Review: Paul McCartney’s LP ‘Flowers In The Dirt: Special Edition’

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Paul McCartney has been on such a great roll since 1997’s superb LP ‘Flaming Pie,’ all the way through 2013’s ‘New’ really, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a bad decade the 1980’s were for the former Beatle. I am a big Paul fan, but having purchased the abysmal 1986 LP, ‘Press To Play’ even I lost faith. I still shudder when I think about his ill conceived movie project ‘Give My Regards To Broadstreet.’

The decade had started for McCartney with such promise. His 1982 LP, ‘Tug of War’ which was partially a response to the senseless murder of John Lennon was such an amazing record. The title track remains one of my favorite McCartney tracks. “Here Today” was one of the most touching of the many, many tribute songs for John Lennon by any artist. I will admit the two Stevie Wonder collaborations on the album were utter cheeseball, especially the song “Ebony And Ivory,” which still makes me jump to the fast forward button when it comes on the stereo.

His follow up to ‘Tug of War,’ 1983’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ has aged better than we received it back in 1983. It was almost a carbon copy of the formula that had produced ‘Tug of War’ and I think it sold reasonably well. I wasn’t a big fan of that record, nor was anybody I knew. That LP seemed to signal the beginning of a downturn for Paul. After that, man, McCartney hit the skids. He released some awful records. Looking at it from a macro view, 1983 to really, 1997 was an awful patch for McCartney. I will admit there were some exceptions, I loved his ‘Unplugged’ album.

It’s hard to understand what went wrong with McCartney. One has to wonder if he was more deeply affected by the lost of his old comrade and later frenemy, John Lennon. In the second half of the 70s Lennon had withdrawn to self imposed exile to become a house husband/father. In that void, McCartney recorded some of his best, and best selling records. It’s always been my theory, as an armchair bourbon psychologist, if subconsciously McCartney was recording for the broader audience on one level in the late 70s, but down deep was really trying to impress Lennon. Maybe Lennon was a psychological governor in his head, preventing bad ideas and choking off some of Paul’s “cheesier” instincts. With Lennon gone, maybe McCartney became a tad unmoored from a creative standpoint.

One of the exceptions from this fallow period for McCartney was 1989’s decade ending, ‘Flowers In the Dirt.’ It was a good McCartney album, although I’d say not a great McCartney album. It was certainly seen as somewhat of a comeback at the time, although not the big comeback that was hoped for. “My Brave Face” was the first single, which was ok. If you delve into the album a little deeper there are some great deep tracks on this album. “Figure of Eight,” “Rough Ride,” “Put It There” and “This One” are all really strong tracks.

What the LP was also noted for, besides being a bit of a “return to form” for McCartney, was it marked a collaboration with Elvis Costello. The two wrote a number of songs together that ended up on both McCartney’s records and others on Costello’s albums. I have to admit, it was an inspired pairing. Elvis was another guy from Liverpool, who was kind of prickly, who seemed to click musically with McCartney and even wore glasses… remind you of anybody? I don’t know if Costello pushed McCartney or vice versa but it was a great musical collaboration. The song “Veronica” the two wrote together was even a hit for Costello. And, naturally, some of the better tracks the two wrote together ended up on ‘Flowers In The Dirt.’ One highlight was the great duet, “You Want Her Too.” “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” were also great collaborations by the duo.

Fast forward to now, and McCartney has given “Flowers In The Dirt” the deluxe/special edition treatment. I was sort of “meh” about the whole thing until I recently put the bonus tracks on. Typically bonus tracks can be a mixed bag. Sometimes their great songs that just didn’t fit on an album. At their worst they’re “remixes” which I loath. A lot of times bonus tracks are just the tossed off, rough demo’s and aren’t worth listening to.

Not so here! On “Flowers In The Dirt” there are nine demos of just McCartney and Costello working through songs with a piano, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. I have to tell you, I like these demos better than the actual album that was released. Costello wasn’t likely trying to imitate John Lennon but his vocals paired with McCartney have that same vibe if not the same magical harmonies. These demos, half of which were released in more produced/polished, finished versions on the album, half of which were not, are a revelation. It’s great to hear McCartney singing so passionately. It’s like hearing a couple of guys get up in a bar and bash out a quick acoustic set. I had the same feeling I had when I listened to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ discs when I listened to these demos.

I have to wonder what happens to a McCartney song between it’s rough hewn inception, like we hear on these demos, and the actual produced, released product. The guy is one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time, he might take a cue from these demos and stop polishing off these great rough edges.

