Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ – The Legendary Concert Finally Released

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I wish I could tell you how happy all of us down here at B&V are that the Stones have finally released an official version of the entire legendary 1977 show from Toronto’s El Mocambo Club (March 5, 1977). The album, creatively titled, Live At El Mocambo dropped a few Fridays ago – 45 years after the actual shows. In the interest of full disclosure I purchased this one on CD. The $149 price tag on the vinyl was too rich even for this avid, obsessed Stones’ fan. Hearing this live album I have to say, it ranks up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out as one of the Stones’ finest live LPs. The Stones have been around so long, different live albums tend to capture/conjure different eras in the band’s storied history. Ya-Yas captured them at their career peak with Mick Taylor still on lead guitar. I’ve always been fond of Live At the BBC: On Air  released only a few years ago, but that one really captures the early-Stones, Brian Jones era. Now we have Live At the El Mocambo to give us a taste of the mid-70s, Ronnie Wood-just-joined-the-band era. Of course this early Ronnie Wood era had already been documented on the Stones’ 1977 Love You Live, another Stones live album I love… maybe I just truly love Live Albums.

The Stones were at a cross roads in the mid-70s. After the tour for 1974’s It’s Only Rock n Roll Mick Taylor, lead guitarist extraordinaire, quit the band. Taylor played on what many consider to be the peak of the Stones’ career on albums that include Exile On Mainstreet and Sticky Fingers. When Taylor was in the band there seemed to be a strict division of guitar labor, Taylor played the solo’s and Keith was allowed to become the “Riffmeister,” strictly rhythm. By the time Taylor left the Stones it was largely believed that their classic period had ended and the Stones had become more decadent and less focused on the music. Critics lamented they were a spent creative force. It didn’t help that disco and punk were nipping at their heels. Supposedly, Jagger was fascinated with being a star and Keith was fascinated by, well, heroin. If you ask me Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock n Roll are still pretty “classic” Stones albums but I’m a pretty big fan. But for the Stones there was never any serious consideration given to quitting when Taylor split. Nothing can stop the Stones, man.

They were ready to record a post-Taylor album so they used those sessions to audition a new lead guitarist. They were probably thinking, “Hey, we need to jam with some new guys, let’s record it and try and get an album out of it. ” Many guitarists auditioned including Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton to name drop a few. Others included Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. Finally they decided on Ronnie Wood, who in retrospect was the perfect choice. Wood and Richards’ guitars meld together so well. There would be no more guitar division of labor, these two would practice what Keef calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where their guitars snake in and out of each other’s. Plus Ronnie was a good drinking buddy for Keith. The ensuing LP, recorded as a guitar audition, was Black And Blue. The critical reception was mixed but the album spent a whole month at number one in 1976. I love the record but when a college buddy asked me about it I just said, “It’s more for fans.” Over the years I’ve regretted that as I love the songs on that record. It’s long on grooves and jams but… what’s wrong with that? It also has two of their greatest ballads, “Fool To Cry,” and my favorite “Memory Motel.” The album includes contributions from Mandel, Perkins and Ronnie… but alas no Jeff Beck who left his audition and said, “We jammed for 2 hours and I only played three notes.” Jeff Beck, sigh.

Despite the success of Black And Blue, and the ensuing tour in support of it, critics couldn’t help but continue to decry that things “were over” for the Stones. They were still considered a spent creative force. To make matters worse Keith and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg kept getting busted for coke and heroin possession. And of course, Keith traveled with such a large quantity of drugs – for his and Anita’s use – that he was charged with trafficking. He could have ended up doing real time. He eventually received a suspended sentence… but they were so nervous Keith and Mick took the band into a studio in Paris at the end of 1977 and recorded enough music to fill Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The Stones apparently – when you back them up against the wall – DELIVER. But, I’m losing the thread here…

The Stones made a great choice in Ronnie Wood. The guy’s enthusiasm for rocking out, evinced by his time in the Faces, is contagious. He brought a sense of fun and excitement back to the Stones who were suffering from a bad case of ennui. They were going to follow Black And Blue up with a live album and while they had stuff recorded from both the ’75 and ’76 tours, it was decided they needed to go to Toronto to record a show in a small club, the El Mocambo. Toronto has become the Stones’ home away from home over the years. The Stones now do little club shows at the beginning of almost every tour but in 1977 they hadn’t played a small club since their days the Marquee Club in Richmond 15 years prior. They’d been filling stadiums for almost a decade. It was Wood who lobbied for a club show. It was also Ronnie’s idea that the Stones go back and mix up the set list, playing old blues numbers and some of their shorter classic tracks. I still wonder how they talked Mick into this. It was just the band (Mick/Keith/Ronnie with Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums) with Billy Preston and Ian Stewart on keyboards and Ollie Brown on percussion. There was no horn section or back up singers (save for Keith and Ronnie). This is as straightforward as you’re going to get from the Stones at this point in their career.

Oddly, they used some of the El Mocambo stuff on the ensuing live album, Love You Live, but only 4 tracks. It was, for you vinyl cats out there, side 3 aka “The El Mocambo” side. I can’t help but think it might have been better to just release the entire El Mocambo show back then? I will admit Love You Live has a lot of great moments. They played the entire album on the Houston rock radio station the night after I saw the Stones for the first time with my buddy Brewster, who was apparently upset with the Stones’ set list that night. He said, “What album is this?” I didn’t know at the time. And he said, “At least they’re playing everything I wished they’d played tonight.” Drinking warm beer in the Astrodome parking lot in 1980 I will say, Brewster could always be incisive.

I have to say, first and foremost, Live At The El Mocambo sounds fantastic. I don’t know if its the intimate setting – it only sat 300 people but it feels like you’re there. The Stones had kept the gigs a secret. They faked a radio contest – what would you do to see the Stones? – and the winners would see April Wine live. The opening act was the Cockroaches… aka the Stones. People showed up and were surprised, the Stones were the actual headliners. Mick Jagger sounds like he’s having an absolute blast during this show. At one point he tells the small crowd that Ronnie Wood is inviting them back to his hotel room after the show… but they have to bring their own beer. The band is really tight on these performances – as if this was an escape from all the turmoil off the stage – and the tighter they play the more relaxed and fun Jagger becomes. Or maybe they’re just responding to playing in a tiny club. Keith has always said Mick could rule a stage from a stadium to a phone booth. Ronnie Wood’s lead guitar is also searing on this album. I couldn’t turn it up loud enough.

The Stones start off with a bit of a lumbering version of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s like they’re getting their bearings. Then they take off with “All Down The Line” one of my favorites from Exile On Mainstreet. Everything seemed to come together from there. What’s so great about this album is they not only took Ronnie’s suggestion to play older tracks and blues tunes but they play almost the entire Black And Blue album, something that you’re never gonna hear again. They played one of their earliest “Route 66” and its great but around that they play three tracks from Black And Blue. “Hand Of Fate” is a forgotten rock masterpiece as is “Crazy Mama,” but Jagger sounds IN TO IT. I love the ballad “Fool To Cry” (although I’m broken-hearted they didn’t do “Memory Motel”) but I’ve always been a sucker for ballads and sad songs… ask anybody whose dated me. I used to sing the lyric from “Fool To Cry” to this girl I used to date who lived downtown behind the old blood bank on Armour, “I gotta woman, she live in the poor part of town, I go and see her sometime, we make love so fine…” She’d always say the same thing, “This isn’t the poor part of town.”

“Mannish Boy,” and “Crackin’ Up” are two old blues covers that actually ended up on Love You Live but while I enjoyed the El Mocambo side, the songs just seem more in context here. “Dance Little Sister” and “Tumblin’ Dice” just snarl here. “Hot Stuff” from Black And Blue leads off the second disc. “Star Star” is still the most vulgar Chuck Berry-type track ever. They do a couple of blues tracks and it felt like I was back in Richmond (although I’ve never been to Richmond). “Worried Life Blues” is a track I’ve never heard the Stones do and I loved it. They did “Little Red Rooster” which also amazing… I think they took that to number 1 in England. I mean, you just don’t hear these songs at a Stones show. “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and “Rip This Joint” rock with such a ferocity you think things are going to slip the rails.

After they return to more predictable fair to end the March 5th, 1977 set with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” they’ve tacked on three songs from the March 4th show. It may seem weird but it almost feels like an encore. If the encore was obscure songs that I would be allowed to pick. “Melody,” another great Black And Blue track and gives Billy Preston a chance to share lead with Mick. Then they play “Luxury” a reggae thing from It’s Only Rock n Roll. The final track is a very early version of “Worried About You” a song that didn’t see the light of day until Tattoo You, side 2 (and yes, I know there are Tattoo You, side 2 freaks out there…I’m one of you).

This is the sound of the Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World discovering the joy in playing a concert again. You can hear the joy they find in the music. I do think a lot of that comes from Ronnie Wood’s almost childlike, joyful attitude. This is a treat for big Stones fans and more casual fans alike. It would be another year before the Stones emerged, defiant and triumphant with Some Girls, an album that silenced the “they’re done” talk. That album also happened to awake a rock n roll obsession in a young man living in the Kansas City suburbs…but that’s another post.

I can already tell this album is going to get a lot of airplay here at B&V this summer… Cheers!

The Black Keys Return With New LP – ‘Dropout Boogie’ – Consistently Awesome Music

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The Black Keys – singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – have come roaring back (literally) with a new LP, Dropout Boogie, their third album in four years. Now, admittedly I’ve felt since 2019’s Let’s Rock album the Keys have started exuding this wonderful 70s vibe, but putting out 3 albums in 36 months is truly a 70s style pace… it was a time when artists put out an album almost every year. I think it’s time for me to admit something to all of you, including the Black Keys. Over the course of the last several albums they’ve rocked their way into being one of my all time favorite bands. I am really digging Dropout Boogie. In the past few weeks I’ve gone from the Black Crowes (1972) to the Black Keys… I can only assume a Black Sabbath binge is up next… if you’re into that whole alphabetic thing.

As I’ve said before, I got on this bandwagon when they put out Rubber Factory. Actually, more importantly, that’s when the Rock Chick jumped on their bandwagon. I liked the album but had sort of filed it away. She was the one who put it in high rotation. She went out and immediately bought their debut, The Big Come Up, an album I really dig. I loved that they covered the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” on that album. Even though I was amongst the converted back then I was under the mistaken impression that the Black Keys were one of those bands where I’d jump back in every other album. I dug the debut, Thickfreakness not so much. Rubber Factory Hell yes, Magic Potion…meh. I don’t know why I was so slow to surrender to the punky, blues rock these guys were laying down.

