Playlist: The B&V Favorite Covers of Chuck Berry Songs – A Tribute To His Immense Influence

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*Picture from the internet and likely copyrighted

“If you were to try and give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry” – John Lennon

As longtime readers know, I spent much of the last week and half listening to the 50th anniversary edition of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water. As I listened to that beautiful rock and roll album I couldn’t help but ruminate on the future of rock n roll. Will anyone ever make music like that again? And as usually happens when I think about the future of rock n roll, my mind kept returning to rock’s history, where it’s been. While Elvis is universally hailed as the King of Rock n Roll, although he was uncomfortable with the title and used to say, “Fats Domino, he’s the King of Rock n Roll,” a guy that ought to be in that discussion is Chuck Berry.

I was surprised that it’d been over five years since we lost Chuck Berry. And yes, I wrote my usual tribute/”obituary” (RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll), but I don’t feel I properly honored the man. I think you could argue that the Beatles and the Stones are greatest rock n roll bands ever. Sure, there’s the Zeppelin and Pink Floyd fans and I dig those bands too, but the influence the Stones and especially the Beatles had on popular music is enormous. The thing that people don’t seem to remember is those bands had influences as well and one of the biggest influences on both of them was Chuck Berry. As much as Paul McCartney wants to describe the Stones as a “blues cover” band, they also played a ton of Chuck Berry in those early days.

Speaking of the Beatles, I’m reminded of when I was just a little kid or as Tom Petty sang, “a boy in short pants.” I hated elementary school which seemed like a bad prank my parents played on me. Like the Godfather’s sang, “Birth, school, work, death.” I’m not a morning person, and even at that very tender age I was stunned I had to wake up, get out of bed, put clothes on and go to what seemed like a prison for the day with people I didn’t like. What I really liked, besides summer vacation, was to be sick and stay home. I had a Charlie Brown poster on the back of my door that read “Happiness is being too sick to go to school but not too sick to watch TV.” Savage honesty from Peanuts.

I remember – and I was in the single digits, age wise – being sick a couple of days and my Sainted Mother made a bed on the couch for me. Day time TV was different back then. The local station showed an old, old movie in the morning and there was Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas in the afternoon. There was no Oprah or Ellen back then. The shrews on “The View” were just someone else’s nightmare back then. I turn on the Mike Douglas show that first sick day and his cohost that week – he’d have a different one each week as I recall – was John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. I was so young I only had a vague idea who the Beatles were – they were a  music group my brother liked – and I was pretty sure John had been in the Beatles. It was a crazy week of TV. Mike was stunningly very welcoming to John & Yoko who were counterculture icons by this point. They had a Black Panther on, they had George Carlin on. It was wonderfully subversive TV, and in-color! But the thing I remember most is Lennon bringing on Chuck Berry. His love and admiration was on full display in this clip. And mind you this is after Chuck had sued Lennon for lifting a few lyrics from him for “Come Together,” (“Here comes ol’ flattop he comes groovin’ up slowly”).

Lennon clearly worshiped the guy. So did McCartney although I sense he was more of a Little Richard fan. And this underscores my point about Chuck’s influence on rock n roll. He was really the first “guitar hero” rock star. Elvis would wear a guitar around his neck sometimes but he was a singer. Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis all sat behind a piano. Buddy Holly played guitar but he wasn’t as aggressive a player as Berry. Berry was a precursor to Hendrix. He was out front, singing but also playing the guitar at the same time. His duck walk, pictured above, was as iconic as Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.

Most of Chuck’s tunes were up-beat rockers. He would just find a riff and ride it until the end. It was very guitar forward rock n roll. He would play blistering, albeit brief solos. It was the sound of freedom and rebellion. You could tell Chuck was probably misbehaving. He wrote more songs about under age girls than perhaps he should have…Everybody that you can think of – all the great bands and artists – cover Chuck. From the aforementioned Beatles (and both Lennon and McCartney) to the Stones (and Keith solo) to the Kinks, the Animals, the Everly Brothers and even Elvis covered Chuck Berry. Even if a band you love didn’t cover Chuck, they can probably play one of his tracks live. Keith Richards even did a documentary in honor of Chuck, Hail! Hail! Rock N Roll. There are so many great tunes that are based on the Chuck Berry formula: the Stones’ “Star Star” and Bob Seger’s “Get Out Of Denver” to name but a few. He’s all over rock n roll.

If you’ve never really listened to Chuck Berry – and you’ve probably heard his music but didn’t realize your favorite band was playing Chuck – I would recommend his compilation LP The Great Twenty-Eight, as a starting point. There are probably bigger or more complete “greatest hits” packages but The Great Twenty Eight covers the cream of the crop all in one disc. Artists in the 50s and 60s were more singles focused instead of album focused so compilations of those singles are the best way to experience artists like Chuck or Buddy Holly. My father had a bunch of singles from Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles but oddly no Chuck Berry…

I decided to compile a playlist based on The Great Twenty Eight. I did something similar with Robert Johnson’s King Of the Delta Blues album. I find my favorite versions of covers of the songs on the album and put them on my play list. I also threw in a few bonus tracks of versions of songs that are too good to ignore. One thing I found and this is weird to me – is that there are so many blues or blues rock guys that covered Chuck Berry. It’s like he’s a missing link between the blues and rock and roll. Maybe it’s because he was so guitar focused. His songs were riff, riff, solo, riff. And that is kind of similar to blues. But when you see Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and Foghat on a list you start to think, hmmm the blues and Chuck Berry must have had some synergy. If you’ve got a great Chuck Berry cover, put it in the comments and I’ll drop it in the playlist. As usual you can find my playlist on the dread Spotify.

