Surprise Single: Mick Jagger With Dave Grohl Deliver Lockdown Lament, “Easy Sleazy,” Pure Punk Energy And Humor

What a nice surprise yesterday, on a Tuesday no less…

I’m on record as hating Mondays. And Tuesday is always a bit of a “meh” day for me. Just another day punching the clock get to Friday when all the new music comes out. For most people, Friday kicks off the weekend but who am I kidding… my weekends tend to start on Thursday, “weekend-eve.”

I took a brief coffee break from “workin’ for the  man,” doing my usual corporate Tuesday stuff when I noticed on “the social media” that Mick Jagger had released a surprise song. I’ll admit my initial response was, “Wait a minute… I was hoping for a new Stones album in 2021…” After getting over that initial hissy fit, I read his statement about the song:

I wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar, it was a lot of fun working with you on this – hope you all enjoy Eazy Sleazy !

As I wondered why I wasn’t hearing a new Stones song I began to think back to Mick’s last surprise single, “Get A Grip”/”England Lost.” It seems when Mick has something topical to say, politically urgent if you will, he doesn’t wait to put a song through the Stones laborious creative process. Although I suppose “Sweet Neo-Con” is an exception. So was the Stones’ “Living In A Ghost Town.” I’ve seen some venerable rock stars releasing some songs about lockdown and the pandemic that I considered kind of… stupid (I’m talking to you Van Morrison and you Eric Clapton). But when I saw that part of Mick’s statement about “much needed optimism” I knew I had to check it out.

I don’t think I’ve heard Mick do anything this infused with humor since “Far Away Eyes.” His tongue is obviously firmly in his cheek as he makes fun of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in the line “Bill Gates is in my blood stream.” He literally sums up the world’s collective lockdown experience with lines about gaining weight, drinking too much, cleaning the sink and pacing in the yard. Zoom even gets a mention. This is the kind of light hearted, rocking tune we need to kick off spring. Especially this particular spring which shows us all some signs of hope.

And speaking of “rocking,” this tune does. Mick plays rhythm guitar and vocals and he’s joined by that Fighter of Foo, Dave Grohl. Grohl plays drums – exceptionally I might add – and bass and lead guitar. I’ve never dug the Foo Fighters. I had their first LP but sold it at the used record store and never really got back on the bandwagon but I’ve always liked Dave Grohl. He seems like one of the nicest guys in rock n roll. And again, he’s a phenomenal drummer. He and Mick clearly work well together.

This song has a great punk energy I haven’t heard from Mick or the Stones since Some Girls. When punk came along it challenged the established rock authorities and well, the authorities in general, but the Stones managed to absorb that punk energy. When grunge came along it merely destroyed all that came before it. Established rock bands didn’t know how to react… It shows the full circle of rock n roll that Grunge Survivor Dave Grohl is playing with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones who managed to survive punk.

Topical songs don’t tend to have a long shelf life. But I have a feeling “Easy Sleazy” will stick with me for quite a while. Heaven knows memories of lockdown certainly will. As Mick says, “it’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget.” I would urge anybody who needs a blast of punk energy and good laugh and a smile to check this tune out.

Cheers!

Lookback: My Mixtape Days – Inventor of the Cassette Tape Dies at 94

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I got up one day last week, as I thankfully do every day, and I checked the news. I’m not a morning person so there’s no TV involved. I prefer a lot of silence in the morning so I just checked on-line. I was scrolling through headlines and I noticed a Dutch gentlemen named Lou Ottens had died at the age of 94. He was a scientist and inventor for the Philips company. In my still sleep riddled mind I couldn’t help but think, big deal some scientist passed in the Netherlands. I kept scrolling, still half-asleep drinking hot coffee as quickly as the scalding liquid would allow, when I stopped and went back to the Ottens’ article. It was then that I saw that Lou was the inventor of the cassette tape. Oh man, that took me back. In this age of streaming and MP3s people forget what a revolution cassettes were. Portable music was a reality. We weren’t all chained to the home stereo any more. 