Is ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ worth purchasing, or repurchasing just for these bonus tracks? Well, if you don’t have ‘Flowers’ in your collection I’d say definitely. If you already own the record, I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it’s worth a re-buy, but these demos are awfully sweet. Paul and Elvis might want to consider collaborating again… it’s that good.

Cheers!

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Vegas, Old Friends, Britain and Rod Stewart at Caesar’s Palace 3/22/17

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*photo taken by your intrepid blogger

Despite the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl celebrating fine, strong drink and rock and roll, and my general sympathies to all seven of the deadly sins, I’ve never been a fan of Las Vegas, aka Sin City. I do love the song “Sin City” by AC/DC, but that’s another matter. However, my Corporate Overlords require me to travel to LV twice a year for “conferences.” It’s like being trapped in Biosphere… I enter the casino/hotel I’m staying at and I usually never see the sun or sky again for a week. Thus was my fate last week. Even inside the casino, the air is so dry in the desert the skin on my hands makes it feels like I’m wearing tiny gloves the entire time I’m there…

There are few things that get me motivated to actually leave my conference hotel and walk up and down the strip to another casino or to a bar or restaurant on the main drag. The one thing that can get me out of my barricaded hotel room is the presence of an old friend. In this case, it was the intrepid Arkansas Joel who lured me out of my room. I met Joel during my exile years, right after graduating college, when I lived in Ft Smith, Arkansas and later Fayetteville. Ah, those heady Arkansas days. Joel was married with an infant child and I was an enfant terrible, something that hasn’t really changed. We were full of youth, piss and vinegar, the young lions come to conquer the world.

I still remember the first time I met Joel, when I was staying at a Ft Smith hotel, the Five Seasons, which is an odd name if you think about it, where they had a free breakfast buffet for anybody who was staying there. They also had a Happy Hour with free beer at end of the day. Joel had dropped by the Five Seasons at the orders of our nefarious manager to, “meet the new guy.” Joel was wearing the same corporate uniform I was: dark suit, white shirt, red tie. With his thin frame and my then beer bloated body, we looked like Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. Joel, who has been a breakfast enthusiast since I met him (“may I have some more plain, white toast please”), enthused, “this is a great little happy hour buffet thing.” All I heard was “happy hour” and responded, “Yeah man, free beer for two hours tonight!” Joel smiled knowingly and just nodded his head. He’s been taking care of me, pretty much ever since. Our friendship, which has lasted 30 years, is the only good thing that ever came out of my Arkansas days.

Joel happened to be attending the same conference that I was in Vegas last week. We grabbed a burger and talked about the old times, while we drank a few beers. It’s fun to get together and think that we’re still the young lions we once were. Although the reminiscing quickly turned to more current concerns. As usual with Joel, the conversation turned philosophical and utterly fascinating. We talked about how our perspectives have changed over the years since we met each other. Joel was always a solid family man, I was always a gypsy. It was truly a great conversation but after one post-dinner drink, I knew I was done. I had to go barricade myself in my room. Joel headed off into the night to meet some other folks. So much for being the young lion any more, at least on my end. But it’s weird, just seeing Joel, my old friend, and hanging out for as briefly as I did, made me feel that way. There will always be a positive buzz I get when I see him. I just sort of feel better spending the evening with him.

Unfortunately, the gears of work caught hold and I was off and running with customers and employees the rest of my time in Vegas and I didn’t see Joel again. I was running around the casino, from customer lunch or dinner to internal meeting and back again. I was pretty fried by Wednesday night. At the conference, Wednesday night is typically concert night. Last week’s show was the Zac Brown Band. I don’t know a lot about the Zac Brown Band, they’ve got some descent tunes. Although, I have to say, what little I’ve heard, they seem to combine “new country” with a jam band/Dave Matthews ethos, which to me is combining all the worst elements of music in one sound experience. After a dinner with customers, where I begged off on the show, I decided to get some fresh air and walk back from New York New York to the Bellagio, where I was staying.

It was out on the streets, amongst the meandering crowd (you never walk anywhere quickly in Vegas) when I saw the giant Caesar’s Palace sign up in the distance. And, under that sign, I saw the bright neon advert for none other than Rod Stewart. When I was in college there were 5 of us who lived in a tiny house just off campus. Rod’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ and all of the Faces LPs were in high rotation in that tiny house. Talk about the young lions…those were some of the greatest days of my life and Rod’s music was the soundtrack. I thought… why not… I only had an hour til showtime, and I couldn’t get a cab. If I could make the walk in time, I’d give ol’ Rod a shot. I got to the box office with 3 minutes to spare. When you walk up that late, they’ll cut you a deal on tickets so instead of nosebleeds, I was right up near the front, where I took the pic above. The place was packed to the rafters.