All that changed when they put out Attack And Release in 2008. The Rock Chick snagged that album the day it came out. “Psychotic Girl” is a personal favorite from that LP. Since then we’ve picked up every album they’ve put out save for Turn Blue. That album seemed like a bummer to me but then my relationship with the Black Keys’ music back then was weird. Maybe I need to go back and listen again. I thought El Camino from 2011 was a masterpiece of a record. As mentioned we loved Let’s Rock here at B&V but were then surprised and delighted when after less than 2 years later they put out a wonderful album of Mississippi Hill Country blues covers, Delta Kream. That album celebrated the music of blues giants like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Of course, most of the classic rock n roll we like around here is based firmly on a foundation of blues. Now, less than year later the Black Keys have returned with another – and pardon the expression – kick ass record.

At this point, I have to pause to wonder why the Keys aren’t bigger and more popular than they are. Both Brothers and El Camino went double platinum. Despite all this great music their last LP to go gold was Turn Blue. If you were a fan and got away from these guys you need to check out these last three albums. I think of what Tom Petty said about why he and the Heartbreakers were “bigger” (although I would contend they were big). He said they were just so “consistently good” that people could forget about them. Like the Stones or say AC/DC the Keys found a sound and have mostly stuck to it. Although I realize that statement belies how much they’ve developed and how much more sophisticated and intricate their music has become since they first started. Auerbach and Carney have become extremely talented producers over the course of their careers. So my explanation for the Keys slight dip in terms of commerce, they’re simply so consistently kick ass they’ve been taken for granted.

Dropout Boogie is another self produced album. As I said, this is a great rock n roll album. This is the kind of album that should be blaring out of car windows and T-tops as teenagers cruise up and down Metcalf or whatever your main drag is. Alas, times have changed. This may be my go to summer LP this year. The album starts off with the lead single “Wild Child.” We really dig that track here at B&V but I’ve already posted about that. The second track is also the second single, “It Ain’t Over.” The passion Auerbach brings to the vocals is a whole thing in and of itself. Over handclaps and shakers he begs his baby not go go. I know I’ve been there. The guitar solo on this track is monstrous albeit economical.

“For The Love of Money” is a crunchy bluesy thing that would have been at home on Delta Kream. Auerbach employs a falsetto for parts of the song. It’s just the typical crunchy rocker these guys put out, and I mean that as a compliment. “Your Team Is Looking Good” is good fun arena rock. I could imagine this song being played at Chiefs’ games. Although these guys are from Arkon… I hope they’re not Bengals fans. Akron is too close to Cleveland for that but I’m getting off topic. I love the taunting nature of this track. The biggest surprise for me was “Good Love.” Even before I saw the “featuring Billy Gibbons” I thought this track sounded like ZZ Top. I was hearing an echo of “TV Dinners” or maybe “I Need You Tonight.” It’s got that Billy Gibbons’ bluesy guitar march as the underpinning of the song. Gibbons’ guitar just snarls at you. Then he flashes on the solo. It may be my favorite track on the album. With Gibbons and Auerbach in the studio, that’s a lot of guitar firepower in the studio.

“How Long” is a 70s-vibe ballad. This song makes me think of sitting in the back seat of my dad’s Ford with the windows down because my father didn’t want to turn on the air conditioner. Which is actually weird because if we were in the car with my father Sports Talk radio would have been on. “How Long” is just a 70s longing vibe to me. It’s the prettiest track on the album. “Burn The Damn Thing Down” is barn burner (I couldn’t resist) with raw guitar and a “Travelin’ Band” theme. The Black Keys are coming and they’re gonna burn it all down, baby. The track rocks. Again, this has that blues braggadocio thing that I dig. “Happiness” is a bluesy thing with an elastic, riffy guitar. It’s probably the track that hearkens back to their earlier records the most to my ear. “Baby I’m Coming Home” is a song I will heretofore blast every time I’m getting on an airplane to fly home after a business trip. Oh, yes, baby I’m comin’. It has my favorite guitar solo on the album. If you’re here for the guitar “Baby I’m Coming Home” will get you where you wanna go. The album ends with “Didn’t I Love You” another track that would have been at home on Delta Kream. I love that the blues cover LP they did has informed some of the vibe on this album, but then I love rockers who play the blues.

There isn’t a bad song on Dropout Boogie. These guys are making rock n roll that you just don’t hear that much any more – big guitar riffs and solid, heavy drums. This is an album everyone should hear and play very, very loud… perhaps with a tumbler full of something brown and murky… maybe a little taste of Four Roses…

Enjoy this one at maximum volume. Cheers!

Edgar Winter (And Many Special Guitar Guests), ‘Brother Johnny’ – A Fitting Tribute To His Brother Johnny Winter, Blues/Blues Rock Legend

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It’s no secret that we’re big blues fans here at B&V. We’ve even published a playlist of our favorite blues songs done by rock artists, a playlist still in high rotation here in the B&V labs. All of the great rock n roll I love is really built on a foundation of the blues: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Cream to name but a few. The blues always has a great beat, impassioned vocals and a great guitar solo. All of that translated very well to the rock idiom. “The blues had a baby and they called it rock n roll.” One of the great blues guitarists out there who I’ve always dug but oddly never owned a ton of his stuff was Johnny Winter who passed away in 2014 at the age of 70 years old. While I never owned a ton of Johnny’s stuff, I have been listen to and a fan of his for a long time. With his skinny frame, white-blonde hair and albino skin he was, in my mind, an iconic guitarist. While he may be predominantly known for the blues I’ve always thought of him as more blues/blues rock.

I feel like Johnny Winter should be better known. He hailed from Texas. By the time he was 10 he was playing guitar in bands with his younger brother Edgar (more on him later). He really hit the national scene in 1969 and was hailed as the “next Hendrix.” The hype was pretty big. While he never really lived up to that he fashioned a great blues/blues rock career. He had some great albums: his 1969 eponymous debut, Second Winter, Johnny Winter And, and with his multi instrumentalist brother Edgar Together – Live. His cover of Dylan’s “Highway 61” is almost as iconic as the original. I have always loved his Stones’ covers “Stray Cat Blues” and “Silver Train” to name only two. Johnny played at Woodstock, for god’s sake, why isn’t he a household name? Some of my favorite work by Johnny was when he resurrected Muddy Waters’ late career by producing and playing on a trio of great LPs.

Johnny’s younger brother Edgar followed a similar career path. He played keyboards, saxophone and I understand it, pretty much anything he picked up. After playing with Johnny early on he struck out on his own. He had a couple of really big hits in the 70s, “Free Ride” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” (what a riff). He joined brother Johnny on a live LP but afterwards really became more known as a session musician. I was surprised and thrilled to see that eight years after his death Edgar has put together a guitar extravaganza tribute LP to his late brother. Who better to memorialize the great Johnny Winter but Edgar? Between listening to the new Chili Peppers and cranking up Rush’s Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Edition, I’ve been jamming on this album almost constantly.

Tribute LPs can be a tricky endeavor. They can be really scattershot depending who is involved. Different artists and their styles can pull in wildly varied directions and fray the cohesiveness of the album. Brother Johnny avoids that trap for a couple of reasons. The level of talent Edgar managed to recruit to this thing. From Joe Bonamassa to Billy Gibbons to Warren Haynes, Edgar recruited topnotch guitar players who obviously respect and perhaps revere Johnny’s music/playing. The tunes are in good hands here. The second reason this thing holds together so well is the nature of the songs – it’s the blues. Whether it’s a full band rave up or an acoustic, front porch strummer these tracks all have that blues cohesion. The whole album holds together extremely well. The album literally makes me feel like I’ve driven down the highway to some hidden roadhouse for a blues jam where girls in cut off jeans and cowboy boots shuffle around the floor. Edgar does a lot of the singing and I thought perhaps he’d do all of it but that’s not the case. Many of these tracks are duets.

The aforementioned Joe Bonamassa shows up on the opening track and he gets things off to a roaring start on “Mean Town Blues.” When I heard the way he was torturing that guitar my head snapped up and I stared, open mouthed at the speaker. He shows up for a second track later on the LP, “Self Destructive Blues” and it’s another barn burner. Joe sings lead on that one. I heard Joe play live and he did a track each from Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and he killed it. He made each track his own and yet paid homage to those great former Yardbirds. That was truly ballsy.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd shows up on a catchy as hell rockin’ blues “Alive And Well.” Edgar sings and snarls his ass off on that one. Shepherd shows up later for a rollicking “Highway 61” later on the LP as well. Keb Mo’ does a great acoustic blues track “Lone Star Blues.” Keb’s vocal is as tasty as Texas brisket. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, another Texas great guitar player shows up with former Allman Brother Derek Trucks on the down and dirty “I’m Yours And I’m Hers.” Only in the 60s/70s are you gonna find a song like that one. “You know I’m yours and hers, somebody else’s too…” I don’t think the Rock Chick would allow that sorta thing. Billy sings but the track is guitar heaven with Derek playing too. There’s more guitar fire power on this song than anybody than, well, the Allman Brothers.

“Johnny B. Goode” is a treat with Edgar and none other than Eagle Joe Walsh trading lead vocals. Joe’s guitar playing is as exceptional as ever. The most shocking track on the album, at least to me, is when Micheal McDonald, yes the ex Doobie Brother, takes lead vocal on “Stranger.” Walsh is still on board to play lead and Ringo Starr is on drums. It’s less bluesy and doesn’t fit completely with the rest of the album stylistically but damn if it isn’t a great, great song. Joe’s guitar solo is mind blowing. Steve Luthaker plays on “Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo” a track Johnny did prior to it being a hit for it’s writer Rick Derringer. Doyle Bramhall II does the slow burn, acoustic “When You’ve Got a Good Friend.” I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since the Arc Angels. Another Allman Brothers’ alum, Warren Haynes shows up for the crunchy blues track “Memory Pain.”

There is so much to like on this record. I didn’t hear a single dud on this album. It’s a great tribute to Johnny Winter and a testament to the power of his music and the blues in general. If you like the blues or hell, if you just like great guitar, turn this one up… maybe get a pint of Southern Comfort and dance around… close your eyes and imagine you’re in a great, little roadhouse blues bar. It’s what Johnny would have wanted.

Cheers!

Review: The Rolling Stones ‘Tattoo You – Super Deluxe’ – Revisiting The Landmark Album

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Oh how I love it when we get into the good stuff!

