B&V Goes Used Record Shopping: My Saturday Odyssey Through Used Vinyl Stores

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*Photo of last Saturday’s used vinyl haul taken by your intrepid blogger

Many of my fondest memories of my younger days are of the hours spent meandering through used record stores from Manhattan, Kansas to Boston, Massachusetts, without a care in the world. There was no place I felt more comfortable than in the familiar confines of a used record store. Hell, truth be told, if I was forced to go to the mall for any reason there was a good chance I’d make a stop at Penny Lane Records or any new record store that happened to be there. I just liked being in record stores. Often, if I was out album shopping, I’d hit both a new place and a used place. At 75th and Metcalf, there was a Peaches’ Records, which I remember as being huge (it’s a workout place now, so my memory must serve me well here) and I could spend forever in that place. But regardless of how long I was in Peaches and regardless of how many albums I’d have bought there, invariably I was going to cut across the parking lot, cross a side street to Exile Records, the smaller, hipper used vinyl place located in a strip center behind Peaches.

While you could always find the brand new stuff at the big record chains, I always dug the vibe of the used vinyl places. Many stores doubled as “head shops” and sold pipes or bongs. I was never an herbal enthusiast but I always liked those people… they were just more docile and happy. There was usually something obscure but great on the turntable. The walls were always covered with cooler posters than in the record chains. Incense was usually burning. The staff were usually pierced and tattooed. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you would ever find. I remember one guy in Exile with a crazy spiky hair cut arguing with no one in particular for over 45 minutes that Randy Rhoads was derivative of Eddie Van Halen. It was fascinating even if I didn’t particularly agree with all of it. It was like being at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The first thing I did when I moved to Boston for a brief summer was locate to the nearest used record store – In Your Ear Records – just down the street from the Commonwealth Avenue apartment I shared with my two friends. I found the Faces’ first three records in that place. I spent every dime I had at the time, and I didn’t have many, to procure those records. It was a great place to go to hide when I was tired of being around my roomies.

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I used to in record stores. On one of my first dates with the Rock Chick we went to Best Buy to browse and buy CDs, back when you could still buy CDs at Best Buy. She bought a stack of CDs almost as tall as she is. Lately if I’m hankering to do some vinyl spelunking I find myself in the same place every time, Josey’s Records down in the Crossroads District. The Crossroads area in KC is an urban hipster paradise with art galleries, craft beer joints and a lot of man buns and curious facial hair. I like to go down to this bar, the Brewery Imperial but before beer, I always poke my head into Josey’s. I was in there on Record Store Day a few months ago, Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t feel as comfortable in that place as I used to feel in used vinyl places. Maybe I’m just not as familiar with the vibe any more or maybe the vibe has changed?

Recently I was chatting on line with a friend of mine, who I’ll call Dr. Rock and we were musing about vinyl. He mentioned a number of used vinyl spots he had either already visited or was hoping to go check out. I suddenly had that itch to spend a Saturday, not working or doing anything productive, but fucking around in record stores. It was a beautiful spring day here in the American midwest and I haven’t really been outside of the house much since the foot surgery. A day of hitting these “off the beaten path” record stores and maybe a tavern or two was just too enticing. I was hoping to find some place I’d feel comfortable in… that the weird anxiety I feel if I’m at Josey’s or Records With Merritt (another groovy spot) would dissipate. I want that old care free vibe.

This past Saturday, somehow I was able to convince the Rock Chick to forgo the confines of “chores” and ride around the city to a few of these used record spots. As usual, because my wife is ultra cool, she was in with little to no cajoling. I had mentioned Exile Records to Dr. Rock, who naturally remembered the place and actually reminded me what the name of the place used to be…the memory fades, folks. He mentioned there was a new place near there, in a house no less, named Vinyl Heaven. It was just a few blocks south of where Peaches and Exile Records had been, back in the day. In a matter of no time, we were on a lonely side street, off the beaten path when the Rock Chick spotted a row of three, small houses. I had actually driven past the place before she’d spotted a sign stuck in the dirt on the corner, “Vinyl Heaven, Now Open.”

As I approached this tiny shack, wondering if I was in the right place I spotted a giant, cardboard cut-out of Elvis in a bathing suit… I think it was a shot from ‘Blue Hawaii.” That was all I needed to see to know we’d found Vinyl Heaven. We walked into this very small room with mint condition vinyl hanging on the walls everywhere. I felt like I was in my old friend Steve’s basement rec-room… he always displayed his latest purchases on the walls. I was wearing a Stones t-shirt so the proprietor immediately warmed up to me. He was an old dude with bushy, curly hair. He quickly let me know he had a cooler of PBR, Pabst Blue Ribbon in back and was ready to share… now that’s a true B&V moment. It was noon somewhere so I jumped on the offer. I spent the next hour, pouring through the records he had in the place. I was surprised at some of the prices. He had a white-vinyl copy of The Beatles (the White Album) for $175. He had the first Buffalo Springfield album that looked brand new on sale for $200.

Since the Rock Chick was with me, I gravitated toward some 80s rock. I found a mint condition copy of the Power Station’s album. The Power Station had Robert Palmer on lead vocals and some of the guys from Duran Duran on bass and guitar. Our host quickly informed me that they’d played at Live Aid… I had to inform him yes, but without Robert Palmer… Michael Des Barres handled lead vocals that historic day… I knew this guy was a kindred musical nerd. I also picked up Billy Idol’s third record, Whiplash Smile, which I’d owned when it came out, but sold later as it was somewhat disappointing. But, the cover is cool and the Rock Chick wants to hang it in the music room. I ended up chatting with the owner about Ringo Starr until I could tell the Rock Chick was ready to get going… I was getting that old, used record store comfort zone vibe…

With our day off to such a successful start, we headed east over to Troost Avenue and a groovy place named 7th Heaven. It’s like a maze in that place. The first floor is chock full of CDs, mostly hip hop and t-shirts featuring marijuana leaves. If you go up half a floor, you’ll find the “head shop” room where the bongs, vapes and pipes are. They also have a small room featuring adult videos and paraphernalia. This place is a one stop shop for sin and I love it. I hobbled down to the basement to the used album room… and it’s huge down there. The clerk saw my Stones t-shirt and immediately wanted to talk about his first Stones show, back in the 60s in New York. The first guy in the house was a music nerd, this guy was a music hipster. Maybe that’s why I’m always nervous in these places, I don’t want to get bogged down in conversations about Brian Jones being an underrated guitarist. I quickly freed myself from the guy, but saw that most of the vinyl in this room was in pretty distressed condition. We did buy a poster, again for the music room, and the Rock Chick was pleased.

