LP Review: John Mellencamp, “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” Featuring Carlene Carter

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When I was in high school I dated a girl whose parents both worked, which was rare in my neighborhood. After school we’d go over to her house for those two hours before her parents got home and drink beer and listen to music. I remember listening to one of the few albums she actually owned, ‘American Fool’ by a guy then named John Cougar. Sure, those were fun afternoons, but I never really got into that album. If middling music was the cover charge to hang out unsupervised in the afternoons with a young girl and beer, I was willing to pay it. Despite having to hear “Jack And Diane” every day, those are still fond memories.

By ’83, I was done with high school, that girl was done with me, and John Cougar was done with the last name “Cougar,” which had been given to him by his first manager. He was now John Mellencamp and he put out an ‘Exile On Mainstreet’ sloppy rocker of an album named ‘Uh-Huh.’ I was on the band wagon. I loved that album, especially the song, “Play Guitar.” Mellencamp was always described as a poor man’s Seger and Seger was described as a poor man’s Springsteen. I guess that makes Mellencamp a cut-rate Springsteen. That math was always too hard for me.

Mellencamp followed up ‘Uh-Huh’ with his two masterpieces ‘Scarecrow,’ and ‘The Lonesome Jubilee,’ that latter of which was a stylistic left turn with fiddles and acoustic guitars. Sometimes when an artist breaks with his past work and pushes himself, marvelous things result. For Mellencamp that marvelous thing was ‘The Lonesome Jubilee,’ his career highlight. Since that time, he’s bounced back and forth between his two styles, the ‘Jubilee’ type acoustic/rootsy stuff and his earlier rockier style. For every ‘Big Daddy’ he’d veer back to the electric guitar noise of ‘Whenever We Wanted.’ I stuck with him through a lot of that journey. Another positive development for Mellencamp was his shift from the typical rock lyrics to a more geopolitical view of the world, lyrically speaking. I’ve always liked lyrics that mean something…

His first album for Columbia, entitled ‘John Mellencamp’ was one of the first LPs that the Rock Chick and I found we loved in common. That was a true late career masterpiece and I urge everyone who hasn’t to check that one out. Self-titled LPs released late in an artist’s career typically signal a rebirth of sorts and ‘John Mellencamp’ is no exception. After that things got a little dicier for me with Mellencamp. ‘Rough Harvest’ was an album that sounded like acoustic demos that was recorded to get out of a recording contract, never a good artistic premise for a record. ‘Cuttin Heads’ left me cold. I liked his bluesy (more like rootsy) ‘Trouble No More,’ and even ‘Freedom’s Road’ had a lot of redeeming songs but after that I got off the bandwagon. The music just all started to sound grim. I bought ‘No Better Than This’ based on the hype of Mellencamp working with T. Bone Burnett but despite all the love of the critics it did nothing for me…maybe it was the fact they recorded it in mono. Sigh.

After that I completely disconnected from Mellencamp. I’d heard he was doing theatrical stuff for the stage and movies but I turned a deaf ear. The Rock Chick came home one day and purchased a tune she said reminded her of me, “Troubled Man” from the album ‘Plain Spoken,’ which is never a song you want somebody to associate you with. I was going through some hard times at work. I actually heard good buzz around ‘Plain Spoken’ but for reasons unclear I didn’t check it out. “Troubled Man” is a great Mellencamp tune…

I read somewhere on line that Mellencamp had a new LP coming out in late April, entitled ‘Sad Clowns & Hillbillies’ on which he was going country. “Well, fuck, consider him dead,” was my first thought. He was duetting with a woman named Carlene Carter (who I had never heard of) and also everybody’s go to country duet partner, Martina McBride. I was disappointed to think an artist the stature of Mellencamp would go the Bon Jovi country route to sell some records. Of course Mellencamp likely has a lot of alimony to pay so, maybe that was the motivation. Even the title had me horrified, ‘Sad Clowns’? ‘Hillbillies’? Really?