  1. AC/DC, “School Days” – AC/DC rock this one. I’ll say again it’s interesting how bands with a great blues base always seem to find Chuck. I love Angus’ solo but then I love all of his solos.
  2. The Rolling Stones, “Come On” – I could have just filled this list with Stones’ tunes. I love this mono version of the Stones’ very first single. I mean, very first ever.
  3. Faces, “Memphis” – This is the ultimate version of this song in my opinion and one of my favorite songs from Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane and the gang. Woody just takes the band on a little slide guitar jam before the song kicks in. Sublime.
  4. Bob Seger, “Let It Rock” – If Seger’s early music was out there I’d have included the studio version of this track from Smokin’ O.P.s but this epic live version will do. It’s amazing that Seger and the Silver Bullet Band could take a three minute Chuck Berry song and turn it into their epic show ending last encore for the balance of their career. You hear a snippet of “Little Queenie” as well. “Get Out of Denver” from Bob might be the best Chuck Berry song not done by Chuck.
  5. The Animals, “Around And Around” – The Stones also did this track on their second LP but I feel like the Animals – who were a solid blues rock outfit in their own right – deserve some love from B&V.
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny” – Another Berry cover, another single. The devotion was real!
  7. The Kinks, “Too Much Monkey Business” – Sure I could have gone with the Elvis version but I couldn’t resist this version by the Kinks. The Yardbirds did a spirited version of this track as well.
  8. John Lennon, “You Can’t Catch Me” – One of several Chuck Berry covers Lennon did on his oft overlooked 1975 LP Rock N Roll an album of early rock covers which made our list of favorite “cover albums.”
  9. Linda Ronstadt, “Back In The U.S.A.” – One of my all time favorite Chuck Berry covers and one of my favorite songs from Ronstadt. Everything she did was amazing (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
  10. The Everly Brothers, “Maybellene” – I actually was torn between this version and the Foghat version so I’ve put both on this playlist. I feel like they vary enough I could get away with it.
  11. REO Speedwagon, “Little Queenie” – Again, I could have used the Stones’ version but what’s the fun in an all Stones’ playlist? This was from their 1972 second LP back when they still rocked and before they became sell out hacks. “Little Queenie” is one of Chuck’s more oft covered tracks.
  12. Stray Cats, “Beautiful Delilah” – I love the Stones’ version, especially on the On Air – Live At the BBC album but I’ve always kind of dug the Stray Cats. I saw them live by accident once at, of all places, Worlds Of Fun. Brian Setzer on guitar is the real deal.
  13. The Beatles, “Roll Over Beethoven” – I’m stunned it’s taken me this long to get around to a Beatles’ version of a Chuck song! ELO did a version but c’mon, you’re never gonna beat the Beatles doing Berry.
  14. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Carol (Live)” – In his later years Petty got into the blues and unsurprisingly it led him to Chuck Berry.
  15. Rod Stewart, “Sweet Little Rock n Roller” – From his oft wrongly maligned LP Smiler which marked the end of his fruitful Mercury years. This song is worth the price of the album alone.
  16. Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – There are so many fabulous version of this track from Buddy Holly to Paul McCartney but you can’t beat two legends taking a turn on this one.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Talkin’ About You” – Well, I didn’t say I was going to avoid all the Stones’ covers did I? Another great track.
  18. John Lennon, “Sweet Little Sixteen” – Lennon back with another Chuck song about a young girl… I sense a pattern here from Mr. Berry.
  19. The Beatles, “Rock And Roll Music” – The young Beatles at their ferocious best. Primal rock n roll here.
  20. Johnny Winter, “Thirty Days” – The legendary blues man doing a raucous version here. Johnny deserves more love… we just reviewed his brother Edgar’s tribute LP for Johnny, a must listen for fans of the blues. It’s like Johnny was meant to cover Chuck Berry.
  21. Santana, “Havana Moon” – Never has a song and a band been a more perfect match.
  22. The Pretty Things, “Oh Baby Doll” – One of Bowie’s favorite bands doing Chuck here. I’ve just recently gotten into these guys and they are awesome.
  23. Dave Clark Five, “Reelin’ And Rockin” – Was there any 60s era band that didn’t take a crack at a Chuck Berry song?
  24. Jimi Hendrix, “Johnny B Goode (Live At Berkley)” – This is a really manic version of this song but it works. Guitar God Jimi Hendrix giving a nod to the first real Guitar God, Chuck Berry. What’s not to love?
  25. Lovin’ Spoonful, “Almost Grown” – A great band that also deserves more love here at B&V. I’ve had several readers post their tracks as suggestions for our other playlists… I thought I’d beat them to the punch!
  26. John Hammond, “Nadine” – A new discovery for us here at B&V but love this track.
  27. George Thorogood & the Delware Destroyers, “No Particular Place To Go” – This song takes me back to high school and college, Thorogood’s heyday. He’s another example of a blues guy – who turned a John Lee Hooker tune into a hit (“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”) – doing Chuck Berry.
  28. Foghat, “Maybelline” – Call me a product of the 70s but I will always love Foghat… especially that famous picture of them in front of the Holiday Inn marquee…
  29. The Band, “Back To Memphis (Outtake)” – I’ve been jamming on the Band’s album Cahoots for the last few weeks now I’m thinking I’ll have to dig into Moondog Matinee now too.
  30. Jerry Garcia Band, “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie)” – Seger did this song on a greatest hits compilation but I was just so delighted to be able to slip Jerry Garcia on this list. I’m sure there are countless Greatful Dead covers that rage on for 45 minutes but this one is a short and sweet track.
  31. Keith Richards, “Run Rudolph, Run” – This is a bonus track for all you Christmas music folks. Keith just loves Chuck.

I have to admit, I had to make some really tough choices. There are so many bands who did so many good versions of Chuck’s songs that it was hard to pick just one. And well, with “Maybellene” I couldn’t pick just one. At only 2 hours this is one rollicking, rocking playlist. The songs all hold together so well because Chuck had a magic formula. Lots of guitar.

Hopefully we’ve turned you on to Chuck Berry with this playlist, if you hadn’t already been into him. Or at the very least hopefully you’ve heard something new. Either way, I hope this rocking playlist helps get you through the summer heat.

Cheers! Stay cool out there… stay hydrated.

Review: Elton John, ‘Madman Across The Water – 50th Anniversary Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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It would be impossible for me to overstate how big Elton John was in the mid-70s. Yes, the rock n roll world was listening to Zeppelin, but everybody and I mean everybody was listening to Elton. I really didn’t start listening to rock n roll until 1978-ish so I missed out on a lot of that “Elton heyday.” I remember hearing “Rocket Man” and “Bennie And the Jets” and loving those songs. But in truth, I actually didn’t get into Elton through my junior high or high school years. In those early days of my listening to rock n roll the greatest sin of all was to profess to like music that was considered “pop.” Any artist you were listening to had to be pure rock – Aerosmith, Zeppelin, and Van Halen were all rock approved. You couldn’t be caught dead listening to say, disco or Olivia Newton John from the Grease soundtrack, which I never did. I think back to that macho posturing now and laugh… I mean we thought Journey and Styx were cool. Journey might have been…but Styx?

The “problem” with Elton, even though by ’78, ’79 he’d had a slight decline was that he was still viewed as being this, well, pop juggernaut. And if Elton was pop music then by definition he wasn’t rock n roll. Or at least that’s what the prevailing attitude was back then amongst my gang of miscreant friends. It wasn’t until the summer after my senior year of high school, right before leaving for college that my attitude toward Elton turned completely around. It was on a hot early July evening in 1982 that my parents drug me to Starlight Theater to see Elton. It was my brother’s birthday gift – he, for one, was not afraid of people’s opinion’s of what he listened to, something it took me years to do. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t want to go (forgive me, I have told this story before: Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982 ). I wanted to drink beer and hang out with a girl I knew. Elton came out that night with his original backing band who’d just reunited – Davey Johnstone (guitar), Nigel Olsson (drums) and Dee Murray (bass) – and they blew the lid off the place. They opened with “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and from that point on I knew, oh yes, this was rock n roll.

It wasn’t until I got up to college and started hanging out in a record store with my roommate Drew that I started to actually collect Elton’s albums. All of those records are so iconic I just assumed they all sold a billion copies. Whether it was Tumbleweed Connection, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Honky Chateau his albums had songs that had been drilled into our collective consciousness by radio. I just assumed that every album from Elton John (his 1970 U.S. debut but actually his 2nd LP) to Captain Fantastic had been monster sellers. I was surprised when I learned later that his first three U.S. records while selling better here than in the UK were not huge sellers – Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water which are now widely considered some of the greatest records of all time. It wasn’t until Honky Chateau that his album sales exploded. Honky Chateau was his first LP that the record company let him record with his backing band vs hired guns. Coincidence that it was the LP that exploded his popularity? I think not.