From there, we headed north on Troost, down to 31st street. This is kind of a no man’s land. The retail and businesses in that area of town have largely died. We stopped in the Sol Cantina for a couple of quick Modelos to steel ourselves for the search. We finally located the place we were looking for, Sister Anne’s Records and Coffee. I was surprised to find they serve a mean latte in this place. The guy working the place was nice enough… but he was quiet and was tattooed up to his chin. Even in my Stones t-shirt I looked like an off duty narcotics agent. I asked him a couple of questions but he seemed wary. I was starting to get uncomfortable when it hit me… this guy was a music snob. He was standing behind the counter, expecting me to come up to the counter with a Madonna record. He had taken one look at me and decided I was, what the kids used to call, a Square. I knew had to bring my A game to this purchase…

It was then that I found a mint condition Faces’ Long Player. It was the perfect start for the music snob. Then I found Big Star’s Radio City. Radio City is probably my least favorite of their three early records but this copy was in sealed package – never been opened. These two finds were indeed choice. When the Rock Chick signaled she was ready to go, I laid the two records down in front of the music snob and at last… he smiled. It was like that scene in ‘Indiana Jones And the Last Crusade’ where the old knight looks at Indy and says, “You have chosen well…” And oddly, the approval of the music snob made me feel comfortable once again. Don’t judge a book by his cover, music snob.

I may never find that carefree vibe I had when I was in high school or college, but you know, an afternoon cruising around the city looking for records got me pretty close. If you’re one of those folks out there who sometimes find yourself looking for something to do on a Saturday… google “used record stores” or “vinyl” and spend the day exploring your city and exploring some music. There’s treasure out there to be found…

Cheers!

 

 

 

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LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives

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Neil Young has once again opened his vaunted Archives and released a live album, Tuscaloosa, from a show in Alabama on February 5, 1973. Say what you want about Neil Young, but to go down to Alabama and sing the song “Alabama” with lyrics like, “Make friends down in Alabama/I’m from a new land/I come to you/And see all this ruin/What are you doing Alabama,” you have to admit he’s got some church-bell sized balls. I’m surprised he didn’t double down and play “Southern Man,” his other scathing indictment of the south. “Alabama” and “Southern Man” were the tracks that inspired southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd to write the response, “Sweet Home Alabama.” You have to remember in Alabama in 1973, other than the use of automobiles, it was still 1866. It’s a wonder Young made it out of the state alive.

Neil Young’s “archive game” is amongst the best. Only perhaps Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen have released more archival music than Neil Young has. I can only hope Prince and Tom Petty follow the path blazed by those guys. Of course Petty’s extended, double-album version of Wildflowers has been held up indefinitely by a lawsuit between his daughters and his second wife. Even Prince’s screwed up legal situation pales in comparison to that stuff going on, but I digress. If you haven’t, you should really check out neilyoungarchives.com. There is a subscription fee, if you’re really into Neil, but there is also some free content. You can pretty much find everything he’s done out there.

The 1973 tour was in support of Neil’s biggest album yet, his commercial breakthrough, Harvest. The hit from that album “Heart of Gold,” made Neil Young the most improbable of superstars. It’s pretty clear how uncomfortable he was in that kind of bright spotlight. When he introduces “Heart of Gold” on this album, he mentions that he turned down the offer to let it be used in a commercial. He says he and the band were going to re name the song, “Burger of Gold.” It draws a laugh from the crowd, but you can tell Neil is bothered.

The Harvest tour was fraught with problems. During rehearsals for the tour Neil had to fire his old friend, guitarist Danny Whitten (the leader of Crazy Horse) because he was so messed up on drugs and booze. The night after he was fired, Whitten was found dead of mixing booze and valium (aka diazapem). Neil felt a crushing amount of guilt. To make matters worse, his backing band, the Stray Gators – Kenny Buttrey on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Ben Keith on pedal steel and slide guitar, and Jack Nitzsche on piano – were all session players instead of musicians Neil knew (well, he knew Nitzsche). Buttrey demanded the then-unheard of sum of $100,000 to play on the tour, to make up for lost studio session money and the rest of the band soon stuck their hand out. Neil said yes to the demand but it pissed him off royally. Anger on top of guilt made for an explosive combination. All of that added to his discomfort with being a superstar made for a less than ideal atmosphere. Then someone turned  him onto tequila, which he drank copiously on the tour. They knew which drug to legalize when they ok’d tequila. When I drink tequila, and I never drink tequila, I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you and many times, both at the same time. Stick with bourbon, it’s safer.

The legend goes that the crowds who showed up to see Neil on the Harvest tour, expecting an evening of acoustic strumming and hits were surprised and horrified by the raucous and loud playing of the Stray Gators. Neil didn’t make it any easier for them by choosing to play a bunch of new, unheard-of-at-that-time songs as he had decided to record this whole train wreck. It was his goal to cut his next album live on this tour and to take a stylistic left turn, to get out of the middle road where he’d found himself and head into “the ditch.” As I listened to Tuscaloosa, the first two-thirds is just what the crowd expected – acoustic tracks, played faithfully. It’s only that last bit where the Stray Gators turn it up to 11 and play a bunch of unheard, new tracks. I have to imagine the crowds were at least initially happy with their evening but then it took an odd turn.

The shows on that tour usually started off with Neil doing an acoustic set, which he’s often done since. He comes out with an acoustic guitar and plays “Here We Are In the Years” from his first album. Then he sits down at the piano and plays “After The Gold Rush.” I have to think, at roughly 45 minutes long, this album is a truncated version of the concert. I’ve read he left a couple of songs from this concert off the record, just because he’s Neil Young, and the rest of the show wasn’t even taped. Neil is nothing if not mercurial.

Overall I’d tell you I really like this record. If you compare it to his last archival live release, Tonights The Night Live, (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’) they are vastly different. There is a dark mood that hangs over this concert album. The tensions with the band are palpable, if just under the surface. It’s clear on Tonights The Night Live, where he’s backed by his pals in Crazy Horse, he’s happier and having a lot more fun. The staggering thing is that album was recorded only 7 months after this album in TuscaloosaOne might describe this album as a tad brooding.

The middle of this record, after Neil plays his brief 2-song solo set, is really brilliant. The Stray Gators come out and play one of my all time favorite Neil Young deep tracks, “Out On The Weekend” and it’s just stellar. I’d never heard it played live before and they nail it. Ben Keith on pedal steel really shines on this part of the set. During the lead into the song “Harvest,” Neil introduces the band with all the warmth of a “Dear John” letter. “Harvest,” “Old Man,” and the big hit “Heart of Gold” are all played well and the crowd seems to really enjoy that part of the set.

