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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH

*Photo taken by your heartbroken blogger of the inside album sleeve from ‘Fair Warning’

I am simply gutted by the news that I heard today. Eddie Van Halen, guitar legend and band leader has died after a long battle with throat cancer at the tender age of 65. I was just sitting down to read a chapter in Ted Templeman’s autobiography about Van Halen recording Diver Down when I saw on Twitter we’d lost Eddie. Eyes full of tears I couldn’t possibly read that story at this moment so I put the book down. I love Van Halen and I always have. Van Halen was the ultimate party, good-time band and Eddie Van Halen was like a God to many of us… a Guitar God. For those of us who came of age in the late ’70s/early 80s, Eddie Van Halen is our Jimi Hendrix. My heart goes out to his whole family and all of his fans out there. I was literally thinking this weekend, I wish Eddie would put out some music.

My love of Van Halen – the band and the guitar player – dates as far back as my love of rock and roll. His playing is a part of the rock n roll DNA for me. I think their debut, Van Halen, was like the second or third album I ever purchased (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40). It was the first time I bought a band’s debut album when it was actually debuting. I’ve been on the bandwagon ever since. Everybody loved David Lee Roth’s class clown act but the real reason we liked that album was the guitar. We’d never heard sounds like that before. I think every guy in my junior high school owned that first Van Halen record… and anybody who didn’t, well you didn’t want to know them anyhow. I listened to that album continuously. I was drawn in by “You Really Got Me” but let’s be honest, it was “Runnin’ With the Devil” that caused me to finally buy the album. The song that made the Eddie Van Halen legend was track 2, simply and appropriately titled “Eruption.” It is perhaps the greatest guitar solo ever recorded. The sound was otherworldly. Nobody played that fast. We had all heard the rumors that when Eddie played he didn’t face the crowd, he was hiding his technique (which turned out to be true, he didn’t want anybody to see his revolutionary method of “finger-tapping” up the neck of the guitar which literally changed how the instrument was played). The power and menace of his playing is palpable. Van Halen is the perfect guitar record.

I have so many memories… I didn’t buy their second album (until later) but I had Woman And Children First on cassette. I’d blast that album in the car. I never realized Eddie was playing keyboards on “And the Cradle Will Rock…” until years later. I’m not sure any of us knew that Eddie played keyboards until “Jump” came out. Van Halen was the perfect blend of Eddie’s guitar (and keyboard) sound and Roth’s sense of humor… “His folks aren’t overjoyed” has always been a favorite lyric. Oddly enough, when my girlfriend and I would go to the drive-in with beer and pizza, I’d always take a boom box and Woman And Children First was the cassette I always played. Fond memories of that…”In a Simple Rhyme” is an under appreciated gem. Years later, the Rock Chick and I would love cranking up “Everybody Wants Some” and just reveling in the “awesomeness.”

Fair Warning was for me, simply a masterpiece. Eddie’s guitar playing was perhaps at it’s most muscular and menacing. The tour in support of that album was the first time I saw Van Halen in concert. I think after that the only tour I missed was the one for OU812 because I was in exile in Arkansas. I can still close my eyes and see the band playing “Mean Street.” We had great seats off to the side of the stage. Roth was standing an elevated platform on the opposite side of the stage. He went into the rap at the end… “Now a gun is real easy, in this desperate part of town…” and when he gets to the end and says “Lord, Strike that poor boy DOWN,” Roth fell to the floor like he’d been hit. Suddenly a spotlight flashes on and Eddie Van Halen is standing on the platform on my side of the stage. His playing was incendiary. That guitar solo is etched in my mind like it was last night. What he did to that guitar that night may be illegal.

Diver Down is an album I have always associated with summer. It came out the year I went to college and it was the soundtrack to my post-high school summer. It was rightly on my ultimate summer LPs list (Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)). 1984 is the album they’re probably most remembered for and it was an absolute classic. “Jump” their foray into keyboards was a wildly popular track but I always preferred the other keyboard track “I’ll Wait.” Only Eddie Van Halen could conquer both guitar and keyboards. That was the first tour that I saw Van Halen twice, once in Wichita and once in Kansas City. While they’d reached new levels of popularity, alas tensions with in the band – that began when Roth objected to Eddie marrying actress Valerie Bertintelli – erupted into open conflict and Roth and VH split.

Van Halen continued on with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals – commonly referred to as Van Hagar. I still dug them, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. I think they were fundamentally a different band, obviously, but still a great guitar sound. Eventually relations with Hagar soured as well and eventually Van Halen went silent. Now it appears the mighty guitar of Eddie Van Halen has been silenced forever. I saw them in 2012 on the reunion tour with Roth… Roth had mostly lost it but Eddie’s guitar was still razor sharp and worth the price of admission.

There will be debates about where he ranks in the pantheon of guitar greats. He’s top 2 or 3 to me. I never saw Hendrix but I did see Van Halen so I’m biased. Eddie absolutely changed the way lead guitar was played. Every rock and roll guitarist who came after him was influenced by Eddie Van Halen. There would have been no Randy Rhoads without him. Every guitar player in the 80s should be sending royalty checks to Eddie. Make no mistake the world has lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever play the instrument. Van Halen and Eddie’s guitar were and will always be a big part of my love of rock and roll. He brought great joy, excitement and beautiful noise into my life. So many beautiful notes… from “Spanish Fly” to “Cathedral” to the intro for “Little Guitars.” I am deeply saddened tonight, as I’m sure most rock fans are. The Rock n’ Roll flag will be at half mast here at B&V for quite a while… A part of my youth has died… As my friend Doug texted me, “Bummer… this feels really close.” I think we all feel that way.

It’s a dark ride folks, enjoy it while it lasts. RIP Eddie Van Halen, the greatest.

Lookback: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lost 30 Years Ago, Aug 27, 1990

*Image of SRV taken from the internet and likely subject to copyright

August 27th, 1990 will always be, for me, if I may paraphrase FDR, a day that will live in Blues Rock infamy… B&V has always focused on new or vault releases from established rock artists who have been around for a while. I like to turn people on to stuff they might not be aware of, its easy to lose track of certain artists. Doing that though has meant there are a lot of artists that I love that I haven’t had the chance to write about. The grim 30 year anniversary of the loss of the magnificent Stevie Ray Vaughan compels me to write about the guitar legend…

I remember when I was a kid all the “adults” who were my parents’ age would occasionally talk about where they were the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. My mother, for those interested, was watching ‘As The World Turns’ while ironing in the living room of my parents’ apartment. Although, in truth, that was probably what she could be found doing on most days. I wasn’t alive yet when JFK was assassinated but I can relate to that “I remember where I was when…” vibe (It Was 42 Years Ago Today… The Loss Of The King… Elvis Presley. Where I Was…).

The year 1990 was a momentous one for me. In mid January, I marched into the office of my corporate masters and resigned my position in Arkansas. My last day was February 1st. I arrived home at my less-than-ecstatic parents’ house in a U-Haul with my meager possessions and a slight hangover. I have a vague memory of a box of Playboy magazines tumbling out of the U-Haul at the feet of my Sainted Mother during the move-in with one magazine falling open to the provocatively posed centerfold, a rather awkward moment… My poor, long suffering mother. What can I say, Arkansas was a lonely place. I had moved my stuff into my parents’ spare room, but to say I was “staying there” is a bit of a misnomer. I left there more often than I was actually there. I went to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, went to see friends in Chicago and even returned to Arkansas to see the friends I’d made there. Living under the constant disappointed glare of my father was getting uncomfortable so eventually I decided I was going to go to Europe for a couple of months… travel the Continent. Perhaps write the Great American novel… or the decent American blog, years later.

