heard anyone slam an ex like he does on “The French Inhaler,” (“she called me Norman…” I may have dated the same woman). This album ranks up there with anything else coming out of L.A at the time, be it from Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac or The Eagles.
  2. Excitable Boy, 1978. Critics ding this album because it’s a little more lightweight than his “debut.” Jackson Browne was at the helm on this record, and I suspect he steered Warren to a more commercial sound. “Werewolves of London” is here. I always liked the title track, about a deranged serial killer, and “Tenderness On the Block.” The real stand out track is a song I always play when I’m in trouble, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” I love the line, “Now I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man, send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.” It’s a bit slighter than Warren Zevon but this is still a great listen.
  3. Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, 1980. After a bad bout of alcoholism, Zevon finally got sober and released this album which was seen as a come back. The title track is, as mentioned, an unflinching look at his problems. “Bad luck streak in dancing school, on my knees again.” Another friend and supporter, Bruce Springsteen co-wrote the great “Jeannie Needs a Shooter.” I love Warren’s cover of “A Certain Girl.” Even I’ll admit “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado” is a throwaway, but the snippets of Zevon’s classical composing are intriguing. This is a strong, if slightly flawed album.
  4. Sentimental Hygiene, 1987. This album could have been called, “The Rehab Album.” The 80’s had been mostly cruel to Zevon and he’d fallen off the wagon. He addressed the issues honestly with his sense of humor in tact on tunes like “Detox Mansion,” “Trouble Waiting to Happen,” and “Bad Karma.” The title track, “Sentimental Hygiene” is one his greatest tunes and boasts a guitar solo from Neil Young (you’ll recognize his sound immediately… he supposedly did the solo in 1 or 2 takes, turning to the booth and smiling, “did you get what you need?” I love Neil). Elsewhere Bob Dylan shows up to provide a harmonica solo… not bad company. His backing band here were none other than R.E.M. (sans Michael Stipe). I’ve always loved the song about boxing, “Boom Boom Mancini.” He even has time for a dig at the music industry with “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands.” Like his 1976 eponymous album, there’s not a bad song on this record.
  5. Transverse City, 1989. OK, I know how the words “concept album” sound. And yes, the concept is a tad lost on me. I’ve always felt the concept album format should be left to Roger Waters and Pete Townshend, and maybe, just maybe Billie Joe Armstrong. This is a bit of a dark, glossy, synth-washed affair as well, but it captured the zeitgeist of its time. Put that aside and you’ll find some of Zevon’s finest songs and finest lyrics. “Run Straight Down” and “The Long Arm of the Law” are both sensational tunes. “Splendid Isolation” is a masterpiece and you’ll find it here too.
  6. Life’ll Kill You, 2000. Critics were so-so on this album, but I love it. Rock and roll is typically about girls, sex, cars and more girls. This is an wide-eyed look at mortality. Songs like the title track and “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” hit the issue straight on. Zevon also addresses his mistakes, “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” “I Was In the House When the House Burned Down” and “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer” which are all funny takes on his reputation. His version of Steve Winwood’s “Back In The Highlife” may just be definitive. He even points back to what may be the first victim of opioid abuse, Elvis Presley, on “Porcelain Monkey.” Another great, overlooked album.
  7. The Wind, 2003. For his ultimate trick, after writing an album about illness and mortality, Zevon ends up with a terminal illness, a rare form of lung cancer. Instead of heading straight into treatment, he gathers all of his friends – Jackson Browne, Springsteen, several Eagles, Jim Keltner, Billy Bob Thornton – and records not only an album, but a final statement. This is the blueprint for similar albums like Bowie’s Blackstar or Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood. It’s a spectacular send off. Never maudlin, always honest, it’s truly great. “Disorder In the House,” Zevon’s last “state of the union” address, features scorching guitar and vocals from Bruce Springsteen. “Rub You Raw” is a great blues tune with amazing guitar work from Joe Walsh. Don’t let all the guests fool you, Zevon is at the heart of this record. I wish I could write a song as beautiful as “She’s Too Good For Me” or the elegy, “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While.” I just wish Warren could have been miraculously cured…  

These are the records every Zevon fan should own. I think if you take the time and delve in here, you will be rewarded. Wit, wisdom and beautiful melodies… what else do you need…who but Warren could have written, “Michael Jackson in Disneyland, don’t have to share it with nobody else, Lock the gates, Goofy, take my hand and lead me through the World of Self.”