And then, like someone flipping a light switch the band blasts into “Time Fades Away.” That songs first lyrics are amongst my favorite Neil Young lyrics, “Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” The guitar solo from Neil during “Time Fades Away” is monumental. I have to wonder why he didn’t use this version on the album of the same name. The Gators continue jamming on a host of newly written stuff that probably did baffle the crowd, but still sound great here. It was an awesome night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Look Out Joe” which Neil dedicates to returning Vietnam vets, “New Mama,” and the final track, “Don’t Be Denied” would all end up coming out later on either Time Fades Away or Tonights The Night. The versions here are great if not a tad shambolic. I like my rock and roll messy and Neil and the Stray Gators certainly deliver. The only track that the crowd would have known during this electric part of the set is “Alabama,” which again, what balls Neil had to play that song deep, deep into that southern state.

I do love that Neil introduces “Don’t Be Denied,” one of his most autobiographical, vulnerable songs as being about “an aspiring folk singer…” By this point in his career, Neil was a little past aspiring. This concert album is an interesting look at a pivotal and fascinating part of Neil Young’s career. Eventually tensions between Neil and the Stray Gators would lead him to fire Buttrey and bring in Johnny Barbata to play drums. He also brought in Graham Nash and David Crosby to do backing vocals… he must have needed some friendly faces. That line up is the one that ended up on the follow-up album, (the first of the legendary “Ditch Trilogy”), Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP).

Check this album out and be sure to check out the Neil Young Archives. Fair warning: you can get lost in there…

Cheers!

Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that Elton John’s new biopic Rocketman came out on Friday. In the interest of “full disclosure,” I have not seen the movie. I’m not even sure I want to see the movie. I really liked the Queen/Freddie Mercury flick, Bohemian Rhapsody but it has some historical flaws… stuff that admittedly only a rock and roll obsessive would notice  (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen). I pushed through that and enjoyed the movie. Then Motley Crue’s The Dirt came out and other than the four new tracks on the soundtrack there was nothing to like about that movie, which was a real missed opportunity (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). That movie was painful. So much so that it may have turned me off of rock and roll biopics for good, the same way that Keith Richards’ biography Life turned me away from rock biographies for good.

I’m sure it’s a great story. From 1970 to 1975 Elton John owned rock and roll. He was the biggest thing on the planet. He was what Elvis was to the late 50’s, the Beatles were to the mid to late 60s. Yes, Led Zeppelin was huge in the early 70s, but Elton John had a more pop sensibility to his music. Zeppelin was this behemoth of blues, rock and folk. Elton rocked, not quite as hard, but he wrote hits. He was played on both AM and FM radio. Pink Floyd had all the stoners, Elton had everybody. He’s got as many greatest hits albums as the Stones do, albeit the Stones never really had “hits” as much as songs that got played on the radio. Elton released three greatest hits albums before 1985, each of which had different songs on them and this was before the giant two and three disc CD sets became fashionable.

Elton could and still can, really do it all. He could do rockers, ballads and even country. He had one of the most talented bands in rock history and nobody ever talks about those guys. I would be remiss if I didn’t start off by mentioning Bernie Taupin, his superb lyricist and songwriting partner, although not technically “in” the band. Davey Johnstone on guitar is one of the most underrated anywhere. Nigel Olsson on drums and the late, great Dee Murray on bass were a rock solid rhythm section. He often augmented that core band with Ray Cooper on percussion and various second keyboardists. Those guys could play anything. I had the honor of seeing that line up in 1982 at Starlight Theater and it remains a highlight of my concert career, Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982.

While Elton had a lot of big hits, he was also an album artist as well. If you look at his albums from 1970 to 1975 there are a lot of classic LPs that you can listen to from end to end. For those of you questioning if Elton was rock and roll, he released what I consider to be the essential thing for rock act – the double-studio-LP – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and what an album that was… it’s truly his magnum opus. He had so many great albums: Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, 17-11-70 (a brilliant, overlooked live album), Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and of course, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. Captain Fantastic is kind of like a Pink Floyd record, you have to listen to the whole thing at once. It works a piece…

While we tend to focus on Elton’s early work, unfortunately many of us have missed out on his late career renaissance. Starting with 2001’s Songs From the West Coast Elton has put out a string of really strong albums. While he doesn’t have the radio exposure that he had in the ’70s, he should have, there’s some great music on these albums. He did a fabulous album with the late Leon Russell, The Union. If you’re fond of piano playing, I would urge you to check out The Diving Board from 2013. His late catalog is very worthy of exploration. And yes, I’ll admit it’s skewed toward the mellow end of the spectrum, unlike so much of his early work, but it’s still beautiful music.

While Elton is known for all of his hits, with that many great albums, you know there has to be a ton of deeper, album tracks that are just as outstanding. Many of which you’ve heard on your radio over the years  – “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” the brilliant first track from Yellow Brick Road, or “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters,” the brilliant Honky Chateau track. While I was sitting around reading all of this press around the new movie and a few “best of” song lists in different magazines, I realized all we were talking about were the hits. If you dig a little deeper into Elton’s catalog you will be rewarded. I assembled this brief list of 20 songs and built a playlist on Spotify to celebrate the B&V favorite deep tracks by Elton. I truly tried to span his entire career, including those great late career records I mentioned before. I was hoping to stay away from songs everyone has heard… although there were a few I couldn’t resist. This is not meant to be definitive, but it’s a damn good listen. If you have favorites that aren’t on this list, by all means please mention them in the comments. Everyone has that hidden, Elton deep track… “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” has some sentimental meaning for me from an episode long ago in a galaxy far away, but I didn’t include it as it’s too well known.

And yes, Elton John is a rockstar. Hell, you can even call him a superstar. But as you dig deeper into his records, you realize, he’s also one hell of a musician.

