Review: Rod Stewart “Another Country” – We Should All Be This Happy

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I’ve been a Rod Stewart fan for a long time. Jeff Beck wasn’t exaggerating when, on their second and last album together “Beck-ola” he described Rod’s position in the band as “vocals extordinaire”. Like everybody, I became a fan during his early years when he was on the Mercury label. His albums, beginning with “The Rod Stewart Album” (his solo debut after leaving the Jeff Beck Group) through “Smiler” are some of the best of not only his career but in rock and roll as a whole. Of course during that period he was also lead singer of the criminally underrated band The Faces. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year, the first artist to juggle two careers at once.

When I was in college, Rod’s fourth album “Never A Dull Moment” was the de-facto sound track of our rented house. Many a night, after some serious college-style drinking, you could hear Rod’s version of Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ The Night Away” blasting through the walls. At least that is what the signed complaints to the landlord said. Neighbors, what are you gonna do? Rod was a great interpreter of other people’s songs, most notably Bob Dylan. I think Rod has covered at least 10 songs by Dylan. And, while I loved the covers Rod selected, I always loved his originals. He has a sense of humor and charm that comes through on record, especially in those early days.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy to be a Rod Stewart fan. After he left Mercury and moved to America and Warner Brother his career got a little shaky. “Blondes Have More Fun” found Rod embracing disco with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, which caused the entire punk and new wave movement, who had all worshiped the Faces, to completely abandon Rod. But I hung in there through the shaky 80’s. I thought “Out of Order” was a great record. His “Unplugged…and Seated” with Ronnie Wood for that MTV series was great as well, since it saw Rod revisiting the old catalog. But after the year 2000 Rod seemed to lose his way. He did a series of those awful “Songbook” albums, doing both Sinatra-era standards, a soul album and God-forbid, a Christmas album. I kept hoping Rod would return to rock and roll but it seemed that part of his career was dead. And, frankly, Rod was basically dead to me for about 12 years.

I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Rod was putting out a new album of rock songs that he’d actually written in 2013. Since I’d been calling for him to start writing his own songs, I felt I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t immediately buy 2013’s “Time”. I was very pleasantly surprised. Apparently inspired by writing his autobiography, Rod found an untapped vein of new material. I loved the title track. He has a great drinking song, “Legless” on that album. On one of the bonus tracks he covers the old blues standard “Corrina, Corrina”. The album wasn’t perfect – there were a few maudlin ballads and the production in certain places is a little too slick. “She Makes Me Happy” was so auto-tuned it sounded like Cher. But over-all I was pleasantly surprised with “Time”.

This year Rod has followed up that solid return to song-writing with “Another Country”. Again, I was thrilled about Rod writing his own songs again. Taken as a whole, I think you could describe Rod as a very happy guy. He reminds me of a drunken, happy Uncle who always hugs me and tells me he loves me as I leave the bar. We should all be as happy as Rod Stewart. I love that Rod is even expanding and experimenting with different styles. “Love and Be Loved” is a great reggae tune. He’s got that old Rod style Celtic sound down in great songs like “Hold the Line” and the first single “Love Is”. These are damn catchy songs. I really like the rocker “Please”.

But I can’t get away from the fact that this is a really mellow album. Rod used to rock! Some of the ballads here, “Friend for Life” and “Way Back Home” (which has a cringe-worthy excerpt from a Churchill speech) float by so lightly that they make almost no impression at all. “Batman Superman Spider” is the worst song he’s done since the “Motown Song”, it’s unlistenable. “The Drinking Song”, unlike “Legless” doesn’t celebrate Rod’s famous drinking, which we love here at BourbonAndVinyl, it’s almost regretful. I think the fundamental problem with Rod’s songwriting is his choice of writing partner. Most of these songs were cowritten by Kevin Savigar, a keyboard player. Rod’s best songs were always written with guitar players – Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck, even Jim Cregan (who actually cowrote “Friends for Life” so maybe not all the guitarists are suited to write with Rod). It would have been nice to hear Rod yell, “play some sweet guitar” like he did on that hidden gem “Wild Horse” on “Out of Order”. I like that he’s writing his own material but in the old days he was always canny about slipping in a great cover song – maybe a Bob Dylan or Tom Waits tune on here would have been a nice addition.