Prior to Mr. Ottens’ invention, other than vinyl the only way to consume music was on those bulky reel-to-reel tapes, but lets be honest only beatnik, jazzbo types owned reel-to-reel tapes. I have an image of groovy dudes in black turtlenecks and shades even though they’re indoors, smoking joints and talking about Miles Davis’ feel as In A Silent Way spools through the reel-to-reel player. Although as I type that sentence I’m reminded that my father-in-law owned a reel-to-reel player and as a rancher/farmer he was only into country music like C.J. McCall…”Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy…” Gads. His reel-to-reel gear was long gone by the time I came along but I would have loved to hear what that sounded like. 

In an attempt to make music more portable, the industry had tried a more “compact” tape version of the album on the now legendary 8-track tape. If you couldn’t get a turntable into a car, by God, lets try 8-tracks. A lot of people jumped on the 8-track bandwagon, thankfully I was not one of them. First of all, I never thought they were very compact. They were the size of a small paperback novel. My buddy Brewster had an 8-track player in his car and we’d listen to Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all the time. I thought it was because Brewster loved that album but looking back it may have been the only 8-track he owned. I could never figure out 8-tracks. It was years before I learned what the actual playing order of that Cheap Trick live album was. 

Enter Mr. Ottens and his magic cassettes. I’ll be honest, I was a vinyl guy from the start. I only purchased two albums on proper cassettes. I purchased AC/DC’s Highway To Hell on cassette because I wanted to listen to that album in the car. I actually bought that LP on cassette for the reason they were invented – so you could take your music anywhere and you were free from having to have a turntable which would have been hard in the car considering what a reckless driver I was (am?). I also bought Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass on cassette prior to that because I saw that was how a lot of people were buying albums and I thought I was missing out on some sound sensation. Was there something I was missing? Well, no but it was still a nice portable way to consume music. If you were tired of your local radio station – or if you lived in a godforsaken place like Ft. Smith, Arkansas with terrible radio – you could just pop in a cassette and magically you were listening to your own music, arranged how you wanted it. 

The real magic in cassettes were the blank cassettes that allowed you to record anything you wanted to. It was indeed, a blank canvass. There were so many different brands of cassette tapes. Early on I purchased strictly TDK brand but quickly “upgraded” to Maxell who had an infinite number of different types of cassette tapes, each one of a higher quality than the last. Cassettes would hold 90 minutes of music – 45 minutes on each side. The average album back then was around 40 minutes, usually less. If it was a Van Halen album it was more likely 30 minutes long. You could put 1 album per side and leave the last bit of tape blank or you could add your own “bonus tracks” by the same artist at the end. Each tape had a small lead tape that wouldn’t hold music but was there to protect the cassette when fully rewound. You had to be careful if you were recording on vinyl that you’d gotten past those 10 seconds of lead tape or you’d cut off the first few seconds of the first track. The struggle was as real as the skills you needed to create a good tape recording. 

In the early days of my cassette taping, I was merely trying to collect music that I hadn’t purchased (for free). Cassette tapes were the early Napster, I suppose. My brother who had a crate full of albums before I’d even purchased my first album was my first source. I remember going into his room and plugging a cassette into his stereo – it was a turntable/radio/cassette tape all in one – and declaring I was going to tape some Beatles, but only the “good songs.” After filling up two whole cassettes to quote the movie Jaws, I realized, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” My mother had a friend, who  I’ll call Mrs. Smith, who had kids my age and my brother’s age. She brought over a stack of albums for me to tape that her kids owned. I’m still unsure why that happened. I think Mrs. Smith was trying to be cool. She appeared one day holding a can of beer with a cigarette dangling from her lips and handed me a stack of the heaviest metal I’d ever heard. Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest… it was all too heavy. I was listening to blues rock… the Stones, ZZ Top, Foghat. I’ve always wondered what the hell was happening over at the Smith’s house. It was extraordinarily nice of her to share her kids’ music even though they were probably using it during human sacrifices, or so I wondered back then. I’ve grown to love metal but hey, I was 13 years old. 

