RIP Muhammad Ali, Simply The Greatest, A Hero

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On rare occasions, world events cause me to pause here at BourbonAndVinyl, take off my head phones and pay attention. Today is one of those days. I awoke to the news that the Champ, Muhammad Ali had passed away. I went about my usual routine, breakfast and coffee, the gym, etc, but this overwhelming sense of sadness about Ali’s passing kept pressing on me. I felt compelled to sit down at the keyboard as I mourn yet another hero’s passing. And make no mistake, Muhammad Ali was a hero.

The sporting world doesn’t hold the magic for me that it used to when I was a kid. I am still a huge football fan, I often say if you’re not wearing a helmet and shoulder pads you’re not playing not a real sport. I have the misfortune of being a life-long Kansas City Chiefs fan. They’ve been breaking my heart longer than woman have… but that’s another story. Baseball lost it’s luster after the last MLB strike 20 years ago. Not even the Royals consecutive World Series appearances can get me interested. Basketball, I always hated. My father made me play 2 very embarrassing years “because I was tall.” That story is better left untold… every time someone threw me the ball I fell down, my coordination never did catch up to my height.

But it wasn’t always this way… sports was my first love, even before music. The only reason I turned on a radio in my early years was to listen to a sporting event. As a kid, in my house, boxing was as vital a sport as football, baseball or basketball. I can remember spending Saturdays watching ABC with Howard Cosell (who I still loathe, who announced John Lennon’s death on Monday Night Football by saying the world needed to “protect Paul McCartney,” what a douche bag). I can remember he and Ali verbally sparring and being simply mesmerized. Ali was one of my first actual heroes.

It was the Golden Era of Boxing. Titans prowled the ring: Ken Norton, George Foreman, and Joe Frazier. And the King of them all was Muhammad Ali. I don’t know anybody who wasn’t a fan of the Champ. His fights against Frazier had the drama and gravitas rarely found outside of Shakespeare’s plays. Those fights were the most epic in the history of boxing. It was Macbeth, Hamlet and an amazing left jab all in one event. There are arguments in every sport about who is/was the “greatest.” Not in boxing… there is no argument about who was the Greatest. Muhammad Ali is and will always be the Greatest boxer.

Since Ali, nobody, not Tyson, not Holyfield or anybody else has held the attention of the world the way Ali did. And I don’t just mean the boxing world, I mean the WORLD. The heavy weight class of boxing has virtually disappeared. The Rock Chick and I will Pay Per View a fight if Pacquiao is in it, but I don’t really know why. The power and the grace that was Ali has seemingly passed from this world…

Not only was he a hero to me in the ring, but he was outside the ring as well. He was a big supporter of the Civl Rights Movement. His religious convictions led him to protest the Vietnam War and refuse to serve. That decision cost him some of his prime boxing years as he was stripped of his title. Were it not for his rival Joe Frazier bringing him back from the wilderness he may have never recovered. Short of Pat Tillman, the NLF star who died in the Afghan war, I can’t think of another athlete who would put his convictions ahead of his sport or his livelihood. In all of these cases, Ali was on the right side of history.

His wit, his bravado, his sheer strength and his mastery of the pugilistic arts will never be seen again. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…” Now he floats with the Angels…

RIP Muhammad Ali. The Champ, The Greatest, my Hero.

It’s a dark ride folks. Take care of each other out there. Cheers!

Beck’s New Single, “Wow”…”Giddy Up, Giddy Up”

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I’ve always loved Beck. When I heard his first single, “Loser,” I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a goofy song, but the rhymes rolled off his tongue like Dylan on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” I had always assumed he’d be a one-hit wonder. I did like his song “Asshole,” that Tom Petty covered, but I thought I was alone on that one, well alone with Tom Petty anyway. It probably wasn’t until “Odelay” that I fully got on the bandwagon. That album is pure genius. There are layers and layers of sound, vocals and styles on that record. It took me a while to even decipher it. But at it’s core is a great sense of humor.

I soon discovered there were two sides of Beck. The “Odelay” or “Midnight Vultures” Beck, with groovy synths and loud dance-able beats and the other acoustic, mellow Beck. I really like both. I would actually say that acoustic/mellow Beck made me like funky/loud Beck even more. It gave him a bit of gravitas. His last full length album, “Morning Phase” came after a six year absence from Beck due to a serious back injury suffered at a video shoot. I loved “Morning Phase,” it was mellow but certainly not melancholy like say, “Sea Change.” I thought perhaps after the back injury, mellow/acoustic Beck was all that remained.

Then about a year ago (?) he released the upbeat, funky “Dreams” which is just a fantastic song. I was a little bummed to hear it in a car commercial the other day but that doesn’t diminish how much I like “Dreams.” It’s probably one of the best singles he’s done. I wondered, does this mean another album might be in the works? Could funky, synth, upbeat Beck return for a full length record? And then… nothing. All he released was that one single. Again, I thought perhaps “Dreams” was an aberration and funky Beck was truly gone.

Fast forward to yesterday when Beck surprised us with his new funky, single “Wow.” And I must admit, “wow” is exactly what I thought when I heard it. It announces it’s intention in the first spoken words, “Giddy up, giddy up.” Giddy up indeed, Beck. It has all his trademarks: spoken word, falsetto backing vocals, crazy rhymes, beats and synths. This isn’t classic rock, this is a music in it’s own genre. The Rock Chick was giddy when she first heard him come back with a song as strong as “Dreams.” I’m not sure I agree that this song is as strong as “Dreams” but when the Rock Chick is grooving, you let roll.