I would still recommend this album despite it’s flaws. My hope is that with this expansion of his musical styles and the confidence he’s showing in his songwriting that this will be more of a transitional album for Rod and on the next outing we may hear him rock out a bit more. I have read he was superb at the Faces reunion concert. The show he did right after that in Hyde Park was apparently heavy on deep-tracks and light on hits. Maybe this is a sign that Rod is taking control of his music back from his money guys. Here’s to more self-written songs, and hopefully something a little more upbeat… And dare I say it, maybe a Faces reunion? If you’v read any of BourbonAndVinyl, you knew I had to ask.

Maybe tonight I’ll slip on “Never a Dull Moment” until the wife cuts the stereo off… It never hurts to try…

Cheers!

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Ray Corsi’s Book: The Recovery Plan: A Novel

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In this blog I typically focus on reviewing albums and/or songs by classic rock acts. For once, I would like to turn my attention to a great novel I read recently. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “rock and roll novel” but “The Recovery Plan: A Novel” by Ray Corsi would fit the description. I found it out on the Amazon.com Kindle store.

It’s a coming of age/late bloomer story about a music fan set in the late 90’s. The protagonist, Keith Modena, wakes up one day after yet another brutal break up. The guy is in his early 30’s, living in a crappy apartment, in a job he hates, alone except for several record crates full of vinyl albums. There are more rock music quotes in this book than any book I have ever read. I am almost tempted to try to re-read the book and make a playlist inspired by quotes contained within. Corsi quotes everyone from Bob Dylan to the Faces to Led Zeppelin. It’s funny how music has that magic quality of transporting you back in time to a specific memory. Corsi uses this to great effect in the story.

The story is written in a raw, first person style that makes it feel almost like you’re reading someone’s diary. The vibe I got when I was reading it was more like I was sitting in a bar and a stranger pulled up a stool, ordered a bourbon and started telling me a story. There is a lot of witty humor in this novel. I found myself laughing out loud, even during some of the more heart rending scenes.

Keith, the main character, ends up teaming up with an old college acquaintance and they end up drinking and chasing women together. Keith thinks this is his way out of the hole he has dug for himself in life. He lives the sex, booze and rock and roll life with his college buddy. Unfortunately that turns into yet another blind alley for him. But it is a fun ride to go down that path with him.

Finally Keith has a series of revelations after meeting a rock solid, beautiful woman who has a child. He realizes he needs to “grow up”. Keith finally starts taking the steps and setting the goals that lead him to a more self-actualize life. It all leads him to the real “Recovery Plan”. He finds a non-traditional, very patient therapist who helps him out of the rut he’s in.

What I liked about the book, besides the music references, was the notion that it’s never too late for anybody. You can always change the course of your life if you’re not satisfied with it. In the end, this is really a story about redemption. I’ve always been a Humanist at heart. Webster defines humanism as: “a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially :  a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason.” That concept is uniquely captured by “The Recovery Plan: A Novel.” Despite mistakes and memories that haunt him, Keith overcomes all of it to a happy life. One of the messages of the book that really resonated with me was the notion that “the only thing we change about the past is how we perceive it.” That was a little mind blowing for me. 

The first half of the novel, Keith spends most of his time in self-destructive behavior, but that just sets up the second half where he pulls his life together. I thought it was a really great read and I recommend it to all BourbonAndVinyl enthusiasts. Pour something strong and murky, download “The Recovery Plan” on your Kindle and enjoy!

Cheers!

The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS

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Weddings. Call me an old sap, but I do so enjoy weddings. Of course, in my younger days, I was actually “in” 13 weddings. I was a best man three times, a groomsman in several others and I don’t know how many times I was an usher. I shouldn’t even count the times I was an usher, it’s a bit of a menial role, like a bar back. Some of the weddings I was in, I was just sort of available. It was like my buddies said, “Well, my fiancé has more friends than I do, we need an extra body. Hey, Ken is fun, lets plug him in there somewhere.” And to be frank, in my early days I was usually idle and had nothing better to do. Why not rent a tux and stand up for a friend. Especially if there was an open bar.

For some strange reason, most of my good friends graduated from college and went to work for a large, Fortune 500 company for a year or two and then quit. Some went back to school at that point, some got jobs at smaller firms. Some of us stop cutting our hair and went to Europe. I chose the latter. Rod Stewart as a youth was sent by his father to Europe “to find himself” and it helped him write the classic tune “Every Picture Tells a Story.” It wasn’t as productive a trip for me, but I did have a good time, but those records are sealed until 25 years after I’ve died. State secrets, people.