For those of us who were too young and missed the Stones’ late 60s heyday the album Tattoo You in 1981 is about as iconic a Stones disc as you can find. Hell, I was young enough I even missed the Stones in their druggy, decadent 70s and believe me, I’d have settled for that. As I have often confessed, the Rolling Stones aka “The Worlds Greatest Rock N Roll Band” are my alpha and omega when it comes to rock music. It’s where it all starts and ends for me. Actually in my case, they actually are where it started for me. They were the band that caused my entire rock n roll obsession. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was relegated to the back seat of my mother’s Oldsmobile 88…plush velvet seats in the Olds… Ever the “even-Steven” of parents, my sainted mother made my brother and I, ever the quarreling siblings, take turns sitting in the front seat. My brother was upfront, “riding shotgun” as the saying goes, and as was his habit he immediately turned on the radio and flipped to the local rock n roll station, KY102. At this stage in the game, I was not into music whatsoever. The only thing I’d ever turned on the radio for was to listen to a Royals game. Oddly these days I don’t even follow baseball… I was the only person in Kansas City who didn’t watch the Royals win the World Series a few years back, but I’m getting off topic here.

My brother flips on KY/102 and I hear this funky music come blaring out of the speakers. The guy is singing something about “we’re gonna to come around twelve, with some Puerto Rican Girls who are just dyin’ to meet you, we’re gonna bring a case of wine… lets go mess around like we used too.” Well that sounds like fun! I don’t know any Puerto Rican girls… a whole case of wine? I thought this was all fascinating and hysterical at the same time. But it was the music that hit me in the solar plexus and then moved it’s way into my groin. I was new to being a teenager, but as I recall most things that hit me had a way of moving down to my groin… I remember leaning forward into the front seat and asking my brother, “What is THIS?” He replied in his laconic way, “It’s the Stones… I think it’s called “Miss You”” I begged my parents for a stereo for Christmas. My brother had one… it was time to up the rock n roll arms race in our adjoining rooms. Admittedly however, looking back, I realize “Miss You” was pretty much a disco tune. Strangely I seem to remember kind of enjoying Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” his disco “sell out” single… Gads, am I secretly a disco fan?

Later I heard “Beast of Burden” and that was it… I knew I had to buy my first album. I trudged down to the record store and with my Christmas money I bought 1978’s Some Girls, which at the time was the Stones’ latest album. I also picked up Steve Martin’s comedy LP, A Wild And Crazy Guy launching my second obsession, comedians. I wore Some Girls out. I eventually took a blank cassette into what I considered the real inner sanctum of rock n roll in our house, my brother’s room, and taped his copy of Hot Rocks. Those two albums got me through junior high school. I’d play one or the other every morning before going to catch the death wagon er I mean the bus to school. I hated school and the Stones always… I don’t know… cheered me up. I eventually started buying other LPs, Van Halen’s debut, and ZZ Top’s Deguello but I always came back to the Stones…

I was visiting my grandparents one summer a few years later. I hounded her to let me take her transistor radio that she and grandpa used to listen to, well, the Royals games on, to bed with me. The night time DJ, when the clock hit midnight announced he was playing the new Stones album Emotional Rescue in its entirety. The Stones? Have a new album? It hadn’t dawned on me bands could keep putting out new music, I was still trying to catch up on all their old music. On Emotional Rescue I didn’t really have the experience of hearing a first single, I heard it all at once. As soon as I got home and had enough money from mowing lawns I raced to the mall in my dad’s AMC Hornet (no power steering, 3-on the tree gear shift) and picked it up. To this day I’m not sure what the first single was… for me Emotional Rescue was an immersive LP experience.

It was the summer, August I think, before my senior year in high school a few years later when the KY102 DJ announced he was going to play “the new Stones’ song.” Once again I was taken by surprise… I didn’t know the Stones had recorded a new album. I was so unaware as a teenager. Anyway, they played “Start Me Up.” I have to admit, all these 40 years later, it kind of left me cold when I first heard it. For the first time I didn’t rush down and buy a Stones’ LP upon its release. True, my musical tastes had spread out – I was into Zeppelin and Sabbath but also the Who and was dabbling in the Beatles and Springsteen. I’m not sure why I felt that way, I love the song now, despite the Rock Chick insisting it’s overplayed. It wasn’t until I heard “Hang Fire” that I thought, well, I need to buy this thing. And I think “Hang Fire” was the third single… I really took my time on this one. I’d also heard everybody in my class raving about “this new Stones album” and couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I’m the Stones guy…I have been for years… I’ll be the judge of this.” 

Well, I loved the album. It didn’t have any country stuff like “Far Away Eyes” or reggae like “Send Her To Me” on the previous two albums, it was pretty much straight-up rock n roll. What we didn’t know back then was that the Stones, specifically Mick Jagger, had cobbled this thing together from “leftovers” from sessions dating back as far as 1973’s Goats Head Soup. There were a couple of tracks co-written by Mick Taylor their erstwhile lead guitarist… he had to sue for royalties. The Stones had planned to tour in 1981-82 and they wanted to do so behind a new album. Keith had kicked heroin and was starting to reassert himself in the Stones. Mick was used to sitting in the driver’s seat, he’d been driving the thing for almost a decade and resented the affront to his authority. Since they weren’t getting along, they couldn’t pull together a new album. It’s a shame my sainted mother wasn’t on the payroll to make sure things were kept even-Steven between the Glimmer Twins. Mick went back into the studio and worked with producer Chris Kimsey to overdub new vocals on old demos and outtakes. “Tops” and “Waiting On A Friend” dated from the aforementioned Goats Head Soup sessions. “Slave” and “Worried About You” dated from the Black And Blue sessions. “Black Limousine,” “Hang Fire” and “Start Me Up” were from Some Girls. “Start Me Up” actually started as a reggae track entitled “Never Stop” that’s been widely bootlegged and that I’ve never heard. All of the rest of the tracks were from the Emotional Rescue sessions.

For me, and for everyone really, “Start Me Up” is one of the Stones’ most iconic songs. But there were so many other great tracks on this album – cobbled together or not. They divided the album between a fast side (side 1) and a slow side (side 2). While critics weren’t crazy about most of the ballads on side 2, believe it or not, there are a cult of people who love Tattoo You Side 2. From the fast side, I love “Black Limousines” a bluesy rocker that ranks among the Stones best deep tracks. I love “Hang Fire” and “Slave.” “Neighbours” was a great rock song. Keith’s vocal outing, “Little T&A” is a wonderfully vulgar rocker. On the slow side, the standout track is obviously “Waiting On A Friend,” with its iconic video. The original version has a Mick Taylor guitar solo in place of the Sonny Rollins sax solo. I remember critics hailing it as a return to “classic” Stones form… of course it was, it was recorded during their classic period. “Worried About You” is another great song and I loved seeing it played live a few years back.

The Stones have revisited Tattoo You on this, it’s 40th anniversary. Let me just say, wow, it’s been 40 years? Time is a jet plane. True to the “leftovers” theme of the original LP, Mick and Ronnie Wood went into Wood’s home studio and overdubbed some new vocals and guitar on some leftovers from the leftovers? They’re from all the same sessions where the original tracks came from and I’ll denote those in parentheses after the titles. Sadly, there’s no full on reggae “Never Stop” or the original guitar driven “Waiting On A Friend” on the new Deluxe version of the LP. Supposedly there’s a 10-minute version of “Slave” out there and it’s not here either. “Living In The Heart Of Love” (It’s Only Rock N Roll) is a spirited, classic Stones rocker. “Fiji Jim” (Some Girls) is another rocker with kind of a rockabilly vibe to me. I was surprised there are three covers here. “Troubles A’ Comin'” (Emotional Rescue) was made famous by the Chi-Lites. It’s actually one of my favorite songs here. I love the guitar on that one. Their take on blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” (Some Girls) is superb. The Stones and the blues just go together. I love Mick’s harmonica on that one… I wonder if that’s newly overdubbed or on the original… either way Mick is one of the greatest blues harmonica players to ever walk the earth.

The most iconic track here – and the only one I’d ever heard on a bootleg – is the Stones covering a song written by Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (It’s Only Rock N Roll). I love the Stones version of this song… I can’t fathom why it’s just now being released. I know Rod released a version around the same time, maybe they didn’t want to compete. There is myth around the Stones’ version of “Drift Away.” Supposedly, Keith used to like to shoot up and “drift away” while listening to this song. Or I’ve also heard that the Stones would play this song while he was doing so. Either way, it’s a great song.

“It’s A Lie” is from the Some Girls sessions and this rocker would have fit nicely on that album. It really sounds like it comes from that era of the Stones. “Come To The Ball” (Goats Head Soup) is a manic rocker. “Fast Talking Slow Walking” (Goats Head Soup) is the lone ballad here and its a classic. There is an early “reggae-ish” version of “Start Me Up” and I like it. I’ve always wanted to hear the reggae version of that song and this version gives me a taste of that. I really dig all of these “Lost & Found” tracks. Anything we can get from the Stones’ vault I tend to be thankful for. I know there is a ton of material they could have also included, much like the recent Beatles release Let It Be Super Deluxe. I can’t quibble about what’s not included, I just enjoy what is. I would have liked a Keith song here but again, its a small complaint. I’d advise everybody to get the Deluxe version of Tattoo You especially if you don’t own the original LP, which is something everyone should.

Now, if you’re a super fan, the Super Deluxe set has a previously unreleased concert from Wembley (London) in 1982. The Stones on that tour played virtually the same set every night. So if you own, say, the show from the Hampton Colesium, like I do, it’s basically the same show. The Wembley show is far superior to the weak live album they released after the tour, Still Life. Critics of that tour will tell you it wasn’t the Stones at their “best,” whatever that means. For those of us of a certain age who saw the Stones for the first time on that tour, it’s iconic. Personally I saw them three times on the tour, twice in Houston and one of the KC dates where they had Mick Taylor join them as a guest guitarist. I get chills when I hear Keith’s wobbling guitar intro to “Under My Thumb.” That giant, brightly colored stage, Mick running around in a football uniform sans shoulder pads with only Keith and Ronnie singing back up, that stuff is iconic. I love that setlist as they played a ton off of their three previous LPs – Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and the then current Tattoo You. The Stones would never play that much contemporary stuff again.

My recommendation for this one is certainly buy the Deluxe package… and if you’re of a certain age and don’t have a decent live version of the 81-82 tour, splurge for the Super Deluxe. As for me, I’ll still just be out here on the front stoop, cuz, “I’m not waiting on lady, I’m just waiting on a friend…” Maybe Mick will come along and we’ll head to bar…

Cheers to all of you waiting on friends out there! Be safe.

