Humor: The Key To A Strong Marriage – Burt Reynold’s “Sharky’s Machine”

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As I’ve often referred to in BourbonAndVinyl, I was single for a long, long time. And then I met a really cool chick, The Rock Chick, and settled down and got married. One might think that this late entry into the realm of marital bliss might leave me somewhat clueless on subject of a successful, happy marriage. How could a bourbon drinking bounder figure out the intricacies of something so complicated as marriage. I turned for wisdom on the subject, where I always turn, to the culture of the late 70s and early 80s. In the case of marriage, I turned to Burt Reynold’s and his 1981 movie, ‘Sharky’s Machine.’ I had tried to glean something from watching Kojak reruns but there was no wisdom on marriage there…”Who Loves Ya, Baby.”

Even though I married an extremely cool woman, with a great sense of humor, she’s still a woman. Men and woman have been inexplicably getting married since the dawn of time. I read somewhere somebody describing men and women as being “members of two distinct and warring tribes.” I think that sums it up. How any two people can set aside the differences that daily life generates, especially when you take into consideration the raising of children and the conflict that generates, is a mystery.

Marriage is minefield. I mean, it’s a happy thing if you’re doing right, but there are always mines out in that field. The mines typically come in the form of questions… for example:

“Do these pants make me look fat?”

“Do you like this outfit?”

“Which shoes do you like best with this skirt?”

“I know the game is on, but can you come in here and help me unload the dishwasher?”

“My mother is coming to visit, isn’t that great?”

“Don’t you remember, I told you we were going to the “Phantom Of The Opera” over a month ago…”

“Can we do something with all these albums of yours?”

The list could go on. The entire mood of the household is dependent on how I answer those questions. Things can go from blissful to sullen and angry at the drop of a hat. I learned this, as I’ve learned everything in my life… The Hard Way.

But then I remembered the old Burt Reynold’s movie, ‘Sharky’s Machine’ and it all became clear to me. As the lead character, Sharky, Burt plays a tough, streetwise, wise-cracking, Atlanta police officer. He has a steak-out go incredibly wrong and gets moved out of Narcotics and into the Vice Squad, a unit of misfits and burn outs. Ah, the 70s… I could have written the standard plot lines they used, or at least I like to think I could. Anyway, Sharky’s partner in the Vice Squad is a man named Arch played by Bernie Casey.

Arch is into Zen. In a great scene that can be found on Youtube if you search on the words “Sharky’s Machine Ghosting Scenes,” Arch explains how  he used Zen to avoid being shot when he was out on a domestic violence call. He was circling the house when the culprit comes out of the back door with a sawed-off shot gun. He thought for sure he was dead. It was then that he applied his Zen theory and he completely “disappeared.” He ceased to exist. His face went blank, his arms went slack. He was putting off zero energy, zero emotion. Instead of shooting him, the culprit just walked past him.

Later in the movie, Arch gets into a gun battle with the crazed, coke-addled villain, Victor. Arch is injured and so is Victor. Victor manages to disarm Arch. Once again Arch is faced with a sawed-off shotgun in his face. And you watch Ben Casey, in what should have been an Academy Award winning performance, in my humble opinion, do his “Ghosting,” Zen disappearing act. His arms and jaw go slack. His eyes are a complete blank. He is literally out of his body. Victor screams at him twice, I guess to see if he’ll react. Arch knows if he reacts in anyway, Victor will shoot him in the face. So he stays Zen disappeared. Victor just turns and walks away down the hallway leaving Arch alive. I have no idea why those scenes made such an impression on me, but I’ve always remembered them.

Then, years later I got married and suddenly I realized why I was meant to remember ‘Sharky’s Machine’ and the Zen-disappearance scenes.

When my wife comes into the room and says, say, “Were you eating potato chips in the kitchen, because you got crumbs, EVERYWHERE…” in the past I would have defended myself. Or blamed the cat. But not now. Now, I do what I like to call, “The Sharky’s Machine.”

I let my arms fall to my side. My jaw goes slack. I emit no emotion, zero energy. My eyes go blank and I completely disappear. I know that if I react in anyway, I’m likely to get shot in the face with a metaphorical, emotional shot gun. Oddly, the Sharky’s Machine seems to work. The other night my wife asked me if I wanted to get a winter place in Phoenix to be nearer to her daughter. Early into the conversation she said, “Are you Sharky’s Machining me?” The lesson there, is that the Sharky’s Machine Maneuver works even when she knows I’m doing it.