Back in college I was picking up an Elton LP almost every trip to the record store there for a while. I remember buying Elton John at the used record store. “Your Song” and “Take Me to the Pilot” were essential. The next LP I purchased was his third (fourth in the UK), Madman Across The Water. I loved, loved the title track. I will admit, I was little put off by the LP art – embroidered blue jeans but you can’t judge an LP by it’s cover. The album starts with two of Elton’s most iconic songs, “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon.” Elton’s piano playing is just stunning. The songs are all beautifully orchestrated. “Tiny Dancer” somehow combines gospel with country flourishes. “Tiny Dancer,” featured on almost all of Elton’s greatest hits LPs wasn’t a huge hit at first. I thought it was since it was central to an episode of the TV show WKRP In Cincinnati, a show I watched religiously. “Levon” is a beautiful song about the passing of generations and how they each want something different than the previous one. It was supposedly inspired by Levon Helm, who didn’t like the song, but there’ some disagreement about that. Admittedly Elton and his lyricist Bernie Taupin were huge fans of The Band at the time.

The epic title track was the gold for me (and no, “Madman Across the Water” wasn’t about Nixon) on this record but I also really liked “Razor Face” about an older musician who was perhaps a mentor who returns to town and being an itinerant musician needs help. I’ll be honest, when I first bought Madman Across the Water I thought side two was weak. Listening now I question my judgement when I was a college kid. Well, let’s face it my judgement was shit back then so why not extend that to some of the music. These songs are Elton’s classic blend of rock n roll, country rock and gospel. It conjures the 70s to me. I think “Indian Sunset” is a great, intense tune even if the lyrics are historically inaccurate. Geronimo was not “gunned down.” “Holiday Inn” is a humorous song about the road. I like “Rotten Peaches” as well, another song about traveling down the road and the interesting people you meet there. The only track that still leaves me cold when I listen to this wonderful LP is “All The Nasties” an apparent swipe at critics.

Last weekend Elton released a 50th anniversary edition of Madman Across the Water. It was released in 1971 so this is actually 51 years but I think the box was a Covid delay. I couldn’t resist this edition. I have to say, this music sounds incredible. Included with the original LP on the first disc is the original version of “Madman” with Mick Ronson (of Bowie’s Spiders From Mars fame) on lead guitar. It’s almost 3 minutes longer than the Davey Johnstone version released and Ronson proves why he belongs on lists of “greatest guitarists” on this track alone. Not that Davey doesn’t belong on that list also… There’s a version of “Rock Me When He’s Gone” a track Elton gifted to mentor Long John Baldry. Baldy employed not only Elton but Rod Stewart in various incarnations of his band. This was the first I’d heard Elton’s version. It might have really picked up the tempo on side 2 if he’d kept it instead of say, “All The Nasties.” I even liked the extended version of “Razor Face,” but then I love that song.

Disc 2 of the new box has a collection of ten “piano demos” of the tracks. One thing I’ve always thought about Madman is that the album captures some of Elton’s greatest piano playing. Unlike the Rock Chick I love the piano in rock n roll. From Fats Domino to Elton to Billy Joel, the piano gives rock it’s roll. On the released versions the wonderful strings conducted by Paul Buckmiester almost overwhelm the songs to the point where you miss what great things are happening on the piano. Don’t get me wrong, I love the released versions, and after a few listens the piano starts to jump out at you but these demos give you a more prominent piano that I liked. But I get it demos aren’t for everybody. There’s also a couple more versions of “Rock Me When He’s Gone,” a piano demo and a longer fully done version on disc 2.

The final disc is a live performance – just Elton and his rhythm section (Olsson on drums; Murray on bass) – taken from an April 29, 1971 performance from “BBC Sounds For Sunday.” There is no crowd or audience for the show, or at least there’s not one that you can hear. It’s an intriguing listen. I like Elton’s introductions of the tracks. I was surprised they did the entire new album on the show, not in order. I have to assume this was widely bootlegged.

The question here is, is this 50th anniversary version of 1971’s Madman Across The Water worth the money. If you’ve never purchased the album before this is a great version to buy. The sound is amazing. I liked the extras on disc 1. I understand if you’re not a fan of hearing demos and the creative process, disc 2 might not be for you. The songs are pretty fully realized, save for the strings on disc 2. The live performance, while intriguing, is probably not essential live Elton. So my answer to the “worth it” question is qualified. I’d say this is a must have for big fans of Elton or of this album in particular. If you’ve never owned it, I’d also recommend this version as a purchase. But for the most part this box is for big fans only. If you’re a casual fan this is not the box for you. There are some great moments in the extras, certainly worth streaming but if you’re not into Elton like I am, that’s as far as I’d go with it.

Cheers and Happy Summer everyone.

New Song Review: Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow,” From His Second LP of 2022, ‘Entering Heaven Alive’

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“If I die tomorrow, could you find it in your heart to sing?” – Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow”

As longtime readers of B&V know, I’m a huge fan of Jack White. I think the man is a genius. He’s one of the best guitarists of his generation. Like most people I got on his bandwagon during his time in the White Stripes. But I also followed him over to the Raconteurs, his first “proper” side project. I even kept an eye on the Dead Weather such was my “fandom” of Mr. White and he was just the drummer in that band. But, I have to admit, when I heard he had a new song out, “If I Die Tomorrow,” I hesitated a second. Over the last few albums Jack has made me feel a little like Charlie Brown from my dad’s favorite cartoon, Peanuts.

When Jack finally went solo in 2012 I absolutely loved that first album Blunderbuss. I was equally enthusiastic about the follow up Lazaretto. Naturally my anticipation around his third solo album was, shall we say, “fever-pitched.” I was crushingly disappointed with 2018’s Boarding House Reach and wrote about it here on B&V, LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. I applauded his creativity and his striving for something new, but the album just left me cold. When he reunited with the Raconteurs for 2019’s Help Us Stranger I was delighted. I felt his being back in a real band gave some structure to his creative impulses and said so, LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’.

I read late last year, or perhaps early this year that Jack had not wasted his time in pandemic lockdown and would be issuing not one new LP, but two. After the positive experience with Help Us Stranger I couldn’t help it, I let my excitement and anticipation get a little out of control. The first single did nothing to staunch that excitement. I thought the song “Taking Me Back” was a great first salvo (and even liked the softer version, “Taking Me Back (Gently)”). But then I heard the entire LP Fear Of The Dawn and I didn’t even review it. There’s enough negativity in the world, if I don’t like something I don’t generally review it (the ol’ “if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”). It sounded like nails in a blender to me, nothing but odd sound experiments. I would have never guessed that both Jack White and the Black Keys would put out albums and it’d be Dropout Boogie that’d be the better album. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Black Keys and don’t mean to compare them to Jack or the White Stripes, I think they’re consistently fantastic, but Jack is my “O.G.” on that bluesy, punky, rock. But the Black Keys simply delivered on Dropout Boogie.

This week as I was getting back on my feet again after the Memorial Day holiday and my annual summer cold (the cold leaves, the cough stays until the 4th of July), I saw that Jack had another new song out, the lead single from his upcoming 2nd LP of the year, Entering Heaven Alive. And this, faithful readers, is where I hesitated. In the aforementioned cartoon Peanuts, Charlie Brown is kind of an “everyman” and some might say a loser. He has a neighbor, Lucy, who brings over her football every fall and says she’ll hold the ball and Charlie can kick it, like a field goal. Every year he hesitates because he knows at the last minute Lucy will pull the football away and Charlie will fly through the air and land on his ass. You’ll have to forgive me, but after Boarding House Reach and Fear Of The Dawn, I’m starting to think of Jack White as Lucy with the football. I just don’t want to work myself up like Charlie and end up flying through the air and landing on my ass again.