When the curtain came up, after the warm up music, Rod comes out and sings “Love Train” the old O’Jays tune and I thought, “Fuck, Rod has gone all Vegas, this sucks.” I was justified in thinking this, as he had a baker’s dozen of backing musicians on stage with him. There were three ladies singing back up and three other whose reason for being on stage was unclear at first. I thought, well I won’t stick around… but then suddenly the band launched into “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and I realized, Rod is really singing the shit out of this tune. He was all over the stage. This was no Elvis, roll you out on a dolly after the buffet to sing the same set every night, Rod was fully invested. When they launched into “Young Turks” from Rod’s New Wave period, I was thrilled. The three gals on my end of the stage ended up each being multi instrumentalists – violins, harps, banjos, mandolins… talented women indeed. By “Forever Young,” where Rod walked out through the crowd and right by yours truly, the crowd was going bonkers.

Rod announced that he plays the hits but he also likes to mix up the set list every night and slip in a few tunes that are more obscure. He then launched into “Love Is” a great mid tempo, gaelic flavored tune from his last LP, ‘Another Country,’ and said, “It was a fantastic album by the way…” I found myself smiling. He dedicated the song, “Rhythm of My Heart” to all the policemen and military out in the world and acknowledged the horrendous attacks in Britain, which had only just reached me in Biosphere, I’d been that cut off. It was a nice moment. My heart, like Rod’s goes out to my British brethren.

A true highlight for me was when he brought the band to the lip of the stage for an acoustic set. They did, “Downtown Train,” “You’re in My Heart” and two real highlights for me – “Oo La La” from the Faces which he dedicated to Ronnie Lane, a “beautiful spirit,” and “The Killing of Georgie Pt 1 and 2,” which was pretty amazing. He said “Georgie” was banned by the BBC, “but they play it now…” He had promised that he would play songs that were particularly popular in Britain to honor the fallen in his home town, London. It was a special evening. The only moment I wished the Rock Chick was with me was during “Have I Told You Lately,” our song for the first dance from the wedding reception.

The last part of the set started with “Maggie May,” with Rod saying, “Now the party starts…” He then did his second Faces track, “Stay With Me.” I was in heaven. Rod then said, “We never play this song in America, because nobody fucking knows it, but this is for Britain,” and launched into the beautiful ballad, “Sailing.” I think “Sailing” was actually the official song of the Royal Navy for a time. It was a moving moment. The show ended with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and the encore was some Guy Lombardo cover that I scooted out during…

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think what a great evening it had been. Yes, there are aspects of the show that were very Vegas, especially the costume changes and the encore. But over all, Rod was very engaged and still rocks. He certainly has a lot of infectious fun during the show, laughing and racing around the stage. He still kicks soccer balls into the crowd and can still reach the upper balcony. His band was competent if not stunning. Rod, like myself, may not be the young lion he used to be, but I couldn’t help think as I escaped into the night… I just sort of felt better spending the evening with him, like I felt when I left my old friend Joel. I’ll never know Rod Stewart, but he feels like one of my old drinking mates from the old days. God knows, his music was always present when I was partying in those days… There will always be a positive buzz I feel when I see Rod Stewart…

If you’re stuck in Vegas and want to kill a great rocking hour and 45 minutes… you could do worse…

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll

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I know I’m late to the game on mourning Chuck Berry… Unfortunately, my Corporate Overlords have had me sequestered in Las Vegas at a conference since Saturday when the news broke that the Rock’n’Roll Legend Chuck Berry had passed away at the age of 90 years old. I haven’t had a chance to come up for air to express the sadness I feel at his passing. I hate it when work interferes with music. When I go out to Vegas for these conferences it’s a bit like entering Biosphere… I don’t see the sky or the sun for seven or eight days. Likely everything I could say, will have already been said, but Hell, I don’t even know what’s been said. I’ve been under what feels like house arrest at a casino for a week….and I’ll admit, there are worse places to be under house arrest, but I digress.