I had recently quit my job and started the aforementioned “hair growing” when I got a call from a dear old friend from Wichita, Kansas, Drew. Drew was one of my roommates in college and has been referenced in BourbonAndVinyl many times, my record store friend. We’d always go shopping for music together. I remember skipping class to go down to the record store the day Springsteen’s “Live 1975 to 1985” came out. We went back to the apartment and crowded around Drew’s turntable, amazed at what we were hearing. Drew had recently quit his job and was pursuing a graduate degree down in Wichita, his hometown.

I was sitting around, doing next to nothing as a newly unemployed person, when Drew called. He was getting married. I was honored that he asked me to be a groomsman. It was his goal to have all 5 of us who had lived together in his wedding party. We had dispersed pretty widely by this time. I was in KC during the “moving back-in with my parents” phase of life. We had one roommate who lived in Hannibal, Mo named Denny. One of the others, Pringle, had moved to Louisville. The final roomie, Stretch was still in school at KSU so he’d be easy to find. I quickly agreed. All I had to do was go and get my measurements taken for the tux and off we’d go. I was an old pro by this time, as I’d already been in four weddings by this time, typically of people I barely knew.

Logistics being what they are, it was decided that everyone would convene at my parent’s house and we’d pile into my car to drive to Wichita. Wichita is literally, in the middle of nowhere. Pringle and Stretch flew and drove in from Louisville and Manhattan respectively. After spending an evening toasting our newly departed friend, we piled into my car and weaved down to Union Station to meet the train. Denny, who lived in Hannibal, merely a state away, decided to take the Amtrak over to KC. I think he spent most the time in the bar car, but who could blame him. The guy knows how to live.

We spent the evening in Westport, the local bar district, speculating on what the bride might be like. Drew had not been a big lady’s man in college and we all wondered what this was going to be like. Stretch, Pringle and I were all single so we were hopeful that she had friends with loose moral fiber. I always did well at weddings, but it was probably the fact I was always in a tuxedo vs anything I ever did. Despite what my mother thinks, I do not resemble Richard Gere.

We awoke at my parent’s home hungover and ready for the road. At the time, for reasons inexplicable, I was driving a Chevy Beretta. Every single one of us is over 6 feet tall. We had over 24 feet of hungover groomsmen and we were going to cram into my Chevy Beretta for a 3 hour drive through cow country to get to Wichita. This could have perhaps been planned better. Stretch drove a dilapidated pickup truck that we couldn’t all fit in and everybody else had either flown or ridden the train.

We were young and largely unemployed. Well, Stretch was in college and I was unemployed. Denny and Pringle both had good jobs. We were dressed in “colorful” concert t-shirts. Denny had a pink polo on. Pringle was dressed in a nice beer-themed golf shirt. This was not an impressive rabble. We’d left early because my mother was hovering around and that made Denny nervous. “Kenny, I think your mom wants us out of here…” Actually, she just wanted me out of there, but that’s another blog. In those days, we had convinced ourselves that it was a Kansas state law that you were required to carry a six-pack for every person in the car. In this particular instance that meant a case of beer. I never condone drinking and driving but we were nursing hangovers. And frankly, I wasn’t drinking, I was driving. So, don’t drink and drive, kids.

We were just outside of El Dorado, Kansas when Denny said, “Hey dudes, we’re awfully early, we have two hours to kill. Let’s stop in El Dorado at this bar I know.” Denny sold farm chemicals and used to know every backwater town’s bar in the tri-state area.

I was reluctant. I’ve never been a rural guy. I grew up in the suburbs, for God’s sake. I was thinking it’d be better to get to Wichita, close to where the rehearsal was and then find a bar. But Denny was adamant and El Dorado is only a short drive from Wichita, what could this hurt…

When I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the cinder block “building” that Denny assured me was a “great, little bar” I began to feel the familiar fear rising. The only thing this place was missing was a kid sitting on the roof with a banjo strumming to “Dueling Banjos”. I’d lived in Arkansas for three years prior to this and I knew we were only a few smart-ass comments away from being beaten with axe handles.