With all my mental health issues around rock n roll anticipation aside, I have to say, I’m quite taken with this new song, “If I Die Tomorrow.” While Fear Of The Dawn was a rock and roll album, Entering Heaven Alive was billed as being a more “folky” set of songs. I took that to mean more acoustic. Who doesn’t love Jack White acoustic? One of his earliest popular tunes was the beautiful “We’re Going To Be Friends.” With the new song, he’s released this video:

I don’t usually comment on videos, I’m here for the music, but that’s a pretty cool video. It’s surreal enough to fit the subject matter. I feel like this is the kind of video I’d have sat up late on a Friday night in college, into the wee small hours, drinking beer and waiting to see again.

In terms of the song, from the first cymbal, strummed acoustic guitar and violin a sense of drama envelops the song. The singer asks for us to look after his mother if she “weeps in sorrow.” He asks us to even mix her a double of her favorite drink, apparently lemon flavored. Who doesn’t love a lemonade and vodka, but I’m off topic. It’s an acoustic song but it’s not laid back at all. It actually has a slow burn intensity that I keep coming back to. The guitar solo sounds almost jumbled like something off of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” like they sliced the tape up and tossed it in the air and then re-assembled it, if that makes sense. It’s not a searing guitar solo, its more surreal which befits the song and the subject matter. Jack’s vocal is at once sad and hopeful.

While this may be the thoughts of a dying man, I can’t help but feel warm when I hear the sentiment of the last verse:

If I die tomorrow
Will you let me know I left in peace?
I begged and I borrowed
Everybody’s love, and they gave for free
And I wish that I could give it back to them
So, if I die tomorrow
Will you give them all the love they lent to me?

That last line sounds oddly hopeful to me and these days when so much grim shit is going down, I could use a little sharing of love to boost me up. Pay it forward, as they say.

I love this song. However, I am taking a much more cautious approach to what Entering Heaven Alive might bring us. All I know is this a great tune, especially to listen to during some late night, whiskey in a tumbler rumination.

Cheers!

Our Favorite “Concept” Albums – From Rock Operas to Musical “Novels” – Don’t Be Afraid

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I recently realized it’s been a full two weeks since I’ve posted anything here at B&V, an unusually long absence for me. Have no fear, the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated. My last post on the Stones Live At El Mocambo was right before Memorial Day and that holiday took up a lot of time… switching out bourbon for the summer vodka season can be time consuming. Plus, I vowed to get a tan this year… I look like a translucent cadaver most of the time. Then sadly I came off the long holiday weekend with a bad head cold – no it was not COVID – but it was severe enough that I couldn’t even listen to music, which is rare for me. In the midst of the cold I perhaps exacerbated it by drinking a lot of Keeper’s Heart whiskey – a new delightful discovery for us here at the B&V labs – with my old roomie and dear friend Drew. I don’t blame anybody for thinking I’d given up hope in rock n roll this year. After two disastrous and terribly disappointing albums from Jack White (Fear Of the Dawn) and Liam Gallagher (C’mon You Know), two artists I had pegged to contribute to our annual “best of” list, you can understand why I’d be down. Two great rock n rollers reduced to releasing what amount to “sound experiments,” sigh. But no, that wasn’t it, I was just sick. As Ozzy once told us, “You can’t kill rock n roll.”

Having a little time away did give my mind time to wander. For reasons yet unclear I found myself thinking about that most misunderstood of rock n roll art forms, the “concept” album. While there is really no true agreement on what constitutes a concept album, Wikipedia defines it as “an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually.” I must agree that a lot of concept albums are better when you listen to the whole thing straight through vs just a song, like Dark Side Of the Moon. Most concept albums do tell a story – whether it’s a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who becomes a Messianic preacher or mentally unstable rock star named Pink who builds a metaphorical wall around himself. Although, admittedly the concept album doesn’t have to tell a story. Perhaps its thematic like Hotel California about the greed, disillusionment and loss of innocence the hippy generation found themselves in by the mid 70s or Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection which was about the old west. Often concept albums contain small bits of music that act more like narrative connective tissue than actual songs. Song titles can repeat themselves on concept albums, numbered to distinguish the different versions, i.e. “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1).”

I don’t know what it is about telling a story across an album – or more likely across a double-album – that scares people. I remember reading an interview of John Mellencamp (and this was years and years ago) and he was making fun of some of his crew for wanting to head into Indianapolis to see Pink Floyd on The Division Bell tour. He said something scathing about being too “arty.” What people tend to forget when they show their disdain for concept albums is that some of the biggest albums of all time were concept albums. Sgt Pepper, Ziggy Stardust and Tommy were all concept albums. The concept album transcends genres. Country music legend Willie Nelson did Red Headed Stranger, an amazing album. Sadly, Garth Brooks also did that Chris Gaines thing, best forgotten. Heavy metal has their concept albums like Queensryche’s Operation Mind Crime. I think the first person to do a true concept album was none other than “the Chairman of the Board,” Frank Sinatra. If you don’t think In The Wee Small Hours was a song cycle strung around a central concept then you haven’t been paying attention.

I know when I mention the idea of the concept album to the Rock Chick she recoils in horror. Sadly for her she was forever scarred by Styx’s Kilroy Was Here, perhaps the worst concept LP of all time. She saw them in concert on that tour. She said its the only time she’d ever been to a concert and no music was played for the first half hour they were on stage. I saw Styx in 1980 or 1981 and they were great… then Dennis DeYoung took over and… well… “Domo arigato Mr. Roboto.” In the Rock Chick’s defense in her disdain of concept LPs, my friends and I always used to say, “Never trust a woman who likes Pink Floyd.” Concept albums do seem to be more a “dude” thing. All men are nerds deep down and suckers for a “far out” story. Women are likely smarter. Still, while some concepts are just bad or perhaps confusing, we shouldn’t dismiss them outright. The bigger the artistic risk, in some cases, the bigger the failure. It’s difficult to juggle writing a set of great songs and making them fit into a cohesive narrative. More often than not we get great songs and a less-than-cohesive narrative. I’m ok with that.

Some songwriters just seem to need a global narrative on an album in order to write songs. Pete Townshend seems almost wedded to the idea of having a concept. He’s written a set of songs before, like Who By Numbers, but he seems more comfortable with a story cycle to wrap his songs around. Everybody needs an on-ramp to write something, some idea or flight of imagination, in order begin so for Pete I guess that’s rock opera. Roger Waters is another guy who seems more comfortable tying songs and characters together than just writing straight up tunes. Ray Davies of the Kinks has written a lot of great songs but he’s also done a lot of great concept albums. He can do either. Regardless, I think this kind of artistic reach should be applauded and encouraged. I like ambition in rock n roll.