If I were to sculpt the Early Rock Music Mount Rushmore, it would have Elvis (The King), Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and naturally, Chuck Berry. These artists are the foundation for everything that came after them. The influence of those acts is indescribable. As anyone who has read B&V before knows, in my opinion America has had many Presidents, but it’s only had one King… and that’s Elvis Presley. But, that said, the Vice President of Rock and Roll, for me has always been Chuck Berry. The thing I always loved about Chuck Berry besides the great songwriting, was that he was the first Guitar Hero rock star! Yes, Elvis had the moves and the voice… but Chuck not only sang and duck walked, he played a mean guitar.

And what a guitarist he was. He never gets the credit that is his due on the six string… So many people were influenced by Chuck Berry as a guitarist – there would be no Keith Richards without Chuck Berry – its difficult to overstate his influence. John Lennon once said, “if you want to find another name for rock ‘n’ roll just call it Chuck Berry.” Everyone who got big in the 60’s/70’s either covered Chuck or wrote a song like Chuck would….

The Beatles did “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “No More Monkey Business.” As solo artists John Lennon (“You Can’t Catch Me”), George Harrison (various tunes) and Paul McCartney (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”) each covered Berry either on record or in concert. The Stones most famously did “Carol,” a real gem of a cover and also “Around and Around” on ’12×5′ their second (and an essential) album. The Stones later did an original tune, “Star Star” that is as pure of a Chuck riff as I’ve ever heard. Berry was as much of an influence on the Stones as the Blues giants they imitated in their early days. As a solo artist Keith Richards covered “Run Rudolph Run” as a Christmas single and produced the fabulous documentary “Hail, Hail Rock N Roll” around a special Chuck Berry concert.

I’ll never forget a scene in “Hail, Hail…” where Berry is schooling Richards on a tune they’re playing in rehearsal. Keith plays the riff, and to these uneducated ears it sounds perfect. Chuck stops the band and says, “If you’re going to play it, play it right…” then lays the riff down again. Keith, clearly agitated, listens to Chuck replay the riff and realizes, yes, he got it wrong. Keith then dutifully replays the riff exactly as Chuck did. I fell out of my theater chair. The perfection was spectacular.

Artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and REO Speedwagon, yes REO, covered “Little Queenie.” Although you’ll have to find Springsteen’s version on a bootleg… you’re on your own there. The Stones covered it live as well. “Let It Rock,” which is a mammoth tune was covered most famously by Bob Seger and became his de facto concert ending/encore song. I saw Drew Abbott, Seger’s guitarist play that song at Kemper arena one time and it was mind blowing. Seger even name checks Berry on “Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” when he says “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his riffs…” If anybody has heard the early Seger tune “Get Out of Denver” I defy you to tell me that’s not a Chuck Berry influenced tune. The fast, galloping, nasty guitar riff is signature Berry. Hell, Jerry Garcia covered “Let It Rock,” and it was oddly wonderful.

One of my favorite covers of a Berry tune is, and yes, those of you who have read B&V will have already guessed, The Faces doing “Memphis.” Ronnie Wood plays a wonderfully distorted guitar line and Rod Stewart just nails the vocal. The only Berry cover by those guys I like as much or better might be “Sweet Little Rock N Roller” done on Rod’s under rated solo disc, ‘Smiler.’

The list of covers could go on and on… Let me just say that every band you love, if you love classic rock, was influenced by Chuck Berry. Hell, AC/DC did “School Days.” I can’t list the number of acts who’ve done “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Reelin and Rockin.” Linda Ronstadt even did “Back In the USA.” I mean, holy shit, Linda Ronstadt? What’s next, my wife’s cat doing “Maybellene?” If only….

Chuck wasn’t perfect… a lot of rock and rollers and musicians also had a dark side. Elvis, James Brown… name anybody who made it big and they probably had demons they were wrestling with. But those demons fueled the artistry that created some of the greatest rock music ever heard.

Chuck Berry was a true American original. While he’s left us, his influence will always be felt when a guitarist steps to the front of the stage and lays down a nasty, beautiful, dirty, fast riff.

RIP Chuck! You are already missed!

Put on “Maybellene” this weekend and play the – “how many songs were based, in part, on this song” game – the list will be long…. Hail, Hail, baby!

Cheers!

Humor – The Song Stuck In My Head From Vacation: “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”

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This may be my weirdest post yet…but I have to exorcise a demon…

While I like to consider myself a “man of leisure,” it has occurred to me over the years I’m not a “vacation guy.” I like going on vacation. If it were up to me I’d be on vacation all the time but the Rock Chick says we have bills to pay. After a two year time lapse, the Rock Chick made it clear we were overdue for a real vacation. Not the, “take Friday off for a long weekend, run up to Chicago” type of vacation, but a vacation involving sandy beaches and sunscreen. Like most married dudes, I acquiesced immediately. The next thing I knew through the grace of a smoking deal on travel, I was in the beautiful Dominican Republic…sandy beaches, beautiful people, and unfortunately on a couple of days… rain.