I left on July 3rd of that year, but by the time I landed in Rome it was the 4th of July. I’ve been in Rome exactly twice in my life and both times they’ve had a record heat wave. Next time I go, it’ll be in a random winter month. Anyway, I transversed the continent from Italy to Germany to Spain and France and then to the British isles. It was a great, life-altering trip. I even got to see Roger Waters in Berlin (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990). I finally ran out of money and travelled back to Kansas City in mid-to-late August. I had gotten in the habit of walking around all day while I was in Europe (where I’d lost some weight too), and to keep that “exercise-regimen” up, I’d get up in the mornings and walk this four mile trek I’d laid out near my folks’ place. By August 27th, I couldn’t have been home for more than maybe a week? It started off like most of my unemployed days that year, I got up, grabbed my radio “Walk-man” and took off down the trail.

I was listening to the local rock and roll station when they announced there had been a helicopter crash outside of the Alpine Valley amphitheater, out in the boondocks between Chicago and Milwaukee. I knew the theater as my friends Doug and RK had taken me out there less than year before that, the previous September, to see the Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels tour. The DJ mentioned that Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan had both played the night before and no one had been able to locate either one of them but it was believed that one of the performers had been killed. My walk slowed to a crawl as I took this in. I remember standing on the trail when I had this horrible thought at the time – and I’m not proud of this at all – I hoped it was Clapton and not Stevie Ray. It’s not that I wanted either of them dead nor did I wish Clapton any particular ill-will but if I had to choose at that point in time I wanted Stevie Ray to survive.

Clapton, by 1990, was pretty much a spent force, or so I thought. He’d go on to record a few interesting albums, but for the most part he’s chosen to fade away vs burn out… good for him. But any creative fire from Clapton was going to be, well, few and far between. But Stevie Ray Vaughan… he was, in my mind the future of blues rock guitar. I had been an early adopter on SRV and his fabulous backing band – Chris “Whipper Layton on drums, Tommy Shannon on bass and later Reese Wynans on keyboards. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble did a lot to usher in the blues/blues rock revival that happened in the 80s/90s. There would be no Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Jeff Healy with out Stevie Ray… The venerable bluesman Robert Cray had a big success in 1986 with Strong Persuader a great album but one has to wonder if he’d have had that success without Vaughan blazing the trail before him. You have to remember, this was the 80s – synth rock, New Wave bands were everywhere… and the bands that weren’t post-punk, new wave, were Hair Metal bands. Stevie didn’t wear make-up or put hair spray on his head, he wore a hat reminiscent of Zorro. And that guitar – the tone, the sound, the amazing solos. Old school blues played that ferociously was definitely swimming up stream in the 80s. 

I bought, and still own (on vinyl), SRV’s debut, landmark album, Texas Flood (1983). The album was steeped in the blues which always seemed to be at the root of all the music I loved. Double Trouble had played the Montreux Jazz Festival to great aplomb in ’82. They blew everybody in the audience’s mind including David Bowie who invited Vaughan to play on his LP, Let’s Dance, which was a commercial resurgence for Bowie thanks to SRV’s awesome leads. When Stevie Ray backed out of the ensuing tour in order to record his debut it caused quite a stir. All publicity is good publicity I guess. When I first put on Texas Flood, I was blown away. You could hear the influences – Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins and Freddie King – but you knew this was a guitarist who was going to make the blues his own. The title track remains a favorite of mine. I even love the track “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a live favorite, originally arranged by Buddy Guy. “Love Struck Baby,” and “Pride and Joy” are blues rock staples. It’s maybe my favorite of his records.

The two ensuing follow-up albums, while not as towering an achievement, are must-have albums. Couldn’t Stand The Weather (the title track had a great video) was criticized for too few originals, but Vaughan had the balls to tackle Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and it is epic! “Tin Pan Alley” was a first take. The follow-up LP, Soul To Soul contains some of my favorite SRV tracks – “Change It,” “Little Sister,” and “Lookin’ Out My Window” are all great tracks. The final track, “Life Without You” is one of his finest, underrated songs. It’s a great, my baby has left me songs. Stevie played the blues but man could he rock. 

Unbeknownst to many of us outside the world of musicians, Stevie had some demons. He had started drinking when he was a little kid – stealing nips from his alcoholic dad’s bottles. As and adult he’d added cocaine to the mix. I remember reading that he’d mix the cocaine into the whiskey and that he had an ulcer. We like whiskey around here but please folks, don’t add Coke of any kind to your bourbon, it spoils the taste… I know he collapsed on stage one night in Europe and I always assumed that was the ulcer, but everything I read said it was dehydration. 

Finally, he went to rehab. And he came out clean. And, perhaps this is why I had that awful thought on August 27th of 1990, hoping it was Clapton and not SRV in the helicopter. After getting clean Stevie put out the best, most rocking album of his career, 1989’s In Step. He was attacking rock n roll/blues rock with an all new ferocity and energy. Songs like “The House Is Rockin'” or the lead single, “Crossfire” were great rock n roll songs. There were great blues too like “Leave My Little Girl Alone,” and Howlin Wolf’s “Love Me Darlin’.” He had finally straightened out his life and was making the best music of his career and then, tragedy struck and as I learned on that lonely trail in 1990, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan in the helicopter. I was crushed. I know it’s cliche and they always say about an artist who dies  young, that the artist was on the verge of something new, some different direction. But in the case of Stevie Ray, I believe that may be true. I cite as proof, the last song on In Step, the epic “Riviera Paradise.” Clocking in at almost 9 minutes, it’s like nothing Stevie Ray had done before. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I’ve ever heard. It points in so many directions that Stevie Ray could have taken, if only… 

One of my greatest regrets is I never saw Stevie Ray Vaughan live. I know my college roommate saw him open for Huey Lewis & the News… the balls on Huey Lewis to invite those guys to open? Wow. There’s a blues roadhouse that I used to like to go to every now and then, especially on Sunday nights, B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ. On one wall behind where the bands usually set up is a giant mural of all the blues greats. B.B. and Muddy are in the center. Off to the right, down in the corner is the image of SRV, kneeling with the hat and poncho from the In Step album cover. If you look around, you can see a concert poster for a show he and Double Trouble played at a small blues club that used to be downtown, the Grand Emporium… admission was like $4. Oh to have been in the Grand Em that night… for only 4 bucks. 

I can’t believe it’s been 30 years to the day that we lost Stevie Ray. Where’d all that time go… I urge all fans of B&V, blues and rock n roll to check out Stevie Ray’s body of work. There were a couple of posthumous LPs released (one with his brother Jimmie) and a great live LP, Live At Carnegie Hall that I didn’t mention above that merit attention from everyone. 

Stay safe out there and remember, no Coke in your bourbon, folks. R.I.P to the one of the greatest of all times, Stevie Ray Vaughan, thirty years down the line. 

 

Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years

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It was a little too personal…it scared me.” – Neil Young on not releasing Homegrown

While I’m like most of you out there – a huge music fan – there is something about the inner music geek in me that gets really pumped for the release of a “lost album.” By lost album I mean a record that an artist has recorded and for whatever reason decided to keep in the vault instead of release to the public. There’s a lot of reasons for shelving an album that’s already “in the can,” as the saying goes. Usually it’s the record company… the dreaded suits. It almost always gives the unreleased record an enormous amount of mystique. Ryan Adams completed Love Is Hell and when his record company refused to release it the word on the street was that it was “too dark.” Naturally that led the music geeks and Ryan Adams’ fans to clamor for its release…too dark, yes please! The record company finally relented and it was released. It’s a really good record… but uh, I’ve heard darker albums. Put on Big Star’s third album if you want bleak.