Without further adieu, these are my favorite concept albums. Much like my picks of “Hybrid” albums (both live and studio stuff mixed together) or Cover albums (albums featuring all cover songs) and Live albums these are our favorites. It’s not meant to be an exhausting ranking. You may have a concept album you feel should be added to the list – please mention them in the comments. I didn’t add Rush’s 2112 and I know I’m going to hear about that but the concept here only lasted on side 1 of the album. And while I could have listed all of Frank Zappa or Pink Floyd’s records… or the Who’s for that matter… I’ve chosen only a few of each artist, my favorites. I’ve picked some of the biggest LPs of all time but also some more obscure choices that perhaps deserve reconsideration. Either way, if there’s a concept album you like or are curious about but haven’t listened to, I urge you to seek it out, put it on and turn it up. Perhaps with a tumbler of something strong to help get you along the line.

  1. The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band – One of the greatest albums ever if not the greatest. Built around a simple premise – the Beatles were pretending to be this other band, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, in order to free themselves from expectations. The result, a masterpiece.
  2. David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars – Bowie already had a string of successful LPs but this is the one that made him a superstar. Similar premise to #1 above. Pretend to be an alien and sing about isolation and feeling different.
  3. Jackson Browne, Running On Empty – This one may surprise some folks, wondering how it’s a “concept album.” Well, it’s a live album about a live album. Recorded on the road about the road. Still one of my favs.
  4. Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On? – Marvin’s masterpiece of a protest album. It’s written from the point of view of a Vietnam vet returning home and I think was based on his brother’s or cousin’s return from the war. He calls out poverty, the ecology and the war. And it swings baby.
  5. Green Day, American Idiot – A scathing indictment of one of the worst Presidents in our history. This album rejuvenated Green Day’s career. They did another rock opera but this is the one you want.
  6. Elton John, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy – A song cycle about Elton and co-writer Bernie Taupin’s rise to fame. I like it a whole lot better when I listen to it from start to finish as one piece of music. I was tempted to list Elton’s Tumbleweed Connection as it’s an excellent album about the ol’ West written by a couple of guys from England.
  7. The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society – I hate to admit it but the Kinks don’t get enough love around here. After the Kinks were shut off from touring the U.S. because of a pot bust, they turned insular. Here they turn their attention to the English village square. They’re pining for an England that had ceased to exist.
  8. The Kinks, Arthur Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire – Still turned inward to England this time on a broader scale. “Victoria” and “Shangri La” are two of my favorite Kinks’ tracks. I need to delve deeper into these guys in these pages.
  9. Randy Newman, Good Old Boys – A scathing indictment of racism in the South. Randy grew up in L.A. but spent summers in New Orleans. This is one of his strongest albums. Sometimes you need a character or a story to hide behind while telling the truth.
  10. Pink Floyd, Animals – Like I said, I could list all of their LPs on this list. I’m not listing Dark Side of the Moon because it’s just too big. Everybody’s heard it. A friend of mine and I used to drive around Kansas City drinking beer and cranking Animals which seems slightly Orwellian to me. But man what a great album.
  11. Pink Floyd, The Wall – I can still remember riding home from high school, sitting in the back seat of my friend Brewster’s car cranking “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1).” Roger Waters who was the principle writer here (or is it principal writer?) blended his own story with founder Syd Barrett’s story. Inspired by his own spitting on a fan on the previous tour, he realized people put up walls around themselves. I did see Waters perform this at the Berlin Wall.
  12. Lou Reed, New YorkBilled in the liner notes as a novel set to music, Lou suggested listening to the entire album, in order, in one sitting. I always listen to Lou’s instructions.
  13. Lou Reed, Berlin – A prominent entry onto our list of Grim and Sad albums too, this is a difficult listen but worth it.
  14. Pete Townshend, White City – The concept here, basically a treatise on poverty and urban decay, is a bit lost on me now. The LP was billed as “A Novel” in the subtitle. I just loved “Give Blood” and “Secondhand Love.” This is one of those albums that nobody talks about but I still enjoy.
  15. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – This album is actually on my list of “The Dirty Dozen, Albums Only I Like.” Oh well, I still dig this album besides the bizarre story line and I feel it needs a reassessment.
  16. The Who, Quadrophenia – Sure, Tommy is recognized as the first and perhaps greatest “rock opera” but give me Quadrophenia any day. It has louder guitars.
  17. Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage – To me this is one of Zappa’s most accessible albums. Who doesn’t enjoy a visit from the “Central Scrutinizer” once and again? From the title track to “Catholic Girls” this album makes me laugh. Although even I have to admit Joe’s Garage can’t touch Freak Out! in terms of being an exceptional concept LP.
  18. Warren Zevon, Transverse City – This LP also made my list of “essential” Warren Zevon albums. It’s a grim commentary about U.S. society in the late 80s. It may be grim but it’s a great, great album. Someone with some connections needs to get Warren into the Rock Hall.

While I left off some of the biggest titles, Dark Side of the Moon or Tommy but it was my goal to share the LPs that maybe you haven’t heard or heard in a while and inspire you dust off the turn table, open up that double album, hoping no old pot seeds fall out and turn up a little rock opera. There are a few here that are quirky suggestions of LPs that I really dig and hope I can turn you onto. Again, this list wasn’t supposed to be exhaustive and if you have a concept LP that I should check out I always appreciate a suggestion in the comments.

Cheers! I hope, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all…”

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!

Black Crowes’ New EP Of 6 Covers (From The Year) ‘1972’ – Glorious, Good Rockin’ Fun

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I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of days off last week and go to points out West to visit my beloved daughter. I’m lucky that I have vacation days when I realize a lot of folks don’t have time off. But after an action-packed weekend that included my getting to see one of my favorite bands The Cult in concert, I was dragging come Monday morning. But then who isn’t dragging on Monday mornings? I knew other than overdosing on coffee or being hit in the chest with a defibrillator I was going to need some help to get through the early part of the week. For me that help came in the form of rock n roll. Music really can always heal what ails me, even fatigue.

I had it in the back of my mind last weekend the Black Crowes had finally released their EP of cover songs that Friday. I was only half right about that. I looked in all the regular places I buy and listen to music – and it astounds me how many options I have now – and I couldn’t find the new Crowes’ EP, entitled 1972. Apparently you can only buy the LP or the CD through Amazon. I’m not a big streaming guy (admittedly my playlists are out on alas, Spotify) but the only place I could hear this was streaming through Amazon Prime. I want to buy the vinyl but I want to do that in a local record store from a pierced and tattoo’d hippy while breathing in lovely, musty old used records and incense. A man has to have some standards in this life and ordering vinyl from the dark empire of Amazon just seems wrong. I get my vitamins there, I’m not getting my vinyl there. I have a code I live by, folks. Having a code to live by, like those little paper cocktail napkins, is what separates us from the savages.

The new Crowes’ EP, 1972 is titled thus because it contains six tracks all originally released in 1972. As long time readers know, we here at B&V celebrated 1972 as well on a playlist dedicated to albums released during that awesome year in rock n roll. Well, this is the Crowes version of that celebration, or so it seems. I can’t tell you how much joy listening to the Black Crowes’ lusty renditions of 1972-era tracks has given me this week. Of course I’m on record as loving cover songs – a song originally recorded by someone else that a band re -records. I even dig when an artist has done an entire LP of covers (and have posted about “Cover Albums”), like Bowie’s Pin-Ups or Bob Seger’s Smokin’ O.P.s.