On a beach vacation, as I’ve posted before, I like to lay on my lounge and listen to my Summer/Sun Playlist. Listening to music is one of the best parts of the entire vacation for me… well, one of my favorite things I can actually write about (heh, heh, ahem). I slip on the headphones and float away. If I’m lucky, I nap. Every day should be like this. But unfortunately the rain made that impossible on one of my vacation days. We quickly decamped to the open air lobby of the resort and found a small table in the corner of the bar. Luckily the Rock Chick had brought a deck of cards and with a dark rum and Sprite with a lime in hand (a drink I had formerly been unfamiliar with and now love) I was having my ass completely kicked in a game of Crazy-8’s. Yes, Crazy-8… that’s as heavy as the Rock Chick and I get into cards… I’m no gambler. Getting out of bed every day is enough of a gamble for me.

It was this rainy afternoon, that I discovered the resort held what I dubbed, “The Sad Saxophone Hour” every day. This dude showed up with a saxophone and a drum machine and some pre recorded keyboards and played sad songs for an hour or two. The prior days of my vacation I’d been passed out on the beach or in my room and had missed “sad sax” hour. At one point the Rock Chick pointed out he was playing the theme from ‘Titanic.’ The horror, the horror. First rain, then losing at cards, then Celine Dion… my worst nightmare.

I had pretty much tuned him out, but toward the end of the performance, I realized he was playing something I recognized… I knew that I knew the song, but it took  me a while to place the melody. Towards the end of the song, I realized he was playing the old Motown chestnut, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” I don’t know why, perhaps it was the exercise of trying to identify the song, but once I’d figured out what it was, the song lodged in my brain and has remained there ever since. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Motown. I’m a hard rock/blues rock kind of person. I like classic rock. When I was in the mood for great soulful music, I was always more of a Sam Cooke man… Sure, I dug some of the later things Marvin Gaye did. Martha and the Vandelas had a few great moments, “No Where To Run To” springs to mind. But overall Motown doesn’t do a lot for me and other than the Supremes I can’t think of an act I like less than Smokey Robinson and the Miracles who wrote and originally performed “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”

But as this song lodged in my brain for a few days, I began to realize what a great tune it really is. As I thought about it, the obsessive way I think about music, it occurred to me that there are a lot of different versions of this song. Everybody has covered this thing from The Jackson 5 (Michael on lead vocals, naturally) and Diana Ross to Phil Collins and Rod Stewart (gasp, sadly in the “Songbook” period of his career). Like “Yesterday” it seems that almost everybody has taken a crack at this song… Some versions are much better than others. In my opinion, there are only three versions of this song that matter… or that I can listen to. And so, in an effort to get this song to leave my brain, I shall list the three essential versions of “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” here on the pages of B&V in the hopes that I can then move on with my life. Like I said, this may be my weirdest post yet…

Smokey Robinson And The Miracles – I have to chock my love of this version of the tune to my musical theory that every band has one good song. I never liked “Tears of a Clown” or any other Smokey tune. His voice is great, he’s an amazing writer and producer but I just never dug Smokey. But I have to admit, his impassioned vocal on this song, and the great piano figure that drives it just sinks into your brain. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. It reached me all the way down in the Dominican Republic and won’t leave me…

The Beatles – The Beatles covered this song expertly on ‘With The Beatles.’ John Lennon takes the lead vocal and I have to say he kills it. He brings even more urgency than Smokey did on the original. You can tell Lennon is really pushing himself vocally, it sounds like his voice almost breaks down midway through the song. The rest of the Fab Four harmonize beautifully on the background vocals. Toward the end it almost feels bluesy. Fabulous lamentations by the Beatles. They even nail the piano figure at the end. It’s a great cover by the Beatles but what song didn’t they make better?

Eddie Money – Yes, Eddie Money. Inexplicably Eddie Money covered this song on his debut album and while this will be considered blasphemy and blow any musical credibility I have established in these pages, this is my favorite version. There’s no background harmonizing. Eddie ditches the piano for guitars to drive the tune. He completely reimagines the song. It’s a laid back, baby “you do me wrong” kind of song. Eddie even plays a fantastic sax solo in the middle of the track. “Sad Sax” guy could learn a thing or two from Eddie… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Eddie owns this tune for me… over Smokey and The Beatles? I know, it sounds crazy. When I think of this song, this is the version I think of. Eddie just seems to feel it more.