We walked into the front door like a conquering motor cycle gang only to find the place was packed with factory workers who had just come off duty. This was a union, oil-processing plant bar. These guys were filthy from work. I glanced at our group quickly, we were all in shorts and tennis-shoes. The locals were in cowboy boots. We looked like a gay dance troupe. The whole place fell silent. An “old whiskey” standing by the pool table, smiled and said to Denny, who was completely at home in this place, “Are you guys some kinda traveling basketball team?” I realized we were taller than just about everyone in the bar, and thought that’ll be a small comfort as they are beating us with tire irons.

Denny just smiled at the “old whiskey” and said, “We’re the New York Knicks…” which for reasons I’m still not clear about, got a loud, unanimous laugh. I turned quickly to Stretch and said, “We are gonna die…” but he was off and headed to the bar. I, for one, was in full panic mode.

We were standing there at the bar, Pringle, Stretch and I, when the locals began to circle around us. One said, “Where’d you get that fancy Van Halen shirt?” This was quickly getting out of hand. I was trying to think of a really macho response when I heard the song start… Denny had wandered to the very back of the bar to the juke box. He was going to “play some tunes for the crowd”. I heard the first strains of piano and I knew our fate was sealed. Suddenly, over the loud speakers I heard…

“Outside, another yellow moon has punched a hole in the nighttime, yes…”

Holy shit, Denny was playing “Downtown Train” and not the Tom Waits’ original version, this was Rod Stewart’s version. Now, I’ll admit I’ve always been a huge Rod Stewart fan, but not in El Dorado, Kansas. I almost screamed to Denny at the back of the bar, “My God man, you’ve killed us, run!” but instead I just stood frozen, catatonic with fear. I did glance, wide-eyed at Denny and he was standing with a hand on the juke box, singing along with a huge smile. I thought, “this is a nice, last image to see in my life… my friend Denny happily crooning to “Downtown Train” by Rod.”

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Pringle stepped up on the bar foot rail. He was oblivious to the musical catastrophe we were experiencing. “This is a great bar! Everybody is drinking my brand, Budweiser, and not that pussy Bud Lite… Bartender, I’d like to buy a round for everyone in the house. Budweiser for everyone!”

I had never seen the mood of a bar change more quickly. There was a loud cheer from the working-stiff cowboys. The “old whiskey” said, “Buddy you could get elected mayor of El Dorado, if you’re not careful” while chuckling though his missing front teeth.

As the beers were being delivered, suddenly, inexplicably, I heard the entire bar, all the voices, singing, “will I see you tonight, on a downtown traaaaain” and I realized, slowly, that we were going to live.

The Mayor El Dorado had saved us. All it took was a round of Bud reds. So if you’re ever in El Dorado during a shift change… Budweiser and Rod Stewart will get you home.

Review: Chris Cornell’s “Higher Truth” – Finally He Comes Through

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I always used to say Soundgarden was the Black Sabbath of the “grunge” era bands. At the time I was thinking more about the Dio-era Sabbath than Ozzy but I’m splitting hairs here. The thing that reminded me so much of Sabbath was Kim Thayil’s giant riffs. Every song had these dense slabs of guitar that Tony Iommi would certainly envy. The other key ingredient was the amazing vocals of Chris Cornell. I absolutely loved his voice. When Soundgarden broke up, naturally I thought Chris Cornell had a bright future.

The first solo thing I ever heard Cornell do was a song called “Sunshower” off the “Great Expectations” soundtrack in 1998. It was an acoustic based song but it just worked. His vocals were front and center, where they belong. As soon as I bought that song, it went into high rotation for the wife. Although I think her attraction to the song may be based more on the fact she considers Mr. Cornell very easy on the eyes. Chicks…

It was with great anticipation that I purchased Chris’s first solo album, “Euphoria Morning”. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was the fact that he was trying to totally break with his Soundgarden past but I was majorly disappointed by “Euphoria Morning”. “Can’t Change Me” was about the only tune I could connect with. Shortly after that Cornell joined Audioslave, a band I really enjoyed but it was an odd mix. Rage Against the Machine’s remaining members teamed with Cornell. How that combo actually survived to make 3 strong albums is a mystery to me.

After Audioslave, Cornell made a couple of forgettable, if not bad albums. His collaboration with Timbaland, “Scream” was particularly head scratching. It was quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard Cornell do. After that he got back together with Soundgarden for a very strong reunion album. I started to think that Cornell could only function within the construct of a band, that as a solo artist he was a washout, which was a real disappointment for a guy of his talent level.

