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!

Mental Jukebox: Songs In My Head When I Wake Up – January 2021… Come Inside My Mind

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*Image above from the internet and likely subject to copyright. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, the term “mental jukebox” refers to:

“the effect of a random song playing in your head for no reason, often followed by another song completely unrelated to the first, much like a jukebox on random. For example, “Why the hell was Rick Astley just playing in my head? I haven’t heard any of his music in ages! I had Slayer playing before that! Wtf!””

I’m not sure anybody has ever come up with a better encapsulation of the concept of the “mental jukebox” than the Urban Dictionary. I mean, when you describe a musical swing from Rick Astley to Slayer you’ve managed to capture the essence of the random, wild shifts the brain can take you through musically. I am no stranger to the mental jukebox. In fact, sleep or perhaps better described as my attempts to sleep, seems to be the trigger for my brain’s music center. I awake every day with a fresh, new song in my head. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon, but I do know my friend Doug has the same thing happen to him. I can awake with the biggest hit from U2 or the Beatles to a deep album cut from the Black Crowes to a jingle from a commercial playing in my mind. I’ve awakened to the sound of show tunes ringing in my head and trust me, I despise musicals of any kind. I have to turn on music in the morning merely to cleanse my brain, much like mouthwash especially if I’m hearing “Oklahoma” in my mind. I never know what song I’ll wake up to in my head. I have no control over any of it. I seem to be at the mercy of my brain. As George Harrison once said, “It’s all in your mind.”

The mind or (if you will) man’s capacity for reason is what separates us from the other mammals. I’ve been reading, or rather trying to read, Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations. Marcus, if I’m reading him correctly, seemed to think that our reason was the godly part of us. He had a lot of thoughts about well, thinking. “You have the power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” I dig that, but I don’t think I have any power over the mental jukebox. Marcus also said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” Apparently we can all think ourselves happy according to Marcus… I think Oporah believes in this line of reasoning. Somehow I think it’s more complicated than that. I guess I’m less a Stoic like Marcus and more of a Hedonist. I certainly spend more than my fair share of time thinking about rock music. One quote I’ve always liked about the mind is Plutarch, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

I have a friend who is into reading books about the structure of the brain. He likes to explain a lot of human behavior as being a function of the different parts of your brain reacting to stimuli. Of course he was an early adherent to the whole “evolutionary psychology” thing. I have begun to suspect that my friend reads so many books about brain chemistry because he’s trying to explain and rationalize some of his own behavior. Sometimes we do things because we want to… not because our hypothalamus is driving us to. Although in these pages I have often joked that music has hit me in the lower brain stem. I get it, brain structure and especially the frontal lobes can affect the way we think and behave but there has to be more to the story. We’re not just human lab rats with automatic or learned reaction to stimuli.

All of that said, I don’t think the mental jukebox is of the rational, conscious mind. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with brain structure. There’s not a tiny little bar hidden in my cerebellum with a great jukebox in the corner. I like to imagine that if there is a bar hidden in my brain it’s the coolest dive bar you can find, with dark wood and peanut shells on the floor and a cool but gruff barkeep…maybe a menu with only hot wings. My thoughts are cluttered, why shouldn’t my imaginary brain bar be as equally messy? I’m getting off topic here… Since the mental jukebox is not structural or of the rational mind the only answer is that it stems from the unconscious mind. While he didn’t coin the term “unconscious mind” Sigmund Freud certainly made the concept popular. I was once bored in an airport waiting for a delayed flight when I picked up Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I enjoyed the book, although it became a bit of a slow slog in the back half. It gave me my first real insights into the unconscious mind that I’d had since college psychology. Freud believed that things like verbal slips (aka Freudian slips) or dreams come from that uncontrolled, unconscious part of the mind where all of our hidden wishes and desires reside. Even Cinderella said “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” Oh God, I hope I don’t wake up with that song in my head tomorrow…

I will say, that reading Freud’s book on dreams has helped me interpret some of the wilder, more disturbing dreams my unconscious mind seems to conjure. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m visited from someone from my past. The nightmare always comes during times of great stress or loss. Freud’s book helped me realize that the person in the nightmare is merely a manifestation or symbol of pain and loss and has nothing to actually do with the person I’m seeing in the dream. It’s really helped me to shake off that particular nightmare. I wake up and realize my brain is trying to tell me I’m suffering and struggling and I just need to bear down. Even in the resolution of that nightmare, I’m not controlling the unconscious mind, I am merely using it as a tool to navigate obstacles in my life.