Typically an artist (or a band) will gather to write and record a group of songs. When they have enough tunes or perhaps better said, a cohesive group of songs, they release an album and go on tour. Rinse, repeat. There are those artists who are so prolific they record more than enough songs for the album. They record until the creative well is dry before stopping and going on tour. They pick the best tracks and leave the rest in the vault or save them for the next album. The aforementioned Ryan Adams is merely one of those type of artists. There are several others like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young who had such an overflowing creative font that they have vast amounts of unreleased music. All of that unheard music leaves the music geek in me wondering… what’s going on in that vault and how do I get in there to listen? I’ll bring my own beer… These deep and full vaults are what bootleggers live for.

While there are many artists with a ton of unreleased tracks in their vaults it’s still a bit more rare for an artist to go through the entire creative process to record a full album – finished production and completed down to the track listing – and then rescind the record. Springsteen sent a single disc version of The River to the record company and changed his mind and pulled it back. While most of those songs got on the final 2-LP album, the original single disc version was still of interest because of the unreleased track “Cindy” and the rockabilly version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” Prince pulled The Black Album and released the tepid Lovesexy. The Black Album, which was eventually released, was purportedly too X-rated to be released. It was widely bootlegged and finally saw release.

While pulling back an entire LP is rare, I would have to say the king of recording an entire album only to put it on the shelf is Neil Young. He’s got more unreleased full albums than any artist you can name: Chrome Dreams, Toast with Crazy Horse, Homefires, and Oceanside Countryside to mention but a few. Finally, through his superb Neil Young Archives, he’s started releasing some of these albums. The famous Hitchhiker recorded in 1976 just came out in 2017 (LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’). It seems at long last one of Neil’s most famous unreleased albums, 1975’s Homegrown has been released after 45 years of sitting in the vault. It was worth the wait.

Now as a “warning label” I have to echo a comment I got a few weeks ago on my post on the first single “Try” (New Single: Neil Young’s “Try” From the Long Awaited Vault LP, ‘Homegrown’), from a reader, “Introgroove.” Neil is about to release his second box set of vault material, Archives, Vol. 2 in late summer/early fall. He’s teased the release of this follow-up to 2009’s Archives, Vol 1 for quite a while, so we’ll see if it comes out… As a warning, some of these archival releases are probably going to be included in Archive Vol 2. During the build up to Vol 1, Neil released a series of previously unreleased live LPs which I snapped up. When Vol 1 came out I was crestfallen to find that all 3 LPs I’d purchased (including Live At Massey Hall, Live At the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse, and Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury Hall) were all in there. I wasn’t going to buy them twice. We’re 11 years down the line and I’m willing to take the leap for the studio stuff, but I wanted everyone to know these will probably be in the box set if you want to wait. The inner music geek in me won this current argument and I’ve been turning up Homegrown since last Thursday.

Homegrown has a storied history. It was recorded toward the end of Young’s darkest period marked by the three albums known as “the Ditch Trilogy.” Hearing Homegrown makes me wonder if we’re going to need to recalibrate that to The Ditch Foursome. Neil became a world wide superstar after the release of his landmark country-rock album Harvest. Neil didn’t react very well to his new found fame. He hired a band of mostly session musicians who he didn’t get along with, took them on the road, turned it up loud and recorded his next album, the first of the Ditch Trilogy, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). Prior to the tour, he had to fire guitarist Danny Whitten, his only friend in the band, because Whitten’s drug use was out of control. A day later, Whitten was dead from a lethal combination of drugs and booze. Young was guilt-ridden and depressed… and he did what artists do, he turned his grief and anger into music… while drinking a ton of tequila. I avoid tequila. I’m either gonna fight you or kiss you when I’m on tequila… and possibly both at the same time…

It’s been said that the Ditch Trilogy was a reaction to his new found fame and his inability to deal with that success. It was certainly also a chronicle of the personal problems he was going through including but not exclusive to Whitten’s death. In many ways the music could also be seen as a metaphor for the angst felt by the 60s generation as they watched their ideals and idealism slowly die away as the greed and narcissism of the 70s took over. The greatest artists always seem to be an antenna for what’s going on in the world (subconsciously or not) and one has to wonder if Young was just overly tuned into that.

In ’73 Young recorded the masterpiece Tonight’s the Night but the record company didn’t want to release it. It is a truly bleak record but I love it. In early 1974 he released On the Beach which isn’t much more cheerful. That summer he went on tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for a stadium reunion tour. At the end of ’74 and early ’75 he recorded what would become Homegrown. The album is all about the end of his relationship with Carrie Snodgress who’d inspired many of his great songs including “A Man Needs A Maid.” They’d had a child together, Zeke. But things had finally ended and Neil recorded Homegrown to chronicle his heartbreak. At the last minute, Young pulled Homegrown and decided to release Tonight’s the Night instead. I’ve heard two stories on why he made that decision: a) he had a listening party and people liked Tonight’s the Night better or b) Rick Danko of the Band told him he should release Tonight’s the Night instead of Homegrown. I can’t imagine a group of people at a listening party picking the former so my money is on the Danko story. Neil has always said Homegrown was “too personal” to be released.

Homegrown then sat in the vaults for 45 years. For once we can say that Neil was holding on to a true masterpiece. Even on the first listen this record had the feeling of an instant classic. That may be because we’ve heard some of these tracks before as Neil put many of them out on other records “as is” or slightly altered. “Homegrown” rerecorded with Crazy Horse and “Star of Bethlehem” (as is) both came out on American Stars N Bars. “Love Is a Rose” came out on the compilation album Decade. “Little Wing” came out on Hawks And Doves. I really like hearing these songs in this album setting which is what Neil originally intended. Making Homegrown, for me, an essential Neil Young album.

The break up theme is established immediately on the opening track “Separate Ways.” It’s a mellow, acoustic track that reminds me of “Out On the Weekend.” Levon Helm of the Band plays drums on this track and he’s just extraordinary. “We go our separate ways lookin’ for better days sharin’ our little boy who grew from joy back then…” Heartrending stuff. The next track, “Try” strikes a more hopeful tone and has quotes from Snodgress’ quirky mother throughout. “Mexico” is a stark ballad set to piano, where Neil tells his son goodbye as now he’s a “travelin’ man.” “Love Is A Rose” sounds like a sweet ballad but really is a “swearing off love” song. “Little Wing” and “Star of Bethlehem” make more sense as the last two tracks on this album vs the way they were sort of tossed onto other LPs. “Kansas” is a short, acoustic song where Neil seems to be singing to a groupie with whom he’s sought some comfort. As someone who was a fool for love and suffered through more than what I consider my fair share of breakups, I’m knocked out that Neil could put almost a full album worth of heartbreak together and make it so emotionally affecting. (Or is it effecting? I never know…)

There are lighter moments. The title track, an ode to growing your own pot isn’t as heavy as the version on Stars N Bars and has a more rustic feel here. “We Don’t Smoke It” is a bluesy vamp of a track… I’m sure it’s fun to hear live. “Vacancy” is probably the heaviest rockin’ tune on the album but it does carry that break up theme. It’s the one angry moment in a collection of classic Neil laments. “I look in your eyes and I don’t know what’s there.” He goes on to sing, “You come through in the weirdest ways.” True frustration seeps into the core of that song. “White Line” a track that was rerecorded with electric guitars by Crazy Horse is acoustic here with a fantastic bit of guitar work by the Band’s Robbie Robertson. You forget how virtuoso all those guys in the Band were. I love this quieter version of the track.

The only track here that should have been left off is “Florida.” It’s a weird fever dream of a song. Its a spoken word piece where Neil rambles about hang gliders in a downtown area of a city in Florida… maybe Miami? As he’s speaking someone is dragging a wet finger over the rim of a glass. While I don’t dig it, my wife’s cat got up, meowed at me and left the room when it came on… I think he hates it and he’s pretty open-minded. I can’t imagine dogs liking that track either. Including “Florida” here just gives us a snapshot of where Neil’s head was at back then. He would soon come out of his funk with the release of Zuma in 1975. Although with tracks like “Stupid Girl” and “Drive Back” perhaps by Zuma his grief had merely morphed to anger.