“‘So long, Norman,” She said, “So long Norman'”

Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’

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As I said on one my earliest posts, when reviewing Jimi Hendrix’s superb live album, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)), just when I thought I was done buying Jimi Hendrix albums, he pulls me back in. When Hendrix passed, he had a ton of unreleased studio material. After he released Electric Ladyland, between concerts and endless touring he would hole up at his Electric Lady studios and record. He was deep into writing and recording the follow up to Electric Ladyland, (which was to be a double album as well) when he sadly passed away.

When Hendrix passed, like so many other rockers, like say Prince, he didn’t have his estate set up. When you’re a rock star, who can be bothered with legal documents like a last will and testament. When you’re young, you feel like you’re going to live forever…add rock stardom to that, and who can blame Jimi. After his father died, there were the usual legal battles over his legacy and his estate. Eventually, his sister Janie Hendrix found herself in control of Jimi’s estate. She formed Experience Hendrix and started collaborating with Hendrix’s engineer Eddie Kramer to remaster and release some of Jimi’s material in the vaults.

Personally, although I consider myself a completist, I never delved into the Hendrix’s posthumous releases. I’d heard bad things about Cry Of Love and all the egregious overdubbing of other guitarists on that album. Blasphemy of the highest order. To this day my friend in Denver, Matthew is always suspicious it’s someone else playing on newly discovered Hendrix material… Matthew, there is no second guitarist on the grassy knoll… My reluctance to delve into Hendrix’s posthumous releases ended when Janie Hendrix and Eddie Kramer put out First Rays of the New Rising Sun in 1997. I hate to use this word, but I consider it the definitive version of what might have been Jimi’s follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Kramer used the most completed, polished versions of the songs slated for the album and the notes that Hendrix himself had left behind to put together the album. Would Hendrix have changed his mind about the running order, what was included, or rerecorded guitar parts (as he was famously known to do, sometimes endlessly changing his solos up to the time of an album’s release)? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Experience Hendrix followed up First Rays with an album of “previously unreleased” songs, Valleys of Neptune in 2010, which I snatched up immediately. The title track was one of the most coveted unreleased tracks in Hendrix’s catalog and it does not disappoint. It remains one of my favorite Hendrix tracks. It’s a trippy, mid tempo, Hendrix rock tune. The songs on this album were largely recorded in 1969 with the original Experience, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding. Yes, the album had some loose, in studio, instrumentals which sound like jam sessions, rather than fully realized tunes, but there is a lot to like on this album. There are alternative versions of songs he released prior as well. I think it’s all still essential listening, especially in light of the fantastic sound of the record. Kramer is to be commended. It’s a must-have for fans of Hendrix.

Experience Hendrix then followed Valleys with an album of “12 previously unreleased” songs, People, Hell and Angels in 2013. Somehow that one got by me. I just picked it up last month and it’s very much in the same vein of Valleys. Although the songs on this album were recorded by the Band of Gypsies (Billy Cox on bass, Buddy Miles on drums) over the course of 1968 and 1969. Stephen Stills even shows up to play bass on the stand-out track, “Somewhere.” There are different versions of “Earth Blues” and “Izabella.” I have to admit, I really love Hendrix’s solo’ing on this album. He was truly in the zone when he was in the studio. And once again, the over-all sound of this record is fantastic. If you listen to it on headphones, there is a real danger your head might explode. This stuff might have already been out there in the vast world of bootlegs, but I have never come across any Hendrix boots (and I have a long bootleg history) and I’m pretty certain anything bootlegged wouldn’t sound this tremendous.

At that point, I assumed the vaults were empty. I mean, Experience Hendrix had released a box-set of material, West Coast Seattle Boy that had to clear out the vaults, right? If Hendrix coughed near a microphone, it was recorded and released on that box… They even included Jimi sitting in a hotel room singing a cover by the Band (“Tears of Rage”), with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder. I’m not sure how they did it, but it sounds a lot better than I thought it would. So at this point, could there really be any more in the vaults? The answer, it appears, is yes.