The Sharky’s Machine has saved me countless arguments, apologies, flowers and chocolates. It’s literally saved me thousands of hours of anguish. And I owe it all to Burt Reynold’s and Bernie Casey. I knew it was a must to share this bit of wisdom with the rest of the world.

I’m sure it would work for women out there too, when your husband asks you, say, “Do you want to skip our anniversary and go to the football game instead?” Or, “Do you think your friend would be interested in a threesome?” Or worse, “What do you think of my blog?” I think the Sharky’s Machine is a perfect move for you ladies out there.

Remember folks, marriage is a compromise. And, more importantly, “Nobody leans on Sharky’s Machine.”

Cheers! (Youtube.com, search on “Sharky’s Machine Ghosting Scenes.”)

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Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP

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“Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” – Neil Young, “Time Fades Away”

There are certain albums that for various reasons have taken on a certain “mystique” over the years. In most cases it’s albums that don’t get released. Prince had “The Black Album,” an album that was supposedly so perverse it couldn’t be released… we have to save the children from such sex talk in music (cue the PMRC). Years after the rumor of the album, Prince finally released it and it was, to be generous, meh. Ryan Adams’ record company rejected “Love Is Hell” because they thought it was a downer so he released “Rock N Roll” instead. The fact that his record company rejected “Love Is Hell” brought so much interest in this supposedly “dark” album, that the record company finally released it. It’s an ok Ryan Adams LP… I mean, dark is kind of his thing. You’ll never find Ryan Adams being played at a party here at the B&V house, that’s for sure. One could describe Ryan’s music as, “Music to Overdose to.”

Usually albums only carry this kind of heavy mystique if someone dies during or shortly after the albums release. “Blackstar” by David Bowie and “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen will always carry a little more weight because they can be read as an artistic farewell to the world and to their fans. Jimi Hendrix’ last recordings are always heralded as people wonder, what might have been. People point to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s final song on his final album, “Riviera Paradise” as a signal that he was headed into an all new creative direction that would have changed music and guitar as we know it… had he not passed away in that tragic helicopter crash. It’s like a painter whose paintings become more valuable after they’ve died. I’m surprised more rock stars don’t fake their death more often but that makes me sound like an agent hustling for coins.

Of all the artists around, other than maybe Bob Dylan, Neil Young has more than his share of “mysterious,” unreleased albums. “Chrome Dreams” is an oft bootlegged, amazing record that Neil chose not to release in 1977. It would have been as big as “Harvest” in my opinion, which may be why Neil chose not to put it out. That “fame thing” never worked out too well for Neil. He said in the liner notes of “Decade” that “Harvest” found him in the middle of the road and very popular so he chose to steer into the ditch, “It was a rougher ride, but you meet more interesting people there” (I believe is the direct quote). He’s put out most of the songs on other albums, but taken as a whole “Chrome Dreams” would have stood with some of his best work.

Of all of Neil Young’s unreleased and released albums, the one that always had the most intrigue for me, for some reason, was “Time Fades Away.” Part of the problem was you simply couldn’t find the record. I could never get my hands on it. After the initial release, Neil refused to release it on vinyl or any other format so copies of the album were really hard to find. Neil basically disavowed the record. My college roommate Drew was the only guy I know who could have been capable of even finding a copy such were his “completist” tendencies, but I don’t think even he had a copy. It was like you had to “know a guy” to even hear the thing, which I never did.

The backstory alone is enough to draw a rock and roll obsessive like me in… Neil Young, fresh from his twin triumphs of “After the Gold Rush,” and the even bigger success of “Harvest” was set to go on tour. It’s hard to overstate how popular Neil Young became after “Harvest.” I heard a story once, that Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” on the radio and thought it was one of his songs. When he realized it was Neil Young, he felt ripped off and wrote “Forever Young” as some sort of angry, “you ripped me off, you dick” kind of a song. Who knows if that’s true. Anyway, Neil gathered members of his “Harvest” band, the Stray Gators, and invited Danny Whitten from one of his other backing bands, Crazy Horse to New York to rehearse. Unfortunately Danny Whitten, a very talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right, was addicted to heroin. He’d already been kicked out of Crazy Horse, who were working on their own without Neil, because of his drug addictions. Whitten just couldn’t “hack it” at the rehearsals. He was taking a lot of Valium to help him kick the heroin habit and it was just destroying his timing. Finally Neil had to tell Danny he was fired and gave him $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very night, the night Neil Young fired Danny Whitten, Danny was found dead from mixing alcohol and $50 worth of Valium. Enter…. guilt and despair.