After cannibalizing other people’s albums on cassette the thing that probably accelerated my cassette use was the Sony Walkman. I got a Walkman for Christmas one year and it really changed the way I listened to music. I had headphones on my home stereo, but to be able to pop a cassette in the Walkman and actually leave my room to wander around while tunes played was mind blowing back then. I remember walking around in a snow storm, we’d been let off school, and listening to Yes (The Yes Album) and feeling my brain expand. 

Pretty soon, with my cassettes I realized you didn’t have to be so linear in your thinking. You could mix up artists or songs from one artist on the cassette. You could mix music… ie, the mixtape finally occurred to me. My music collection had expanded to the point where I had enough Aerosmith LPs or Skynyrd LPs that I could cherry pick the tracks I liked from them from each album and put them on 1 cassette. I was making my own “greatest hits” album. I remember sitting in front of my first stereo, surrounded in a semi-circle of albums resting gently on their sleeves and rotating albums on and off the turntable as I carefully hit “record” or “stop.” If a band had a double-live LP, I’d typically use that as my guide to building a 2-sided 90 minute collection of their music. I had friends who made copies of my “greatest hits” mix tapes as by then the cassette industry had created the dual tape deck that allowed you to copy a cassette to another cassette… 

Eventually, even rock and roll nerds get girlfriends. By the time I was in college I was making the dreaded mixtapes for girlfriends. You always tried to find a song that said what you didn’t have the courage to say yourself. “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel…” as the movie says. Mind you, my mixtapes were never terribly sappy. Often times it was just stuff I knew the lady liked. She’s into Sting, here’s a mix of Sting and the Police. I often tried to turn women onto the music I dug. It was always important. If she rejected my music, wasn’t she rejecting me? I know people think they’re doing much the same when they were burning CDs or putting together playlists on Spotify, but there was nothing like the engineering the perfect mixtape. There was no shuffle. The order you put the songs in was really, really important. I’ve always loved the scene from the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack explains the theory behind a great mixtape because it’s so accurate…

Nick Hornsby who wrote the novel this movie is based on is a real hero to the music nerd in me. 

I have an ex out there somewhere who now teaches yoga who occasionally emails me to thank me for turning her onto good music. I did a lot of that with the dreaded mixtapes. I actually used a mixtape to break up with someone in the early 90s… As I recall I started that tape with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not my finest moment. I’ve even made tapes for some friends of mine way back when. I have a friend I met when I first moved to Arkansas who had no money and coveted my deep album collection. I’d tape stuff I thought he’d dig – Clapton, the Band, the Allman Brothers – and so on… I wonder what ever happened to those things… Although if I had one of those mixtapes, I couldn’t play it. As times have changed and technology has shifted, the Rock Chick forced me to finally give up the cassette player. The only cassettes I still own are some Springsteen bootlegs from the way back machine. Oh, but I do miss those wonderful afternoons in front of the stereo with a stack of vinyl on the floor and a blank cassette in the stereo… Simply glorious. 

I’m glad Mr. Ottens came along and invented the cassette. It gave me many countless happy hours. I try and share music now via playlists but there was something so intimate and personal about sharing your music with someone back when I was younger and the mixtape was my medium. The mixtape was the way I took something that was so personal – listening to music – and turned it into something more public to be shared, to help bring me closer to people, friends and lovers. Maybe I was just practicing for this blog. The mixtape will always be a part of my rock and roll experience and enabled me to start sharing music and my experiences with it that I will hold onto fondly for as long as I’m able to hit “play.” 

R.I.P Mr. Lou Ottens. Cheers! 

Review: Dirty Honey, New Track “California Dreamin'” – Crunchy Hard Rawk!