My friend, Drummer Blake, texted me a few weeks ago and said, “New Hendrix is coming out in March, that could be interesting.” Indeed, Drummer Blake, indeed. I have to admit, the upcoming release, entitled Both Sides of the Sky is one of B&V’s most anticipated new records for 2018. I’ve always considered Jimi Hendrix to be an artist in the same vein as Pablo Picasso. These were inventive artists who saw the world differently. Their art literally changed the form: Picasso for painting, Hendrix for guitar. But Hendrix, at his very roots, at his very core, was a bluesman. In the same way, over the course of his long career, Bob Dylan always seems to return to folk music, (on late period albums like World Gone Wrong or Good As I Been To You), Hendrix, no matter how experimental or psychedelic his music got, always returned to the blues. I think I have around a dozen versions of “Red House” and “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

So it was no surprise to me that the first track Hendrix released from Both Sides of the Sky is a blues tune, Muddy Waters’ classic “Mannish Boy.” Muddy Waters, along with B.B. King and Howlin Wolf are for me, the Titans of the Blues. Muddy’s version of “Mannish Boy” recorded with and produced by Johnny Winters on Hard Again, is not only the definitive version, it’s probably the greatest blues tune ever done. Although, I’m also very fond of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” but I digress. With the Rock Chick gone for the weekend, I’ve been obsessively listening to this new Hendrix version.

First and foremost, I love that Jimi went back to the blues and I especially love that he chose to record this Muddy Waters’ tune. That said, there is very little that Hendrix’s version of “Mannish Boy” has in common with Muddy’s version. Yes, its the same song, but as I said about Hendrix seeing the world differently, this version is very much done in a Hendrix-y fashion. There is no call and response vocals, like the way Muddy and Jimmy Rivers do it. Hendrix plays it faster, with an almost funky, psychedelic effect to the guitar. The vocal is quite impassioned. He sings the notes of his early solos through the song. You can tell how “at home” Hendrix felt in the blues. There are a few, very brief bass solos as well. I don’t have liner notes so I’m not sure whose on bass here… There is also a brief, melt your face off, blast of guitar towards the end that I can’t stop focusing on. Hearing that last blast of guitar reminded me what an influence Hendrix was on John Frusciante, former Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist. Hendrix was just simply put, a Guitar God and his playing can take the mundane to the sublime. This is a fun track and I think it bodes very well for the album. I highly recommend any Hendrix, guitar or blues fan, checks this track out.

Cheers!

The Shelters: Tom Petty’s Protege’s Return With Two Great, Rocking, New Songs

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With the Rock Chick traveling yet again to points West to visit her offspring, I’ve opened up the music lab today. It’s been all music all day so far. I haven’t even made the futile search for the television remote control. With only three NFL games left this year, why bother… I’ve listened to Big Star’s entire catalog this morning. I must say, I’d always heard the album “Third/Sister Lovers” was harrowing, but it may be my new favorite of their’s. Anyway, the holiday season for me was, as usual, harrowing, and I didn’t realize that a newer rock band I like had put out a couple of new tracks. On December 1st the Shelters, Tom Petty’s protege’s, put out the songs “Really Wanted You,” and “So Get Out.”

It was my dear friend Stormin who called me a year and half ago, “I have V.I.P. tickets for Mudcrutch at the Ogden Theater. Get here.” I immediately informed my wife to prep the B&V-mobile for a road trip. We were off to Denver. And yes, I let her drive… she’s a maniac behind the wheel…I actually reviewed that Mudcrutch show for B&V, Review: Mudcrutch, Denver, Co; Ogden Theater 25May16. My friend and I stood in front the stage, arms-length from Tom Petty… He looked right in my eyes and it was like he was staring into my soul. It was a real Tom Petty highlight, in a lifetime of highlights from that great artist. If you haven’t already done so, purchase both Mudcrutch albums immediately. The warm-up band that night in Denver, and I vary on how much attention I spend on opening bands, was none other than the Shelters. While BourbonAndVinyl is focused on more mature artists we’re always on the lookout for new rock bands like Rival Sons or Greta Van Fleet. It turns out the Shelters are another gift Tom Petty gave to me! I am still in shock over his passing.