So after releasing his biggest album, with thousands of adoring fans waiting to hear the soft rock troubadour of “Harvest” come out and sing “Heart of Gold,” Neil plugs in his electric guitar and attempted to conquer his demons. Oh, and he brought along the 8-track mobile recording machine to document the whole thing. At the time, one of his band members turned him onto tequila. Ah, tequila. As I used to say in my younger days, the authorities knew which drug to legalize. When I drink tequila, which I rarely do, if I drink too much of it, I’m either going to fight you or fuck you, and quite possibly, both at the same time. Add tequila to a depressed, fragile mental state like Neil Young was in and God knows what can happen. Apparently the fans were not impressed. Part of the problem with concert audiences is that it’s hard to play new, unheard music for a crowd. They want to hear the hits, songs they’re familiar with. This was especially true in 1973 when the crowds were not that sophisticated.

At long last, I discovered this “lost” live album on iTunes. I had always heard that the music on this album was all loud, screaming guitar. It was going to be all noise like “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black).” That is not exactly the case. The band did not get along well and Neil’s vocals were so fried he brought in Crosby and Nash to help sing harmonies, although, this wasn’t an album big on harmony. I will say, this is a very, very good Neil Young album, although I prefer the even darker music found on “Tonight’s the Night.” One might see this as a companion piece to “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach” which are some of Neil’s darker works.

The album starts off with the raucous title track, which is one of the best here but I’ve always liked my Neil Young a little ragged. “Yonder Stands the Sinner” is another ragged rocker that jumps out at me and it’s followed by the great song “L.A.” (“city in the smog…”). But interspersed with those rockers are a couple of delicate, beautiful piano ballads, “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind.” I never expected this kind of balladry from a guy on tequila. The crowd claps politely at the end of “Love In Mind” but you kind of feel they’re not thrilled.

The centerpiece of the album for me, is the beginning of what would be side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts, “Don’t Be Denied.” It’s a a better autobiography than Neil’s book “Shakey.”It’s a long, mid tempo song about Neil’s love of and dedication to music. It tells his life story from being a bullied kid at school, to forming a band. It’s one of his best songs and coincidentally was recently covered beautifully by Norah Jones. It’s really the only hopeful bit of light in an otherwise dark album.

After the ballad, “The Bridge,” another lovely piano and harmonica song, Neil and the band launch into the epic, eight-minute “Last Dance.” I really like the ragged guitar riff in this song. Although, it’s so bleak that it wouldn’t have been out of place on “Tonight’s the Night.” At the end of the song, Neil just howls, “no, no, no…” When Neil sings, “Wake up, it’s time to go to work,” it’s with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

“Time Fades Away” is a portrait of an artist who is really suffering. And by sharing that pain with us through his art, he let’s we who are also suffering know we are not alone. That’s the power of an album like this. And powerful is the word I would use to describe this record. For anybody out there who likes to explore the musical backwaters of an artist’s catalog, like I do, this is must have music. Although, I wouldn’t recommend putting this on at Christmas… not a lot of Yule time joy here….

It’s a dark ride, folks. Stick together and take care of each other. Cheers!

Happy Keithmas Everyone – Keith Richards’ Birthday

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I spent a very cold December winter day watching my Chiefs once again fumble away a winnable game against the Tennessee Titans… Needless to say I found myself sulking around the house, as adult men do when their sports teams lose. I was thinking that this dark funk of a mood was something that even a tumbler of Buffalo Trace wasn’t going to help… Although I will admit, with the Rock Chick making her dangerous egg nog, the bourbon was quite available…

Suddenly I realized that today is one of the 12 days of Christmas… It’s Keithmas…. Keith Richards’ birthday. While that may not help my hapless Chiefs playoff chances, it’s a great thing that Keith is even alive at 73. How long was this guy number one on the famous people’s “Death Pool” during the 70s and 80s. The fact that this man, with all the drugs, booze, arrests and alas, his head injury has survived into his 70’s is a cause for hope for all of us out here. If this guy can persevere, can’t we all. I often find myself thinking, “What would Keith do?” And when I do that, things turn out all right.