A few years ago I read that Cornell had been approached by someone who said they loved Johnny Cash’s version of “Rusty Cage” (I mean, who doesn’t love that song or Johnny Cash for that matter?). The person told Cornell that he couldn’t really understand the lyrics of song until they heard the Cash version. Inspired, Cornell went out for a solo acoustic tour which resulted in the overlooked, great live album, “Songbook”. His voice in an acoustic setting, like “Sunshower” really worked. He sang songs from Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and his spotty solo career mixed in with a few choice covers.

When I heard the first single from his new album, “Higher Truth” I mentioned that it felt like the song was informed by that solo, acoustic tour. For once, and it’s rare, I was right according to what Cornell told Rolling Stone magazine. This is an acoustic based record which makes it sound like its a “mellow” record. Listening to it however, it doesn’t feel mellow. The way Chris Cornell sings, even ballads have an intensity. I will say, that after all the misfires on his solo career, Cornell has finally come through with a great album. Again, like “Sunshower” it focuses on putting his voice out front and surrounding it with acoustic guitar and some percussive elements. It’s not a folky album – although I was somewhat reminded of Bob Dylan’s “Another Side of Bob Dylan” which was a rock album without the instruments.

Luckily for “Higher Truth” Cornell didn’t rehire Timbaland but instead turned to a veteran producer of the “grunge wars”, Brendan O’Brien. Brendan has worked with a diverse number of acts including Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen. I really like this guy’s body of work and I must say it was a shrewd choice by Cornell. O’Brien knows how to bring out the best in any performer which just underscores how important the choice of producer is for any artist.

This is quite simply, the best batch of songs I’ve heard from Chris Cornell since “Superunknown”. Any of these songs could have been easily been translated into a Soundgarden song with the addition of some heavy electric guitar. But I like them better in this stripped down setting. For me it’s all about Cornell’s voice. “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” is just a classic. “Before We Disappear” is the best song on the album. The soulfulness of Cornell’s vocal on that one will haunt you. If I could have written a love song like “Josephine” for the wife, I would have done a lot better with her early on. I love the water imagery in the song “Circling”, I find myself returning to that song often. The album does get a little mellow toward the end but listened to as a whole it has a quiet intensity because of Chris’ singing. I highly recommend this album. These are simply put – beautiful songs, sung beautifully.

I remember hearing that Neil Young was the “Godfather of Grunge”. That may be true but the thing to remember about Neil Young is that there are 2 sides to Neil. The electric guitar drenched in distorted feedback of Crazy Horse and the mellow acoustic strummer of “Harvest”. Cornell has shown he can do the electric Neil in Soundgarden. With “Higher Truth” he proves he can pull off the acoustic side as well.

Pour something strong, turn this one up to “11” and enjoy! Cheers!

AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick

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I met Rachel (*name changed to protect the innocent) during a long, hot summer. She was beautiful, that much was true, but it took some time for me to discover the person behind the beautiful face. Rachel was a mystery to me. I was in my thirties and single, coasting through life from party to party, bourbon glass secured. At the time my whole vibe was, as Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant sang, “It is the summer of my smiles, flee from me Keepers Of The Gloom,” which really has nothing to do with this story, I just like to prove that I can insert weird rock lyrics into anything I write.

During our first date, Rachel had piqued my interest when she commented on the shitty contemporary music scene. “Too many boy bands out there… Nirvana killed all the bands I loved…What happened to good ol’ fashion rock and roll…” I began to think, to myself, “I may be onto something here.”

Eventually during the course of getting to know each other, she invited me to go to the local music store. Going to the music store was something I always did with my friends. It was a “dude thing.” I had a roommate in college, Drew, and we spent many a wonderful afternoon in Aggieville’s best record store, flipping through stacks of glorious albums. I can almost smell the incense even now. (I still wonder where all the hippies went now that all the record stores are gone.) It was like a ritual we had. We’d walk in, rarely speaking to each other, except to point out an exceptional find, make our selections, check out and then only when we got back on the street, share our purchases with the other. If I had known you could get away with taking a chick to the record store I would have started doing it a long time ago. That afternoon with Rachel was eye-opening. I’m not a person who has a lot of restraint in a music store, but every time I hesitated over whether to purchase an album, there was Rachel, standing at my shoulder, prodding me on, “Come on you know you want it, go ahead and get it…” I couldn’t help but wonder if we were still talking about music.