That all said, I wondered if the mental jukebox was trying to send me a similar message to ones that my dreams do? Is there some message or theme to the music that pops up in my head every morning? If so, what is my mind trying tell me? I decided to keep what I’m going to call a “Song Journal” during the month of January. Every morning when I woke up and some random tune assailed my brain I would stagger down the hall to my office – before even going for coffee – and I’d write down the song and any impressions of where it came from. Usually I had no idea but sometimes I’d merely heard the track the day before. While I hoped that this process would help me get to a deeper understanding of where my head is at, in the end I think it just tells me what I already know… I’m really into music. While I may not have discovered any fundamental truths about myself, it was an interesting process. I will say that I participated in my usual Dry January which may or may not have influenced how vivid the songs were and how varied the music selection was. I guess I’ll never know.

Here then, is my Song Journal from January 2021 chronicling every song I heard in my head every morning. I considered a playlist, but thought it was too disjointed, even for my disparate tastes. Most of these tracks came out of nowhere unless otherwise noted.

  • Jan 1st – Robert Plant, “Angel Dance” – I had actually heard this track the day before, so no real mystery.
  • Jan 2nd – Black Crowes, “Only A Fool” – I’ve been a little obsessed with the Crowes since I heard Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary was coming out. This track is on a later LP, not sure where it came from.
  • Jan 3rd – AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From the soundtrack of a Schwarzenegger movie, something I was working on a post for…Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs.
  • Jan 4th – The Police, “King of Pain”
  • Jan 5th – Stills-Young Band, “Long May You Run”
  • Jan 6th – Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” – I’m not crazy about this tune… I’d had a nightmare about a wedding I was being forced to attend. Could there be a connection?
  • Jan 7th – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Blue On Black”
  • Jan 8th – Eagles, “Too Busy Being Fabulous” – I’d read about this song online the day before. I think we can safely draw a straight-line between that and hearing it in my head.
  • Jan 9th – Steve Winwood (with Joe Walsh on guitar), “Split Decision”
  • Jan 10th – Foo Fighters, “My Hero” – I’m not a huge fan of the fighters of Foo and had to actually search to find the title of this track. Totally random stuff.
  • Jan 11th – Lindsey Buckingham, “Holiday Road” – Despite the holidays being well past me, this one popped into my head. Lingering issues over Xmas?
  • Jan 12th – Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”
  • Jan 13th – Beatles, “Across the Universe” – This track pops up often. It seems to be on regular repeat.
  • Jan 14th – U2, “Stuck In A Moment”
  • Jan 15th, Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Roadtrippin'” – Great acoustic track about friends on a road trip… I’d had a dream about some friends of mine from the old days.
  • Jan 16th – Elvis Costello, “Alison” – Was listening to LPs for my post on debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. This had to be a connection to that.
  • Jan 17th – Bruce Springsteen, “Ghost of Tom Joad” – Dreamt I was a cop investigating a murder at the inauguration the night before… Strange connection if there is one?
  • Jan 18th – Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine” – I’d just repurchased this album, the title track seems to have lodged itself in my brain.
  • Jan 19th – Avett Brothers? “There Was a Dream”? – There’s a song that sounds like the Avett Brothers used in an insurance commercial that I see a few hundred times each night. I woke up with it in my head. Not sure if its the Avett Bros or what the name is. Ironically, I have no idea which insurance company.
  • Jan 20th – Pink Floyd “Not Now John” – The previous day I’d posted about “The Gunner’s Dream,” Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’, and had listened to the whole album. This track stuck. Great riff, it came to me first.
  • Jan 21st – Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Come On Baby Lets Go Downtown” – Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse on vocals.
  • Jan 22nd – Pink Floyd, “Gunner’s Dream” – This track stuck with me a few days. One of my all time favorites.
  • Jan 23rd – Moody Blues, “Lucky Man” – I despise the Moody Blues and this song. How this ended up in my head is a mystery. I’m just glad it wasn’t “Knights In White Satin.”
  • Jan 24th – U2, “Mysterious Ways” – Another common track I wake up with… I don’t know why but it may be Edge’s riff.
  • Jan 25th – Van Halen, “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now” – Been thinking a lot of Eddie Van Halen lately.
  • Jan 26th – Black Crowes, “Welcome To the Good Times” – Same LP as Jan 2nd’s entry… no connection.
  • Jan 27th – Rod Stewart, “Man of Constant Sorrow” – From his debut. It was our first snow of the year… which always make me feel well, sorrowful.
  • Jan 28th – Blind Melon, “No Rain”
  • Jan 29th – Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – I’d to tell you this stems from the movie One Night In Miami but I haven’t seen it yet.
  • Jan 30th – Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” – Perhaps feeling some little town blues since I can’t travel.
  • Jan 31st – Led Zeppelin, “Candy Store Rock” – The music came to me first and while I was laying in bed the lyrics finally popped in.

That’s my Song Journal for January. No real patterns of thinking that I can discern. My mental jukebox doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, I guess it just wants to rock. I had hoped perhaps for some existential insight but as always that seems to elude me. As we move into February I wish all of you pleasant dreams and great music when you wake up. I know this post was something a little different but it’s winter and I figured, why not?

Cheers!

