RIP Walter Becker, Steely Dan Founding Member/Guitarist/Bassist

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*Steely Dan, Donald Fagen (L), Walter Becker, (R)

“I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long, this brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be…” – “Deacon Blues,” Steely Dan

I almost never take a vacation. It’s one of the many things that drives my wife crazy. My work life is such that whenever I leave for some time-off, I return typically to face some kind of dystopian nightmare of problems and an enormous pile of punishing work. My corporate overlords have seen to it that it’s just not worth it to leave. Somehow my wife, the Rock Chick, convinced me to do back-to-back trips to end the summer this year… she can be… persuasive. The first jaunt was our Jack Kerouac trip to Denver to see Depeche Mode, which turned out great. The second of our two trips was to head out West again to visit my in-laws. Not quite a Depeche Mode trip… family, what are you gonna do? So it was with great surprise and grief that, whilst out on our travels/travails I learned that Walter Becker, founding member of one of my all time favorite bands, Steely Dan, had passed away. Damn it! To quote my friend Bob, Steely Dan “enriched my life.” This one hit me hard.

Steely Dan, despite never having a ton of hits, were ubiquitous when I was growing up in the 70s. They were always on FM rock radio. Their 1977 album ‘Aja’ is etched into my memory. “Deacon Blues” may be my unofficial theme song… it certainly was in junior high. ‘Aja’ was my first Steely Dan LP purchase and I slowly worked my way backward. Kansas City’s local rock radio station, KY/102 (God, how I miss that station), used to play “The Daily Dan,” which featured two (or maybe it was three) Steely songs in a row. Only Led Zeppelin (“Get the Led Out”) received such regal treatment on that radio station.

I can still remember in junior high school, riding home on the bus and listening to the stoner kids in the back of the bus, arguing about Steely Dan. The jocks all sat up front and the flannel-shirted, long-feathered-hair kids sat in the back. Naturally I gravitated backwards toward the misfits. They would argue the most bizarre rock and roll shit. I remember two of them coming to blows, literally punches thrown, after one kid suggested that had he lived, Jimi Hendrix would have turned to jazz. These were serious rock and roll fans. The Steely Dan argument would rage on over my entire junior high era. It goes back to the eternal question, were they rock? They were too jazzy or jazz-influenced, the naysayers would yell. They’d suggest they only had one decent riff, “Reelin’ In The Years.” The defenders would point to the flawless production and sound… smoke something then put them on, they’re like Pink Floyd, headphones music, they’d say. The talent of the musicians clearly meant they were rock. And besides, “Bodhisattva” was a great riff too… and back forth it would go.

What always draws me in is the lyrics. Becker and Fagen were always so amazingly literate and witty. I mean, you have to be pretty bookish to name your band after a dildo from William Burrough’s Naked Lunch. The lyrics were always cryptic at first but after a number of listens you began to realize perhaps there was more to the story. “Kid Charlemagne” was about a drug dealer. (I still like to yell, “Is there gas in the car? Yes there’s gas in the car,” which may explain why nobody asks me to drive anywhere). “Home At Last” was the story of Odysseus floating past the Sirens as much as it was about being stuck in a bad relationship. The humor and the intelligence of the writing was razor sharp. “Chain Lightning” was the story of two Nazi SS Officers going back to a spot where Hitler spoke… I could go on and on. Where Becker/Fagen found that brilliant, creative lyricism is awe-inspiring. I always thought, incorrectly, that Becker wrote all the lyrics and Fagen wrote the music. I’m not sure how I came under that misconception, they were a great writing team. Another bonus for Steely Dan in the eyes of B&V was the large number of booze references in their songs… from scotch whisky to black cows these guys knew their booze.

Becker, besides being a great songwriter and producer actually began in Steely Dan playing bass guitar. He and Fagen had moved to Los Angeles, after failing to get anything going with their songs in New York. Eventually their long time producer, Gary Katz, convinced them to form a band to help them sell their songs. Denny Dias and Skunk Baxter handled the guitars. Fagen, who suffered from stage fright, relegated himself to playing piano and they brought in David Palmer as an additional lead singer. It took years for me to figure out “Dirty Work,” sung by Palmer, was actually a Steely Dan song. Eventually they realized people liked the songs Fagen sang better so Palmer eased out of the band before their second album, “Countdown To Ecstasy.” By 1975 and the release of ‘Katy Lied,’ Becker had moved to guitar and Fagen was the only founding member left. Although to be fair, Denny Dias stuck around on rhythm guitar until they called it quits in 1981. By then Steely Dan had quit touring and had become, like the Beatles before them, a studio band. Becker and Fagen would augment the band in the studio with a ton of session musicians. They were the first band who I heard given the moniker of “studio perfectionists.” That certainly comes across when I listen to the vinyl versions of those records now. The sound is striking.