She bought a stack of albums that day. They should have charged her by the pound. It was a great, varied selection of music. Amongst all the classic bands I liked, she had some newer music and music I wasn’t familiar with. She turned me onto The Cult, Green Day and Social Distortion that day. I couldn’t help but notice, tucked away in the stack was AC/DC’s then current new album, “Stiff Upper Lip”. I chuckled because I abandoned AC/DC after “For Those About to Rock”. I wrote them off as a band who’d hit the jackpot with “Back In Black”, an album I bought on vinyl the week it came out, and they just gave up. Sure, I went back and bought the Bon Scott-era classics like, “Dirty Deeds,” “High Voltage,” and the lost gem “Powerage” but they hadn’t done anything good in years. I barely knew this woman so I wasn’t about to give her a hard time.

We went back to her apartment, which I had not yet been fortunate enough to visit. Rachel had a daughter and she was very protective as good mothers are. And let’s face it, I was pretty sketchy in those days. 30’s, never married… Who could blame her. Up until our “record store day”, Rachel had always lived at an “undisclosed location”. To my, at the time chagrin, the first album she put on, while she cooked an outstanding dinner, was “Stiff Upper Lip”. I was amazed at what I heard. I hadn’t realized it but around the time of “Razor’s Edge” AC/DC had started to care again. They went through a bit of a renaissance that continues today. “Stiff Upper Lip” was a kick ass album. After dinner and a lot of wine, I found myself putting that album back on and dancing around the apartment with Rachel. Well, it was more staggering around while air-guitaring, but I’ll call it dancing.

As the evening wound down I found myself inviting Rachel to go to the upcoming AC/DC concert in support of “Stiff Upper Lip”. It was a full month out, so this was dicey. I usually avoided inviting women to concerts. I’ve had a few break-ups that go: “It’s not you, it’s me…”, “Are we still going to the Stones?”, “Uh, no…” Awkward. If I was going to take this woman to AC/DC I was gambling that this thing was going to last that long. The wine and rock and roll swept me away and I figured, what the hell…

The day of the show, we hung out at Rachel’s now disclosed location, er I mean, apartment. The pool was right behind her apartment and we laid out all day, prepping for the show with Absolut Citron and lemonade. It was a glorious late summer day. We met some friends of mine, another couple, and headed down to old Kemper Arena for the show. AC/DC killed that night. I’d seen them on the “Ballbreaker” tour and they were good but that night they killed. Brian Johnson came out during the opening, swinging from a rope tied to a giant bell, “Hells Bells”! At one point, Angus came out to an elevated stage at the back of the floor and melted everyone in the arena’s face off with one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever witnessed personally.

I had forgotten the primal effect AC/DC’s music had on women. There were several female fans who were gladly removing their shirt and letting their “freak flag fly” so to speak. To quote comic Steve Martin, “I must have seen 57 tits that night.” I couldn’t help but turn to Rachel with one raised eye-brow wondering if she was going to follow suit. She clearly read my mind and said, smiling, “Never gonna happen, Slick.” Oh, well… dare to dream I always say. It was a glorious evening, even though Rachel kept her shirt on. She was singing along, arms raised in the air. It was at that moment I realized I wasn’t just dating a “rock chick”, I was dating The Rock Chick, and that is a very, very good thing. I had been searching for a woman who liked music as much as me my whole life. I couldn’t help but think, “I may be onto something here…”

After the show, Rachel and my buddy helped direct us out of the crazy traffic. It’s always good to have a couple of Germans with you, highly organized people. I’m Italian, I’m a Lover not a Planner. As we finally drifted into the traffic flow I noticed we were behind a limousine. Without notice, a naked woman burst through the sun roof. I could hear the AC/DC playing from the limo through my open window. Again I found myself thinking, “We must explore this effect AC/DC’s music produces in women… if we could bottle this…” But, I digress.

When we got back to her apartment, where we were having a celebratory nightcap, Rachel turned on the local rock radio station. They were doing a concert “playback” and playing exclusively AC/DC music. After a few selections, Rachel began to complain that they never play “Who Made Who”. “Call the radio station and make a request.” I hadn’t called a radio station since I was a child. To my surprise, she got through. I quickly whispered, “Tell him you’re naked…that’ll work.” It wasn’t a complete lie, she had somehow removed all her clothing without me seeing anything and slipped into the AC/DC concert t-shirt I bought for myself, which I was quickly realizing that my ownership claim had expired on, somewhere around the time the bra dropped to the floor. She told the DJ she was naked, and faster than I could laugh, the current song cut off and he put her on live…”I have a Rachel here who is naked and wants to request a song….” Needless to say, “Who Made Who” was on the airwaves in short order. I think I fell in love, just a little bit, at that very moment.