Review: Friends Turn Me Onto Anthony Gomes, ‘Containment Blues’

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Most long time readers of B&V know that we love our rock and roll around here. As I’ve often admitted to all of you, most of the rock and roll that I love and that I consider to be the greatest is built on the roots of the blues. Whether it’s the Stones, Cream or the Allman Brothers, I can still hear the blues in the music. While I focus most of my attention on rock and roll in these pages, I still need that blues fix now and again. I tend to agree with what John Belushi said, “I suggest you go out and buy as many blues albums as you can.”

I like to think I have a pretty thorough lay of the land when it comes to rock and roll and frankly, the blues. Kansas City has some great blues clubs and in more normal times I used to hang out at places like Knuckleheads listening to live music. I like to think I know whose out there currently playing the blues. Although admittedly I only just recently got into Joe Bonamassa (Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return). When reviewing an album I tend to talk about my longstanding experience with the artist and their music. In this particular case, a friend of mine just turned me onto Anthony Gomes, an artist I hadn’t stumbled across yet.

I went to a wedding in Vail a few years ago. It was a friend of my wife and daughter’s and I didn’t know anybody there. I was really just there for the party, I had no emotional investment in the affair. After being in 14 weddings in my life merely attending a wedding is old hat. I had no expectations going into that weekend but what a great time. On the Saturday before the wedding a group of us went down to sit on the patio of the Red Lion, my favorite Vail tavern. Amongst the many great people I met that day was a woman who sat down next to me while I was sipping a martini. It turned out this woman, who I’ll call Karen (name changed to protect the guilty) was a huge music fan too. Karen turned out to be one of my favorite people on the planet. Months later, I met her main squeeze, a man I’ll call Lenny (again, name changed to protect the guilty). Lenny and Karen had me over to their home one night for a party and the evening ended up inspiring me to finally start this blog (“No Hassles Guaranteed”, the Ozark Music Festival of 1974, How did I not know about this?). They’ve become very good friends and I’ve even traveled down to Florida to the Villages to see them. It was Lenny who texted me a few weeks ago asking for my address. A few days later I got a CD…

I am constantly humbled and thrilled when my friends and readers turn me onto great music. I had heard both Karen and Lenny mention a musician named Anthony and I always thought it was someone’s nephew they spoke so familiarly about him. There might have been drink involved with my confusion. Karen and Lenny like to party. I finally realized they’d been talking about a great guitarist/singer/songwriter from Canada, Anthony Gomes. I’m not sure but I think Lenny even played some Gomes for me the last time I saw them down in the Florida Keys. I remember hearing a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd that weekend but I’m getting off track here.

I have to say, I really dig this new Gomes LP, Containment Blues. The title track may be the perfect statement on today’s pandemic-era. It’s a tasty little acoustic guitar fueled blues track. Playing with Anthony on his new LP, just out October 16th are: bassist Jacob Mreen, drummers Bobby Stone Jr & Chris Whited, keyboardist Gabriel Crespo, and harmonica player Hector Ruano amongst others. I love that Anthony writes all his own stuff – this is all original material. I know people think of blues albums as being cover heavy. It was a thrill to hear a blues guy writing new, original, timely material. This is the perfect album for those of you out there who are in self-containment lockdown like me.

The first two tracks grabbed me right out of the chute – “Make A Good Man (Wanna Be Bad)” is a rollicking blues-rock track that sets the tone and “Hell And Half Of Georgia,” is a rocking Black Crowes-y kinda vibe. I look forward to the day when I can hear that one live. Gomes doesn’t just confine himself to the blues idiom… “This Broken Heart of Mine” is a soulful ballad reminiscent of something Sam Cooke would have done. “Praying For Rain” is a track that will be guaranteed to start a singalong and needs to be added to our B&V Rainy Day playlist (B&V Playlist: Rainy Day Songs (Or, All The Rain Songs)). Speaking of getting outside the pure blues idiom, “Praying For Rain” even features a banjo.

“No Kinda Love” is a straight-up, dirty blues song. I love Ruano’s harmonica on this track. “Let Love Take Care of Love” is a single to my ears. As a man who has a mother, wife and daughter I am totally in agreement with the sentiment of “Stop Calling Women Bitches and Hoes.” I’d have liked to hear Koko Taylor sing that one…ah, what could have been. “Tell Somebody” starts with drums and handclaps and it’ll grab you. It’s got a swampy vibe that I really dug.

This is again, the perfect lockdown album. I think to describe it as merely a “blues” album might be misleading. This is a well-played, textured LP. Yes, it’s blues-centric but I hear soul and rock and roll in some of these tracks. I would urge everybody out there to do what I’m going to do now that I’ve been turned onto Anthony Gomes – check out this album and the rest of his extensive 20+ year catalog. I look forward to sitting down with Lenny and Karen in Florida sometime in the not too distant future and turning this one up loud with them.

Be safe out there. These are crazy times. And yes, “buy as many blues albums as you can.” Cheers!