If his last album, “Crosseyed Heart” is any indication there’s still a lot of life in rock and roll’s original pirate, outlaw, renegade. I’ve always loved Keith Richards. When I was a teenager, and I was first turned onto the Stones, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As I got older and the realities of life began to settle in on me, I realized I wanted to be Keith. He was the outlaw, living outside of society. Never one to give into the conventions of “straight” society, the man has lived, as Sinatra sang, “my way.”

So many rock stars have tried to imitate the style and the sneer of Keith Richards… but he was truly an original and remains so to this day. I love this picture of Keith I used for this post – it’s not the young 70s superstar, it’s the rocker in repose, aged like a fine wine. Hat cocked to the side, taking a drag of a cigarette, skull ring on the right hand, staring right at you – perhaps right through you. Keith, 73, and still the man!

So, Happy Birthday Keith Richards and here’s to wishing you many more. In Keith’s honor today, I poured my bourbon over a skull-shaped ice cube that the Rock Chick produced from the freezer. It seemed only appropriate. And while I’m still stinging from the horrific offense the Chiefs put on the field today… Buffalo Trace, a skull-shaped cube and “Crosseyed Heart” on the stereo…. Yeah, it’s going to be ok… As Keith would sing, “You shouldn’t take it so haaaaard…”

Cheers!

LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”

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We’ve reached that dreaded time of year when the holidays have descended up on us, and bands have stopped releasing new albums. Oh sure, I’ve spent most of the past few weeks listening to the superb new Stones album, “Blue and Lonesome,” but as I found myself shut in because of the snow and ice outside, cabin fever has set in. Which is odd, because I’ve only been shut in since I got out of bed this morning. I began to flip through my album collection but I didn’t get any farther than the A’s… more specifically, AC/DC.

Is there a joy more pure and wonderful than listening to AC/DC? They’re just a fun band. When I first met my wife, the Rock Chick, one of the first things I liked about her was she was one of the first chicks I’d ever met who knew the difference between the Bon Scott-era AC/DC and the Brian Johnson-era. Most women I’d known didn’t know the difference. It was the Rock Chick who got me back into AC/DC, who I thought were spent creatively after “For Those About To Rock,” when she turned me onto “The Razor’s Edge” and more importantly “Stiff Upper Lip” which are great, great late period albums. The first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to was AC/DC on the “Stiff Upper Lip” Tour… ah, fond memories. That was a  wonderful evening with Angus’ guitar solos and women taking their tops off… and that was just on the ride down to the show…

I will admit, if the Rock Chick has a flaw musically it’s her complete dismissal of the Bon Scott-era of AC/DC. Although I will give her credit for loving “If You Want Blood, You Got It.” As most people know, Bon was the original, charismatic lead singer of AC/DC. He tragically died sleeping in the back seat of a car after a night of drinking when he choked on his own vomit. Which frankly, is how I think every great rock star should go out. The man has been described as a “street poet” and for once I think they got that one right. His lyrics about the grimier, darker side of life are nothing short of brilliant – the Nobel Committee ought to put on the “Highway To Hell” LP and start considering following up the Dylan nomination with Bon… but as usual, I digress.

Most people focus on the Brian Johnson-era of AC/DC’s career probably because a) it’s lasted longer and b) they were much more popular during Brian’s tenure. After “Back In Black,” one of the best selling albums of all time, AC/DC became international superstars. I can see where that kind of LP sales could eclipse the earlier, lesser-known work. If you look at the macro picture though, under Bon Scott, the band was headed that way. With each successive album, from “High Voltage” to “Dirty Deeds” to “Let There Be Rock” AC/DC’s following and stature continued to grow. While they didn’t even tour in the US until 1977, hitting small venues no less, like CBGB and the Whiskey (underscoring once again, if I could time travel, I’d spend all my time at concerts), they were building toward that eventual breakthrough which came in the form of “Highway To Hell.” While everybody loves “Back In Black” it was “Highway” that broke them. If you listen to Bon’s lyrics you can discern several things… he truly believed he was battling for rock and roll as an art form and that he was going to go to Hell for doing that. Although it certainly seems like  he was having an extraordinarily good time doing so. One could imagine him crossing the River Styx, with his shirt off and a bottle of Old Crow whiskey in his hand, howling…”Don’t stop meeee!”