Despite the awful title, I was curious. I was driving around and on my satellite radio I heard a song from the new album, “Battle of Angels” and damned if it wasn’t a great song. I’ve spent some time with this LP and I’ve realized something I’d forgotten, something that is fundamental to all good music: NEVER underestimate the strength of great songwriting. You can argue with the instrumentation and even with Mellencamp’s voice, ravaged by cigarettes, but if you listen to his melodies and his lyrics, these are indeed really good if not great songs.

This is not so much of a country album as Mellencamp doing his ‘Lonesome Jubilee’ style roots music, so don’t be fooled by the “going country” stuff you read. There are some more country-ish elements here but this is not all in country. Carlene Carter, it ends up, is the daughter of country royalty, June Carter Cash and damn if she doesn’t sound exactly like her mother. It’s truly uncanny. Now, full disclosure, I love Johnny Cash and I own a duets album of he and June Carter and I’ve always loved her voice. So I immediately became attached to Carlene’s vocals. She only duets on a handful of these tunes. Martina McBride is here, but only on one song. This is not a duet’s album. Its more of a harmony vocals kind of thing with a few duets. The female voices do a nice job of off-setting Mellencamp’s sandpaper vocals.

“Mobile Blue” is a cover that I really liked, despite Mellencamp’s Louis Armstrong vocals. “Battle of Angels” is the LPs high point for me. If you check out nothing else, check that tune out. “Grandview” boasts an awesome electric guitar from none other than Izzy Stradlin of Guns N Roses fame. There are a number of strong tunes here, including “All Night Talk Radio,” which if driven by electric guitars instead of a fine Miriam Strum violin, would have been a rock anthem as big as “Little Pink Houses.” “What Kind of Man Am I” is a song that could only be written by Mellencamp, all regrets and sadness.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stumbles here. “Sugar Hill Mountain” is a tune I can do without. The album jumps off the rails on the back end which was disappointing after the strong beginning 5 or 6 tracks. “Sad Clowns” is a full on country waltz that grates on me.  “Easy Target” is sung in a vocal that sounds like a garbage truck that threw a rod. On the second half of the album, the only tune that resonates with me is the great tune, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” which boasts great harmonizing from Mellencamp and Carter.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this album. Even though Mellencamp will never likely climb the heights he once saw in the 80s and 90s, he’s still making complicated, intricate music. This is compelling and interesting despite it’s title. However, I can not recommend this record as a purchase. I’d check out the tunes on the front half of the album, selectively. If you have a streaming service it’s worth a listen or two. These are the kind of records that generally get over looked by, well, almost everybody. However, these are also precisely the type of albums, done by artists who’ve honed their craft and skills, that you’re likely to find a hidden gem or two.

Musical spelunking always brings rewards, folks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn it up loud, and as always, Cheers!

Bourbon 101: An Old Friend’s Cry For Help

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The call for help came in the form of a text message and a tweet which are words I never thought I’d type. My old and dear friend RK was in trouble and needed help. Indeed, his message was simply the word “Help” with the photo above. It appears a new “whiskey” bar had opened a couple of blocks from his home. Thankfully the “martini” bar fad has passed and whiskey is on the rise but I digress. As a good drinker, RK had immediately sauntered down to the new whiskey-themed joint and bellied up to the bar. But as often happens, he was confronted with a plethora of choices. Which whiskey to order? How do I avoid making a mistake here. Thankfully he came to the source, he came to BourbonAndVinyl.

Now I should probably take a step back for second to explain my view on friendship. I learned at an early age how valuable friends are. As a young, young man, I had forsaken all my friends for that oldest of reasons… love. Or, what I thought was love in my romantic, slightly drunken, immature heart. I had packed up all my stuff and took that leap of faith and moved to another city for a chick. After taking the leap, lets just say I landed hard when there was nothing to catch me. It was a lifetime ago, bygones and long forgotten… Embarrassed and chastened, I reached out to my friends, and to my surprise, all was forgiven. The prodigal was welcomed back to the fold with open arms. It dawned on me, that friends, true friends are some of the most important relationships a man can have. Dudes to drink and swear and talk a little treason with are invaluable. Friendship is sacred.