  1. “Empty Sky” – The title track from Elton’s forgotten first album is an epic, low key rocker. It’s a template he would return to. I’ve always liked this song.
  2. “Bad Side of the Moon” – A classic from the Elton John album (with a great live version on 17-11-70). I can’t believe this song didn’t get more radio play.
  3. “Take Me To the Pilot” – Also from Elton John. This is probably more familiar to most people, but it’s one of my all time favorites, despite lyrics that are at best… confusing.
  4. “Country Comfort” – A track Elton gave to Rod Stewart to record first (and Rod does a nice job with it). This is just a great example of Elton doing a country rock song. The Eagles could have done this song. It’s one of my favorites.
  5. “Friends” – A beautiful ballad from a forgotten movie soundtrack extolling the virtues of having friends.
  6. “Madman Across The Water” – The title track from the 1971 album. A brooding, dark opus that runs almost six minutes. This was a true FM, non-hit favorite of mine.
  7. “Elderberry Wine” – Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player was dinged because it was such a sprawling mix of styles and songs. Elton is really testing his voice on this album. This has always been a favorite of mine and as it’s a drinking song, it belongs on B&V.
  8. “Midnight Creeper” – Also from Don’t Shoot, I may take crap for including this Stones-inspired rocker, but I just dig it.
  9. “All The Girls Love Alice” – A rocking, tragic tale detailing the short life of a young lesbian.
  10. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” – The greatest kiss-off, go fuck yourself song ever. It even gets quoted by Axl Rose (no stranger to angry break ups) in a Guns N Roses’ “You Could Be Mine.”
  11. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” – From Captain Fantastic. While I’ve always approached this album as a suite, this track and the next one on this list alway jumped out at me. I love the guitar tone by Johnstone. Drenched in strings, it’s almost soulful.
  12. “Captain Fantastic And the Brown Dirt Cowboy” – This is another of my favorite country-rock songs from Elton. It’s a mostly acoustic driven number that builds steam as it goes on.
  13. “I Saw Her Standing There” – A duet with John Lennon, sadly from Lennon’s last live performance. From the live album, Here And There. Elton had duetted with Lennon on the track “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” He said, when he was leaving the session, “when this hits #1, you have to sing it with me at Madison Square Garden.” When it topped the charts, Lennon complied.
  14. “Tonight” – The longest, saddest song on this list. An epic ballad about battling lovers, in a relationship that isn’t going well… One lover asking his partner to “approach with less defiance.” It’s so striking, I had to include this Blue Moves track.
  15. “Song For Guy” – I love Elton John’s piano playing. This is a rare instrumental that I always loved for that very reason.
  16. “Kiss The Bride” – A punchy, later period rocker. And who hasn’t been there?
  17. “Orignal Sin” – The first of two tracks I included from Songs From the West Coast. This is the best song from a great album.
  18. “Love Her Like Me” – Again from West Coast. This one is a little more upbeat, albeit still on the mellow end.
  19. “Gone to Shiloh” – A very affecting duet with Leon Russell. If that’s not enough, Neil Young shows up in the middle to provide some additional vocals.
  20. “Home Again” – I ended up on a  slightly melancholy note, but this track from The Diving Board has some beautiful piano and deeper vocal approach from Elton. The song jumped off the album for me the first time I heard it so I included it.

I know I’m all over the place stylistically here, but so is Elton if you think about it. There are so many more songs I could have included but I drew the line at 20 to force myself to try and net it out. Admittedly I chose nothing from Honky Chateau, but I wanted to spread this out over Elton’s entire career. I still wonder if I should have included “Blues For Baby And Me” instead of “Midnight Creeper.” That’s the joy in Elton’s catalog… so many choices and options. For those of you who go to the movie, enjoy. For those who don’t, I advise you to listen to as much Elton John as you can.

Cheers!

Artist Lookback: The Allman Brothers’ First Two Albums, 1969-1970

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*Photo of the Allman Brothers’ First Two LPs On, Yes, Vinyl, By Your Intrepid Blogger

I was perusing the social media this weekend and saw that it had been two years to the day since the tragic loss of Gregg Allman. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I naturally reflected on Gregg’s passing, which we posted about when we heard the sad news, Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over. I also found myself reflecting on the Allman Brothers Band, a truly titanic force in rock and roll. Gregg’s passing didn’t signal the end of the Allman Brothers, they had hung it up as a band a few years earlier when guitarist Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks left the band, but Gregg’s passing certainly signaled there’d be no reunions in the future. You can’t be the Allman Brothers Band without any Allmans… Sad thoughts, indeed.

As I thought about the Allman Brothers, I began to reflect on those seminal, early albums – their first two albums – and what an impact they’d had on me as a listener and fan. As you know, here at B&V we like to look back at certain phases of a bands career, be it The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first two records (Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs) or Muddy’s last three, Johnny Winter’s produced records (Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records). At B&V there are just certain eras in a band’s history that we feel must be highlighted, and early Allman Brothers is no exception. And to be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t broached the subject of the Allman Brothers in these pages prior to this. While I’m focused on the early albums today because I’m feeling a tad sentimental, I do need to make a mental note to return to look at their latter day albums, both with Dickey Betts and the one they recorded without him, Hittin’ The Note. Those latter day albums are the type of music that B&V was created to talk about.

I was slow getting to the Allman Brothers. In high school, I was always aware of them, it was hard not to be, with “Ramblin’ Man” in high rotation on the rock stations. “Midnight Rider” was also ever present. However, some of the earlier, great tunes like “Dreams” and “Whipping Post” were tracks that we only rarely heard on our local rock radio. I had a vague notion that the Allman Brothers had sort of “invented” Southern Rock. I had kind of relegated them to the same space as (gads) Molly Hatchet (who actually covered “Dreams” as “Dreams I’ll Never See”), the Marshall Tucker Band or the Outlaws. At the time, I was big into Lynyrd Skynyrd who took the Allman’s twin lead guitar model and turned it up to “11” with three lead guitar players. I figured back then that Skynyrd was the only thing I needed to know about Southern Rock. Oh, youth, wasted on the young. Truly there is so much more to the Allmans than Southern Rock. Not that I mind Southern Rock, Salina’s Sunset Sinners are slowly bringing that genre back to life out there on the Great Plains.

By the time I got to college, my roommate Drew turned me onto the Allman Brothers’ live album, At Fillmore East. That was when I first began to realize the Allman Brothers were so much more than a southern rock band. Yes, they were from Florida, but that’s the only thing about them that I’d describe as southern. They played an intense version of the blues, but they did so with a virtuoso jazz ethos. They could also be considered a jam band, but there seemed to be more structure to their music. And the blues don’t spring to mind when you think of jam bands… The Allman Brothers, to me, had more in common with John Coltrane than the Grateful Dead. The Allman Brothers were really unique in whatever genre you tried and pigeonhole them in. The version of “Whipping Post” on that live album stretched out to 22 minutes and covers an entire side of an album. It was the heaviest blues jam I’d ever heard.