I have loved the Crowes since the first time I heard the opening riff on “Jealous Again” while tooling down the highway during my unemployed gypsy year in 1990. Their first two albums are amongst the greatest rock albums ever in my opinion. They recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker and it was a great box set. It included a full concert from ’90 and a slew of unreleased bonus tracks including the Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole,” and a lost original that I loved, “Charming Mess.” I read somewhere that Chris and Rich Robinson reached out to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the release of “Charming Mess” because it sounded so much like the Faces. I do hear echos of “Stay With Me” but hey everybody has influences. Even since those early days the Black Crowes were doing interesting things with cover songs. Shake Your Money Maker had their great Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle.” And also apparently the aforementioned unreleased Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole.” Their second LP, the masterpiece, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion also had a cover – this time Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.” From Otis and Humble Pie to Bob Marley show the Crowes have a great eclectic range.

The Crowes, after that early huge success, continued to put out great albums. Three Snakes And A Charm and By Your Side are two of my favorite of their LPs. But alas, the relationship between the brothers Robinson was a rocky one. The band has broken up a few times. When they would get back together they would release additional great music, like the album Warpaint. It’s the best Black Crowes’ album you’ve probably  never heard. They’ve got a host of great live stuff out there as well. Eventually the relationship between Chris Robinson (vocals) and Rich Robinson (guitar) was so bad the band broke up and they even stopped speaking. I feel bad for their mother. They went years without talking. It’s often difficult when siblings form bands… Eventually the brothers reconciled. I read an article about them, right before Covid struck, and I was genuinely pleased for them as people, as brothers, as much as I was that they were trying to get the band back together. They decided to reform without any of the other original members who they believed were contributors to the toxicity of their relationship. I assume they’re speaking of longtime drummer Steve Gorman who wrote a “tell-all” that wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal.

Like the Stones who they were so often compared to in their early days, the Crowes were taking slow steps to repair the fractured relationships between the principal members and songwriters, the Robinsons. Their plan, pre-Covid, was to tour first and see how they got on. The new band was Chris (vocals), Rich (guitar) with Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and eventually former member Sven Pippen (bass) and journeyman drummer Brian Griffin. It’s just fun to say the name Sven Pippen. If I was in high school and I needed a fake name to give cops when they were confiscating my underage beer, I’d give the name Sven Pippen but I digress. They played a few shows but then Covid ruined everything. I see this EP of covers songs as a way for them to all see how they’re gelling as a band. To see if the repaired relationships can stand. It’s just another step in the Crowes journey to re-establish that all important chemistry. They probably wanted to see if they could go into the studio and get along… why put songwriting pressure on yourselves? They’ve supposedly written around 20 songs but they want to tour first before actually committing those to tape. I totally get that. Consider 1972 another step in that creative journey.

Well let me tell you, if 1972 is the yardstick we’re using for the Black Crowes, I think the chemistry is back! They play these six songs with such joy. You can literally tell how much fun they’re having. The EP kicks off with a Stones cover, “Rip This Joint.” The thing I love about covers is they’re like “two-fers.” You get the vibe of the original artist and the new artist at the same time, in one song. I feel like the Crowes were made to cover the Stones. What a great choice from Exile On Main Street. It gets the rock and roll cookin’. They also cover one of my all time favorite Rod Stewart solo tracks, “You Wear It Well.” That is coincidentally a track I chose for my aforementioned 1972 playlist. The Crowes doing the Stones and Rod (whose Faces were clearly an influence) just makes sense. The Rock Chick heard me jamming on the Black Crowes once and said, “I know why you like them, they sound like the Faces.” True, indeed. Both these songs put a smile on my face.

They also do two tracks associated with Glam Rock. They do T. Rex’s track “The Slider.” “The Slider” was Marc Bolan’s ode to cocaine. The Crowes really do the track justice. They’re version is faithful but heavier. They wring everything they can out of the riff. Chris in particular sounds like he’s really enjoying this track. The other Glam Rock track they do is Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” I’ve gotta say it takes balls to do a Bowie cover, especially from Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Like the T. Rex track the Black Crowes are faithful to “Moonage Daydream” but they do it slightly heavier. They actually stretch out and jam the guitar parts toward the end to really make it sound Black Crowes-y. What can I say, I was bowled over by this track.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the Crowes doing cover songs if they didn’t throw us a couple of curve balls. I was so thrilled to see that they did a version of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” I recently told a friend, if I hear a band doing a Little Feat cover, I’m instantly more interested in the album.” Rich takes the lead vocal – taking his Keith Richards’ like turn at the mic – and he nails it. It’s a mostly acoustic take with great organ and I dug it. Chris provides a joyous harmony vocal. Little Feat were a West Coast band but they always had a southern vibe to me… The biggest curve ball for most folks is going to be the final track, the Temptations’ great song, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” The Crowes have covered everything from country-rock (“Hot Burrito #1”) to soul (“Hard To Handle”) so it shouldn’t be surprised that they decided to do a funky Motown track. Oh my Gawd, I love this track! It may be my favorite on the EP. Of course its a track that I chose for my 1972 playlist so maybe I’m probably biased. When the drums hit with the fabulous organ and wah-wah guitar riff I defy you to sit down. There is also some great harmonica on this track. It’s a great version of the song.

1972 is the sound of a band having a really good time. It’s joyous music made joyously. I love that they did this in a thematic way, centered around so many of their influences from the 70s. I think this bodes well for the Black Crowes and whatever original music they end up making. The band sounds tight and together. If they head out on the road I am definitely going to try and see them again. Until then, sit back, turn this EP up and enjoy!!

Cheers!

Review: The Cult Live In Denver 5/06/22 – The Mission Ballroom – Ian Astbury Shines During Sluggish Show

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*Photo taken by the Rock Chick

I spent today, Sunday, driving across the plains of Kansas on my way back from seeing my daughter in Denver… Well, seeing my daughter and the Cult in Denver. I can tell the pandemic is starting to thaw out a bit as my dance card in Denver was completely full. The last few times I’ve been in Denver we really didn’t go out and do much. It was quality family time. Not so this trip. I was doing something almost constantly. And there was the Cult concert slipped into the middle of the schedule Friday night at the Mission Ballroom for just the Rock Chick and me. I didn’t know much about the Mission Ballroom but it’s a fantastic venue. I’d go back to that place in a heartbeat. Plenty of bars, plenty of bathrooms and not a bad seat in the house. This is one of the few times I’ve seen the Cult and actually had a seat. I didn’t go for my usual General Admission floor tickets this time as typically some hulking mountain of a guy ends up standing in front of the Rock Chick who is considerably less… vertical than I am. There aren’t many people who can block my view. We were excited to be on guitarist Billy Duffy’s side of the stage.

Driving across the fruited plains all day – where there is literally nothing to see – gave me a chance to ponder the show I’d seen Friday while I killed the road time listening to the new Chili Peppers album, Rush’s 40th celebration of Moving Pictures and a few episodes of an old crime podcast… we do love our Murder & Mayhem stories here at B&V. The opening act for the Cult was a band I was unfamiliar with, King Woman (editor’s note: the opener was misidentified in an earlier version as Des Rocs). I’ve seen an interesting array of bands opening for the Cult as I’ve been to over half a dozen Cult shows since 2001. The most entertaining opener was probably Monster Magnet at that first Cult show I saw on the Beyond Good And Evil tour. I seem to recall leather clad dancers on stage. I can’t say King Woman was entertaining at all. I got there mid-set and they were performing without a spotlight on the singer. It was all backlit in red. I couldn’t see the face of the band members but especially the lead singer, a lady to seems pretty angry and she was rolling around on stage in the dark. They ended with a cover of the Stone Roses’ “I Want To Be Adored” that was frankly, unrecognizable.