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I was delighted to see this week that it appears there might be a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel we find ourselves in and for once I’m beginning to believe it’s not an on-coming train. While we all need to exhibit caution, perhaps even an abundance of caution, we might actually have a summer this year. I can’t believe it was a year ago this very weekend that we realized “the shit has hit the fan,” to quote Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” It was one year ago this weekend that my daughter and her beau came back to Kansas City for our annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, a big deal here in town. We’d all heard of the dreaded Covid, but nobody clearly understood what was happening. At the last minute they cancelled KC’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was a painful, personal blow to me and I’m not even Irish, not an ounce. Despite that, St. Patty’s is the only religious holiday I still observe. Wearing green and drinking in the streets is a critical “Rite of Spring.” That Sunday, a year ago, is when the news broke that we needed to start distancing ourselves and that we had a real problem on our hands… I quickly retreated to my attic, where I have remained ever since.

As 2020 passed into the history books I couldn’t help but reflect on what a great year for music releases it had been (B&V’s Best of 2020: New LPs And Live/Vault/Archival Releases, Bad Year/Good Music). But in truth my focus even as 2020 waned was on the future. I was banking on the fact that 2021 was going to give us a slew of new releases. All of these bands couldn’t tour, I was hoping they were writing and recording. I think we’re beginning to see some of my hopeful thinking confirmed with some strong vault releases from Neil Young and the Black Crowes, reviewed in earlier posts. I know those particular releases were scheduled for 2020 but who knew what would happen with the delays. As we shrug off the brutal winter and ease into spring, I’m starting to see some new releases popping up for us. Just a few weeks ago Cheap Trick dropped a single “Light Up The Fire” from their new upcoming album. We loved their last LP (not counting live stuff or that Xmas LP) We’re All Alright’

I discovered last weekend while I was listening to Petty’s new vault song “You Saw Me Coming” that a band I stumbled across in the depth of the pandemic Dirty Honey has released a new single, “California Dreamin’.” And no, this is not a Mamas and the Papas cover song. Last summer when I was never leaving the house, I finally ran out of reading material and convinced myself to risk a trip down to Barnes & Noble where I found something called ‘Classic Rock’ magazine. I was attracted to the the magazine because of a cover article on the Black Crowes. As I poured over every page, I stumbled upon this L.A. based band Dirty Honey: Marc Labelle on vocals, John Notto on guitar, Justin Smollen on bass and finally, Corey Coverstone on drums. I don’t why drummers always get listed last… I’ve gotta work on that. These guys are an old school guitar rock band. You just don’t hear new bands playing this great kind of music any more. They’ve got a real Guns N Roses or Aerosmith feel to them. I was absolutely knocked out by their EP released in 2019, which I quickly snapped up after reading about them, simply entitled ‘Dirty Honey – EP’. I had heard they were recording a new LP for 2020 but I’m sure they were forced to slow their plans up like, well, the rest of the planet did.

I’ll admit right off, a new LP from Dirty Honey is one of our most anticipated LPs down here at B&V. And, it appears last week they’ve dropped their new single, “California Dreamin'” and it’s another, great crunchy rocker. This L.A. band really takes me back to the Sunset Strip. “California Dreamin'” starts with a small drum roll and then the riff kicks in. I really like Labelle’s voice. The guitar solo reminds me of Slash, Notto shreds here. I think the lyrics capture the existential angst we all feel, “I’m California dreamin’, and it’s tearing us apart, it’s paranoia season, it’s in our minds and our hearts.” Amen, brother. And besides, who isn’t dreaming of travel right now… I’d love to jump in my car with the top down (if I had a convertible), crank up this tune and tear across a desert only to end up in California. While Dirty Honey get compared to Aerosmith, I get a real GnR vibe from these guys. It might be the trippy video they’ve released for the song which reminded me of GnR’s video for “Estranged.” Well, if “Estranged” had been made by happy, well adjusted people. As the band rocks out, we follow a fetching young woman through a magical doorway…

While this song didn’t grab me as hard as “Dirty 7s” or some of the other stuff on their EP, it did grab me. The more I listened to this the more I like it. I mean, who doesn’t love good ol’ guitar rock n roll. The album doesn’t come out until April, so we’ll have to just crank this tune as part of our B&V spring soundtrack until then. I would also tell you they’ve recently released a pretty faithful version of Aerosmith’s “Last Child” that is also quite tasty! I urge you all to check this tune out and turn it up!!