Despite that education, it wasn’t until I’d actually moved to the south, sadly to Arkansas, that I discovered the Allman Brothers’ studio albums. Now, I’ll be the first to admit Arkansas isn’t really the “deep south.” It wasn’t like I was living in Alabama. However, Arkansas is south enough and close enough to Memphis to count. It was my good friend Joel, who first said, “Man, if you live in Arkansas you need to listen to the Band (Levon Helm is from Arkansas, just outside Memphis) and you have to have some Allman Brothers Band.” True words, indeed. It was in that lonely outpost of Ft. Smith, Arkansas that I first purchased The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. Despite that being a rough time for me, I still look at those albums very fondly. I remember reading that when Belushi and Aykroyd first got famous they drove across America listening to blues and to the Allman Brothers. I taped both albums (one on each side of the cassette) and wore it out driving up and down Highway 71, from Shreveport to Kansas City. This music still conjures the road for me.

As time passes, I’ve noticed that much of the focus on the early Allman’s catalog tends to fall on their masterpiece, the aforementioned live LP At Fillmore East. Don’t get me wrong, that album deserves all the attention it gets but I’ve started to feel like it has come to overshadow the Allman’s first two studio albums. I hear more about Eat a Peach, which is a hybrid live/studio album and contains Duane Allman’s last studio contributions to the band, than I hear about the first two albums. Naturally Brothers And Sisters also gets a lot of attention because of “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.” I will always hold those first two albums in high esteem because before all the line up changes and all the great guitarists who came and went, there was never a more pure expression of the Allman Brothers’ vision than that original line up: Duane Allman & Dickey Betts both on lead guitar, Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboards, Barry Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks & Jai Johanny Johanson on drums/congas/maracas/timbales. Heavy on the bottom with two drummers and heavy on top with two twin lead guitarists. If this band could have just stayed away from motorcycles (we lost both Duane Allman and Barry Oakley to  crashes), God knows what they could have accomplished. When they lost Duane, they really lost their leader. He was the alpha-dog…but I digress. Let’s look at those seminal, first two albums now. They were both combined into one CD, entitled Beginnings, that features a Tom Dowd remix for you CD fans out there.

The Allman Brothers Band – 1969

 After the implosion of their earlier group, The Hour Glass, Duane split California and became a session player at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios. Gregg was left behind to fulfill their contractual obligations. Inevitably Duane had formed a band, The Allman Joys with Betts, Oakley, Jaimoe and Butch. It wasn’t long before he realized they needed Gregg on vocals. One of the first tracks they rehearsed was the Muddy Waters’ classic, “Trouble No More.” In the Allman’s hands it was a bluesy/soulful classic. Pretty soon they were all living in the same house and had changed their name to the Allman Brothers Band as they felt a kindred, brotherly spirit between the members. They had wanted legendary producer Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd) to produce the album but he was unavailable. Adrian Barber ended up producing this stunning first LP. The album jumps right out of the speakers with a jazzy version of Spencer Davis’ “Don’t Want You No More” that bled quickly into one of Gregg’s originals, “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” It was an amazing one-two punch announcing there was a new blues-rock band in town. Gregg ended up writing all the originals here. His “Black Hearted Woman” is another classic “my baby done me wrong” track on side one. Side two is where the genius is. It has only three songs but all of them are classics: “Every Hungry Woman,” “Dreams,” and the now standard “Whipping Post.” The live version of “Whipping Post” might be the definitive but I love the original. The bedrock drumming of Jaimoe/Trucks with Gregg’s soulful organ weaving around it, laid the foundation for Duane and Dickey’s guitars to soar. And soar they did. There’s nothing quite like this debut. Gregg sang with a despair usually reserved for a man three times his age. This is essential listening.

 

Idlewild South, 1970

Many bands suffer from the “sophomore slump,” but not so for the Allman Brothers. I have always felt that Idlewild South was a big leap forward. Before JFK Airport in New York was named for the slain President in 1963, it was known as Idlewild Airport. The band had a little cabin out on a lake where they would go to drink, play and burn local herbs for medicinal purposes, outside the earshot of the local constables. There was so much traffic out there, they decided to name it “Idlewild South” after their home away from home’s airport. You can hear the leap forward when you drop the needle on that first track, “Revival.” It’s an acoustic riff that builds to a gospel type song with a lovely message, “love is everywhere.” It was the first Dickey Betts’ writing contribution in the ABB. He went on to write their classic, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” a long moody instrumental for this album. The development of this band on this second album can probably be traced to a number of things: Tom Dowd’s more sympathetic production, the band’s growing confidence as a live act, Dickey’s songwriting contributions, the introduction of acoustic elements to the music. This was truly the sound of a band expanding their musical palette. Gregg’s songwriting is still razor sharp. “Midnight Rider” was such an awesome song, Gregg even cut it again solo and it sounds completely different. The last two tracks on the album, both invoking home, are amongst my favorite Allman Brother tracks. “Please Call Home,” is a wonderful blues song that completely conjures the Delta. The album’s final track, “Leave My Blues At Home” is more of an up beat, jump-blues kind of number. It’s all about leaving your blues behind you… two sides of the same coin. Barry Oakley does his sole lead vocal with the band on the well done “Hoochie Coochie Man” one of my all time favorite blues covers. With Idlewild South the Allman Brothers proved they were only scratching the surface in terms of studio work.

The Allman Brothers Band went on, even after the tragic losses of Duane Allman and Barry Oakley, to a long and storied career. They continued to deliver great albums and tours through out the 70s. After breaking up the band reunited in the 90s and put out four of their best studio albums and numerous live albums. But there will always remain something special for me with these first two records done by the original line up. These albums are an essential part of anybody’s record collection.

“Think I’ll drink up a little more wine, to ease my worried mind. And walk down on the street, and leave my blues at home. All behind.” – “Leave My Blues At Home”

B&V Playlist: Rainy Day Songs (Or, All The Rain Songs)

 

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“Here comes the rain again…falling on my head like a memory.” – The Eurythmics

I think the weather has always had an effect on my mood. Perhaps too strong of an effect if I’m being completely honest. Years ago I had a job as a traveling salesman for this criminal outfit out of Chicago. I truly believe this company did most of their recruiting at local prisons. Theft on your record was considered an asset when selling their products. It was a tough gig. I drove around northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas traveling to every small town hospital in the vicinity. The company I worked for didn’t pay much and it’s a time in my life I consider a “low period.” I did learn a valuable lesson though – there’s no such thing as hot, naughty nurses. Quite the opposite in fact. I used to call on an older woman who ran the laundry at one of the local hospitals, she had a tall, teased bouffant that was circa 1950s and a thicker mustache than me. I never saw her out of her hospital uniform. I still wonder if she ever wore street clothes. She was as tough as nails and extremely perceptive. She once said to me, “I always know what the weather is like outside when you come in, I can read it in your mood.” I never sold her much and it was always discounted heavily. You couldn’t fool her.