I’m certainly glad we got this important document from one of Neil’s darkest and yet most interesting periods. Somehow as we all face these current heavy times, it makes me feel better to get this dark little postcard from Neil…like the post office just discovered it and finally all these years later delivered it. It’s as if it’s saying to me, it was dark back then but it got better. It always gets better… it can’t get worse?

Be safe out there. Wear your masks. Cheers!

 

 

Lookback: Grateful Dead’s Americana 1970 – ‘Workingman’s Dead’/’American Beauty’

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*Photo of the Grateful Dead’s masterpiece ‘American Beauty’ on mint condition vinyl taken by your intrepid blogger. If you can read the words “American” and “Beauty” above, you’ve got better eyes than mine. 

I can’t believe it’s already early March. I’m glad to see winter pass, but man, Dylan was right, “time is a jet plane.” The cold claw of winter has slowly released us and I’m beginning to feel the warm embrace of spring. Weather like this was made for sitting on the back patio with someone you love and a mason jar full of whiskey with Elvis on the stereo singing, “Gentle On My Mind.” We’re on the eve of the only religious holiday I still observe, St Patrick’s Day. One might say, all is right in my world… Naturally at this stage of the year, my thoughts have turned to the Grateful Dead. Mind you, this is after coming off a major Ozzy jag (Review: Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ordinary Man’ – A Simply Extraordinary Album!). My musical appetites mirror the season… in like a lion, out like a lamb.

Why and how has my mind turned to the Dead? It’s been a circuitous route. I saw the documentary, ‘Echos In The Canyon’ (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67) and ever since then I’ve been enamored with that Southern-Cal, acoustic, folk rock/country rock sound. I’ve been addicted to the Byrds, Gene Clark and the Buffalo Springfield of late. Naturally that led me over to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Jerry Garcia hung out with CSNY and even contributed some sublime pedal-steel guitar on Deja Vu. Anything Garcia chose to play, he played well. Deja Vu led me up the California coast to the Grateful Dead. The rock and roll journey has many avenues to get you where you’re going.

As many longtime readers of B&V know, I often do a “look back” on certain eras in a band’s career. I’ve looked at Jeff Beck’s time with Rod Stewart as lead singer (Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood) and Muddy Waters’ late career albums with Johnny Winter (Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records). However, in this case where I want to look back at a specific period of the Grateful Dead’s storied career – specifically 1970’s Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty – I have to admit to feeling quite a bit of trepidation. First and foremost, I’m not a Dead expert. I’ve never been a Dead Head. I can’t help but think of Don Henley’s line, “Saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac, a little voice inside my head said, “Don’t look back, you can never look back””… but I digress. Secondly, the Grateful Dead have such a committed, almost cult-ish following that if I say anything wrong here, I may face unprecedented hippy backlash. The last thing I want is some acid-damaged septuagenarian ranting at me. I usually write with a ton of confidence but the Dead is a subject I’m not as steeped in…

My experience with the Dead was always a bit stunted. I don’t remember them getting a lot of airplay on the KC radio stations other than “Casey Jones” and “Truckin'” when I was growing up . Even when I got to college I didn’t hear a lot of the Dead. There was a guy named Bruce (name changed to protect the guilty) who liked to smoke a lot of pot and listen to the Grateful Dead and to Bob Dylan. He was probably the only one happy with that live album Dylan & The Dead. Bruce was always sorting through different cassettes trying to find me the right live version of some Dead song. I think he flunked out. Even my erstwhile roommate Drew, while into the Dead, didn’t really turn me onto them. Although I bought American Beauty on vinyl and that had to be his influence. My dad’s investment guy was a Dead Head and I think he ended up in rehab. I dated a girl from the Dead’s homeland of San Francisco and she talked me into buying a live bootleg from the Dick’s Picks series. It was the wrong way to try and get into the Dead. I didn’t have the background. She tried to get me into Indian food and that didn’t end any better.

The Dead always had this aura around them that surprisingly didn’t draw me in. The image of a bunch of barefoot hippies with dirty clothes and well, dirty feet, dancing around in circles, seeking acid-fueled enlightenment just kinda put me off. I saw the Dead once (“I need a miracle” is etched in my mind) and it just seemed like endless noodling on guitar. Of course that may be the whiskey talking. Looking back, I just didn’t have the knowledge of the Dead’s music to enjoy them in concert. There were songs by them that I liked along the way, “Alabama Getaway,” or anything off In The Dark but I never had that switch in my head turn to “yes” where their music just clicked for me. The whole psychedelic thing was “take-it or leave-it” for me. I finally forced myself to go back and check out the early Dead and I was surprised how much I liked it. While Live/Dead has been a favorite of mine for a while, I really dug into the studio stuff.

The Dead (genius Jerry Garcia on vocals/guitar, Bob Weir guitar/vocals, Phil Lesh bass, Mickey Hart drums, Bill Kreutzman drums, Rob “Pigpen” McKernan keyboards/vocals and lyricist Robert Hunter) were an amazing set of musicians. They played rock and roll with more of a jazz ethos, a bit like the Allman Brothers Band. I went back and listened to their eponymous debut but it clearly didn’t capture their true spirit. Anthem Of the Sun is the trippiest psychedelic record I’ve ever heard. I felt like I’d taken a few hits of blotter acid just listening to it. The music moves around the speakers, left to right and back again. I started to really warm to their stuff on Aoxomoxoa. “St. Stephen” may now be one of my favorite Dead tunes. Those two albums, Anthem and Aoxomoxoa have been described as the zenith of the Dead’s psychedelic music. They had really carved out a sound for themselves.

But then in 1970, they took a stylistic left turn to say the least. They recorded two albums in the span of months that to me mark the zenith of their studio work. Sure you can find many, many live albums by the Dead that are amazing, but I’m not sure you can point to more than a handful of their studio records that reach that height. This guy who worked for me once told me, if I was looking for studio stuff by the Dead, I was missing the point. He didn’t work for me long. 1970 was the year of the Dead in my mind. They went from psychedelia to folky/country rock. Long, electric guitar solos gave way to acoustic guitars, pedal steel and beautiful vocal harmonies. Their focus turned from jams to actual songs. The songs were shorter and more concise. Best of all their focus turned toward beautiful harmonizing. The vocal harmonies on these two albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty rank up there with anything CSNY did. These are two of the greatest “Americana” albums ever recorded. Everyone should have these records.

There are many who wonder how the Dead were motivated to make such a change in their sound. I’ve heard people theorize that the Dead’s 1970 albums reflected the zeitgeist of the times. By ’70 the hippy dream had largely died. The psychedelic movement hadn’t led to the enlightenment many sought. Nixon had been elected president, the bad guys had won. Altamont, where the Dead were supposed to play with the Stones but didn’t because of concerns about violence, went down in December of ’69. The Kent State massacre went down in May of ’70 just before Workingman’s came out. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own,” to quote Neil  Young. I think the explanation is much simpler. Garcia had been hanging out with CSNY and was really drawn to what those guys were doing with the vocals. He was into pedal steel guitar which tends to be better placed in a more folk or country idiom. And finally, Robert Hunter had joined the band as a lyricist, causing a sharper focus on the songwriting. Hopefully the Dead Heads out there won’t crucify me for my dime store analysis. I know one reader in the B&V family who is sure to comment at length… Let’s look at these phenomenal albums…

Workingman’s Dead

I can only wonder what a surprise hearing this album was for the Dead faithful back in ’70. The album starts with an acoustic strummer, “Uncle John’s Band” which to me, serves as an invitation to fans to join the band on this musical journey. I was blown away at the acoustic playing and singing on songs like the ballad “Dire Wolf” and “High Time” which has beautiful vocal harmonies. “Cumberland Blues” has a galloping country thing happening and I love it. You don’t really hear any electric guitar until “New Speedway Boogie” (purportedly about Altamont), which is a nice shuffle. I love the lyric on that song, which perhaps points to that zeitgeist thing, “one way or another this darkness got to give…” The album’s standout track, that you’ll find on the greatest hits packages is “Casey Jones” which is a great tune but there is a lot more to this album to like. I hear a ton of blues in tunes like the acoustic “Black Peter” or the electric “Easy Wind.” They make this stylistic change look easy.