The evening continued to rage on until, at one point, wildly dancing, while I watched from the bed (her stereo was fortunately in her bedroom), Rachel’s hair flew up in the air and suddenly I realized her feet were sailing past her head. I couldn’t help but think, “how do you pull off that David Lee Roth jump without falling…” Unfortunately Rachel had slipped on one of her pumps that she’d casually kicked off early and she crashed to floor with a resounding thud. Everything went quiet… I crept to the end of the bed and slowly peeked over the edge of the footboard and found she was lying on her back laughing hysterically. Hot chicks don’t usually react that nonchalantly to falling… but there was Rachel, in what was formerly my AC/DC t-shirt, laughing. I couldn’t help but think again, “I may be onto something here…”

Cats Have Anal Sacks Too (For Merlin, RIP)

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As Monty Python would say, “And now for something completely different…” When I started this blog it was with the intention of not only informing people about rock music, but to provide a laugh or two. I’ve become too obsessed with music in these pages… Who didn’t see that coming? So, with that in mind, I hope this story makes you smile. Happy Caturday!

My faithful cat, who I’d had for 14 years passed away about 100 days ago. His name was Merlin. I hated cats until I met Merlin. With a simple “laying on of paws” he cured me of my life time antipathy toward the feline species. I used to think of him, a simple house cat, who had wrought this miracle in my psyche as “the Jesus of Kitties,” he was a healer. I spent the first month after his passing wandering around the house, weeping to old Steve Perry-era Journey songs. “Faaaaaaithfully…” Thankfully that passed. But it wasn’t always that way… in the early days I knew nothing about cats, or any animals. I hadn’t had a dog since I was a little kid and that experience and faded from memory the same way my awful little league baseball experience had. I didn’t know, for example that all mammals have glands, known as anal sacks, which secretes the fluid they mark their territories with. I always thought they peed for that, but that shows you what I know about animals.

When Merlin first arrived, shortly after he’d converted me to the Pro-Cat lobby, I noticed that he was scooting his ass around the carpet. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Oh, great, I finally start to dig a cat and it’s broken or dying.” Believe it or not, hypochondria has it’s down side. I seemed to remember this happening to my first dog and had a vague memory of it being diagnosed as “worms”. I called the wife, or as I like to call her, the CEO of the Family and urgently described the aforementioned “ass scooting”. The wife told me (commanded me?) to call the vet. For some reason, perhaps she thought it would bring us closer together, my wife always made me take Merlin to the vet. Perhaps she knew how much he hated going to the vet and was consciously making me be the bad guy. My wife’s motives are typically hard to ascertain. When she used to make me rake leaves, I would stand in the yard, doing my best Hannibal Lecter impersonation and say to her up on the porch, arms at my side Anthony Hopkins style, “If I rake all the leaves, will the lambs be silent for you, Clarice?” But, I digress.

The problem with calling the vet was the 900 year old receptionist. This woman had come to Kansas in a covered wagon. In fact, she may have already been here and greeted the covered wagons when they rolled up. She absolutely loved the animals in her boss’ care. The owners, not so much. She was as tough as nails and frankly scared me a little bit. I mean, I think I could have taken her in a fight, as long as knives weren’t involved. To make matters worse, she was deaf. One would think hearing would be a pre-requisite in a job consisting of answering the phone but the vet was a kind hearted old guy and he kept her on. Either that or he was afraid of her too.

Merlin had recurring dental problems. The first time I had the vet check his teeth, he showed them to me and it appeared we’d only been feeding him a steady diet of cigarettes and coffee. I think they pulled like 6 teeth on that trip and I was informed that I needed to bring him in every six months to monitor the teeth. This was either a well disguised ruse to milk money from me every six months or they secretly suspected I was actually feeding Merlin cigarettes and coffee.