Eventually, after “Back In Black” people began to go back and discover AC/DC’s earlier albums and many, many of their songs began to get airplay that before weren’t getting much play at all. The early albums added depth and context for “Back In Black.” And while all that is great, there is one album that for reasons that are inexplicable to me, remains overlooked. That album is “Powerage.” Maybe it’s the odd cover art. I absolutely love this dark, dark record. I realize that there wasn’t really a discernible single on the record. I realize that “Highway To Hell” eclipsed everything that came before it but to overlook “Powerage” is criminal. Keith Richards, of all people, has been quoted as saying “Powerage” is his favorite AC/DC album, and frankly does anybody need more of an endorsement than that?

As the 70’s went on, as I mentioned, AC/DC’s fame and fortune continued to increase on the international rock scene. They opened for Black Sabbath… wouldn’t you have loved to drink with Ozzy and Bon back then? I know I would… They were gaining attention, especially in Europe. They were poised to break through in a big way… and then it’s like Bon Scott knew the end was near, and right before the breakthrough, they paused and went into the studio and recorded a dark and foreboding LP, “Powerage”….and it’s fucking brilliant.

This album finds Bon’s lyrical gifts beginning to blossom. The LP opens with what was ostensibly the first single, “Rock N Roll Damnation.” It starts the LP off with a MONSTER riff… and then Bon comes in with, “They say that you play too loud, well baby that’s tough.” The chip on Bon’s shoulder is as big as a car. This song sets the table and signals, this is going to be a dark ride and Bon has some scores to settle. I really don’t think of AC/DC as a “singles” band and frankly I think “Powerage” is an album that you need to listen to in it’s entirety, like Pink Floyd. It sets a mood. I listen to this album and I just want to take a shot of whiskey and do some brawling… and I haven’t been in a fight since grade school and I lost that one.

“Down Payment Blues” and “Gimme a Bullet To Bite On” are just great tunes. In “Down Payment Blues” Bon sings, “I got myself a Cadillac but I can’t afford the gasoline.” This is dirty, dirty bloozy rock. “Gimme a Bullet…” is a classic Bon break up song… He’s got a “pain in his heart” and he’s calling for a bullet to bite on… and he’s going to make believe it’s his ex… I think we’ve all been there…

The centerpiece of this record, for me, is the tune “Gone Shootin’.” The riff is infectious. The dark story about a man lamenting that his girl friend has gone out in their bad neighborhood to score herion is harrowing, but the way Bon growls, “My baby’s gone shootin’… she’s gone, gone, gone,” it brings chills to my spine. Likely the subject matter kept that one off the radio… it’s the heart and soul of this record. It is my all time favorite AC/DC tune.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the amazing lead guitar playing of Angus Young. With Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar, these guys lay down gargantuan riffs throughout the album. The song “Up To My Neck In You” may be Angus’ finest hour as a guitarist. “Riff Raff” is a colossus of a guitar party. The Young brothers set the scene with their one of their best riffs as Bon takes us into “Sin City” another gem of a song on this album. The guitar riff on that song makes me feel like I’m in the car with the band at the city limits of Las Vegas… and some shit is going down. There isn’t a bad song on this record. The frantic LP ender, “Kicked In The Teeth Again” is a break neck hard rocker… You can barely keep up with Angus’ solos on that one. These guys don’t really slow down at all on this record.

I’ve turned a few of my esteemed rock friends onto this album, Matthew and Stormin’ out in Denver and both of them at some point have turned to me and said some version of, “how did I miss this album?” You true rock guys out there, and you know who you are, should do yourselves a favor and get this record on the turntable as soon as you can. You will not regret it…

As always my friends, on this cold, cold winter day, stay warm, pour something brown and murky, put on “Powerage” and enjoy… Although don’t give into that mood to start brawling… I’m a pacifist… a lover, not a fighter.

Cheers!

Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad

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Through a series of bad decisions and misadventures, that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I ended up being single into my thirties. It got to the point where my parents were beginning to drop hints at the holidays about their support of any alternative lifestyles I might be considering or concealing. Meanwhile my buddy Tom and I were setting new record lows in depravity amongst the female population of our hometown. My parents were so concerned that they’d started to come downtown to my neighborhood to eat lunch with me on the weekends because they thought I might be “at risk.” What exactly I was at risk for was never articulated…

My philosophy toward children in those days was fairly straight forward. To paraphrase the classic movie “Barfly,” when it came to children, “I just sort of feel better when they’re not around.” I had never had a yearning to be a parent like my best friend Doug who I was convinced could carry a baby to term even though he lacks a uterus. I seemed content careening from one bad relationship to another. I ping ponged between pursuing unattainable women with no interest in me to dating women who dug me that I had absolutely no interest in. I never wanted to join a club who would have me as a member, as the saying goes. It was an unhealthy pattern, but hey, it was my pattern and I was comfortable with it. I lived contentedly alone save for my rather large collection of vinyl records.

And so, as it tends to do, the Universe sent me a test in the form of the woman of my dreams. She was smart, funny, articulate, a well propertied woman, the most beautiful woman I’d ever known and most importantly she liked music. She really liked music. So much so that early on I dubbed her, “The Rock Chick.” How was this a test? Stop the press: The Rock Chick had a daughter. This was a real Rubik’s Cube situation for me, the man-child, to suddenly be regularly in the presence of an actual child. I quickly realized I was going to have to moderate my use of the word “fuck,” which was too bad as it was my favorite word. Until meeting my step-daughter, I thought the world revolved around me. My step-daughter at the time was under the misguided idea that the world revolved around her. The immovable object had met the unstoppable force. I couldn’t help but think, this is going to be difficult. And let me tell you, it was.

The first time my stepdaughter came into my apartment for a Christmas party I was having… she wandered up next to me at the stereo, where I was DJ’ing… and picked up the sleeve to one of my LPs and said, “What is this?” I couldn’t help but think, in a very judge-y way, “You don’t know what an album is, my God girl, your mother has failed you.” I merely told her it was a record album, with music on it. “Like a CD?” she asked innocently. I nodded sadly, “Not really, the sound is better…oh, never mind,” and sighed. When inevitably the Rock Chick and I moved in together I was forced to institute the First Rule of the House – Don’t Touch The Albums. Whenever my stepdaughter wanted to have friends over for a sleepover or what-not, I’d always ask, “What’s the first rule?” She would recite the mantra, “Don’t touch the albums…” I couldn’t help but smile, Obi-Ken has taught you well.

Needless to say I was ill-equipped to be a stepfather. My stepdaughter, who had been living alone with her mom for over five years when I showed up, found it difficult to suddenly have a stepfather-interloper. For a long time she referred to me as “the guy who lives upstairs with my mom.” I’m not sure she committed my name to memory until I married her mother. I feared she was secretly sharpening her cereal spoon into a sharp point to shank me in the kitchen like in a prison movie. I couldn’t do anything right. Of course, in retrospect I must admit, I wasn’t really trying too hard. We played hide and go seek and my stepdaughter would dutifully hide and I wouldn’t go look for her. Typically, I’d dose off. That only worked once or twice until she caught on. I had become… the Evil Stepfather. About the only thing we could agree on was fast-food… I had the sophisticated palette of a 13 year old and she was a kid. We could both agree on chili cheese dogs with tater tots at Sonic…ah, the simple pleasures. Hell I’d eat that right now…

Other than fast food though, things were pretty tense at the house in the early days. My wife’s role quickly became that of a “shuttle diplomat” negotiating the peace between the two warring tribes. This soon got real old for the Rock Chick. “Figure it out…” she would bark at us. My step daughter was just a child and well, unfortunately so was I.

And then, one magical Saturday afternoon, a time when I’m usually napping, the Rock Chick had both my stepdaughter and I mustered in the living room to announce we would be doing some house-cleaning that day. Neither one of us liked the sound of that. I demanded that music be played during this forced march and to my surprise the Rock Chick said, “Ok but pick something everybody likes.” Damn… how was I going to do that?