B&V’s Favorite “Comeback” LPs

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“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years, rockin’ my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear” – LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Everybody loves the drama of a good comeback. If you think about Hollywood there’s really only two story lines. There’s the story where our hero struggles, but all good things come to him in the end. I don’t know about y’all but “happily ever after” doesn’t usually happen in real life, at least to me…with the exception of the Rock Chick of course. The other story line that Hollywood loves is the comeback. Our hero gains fame or fortune but somehow, usually through some personality flaw or the machinations of some villain, our hero falls. It’s how the hero handles that adversity that fuels the drama. He struggles and then finally rights the ship and makes, yes, the comeback. That’s certainly the formula they used for the Freddy Mercury and Queen movie, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ In that case, I’m not sure how historically accurate it was.

All of that said, there have been some great comebacks in rock n roll. There are many cases where a band or artist makes it big but then… loses it. Whether they succumb to drug abuse or the pressure of fame gets to them, the artist drifts creatively. The Rock Chick continually marvels at these bands/artists who work all their young lives to get famous and sell records, who finally “make it” only to lose their shit. I kinda understand that whole thing. I don’t think anybody has any conception of what real, big fame is like. The artist perhaps feels isolated, turns to drugs or some other self-destructive behavior. Or maybe just freaked out by their fame, the artist changes their musical approach or fires the band. Certainly hubris plays a big part in all of this… I’m thinking specifically of Axl Rose who thought he was Guns N Roses. Never underestimate band chemistry, Axl.

There are many cases of big stars who eventually faded. For some odd reason I’m thinking of Sly Stone when I type these words. But for every star who eventually faded, against all odds, there are artists who have made the improbable comeback. They have somehow been able to summon the creative fire of their early success and create an album or a series of LPs that solidify their legacy and place in the rock n roll pantheon. There are many of these “comeback” albums that I just love. As I was thinking about this concept, I thought I’d share our favorites with you. There’s something about an artist with their back against the wall who comes out swinging that I’ve always loved… but then I’ve always been the underdog.

  • Elvis Presley, From Elvis In Memphis – The greatest comeback ever belongs to the King. His evil manager Colonel Tom Parker had Elvis stuck on a treadmill of making basically the same movie over and over again. The King wasn’t even doing concerts anymore. The Colonel had rendered the King irrelevant. The one time in his career Elvis bucked the Colonel was when he decided to do a television special at the end of ’68. Longtime fans were nervous… did Elvis still “have it?” Indeed he did. He mesmerized on the Comeback Special. But how to follow it up? Elvis went back home to Memphis and recorded one of his strongest albums, From Elvis In Memphis. “Stranger In My Own Home Town” still brings chills up and down my spine. Had he not come out with a strong LP after the TV show the comeback would have fizzled… The Memphis album as it came to be known solidified the comeback… Alas Colonel Parker took over again and put Elvis on the Vegas concert treadmill but that’s another story.
  • Muddy Waters, Hard AgainThe 70s saw a bunch of new musical trends and they all led away from the blues and blues rock that had dominated in the late 60s, early 70s. Muddy kept putting out LPs in the early 70s with diminishing returns. One might describe his 70s output as disappointing. Muddy acolyte, blues master Johnny Winter approached Muddy about producing an LP. Muddy agreed. They assembled a topnotch backing band and the alchemy struck gold. The version of “Mannish Boy” on this album is definitive for me…
  • Johnny Cash, American Recordings – Johnny Cash was washed up and left for dead by the Country Music establishment. He was doing dinner clubs with an ensemble of musicians. Uber producer Rick Rubin attended one of those dinner club shows and approached the Man In Black about doing a stripped down album. American Recordings, his first of several LPs with Rubin, was stark and fierce. The liner notes were a copy of something Johnny wrote on lined notebook paper. It was a staggeringly successful return. “Delia’s Gone” was my favorite but there’s a lot to like. He does everybody from Nick Lowe to Danzig. It was the beginning of one of Johnny’s most fertile periods.
  • Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind – Even a diehard Dylan fan like me had given up on Bob by the late ’90s. The last LP I’d bought of his was Oh Mercy! almost a decade prior. Dylan had holed up and done a couple of albums of folk covers. I ignored them at the time – although I love them now – but those records recharged something in Dylan. Time Out of Mind feels like mortality itself reaching out to deliver a message It’s a late career masterpiece. It led to a series of great LPs in what can only be called a late career renaissance.
  • Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie – McCartney’s late 80s/early 90s losing streak was the thing of legend. I don’t think anybody was paying attention to him any more. It verged on being embarrassing. After he collaborated with the remaining Beatles on the Anthology Series, McCartney was able to reconnect with his creative spark. Flaming Pie was an amazing record and McCartney has been on a winning streak ever since, culminating in McCartney III last year.
  • George Harrison, Cloud Nine – Odd that there are a couple of ex-Beatles on this list… After his early solo success with All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s career had stagnated. The last thing I expected in the late 80s, driving around Ft Smith, Arkansas was to hear a great Harrison song, “Got My Mind Set On You.” Harrison had brought in Jeff Lynn of ELO fame to produce. Clapton and Ringo show up to help out. Cloud Nine led to the Traveling Wilburys and nice little late career surge for George, an underrated Beatle.
  • Warren Zevon, Sentimental Hygiene – Zevon had so many career collapses and comebacks I struggled to pick just one record here… I picked Sentimental Hygiene because it’s one of his greatest records. The title track features a blistering Neil Young guitar solo – recorded in one or maybe two takes. Everyone should be listening to Warren Zevon and for God’s sake if any of you have any pull – get him into the Rock Hall of Fame, please.
  • Neil Young, Freedom – Speaking of Neil Young… the 80s were a terrible decade for him. He was actually sued by his record company for “Purposely making uncommercial music.” Sigh. While many of the songs on Freedom had been around for a while, the album hung together as a whole. “Rockin’ In the Free World” in both its acoustic and electric versions is an iconic Young tune. It was a real return to form and set Neil up for a very creative decade in the 90s. Neil’s always got something left in the tank.
  • The Allman Brothers, Seven Turns – You could perhaps describe this as a reunion album more so than a comeback album, but I love it and it was so good to hear the Allman Brothers make new music in 1990. They had a great three or four LP run after this. “Good Clean Fun” and the title track remain amongst my favorites.
  • Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation – I had loved 70s Aerosmith but then they just fizzled into a morass of heroin and stupidity. I thought Done With Mirrors was a better album but it was this LP that brought Aerosmith back to center stage. While “Angel” bothers me, I loved “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” and “Ragdoll” with his greasy slide guitar. The world is always better off when Aerosmith is rocking.
  • Metallica, Death Magnetic – The Load and Reload albums sold well for Metallica but man, they left me cold. St Anger was to these ears, unlistenable. But then in 2008 Metallica dropped this gem of a record and everything clicked for me in terms of Metallica. This comeback LP got me on their bandwagon for good… I went back and purchased all their first four LPs and they are amazing.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication – In the video for the first single from this album, the amazing “Scar Tissue,” the Chilis look like someone beat the shit out of them. They’d certainly had a rough go of it. Lead guitarist John Frusciante had quit. Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction fame had joined and left. They were considering doing an electronica based record. But Flea reached out to Frusciante who was fresh out of rehab – his heroin addiction can only be described as harrowing – and John decided to return to the fold. The results were proof Frusciante is the only person who should be playing lead guitar for the RHCPs. I saw this tour, still a very dark vibe from these guys but it was a great show. They went on to even greater heights until Frusciante quit again after Stadium Arcadium… only to return again. Fingers crossed for a new album from these guys.
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, The Rising – Bruce had disbanded the E Street Band, his longstanding back up band and wandered in the wilderness through the 90s. He’d gotten them back together for a reunion tour but wasn’t sure he could still write rock songs. When the tragic events of 911 unfolded, Springsteen was inspired. He was walking down the street and a fan had yelled to him, “We need you now, man.” He responded with one of his greatest sets of songs ever. The Rising was a measured and inspired response to a horrible tragedy. It’s truly one of his finest hours.

If you’re feeling like a little rock n roll comeback drama, I highly recommend every LP on this list. I’ve been cranking Cloud Nine all day. I do so love the title track. Hopefully rock n roll drama is the only thing you’re facing out there today and everything is going well. Take care of each other out there!

Cheers!

Devastating News, RIP Charlie Watts, One of The Greatest Drummers Of All Time

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“I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat, ‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts” – John Hiatt, “Slow Turning”

I just got the sad, devastating news that Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer of the Rolling Stones passed away at 80 years old, surrounded by family in London.

I was worried something was seriously wrong. For the first time in Stones’ history, it was announced that Watts was going to miss the upcoming North American tour, coming in the fall. He’d had to have surgery on “something they found” in a pre-tour physical. I had hoped he’d bounce back. The band and Charlie’s family have been very tight lipped on what his condition was, so it was easy to be optimistic that it was something minor… But it kept nagging at me… he was 80. I was hoping for the best but worrying about the worst case scenario, just like Grandma taught me.

In a band known for it’s excesses back in the 70s and 80s, Watts was the epitome of class and restraint. Even his drumming could be described as controlled. He was heavily influenced by jazz and indeed I think it was his first love. Besides the Stones he’d occasionally tour as the Charlie Watts Quintet playing the jazz msuic he loved.

As I’ve often said, the Stones were the first band I ever loved. They are my absolute favorite. And Charlie Watts’ amazing drumming is a big part of that. He was never flashy like Neil Peart. His drumming was never overbearing and dominant like Keith Moon or John Bonham. He played his drums in whatever way that best suited the song. Keith used to refer to Charlie as the “engine” of the Stones. I am just gutted by this news.

My favorite Charlie Watts’ story dates from the 80s. The Stones were somewhere in the Caribbean recording an album. Mick Jagger had been out drinking and decided he wanted to do some recording. He was drunkenly stumbling around the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, shouting “I need my drummer. Somebody get my drummer down here.” Eventually he got on the house phone and called Charlie’s room and said the same thing, “I need my drummer, I want to record something, get down here.” Charlie, ever the classy dude, rose from bed and put on his suit, enraged to have been awakened in the middle of the night. He put on his suit and shirt. He went to the elevator and calmly rode down to the lobby. I always imagine it like that scene in The Blues Brothers…chaos in the lobby, calm in the elevator car, maybe some Muzak playing. He sprang out of the elevator grabbed Mick by the collar and punched him with a round-house right. “I’m not your drummer, you’re my fucking singer.” He then returned to his room, leaving Jagger laid out on the floor. Only Charlie could get away with something like that. I’m guessing nobody woke Charlie up at 3 am again.