Thank God, after all these years, I can finally get this off my chest and confess my love of the Eddie Money version of the tune. I just feel better now. It’s not very often I can say I dig the Money Man… but there it is. I’m hopeful now that I’m home and surrounded by the myriad of LPs here at the house that I can drowned out this song in my head…but you never know. This might be permanent… I could end up walking around singing, “I wanna quit, but I just can’t split” like an urban hipster for the rest of my life…

Thank you for reading and allowing this catharsis. Cheers! (ps – try a dark rum/sprite with a squeeze of lime, it’ll put you in that summer mood…)

Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return

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*image shamelessly stolen from the Internet

My apologies to my readers, that I haven’t been posting as much or as regularly lately. I was on vacation with the Rock Chick in the Dominican Republic all of last week. I hadn’t been on a vacation in 2 years and finally the Rock Chick laid down the law… the next thing I knew I was soaked in rum and sun screen. I will say the DR is beautiful and the people are warm and welcoming. If anything goes astray with the Rock Chick my next wife will certainly be Dominican… The weeks prior to my vacation my Corporate Overlords had me traveling all around the U.S. from Herndon, VA to San Francisco to Salt Lake City… the grind of the road, such is life. As a result, I haven’t had much time to devote to BourbonAndVinyl. And let’s admit it, it’s been a shitty year for music thus far in 2017.

As luck would have it, Joe Bonamassa brought his band to Kansas City last night. Let me be the first to say, WOW. I have converted to the church of Bonamassa.

It was my buddy Stormin’ who first turned me on to Bonamassa. Stormin’ and our mutual friend Matthew got heavily into the blues a number of years ago. Matthew tried to turn me onto Tab Benoit (sp?). He was ok… but then Storm told me to buy the Bonamassa album, ‘The Ballad of John Henry.’ I must say, Joe clicked for me a lot more so than Tab did. The last time I was in Denver, Storm played me another Bonamassa album, whose title escapes me and I was again blown away by Bonamassa’s virtuoso playing. Then I saw him on VH1 on a special from Red Rocks playing Muddy Waters tunes. That’s when I knew I was a fan. If you haven’t seen that concert film, I highly recommend it.

It was a few months ago, my friend Drummer Blake reached out and said, “Let’s go to Bonamassa.” I jumped at the chance. Once again, a little over year later, I found myself nursing a martini in the Drum Room awaiting the Four Horsemen… Although I must admit it was The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse – Slight Return, as not all 4 of them were present last night. There were six of us in total and we were drinking like escaped convicts before the show, which is always good concert prep. I always ask myself before a show, “What would Hendrix do?” It was truly great to be in the presence of the Salinapocalypse again. I must say, one of the Horsemen, Spalding (name obscured to protect the guilty) is a rather finicky food guy… even ordering drinks was an ordeal. As a result of all that we didn’t skip out of the Drum room until 15 minutes prior to the show.

The line to get into the beautiful Midland Theater – and not enough can be said about what a beautiful, old theater the Midland is – was around the block. Apparently the draconian security measures to get in the theater were causing unusual delays. If we have to stand out in the cold for 45 minutes to see the blues, the terrorists have already won, my friends. Instead of being 15 minutes early and being in our seats for the start of the show, to my surprise Bonmassa started promptly at 8pm. We missed the first 20 minutes of the show, standing in the cold waiting to get through the fucking metal detectors. A couple of us peeled off and ducked into a bar to miss the frenzy. I would have thought a stage hand would have leaned into the dressing room and told Joe, “Say man, you might wanna give it 30 minutes…” Que sera, que sera.

I quickly rushed through the darkened and packed theater to my seat in the 14th row… my thanks to the niece of one of the Salinapocalypse for getting us great seats… and spotted Joe on stage. I was taken aback by how much he looks like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies… I was ready for him to say, “What do you want to hear next Mr. Anderson…” He had a great backing band that included Anton Fig of Letterman fame on drums and Reese Wynans from Double Trouble on keyboards. He had a small (2) horn section, and 2 back up singers from Australia who moved continuously though the show, giving the players a nice visual counterpoint.