When you look at the Steely Dan discography, it’s pretty “choice” to quote those back-of-the-bus stoners of yore. ‘Pretzel Logic,’ ‘The Royal Scam,’ ‘Aja,’ and ‘Gaucho’ were all albums any band would kill for. The albums were all brilliant, cohesive works of art. Each LP a rich tapestry of catchy music with lyrics about the oddest assortments of creepy losers you’re ever going to find. One might call their songs “noir.” Unfortunately, they spent so much time recording ‘Gaucho’ that tensions began to rise. Becker was sued after his then-girlfriend OD’d in his apartment. He was hit by a car and broke his leg. They did so many retakes of the songs on ‘Gaucho’ I think Becker and Fagen just ground each other down. And so, in 1981, they broke up.

Becker moved to Hawaii where he continued to struggle with his budding heroin addiction. One of my favorite stories about Becker and Fagen, as friends, was one I read about that separation. Becker and Fagen had been friends and bandmates since they met at Bard College. Professionally estranged and geographically separated, Becker in Hawaii and Fagen in New York, Fagen continued to reach out to Becker. I read that Fagen would go out to jazz clubs to listen to the old jazz guys who were still alive and playing. Some of the jazz guys would recognize him, some wouldn’t… Steely’s music was always heavily influenced by jazz and both Becker and Fagen loved jazz. Anyway, whether recognized or not, Fagen would always wander up between sets and get an autograph from whomever he was watching. When he got home, he’d stick the napkin in an envelope and mail it off to Becker, who he knew was battling addiction. No note, no commentary, just a cocktail napkin with some semi-famous sax player’s name scrawled on it. I don’t know why but I’ve always found that touching.

Eventually, after a full decade had passed, Becker who had kicked heroin reunited with Fagen at one of those ‘New York Rock And Soul Revue’ things Fagen and Micheal McDonald put together. They ended up each producing the other’s next solo album. Finally, after twenty years they officially reunited to record ‘Two Against Nature,’ which actually won the Grammy for best album. I love, love the song “Jack of Speed” from that record. The magic was still there. They followed that album up rather quickly with ‘Everything Must Go’ in 2003, which I enjoyed, although not like ‘Two Against Nature.’ I had hoped, all these years later, that perhaps there would be another Steely Dan album. Group’s like Steely Dan putting out late period records is the reason I started this blog in the first place… Alas, now there will be no more new Steely Dan.

This is another in a series of huge losses in the world of rock n’ roll. Donald Fagen put out a very touching note about his friend and musical partner over the weekend. He says he’s going to keep Becker and his music alive for as long as he’s able. I hope he does… the world is better off when those songs are being played somewhere… and yes, “Bodhisattva” does rock…

Take care of yourselves out there…

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The Moving HBO Documentary: Eagles of Death Metal: Mon Amis (Our Friends), Bravo!

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I remember the horrible Paris attacks of November 13th, 2015 as if it were yesterday. I chronicled my feelings, mostly simmering rage, in these very pages. While I’m not a religious man, there are things I hold sacred. Along with my family, rock n roll and concerts are one of those things. The communal joining together for an evening of food, drink and music is as close to a church as I’ll ever get (on purpose, at least). So, when the terrorists chose to attack cafes, a football game, and a rock concert, it was as if for the first time, they’d walked into my church with guns. The senseless murder of 89 people in the Bataclan during Eagles of Death Metal’s show particularly upset me, and is why I wrote the post, “My Heart Is In the Bataclan.”

U2 had been scheduled to perform live in Paris and broadcast that concert on HBO but postponed the show due to the attack. They were seen placing flowers at the memorial for the fallen outside the Bataclan. Is there any greater rock n roll ambassadors of Peace than the guys in U2? If I ever met U2, I’d have to use the words of my favorite TV policeman Kojak, “Who Loves Ya Baby.” I remember my friend Steven saying to me, the last time we saw U2 in a stadium in St Louis, “These guys are the soundtrack to our lives.” True dat, Steven. I was thrilled when toward the end of the HBO broadcast concert, U2 brought up the members of Eagles of Death Metal to play the show they were robbed of. It was a beautiful moment which I also chronicled in the pages of B&V.