This one is a must-have for Beck fans. I read online he has a whole album in the can and might actually have half a second one done. After that six year gap, it’s nice to have funky/loud Beck back again!

Wow! Cheers!

Review: Mudcrutch, Denver, Co; Ogden Theater 25May16

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*Mudcrutch takes a bow in front of your intrepid blogger (apologies to Tom Leadon on the right who I drunkenly cut off)

It was about a month ago I got the text…. it was from one of my dearest friends, Stormin’… it went: “My prayer has been answered. Mudcrutch May 26, Ogden Theater. Unfortunately my pre-sales code only allows for two tickets. Thoughts?” “Thoughts” indeed….the hook was baited but would I be able to take it? My first thought, as it always is when Stormin’ invites me off to an adventure was “How am I going to work this?…” The Rock Chick, strangely, is not a fan of Mudcrutch but is a fan of Tom Petty. It’s a little like saying you like Superman, but you’re not crazy about that Clark Kent guy. There were options… I could go alone but I quickly realized this was Memorial Day Weekend and that wouldn’t fly. I could buy the Rock Chick a ticket but that option was facing some stiff resistance. Or, and this is what we compromised on, I’d go alone with Stormin’ and the Rock Chick would get to go to Vail the next day… It was a dicey gamble, the Rock Chick likes to shop, but I can now say with clear hindsight, it was a good bargain all around.

In the old days, when Stormin’ and I went off into the night time, in search of rock and roll and other recreations, there was a good chance one or both of us would end up in shackles. There have been “episodes” in the past that decorum prohibits me from discussing in this rather public format. Things are quieter now that we’re both married dudes… I was on vacation all week anticipating this concert. The last time Mudcrutch toured they only played dates in LA and SF or maybe just LA… this was their first real trek across the States. I got to Denver Wednesday night to discover Stormin’ had his vegetable crisper full of beer and, of all things, “Sad Wings of Destiny” by Judas Priest on the stereo. Oh, yes, this was working out perfectly.

The only other time I was in the Ogden Theater in Denver was when I was there for the Cult’s “Electric” Tour where they performed, not surprisingly from the name, the entire “Electric” album. That was a banner evening. The Ogden seats, and I’m guessing here, maybe 1500 to 1600 people. I was assuming being able to see Petty and a few of the Heartbreakers in Mudcrutch in this small room was going to be something special. For once, I was right… It was an amazing night. Since we had the VIP package, we got in earlier than the rest of the GA crowd and ended up right at the stage, two people back from the barricade. There’s an intimacy in a small theater that I experienced first hand. When Petty came out, with his bass guitar slung low, he’d look slightly to his left, right into my eyes. As he sang, there were a few times I had to look away, it was like he was looking right into my soul. That’s how close I was. So naturally, this was not a normal show for me.

First and foremost I must call out Mike Campbell. He is one of the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen. Whether in the Heartbreakers or Mudcrutch, he’s (as my friend Stormin’ said) “the glue.” Whether it was mandolin or guitar, the guy just shredded. To see his dexterity up close was something I will not soon forget. Benmont Tench, the other Heartbreaker in Mudcrutch, on keyboards was equally amazing. His boogie-woogie piano was all over the music. Each member sang at least 1 song and I must give a shout out to rhythm guitarist Tom Leadon (Bernie from the Eagles brother) for the amazing lead, harmony and backing vocals he contributed. He and Petty’s banter caused most of the laughter during the show. Randall Marsh on drums was a big hitter – not a lot of swing – but he was very capable and his vocal turn on “Beautiful World” was spot on. Petty played a nice bass guitar. He seemed almost nervous to be away from his natural instrument, the guitar. His hands were even shaking a bit as they came on stage. His vocals were amazing as usual. “I Forgave It All,” a haunting ballad and “Hungry No More” were vocal performances that I will never forget. Simply beautiful.

The show opened with a tune off the first Mudcrutch album, “Shady Grove” which spotlights both Leadon and Petty’s vocals. They followed up with three more tunes from the first record until they got to the first single from “2,” “Trailer.” They played almost all of “2” with the exception of “Beautiful Blue” which I’d liked to have heard and a good portion of “Mudcrutch.” The encore was a Jerry Lee Lewis cover, once again spotlighting the amazing piano of Ben Tench. Anyone expecting to hear something from the Heartbreaker’s repertoire will be disappointed… I was not.

Highlights for me include the Byrds cover from the first album, “Six Days On the Road,” which is just a great, galloping road tune. “Beautiful World,” “Dreams of Flying,” and “Crystal River” were all great performances. The latter tune being the longest jam they played all night. The interplay between band members was a lot of fun. Campbell would walk over to Leadon to trade licks, or all the guitarist would end a song standing near the piano watching Tench bang out a solo. The song “Hope” from “2” which on the record is an organ driven Animals’ style rocker, turned into a muscular guitar showcase for Campbell.

“Bootleg Flyer” was the last song in the main set and it was a scorcher. It was the perfect way to wrap up the two hour set. The band quickly returned for the encore, the aforementioned Jerry Lee Lewis’ cover, “High School Confidential.” The crowd was frenzied at that point. I could barely hear over the screams as Petty and the rest of the band took their final bow, right in front of me, as pictured above.

My legs were sore, but I had a huge smile on my face as a hobbled out of the Ogden. I once again grabbed my buddy Stormin’s shoulder and yelled, “Fuck, wow!” It was all I could muster. Storm and I staggered down to a deserted bar and had a few celebratory beers and finally managed to convince the bartender to call us a cab.

Where ever you happen to live… if Mudcrutch is in your town, call the ticket broker, this is a must see show.

Cheers!