And what a band they were. As Joe himself said, these guys were nominated for a Grammy. They were tight and amazing all night. I loved the constant interplay between the different instruments all night long. And what can I say about Joe’s guitar playing. The man is truly one of the best I’ve seen. He melted our faces off, in a good way. Drummer Blake claims he is the absolute best guitarist out there. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that yet, but the fact that Bonamassa played Clapton’s “Pretending” and just owned it, goes a long way toward making his case. They did a great version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” which I’ve always associated with B.B. King and it was scorching. The most impressive moment for me, personally, was a cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” It takes some stones for a guitar player to rip through Clapton, B.B., and Jimmy Page covers and hold his own.

The guitar solo’ing was simply other worldly. Joe can bend a note around a corner. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of beautiful guitars the guy played, although even I have to admit the paisley one was funny looking. At one point after shredding through a guitar solo, Joe brought it way down and was quietly playing some slow, bendy notes, and someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you Joe!” It was a great moment. The rapport he has with his audience and their allegiance called to mind the crowd on B.B. King’s seminal live LP “Live at the Regal.” There is a genuine bond there you don’t see as much these days. The guy just killed it on guitar and he was able to do that for 2 and half hours… Just a fantastic show. I highly recommend anybody near a venue he’s playing at, get out to see him as this tour is winding down…

After the show, the Salinapocalypse and I slipped into a tavern across the street from the show to debrief. Everybody was impressed with the band. The conversation eventually turned toward the subject of whether Rock was dead. The concern is that there aren’t enough young kids out there playing the guitar, or learning any instruments. It’s all electronics now, DJs and rappers. I was moved at how much genuine concern and, yes, love of rock and roll was being expressed at that table. If you’re out there and you’re young, there’s still time. Pick up and instrument and as Ronnie Lane’s dad used to say, “then you’ll always have a friend.”

I’m not sure what Rock And Roll Fate brought me into the company of the Salinapocalypse crowd, but I can say, I’m sure glad it did. Without Drummer Blake I’d have missed the Joe Bonamassa show and that would have been missing out on something really special.

Until next time, Cheers!

Artist Lookback – Ozzy & Randy Rhoads: A Match Made In 80s Metal Heaven

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I had an odd history with Black Sabbath. When I first became a music obsessive, my mother’s friend Mrs. Smith (name obscured to protect the guilty), a busty, hard drinking smoker, brought a hand full of albums over to the house. She said these were the records her kids were listening to and to be friendly she thought she’d bring some music over to share with me and I could record it to cassette tapes if I so desired. I have to applaud Mrs. Smith for doing that, she was a nice if a bit unstable woman. When I saw the records I couldn’t help but think, “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson?” I mean, I was 14 years old, all I thought about was sex and rock n roll and of course, more sex. And Mrs Smith sizable breasts were enough to be distracting…But, as usual I digress.

When I started sorting through this sudden windfall of vinyl, I realized it was all stuff I’d never heard of. My musical exploration was pretty nascent at the time. I was still a Stones, ZZ Top, bluesy rock kind of guy. The stack of records included Motorhead, Black Sabbath (‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ jumps out in my memory), and Judas Priest. This was all the current hard rock/heavy metal of the day. Just looking at the (at the time) frightening album art, I couldn’t help but think, “what the fuck is going on at the Smith house?” When I dropped the needle on “British Steel” and the music exploded out of the speakers, I thought I’d broken something on my stereo. I couldn’t help but imagine cigarette smoke filled rooms, loud screaming music and pagan sacrifices going on over there. I felt for the only time in my life, that perhaps I needed to start paying attention in mass on Sunday. Needless to say I quickly returned the Satanic musical collection to Mrs. Smith without taping any of it, which in retrospect is a shame.

Less than year later, I heard the song “Neon Nights” on the radio. Ah, I do long for those days when you could turn on a radio station like KY/102 in Kansas City and actually hear the latest in great rock n’ roll. Obviously “Neon Nights” was not the Ozzy version of Black Sabbath but the Ronnie James Dio fronted version of the band. I didn’t know Sabbath, Dio or Ozzy from Adam, as the saying goes, even though only months prior the boozy, Satanic Mrs. Smith had brought a couple of their albums to the house. I’d pretty much repressed that weird afternoon. Well, except the low cut blouse Mrs. Smith was wearing… paging Dr Freud.

I immediately ran out and bought Black Sabbath’s LP, ‘Heaven And Hell’ and absolutely loved it. I even loved the album art, a picture of angels playing poker and smoking like Mrs. Smith… Hmmm, I sense a pattern. I played the heck out of that classic LP. The fact that it scared my parents made it all the better. As far as I knew this new Black Sabbath was the only Black Sabbath. I had no idea that for years Ozzy Osbourne had been the front man of Sabbath or that he’d either quit or been fired for substance abuse. The now famous story of Ozzy languishing in a filthy LA hotel room until Sharon Arden (soon to be Osbourne) showed up to resurrect his career was something I’d never heard.