I was anxious about calling the receptionist, Paula (*name changed to protect the innocent) and telling her my cat was scooting his ass on the carpet. I needed a better opening. I paced around my living room and it dawned on me, I’d lead with the teeth. Merlin was about due for another dental check, so I figured I’d casually lead with that and calmly transition to the ass scooting. This was going to require all the verbal acuity I could muster but I felt up to the task. I had once again, overestimated my abilities.

I shakily dialed the phone and listened to it ring. I was hoping maybe someone else would answer, but as was my luck in those days, Paula answered.

“Uh, yes, uh, hi Paula, this is Ken, uh, I was told Merlin needed to have his teeth checked, uh, every six months and he’s about due for that. And well, he’s kind of scooting around on the carpet so we might want to check that end of him too.” I wasn’t sure that came out as skillfully as I’d rehearsed it, but I was hoping for the best.

In her usual, surprisingly loud, disdainful voice she said, “Merlin? Are you talking about Merlin, what exactly are you trying schedule?” I had forgotten how really deaf she was.

“Uh, yes this is for Merlin,” she loved Merlin, “and yes I want to schedule a tooth exam, he’s due.” I was rolling so I went for broke, “And he’s scooting his rear-end on the carpet, it’s probably worms or something, so we need to have that checked out.”

There was a long pause. I feared she’d think I was crazy. Then, it seemed to dawn on her what I was talking about, “Ooh, well yes, we can schedule his dental check-up, we’ll have to put him under for that, plan for a whole day. And if he’s scooting around, well cats have anal sacks, too.”

As a person who was not experienced with animals, I’d never heard of anal sacks. Naturally, to me anyway, I thought she said, “anal sex”. I was stunned this old lady would go there, but hey, here we were. I began to stammer…”No, no, not my cat. I mean, I would know… He’s a good cat. He’s an inside cat, he’s not around other cats and I don’t think he’d be in to that anyway. He’s not social. No, no way, not my cat.” I had horrible visions of my sweet Merlin in a leather hat and chaps.

There was an extremely long pause… And in an even more disdainful tone, which I didn’t think Paula was even capable of, she said, “I said, anal sacks.”

Awkward… Needless to say, my wife ended up taking the cat to the vet that time…

#RIPMerlin … I miss you every day buddy!

Stray Cats: Bob Dylan’s New Bootleg Series, Rod and The Jeff Beck Group

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In this edition of Stray Cats (aka Random Music/Classic Rock News) I have three quick updates. I just found out, mere weeks after I’d posted my Dylan Bootleg Series User’s Guide, that another edition is set for release. Volume 12, entitled “The Cutting Edge 65 -66” it is a 6 CD treasure trove of outtakes from the sessions for “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61” and I believe, “Blonde On Blonde”. I’m a huge Dylan fan, and I’m a huge fan of the bootleg series, but this set might be too much for even a fanatic/completist like me. There is a 2 CD “Best of…” culled from the 6 CDs… Stay tuned on this one.

Rod Stewart has released the second single from his upcoming “Another Country” album. There’s an interview with him in the latest Rolling Stone magazine that I fear I have not had time to get around to reading. I hate it when work interferes with my rock and roll. The new tune, “Please” is an old school Rod rocker. It sounds like an outtake from “Night On the Town”. The guitar even has a slight Ron Wood sound to it. I think “Another Country” is going to be amazing.

Finally, I got an email from Amazon.com about an upcoming release of a 1968 radio broadcast of the Jeff Beck Group. Before Rod was a solo artist and before he was the lead singer of The Faces, he was the lead singer in a little band called The Jeff Beck Group. Jeff Beck, the guitar wizard, put together the The Jeff Beck Group after the Yardbirds fired him for being mercurial. Ronnie Wood actually changed from guitar to bass for this band. They were slated to play Woodstock but Jeff Beck wrecked his sports car and they had to scratch. He had recruited Rod as his lead singer because he knew males would flock to their shows to hear his guitar. He figured a good looking blonde guy on vocals would bring in the “birds”. Jimmy Page was watching closely and in the spirit of “anything you can do, I can do better” formed Led Zeppelin on the same model with Robert Plant on lead vocals. The Jeff Beck Group’s first album “Truth” was epic and extremely influential. Alas, Jeff’s management treated Rod and Ronnie like sidemen and eventually they both left and joined the Faces. I’ve heard a few bootlegs over the years and live these guys were a tour de force. I know nothing about this mysterious 1968 radio broadcast but if the sound quality is up to snuff this could be an amazing find.

Cheers!