This Monday, I happened to be watching HBO with the Rock Chick… we happened to love ‘The Young Pope,’ which has some great music, I might add. Afterwards on HBO was a documentary about Eagles of Death Metal and that tragic evening at the Bataclan. I had no idea it was coming on, fate must have willed me to see it. The title is ‘Eagles of Death Metal: Mon Amis (Our Friends)’ and I recommend that everyone see it. It was healing, cathartic and entertaining all at the same time. I’m not too proud to admit that during portions of the show, I had tears in my eyes.

As a back drop to the events at the Bataclan the documentary starts with the history of Eagles of Death Metal. Josh Homme, more famously the genius behind Queens of the Stone Age, and Jesse Hughes, lead singer/guitarist for EODM were high school buddies. I thought it was very cool how their friendship is the very fabric this band was created from. Jesse and Josh record the albums and then Jesse takes the band out on the road. Josh joins on drums when he can, schedule permitting. He was scheduled to be with them the night of the Bataclan attack, but had stayed home in the States for the birth of his child.

The title of the documentary, ‘Mon Amis (Our Friends)’ really sums up the relationship this band has with their fans. They’re a good time, funny, hard rocking band and their fans are some of the most dedicated out there. I had never really heard much of their music prior to all of this, though I was a QOTSA fan. The relationship these guys have with their fans is something special, making the events of November 13th that much worse.

When they finally got to the story of the concert at the Bataclan, they bring in some of the survivors of the attacks. They talk about their love for the band and they talk about the awful, frightening events of that night. It was bone chilling, but you could tell these people needed to talk about it to heal. One of the things that struck both the Rock Chick and I was how close the killers got to the band. I had always heard, “the band got out” before it got dangerous. That is not accurate at all. The guitar player actually hid in the shower of the dressing room while the terrorists kicked at the door to try and get to him. It was very clear from the tearful interviews that Jesse Hughes gives, that this is a band with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Jesse peaked through the curtain and his description of what he saw, people being mown down, is heart stopping.

In a brief snippet, the makers of the documentary interview Bono and the Edge of U2. Bon really summed it up, much better than I did in my B&V post a year and half ago, when he said, “this was an attack on a lifestyle, a lifestyle they hate.” Well said, Bono, well said.

While EODM playing at the U2 concert a few weeks after the Bataclan attack was healing, it was time for Eagles of Death Metal to come back and complete the show they never got to finish. Playing at the Bataclan would have probably been too traumatic, so the documentary chronicles their prep and return to Paris to play at the Olympia theater. They brought back anybody from the Bataclan who was willing and able to attend – and who could blame those who didn’t feel like going back to a concert… the bastards who pulled off the attack have likely ruined that part of those fans lives. To watch Jesse and the band, this time including Josh, come outside the theater prior to the show to greet and hug the fans was another beautiful moment. It just underscores how close this band is to their fans, to their friends, “mon amis.”

This was really a great documentary and I applaud HBO. I also applaud all those fans who survived and attended the EODM’s return to Paris. And I especially applaud the Eagles of Death Metal. May they rock and roll forever! Again, everyone who loves rock and roll, heavy metal and hard rock should see this movie.

Don’t let the bastards drag you down….

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….”

Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”

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Here we are this week with another reminder of how horrible 2016 was in terms of losing Rock Stars. We saw the one year anniversary of the passing of Glenn Frey, eulogized in a post on B&V a year ago. To commemorate the occasion, Bob Seger released a new single, entitled “Glenn Song,” in honor of his fallen friend.

Frey and Seger had been friends in their earlier days, back in Detroit, where they both hail from. Seger was quoted yesterday as saying Glenn was like “a kid brother to me.” I know they remained friends through all the fame and fortune. Glenn plays an exquisite guitar solo on Seger’s tune “Til It Shines.” In this era of enormous egos and “celebrity feuds,” it seems really nice that Bob would take the time to honor his friend by recording this song. Something that doesn’t get talked about much in the world is the importance for men to have other dudes to hang out with. I don’t know what I’d do if my life long pal Doug wasn’t still living in KC. All guys need a guy to grab a beer with in our lives… or a gal to grab Cosmo’s with if you’re a chick. All of which makes this ode to friendship kind of touching.

The song is clearly a deeply heartfelt piece of work. And as Seger readily admits, this will not be a hit single, nor was it intended to. It’s just a nice thing to have done for a  buddy. There’s no chorus. In the lyrics Bob just describes how he saw Glenn… “Whenever I think about you I smile.” These guys were clearly close. Bob goes on to sing, “You were young, you were bold, you loved your rockin’ soul,” which I think sums up ol’ Glenn Frey to a T. He goes on to say, “You were strong, you were sharp, but you had the deepest heart.” That’s pretty nice stuff.