By 9:40 the Cult came onto the stage. The current line up is Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Grant Fitzpatrick (bass) [editor’s note: on bass it may have been Charlie Jones] and inexplicably Damon Fox (keyboards/backing vocals). The Cult definitely don’t need a keyboard player. They used to tour with an extra guitar player which made a lot more sense to me. There are very few things I can count on in life – but the Cult live are one of them. They are always MONEY on stage. The fact these guys always bring it live is one of the reasons I fell in love with the band. I had taken the liberty of glancing at the set list prior to the show and while I didn’t have it memorized – I couldn’t remember what they opened with – I was excited about it. It was front loaded with a bunch of songs from Sonic Temple, probably their most famous, commercially successful album. As I’ve said, I’m so into the Cult I like whatever they play but I missed the tour pre-Covid where they played Sonic Temple in it’s entirety. I was sidelined by a foot injury. I’d previously seen the “complete album shows” for Love and Electric so that was pretty disappointing. While I’d have been quite content if they’d come out and opened with 8 tracks from Hidden City I was glad I was making up for missing that last tour.

Thank god I couldn’t remember what the opener was because I was delighted and surprised when I heard the opening notes of “Sun King.” It’s one of my favorites. After two years of virtually no concerts save for a surprise trip to Starlight Theater to see Joan Jett/Cheap Trick I couldn’t help but think, “Finally!” Immediately the Rock Chick noticed that they sounded off. It took me a few riffs in to realize they sounded a little sluggish. Maybe they need to burn off some of that Covid rust? The Rock Chick also noticed that Ian Astbury’s vocals were a little off as well – he changed out his microphone midway through the main set so I’ll give her credit there. The list was heavily weighted to Sonic Temple. The entire show, save for “Rise” from Beyond Good And Evil was from Love, Electric or Sonic Temple or as some might say “their prime.” Maybe the fact that they aren’t touring behind a new album brought less enthusiasm from the group. Maybe it’s the new bass player and keyboard player. Chemistry in a band is important.

The main issue, upon reflection as I drove through golden fields of wheat spotted with green fields of beans and milo and the requisite rural frightful political signs, might have been as simple as one guy: Billy Duffy. I think Billy is one of those great, underrated guitar Gods out there. Although I have to say, he seemed bored. He wasn’t terribly engaged. Or maybe he’s just always sounded better with a second guitarist on stage with him. I was on his side of the stage and he almost seemed distracted. He kept looking up toward the balcony seats, just to our lright. We were on his side, only 2 sections out from the stage. The Rock Chick says I’m crazy but at first I thought he was looking up at the giant stack of speakers floating above his head like he was afraid they were going to fall. His guitar was loud and he plays powerfully but he was just playing slower than usual. Tom Petty always called live albums “playing your greatest hits really fast.” This was the opposite of that.

As I said, they opened with a bunch of Sonic Temple tracks. The only track that the keyboard player really had an impact on – to my ears anyway – was “Sweet Soul Sister.” It was nice to have the organ. They had a little mellow breakdown in the middle where Ian addressed the crowd. He was referencing psychedelics, perhaps inspired by Colorado’s pot laws. He told a guy in the front row “Hey man, you can’t text from the front row… you’re in the front row that comes with certain responsibilities,” which I thought was funny. At one time he exhorted the crowd to “Smoke em if you got em.” He also said something about the people filming the show on their phones, calling them out as “Kurosawa, Speilberg and Coppola.” Hey man, if you’re not used to being filmed at this point, I’ve got bad news for you. I mean, I get it. I shake my head at people at a concert who experience it through their phones. I took maybe 3 pictures and put my phone on mute and into my pocket.

Despite that seemingly slightly hostile banter, I have to say Astbury was on fire that night. It’s like he sensed the rest of the band was sluggish and he was determined to put them on his shoulders and carry them through the night. He is one of the best front men and singers in the business. What a voice! He moved around the stage like a man half his age. He’s always active but I hadn’t seen him move that much on stage since the first few Cult shows I saw over 20 years ago. He looked lean and very into it. He gave out his sole tambourine to a kid near the stage who he called “Youngblood” because the kid had a Pink Floyd The Wall t-shirt on. “We’ve gotta teach these youngbloods right!”

As the band slogged through the Sonic Temple material and Astbury tried to pump them up, they hit a high point on “Edie (Ciao Baby).” That ballad soared. I will admit that when they shifted to some of the songs on Electric the band got better – in my opinion, this is disputed by the Rock Chick. “Li’l Devil” was a track where I felt everything clicked for the band. It was a real highlight. They followed that up with two more great tracks from Electric, “Peace Dog” and “Wildflower” which were also highlights. The Love material at the end of the set was also great and included a rocking version “Rain” and “Revolution,” a track Astbury described as “more relevant now than ever.” I love “She Sells Sanctuary” but it did miss that second guitarist.

The main set ended with “Love Removal Machine” another knock out moment of the night. The Electric stuff just sounded better but then as my friend Stormin’ said to me once, “I’m an Electric guy.” I was thrilled that “Rise,” one of their most underrated songs from the late career resurgence, made it into the encore. As I said, it’s the only non Love-Electric-Sonic Temple track they played. In retrospect I’d have liked to hear “Dirty Little Rock Star” or “For The Animals” just to break it up a bit. Maybe they could have thrown in Hidden City’s Hinterland.” But I’m probably splitting hairs. The faithful, myself included, still went nuts for the final track, a rousing “Fire Woman.” It was so good to be in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, sharing that communal, ecstatic moment during a concert.

And with that the night was over. While it was a bit of a disappointing show, I’d still go see the Cult again. I’d like to see them on this tour again actually. I just think I caught Billy Duffy on a bad night. But it was still made special by Ian Astbury absolutely bringing his A game. As I am fond of saying, Life is short, buy the ticket, see the show.

Cheers!

Archival Release: Neil Young, 1989’s ‘El Dorado – EP’ Originally Only Released In Japan & Australia

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I just saw that Neil Young has recently released a curious artifact from his vaunted Archives. It looks like he finally released the Eldorado EP. I guess I should say “re-released” the EP. It was originally released in April of 1989 but only in a limited release and only in Japan and Australia. One has to wonder if Young was touring that part of the world at the time and needed to get something out for the fans to buy. I don’t know why he would have held the EP back from general release, but hey, it’s Neil Young. I don’t know if the recent decision to release Eldorado was tied to Record Store Day but I suspect it was. For years I’ve been hearing about El Dorado in hushed and reverent tones. People talk about it on music forums like it’s a well known part of the canon. While I’d heard of it, I’d never actually heard it – which I’m sure it was heavily bootlegged – or even knew what tracks were on it. I just knew that there was some overlap between the EP Eldorado released in April of 1989 and Neil’s great comeback LP Freedom which was released in October of 1989.

Thinking back on 1989 I realize for those of us who came of rock n roll age in the late 70s, the 80s were a tough time to become a Neil Young fan. I won’t say it was easy to become a Neil Young fan in the 70s but it was certainly easier. If you were 10 or 15 years older than I was, it would have been a natural thing to get on Neil’s bandwagon. He had the rock pedigree – he’d been a founding member of the Buffalo Springfield, launched a solo career, teamed up with his on-again/off-again backing band Crazy Horse and then joined Crosby Stills & Nash to become CSNY. In the early 70s he released some of his most popular, accessible work like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush and Harvest. While the Ditch Trilogy (Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night) may not have been as commercially successful as his earlier solo stuff those albums are still counted amongst his greatest works. If you were a fan you likely dug those albums.