My stepdaughter’s musical taste, and I must admit like her mother she was a big music lover, was more pop-centric. Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera would be more likely her choice than say, Janis Joplin. She had some hip hop, but I wasn’t going there, even I blanched at some of the language. This was a true quandary. I felt it was very important that I teach this child about rock and roll. I assumed that was the reason I was brought into her life in the first place. The pressure was on. I went to my albums and began to flip through them. I came across The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” and probably because of all the bright, primary colors thought, “this will work.” Almost as soon as the needle dropped into the groove I could hear the loud groan coming from the women in the house. I had always thought the Beatles were universally lovable but perhaps since no one at the house was on LSD that day, “Sgt Pepper’s” wasn’t going to work.

I tried something else, I can’t remember what and my stepdaughter shot it down too. I was starting to get nervous. First and foremost I had to clean the house which sucked. Now I was getting heckled at the stereo by a ten year old. It was then that I came across the fantastic greatest hits compilation, “Legend.” It was going to be risky to put Bob Marley on, this could be my third strike… I decided to pin my ears back and go for it…

While it is impossible to incapsulate an artist as tremendous and huge as Bob Marley on one disc, I have to admit “Legend” is one of the best “Greatest Hits” compilations out there. It covers songs from his earliest Island Records days from “Catch A Fire” and “Burning” all the way to his last recordings. It was an odd choice to listen to while cleaning the house but I knew it’d be OK with the Rock Chick. I had hoped her support would carry the day.

It was a mere 10 seconds into the first track “Is This Love” when my stepdaughter’s head started bobbing… during the break between that song and “No Woman No Cry (Live)” my stepdaughter came to the stereo where I was dusting and said quickly and furtively, “Who is this?” I glanced down and her eyes were open widely. She was feeling this music. “His name was Bob Marley, and he’s awesome.” She whispered, almost inaudibly “I really like this…” There is no greater satisfaction than turning someone onto an artist or a song. Let me restate that – the only thing greater than turning someone on to a song or an artist or an album – is turning someone you love onto great music. I felt a welling sense of pride as I had expanded this young, 10 year old girl’s universe that day.

It was a beautiful couple of hours that day, although I’m not going to lie to you, cleaning the house sucked. But the music was great. And in some ways, that afternoon and that musical connection that I made  with my daughter was the crack in the door – the initial opening that allowed us to bridge our mutual contempt and distrust. Suddenly we had something in common. I began to realize and perhaps really really believe for the first time – Music IS Love!

I had the joy, two summers ago, of taking my daughter to see the Stones in concert. She absolutely loved it. I couldn’t help but think back to that Saturday afternoon, she and her mother and I grooving around the house to the best reggae ever, Bob Marley. I’m not a model parent. I was truly the Evil Stepdad. But if you invest and you share your life and experience, sometimes… it all turns out good.

“Oh, Yeah, all right, we’re jammin’…” I may have to drink some rum tonight…..

Cheers!

The BourbonAndVinyl 10 Best LPs of the Year (Stones, Bowie, and More)

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The end of the year and the dreaded “holiday season” seem to always bring reflection. Maybe it’s having to see all those relatives that makes our minds wander…The turning of the calendar to a new year seems to crystalize the passage of time in our minds. We’re all another year older… As Bob Dylan sang, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast…” Along with that personal reflection it seems every magazine, website and blog comes out with their “Best of” lists for the year that is ending. I’ve seen “best LPs” and “best songs” lists. We are a society that likes to organize and rank things. Whether it’s food, TV, movies or music, we need our “top 10” lists at the end of the year to codify the year that was. Since B&V only came into being in July of 2015, I chose not to do a “Best of” list a year ago. But now, with a full calendar year under our belt for 2016 I figured I’d get in on the fun.

I must say, 2016 was a horrible year for rock and roll. As Don Henley sang, “It was a pretty good year for fashion (and I say that fresh off the Victoria Secret’s “Fashion” Show, a ridiculous piece of soft-core porn for the whole family) but a lousy year for rock and roll.” I’m not suggesting that the music suffered this year but I don’t recall a year where we lost so many great ones. David Bowie, Lemmy, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey and producer George Martin were among the big names. But other important rock and roll pioneers passed this year including Leon Russell and Sharon Jones. With the passage of time I fear this will become the new normal. Luckily a few of these artists, notably Leonard Cohen and especially David Bowie, were able to leave us with a farewell musical statement.