The Shelters are Chase Simpson on guitar/vocals, drummer Jacob Pilot, Josh Jove on guitar/vocals, and bassist Sebastian Harris. The outfit springs from Los Angeles, and apparently when impressed after seeing them live, Tom Petty gave them the keys to his home studio. Eventually he snuck downstairs, or across the courtyard, I don’t Tom’s setup, and ended up co producing their first album, the eponymous The Shelters. Not a bad career move, impressing Tom Petty enough to have him coproduce your record. Two of the Shelters actually ended up playing on Petty’s great, final album, Hypnotic Eye. 

Well, that night in Ogden, the Shelters came out rocking. They really grabbed my attention which is hard for an opening act to do. I loved the guitar work by Jove and Simpson, they had some great interplay. Jacob Pilot was strong on drums as well. They certainly looked like they were having a good time. Both Jove and Simpson took turns on vocals, which I liked. I remember thinking, prior to Mudcrutch coming out and mesmerizing me, that I would need to check these guys out further. I had no idea at the time they were connected to Petty other than the opening slot he gave them. Sadly though, after Mudcrutch came out and put on a 2-plus hour spectacle, I sort of forgot about the Shelters. I did see them in the lobby of the Ogden when I was walking out, signing autographs for admiring female fans… well played, lads, well played.

It was a few months later when the Rock Chick announced she’d made an album purchase. She’s one of my stronger sources of new music, so I was immediately interested. She likes to play a record for me before she tells me who it is… After the first few chords on the sensational opening track, “Rebel Heart,” my shaky memory jolted… “wait a minute, I know this song…” Apparently the Rock Chick had independently discovered the Shelters through the magic of satellite radio. It’s a strong first album. I definitely hear Tom Petty’s influence on some of the crunchier guitar tracks like, “Rebel Heart,” or “Birdwatching.” I also hear a bit of a Beatlesque influence on songs like “Fortune Teller,” or “Dandelion Ridge.” “Ghost is Gone” is a long, trippy track which almost brings to mind another LA band, The Doors. There’s a lot of fuzzy guitar on this album that I really like. They kind of sound like a 60s beach-rock band crossed with The Animals. I sort of want to do that old dance, ‘The Swim’ when they’re playing. You can definitely hear the influences, but they make the sounds their own. The track “Down” is a laid back, crunchy rocker that is another stand out for me. I think it’s a strong rock record and would advise everybody to check it out.

I wondered what their new music would sound like, when I discovered the two new tracks. Especially since Tom Petty wouldn’t be involved in this project, obviously.  Well, I needn’t worry. “Really Wanted You” starts off with a great guitar riff. The song rides along that riff and a jaunty drum line from Pilot. I love the harmony vocal on the chorus. It’s a punchy, little rock song. Definitely worth your time. “So Get Out,” the second track, wouldn’t have been out of place on the first album. It’s a slinky organ driven track with a hazy vocal and a tasty guitar solo towards the end. This has that Animals/Zombies vibe that a few of the tracks on the first album had. It has that fresh but nostalgic vibe.

If you like straight up, “nuthin’ fancy,” rock and roll, the Shelters are your band. I recommend these two new tracks and their first album as well. I look forward to hearing more from these guys. If you can, definitely check them out live.

Cheers!

 

 

Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

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I have posited many times in these pages that most of the music I like springs from the blues. No matter how far away the music gets from the blues, I can still hear the seeds of where the music came from… and that’s the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. The blues was the first musical form to popularize the guitar solo, where the solo and the style of playing were as important as the singer. Knowing this, it was with great confidence that the Rock Chick strolled into my office in 2001 and said, “I have something you’re really going to like…” She played me the White Stripes White Blood Cells. It was love at first listen. It was punk, it was blues, it was blues punk or was it punk blues. I can only say for certain, it was rock and roll. I purchased their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl immediately.