I took my daughter to see the Stones on the ‘Zipcode’ tour a few years back. It was really important to me that she see the Stones. She texted me this afternoon and said, “Did you see the news about Charlie Watts? So sad.” Indeed it is… I’m so glad we bought those tickets. The fact that my daughter knew who Charlie Watts was and got to see him is proof that no matter what… I’m a great parent.

This devastating news leaves only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the original members in the band. Of course Bill Wyman is still out there in retirement. Mick Taylor is still around and appeared at some of their 50th anniversary shows. They recruited Steve Jordan who has worked with Keith in the Xpensive Winos to play on this tour. Ronnie Wood has reported he just recovered from cancer which scares me.  What this means for the future of the Stones is hard to know. As long as Keith and Mick are around they’ll probably be another tour on the calendar. But in my mind they’ve really lost something with Charlie’s passing. He was the foundation. I’m concerned about what this means for the oft delayed new studio stuff they were working on.

Most of all I’m just bummed out that a legend on drums has left us. The world is a less rhythmic place today. I know I’ll be listening to a whole lot of Stones tonight.

Cheers. It’s a long dark ride. Take care of yourselves out there. Live every day like it’s your last.

Billy F Gibbons Latest, ‘Hardware’ – A Straight Up Rocker From ZZ Top’s Front Man

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I’ve been bouncing all around musically this week. I’ve been deeply into the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Deja Vu: 50th Anniversary Edition for a couple of weeks now and that continued this week. I found myself going from that to Dylan’s Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol 10 for no other reason than I saw it was the anniversary of the original Self Portrait recently… I seemed to be stuck in a late 1969, early 1970 groove…maybe I should get a leather fringe jacket and some beads. To shake it up I bounced to the Black Crowes’ Warpaint. That southern rock got me thinking about ZZ Top and that’s when it hit me that Billy F. Gibbons (or just Billy Gibbons as I’ve always known him) had just put out a new solo record, Hardware. The next thing I knew I was cranking that and of course, his original band, ZZ Top. I went back and listened to ZZ’s La Futura. I can’t believe it’s been almost 10 years since that album was released (in 2012). That was a great, Rick Rubin-produced comeback album. Rubin always seems to find a way to get a band to do what they do best. “I Gotsta Get Paid” is a true ZZ Top highlight. I need to do one of my “Lookback” posts about that one… 

My love of ZZ Top goes back as far as my love of rock n roll. As I’ve shared often on this site, my first LP purchase was the Stones’ Some Girls. After that, I was hooked, my life forever changed. I was a music collector. It was late ’78, maybe early ’79. There was so much rock and roll to choose from…I was so far behind. I wanted to collect all of this great music released in the 60s and 70s but like anybody I was drawn to what was then current. I remember I only owned maybe half a dozen records and my dad asking me, “Do you really need all of these albums?” Famously a smart ass, I asked my father in response, “You realize there’s different music on each album, right?” We didn’t talk much after that until I was 30 but I digress. I remember my burgeoning record collection consisted of: The Stones’ Some Girls, Van Halen, Supertramp’s Breakfast In America (which I eventually traded to my brother for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours), Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 1974-1978, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (which was a must have album, if just as a badge of “coolness”), Led Zeppelin (I still have a soft spot for that debut) and believe it or not – the Blues Brothers, Briefcase Full of Blues. My friend’s “hot” sister, Stacy owned that record and since she was a few years older I figured it was cool. Actually that record is how I started to realize that most the bands and music I was into was based on the blues. So good on you Messrs. Belushi and Aykroyd. 

In 1979, ZZ Top had been away on hiatus. The last ZZ Top LP, at the time, had been Tejas in 1976. They had been gone for three years, a lifetime back then. My friend Brewster always said the hiatus was because bass player Dusty Hill had been taking off his cowboy boots and a revolver had tumbled out and shot him in the leg. Having seen the documentary ‘ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,’ I’m not sure that Brewster story is true, funny though it is… As an aside, I did see ZZ Top open up for the Stones in Houston a couple of years later. The show was in the Astrodome. This biker I ended up standing next to, on the floor in the crush in front of the stage, said to me after ZZ Top had played and the roadies were sweeping off the stage, “The roadies have to sweep up all the mud that came off those guys’ cowboy boots,” like they’d been rustling cattle or something. Again, I’m not sure that’s true either but I’m getting distracted again… So many ZZ Top stories. Having been dormant since 1976, I’m not sure that I was aware that all those great southern rock, boogie blues tunes were the same band, let alone knew it was ZZ Top. I’d heard tracks like “Tush,” and “La Grange” but I’m not sure I’d put it together those were all from the same band… I was truly a novice. Hey, I always thought Genesis’ “Misunderstanding” was Journey with Gregg Rollie on lead vocals. That wasn’t cleared up for me until college. 

So, in 1979 I started hearing this great new song on KY102, the local rock station, “I Thank You.” I dug the music but the lyrics sounded like they were slyly vulgar, which was a plus. Beyond thanking a woman for loving him… this line pops up, “You didn’t have to squeeze it but you did, but you did, but you did, and I thank you.” That line had me thinking there was more to this story… there were just too many “but you did(s)” in the song. It was only later that I found out it was a cover tune written in part by Isaac Hayes. I dug the song and I was interested in this ZZ Top, but with only 6 or 7 albums to my name and a salary derived from mowing lawns, I had to be very careful about which LPs I purchased. I quickly determined the new LP was called Deguello, but I still hesitated. I had this 3 song rule… if I heard three tracks I dug, I bought the record. That was my ROI, three songs. Sigh. After hearing “Cheap Sunglasses” I was almost ready to jump in… Finally I heard “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” and that settled it, I had to have this album. I purchased it the next time I could convince my mom to drive me to the mall… Yes, I was still in junior high. Needless to say, that album started a life long connection between ZZ Top and myself. Gibbons had spent his 3 years away absorbing punk rock and psychedelic influences and it paid off. Although even I’ll admit that it was hit and miss after Eliminator all the way to La Futura. I still consider Antenna a great record. 

I had actually heard that ZZ Top was working on a new band LP. I had heard drummer Frank Beard and the aforementioned, Brewster slandered, bass player Dusty Hill were excited about going back into the studio. I was down for another ZZ Top LP after the great La Futura. So I was a bit surprise that guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons had decided to do another solo record. Maybe it was a COVID issue. I remember back in 2000, being in Denver at a Rush cover-band show in a bar up in the mountains. Geddy Lee had just put out his first and only solo record. A friend of mine said to me, “Who needs a Geddy Lee solo record?” Harsh, indeed. Musicians likely get tired of working with the same guys and need a break – especially in the case of someone like Gibbons whose band has been together 50+ years. Sometimes they have material that’s just too personal or they just wanna record different types of music. I never fault a guy for going solo. I will admit, Billy’s first solo LP, 2015’s Latin-tinged Perfectamundo was not my cup of tea. I loved his 2018 LP, The Big Bad BluesI saw that album described as “covers heavy” but there were a lot of Gibbons’ originals. His wife even wrote a tune, “Missin’ Yo Kissin’.” Say what you want about the Rock Chick, she’s never tried to muscle in on the publishing… 

For Hardware, Billy assembled much of the same crew from the last record. He produced the record with Mike Fiorentino and Matt Sorum of GnR and the Cult fame, who also plays drums. I know rhythm guitarist Austin Hawks is also on this record too. Alas, long time ZZ Top engineer Joe Hardy who played bass on Gibbons’ previous two solo records passed away. While Perfectamundo was a Latin, percussive record and The Big Bad Blues was steeped in, yes, the blues – both records could perhaps be seen as genre exercise – Hardware is a straight up rock record. Well, as straight up as Billy F Gibbons is capable of. Gibbons put out a single last year, “Hot Rod” that could have been a bonus track on Eliminator, but it is not on this album. Hardware is the most “ZZ Top” sounding solo record Gibbons has done. 

Hardware is what you would expect in a Billy Gibbons record: lots of guitar, big riffs, bluesy solos, and sly (and sometimes not so sly) humor. Parts of this record remind me of Deguello. The first single was “West Coast Junkie” and it gives me a California vibe that pervades this entire record. It’s a surf rock tune punctuated by Billy doing his “Reverend Billy F Gibbons” schtick. The final track, a spoken word thing not unlike “Heaven Hell Or Houston,” also conjures a California, hot desert wind. You can feel dust on your skin… The first four or five tracks have a seriousness that Billy usually doesn’t evince. It almost starts to feel humorless, but that’s just because it’s missing Gibbons’ trademark humor which comes in later. The opener, “Lucky Card” reminds me of “Just Got Paid,” all funky blues rock. It may be my favorite. “She’s on Fire” is one of those, race to the finish line, fast, balls to the wall rocker. “More More More” has some of Gibbons’ most gravely vocals to date. “Shuffle Step & Slide” is just as advertised, a blues shuffle turned up to 10. It’s got a big, big riff. 

“Vagabond Man” is an affecting bluesy ballad, the guitar solo practically weeps. Make no mistake though, “Vagabond Man” is more ballad than blues. It’s not “Fool For Your Stockings.” “I Was A Highway” is a classic rock song with a chugging riff. It’s almost a sing along. I love the line, “You’d think I was a highway, the way she hit the road.” Gibbons is a deceptively clever songwriter and could always turn a phrase. The only track that really fell flat for me was “Hey Baby, Que Paso” which I think is a cover. “Spanish Fly” is a big riff rocker with almost metallic sounding drums and it is slightly plodding. The music – especially the guitars aren’t as loud as the usual ZZ Top or Gibbons record. They’re down in the mix and the vocals are up a little higher which also surprised me. 

Overall I really do like this record. Much like I said about Cheap Trick’s latest album, this is a solid, straight up rock record. It may not be Tres Hombres but its a damn fine guitar riff record. I’ll be honest, I probably liked The Big Bad Blues a little better but I’m an admitted blues fetishist. Everyone should check this album out. In 2021 its just nice to hear some great, guitar rock. 

Cheers! 

Review: The Black Keys’ LP of Blues Covers, ‘Delta Kream’ – Goin’ Down South To The Mississippi Hill Country

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Despite the heavy influence of the blues on just about every band I was into through college – the Stones, Zeppelin, Clapton, Aerosmith, etc – it wasn’t until after college when I was sent into corporate exile in the lonely state of Arkansas that I actually saw my first blues band in an actual blues club. Don’t be confused, it wasn’t in Arkansas that I saw my first blues band. Every week I spent in Arkansas I was usually figuring out how to get out of Arkansas by the weekend. Early in my southern desolation a group of friends of mine were convening in Chicago for various, nefarious reasons. It was my sainted mother who said to me, in regards to actually flying to Chicago to join them which I was hesitating on, “Buy the ticket son, enjoy your life.” On the appointed weekend I drove from Ft. Smith to Tulsa, the closest functioning airport, and flew to Chicago. It was like getting a three day furlough.