American Beauty

In terms of studio recordings, this to me, is the Dead’s masterpiece. While they’d successfully executed their stylistic change on Workingman’s Dead, this album is where they perfected it. The songwriting is tighter. The vocal harmonies are even more soaring. This album is stunning. The opener, “Box of Rain” is a fucking perfect song. It’s my all time favorite by the Dead. They go from that to two of their signature songs, the lilting country of “Friend of the Devil,” and “Sugar Magnolia” that has a melody that just bores into your soul. After the hint of blues in “Operator” they unleash more beautiful vocal harmonies on “Candyman” which also has a fierce pedal-steel guitar solo that is transcendent. “Attics of My Life” has harmonizing that sounds like the Beatles (well, almost). “Brokedown Palace” is a beautiful lament. “Ripple” is a more upbeat acoustic song and again, it’s perfect. The album also ends with another signature Dead song, “Truckin’.” I love the line, “Like to get some sleep before I travel but if you’ve got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.”

It would be another three years before the Dead would put out another studio album, 1973’s Wake of the Flood. In between they’d released several live albums. Wake took them to more rock/jazz fusion place with a lot of electric piano. It’s not a bad little record, but for me, it just doesn’t have the shine of the 1970 albums. If you’re one of those people who find the Dead’s live stuff too “unwieldy” I implore you to check out these two Americana masterpieces. For you Dead Head’s out there… don’t hate on me too bad! I want people to hear this stuff.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays

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Ah, the weekend. That wonderful two day respite from the slings and arrows of work and responsibility. I read somewhere that Europe is going to or has gone to a three-day weekend. Sign me up for that. I’ve always considered Thursday to be weekend-eve anyway. If a three day weekend is creeping socialism, then call me Che Guevara. It doesn’t matter if you travel like me or work in a factory or an office building, there’s nothing as sweet as Friday night.

Friday night, to me, was always the carrier of all the hopes and aspirations for the two days of utter freedom. Anything was possible on a Friday night. Sunday night, on the back end of the weekend, always brought the crushing anxiety and weight of what was going to happen Monday morning. “Monday, Monday can’t trust that day.” They couldn’t be different emotions, Friday vs Sunday nights. Saturday tended to be date night so the population of carousing, drunken people got cut in half. Friday was the night that was going to set the tone for the weekend. I met the Rock Chick on a Friday night, such is the import I give to this particular night of the week.

It’s odd how my take on Friday night has changed since that momentous night, meeting the Rock Chick so many years ago. I used to suffer from “FOMO,” fear of missing out, most acutely on Friday. I needed to be somewhere doing something wrong. I was always trying to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I found it much more interesting than being in the right place at the right time… but perhaps it’s all just semantics. I couldn’t get out soon enough on Friday nights. My old pal, who I’ll call Tim (name changed to protect the guilty) and I cut a rather, ahem, wide swath through town. I was always in search of something… what? I’m not sure. And then, the way life does, I found it in the Rock Chick. That restless, gypsy gene was suddenly silent after a lifetime of wandering. I had come in from the cold, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I still look forward to Friday night with great anticipation. There just isn’t that burning need to be somewhere. I’m happy to meet my friends RJ, Doug or as I did this Friday, the Jean Genie for a drink or two at Happy Hour and then drift back to the house. More often than not these days I’ll just pull up the drawbridge, stock the moat with alligators, pour a strong and murky glass and turn up the stereo. As the rock and roll fills the room the stress and horrors of the week slide away… of course that could just be the bourbon. Most of my friends are out there still, somewhere, raising kids. The Rock Chick and I are all done with all that and the freedom is intoxicating.

Last Friday, we had nothing going on. I had been on the road and was pretty fried. The Rock Chick and I had actually gone out on Thursday night for the aforementioned “weekend-eve” (we’ve found our Thursday “hang!”) so we stayed home on Friday night. It was then the Rock Chick announced she’d done some musical spelunking and wanted to play some of her newly found music for me. There are few things in this world that make me happier than hearing those words… and since this is a PG-blog, I best not describe the things that do make me happier… ahem.

The first band she turned me onto, and I am very excited about this band, was the Blue Stones. These guys are a two-piece band in the tradition of the White Stripes or the Black Keys. They’re from Canada so we have to presume they’re nicer than those other bands. Lets hope Jack White doesn’t kick their ass. Tarek Jafar sings and plays the guitar with Justin Tessier manning the drum kit. When I listen to early records from the Stripes or the Keys, the sound was very primal or unvarnished. The Blue Stones’ first full length album Black Holes is a lot more polished than I expected. These guys sound like Cage the Elephant and the Black Keys had a baby. It’s a true meld of the sound of those two bands.

There is not a bad moment on this album. After an intro thing, without any singing, called “Airlock” the tunes come rocking out of the speakers. “The Drop,” “Black Holes (Solid Ground)” and “The Hard Part” are all great, catchy rock tunes. It’s refreshing to find a new rock and roll band to listen to! “Be My Fire,” which I believe was the single, is my favorite track. They mix it up a little bit with the last track, the more ethereal “Magic.” The track has an Edge/U2 kind of spidery guitar. It’s the longest track on the album and I found it almost haunting.

I don’t know where these guys are headed. I think they’ve got a new album coming out this year. They’ve released a track “Shakin’ Off the Rust.” I’m not as crazy about that as I was Black Holes but I look forward to hearing  more from this band. We need all the rock bands we can find. The Rock Chick really made a great discovery with these guys…

But she wasn’t done… the second band she turned me onto was the Blue Stingrays who released only one album, Surf-N-Burn. Now this album, was a huge surprise.

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This was an album of full-on surf music in the Dick Dale, Gidget-movie style. Heavy on guitar and riffing. When I saw the album art I assumed this was some lost artifact from the early 60s. “Yeah, Moondoggy, hang 10!” As usual, not content to know nothing about them, I used “the Google” to find out about this album. It wasn’t the 60s when this album was released, it was 1997. There was a whole fictional story behind this band shared on Wikipedia here:

My head snapped back when I found out who was actually in this band… It was quite a surprise. It turns out that this was a one-off album done by Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame. I had never heard of this side project. Campbell is obviously having a blast on guitar here. As Drummer Blake says, “many notes were played.” In the fake bio at the link above, it says Tench was at the session but he purportedly only called the pizza delivery guy. For this solo project Campbell recruited original Heartbreaker Ron Blair to play bass. This was five whole years prior to Blair’s rejoining the Heartbreakers and one has to wonder if this is what led Petty back to him. Also surprising for me is Mudcrutch drummer Randall Marsh plays in the Stingrays too. Again, this was years before Petty got Mudcrutch back together and I have to wonder if Campbell’s recruiting planted that seed with Petty as well.

The fictional biography in the liner notes, and quoted online, says that they recorded this legendary surf album in 1959 but the band, so intent on anonymity, wouldn’t tour or do any publicity for the album. They finally decamped to an island in Tahiti to perfect the surf sound. Obviously, that’s ridiculous. It’s like the Traveling Wilburys or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band… famous people pretending to be someone else and being liberated by doing so.