There was some great music put out in 2016 if you’re willing to look for it. Sadly, you’re not going to hear this on your local FM radio dial. However you get your music, and I’m hoping it’s mostly on vinyl, you need to seek this music out. Whether it’s on Spotify, CD, LP or Satellite Radio, there is great music to be found. Hopefully here at B&V between sips of brown murky fluid, we’ve guided you to some of that music this year. Without further rambling, here you have it, the first ever B&V Best Albums of the Year.

The BourbonAndVinyl Best LPs of 2016

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Blue And Lonesome” – The Stones return to the Chicago Blues of their youth with a power and excitement that surprised even them. This is hands down, the album of the year. Mick’s harmonica playing is the star.
  2. David Bowie, “Blackstar” – In what can only be seen now as a goodbye note, Bowie’s final album is as bold and experimental and fantastic as his strongest work. I really miss David Bowie.
  3. The Cult, “Hidden City” – The third in a trilogy of excellent albums that began with “Born Into This,” “Hidden City” was the Cult’s best album since “Beyond Good And Evil” and perhaps since “Sonic Temple.” And yet, hard rock stations seem to ignore this hard hitting gem.
  4. Metallica, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct” – The Heavy Metal Gods have returned in rare form. If this is “self-destruction” deal me in! “Halo On Fire” remains in high rotation here at B&V.
  5. Mudcrutch, “2” – Tom Petty’s “side project” returns with their second, more focused LP with a strong set of songs. If you were lucky enough to see them live, you know what a great band they are and what great songs these are. “Welcome To Hell” may have become my favorite song on this record…
  6. Paul Simon, “Stranger To Stranger” – Other than David Bowie, I defy you to find an artist who experiments and takes as many risks as Paul Simon. “The Werewolf” and “Wristband” were the songs that jumped out at me, but “Cool Papa Bell” might be the pick of the litter.
  7. Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” – Another huge loss in the world of music. The voice of the infinite singing seemingly from beyond the grave. Some of the most poetic lyrics I’ve ever heard. Yes, the voice is all gravel and rust, but listen to the words and the emotion and you’ll be hooked.
  8. Green Day, “Revolution Radio” – Green Day’s return from operas and grand ideas (Uno, Dos, Tre anyone?) to a more punk, raw sound. This album seems to be flying under the radar but it’s their best work since “Warning.”
  9. Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression” – It’s fitting that Iggy, along with Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age, put out his finest album in years at the time when his mentor David Bowie passed. These albums harken back to Iggy’s halcyon days in Berlin with Bowie. The QOTSA and Josh Homme push Iggy in ways no one has in years.
  10. The Record Company, “Give It Back To You” – A newer band making the B&V list of top albums gives me hope. I love this bluesy little gem of a record. I look for bigger and better things from the Record Company.

Honorable Mention

Well, you had to know I couldn’t limit my recommendations to just 10 albums. There were a couple of mellower, understated, rootsy albums, that while not in my top 10, are still highly recommended by B&V. These are those late night, brown and murky fluids in a tumbler albums.

  1. Norah Jones, “Day Break” – Norah’s most sophisticated, jazzy album to date. Some really great piano on this record.
  2. Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” – Van seems recommitted on this record. It’s on the mellow end but that voice of Van’s keeps everything on a slow boil. It’s reflective tone is the perfect album for this time of year (if you’re like me and you dislike the holidays).
  3. Peter Wolf, “A Cure For Loneliness” – There were a few missteps here, nobody needs to hear “Love Stinks” done bluegrass style, but overall this was a great, rootsy album.

Best Re-Release

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best re-release of the year. The Beatles, “Live At the Hollywood Bowl,” is a great live document of the band in the midst of Beatlemania and all those screaming girls. Remastered by the late George Martin’s son, this live document puts a little meat on the bones of the legend. Ringo’s drumming may be the biggest surprise here, he’s manic and wonderful.

I could go on, because as we all know, I’m prone to digression and rambling. However, I’ll wrap it up with these albums. If there are any you feel I missed, or an album that you felt was really special in 2016, please feel free to list in the comments.

Happy….Holidays and Cheers!

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle

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In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.

In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.

Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.

However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.

The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.

“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.

The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”

This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”

Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!

Cheers!