It wasn’t until the 2003 tour for Elephant that I first got to see the White Stripes live in concert. I was lucky enough to see them in Kansas City’s tiny Memorial Hall, over in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) which seats a mere 3500 people. There isn’t a bad seat in that tiny, ancient building… well unless you’re behind a steel girder. Jack and Meg White came out and lit the place on fire. Meg was primal and fierce on the drums. Jack was relentless on guitar, hopping around the stage like a frog on a hot stove. He brought out this wide-body, grey guitar that looked like it’d lost a fight and tortured it through the blues cut “Death Letter” and I reached blues rock Nirvana. I was totally blissed out at that show. He covered blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” and finished the encore with Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil.” I never missed them on tour after that and I own every album the White Stripes put out.

Now, it’s important to state that I’ve also always felt that there are certain individuals who are critically important to rock and roll. Their impact is artistically important. You can say that about Elvis, Bob Dylan, pick a Beatle (except Ringo, I mean, I love Ringo, he’s a beautiful soul and a capable drummer, but…), Mick or Keith, Bowie, Neil Young, or more recently Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. I truly believe Jack White is one of those people. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass and sings. He also produces, writes songs and owns his own, very vinyl-centric record company, Third Man Records. He’s like a white Sam Cooke. Jack is such a contradiction to me… part old soul/blues guy, part futuristic space alien.

Feeling that Jack White is an important figure in rock and roll has led me to follow him through all the different things he’s done. I always try to keep an eye on him… I followed the White Stripes religiously. I also followed his side-project, the Raconteurs through both Broken Boy Soldiers and after the Stripes had broken up, Consolers of the Lonely. Although, I always felt the Raconteurs were more a “buy by the song vs buy by the album” group. I only like the Jack White songs, but especially “Carolina Drama.” I even followed Jack to the Dead Weather, where he was predominantly a drummer. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit it was the Rock Chick who led me there. I even bought the album he produced for Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. When Meg decided she’d had enough and the White Stripes disbanded, I followed Jack White’s solo career through not only Blunderbuss and Lazaretto but I sought out the various B-sides he released with the singles from those albums. They fell into two categories, the amazing songs that I still wonder why they didn’t make the album, like “Inaccessible Mystery” to the weirdly experimental, like say, “Blues On Two Trees.” While I love Jack’s solo work, I think I speak for the entire planet when I say, Meg, come home… all is forgiven. We miss you on drums…

I was delighted late last year when I read that Jack was in the studio recording a follow-up to Lazaretto. I had heard that after that record, White had taken a break to spend time with his daughter. Good on him for that. But it’s been four years and the world of rock just needs a new Jack White album. Last week he released two tracks from the upcoming album, “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.” While I felt Blunderbuss was an extension of what Jack was doing with the White Stripes, only with less primal drumming and additional instrumentation, Lazaretto found him stretching out sonically. I was intrigued to hear what was next.

The first new track, “Connected By Love,” at first listen was this crazy, psychedelic gospel benediction to love. The track starts off with an electronic pulse, and I thought perhaps Jack was headed off in a further direction from Lazaretto. But upon further listens, I realized this track wouldn’t have been out of place on either album. Jack’s lyrics are a plea to an ex or a future ex lover. The song stays sonically mellow until the middle where an organ solo that Steve Winwood would envy kicks in. It leads into a distorted, albeit melodic guitar solo. I like this track a lot but it’s a curious first single. It certainly opens up the sonic palette that Jack is working with. After three or four listens, the track just bloomed for me…

The second new track is an interesting little piece called “Respect Commander.” At first, I thought this was going to be another instrumental track like say, “High Ball Stepper.” Jack doesn’t sing until after the 2:10 mark in the song. And then it’s a distorted, multi tracked vocal. I didn’t like this track as much as “Connected By Love,” but I will admit it ends with a searing guitar solo. The guitar work at the end is certainly worth the price of admission, but with Jack, that’s usually the case. This song called to mind some of the more experimental B-sides I’ve heard from him, like the previously mentioned “Blues On Two Trees,” vs an actual track that makes an album. This might mean White is taking a wide-open, anything goes approach to this record…

What does this mean for the upcoming album? With these two diametrically different songs, it’s hard to say. I will state, emphatically, it’s nice to see Jack back in action. We need more rock and roll geniuses, especially now that Bowie gone. I look forward to hearing the entire new album. I would highly recommend “Connected By Love.” Give it a few listens before making a judgment. “Respect Commander” is one of those tracks for the true Jack White believers… like B&V…

Cheers!