I have to doff my hat to Mr. Seger on this one. It’s not a great, great song and it’s on the melancholy end, but it’s a nice tune. It’s available for free download or streaming on Seger’s website, so this isn’t some kind of cash-in attempt on Seger’s part. You can find the song here:

http://www.bobseger.com

I feel the same way about Glenn Frey as Seger sings in this final line from the song, “There was no one like you…”

It’s a long dark ride folks… Keep your friends close.

Cheers!

My Fever Dream: Dark Days, A Hopeful Wedding And A Glimpse To The Future

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I love the fall. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall, I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl.” Autumn is usually sweet for me. It’s a time for football and breaking out the dark and murky fluids… it’s my bourbon season. Even the holidays are great. Halloween is always fun (hello to all those Naughty Nurses out there and sincerely, thank you all) and who doesn’t love Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is show up eat, drink too much and watch football. Besides Saint Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving is the PERFECT holiday.

And yet this year I’m feeling more of the grim determination of the second part of that Chili Pepper’s quote, “I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl,” than my usual autumn joy. It’s been a bit a tough year this year. Things are pretty grim at the office… lay offs and more threatened. I’ve been traveling almost all of October for work and as usual have had my annual bronchial infection that knocked me on my ass. Perhaps it’s my illness that has me down. With the exception of going out west to see my wonderful daughter fall has been a drag.

I must admit that a lot of this dark juju I’m feeling stems from this year’s Presidential Election. I think I speak for everybody who isn’t a cable TV news commentator that I’m suffering from “Election Fatigue.” My wife, the Rock Chick won’t even watch the news any more. Dark pronouncements, anger and contention is really getting to be a drag. Even the local commercials are full of bile, lies and accusations. It’s like being in the middle of a divorce trial. Why is daddy yelling “wrong” at mommy, if you get what I mean. I’m not a political person per se. I never talk about religion or politics, but it’s just been impossible to avoid this year. It’s really set a dark vision of the future.

Against that back drop, my oldest and dearest friend Jack’s eldest daughter got married last weekend. I was honored to have been invited. I know that it makes me sound like a sentimental sap, dressed in a fluffy robe, clutching a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark, singing “Send in the clowns, there oughta be clowns…” when I say this, but I do love weddings. I was always that guy people called when they had an extra slot in the wedding party. “We need an extra usher… let’s call Ken, he’s fun… but keep him away from the Vicar…”

This particular wedding last weekend was a beautiful, hippy-esque ceremony, and I mean that in a good way. The ceremony was held outside under a copse of trees on a beautiful Indian Summer day. It was cloudy and a beautiful breeze pushed the leaves around. A gauzy tapestry of green and lime hung behind the make-shift alter. The groom danced down the aisle with a smile that lit up the park. They were playing a rap song I vaguely recognized (Hey, I’m a Stones guy…give me some slack) and there was a palpable sense of joy. It felt like the trees were dancing along with him in the breeze. Jack’s daughter looked glowing in her beautiful gown. The vows were beautiful and emotional. What can I say, I was moved. I felt something for the first time all fall, and frankly for the first time in a long time. I felt a glimmer of hope.

Weddings have always been hopeful affairs in my mind. The joining of two people into one couple, the merger of two disparate families. The wonderful ceremony where friends and family join to witness and consecrate the union. The joy emanating from the couple and their families is always contagious. I’m not a religious person, but weddings and funerals do bring about a spirit of community that’s possibly akin to religion. Despite all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world, these two kids, bravely and beautifully standing up in front of everyone they know, holding hands and vowing to share their lives together felt almost defiant in their hope. And that in turn, gives me strength.

I began to think of the Rock Chick and my future. Our daughter isn’t too much younger than Jack’s eldest. They knew each other slightly when they were growing up. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for my daughter. She’s smart, educated and a hard worker. I don’t worry about her at all. But as I watched this new couple wed last weekend I wondered what that’ll be like when my own daughter gets married. As a step dad, my role in the wedding will likely be largely ceremonial, like paying for stuff, but it’ll be a life changing event. Then, inevitably there will come grandkids some day. I’m hopeful that’s a long way off. I was extremely immature when I married my wife (not that I’ve changed much since), and I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together… but grandkids? I’m not old enough for that yet…