So when RK’s cry for help came to me, I took it very seriously. RK and I have a long history of tearing around Chicago. I seem to have a vague memory of drinking Hennessey with him and a homeless guy outside a Walgreens, but those records are mostly sealed. We’ve matured since then. I would do anything for RK… he’s one of those pals who could call in the middle of the night and I’d jump in my car with a weapon and $1000 bail money, no questions asked. And I must admit, RK is not the only one who has asked me about what bourbon to choose and what occasion to drink them. Luckily my friend Pest lives in Kentucky and took me out on the Bourbon Trail so I have cursory knowledge. What I’m about to tell you here is personal choice more than expertise. I’ve spent a lifetime drinking and frankly I don’t think there is anything better than whiskey.

My general rule – I always choose bourbon over whiskey if a good bourbon is available. Remember folks, all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbon. To be bourbon you have to have the right combination of grains, specifically a corn-mash and while it can actually be distilled anywhere, in my opinion it needs to come from Kentucky where the water is rich in minerals. It’s no coincidence they raise thoroughbred horses in Kentucky. Strong water = strong bones… and strong bourbon.

In the absence of bourbon, when it comes to American whiskeys, the one that is my go to is Gentlemen Jack, Jack Daniels’ premium whiskey. Until I discovered my love of bourbon this was my go to. I used to drink it neat because when I put ice in it, it goes down like coca-cola on a warm summer day. The next thing you know you’ll be trying to take your pants off over your head.

I tend to shy away from Canadian whiskeys because they’re sweeter. I like Canadian beer more than their whiskey. Sorry Canadians. If you’re looking to mix coke with your whiskey, and why the fuck would you do that, Canadian is probably where you go.

I hate Scotch. My apologies to my readers in the UK. Scotch tastes like whiskey gone bad. I know I’ll take a rash of shit on this. My buddy Doug has been trying to get me to drink a “good Scotch” for years but in my opinion, no such thing exists.

I love Rye as well when I want to mix it up. I actually like Bulleit Rye more than their bourbon. Rye has a more peppery finish to it. Its to bourbon what tabasco is to ketchup in my mind. I love the after taste of rye. Even in the presence of bourbon I will sometimes get a good Rye before dinner. I tend to lean on bourbon post eating.

I am very, very fond of Jameson if you’re going to with an Irish whiskey. I haven’t tried Tullamore Dew yet, but I am hearing great things about it. I tend to drink Irish whiskey on that most sacred of religious holidays, St Patrick’s Day. If I’m going to drink all day, I like a good Irish whiskey.

But again, at heart I’m a bourbon man. I drink it neat, or if I’m taking it slow I add ice. I never add mixer, to do so is blasphemy in my eyes. I don’t even add water. When confronted with a long list of bourbons, like the one photographed below, here’s my thoughts. I sorted this list based on cost:

Pappy Van Winkle: While this is not on the list above, I feel I must address Pappy Van Winkle. Yes, the rumors are true, it’s outstanding bourbon. My friend Arkansas Joel, who led me to my only shot of Pappy always warns though, anything under 20 years old isn’t worth the money. I tend to only drink Pappy when someone else is paying for it because, well, I’m poor.

Blanton’s: Blanton’s is as smooth as the ass of a high school cheerleader. It’s truly a wonderful bourbon. Again, from a cost perspective, Blanton’s is on the high end. I tend to drink it on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or after seeing the Stones in concert.

Woodford Reserve: Woodford is a less expensive, generally, than Blanton’s. It’s my go to bourbon. It’s what I drink when I’m sitting on my roof deck, watching the moon rise and contemplating life’s deep mysteries, which are usually something like, “when will Springsteen release a new LP.” I like Woodford so much I hide the bottle during parties so I don’t have to share it with anybody.