By the time the wheels touched down in Chicago and I made it to my friend’s waiting car, someone had thrust a beer into my hand. I knew this was indeed going to be a great weekend. Before I knew it, I was down on Halsted standing in front of the legendary Kingston Mines. I seem to recall not being able to get in and so we went across the street to the B.L.U.E.S. bar… It was there that I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops, my first blues band. After that performance, my musical universe made a lot more sense. I spent a lot of time after returning to KC hanging in blues clubs like the Grand Emporium, alas now defunct. One of my first dates with the Rock Chick I took her to B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, an old school roadhouse. I can still remember watching her swaying to the blues music on her barstool with a half-eaten rib in her hand. I was…mesmerized. 

Despite my love of the blues I had no idea when I posted my rockers playing the blues playlist a few weeks ago what a huge part of 2021 the blues were going to be. That post grew out of another post I’d done about old school cassette mix tapes not any preternatural sense the blues were going to be a big part of spring. But before I knew it Mick Fleetwood released the soundtrack to his blues jam in honor of Peter Green. And now, the Black Keys have released an entire album of blues covers. A blues album from those guys totally make sense. Like the White Stripes they’ve always had that bluesy sound to go along with the garage rock swagger. It’s often that you hear a band do a cover song, but an entire cover album isn’t as common as you think…but that’s another post. 

I got into the Black Keys on their third LP, Rubber Factory. For some reason that LP just didn’t click with me. Months later though, the Rock Chick discovered it and it went into high rotation for her. After hearing it a few times I realized I’d missed something on my initial listens. She not only picked up Attack & Release she went all the way back to their debut LP, The Big Come Up. Since then I’ve had an odd relationship with the Keys. I seem to like every other LP they put out. Rubber Factory, yes. Magic Potion, no (although in their defense I’m not sure I gave that one a thorough enough listen), Attack & Release, yes. It wasn’t until this week, in anticipation of the new blues LP, Delta Kream that I picked up Brothers. They had quite a run there with Attack & Release, Brothers, and El Camino. They’ve branched out from their early garage-rock bluesy roots but they always return to them eventually and that’s the stuff I like the best. 

Delta Kream is not the first time the Black Keys have done a strictly blues thing. They did an EP in honor legendary Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough, Chulahoma. The Keys also covered Kimbrough’s “Do The Rump” on their debut. The influence is definitely ingrained in their music. They’ve stated that Delta Kream is an album to honor Hill Country Blues and the musicians who played it – Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Missippi Fred McDowell, to name but a few. Hill Country blues generally refers to a type/style of blues played in the northern part of Mississippi near the Tennessee border. It has a “strong emphasis on the rhythm and percussion and a heavy emphasis on groove.” I just love that description from Wikipedia…I had to quote it verbatim. Hill Country blues has also been described as “hypnotic boogie.” It’s like cool bluesy trance music. With Patrick Carney on drums, he’s tailor-made for Hill Country Blues. 

The Keys convened shortly after their tour for their last LP, the superb “Let’s Rock.” The chemistry between singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney is so strong that they entered the studio and recorded this album in 2 days… approximately 10 hours. There was apparently no plan or rehearsal, they just set up and eyeball to eyeball played the blues. They’re like me and my friend Drew, it can be 10 years since we last spoke but when we see each other it’s like it was just yesterday… I think we all have friends like that. To augment their rootsy two-piece sound they rounded out their sound on this LP by bringing in Eric Deaton who was R.L. Burnside’s bassist and Junior Kimbrough’s sideman Kenny Brown on exquisite slide guitar. You can’t get more authentic blues sound than bringing those guys in. To emphasize the percussion, so important in the Hill Country blues they also added Sam Bacco on percussion. Brown was a critical add as his and Auerbach’s guitar snake around each other like Clapton and Duane Allman did on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. 

Knowing my proclivity for the blues, it’s no secret that I love this LP. I listened to it all day yesterday and last night on the headphones after the Rock Chick was asleep. This is the kind of music that just seeps into your pores. I can feel dirt on my hands when I hear this stuff. The first track on the LP which was coincidentally the first single is “Crawling King Snake” which I first heard the Doors do on L.A. Woman. It’s a track they played early on but Morrison couldn’t convince the band to include it on their debut. It was previously made famous by none other than the legendary John Lee Hooker. I love what the Keys do here with it – they cleave pretty tightly to the Junior Kimbrough version of the song – it’s swampy. “Louise” a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune is next up and I’ll just quote the Rock Chick when she first heard it last night, “That’s a great tune.” Indeed. 

“Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” is another favorite… it’s been done by several artists but I really dig this version. It’ll put a hitch in your giddy-up as a friend of mine used to say. These guys make these tunes sound fresh and new and somehow ancient at the same time. I feel like I’m getting wisdom when I listen to old blues tunes. “Stay All Night” which I seem to remember asking the Rock Chick after seeing her eat ribs and groove to the blues, is a slow burner of a tune. When you think about the blues, this is the type of music  you think of. “Going Down South,” which helped me name this post is a bit of a twist as Auerbach sings in a high falsetto. It’s a nice change of pace. “Coal Black Mattie” a Ranie Burnette track is another stand out. It just jumps up and grabs you with a thick riff, insistent drumming and stabs of slide guitar. I like to imagine I’m in a roadhouse down at the crossroads, washing down the dirt from a hard day working with a cold, affordable beer when I hear this stuff. 

There are so many great tunes here – and most of these blues tunes are ones I hadn’t heard before, which was a surprise. “Sad, Lonely Nights,” and “Walk With Me” are tracks I’d never heard covered. I used to think there were maybe twelve blues tunes and artists just passed those around. Obviously, that was wrong. There are some who will probably criticize the Keys for being too reverent and clinging too closely to the original versions of these songs, although I think in most cases they make these tunes their own. I remember Clapton’s great blues LP From The Cradle being criticized for not taking enough creative license with the songs. I feel like that’s hollow criticism. If you’ve got the chops to get up and make me feel something, I’m good with that. In the case of the Black Keys they’re exposing me to blues music and artists I would have otherwise not known and that is the greatest support you can show other artists, especially bluesmen. I know I immediately turned to Junior Kimbrough’s catalog to check that cat out. I will likely continue spelunking into Hill Country blues having heard this LP. 

I highly recommend Delta Kream. This is a swampy, bluesy treat of an album. When the Black Keys are on their rootsy game they can literally compete with any band on the planet. It’s just so fantastic to hear this kind of blues music still being recorded in 2021. I’ve always feared it’s going to be like what Elwood Blues once said, “some day the music known as the blues will only be available in the classical music section of your local library.” With albums like this one, that day looks like it’s been pushed a little further down the road. Thank God. 

Cheers! 

Review: Mick Fleetwood & Friends, ‘Celebrate The Music of Peter Green And The Early Days of Fleetwood Mac’

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“If music be the food of love, play on.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

These days if you mention Fleetwood Mac most people think of what is now referred to as their “classic” lineup (meaning their biggest selling roster): Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), Christine McVie (vocals, keyboards), Lindsey Buckingham (vocals, guitar) and Stevie Nicks (vocals, spooky outfits). I have to admit, even if you’d have asked me about Fleetwood Mac in the late 70s/early 80s when I started listening to music and buying albums I would have thought of the Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – Tusk version of the band. Recently I wrote about that lineup’s new, expanded live LP from 1980, ‘Live.’ I was unaware until much later of their extensive, bluesier history. Rock and roll had been around a lot longer than I realized in 1978 and had a deeper, richer history than I knew about when I was 13. Spelunking into rock n roll or a certain band’s history is part of the fun of being a fan for me and Fleetwood Mac’s rich history was no exception… but not everybody is wired as obsessively as I am.

Fleetwood Mac did indeed have a history that dated back to 1968, before Lindsey and Stevie. Hell, it even pre-dated Christine (Perfect) McVie. And that early Fleetwood Mac was steeped in the blues. To really tell the story of Fleetwood Mac and their early period one must step back to blues rock legend John Mayall. I’ve posted before about John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers first few albums. Mayall’s lineup for his first studio LP included not only John McVie on bass but Eric Clapton on guitar. This was circa the “Clapton Is God” era. Clapton met Jack Bruce who had also briefly played with Mayall – the Bluesbreaker were more of a consortium than a band it seems – and they grabbed a drummer from the Graham Bond Organization named Ginger Baker to form a new band. Without Mayall, there’d have been no Cream. What do you do when you lose a legend like Clapton on guitar? Apparently Mayall had a nose for great guitarists that rivaled Ozzy Osbourne’s… he quickly had a replacement for Clapton.

When Mayall brought his band into the studio to record his second studio LP, A Hard Road, his producer fearfully asked where Clapton was? Mayall reportedly said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” That guitarist he was talking about was the 20 year old Peter Green. You don’t hear much about Peter Green, a seemingly unsung hero in rock n roll, but he was one of the foremost guitarists in the second great British Blues explosion of the late 60s. What I have always admired about him is the tone he got out of his guitar. It’s like David Gilmour, instantly recognizable to me. Even Clapton praised his playing. But the highest praise for Peter Green came from blues legend B.B. King who said of him, “He had the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” High praise, indeed.

After A Hard Road, Green like Clapton decided to leave the Bluesbreakers and form his own band. Mick Fleetwood who had also been a member of the Bluesbreakers but had been fired quickly agreed to join. Green wanted John McVie to leave Mayall and join his band so he named it Fleetwood Mac – after the drummer and bassist – but McVie waited until they were recording their first, eponymous LP to join. That name, Fleetwood Mac, was prescient as those two guys are the only mainstays of the band. Green was always a generous band leader and didn’t want to be a guitar hero like Clapton so he insisted that a second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer – an Elmore James influenced slide guitarist – join the band. Their eponymous first LP is a great blues rock classic. I love that late 60s blues rock era. Back in those days all the rock bands, when they needed material, turned to the blues. I can’t name a band – Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Jeff Beck Group – who weren’t doing Willie Dixon covers. The Mac’s debut may not have received the attention in the U.S. that it did in the U.K., but it should have. Although, admittedly, I didn’t put any tracks from the debut on my Blues Rock playlist a few weeks ago… although I did include a few early Fleetwood Mac tunes.