About six months after ‘Heaven And Hell’ came out, I was over at my friend Matthew’s house drinking a few afternoon beers while he burned some local herbs for medicinal purposes and he pulled out a new LP he’d purchased by this Ozzy guy, ‘Blizzard of Ozz.’ I had no idea who this Ozzy was but I loved the guitar work on this album. I’d heard “Crazy Train” on the radio, you couldn’t escape that tune, and I liked it, but the album was even better. “Mr. Crowley” was an immediate favorite. “I Don’t Know,” the opening track hooked me right away. I quickly grabbed the liner notes and read that the lead guitarist, who wrote the music was Randy Rhoads. Unlike Iommi, who was all riffs with the enormous solo interlude, Randy played like Eddie Van Halen, the man is all over the fret board. Those two, Eddie and Randy, created the blueprint for the rest of 80s metal bands. A charismatic lead singer and a speed merchant guitarist were all the parts you needed to be successful. Many emulated that sound but few got it down the way these guys did. Ozzy and Randy Rhoads were a match made in 80s Metal Heaven. I can’t explain the excitement of hearing Randy play for the first time. Something exploded in my temple. My world had been changed, the axis had altered.

‘Blizzard of Ozz’ is a must have LP for any metal enthusiast. I remember that afternoon at Matthew’s house reading the lyrics for “No Bone Movies” which is actually a condemnation of porn, something you don’t think you’d hear in 80s metal. “Suicide Solution” was about the death of the great, great Bon Scott by drinking misadventure, and not the call to kill yourself the small-minded Religious Right tried to label it. The band actually had some deep lyrics to go with the magic guitar work. ‘Blizzard’ is a stone cold classic and I immediately committed it to a cassette tape that Matthew gave me and played it in my car until the tape broke.

My first vinyl Ozzy purchase, was the follow-up LP, ‘Diary of a Madman.’ Often times great bands struggle on their second LP, the famous “sophomore slump.” Not so with Ozzy and Randy. In many ways I like ‘Diary’ better than ‘Blizzard.’ The first two tracks, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” rank amongst my favorite songs ever. When Ozzy sings, “mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy, no use saying sorry, it’s something that I enjoy,” he completely summed up my teenage years. Many people have purchased ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ but to truly understand this band, you have to have ‘Diary of a Madman.’ The title track, “Believer” and “S.A.T.O.” are all on my desert island metal list. The centerpiece of the album for me was “You Can’t Kill Rock N Roll.” It’s a determined statement of purpose and as a budding young rock enthusiast, it became my National Anthem. Unfortunately, that song’s title proved untrue. While on tour in support of ‘Diary’ Randy Rhoads was killed in an airplane crash misadventure. One of the truly gifted rock guitarists stolen away at the tender age of 26. He didn’t even make it to the 27 Club.

At that point, I feared the Ozzy/Randy partnership had ended and we’d hear no more from that great combination. Not so! Years later Ozzy released the fabulous live album ‘Tribute’ which features live recordings of Randy Rhoads and the rest of his ‘Blizzard’/’Diary’ era band. To the amazing selection of tunes on the Ozzy/Randy LPs, the band does fantastic versions of the Ozzy Sabbath tunes “Paranoid” and “Children of the Grave,” the latter of which may be the definitive version of that song. This album stands as a living testament to the truly symbiotic nature of Randy’s guitar and Ozzy’s vocals. This is not only one of Ozzy’s best albums, it’s one of the best live albums ever, by anyone. It gets a high recommendation from BourbonAndVinyl.

If you’re like me, and Spring Fever has started to set in, the only thing that will cure it is heavy metal. If you needs some good, vintage, 80s, Heavy Metal look no further than these three albums. If Ozzy had given up recording after the untimely death of Randy Rhoads, these three albums would still encompass what would be considered an amazing career. Luckily Ozzy kept going. The guy has an eye for guitar talent almost unrivaled. He recorded with Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde, and as has been recently reported Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame. That should be interesting. Many think of Ozzy as a daft, old, reality TV star. These albums remind us of what a true force of nature he once was… with Randy at his side, he could do no wrong… well except that whole plane crash thing… (too soon?)

Turn it up loud, and as always, Cheers!