I know a lot of people who are into this whole “grandparent” thing. They call themselves P-Paw or Nana or G-Maw… I want none of that shit. My daughter has always called me by my first name, Ken. I’m cool with that, as I never intended to supplant her dad. My vision of being grandparent, and this may seem odd, is based on the movie Cool Hand Luke. I don’t want my future grandkids to call me Grandpa, I want them to call me by the name I deserve – Boss Ken. I envision myself sitting in a big rocking chair out by the pool, straw hat on my head and mirror shades on, a large tumbler of bourbon that I’ll call “Boss Ken’s iced tea” in my hand. The children will call out to me things like “movin’ on into the pool now Boss Ken,” or “getting some water now Boss Ken.” They’ll whisper to each other things like “Don’t cross the man with no eyes…” like George Kennedy did. They’ll wonder why Boss Ken’s iced tea smells like gasoline. For their rapt obedience I shall reward them by teaching them about rock and roll. They’ll learn all of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog. I’ll sit in my rocking chair and say things like, “Wha, wha, what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s the way this chirren wants it, well he gets it… he’s in timeout.” I’ll have to work on developing a southern accent.

In turn, my wife, who is the most elegant woman I know, should be called “The Duchess.” I think that’s better than Nana. I can see my future grand kids asking their mother, “Do we get to go and see the Duchess this weekend? She always has presents and baked goods for us…but is Boss Ken gonna be there? He said we were going to have to listen to something called “Goats Head Soup” this weekend… that doesn’t sound good.”

Oh yes, Boss Ken and the Duchess… this does give me great hope for the future and it has a nice ring to it. I can see it all so clearly now….Maybe it’s the excess of cough syrup I’ve been drinking.

It’s a long dark ride people. Keep your friends and family close and as always, Cheers!

BourbonAndVinyl’s List of Overlooked Bands Whose Members Went On To Stardom

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“Got a call from an old friend, we used to be real close…” – “My Life”, Billy Joel

Well, it wasn’t actually a call, but I got an email from a high school friend of mine recently. I don’t think I’d seen or been in contact with the guy since they laid the diploma on me, many years ago. High school was something I wanted squarely in my rear view mirror. But I always liked BG and was delighted to revisit our friendship, virtually speaking. As part of our conversation, inspired by B&V he mentioned he was a fan of the 60’s English blues-rock band Free. Other than “All Right Now” I didn’t know much of their music. I did know two of the members of Free, lead vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke went on to form Bad Company. I have since picked up a couple of Free’s albums and I must admit, I’m damned impressed, but that’s another post in the making.

As I thought about Free vs Bad Company, I started thinking about some of those great bands, like Free, that were to some degree overlooked. Sure, everybody hears about the “Supergroup” when it forms – Cream was considered a super group at the time it formed, or Manassas when Steven Stills formed them. The Traveling Wilbury’s may have been the super-est of the Supergroups. Even today we have Chickenfoot, a Supergroup made up of Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, and RHCP drummer Chad Smith. Famous musicians come together all the time to form new bands.

But what about those bands who formed, didn’t hit it big and then split up and one or several of the members went on to stardom or superstardom. How bad would you feel if your lead singer went onto platinum success but you couldn’t make it work. It all gets back to chemistry. There is something magical when the right three, four or more guys get into a room and make music together. You wonder why some of these bands stay together when they can’t stand each other – they know their chemistry is magic. Don Henley couldn’t make the same kind of music without Glenn Frey and vice versa. There is something that David Lee Roth brings out in Eddie Van Halen’s guitar that no other lead singer has been able to. I quote Joe Strummer’s comment, “never underestimate the chemistry of the right four musicians in a room” (or something like that) all of the time. When I started thinking of some of these early “near-miss” bands I realized that there were more of them than I realized. I guess you could say about these bands, the whole was less than the sum of its parts. I guess the chemistry just wasn’t there. In most cases, I would suggest that these bands deserve another look, or perhaps another listen would be more appropriate. In each of these cases, one or several members went onto “greatness”.

This list is in no particular order:

  1. Free – I figured I’d start here since we already mentioned them. I think these guys were bigger in England than in the US. They were an influence on Zeppelin (who quote their song “The Hunter” on their first album) and The Faces who covered several of their songs live on stage. Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke went on to form the hugely successful Bad Company, but I love Free, it’s harder, bluesier music.
  2. Montrose – Sammy Hagar’s first band. They cut two fantastic albums, “Montrose” and “Paper Money” before Hagar went on to solo success. The records produced several hits, including the incendiary classic “Bad Motor Scooter” but Montrose never caught on the way Hagar was able to on his own.
  3. The Jeff Beck Group – as you probably suspect here, I’m talking about the original version of this band with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass guitar. Beck treated the rest of the band as side men and they never came off the road long enough to write enough original material. Beck fired Wood and Rod left right behind him. Obviously Woody went on to join the Faces and then the Rolling Stones and Stewart went on to individual superstardom. The Jeff Beck Group was due to play Woodstock, which would probably have been a game-changer but Beck who was fond of fast cars, got into a car wreck and they had to cancel. Damn shame, as I think Jeff Beck is one of the greatest guitarists ever. The two albums these guys cut, “Truth” and “Beckola” remain huge influences on blues rock to this day.
  4. Generation X – formed in the heyday of Punk Rock, Generation X recorded two albums and were in the process of recording a third album when they broke up. Their lead singer was none other than Billy Idol. They even did an early version of “Dancing With Myself”. During the recording sessions for the third record, they split citing “creative differences”. Some in the band wanted to stay true to their punk roots, and some wanted to expand their sound.
  5. The Runaways – Now, this girl group may or may not have been famous. I can only tell you that the Runaways never got any radio play in my home town. Movies have been made about the craziness around this band. After they finally broke up The Runaways spawned the solo careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford.
  6. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have gotten a lot of attention over the years, and they did record the seminal “With Eric Clapton” album, which is still in high rotation here at B&V. I think of Mayall’s band as an English Prep School for Rock Stars. Who didn’t serve a stint in the Bluesbreakers – Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Ginger Bruce, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie. Every one of those folks went on to much bigger careers after leaving.
  7. The James Gang – Joe Walsh’s first group. After a promising debut, the other guys wanted more creative input and they wanted to veer away from the guitar, riff-driven songs that made their name. Everybody wants to be the front man, sigh. They veered back to the guitar rock that made them famous on “James Gang Rides Again” which is a classic, but the writing was on the wall. Joe took off and formed Barnstorm. After a string of solo hits including “Rocky Mountain Way” he joined the Eagles.
  8. Mother Love Bone – these guys were on the verge of stardom when their lead singer, Andrew Wood sadly overdosed. I love the stuff they’ve released. Who knows where they would have gone. Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament ended up reforming a band around Mike McCready’s lead guitar. At the suggestion of Jack Irons of the RHCP’s, they auditioned a guy from San Diego named Eddie… I think it was Vedder… Pearl Jam became one of the biggest bands in the world.
  9. The Faces – the second band where Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood (now on lead guitar) left to go on to bigger solo success. Actually Rod had a dual solo career at the same time he was serving as lead singer in the Faces. It apparently confused early-70s rock fans… Are the Faces his back up band? His solo career took off after “Maggie May” and the Faces died in the shadow of that success. Ronnie went on to the Stones, and drummer Kenny Jones went on to join the Who. Oh, and Rod did pretty well on his own too. The Faces absolutely deserve a second listen, but anybody whose read these posts before know I’m biased…
  10. Them – Van Morrison’s first group. They changed their line up so many times by the end it was just Van and whoever was available to come to the studio. I think Jimmy Page even played on a few Them singles. Van was probably destined to be a solo artist as he is rather mercurial, but Them had some great songs including “Gloria” and “Baby Please Don’t Go”.
  11. Buckingham-Nicks – Fleetwood Mac, at a loss after another guitarist had quit, were given the “Buckingham-Nicks” album as an audition of sorts for producer Greg Olson. They hired the producer and both Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. I always loved Lindsey and Stevie’s chemistry. I still do. This album is a lost gem.
  12. Buffalo Springfield – this band did better than most of the folks on this list. But with Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Bruce Palmer all in the band, who knows what they could have accomplished if they could have just gotten along. They didn’t want Neil to sing because, well for obvious reasons, and Stills kept wanting to play the lead guitar parts, which were supposed to be Neil’s. Too many cooks spoiled the broth.
  13. Uncle Tupelo – Both Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy who went on to form Son Volt and Wilco respectively were in Uncle Tupelo. I was never that big into alt country but Jay and Jeff apparently couldn’t get along. Everything I’ve read would suggest Jay Farrar is a control-freak but there are always two sides of the story. Son Volt had early success but Wilco is the band that has really stood the test of time.
  14. Whiskeytown – Ryan Adams’ first band. They were always a little sloppy but I like Whiskeytown. They’re another alt country band that I’ve seemed to get into as I get older. “Stranger’s Almanac” and “Pneumonia” were great records. Ryan went on to quite a solo career after “Heartbreaker” came out. Of course now that he’s cutting Taylor Swift cover albums, he’s dead to me.
  15. The Spencer Davis Group – for a band with Steve Winwood in it, these guys only had about three or four actual hits. After three years Winwood finally split to form Traffic, another personal favorite. The Spencer Davis Group even boasted bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson later of Elton John’s band. With all that talent you’d expect a little more here.