It was certainly a pain in the ass doing that job when it was raining. I had a giant case in which I used to carry product samples and catalogs. I usually had stuff under each arm. Carrying an umbrella was difficult in that situation, fully laden if you will. I can still conjure the smell of the wet wool of my suits as I slogged through the pouring rain. It was worse when it snowed. I was living with my parents at the time, which is always a career highlight on anybody’s resume… and to think I was single, ladies. I came out of the house, fully laden with medical supplies, headed to my car when I noticed it had snowed. I saw all the little kiddos across the street, bundled up and waiting on the bus. What I hadn’t realized is that it had rained before it snowed, leaving a sheet of treacherous ice lurking underneath the fluffy powder. That fact dawned on me as I saw my wingtip shoes go flying past my face. I hit the driveway with a resounding thud…the catalogs I was carrying, along with my big sample case, slowly slid down my parents sloped, icy driveway. I laid there for a second hoping death would come. Alas, I only ended up with a pair of ripped suit pants. When I finally stood up to retrieve everything I’d dropped…I could hear the cackling laughs of the kids at the bus stop. Children can be so cruel, you know.

Rain is such an evocative thing. While it occasionally conjures memories of those awful medical supply days, it also brings other, more pleasant memories. I remember a girl I knew, not biblically, who used to love to jog in the rain. It was fun to watch… Rain brings to mind all kind of things. It can be considered a cleansing force, perhaps even redemptive in some ways, washing away the sins of the past. It doesn’t always have to be something wrathful. It’s restorative and brings forth life, especially in the spring. There’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and love is on your mind… Hell, there’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and sleep is on your mind… it’s utterly relaxing to lie and listen to the falling rain on the roof.

I began to think about all the different rock and roll bands/artists who had devoted a song to rain or storms. I will admit in the spirit of full disclosure, my thoughts have strayed in this direction for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been housebound the last two weeks since my foot surgery. I’ve only been outside to go to the doctor. I’ve been nursed slowly back to health by the Rock Chick… and while I’ve felt a little like James Caan in the movie Misery, I can report that the Rock Chick has been much nicer to me than Kathy Bates was, thank God. The other reason for my thoughts about rainy day songs is simple. This spring in the midwest has been one of unrelenting, heavy rains. I’m talking about all day precipitation events. I spent all day Saturday, when the shank of the afternoon was as dark as dusk listening to the steady, persistent rain falling. I’ve glanced at the forecast and it appears that the entire upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be a wet one.

What I like about all of these different songs and different artists are the different moods, tempos, styles that rain has evoked for each of them. I was also amazed at the sheer magnitude of the number of rain songs out there. When I first started this list I had over 80 songs and it ran for almost eight hours. I had to make some edits… Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” was a bit to epic and Springsteen’s “Lost In the Flood” a little too grim, so this is not an exhaustive list of rain songs, just a long one. As usual, I tried to mix the well-known with the obscure. As those of you who follow our playlists know, I try to keep my playlists limited to around 2 hours. However, like the constant rains of spring, I felt this list should be longer. It’s too dark to read, there’s nothing on TV now that Game of Thrones has stumbled to its inevitable conclusion. Why not spend the entire afternoon listening to music. The moods and tempos here are all over the place. It’s not a bad playlist to have in the background on those wet, dank days. With nothing else to do but drink, perhaps this will keep you in a better mood. Enjoy!

As always you can find this list on Spotify, just search on “BourbonAndVinyl.net Rainy Day Songs.” My thoughts on each track, below.

 

  1. The Alarm, “Rain In The Summertime” – I saw the Alarm in a small club back in the late 80s/early 90s. Great, great band with a great great song.
  2. Peter Wolf, “It’s Raining” – A song written with the great Don Covay.
  3. Lowell George, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” – From Lowell’s only solo record.
  4. Warren Zevon, “Fistful of Rain” – Zevon’s characteristic fabulous lyrics.
  5. Blind Melon, “No Rain” – Perhaps the antithesis of our theme but a great track.
  6. Neil Young, “See The Sky About To Rain” – From On The Beach the third of the Ditch Trilogy.
  7. The Faces, “I Wish It Would Rain” – Great cover of the old Temptations track.
  8. R.E.M., “So Central Rain” – I love the album Reckoning. 
  9. Johnny Lang, “Still Raining” – I love this bluesy, rocker.
  10. John Mellencamp, “Rain On The Scarecrow” – Rocking, farm protest music, fuck yes!
  11. Jimi Hendrix, “In From the Storm” – Jimi conjures the storm with a guitar. The guy was really that good.
  12. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Great, political metaphor.
  13. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Naked In the Rain” – A state I’ve never been in, but I’ve had a few nightmares where I’m downtown, naked and need to get home.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Little Rain” – Sublime blues tune.
  15. Stevie Nicks, “Outside The Rain” – From her perfect first solo album, Bella Donna. 
  16. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – I always liked their country rock stuff better than that plunky, jammy stuff.
  17. The Runaways, “Thunder” – Ok, this track is about sex, but I like the Runaways and wanted to hear them.
  18. The Beatles, “Rain” – One of my favorite Lennon tunes.
  19. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – A tale of madness. Sting actually redid this song, and it’s one of the only redo’s that I actually like. It got a little jazzy in the end so I stuck with the original.
  20. AC/DC, “Stormy May Day” – Angus on a rare slide guitar. I hope they explore this sound more.
  21. Counting Crows, “Rain King” – I debated on this one. I run hot/cold on the Crows. But this is such a great song I added it.
  22. Billy Joel, “Storm Front” – Title track from his last, really great album.
  23. Silvertide, “Califronia Rain” – An obscure band the Rock Chick is into… Great rocking track.
  24. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – A wonderful, hysterical cowboy song with the Eagles singing back up vocals. Perhaps my favorite song on here.
  25. Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break” – Inspired by Katrina. Great, latter day Dylan.
  26. Eric Clapton, “Come On In My Kitchen” – The old Robert Johnson track, “come on in my kitchen, it’s gonna be rainin’ outside.”
  27. Sting, “Heavy Cloud, No Rain” – Another use of rain as a metaphor for sex, or lack there of.
  28. Lenny Kravitz, “I Love The Rain” – Great, overlooked Kravitz track.
  29. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” – ZZ laying down some great blues.
  30. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” – “…coming down, sunny days.”
  31. Jackson Browne, “You Love The Thunder” – “…and you love the rain.” So do I, if I’m being honest.
  32. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Louisiana Rain” – Deep track from Damn The Torpedoes. 
  33. Led Zeppelin, “Fool In the Rain” – Where our hero is waiting for his love on the wrong block.
  34. Prince, “Purple Rain” – One of the few, epic, long tracks that I left on here… you need a few of those for a long day of listening.
  35. The Rolling Stones, “Rain Fall Down” – From what appears to be the last LP of original stuff they’ll ever do, A Bigger Bang. 
  36. Led Zeppelin, “The Rain Song” – They wrote this song in response to George Harrison saying the only problem with Zeppelin was they didn’t have any ballads.
  37. U2, “Summer Rain” – Great B-side.
  38. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Tom Petty’s side project singing about Katrina.
  39. Jimi Hendrix, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” – Jazzy little groove from the guitar master.
  40. Bad Company, “Burnin’ Sky” – Not sure this track fits, but it has cool storm sounds at the beginning and at the end so I threw it on here.
  41. Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain” – I almost went with “Here Comes the Flood” but it was too downer.
  42. Guns N Roses, “November Rain” – The last real epic track I included. I always think of the video.
  43. Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” – Fabulous, Chicago-style blues.
  44. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “Mandolin Rain” – How about the Range!
  45. Fleetwood Mac, “Storms” – Trippy groovy track by Stevie.
  46. Van Morrison, “And It Stoned Me” – The opening track from Moondance. 
  47. Eurythmics, “Here Comes The Rain Again” – Written in a hotel room in New York city during a rainstorm.
  48. Triumph, “Tears In The Rain” – A little something from Canada’s second best power trio.
  49. Ozzy Osbourne, “Black Rain” – Title track from a late period B&V fav from Ozzy.
  50. John Hiatt, “Feels Like Rain” – The oft covered gem. I first heard this as I was climbing into a cab leaving the “A Taste of Chicago” festival. I could hear him singing from the cab and thought, why’d we leave?
  51. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Texas Flood” – Title track from his epic debut album.
  52. Eric Clapton, “Let It Rain” – One of Slowhand’s best tracks.
  53. Elvis Presley, “Kentucky Rain” – The King back in Memphis reclaiming the Throne.
  54. The Doors, “Riders On the Storm” – Some trippy acid-jazz. There really is “a killer on the road.”
  55. The Cult, “Rain” – From their fabulous 2nd album, Love. 
  56. Bob Dylan, “Buckets of Rain” – The saddest track here.
  57. The James Gang, “Ashes the Rain and I” – When I think of the James Gang, I think of Joe Walsh’s guitar freak outs. This is a quiet acoustic piece I’ve always loved.
  58. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” – A little something for those of you who hate the rain.
  59. The Who, “Love Reign O’er Me” – The epic conclusion of Quadrophenia.