This is probably not your every day listen but I love this album. Its completely instrumental and Campbell’s guitar tone is something to behold. They play straight-up Dick Dale surf music. They also do a fabulous cover of “Goldfinger” from the James Bond film of the same name. It’s my favorite track on here. I always wondered why Petty & the Heartbreakers did that song on their Live Anthology box set, now I know. It was a nod to legendary surf band, the Blue Stingrays. This music is played with such sincerity and skill it’s hard not to get addicted to this album.

I urge all of you to seek the Blue Stingrays out. If you’re a fan of guitar, or just good time music, this is the ticket. It’s great background music for a summer party…because let’s face it, no one except me really pays attention to the music you play at a party. And, I’ll admit, I not only pay attention, I judge you on your musical tastes… (heh heh). Just kidding.

Check out these two great bands, you’ll thank me later!

 

 

 

 

Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019

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*Photo taken by the intrepid wife of your intrepid B&V blogger

September in Kansas City is my favorite time of year. Typically the mercury in the thermometer drops down into the 70s for highs and the sun takes on a golden glow. Many of my favorite things happen in the fall — the local Plaza Art Fair, Kansas City Chiefs’ football, and often the stray outdoor concert. I never quite expected all three of those events to occur over the course of one weekend, but whose complaining? I may need to exchange my blood with a group of Swiss school children to recover, but other than that ‘m not too worse for wear.

After a day spent hanging out at the Plaza Art Fair, the Rock Chick and I loaded up in the car, picked up some friends of ours, and headed out to the beautiful Starlight Theater. I love shows out there and have since I saw Elton John there in the 80s (Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982). There was a serious threat of rain on Saturday so the schedule was moved up for everything. Sadly, I missed the opening act and had just got to my seats when Greta Van Fleet, pictured above, came on stage. I applaud their efforts to get the show in despite a threat of storms and luckily they were able to do a full show without a drop of rain falling.

Before I knew what was happening, the lights went down and under the cover of a heavy fog machine, four men who probably aren’t even 25 stepped out on stage and transported me back to 1975 – to an era when rock and roll still ruled the world. I loved everything about this show. These guys even dress like rock stars – lead singer Josh Kiszka was wearing a jump suit that Freddie Mercury would have envied. I’m as hetero as anybody you’re gonna find but that Sam Kiszka on bass guitar is just one beautiful human being… he reminded me of the hottest girl in my high school.

I had peaked at the setlist and originally was disappointed to see they only play about a dozen tracks. I thought, well this will be a pretty brief show. I was, as usual, wrong. These guys jam out quite a bit and there were choice keyboard, guitar and drum solos. The show lasted over an hour and 45 minutes…They opened up strong with “The Cold Wind” which led to a quick version of the old classic, “Kansas City.” Sure, many have done that, but I still appreciate the gesture.

After that, GVF was off and running with guns, er I mean guitars blazing. Jake Kiszka’s guitar was front and center all night long. I can’t say enough about Danny Wagner’s drumming as well. Although I must say, the unheralded star might be Sam Kiszka whose bass and keyboard playing was outstanding. Every time he hit a bass string, my cloths shook, so heavy and loud were these guys. Josh’s vocals were as soaring and amazing as they are on record. That was my question on these guys… can they cut through the hype and deliver on stage? The answer is a resounding YES!

After cranking it up for “Safari Song” and “Black Smoke Rising,” Sam handed off his bass and sat down at the keyboards. They got laid back and played “Flower Power,” “Age of Man” and “You’re the One” which saw Jake go from his lone electric guitar to an acoustic guitar. The sheer joy that guy plays with is awesome. He and Jake do the Plant/Page, Jagger/Richards, meet at the front of the stage and lean in toward the microphone to harmonize thing. The theater was packed and the response from the crowd was raucous.

They finally turned it back up towards the end of the main set, with a song called “Black Flag Exposition,” which featured the most epic guitar of the night. That led to the rocking “Watching Over” and the perfect set ender, “When the Curtain Falls.” The latter song was epic rock at its best. The encore continued the high energy guitar rock, with two of my all time favs by these guys “Lover, Leaver, (Taker, Believer)” and finally “Highway Tune.” Josh let the banshee wail out for those.

As I wandered out to my car I stopped into the men’s room. There was a guy in there with an L.A. Guns t-shirt… He saw my C.B.G.B t-shirt and said, “They’re bring it back, they’re bring back 80s metal, man.” Before I could respond, some other guy turned and said, “No way man, these guys are 70s rock, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, like that…” I just smiled and ducked out to the parking lot. It’s great to see that kind of rock and roll excitement, all courtesy of the amazing Greta Van Fleet. See these guys wherever and whenever you can.

I don’t know if these guys are the “saviors of rock and roll” but they are damn fun to see in concert. I was supposed to see them last summer but Danny Wagner hurt his wrist… I almost hesitated to go see these guys this time around but damn I’m glad I did!!

 

LP Review: Peter Frampton, ‘All Blues’

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I’ve always dug Peter Frampton. Well, I should say I always dug his early music. And I’m not just talking about Frampton Comes Alive! I’m such a music nerd I went back over the years and purchased all those early studio albums. Frankly there’s some great stuff there. I’m not sure why it took the iconic 1976 live album to make him a superstar. It’s a similar story to Kiss (Alive), Seger (Live Bullet), or Cheap Trick (At Budokan), some acts needed the stage to catch their electric chemistry. I would highly recommend any of his first four studio albums: Winds of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Frampton or Something’s Happening. Many of the tracks on those sadly ignored albums finally got the attention they deserved on the live album but the studio versions are absolutely worth hearing too. All of his early solo stuff was kind of laid back and there’s a lot of acoustic stuff there, but man when he solo’s, there’s just something about his beautiful, melodic guitar tone. It’s instantly recognizable.

With all that said, I’m like the rest of you. I was introduced to Frampton’s music via Frampton Comes Alive! Mike Meyer’s in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’ said that Frampton’s live album was shipped to every suburban household like samples of Tide detergent. It truly was everywhere. Everyone I knew had that album. I remember being with a bunch of beer drinking friends and we went over to this guy, Billy Edwards’ house (name changed to protect the douche bag). Billy’s parents were older and he lived upstairs in what can only be described as a “suite.” There was a ladder leaned up against the back of the house and instead of going through the front door and meeting the pesky parental units, we just climbed the ladder up to this guys’ high school bachelor pad and climbed in the window.

We were beer drinkers but Billy wanted to sell us some oregano that he was passing off as pot. I remember standing in a circle laughing with these guys and thinking, I’m not buying this shit, it’s not pot. I was never an herbal enthusiast anyway. Billy had a great stereo that his brother had left behind and a ton of records. He was a spoiled kid, the baby of the family…but I digress. Anyway, he had put on Frampton Comes Alive! and it was the first time I’d heard that record. During the climactic sequence in “Do You Feel Like We Do?” when Frampton was using his “talk box,” a device that distorts the voice, my buddy kept going, “Man, he’s making the guitar talk there…” I couldn’t help but think, “you might wanna lay off the oregano there, pal, that’s a fucking talk box.”

Despite that less than ideal introduction, I immediately knew I had to pick up Frampton Comes Alive! It was a live, double-album which meant a bigger investment of the ol’ lawn mowing money so I hesitated for a little while. I’d put it on my birthday list, but alas nothing flat was wrapped in the gift pile. All I wanted for any holiday back then was records and all I got were things like socks and underwear. My brother went and visited my grandparents a few months later and returned with… a gift for me. I shit you not, my Sainted Grandmother, Grandma ‘Sini bought me Frampton Comes Alive! If that’s not a weird way to receive an album, I don’t know what is. Luckily she didn’t roll up an oregano joint and send it with the record…

As a long time fan, I was sad when I read last month that Frampton had announced his “farewell tour.” I thought, sure, farewell indeed. But looking deeper I realized that he’s got some serious health issues. He’s suffering from something called inclusion-body myositis. It’s an auto-immune disease (no, not AIDS related for the scandal-mongers amongst you) that attacks and weakens the muscles, especially in the fingers and knees. It’s not fatal but it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either. It’s a dark ride folks. Enjoy life before it sneaks up on you with something shitty like this.