Sadly, Peter Green only lasted for three albums with Fleetwood Mac, the band he founded. I’ve read that he started dabbling in LSD. I’ve always heard that someone dosed him at a party in Germany and it really affected his mental health. I don’t know if he was schizophrenic or if he was an acid casualty like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Regardless his mental decline resulted in his departure from the band. And sadly, he sort of floated into obscurity in terms of the annals of rock n roll history. I know he made an uncredited cameo on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album on the Christine McVie track “Brown Eyes.” Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac led to a revolving door of musicians who came and went, even after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and then left the band… and then came back and then left…or were fired.

I started reading in 2019 that Mick Fleetwood was putting together a tribute concert for his former band leader, Peter Green. I really loved this idea, it was really a well-deserved thing. I read that Green was invited but didn’t show up. The concert took place in February of 2020 right before the dark curtain of COVID fell across the world, darkening stages and lives everywhere. The concert is structured like a blues jam. There was this bar I used to hang out in on Saturday afternoons in Kansas City named Harling’s. Every Saturday this woman, Big Mama Ray would lead a blues jam. She could have been forty or could have been seventy, you just couldn’t tell. She typically had a Marlboro 100 dangling from her lips, when she wasn’t singing, and it was hard to see her through the smoke. This tribute album for Peter Green reminds me a bit of those old Saturday blues jams – only with considerably more talented and famous musicians involved.

I know they also shot this as a movie/documentary but I haven’t seen that, I’m only speaking of the LP in this post. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V… I’ve scoured the internet and what I’ve been able to determine is that joining Mick Fleetwood (who is the Master of Ceremony and drummer here) in the “house band” at the London Palladium is: Rick Vito (guitar), one time blues wunderkind Jonny Lang (guitar), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Ricky Peterson (keyboards), Dave Bronze (bass). Mick introduces drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, who has played with both Oasis and the Who a few tracks in but I don’t know if he plays the whole time. A blues jam is structured around a core “house” band with other musicians who get up and take over guitar, vocals, bass or drums. This live LP is a great tribute to Peter Green, early Fleetwood Mac and the blues in general.

It is staggering to think about how many people have been in Fleetwood Mac and many of them show up at this show. First and foremost, it was great to hear Christine McVie sing a couple of blues tracks. I especially like her rendition of “Stop Messing Around.” Rick Vito who along with Billy Burnette replaced Buckingham in the late 80s sings a couple of tunes and really tears it up on “Love That Burns.” Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, who I almost forgot was in Fleetwood Mac to replace Buckingham (again) appears and sings “Man of the World.” The most surprising ex-Mac member to show up is original guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Spencer. Mick introduces him by stating that they hadn’t been on the same stage together in 50 years. I only wish that Peter Green could have been there to join in. Spencer actually brings ex-Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman with him to the stage. Spencer does a great take on Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” The only ex-Mac member who didn’t show up was John McVie… well nor did Lindsey or Stevie.

Speaking of Bill Wyman, he’s only the tip of the iceberg here in terms of famous cameos. By my count we hear members of : The Stones, The Who, Metallica, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Oasis during the course of the bluesy evening. Wow, those appearances really signal what a special event this was. I was thrilled to hear John Mayall who Fleetwood introduces as “our mentor” perform “All Your Love.” It brings it full circle in a way. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top shows up early and plays on the early Mac chestnut “Doctor Brown.” That took me back. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler does a great take on “Rattlesnake Shake” a track Aerosmith used to do live which can be found on Pandora’s Box. More proof of Green’s influence… Kirk Hammett comes out to provide pyrotechnic solos on “The Green Manilishi” with Gibbons… a track so rocking it was covered by Judas Priest. Noel Gallagher does a few tracks and they’re all acoustic blues based which I really dug. Pete Townshend comes out and rocks out on “Station Man.” For me the emotional highlight of the evening is when Tyler/Gibbons start off with the rocking part of “Oh Well, Pt. 1” and then Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (who probably emerges from the shadows) comes out and plays the long guitar suite “Oh Well, Pt. 2.” Gilmour also does a beautiful version of Green’s signature “Albatross.” He doesn’t sing but Gilmour’s guitar is always so recognizable.

The evening ends as many jams do, with everybody on stage joining in on the final track. In this case it’s a rollicking “Shake Your Money Maker.” Mick ends thing with the Shakespeare quote that gave one of Fleetwood Mac’s early LPs its name. And I can’t agree more, “if music be the food of love, play on.” This is a great little live album for any fan of early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green or 60s British blues rock. A truly fitting tribute to a great guitarist we don’t hear enough about. Sadly merely months after this show, Peter Green passed away in his sleep. It’s never too early to recognize a genius for we never know what’s around the corner.

I realize not everybody is into the blues like I am, but I highly recommend everybody check this great live LP out. I’m hoping to actually see the video when it comes out, I think it’ll only add to the experience.

Cheers!

Playlist: B&V Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues – Our Favorite Rock Artists’ Blues Songs

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*Photo of “master bluesmen practicing their craft” taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

As a young fan of rock and roll, I’m not even sure I knew what “the blues” were. I had always associated the term “blues” with depression, i.e. “he was in a blue mood” or “I’ve got the Monday blues.” I associated the music with old guys singing songs about heartbreak and despair with some great guitar work thrown in for good measure. At the age of 15 I would have insisted that I wasn’t into the blues and didn’t know anything about them but at the same time I was listening to the Stones, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC. I was a blues fan and didn’t even know it. When the aforementioned bands played blues tunes like “Down In The Hole” (Stones) or “A Fool For Your Stockings” (ZZ Top) I just thought those were kind of slower, more intense, “change of pace” kind of songs… almost ballads. But make no mistake, I loved those bluesy numbers. I was so young and naive I hadn’t learned (yet) about the immense influence the blues had on all that great 60s and 70s rock and roll I was devouring.

Believe it or not it was the Blues Brothers who first really brought blues music into focus for me. The Blues Brothers, Joliet Jake and Elwood, were actually John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They debuted the band on Saturday Night Live. During the filming of Animal House Belushi had been turned onto a bunch of old blues records and decided he wanted to play some music. Since they debuted this music on SNL I thought it was a spoof. But I really dug the first single “Hey Bartender.” I couldn’t bring myself to buy the album because you couldn’t be caught dead with music that was “uncool.” And I’ll admit “Rubber Biscuit” left me cold. But they had some great musicians in that band: Matt “Guitar” Murphy, bassist Duck Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper and future uber-producer Steve Jordan on drums. I was intrigued but didn’t make a move in terms of a purchase…

I came to the blues the way I came into many things in my life… through a woman and an unrequited crush…which sounds like a perfect setup to a blues tune. One Friday night I went over to one of the half dozen or so friends of mine whose name was Steve’s house. Steve had a big sister who was a senior, two years or three years older than us. She was buxom and we all thought she was attractive but we were 15, everybody was attractive. She was indeed one of the “popular” kids in the neighborhood in that high school way, so her opinion meant something to us. The girl drove a Trans Am, for heaven’s sake, she was cool. She was getting ready for a Friday night party and she was blasting… Briefcase Full Of Blues, the debut LP from the Blues Brothers. If Stacy (named changed to protect the guilty) who was cool was listening to these guys, then they were by extension of high school logic “cool.” I hate to admit to being subject to that kind of peer pressure but I was just a teenager, all hair and testosterone with no brains. I bought the album on my next trip to the record store and the light bulb finally went off… I finally realized virtually every band I listened to was influenced or inspired by the blues. That’s when I realized the Stones had basically started off as a blues cover band.

The blues had sprung from the fertile soil of the Mississippi river, invented by the freed slaves after the Civil War. Originally just vocals and acoustic guitar (or diddly bow) the music was influenced by spirituals and work songs. There was a lot of call and response. When juke joints – bars where Black people could gather and socialize – began to proliferate so did the blues. Legends like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson roamed the earth playing songs that bands still cover today. The blues made its way up the Mississippi River and to its spiritual home, Memphis. A young man named Elvis probably heard a lot of that music growing up there… The blues wasn’t all sad music, there was a lot of innuendo in that music. It didn’t take long until Preachers, unnerved at the effect this music was having on women, began to denounce it as “the Devil music.” That had to just draw more people in… it always does. Sabbath’s career was completely founded on that Devil stuff.

Eventually, during the Great Migration, the blues headed north to Detroit and more importantly Chicago. I didn’t actually see a live blues performer until I was out of college. I flew to Chicago to see my best buddy Doug and we went directly to the legendary blues bar, the Kingston Mines…where I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Life changing! But I digress… The blues went through that Golden Era with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Willie Dixon and so many others. Alas this music didn’t hit it big in the U.S. Thankfully a bunch of post-war British teenagers were listening and they loved the stuff. Alexis Korner and John Mayall were spreading the word on blues music. Pretty soon you had the Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers all playing blues covers like “King Bee” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Eventually during the British Invasion the English bands brought the blues back home, like a disciple returning to the temple. Pretty quickly American bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors and later Aerosmith popped up in the wake of those British acts.

You could argue about the Brits and “cultural appropriation” but this is a music blog not a political one. The early bands who started covering the blues had a reverence for the blues and the Blues Masters who played it, and frankly I share that awe and worship. This was more of an imitation is flattery thing. It does say something that this wonderful American art form, nay, African American art form had to go to Britain and then come back to make it to the mainstream in America…kind of like Jimi Hendrix. There are some who would argue that in the 80s rock and roll severed its close ties to the blues and that’s when rock music went into decline. I’m a lover not a fighter so I’m going to veer away from all of that. All I can say about it, and as I’ll probably repeat in this post, I just love the blues and the rock and roll it inspired. I love phrases like, “my tears they fall like rain” and “my baby she shakes like a willow tree” and the Rock Chick can testify I sprinkle those throughout my conversation even now. I still have people tell me they don’t dig the blues but love Cream… Um, then you dig the blues, you just don’t know it.

Since the inventor of the cassette tape passed away a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about all those old mixtapes I used to make for my car. I used to have this great tape of different bands playing blues songs. They were mostly slower tunes so the tape held together for a great listen. Using that as a base I decided to expand the list and share some of our favorite bands playing some of our favorite songs in our favorite genre, the blues. I wanted to highlight different artists than just the Stones/Zeppelin/Clapton continuum to demonstrate just how far and wide the influence of the blues is and was. Artists as diverse as James Taylor and Harry Nilsson to Sam Cooke and Aretha have done blues tracks. I just love the blues and the raw emotion and  the strength of the singing on many of these tracks moves me to this day. It’s my hope that they’ll move you too. I love that so many different artists took the blues, adapted and changed it and yet it remained the blues. With Easter and Passover coming up this weekend and all the family that entails, let’s face it we’re all gonna need some rockin’ blues to get through this thing. These are just our B&V favorites… and just the tip of the iceberg… Always remember though, if you get into the blues, as John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison sang, you’ll “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive.” You’ll be a fan for life.