There it is folks. 59 tracks and 4 and half hours. If I missed anything egregiously obvious, put the song name/artist in the comments section and I’ll add it! That should keep you entertained during the next deluge. Stay dry out there, pour something strong and enjoy!

Review: Beck’s New Track “Saw Lightning” From the Upcoming ‘Hyperspace’

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Many people are often surprised that I like Beck. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck. On the surface, he doesn’t really fit the blues/blues rock template that typically informs most of the rock and roll I listen to. But if you listen to a lot of his music, you’ll often hear some beautiful, bluesy slide guitar. A guitar player I knew once told me that “Loser” has the same guitar riff as the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” but you can’t always trust guitar players and the guy who told me that was famously unstable…it was probably all those jazz cigarettes, but I digress. Beck’s new track, co-produced by Pharrell of all people, “Saw Lightning” is no exception with respect to a bluesy, acoustic guitar riff. Apparently he’s got a new album coming, Hyperspace, that has yet to get a release date.

Beck (aka Beck Hansen), appeared in 1994, in the heart of the grunge era with his debut album Mellow Gold. While that album has always been hailed as a masterpiece, it never caught my ear. The first single “Loser” certainly did, but it caught everybody’s ear. I remember thinking that Beck was going to be one of those 1-hit wonders and we’d be listening to “Loser” in 20 years and Beck would be working in a record store somewhere in SoCal, cashing in on his distant celebrity with surfer chicks, like you do. Beck certainly surprised all of us. If you look at his early career it’s not unlike the Beastie Boys – not sonically, of course. The Beastie’s appeared in the middle 80s and we all thought “Fight For Your Right To Party” was a great party song. Nobody expected the drunken slobs on the video to do anything else of substance. They went away for 3 years, which was lifetime back then for a recording artist, and came back with the genius of Paul’s Boutique. Nobody expected that from the Beasties. Beck pulled a similar move after Mellow Gold. He went away for 2 years and then returned with arguably, his masterpiece Odelay which again, nobody expected.

Actually Beck released the all acoustic album, One Foot In The Grave, rather quickly after Mellow Gold (it had been recorded prior) so Beck didn’t disappear completely after his smash debut. One Foot In the Grave established what I like to call the dichotomy of Beck’s career. One side is the folky, acoustic strummer… although there’s plenty of blues in his folk… and then the other side of Beck, his electronic, upbeat side. For the latter, Beck typically spills seemingly nonsensical lyrics, dropping rhymes faster than an adolescent Dylan or not unlike Springsteen circa Greetings From Asbury Park. He kept bouncing back and forth between those styles even after Odelay, when he released the acoustic Mutations. Its been mostly like that ever since. Mutations begat the upbeat Midnight Vultures which begat the melancholy, acoustic Sea Change. 

On a video shoot for the overlooked gem of an album, Modern Guilt, Beck sustained a horrible back injury. No one was sure he’d ever record again. It took him six years between that album and his follow up, the brilliant acoustic Morning/Phase in 2014. Still people wondered if we’d ever hear from Beck’s upbeat, wise-cracking, rhyme dropping side ever again. Finally, he returned to that more upbeat sound on the 2017 album Colors. We weren’t too crazy about that album here at B&V so naturally it won a Grammy. I did really like all the singles he released in the run up to the album, “Wow,” “Dear Life,” and “Dreams.” Those were three of his all time best tracks. The album was just too glossy and poppy for me LP Review: Beck, ‘Colors,’ An Uneven, Disappointing Foray Into Sugar Sweet, Pure Pop. I got to see Beck open for U2 in support of Colors and liked it… I would have preferred he played longer… but that’s me.

Once again, Beck has dropped a great single as a precursor for an album. I don’t know what Hyperspace is going to be like… I’m a tad wary after Colors, but this first single, “Saw Lightning” is vintage Beck. I mentioned on an earlier post, I was in Florida with a couple who are the biggest blues fans I know. We drove from Key West to Miami, and “Saw Lightning” played several times… and even Kerry, the wife said, “God, I like this song, that guitar!” Indeed!