Honorable Mention:

  1. Mudcrutch – Tom Petty and Mike Campbell’s first band. After they split Petty went on to form the Heartbreakers. Mudcrutch didn’t record more than a handful of singles, including an early version of “Don’t Do Me Like That” but they just didn’t take off. Petty and Campbell along with Benmont Tench revisited Mudcrutch a few years back and recorded a great album. Rumors have it their follow-up record is in the works for this year release.
  2. Band of Joy – Another band that only had a handful of singles, released on their lead singer’s retrospective, “Highway 61 to Timbuktu”, none other than Robert Plant. They also boasted a drummer by the name of John Bonham…. I wonder whatever happened to those guys?

If you like some of the artists mentioned in this post, perhaps you might want to check out their “back pages” as the saying goes. I really like most of the bands on this list. It’s great to check out some of these artists in their more formative period. I encourage everyone to do the same. Let me know if I missed any bands that should be on this list.

Turn it up loud, enjoy and as always, Cheers!

Playlist For My Friend GP’s Kerouac Retirement Drive

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There was a time when I was younger, when I felt like my life was going to be extraordinary. My life was going to be special, “outside the norm”. I wanted to be a rock star, but I neglected to learn an instrument, oh well. Some might say the fact that I waited so long to settle down, or the casual, gypsy-esque approach I took to life and career could be considered out of the ordinary, but in the end I’m just a working stiff punching a time clock. Some of the execs in places I’ve worked over the years behave like old-school French monarchs in advanced stages of dementia – inept and/or insane, think Louis the X, The Quarreler. I hear a lot of screaming at work. As I get older, I feel less and less extraordinary. This of course may have something to do with my good fortune to be friends with so many extraordinary individuals. My friends are an amazing collection of people – millionaires, consultants, lobbyists, architects, painters, musicians, Harley-enthusiasts, accounting partners, oil industry folks, astrophysicists, hummus enthusiasts, ex-basketball players, drummers… the list goes on. I am blessed with these friendships and I cherish them, but it certainly makes it hard to consider myself even “above-average”. These guys really set the bar high. The only thing I can point to as extraordinary in my life is my wife. I married extremely well. Thank God for the Rock Chick, she makes it all worth while.

One of the foremost of these friends of mine is my old pal GP. I usually don’t take requests here at BourbonAndVinyl, but just this once I had to make an exception when GP asked me for a playlist. I met GP (names obscured to protect the guilty), whose nicknames include Stinger, Pringle and The Mayor of Eldorado, my first week of college when we were both 18. He was one of my first room mates. I can still remember Matthew and I in the front seat of Matthew’s car driving to a freshman “mixer” with Stinger and another kid from Western Kansas in the back seat blaring Van Halen’s “Panama” with the windows down. Stinger’s face was a mask but the other kid looked terrified. I don’t think either of them were prepared for our David Lee Roth impersonations. The drunken evening ended up with Stinger holding me over his head and spinning me around like he was King Kong and I was a city bus. It was an odd beginning but it was the start of a wonderful friendship.

Stinger went on to be the “Campus Rep” for a big name beer company. During my intermittent stints of living with him, he’d drag me along to some beer event. I vaguely recall going over to Junction City to work a “Ladies Night – Male Stripper” event. My pay for the evening was all the beer I could drink, which is sadly how my current corporate overlords pay me. I did that a lot for Stinger, work for beer. We got to Junction City and these women were ready to party. The male stripper dudes were pretty lame and it didn’t take long for this rowdy crowd of drunken women to turn and start chanting, “we want the  beer guys”. Naturally Stinger ended up standing in the back of the room and I ended up on stage. The last thing I coherently remember is being ushered to the stage to the sound of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got To Do With It” in front of the unruly rabble of women who were out for blood. Well, at least they were out for some flesh. I seem to remember doing my “overbite, run in place” dance move while twitchily taking my shirt off. I barely escaped alive. I can say that I woke up with a few bucks in my underwear but that’s about all I can tell you about that night.