Here is our list of some of our favorite blues tunes by rock artists. I tried to limit this to at most 2 or 3 songs by one artist but believe me that called for some hard choices. I could have made this just all Stones tunes but I limited myself to some of their latter day stuff. I tried to weave in covers of songs by Blues Masters with some of these great band’s original songs. I just started with what I could remember from that old mixtape and blew it up large. As always this playlist can be found on Spotify (“BourbonAndVinyl.net Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues”) and can be shuffled or played as is. If you have a blues rock tune that isn’t here, please mention it in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify list… it’s a bluesy dialogue people.

  1. Eric Clapton, “The Sky Is Crying” – Many have done this Elmore James’ tune but few as well as Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughn did a nice version. This whole list could be Clapton tunes…
  2. ZZ Top, “A Fool For Your Stockings” – From the first ZZ Top LP I ever purchased… and yes, I’m still a fool…
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Back of My Hand” – Great latter day Stones’ blues tune. It was just Mick, Keith and Charlie in the studio when they were recording this song. Keith went to take a nap and thought he was dreaming about Muddy Waters. Actually he was just hearing Mick work out this song… he told Mick they weren’t overdubbing anything, “Leave it like it is, it’s done.” As usual, Keith was right.
  4. Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – This may be the greatest blues rock song of all time. Titanic blues.
  5. Derek & the Dominos, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – Clapton under the cover name Derek slips back onto the list with a great Jimmy Cox tune.
  6. The Doors, “Back Door Man” – People tend to think of the Doors’ music as psychedelic, acid jazz. They forget what a great blues band these guys were.
  7. Warren Zevon, “Rub Me Raw” – An artist you don’t associate with the blues delivering a spectacular blues track on his final LP, The Wind. That’s Wichita’s own Joe Walsh playing the lead guitar which may just melt your face off at certain high volumes.
  8. Billy F. Gibbons, “Standing Around Crying” – A great blues cover from Billy’s last solo LP, Big Bad Blues. 
  9. Peter Wolf, “Too Close Together” – A great duet with Keith Richards. Wolf has some really great solo LPs everyone should check out.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Down In The Hole” – A blues tune I loved before I knew what the blues were…
  11. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “U.S. 41” – Petty got into the blues late in his career. Nowhere is that more evident than on the great Mojo. 
  12. Big Brother & the Holding Company, “Turtle Blues” – Janis Joplin’s first and best band. This is just a piano and Janis’ voice, the way God intended you to hear the blues.
  13. Harry Nilsson, “Early In the Morning” – Like the previous tune, just a fabulous voice and a keyboard. I saw Randy Newman interviewed about Harry and he said he was never confident in his singing which blows my mind. This song is proof of his vocal talents.
  14. The Black Crowes, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” – From their masterpiece second LP, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. 
  15. U2 & B.B. King, “When Love Comes To Town” – I’ve devoted this list to rock bands but it was an absolute pleasure to sneak blues royalty B.B. King onto the list.
  16. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Feelin’ Blue” – A nice little shuffle.
  17. The Jeff Beck Group, “You Shook Me” – The Zeppelin version of this song is more well known but Jeff, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood did it first so its the version I included here.
  18. Cream, “Born Under A Bad Sign” – Probably my favorite Cream tune. A sweet Albert King cover.
  19. Neil Young and the Bluenotes, “One Thing” – I may be the only one who loves this album. It signaled the beginning of a creative resurgence for Young. I even bought the live LP from this tour, released years later, Bluenote Cafe. 
  20. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” – How many great guitar players did John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have? I chose this track, vs the Zeppelin version, to highlight a pre-Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
  21. The Black Crowes, “Seeing Things” – As long time readers know, I’m currently still obsessed with the Crowes’ first LP. 
  22. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Walkin’ Blues” – One of the finest bands to ever come out of Chicago originally done by Robert Johnson.
  23. Free, “Goin’ Down Slow” – From Free’s debut LP, their most bluesy effort, Tons Of Sobs. 
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” – I felt it imperative that I include a blues tune featuring Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, who passed last year.
  25. James Taylor, “Steamroller Blues” – Laugh, but this is a great tune and underscores my premise that so many rock acts play the blues… and yes, I know I’m stretching when I call Taylor “rock.”
  26. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jelly Jelly” – I’ve always described the Allmans as a blues band who played with a jazz band ethos. This is a fine, fine straight-up blues tune.
  27. Sam Cooke, “Little Red Rooster” – I could have included so many other versions of this track from the Stones to Tom Petty but Sam was one of the world’s greatest singers and its nice to hear him sing a blues track.
  28. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Leave My Girl Alone” – From one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Gone too soon.
  29. The White Stripes, “Little Bird” – Epic punky blues. I was lucky enough to see them play this track live.
  30. Lucinda Williams, “Still I Long For Your Kiss” – Lucinda really feels the blues on this song. When she wails, “I goooo down tooooown” you almost physically feel her pain. It’s my absolute favorite vocal performance by her.
  31. Paul Rodgers and Buddy Guy, “Muddy Water Blues” – An acoustic blues tribute to Muddy with Buddy Guy on guitar.
  32. George Harrison, “Cloud 9” – A nice little bluesy number with George’s friend Eric Clapton noodling on guitar along with him.
  33. The Beatles, “For You Blue” – Another Harrison track… The Beatles didn’t play the blues often, but man is it fun when they did.
  34. Steve Miller Band, “Mercury Blues” – When people think about the Steve Miller Band they tend to think of his more ethereal 70s hits which is a shame. He actually started as a blues guy and does a phenomenal job on this one, just to remind us of that.
  35. Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever” – I don’t know if this is technically the blues or not but it has a languid, rolling bluesy feel. Clarence Clemons’ sax is remarkable. One of my all time favs.
  36. Rod Stewart, “I’d Rather Go Blind” – Rod’s best blues tune… a cover of Big Mama Thornton if I’m not mistaken.
  37. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Texas Flood” – I don’t remember whether I included this on my Rain playlist or not. I hope I did.
  38. Pete Townshend, “Secondhand Love” – A nice little blues scorcher from Pete… and a song that I only recently discovered the Rock Chick loves. Marriage is a journey of discovery.
  39. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Red House” – Jimi never moved too far away from the blues.
  40. The Doors, “Cars Hiss By My Window” – On their last two LPs the Doors got back to being that great blues rock band they started as…
  41. Blind Faith, “Sleeping In The Ground” – This great blues tune didn’t even make the only LP they did. Winwood’s piano and vocals are exceptional.
  42. The Animals, “Dimples” – A John Lee Hooker cover from another great English band.
  43. J. Geils Band, “Serves You Right To Suffer” – Speaking of great John Lee Hooker covers.
  44. The Rolling Stones, “Keep Up Blues” – A great outtake from the Some Girls sessions.
  45. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – This guy gives me hope for the future of the guitar. I hope this is on my Train playlist.
  46. Peter Frampton, “She Caught The Katy” – From his great LP, All Blues
  47. Bob Dylan, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Dylan doesn’t get the credit for being a great blues guy.
  48. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road” – Another great Peter Green tune from his work before forming Fleetwood Mac.
  49. Little Steven, “Blues Is My Business” – Springsteen’s right hand man out on his own covering an Etta James tune on his great LP Soulfire.
  50. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Mellow Down Easy” – Another great tune from Chicago’s finest. The Black Crowes also did a live version of this song with Jimmy Page that’s worth checking out.
  51. Aretha Franklin, “I’ve Never Loved A Man” – The Queen handing down the blues. Aerosmith actually had the temerity to cover this song.
  52. The Yardbirds, “I Ain’t Got You” – Speaking of songs Aersomith covered… The Yardbirds are famous for having at different times, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page on guitar.
  53. Aerosmith, “Reefer Head Woman” – Well, I kept mentioning them, you knew they had to have a bluesy track here.
  54. David Lee Roth, “Sensible Shoes” – Again, like the Springsteen song above, I’m not sure this is blues, but it sure feels like it. And it’s Diamond Dave, what’s not to love?
  55. Led Zeppelin, “I’m Gonna Crawl” – The last track from the last album and they went back to the blues…
  56. Cream, “Sitting On Top Of the World” – I love it when bands cover Howlin Wolf.
  57. Humble Pie, “Rollin’ Stone” – Such a great overlooked band… and on this tune Peter Frampton was still in the group and playing lead guitar.
  58. Gregg Allman, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – Gregg Allman, a man with a voice that sounds like eternity calling singing a song by a man whose voice sounded like…well, eternity calling, Muddy Waters.
  59. John Fogerty, “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” – I feel hot and sticky just listening to this track.
  60. Mick Jagger, “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” – From a great blues album that Jagger did with L.A. blues band the Red Devils that remains on the shelf save for this great tune. I wish Mick would put out the whole thing.
  61. Van Morrison, “Roll With the Punches” – The title track from one of Van’s latest LPs.
  62. ZZ Top, “Blue Jean Blues” – It was going to be this or “Sure Got Cold When The Rain Came.”
  63. Bob Dylan, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” – From Dylan’s fabulous studio LP last year, his first in 8 years, Rough And Rowdy Ways. 
  64. Faces, “Love In Vain (Live)” – The Faces doing a Robert Johnson tune via the Stones. Ronnie Wood on lead guitar, Rod feeling it.
  65. The Raconteurs, “Blue Veins” – Great blues track from Jack White’s first side project.
  66. The Jeff Beck Group, “Blues De Luxe” – Their most epic track. I don’t know why they dubbed in the audience. Rod’s vocals are sublime.
  67. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Coming” – I chose the version on People, Hell and Angels but there are quite a few versions of this tune to choose from by Jimi.
  68. Van Halen, “Apolitical Blues” – I probably should have chosen the original Little Feat version but I couldn’t resist putting the late Eddie Van Halen on this playlist…
  69. Robert Cray, “I Wonder” – Simply a wonderful blues tune. Maybe a little outside the parameters of this playlist but Strong Persuader had such great crossover success I felt I could include it.
  70. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Yes, Nirvana doing the blues. Cobain was a big Huddie Leadbetter fan… It’s the perfect song to end on to underscore my point that all great rock bands play some blues.

I hope you guys have as much fun listening to this playlist as I did compiling it. My greatest hope is that over this Passover, Easter weekend this playlist will get you a little farther down the road in the direction you’re heading. Pour something strong, light something up if you’re in New York, turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!