Maker’s Mark: I’ve been drinking Maker’s since right out of college. It’s in the middle of the price spectrum and I think it’s a great price performer. It’s a quality bourbon at an affordable price. Before going on the bourbon trail, Maker’s was my bourbon of choice. Typically I drink Maker’s now when I’m celebrating something and they don’t have Woodford. I also tend to use Maker’s as my “5 o’clock angel,” my end of day drink.

Buffalo Trace: For the life of me, I don’t know why they don’t charge more for Buffalo Trace. It’s a top notch Kentucky whiskey at a great price. I like to take a bottle of Buffalo Trace with me if I’m going to a football game and I’m going to be drinking for a couple hours prior, tailgating. And then maybe drinking for a few hours post game tailgating. Or, if I can get away with it, smuggling it into the game… I see a pattern. From a price performer, Buffalo Trace is your winner.

I generally avoid anything from the Jim Beam family… You have to draw the line somewhere.

That’s my take on the menu folks… again, season to take. Sample as many bourbons and whiskeys as you can until you find your “go to.” The journey to the heart of what your cocktail is will be one of the funniest journeys you ever take.

And, as the famous toast goes, “May we never regret this….”

The B&V Inauguration Day Playlist… (Sorry, No Toby Keith)

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First and foremost, I must apologize to those few readers out there who might have seen my last attempt to put an iPod playlist together for Friday’s impending Inauguration. While I’ve been on my annual Bourbon fast, it hasn’t precluded me from drinking wine. And as occasionally happens when I’ve pulled the cork, I sat down at the keyboard. The resulting post was, shall we say to be generous, not “light.” Wine… what are you going to do, all that sugar?  I’m not an overtly political person. As I’ve said many times before, I see myself as a centrist, hedonistic moderate with a taste for fine bourbon and loud rock music. To the right I look like a “dirt-munching, tree hugging, druid.” To the left I look like the landed gentry although that could be because of my penchant for powdered wigs. The struggle is real, folks.

Anyway, BourbonAndVinyl, as I stated in my first post, my “Mission Statement,” is about the glorious pleasures of sipping fine, dark murky fluids and listening to loud rock and roll music. B&V is not the forum for a political manifesto and alas, my first attempt at an Inauguration Day playlist looked like it was torn from the pages of the Unabomber. Well, at least it did to some folks. While I stand behind every word, B&V is not the forum for such thoughts…

These are tense and dark times. The peaceful transition of power is set to take place on Friday, yet the tension is thicker than anything I’ve seen in my short life. It sure doesn’t feel like a “peaceful transition” to me. Half the nation appears ready to burst out into protest marches, boycotts and upheaval, while the other half of the nation appear ready to celebrate by firing guns in the air, yell something politically incorrect and, well I don’t know, burn some books (how does the Right celebrate?) Political discourse has become well, coarse. We apparently have elected a “Tweeter-In-Chief,” which isn’t helping reduce the tension. I’m hearing the name Putin a lot more than I ever wanted to. Golden Showers have even been drug through the muck (don’t knock anybody’s fetishes). Even my good friends in the GOP appear tense. I had more than one Republican friend tell me he didn’t vote for Trump. I had one friend tell me he wrote in Mookie Blaylock… clearly a Pearl Jam fan… It appears nobody really got what they wanted this time around.

All that aside, the more I read about the Inauguration itself, the more I find myself thinking, “God, what shitty music they’re going to have.” 3 Doors Down? Lee Greenwood? I didn’t even know Lee Greenwood was still alive. Something called Jackie Evancho is performing? Is that a group like Jethro Tull or a person? I have no idea. I thought at least Kid Rock or Nugent would show up to lively up things. Maybe they are performing, but I haven’t heard about it. Toby Keith is set to play. Toby Keith? I have to keep reminding myself this is 2017 and not 1997. I would have assumed Toby Keith would have been trampled by mutinous cattle by now. Shit, even the despicable Beach Boys are on the fence, unable to decide to show up or not. I think they hit an all new low when a Springsteen cover band even dropped out, the B Street Band. Wow.