After college Stinger and I ended up in Boston for a summer working for some crazed character in a liquor store. Pretty soon I headed into exile in Arkansas and Stinger went to work for a big beer company. My father always said, “Son, marry a rich woman whose daddy owns a liquor store.” Stinger outdid us all on that scale. He rose through the ranks of the beer company like a rocket. Not only was he successful in work, I’ve always considered him successful in life because of the amazing amount of charity work he did and continues to do to this day. Eventually Stinger went to work selling the dark and murky brown fluid that gives this blog part of it’s name. And then, out of the blue, at a very young age, in my opinion, he announced he was retiring. Well, not exactly retiring, but stepping away from the rat race for a bit. He’ll focus on his vast real estate empire and his charity work and get a little rest. I’m sure he’ll end up working for somebody soon enough, he’s too industrious. But in the interim, and this is where I get jealous, he’s going on a Jack Kerouac excursion. He’s loading up the car with a camera, a small bag of luggage, some bourbon and an atlas. I trust he’ll be driving from sea to shining sea, as it were. I’ve always wanted to do that. I told the wife after a recent medical procedure, before the anesthesia wore off, we were selling everything, buying a Porsche and hitting the open road. It never quite materialized. But I can always imagine driving from the swamplands of the deep South, through the plains and climbing into the mountains while Kerouac’s jazz influenced cadence runs through my head. But alas, I gotta go to work Monday.

As part of his retirement announcement he said, “Ken, this might be a BourbonAndVinyl story”. Now, I don’t usually do requests, but he called me out in a rather public way. I felt compelled to put together a playlist to celebrate his freedom in retirement. And, let’s face it, there is no freedom like the open road. The Rock Chick is better at play lists than I am, but I put together about 2 hours of music to get Stinger down the road a piece, as the saying goes. Now putting together a list like this is tough with Stinger. He’s not a screaming rock guy, I still remember the look on his face when he was trapped in Matthew’s Subaru when we met. I seem to remember he has a fondness for country music, which I despise outside of Johnny Cash. His two suggestions were “Dust In the Wind” and “Long May You Run”, not exactly “Highway to Hell”. I mixed the well-known with the obscure, the rockers with the mellow tunes… exactly what the Rock Chick advised me not to do… but what the hell. Here’s to my buddy Stinger… and you know with friends like him, and all the friends I’ve got, maybe just maybe, I am kind of extraordinary.

  1. Long May You Run – Stills-Young Band, by request
  2. Dust In the Wind – Kansas, by request
  3. Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers, “rollin’ down high 41…”
  4. Roll Me Away – Bob Seger, “I took a look down a westbound road, right away I made my choice…” My pal Dennis loves this song.
  5. Rockin’ Down the Highway – The Doobie Brothers
  6. Take It Easy – The Eagles, “don’t let the sound of your wheels drive you crazy…” RIP Glenn Frey
  7. Truckin’ – The Grateful Dead
  8. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne, it starts slow but it’s a great road tune
  9. Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd, J.J Cale wrote this tune, a classic road tune
  10. Six Days On the Road – Mudcrutch, Tom Petty’s side project, if you haven’t checked out this album, do yourself a favor and do so
  11. Helen Wheels – Paul McCartney, “hell on wheels”
  12. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen, If you know anything about BourbonAndVinyl, you know this had to be on here
  13. Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads, I hope Stinger wakes up every morning and thinks, where to now
  14. Roadhouse Blues – The Doors, this song works as a road song and a drinking song, so I get the double word score here
  15. Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers, mellow tune but there’s something about the lyric, “these smiling eyes are just a mirror for the sun” that I like
  16. Life Is a Highway – Tom Cochrane, “and I’m gonna ride it all night long”… hmm this might be a metaphor
  17. Route 66 – The Rolling Stones, this is a virtual travelogue of where Stinger may travel
  18. Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band, this could literally be Stinger’s theme song here
  19. Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty, another great Petty road tune
  20. Going Mobile – The Who
  21. Travelin’ Man – Bob Seger, I actually prefer the studio version on the ‘Beautiful Loser’ album
  22. End of the Line – The Traveling Wilburys
  23. All Down the Line – The Rolling Stones, probably more of a train song than a road song but who can resist this riff?
  24. I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide – ZZ Top, hopefully Stinger’s travels take him from Florida to Idaho, where it just so happens, we know a guy
  25. The Wild Horse – Rod Stewart, obscure gem here from the ‘Out of Order’ album about a guy who rambles about, totally overlooked
  26. Hitch a Ride – Boston, my buddy DJ feels there should always be a Boston song on every play list
  27. Midnight Rider – The Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman also does a great version of this tune solo
  28. I’m Free – The Rolling Stones, “I’m free to do whatever I want, any ol’ time…” and Stinger is free now
  29. Free Ride – Edgar Winter, I mean, this playlist really writes itself
  30. Travelin’ – Tom Petty, an obscure B-side from his boxed set, it’ll stick in your head for days

I suggest putting this on “shuffle” and nudge that volume knob up as far as it’ll go. If anybody has a tune to add to this list, please feel free to respond in the comments.

Cheers!!