If you started listening to rock n roll in the late 70s or early 80s, you started listening to what was then current. It was harder to get on Neil’s bandwagon at that point. Comes A Time was a great album but you didn’t hear a lot of mellow Neil on the radio in my hometown. You were probably under the impression that “Lotta Love” was a Nicolette Larson song. You might occasionally hear “Like A Hurricane” or “Cortez The Killer” on the radio but Neil never caught my attention. I heard the common complaints, “his music is a bummer,” or “he can’t sing” (much like I used to hear about Dylan). Sadly, I probably fell into that trap. I’ll admit, Young’s album most influenced by punk, Rust Never Sleeps did catch my ear. I really dug “Powderfinger” and “Pocahontas” even if I couldn’t always follow the lyrics. “Hey Hey, My My” was a guitar freakout that I liked. I remember Billy Joel on 20/20 at the time complaining that his songwriting was too complex and he played “Hey Hey, My My” on the piano as an example of something simple yet catchy. I don’t know if he was making fun of Neil but knowing Billy, probably. While at that point, still in high school, I began to think more highly of Neil, I still wasn’t on the bandwagon. It was hard in the late 70s or early 80s to jump on that bandwagon despite Rust Never Sleeps and the accompanying concert movie that always seemed to be at the midnight movies with Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same playing in the next theater.

His next few albums, Hawks And Doves and Re*ac*tor both slipped by without me noticing. The years when I was graduating high school and going off to college – years of great musical expansion in terms of my collection and awareness – the bottom dropped out for Neil. Trans was (and remains for me) unlistenable, Everybody’s Rockin’ was a rockabilly album and Old Ways was gasp, country. Not a good time to jump on anybody’s bandwagon. Although I remember an ex roommate dropping by a party I was having at my parents house after he’d been to see Neil on the Everybody’s Rockin’ tour and he raved. Still I was unmoved.

Then a very fortunate thing happened for me. I met a guy named Drew who turned me onto a bunch of great music that included Neil Young. Before I knew it I owned Decade a three LP greatest hit retrospective that I believe set the stage for the box set cottage industry. In college I became very backwards focused. Rather than just listening to what was current, I began to dig deeper into the back catalogs of bands I liked. It was the 80s but I was focused on bands from the 60s and the 70s. I knew more about the Faces and Led Zeppelin than I did about Motley Crue or Def Leppard. They were fine bands who ironically I discovered 10 or 15 years after their heyday. Since college, I’m always busy looking in the rearview mirror instead of at what is current. I’ll probably be bragging about listening to Cage The Elephant in like a decade. I went from lukewarm on Neil to very into him. I devoured his back catalog but wanted something more, something current. Around this time he released Landing On Water. I bought it used and quickly sold it back to them. I began to consign Neil to the annals of history in terms of being a viable act.

But as Neil often does, there began to be signs of life. I’m one of the few people who really dug his reunion LP with Crazy Horse in 1987 Life. Yes, I’m that guy at the all night party back then urging someone to put on “Inca Queen.” It was after that album he left Geffen Records who had sued him for “purposely making un-commercial music,” and re joined Reprise (a label founded by Sinatra by the way). His first LP for Reprise was a blues genre exercise, complete with a horn section, This Notes For You. I loved that record and I know I’m the only one who did. That album came out in 1988 and it seems Neil was finally done with genre exercises and pissing off his record company. He was ready to record a real album. A real Neil Young album.

It’s hard to overstate what a great comeback 1989’s Freedom was for Neil Young. It was certainly the best album he’d done since Rust Never Sleeps. The album was book ended with an acoustic and electric version of a song (just like Rust) “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The electric version is one of his greatest songs. It was eclectic but this time in a good way. “Crime In The City” and “Someday” – both great songs – were left overs from This Notes For You complete with horns. “Crime In The City” is a great, gritty epic track. “Someday” is an oddly worded hopeful track. “Too Far Gone” was a beautiful ballad that dated back to his aborted LP Chrome Dreams in the 70s. The album is a combination of rockers and quieter acoustic numbers. Linda Ronstadt shows up to sing harmony on “Hangin’ On A Limb” a track about a seemingly doomed love affair and “The Ways of Love” another beautiful acoustic track. This is not only one of Neil’s best albums, it’s one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

Which all leads me to this previously limited release EP, Eldorado. It came out six months prior and was perhaps meant to be a teaser for the upcoming Freedom. It’s credited to Neil & “the Restless,” Chad Cromwell on drums and Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas. I’m delighted to see it finally released, but then I’m a completest. Two of the five songs, “On Broadway” a cover song and the title track of the EP, “Eldorado” were both put on Freedom exactly as they are here. There is a third track, “Don’t Cry” that ended up on Freedom as well, albeit edited. “Don’t Cry” was always a creepy, harrowing breakup song to me. It’s about a guy who helps his girlfriend pack her stuff and take it to the car. “Don’t cry my sweet girl, nothing I say is written in stone.” The narrator is hedging his bets. The thing that made this song feel somewhat menacing was Neil’s freak out guitar work. He’s singing in a reassuring manner but pounding out notes on the guitar. It’s all very dissonant. It’s a great song but man what he does to his guitar strings should be illegal. Apparently at the insistence of Niko Bolas who produced Freedom and Frank Sampedro, Neil’s erstwhile guitarist in Crazy Horse, Neil agreed to edit out about 45 seconds of his guitar fury on the song. So the version on Freedom is slightly different than what you find on Eldorado.

Why the interest in Eldorado if three of it’s five songs are repeated (basically) the same on Freedom? There are two tracks that didn’t make Freedom and have never been released before. Again, I’m a completest but I really like these two unearthed tracks. The first track on the EP is the unreleased “Cocaine Eyes” and it’s just a great, lost Neil Young rock song. It’s an anti drug song but unlike “The Needle And The Damage Done” this song rawks. “Ain’t a day goes by, I don’t burn a little bit of my soul.” I think its about overcoming an addiction to coke, but then it’s vague enough to make you wonder if the guy actually got past cocaine. “You lost the race once again, my old friend.” Maybe he’s talking to Crosby? The guitar solo at the end is a slashing, classic Young solo. The other previously unreleased track is “Heavy Love.” It’s another great galloping rocker of a song. “Inside your head I’m singing, inside your heart I dig for more.” The song ends with a loud crash of drums or what may be Neil pounding on the strings. It just sounds like something is exploding…  If I’d have heard either of these songs – prior to hearing and loving Freedom – I’d have probably been ready to proclaim that Neil was back!

I will warn you before you run out and buy this EP, it will probably be included in Neil’s supposedly upcoming Archives III. Before Archvies I came out I bought several of Neil’s live LPs that ended up in the box set. I was pissed about that. I figured why get the box, I own half of it already? While I did purchase a few of the discs that were included in Archives II, at least this time I went in with my eyes open. I would definitely recommend everyone check out the two newly released tracks and if you haven’t done so, for the love of all that is holy, please pick up Freedom at your earliest opportunity. Trust me.

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!