Well, as usual in these situations, I find myself needing rock and roll music more than ever. And the list of “artists” above isn’t doing much for me. I think we can all agree on that. Music has a way of lifting me up, getting me through the tough times or accentuating the good times. Whoever you are, you could probably use some rock music on Friday. So if you’re on the Right or Left, happy or mad about the election, do what I do. Head down to the tavern, talk a little treason and drop some money in the Juke Box. Remember folks, we’re all Americans here. And, as Bill Murray famously said in “Stripes,” being American means that our ancestors were all kicked out of every other decent country.

Here’s a little playlist to play over the muted television during the Inauguration ceremony for those of us who are concerned, no matter what your political persuasion. Pour something strong.

  1. Barry McGuire, “The Eve Of Destruction” – It seems to fit the mood of the country.
  2. The Rollins Band, “Liar” – Give me one honest politician…
  3. The Beatles, “Back In the USSR” – Oh, come on, this one is funny, unless it’s true…
  4. Green Day, “American Idiot” – Well, can you argue?
  5. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – It appears half of you are afraid of the other half and vice versa…
  6. Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” – “Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.”
  7. The Clash, “Know Your Rights” – “A public service announcement with guitars!”
  8. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Burnin’ And Lootin'” – Let’s have none of this on Friday…
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Long Walk Home” – This track also seems to fit everybody’s mood these days.
  10. The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – for all the folks who say they’re headed to Canada. My choice would have been the south of Spain.
  11. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime” – A song about insurgents in a post apocalyptic dictatorship that you can dance to…”this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco.”
  12. Elvis Costello, “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)” – Great question…
  13. Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” – Just because you’re feeling paranoid these days, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t after you.
  14. Beck, “Nausea” – Aren’t we all a little nauseous these days?
  15. Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street” – “…then you’ll know what a drag it is to see you…” Seems to be a lot of “Facebook friendships” ending lately.
  16. Bob Marley, “So Much Trouble In the World” – Reggae speaks the truth, baby.
  17. Green Day, “Know Your Enemy” – Let’s keep it straight who is on who’s team.
  18. The Eagles, “Frail Grasp Of The Big Picture” – I can see each side saying this about the other… ah, the divide.
  19. Bruce Springsteen (featuring Tom Morello), “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – “The highway is alive tonight, everybody knows where it’s headed.”
  20. U2, “Bullet The Blue Sky (Live)” – “Into the arms…. of America”
  21. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Take care of each other out there…
  22. David Bowie, “This Is Not America” – Nothing I’ve seen in the last year represents the country I grew up in.
  23. Jackson Browne, “Looking East” – Jackson stands on the West coast, looking East and isn’t thrilled with what he sees. Seems to fit the mood.
  24. Judas Priest, “Tyrant” – Ominous metal.
  25. The White Stripes, “Icky Thump” – The funkiest song ever written about immigration.
  26. Iron Maiden, “Run To The Hills” – Everyone seems poised for something bad to go down… best be ready to move.
  27. Bob Marley, “Small Axe” – More wisdom from the prophet Marley, “Oh evil men, playing smart and not being clever.”
  28. Bad Company, “Evil Wind” – An evil wind of division has blown across my country and I feel it’s cruel chill in my bones.
  29. The Faces, “Wicked Messenger” – The Faces putting an ominous spin on a Dylan song. Again, just fits the mood.
  30. Grace Potter, “Ah, Mary” – She’ll be the end of me and maybe everyone, oh, Mary, Mary, Mary, America.”

Well, I never said it was going to be a cheerful playlist. If you have any suggestions for additional songs, please feel free to add in the comments. Since I’m on my annual Bourbon fast, I hope someone pours a glass of Buffalo Trace on my behalf.

Cheers!

 

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

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

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

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

“Do these pants make me look fat?”

“Do you like this outfit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!