One of the first things you hear is a razor wire, slide acoustic guitar riff that continues through the entire track. The percussion is a cacophonous cascade of beats. The song picks up steam as it goes along. I love the bass-line here. The title conjures the old Howlin Wolf song “Smokestack Lightning,” not that they’re similar, that’s just how my brain is wired. The track has a great bridge, “Lord, won’t you take me and lead me into the light.” I just love Beck’s vocals. The lyrics are mostly Beck delivering what sounds like ominous news in an upbeat fashion. I really recommend this track to anybody who digs Beck, it’s going to be listed amongst his greatest tracks.

In related Beck news, he shows up on the great new track by Cage The Elephant, “Night Running.” I’ll take all the Beck I can get. I wouldn’t call it a duet, but Beck is more than harmony or back up vocalist here. He sings “we running” as a counter vocal to the lead vocalist of Cage. It’s a bit more pop than I usually get into, but it’s catchy as Hell. Not coincidentally Beck, Cage The Elephant and Spoon are touring together this summer, what a triple bill, and I’ll be sitting in the audience reporting on the rock and roll from Denver.

I urge everybody to check out both of these tracks. I’m going to have to cross my fingers for Beck’s new album, whenever it comes out. For now enjoy “Saw Lightning” and check out “Night Running,” you’ll thank me later!

Cheers!

LP Review: Sammy Hagar & The Circle, ‘Space Between’

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After a lovely week in Florida last week, I returned home to realize I’d scheduled foot surgery this last Thursday. While it’s been an excruciating experience, at least I’ve been able to lay back, prop my foot up and listen to this new Sammy Hagar & the Circle album, Space Between. This is The Circle’s first studio album, and follows up their debut album, a live record, At Your Service which featured songs from every stage of Hagar’s career and even a Zeppelin cover or two. The only problem with this scenario is I’m not allowed any bourbon during my convalescence. The sacrifices we make…

Sammy Hagar has been around so long we tend to forget what a varied career he’s had. There are certain guys in rock and roll who seem to move from band to band. I always think about Eric Clapton’s career and all the changes he made early on. He was a member of the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and even Derek and the Dominos before going solo. That’s a pretty amazing list of bands. Hell, he was even an unofficial member of the Beatles if you think about it, playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” While not as long, Clapton’s buddy Steve Winwood had a similar storied career with the Spencer Davis Group (“I’m A Man,” and “Gimme Some Lovin'”), Traffic, Blind Faith (with Clapton) and then a long, successful solo career.

Sammy’s list of bands isn’t perhaps as momentous but there are some great bands on this guy’s resume. I’ve touched on this subject before, Sammy Hagar’s Other Bands: Montrose And Chickenfoot. He started in 1973 with one of my favorite overlooked bands, Montrose. I always loved the songs “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter.” That’s one of the reasons I liked The Circle’s At Your Service as it saw Sammy revisiting his first band’s songs. From Montrose, Sammy went solo for about 10 years before joining Van Halen. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that the Roth version of VH was the definitive one, but I liked Van Hagar, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. After leaving Van Halen, or being fired depending on who you believe, Hagar formed the Waboritas, named after his famous Cabo club and tequila. Sammy is a B&V guy, always drinking. He ended up forming Chickenfoot with Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frustrations with the reception Chickenfoot got with the buying public got to Sammy and so he put that band on hold. It wasn’t long before he’d joined forces with his buddy Michael Anthony on bass from Van Halen, Vic Johnson on guitar (from the Waboritas) and Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, on drums to form the Circle.

Sammy has said that the name The Circle came to him because this band “takes him full circle back to his beginning.” Zeppelin was a big influence on Montrose, so it makes sense. I read about this album and Sammy was quoted as saying (from Wikipedia), “I’ve got a vibe on what I think this band will be, and it ain’t classic rock, believe it or not. I want to play like American folk rock, with a heavy edge. Remember the Band? Yeah, write lyrics about America and the world.” Lofty goals indeed. I couldn’t help but think, how’s he going to pull that off?

Interestingly enough, they actually do. The album has a heavy rock feel but there’s plenty of acoustic guitar to give it, well, a vibe like the (heavy metal) Band. The star for me on this album is Jason Bonham. His drumming is the root of everything here. The kid definitely inherited some chops from his dad. Vic Johnson’s guitar playing is also really great. He may be one of Sammy’s better guitar foils…although I’ll be the first to admit, I’d have liked to hear more solo’ing from Vic. Michael Anthony is his usual solid self.

The album starts off with two tracks that come across as almost sketches – “The Devil Came to Philly” which almost sounds like an incomplete song, but it sets the acoustic/electric template for the album. It’s followed up by “Full Circle Jam (Chump Change)” which does sound like a jam. The first track that caught my ear was “Can’t Hang.” It’s got that acoustic vibe that Zeppelin could conjure. Michael Anthony’s soaring harmony vocal is a key reason I like this track so much. There is a definite political message in this song, but as usual with Sammy, I don’t know what that message is. “Wide Open Space” almost has a country rock feel to it… it kinda reminds me of what Free did on their album Highway. It also has a soaring chorus courtesy of Anthony. The first half of the album is all lighter, acoustic-ish material, not mellow by any means, but not heavy either.

I really expected something heavier with this line up and eventually The Circle does eventually deliver. Besides the first single, “Trust Fund Baby,” they rock it up on “Free Man.” It’s got a chugging riff and a growling vocal from Hagar. It’s an OK track, but never really grabbed me like “Trust Fund Baby,” its a tad plodding. “Bottom Line” jumps out on, believe it or not, a gliding keyboard, accentuated by Johnson’s guitar riff. It may be the best track here and certainly cheers the proceedings up a bit. “There’s no equity in your bottom line…” True words Sammy, true words. Its interesting to hear Sammy sing about subjects other than chicks. “No Worries” is a, lost my job, living at the beach, not a care in the world kinda song that Sammy does better than anybody. It’s another strong track.

The album ends on two strong, message tracks. “Affirmation” begins “got it all and I’m still not satisfied.” It’s a strong rock song. Sammy clearly has something on his mind. But then the song just fades out. It seems shorter than it’s 3:20. The album ends with a strumming acoustic sing along, “Hey, Hey, (No Greed).” Bonham’s drum drive the track along as Johnson strums and everybody sings along.

It’s rumored that this will be Sammy’s final studio album. I think it’s a flawed record but it’s certainly an interesting one. This was nothing like I’d have expected from Sammy – this is not a classic rock, hard rock album. He’s clearly reaching for something he hadn’t done before and his lyrics are more serious than I’ve ever heard from the Red Rocker. It’s not a bad way to go out… if indeed that’s what Sammy has planned. Solid but not stupendous and definitely worth a listen although sadly I can’t recommend a purchase here.