As I processed all of this information I suddenly realized that Frampton had a new album out, entitled All Blues. Actually, the album is credited to the Peter Frampton Band: Frampton on vocals/guitar, Rob Arthur on keyboards/guitar/vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, Dan Wojciechowski (I’d like to buy a vowel) on drums and Adam Lester on guitar. Considering the middle of the road rock and roll that has been the hallmark of Frampton’s career, it may have been a bit of a surprise to many people that he’s chosen to do a blues record. Many people may have forgotten that Frampton was a founding member, along with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, of the blooze rock band Humble Pie. He only left Humble Pie after their seminal live album, Rockin’ The Fillmore. A blues record is really a return to Frampton’s roots.

I have to admit, everything I love about rock and roll springs from the blues so I was excited about Frampton, a superb guitar player, doing a blues album. But with the backdrop of his illness I was afraid this might be a bit of a downer affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This album is a blast to listen to if you dig Frampton, the blues, and or guitar playing. I haven’t been interested in a Frampton album since I’m In You and that was in like, 1979, so this was a very pleasant surprise.

He has some friends drop by to join the party. First and foremost, to kick off the record Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame swings by to sing the opening track, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” It’s a nice start. Blues dude Sonny Landreth and Frampton trade guitar licks on a surprisingly good version of “The Thrill Is Gone.” You better be good if you’re gonna take on a B.B. King song. Deep Purple’s Steve Morse shows up to lend his guitar chops to a very bluesy “Going Down Slow.” Frampton almost growls over Morse’s fabulous guitar fills.

While this is a blues album, Frampton doesn’t play it completely by the numbers. He has the jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton, who played on a lot of early Steely Dan records, drop in for a wonderful, jazzy “All Blues.” It’s a track written by Miles Davis and these guys just nail it. It ranks amongst my favorite tracks. Frampton also does an instrumental version of the Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia On My Mind” that is another highlight.

I love the selection of tunes here. “She Caught the Katy” which I originally heard the Blues Brothers do is just great here. “Same Old Blues,” a track Eric Clapton did a long time ago is also really great. “Me And My Guitar” made me feel like I was in a south side of Chicago blues bar. Frampton’s guitar playing is as tough as it ever was and that beautiful tone he gets is fully in tact. I can’t believe he didn’t do a blues album years ago!

My favorite track on this album, hands down is “King Bee.” I’m much too old and dignified to admit how geeked out I was when I heard Frampton use his talk box on this track. I was as excited as I’d be if I just climbed a ladder into a high school bachelor pad and people around me are smoking oregano. It’s a great tune with great guitar… but when he accentuates the “I’m a king bee” line with that talk box, it’s like you’ve been stung, baby! Ah, the 70s came back in full force for me.

This could have been a terribly sad affair but there is so much great guitar and so much joy in this album, I recommend it to anybody and everybody. Here’s wishing Peter a smooth road on this awful illness path! If this is the last we hear from him, he’s going out the right way.

Cheers!

 

 

The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”

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Just when I thought rock and roll was going to be in trouble in 2019, the Black Keys pop up with a brand new, mind blowing single, “Lo/Hi.” Thank God.

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the Black Keys. Not the Jack White, “they ripped me off” kind of relationship. I get it Jack, White Stripes/Black Keys. I could see where that would make Mr. White a little uncomfortable. It’s all a little too close. Anyway, like the Stripes, the Keys are just two folks, Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals/bass/keyboards and Patrick Carney on drums. They are the same ilk of bluesy, garage rock that the White Stripes play and that I absolutely love. For some reason, however, I seem to bounce in and out of their orbit.

I pulled up their discography on Allmusic.com the other day and it hit me. I literally like every other album they put out. I loved the debut, The Big Come Up. Who else would have the balls to cover the Beatles, “She Said, She Said?” Thickfreakness, the follow up, left me cold. The album that really pulled me and the Rock Chick in was the third record, Rubber Factory from 2004. For us here at B&V, it’s the gold standard by which we judge all other Black Keys’ records… and by “us” here at B&V, I mean the Rock Chick and me. To illustrate this point, I have to share, when she walked into the music lab yesterday and I played “Lo/Hi” for her, the first words out of the Rock Chick’s mouth were, and I quote, “Awesome, they’re getting back to that Rubber Factory sound.” You can take the girl out of the Rubber Factory, but you can’t take the Rubber Factory out of the girl, I suppose.

Since that album, the Rock Chick and I have purchased every other album they’ve put out. We skipped Magic Potion, only to get back on the bandwagon for Attack & Release. While there were some great tracks on Brothers, specifically “Howlin’ For You,” “Everlasting Light,” and the oft overlooked “Sinister Kid,” the rest of the album didn’t grab me. El Camino for me, was another career highlight. It almost edges out Rubber Factory, but please, for my own safety, don’t tell the Rock Chick I said that. Rock and Roll blasphemy carries a heavy penalty around this place, especially during winter. I was so used to this pattern of one album on, one album off that I didn’t even check out their 2014 effort Turn Blue until recently. It’s like when I was a kid. My brother and I were polar opposites. If he liked a dish my mom made, I’d skip it… Sadly, I used that same logic for Turn Blue. It’s a solid album, and they’re certainly opening up their sound pallet. It might be the album this breaks the cycle for me… I also dug Dan Auerbach’s second album, Waiting On A Song, reviewed on these very pages, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’.

I do have to admit though, I’m like the Rock Chick when it comes to the Black Keys, I like them with a little less polish, a little more raw, if you will. I will admit, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that I hit “play” on the new track, “Lo/Hi.” Was I going to hear a polished attempt at pop or was I going to hear some garage-rock Black Keys? You just never know. My fears were eliminated immediately! “Lo/Hi” comes chugging out of the speakers from the jump. The guitar riff is a giant, greasy slab of rock. It bores into your brain. Carney’s drumming drives the track forward like a galloping thoroughbred whose escaped his trainers. “Run Forrest, run!” I love the first couplet, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane/Down at the bar like a star in the howling rain.” Fuck yes, it’s like “Gimme Shelter.” There’s some nice female back up vocals on the chorus which contributes to the “River Deep – Mountain High” vibe of the song. The guitar solo at the end should come with a warning, “Could Melt Your Face Off.”

The Keys haven’t indicated if they’re putting out an album or if this is a one-off single. It seems all we do these days down at B&V is spread the word on new singles, whilst we wait for new albums to drop. All I can say, a new Black Keys album would be a great addition to a rocking spring… if spring ever comes. This is a must hear, must have single. I love that the Black Keys are keeping the rock and roll flame alive!

Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood

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Image of the Jeff Beck Group (Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, Mickey Waller & Rod Stewart) taken from the internet and likely copyrighted. Credited to Past Daily

I saw the other day that Rod Stewart’s new album, Blood Red Roses hit number one in the UK. Congrats Rod… While I found his new album mostly un-listenable, I’m still a huge Rod fan. I’ve been on Stewart’s bandwagon since his early Mercury Records days and Truth be told, even before that. I’m still holding out for a Faces reunion and two of them are gone. For years I hoped Rod would start writing original music again and no one was happier than I was when he finally did so on his 2013 album, Time. He followed that up with 2015’s Another Country (Review: Rod Stewart “Another Country” – We Should All Be This Happy) before releasing this new disc last month. Alas, each album has been a case of diminishing returns. I will say it’s all still better than those awful American Songbook albums. Those records should have been entitled, Songs for Soccer Moms. His new record follows a disturbing trend for Rod… he seems to just turn over his stuff to whoever the producer is and lets them do what they want with the music in an attempt to sound modern. Strip away the gloss and there might be something decent there.

Rod’s other big problem is his choice of collaborators. He’s writing songs again, but he’s chosen to write them with a keyboardist, Kevin Savigar. I have nothing against Mr. Savigar, but Rod always writes better stuff when he’s collaborating with someone on guitar. Whether he’s going folky with an acoustic or bluesy with an electric, the guitar just seems to bring out the best in Rod, like a shot of adrenaline. He wrote most of his best stuff with Ronnie Wood during those aforementioned Faces and Mercury days. Even in the 80s he had guitarists like Jim Cregan or Gary Grainger to write songs with. Of course, Rod’s other great guitar partner was the man who broke Stewart’s career wide open, none other than Mr. Jeff Beck. Before The Jeff Beck Group Stewart was a traveling troubadour, bouncing from band to band in groups like Steampacket.

I posted once about John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the trio of great guitarists that came out of that band, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967. To find a band, outside of the Allman Brothers Band, with that much guitar star power, one has only to look to the Yardbirds. The Yardbirds started with Eric Clapton on guitar, only he was such a “blues purist,” he split the band when they moved to what he deemed a more “pop” sound. Clapton went on to soar to greater heights, first with John Mayall, then Cream, and as a solo artist. The Yardbirds ended their run with none other than Jimmy Page on lead guitar. Obviously, Page went on to “King of the World” status in Led Zeppelin. When the Yardbirds broke up, Page even ended up with the legal rights to the name. Zeppelin was almost called the New Yardbirds. In between Clapton and Page, the bridge between if you will, was a guy who never reached the commercial heights of the other Yardbirds’ guitar gods, Jeff Beck. The guy can flat out play. Sadly, as he said at the Yardbirds’ Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction, “They fired me, I don’t even know why I’m here?”

I’ve never understood why Beck wasn’t more commercially successful. His guitar prowess was such that Jimi Hendrix was a fan. High praise, indeed. In the 70s, having finally given up on vocalists, he recorded two instrumental, jazz fusion-y albums, Blow By Blow and Wired that both eventually went platinum. Both albums had George Martin in the producer’s chair. Stevie Wonder wrote “Superstition” for inclusion on Blow By Blow. I know that Beck can be… let’s call it “mercurial.” His temper and foul moods may be what kept him out of the limelight. He and Rod were trying to collaborate on an album four or five years ago but they couldn’t come to terms, which is a shame. Jeff Beck not only sort of discovered Rod, he resurrected his flagging career in the 80s when the two cut “People Get Ready.” The popularity of that track shook Stewart out of his pop slumber. When they were trying to collaborate Beck complained that Rod only wanted to sing the blues, and I’m thinking, “fuck yes!” Jeff didn’t want to play the blues, but oh, what an album that might have been. So last year, of course, Beck guested on Van Morrison’s Roll With The Punches album which was basically a blues record (LP Review: Van Morrison, ‘Roll With The Punches,’ A Laid-Back Blues Party). I guess Jeff can still play the blues but only when wants to.

Having been terminated by the Yardbirds, in early 1967 Jeff Beck formed the original Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, future Faces and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and a revolving door of bassists and drummers. Eventually Ronnie Wood would move to bass and Rod would recruit his buddy from Steampacket Mickey Waller to play drums. That was as close as they’d come to a stable line up. Waller was eventually replaced by Tony Newman. I think even drummer Aynsley Dunbar was in this band at one point because lets face it, Aynsley was in every 60s band and several 70s bands. Beck had signed on with manager Mickie Most who was only focused on Jeff Beck as a solo artist. As the guitarist once remarked, “I understand why Rod left, he was being treated like the hired help.” Alas, that’s how Most and Beck himself treated the rest of the band. Wood was fired and rehired several times. In the end keyboardist Nicky Hopkins passed on the chance to join Zeppelin and joined The Jeff Beck Group as a full time member.

With all that turmoil and mismanagement the group did suffer. Jeff famously decided not to play Woodstock, something he has always said he regretted. I can’t imagine what an appearance at the iconic festival would have done for these guys. They toured constantly which led to their other great problem – they didn’t take any time off from the road to actually write original material. In the liner notes of their second and final album, Beck-ola Beck even cops to it, when he says “It’s hard to come up with anything truly original.” While the band wasn’t meant to last, they were hugely influential. Jimmy Page was watching what Beck did, pairing a strong guitarist who would bring the lads into the concerts with a charismatic lead singer who would bring the ladies in. He quietly recruited Robert Plant to recreate the model, to much greater success. The original Jeff Beck Group was the real blueprint for many of the 4-piece heavy blues/blues rock bands to follow. They left behind, in their brief time together, two great albums that every rock fan should own…

Truth (1968)

This is one of the truly seminal albums of the blues rock movement. It’s influence can be felt to this day in bands like Greta Van Fleet. The album opens with an old Yardbirds’ track, “Shapes of Things” and Beck’s guitar playing makes this version the definitive one. There are two towering blues covers on this record, “Ain’t Superstitious,” the old Howlin Wolf track, (and its as epic as the format ever got) and Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me.” Jimmy Page, in a bit of cheek, had Zeppelin on their first album cover “You Shook Me,” which reportedly made Beck weep when he first heard it. Competition is good for the soul. Of the originals on this album, “Blues Deluxe” is probably my favorite. It lives up to the title and is the best blues song Rod ever sang. “Rock My Plimsoul” was a reworking of a B.B. King song but is another great bluesy rave up. It sounds like Beck is torturing his guitar here and I mean that in a good way. Mixed with Rod’s vocals, and Woody/Waller’s solid bottom, this album is perfect. So racked for material were these guys, they covered “Old Man River” with Keith Moon (unnamed) on timpani. This was basically the band’s live set, recorded in the studio. I wish somebody had recorded these guys live in concert…but I digress. When I re-purchased this album on CD, I found the great bonus track, the bluesy, “I’ve Been Drinking Again,” which obviously, we love here at B&V loved.

Beck-Ola (1969)

The wheels were already starting to come off. The constant touring, illness and band infighting was taking it’s toll. If they’d just slowed down a bit from the road and taken more time to write original stuff. This album gets overlooked and criticized for that very reason, not enough new stuff, but it’s still a great blues rock album. There are two (and probably 1 too many) Elvis covers here, the opener “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” While that shows the lack of newly written stuff, they’re still kick ass songs. Beck correctly described Rod as being on “vocals extraordinaire.” Keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, now a full time member, brought the beautiful, piano driven “Girl From Mill Valley.” “Spanish Boots” another original, is a rocker. Rod sings over Hopkins insistent piano line, while Beck’s guitar dive bombs through. The solo is mind blowing. “Plynth (Water Down the Drain) which Ronnie and Rod would steal later for their first record with the Faces, is as heavy as anything these guys recorded. It’s almost heavy metal. Stewart’s vocal verges on unhinged. The time changes Beck goes through thrill me even now. “Hangman’s Blues” is heavy blues goodness. The album times in at just over thirty minutes and I was puzzled when I bought this album (again) on CD, to find some great bonus stuff that could have been easily added to side two. The two bonus tracks, “Sweet Little Angel,” a great B.B. King cover and “Throw Down A Line” by Hank Marvin were both purportedly recorded during a jam. If this is the sound of a band jamming, they should have jammed more. While not as towering as Truth, this is still a must have.

Sadly, after ditching Woodstock, Beck, who was as fond as Rod was of fast cars, was injured when he wrecked his sports car. While Jeff was recovering, Rod recorded his folk-rock debut, The Rod Stewart Album (or in the UK, An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down) with Ronnie Wood on guitar and Mickey Waller on drums. It wasn’t long before Rod had joined Ronnie in the Faces. Beck formed a second version of the Jeff Beck Group but for me at least, he never recaptured the magic of this original line-up. Pour something strong and give these two records a listen.