Happy St Patrick’s Day and stay safe out there! Rawk on!

Tom Petty: New Single The Sublime “You Saw Me Coming” From The “Upcoming” ‘Finding Wildflowers’

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As long time readers of B&V know, I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. I’m not sure any of his true fans are really over his sudden, tragic passing (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Heaven knows, I’m not over it. And, as many of you know, all of us down here at B&V were anxiously awaiting for the Petty camp, his daughter and the band, to release the expanded version of Wildflowers, (Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited). The box set, for a time anyway, became my “White Whale” as it seemed like I’d never get my hands on it…

As early as its November 1994 release, Petty had made comments in the press that he had originally intended Wildflowers to be a double album. His first marriage was crumbling and there had been conflict between Petty and some of the members of the band (notably drummer Stan Lynch but also bassist Howie Epstein) over Petty’s decision to “go solo” in recording Full Moon Fever. All of that turmoil led to a creative tsunami for Petty. He holed up in a studio with producer Rick Rubin and guitarist Mike Campbell with Benmont Tench close by and recorded what could arguably be called his greatest album. From quiet acoustic tracks like the title track to explosive rockers like “You Wreck Me” it covers the Petty waterfront. It is probably my favorite Petty album in a career chock full of great albums.

As the Heartbreakers neared their 40th anniversary, Petty began to talk more and more about how he wanted to revisit and release all the material from Wildflowers in its original double-LP configuration. I heard an interview during the 40th anniversary tour, which I was lucky enough to see (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017), and he mentioned it even then. I could feel it, the expanded Wildflowers was getting close to becoming a reality! At the time the only track I had from those sessions, outside the original LP, was a bootleg version of “Girl On L.S.D.” It’s a novelty song, much like “Boy Named Sue,” but it always makes me smile. It’s lighthearted and funny. I wanted an official copy of that and I wanted whatever other brilliant songs he’d left in the can… and then, sadly Tom left us.

As seems now typical with rock stars, I don’t think he had his estate properly buttoned up. After his first marriage ended he remarried… the second wife thing often causes conflict on these music estates. His daughter got into the fray as well and thus the box set for Wildflowers was again pushed out… so close, so out of reach. Finally, in 2019, all of the legal issues were settled. Petty’s daughter Adria was at the helm of his catalog and along with a great box set, American Treasure (LP Review: Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’ – A Different Path Through a Brilliant Career) it appeared Wildflowers – All The Rest was set to finally see the light of day. Singles began to trickle out and I was delighted. I placed my order for the big 4-CD package and sat waiting by the mailbox staring at the postman like he was bringing me a birthday card from my grandmother, which was usually stuffed with currency. The due date for my box came and went and nothing… It turns out the US Postal Service delivered my box to the wrong address and the scoundrels who got it, kept it. I can’t begrudge them too much, it’s rock n roll. The second order came in scratched… completely unplayable. I should have gone with vinyl but for some reason I wanted this on CD… maybe because I’d bought the original on CD…

Eventually, I finally got a workable copy of the album and really loved it. I was surprised that the All The Rest disc was a mere 10 songs. When I realized the studio version of “Girl On L.S.D.” was not on the album I was distraught all over again. There was a fine live version where Petty chuckles as he introduces the song, but it wasn’t that studio version I was hoping for. There were a couple of other tracks I was familiar with, notably “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” that were also missing. It was then that I found out that there was a 5-CD version of All The Rest. Despondent, I couldn’t help but think, “Fuck, I can’t win for losing here.” The 5-CD thing was an extra $100 and I couldn’t help but think, Tom Petty who once threatened to name an album ‘$8.98’ when his record company threatened to increase the LP price a dollar to $9.98 would not have stood for this douche fuckery. I had heard he’d wanted to make the bonus material available for purchase without having to re-buy the original, but that might just be rumor. Regardless, in the ‘Super Deluxe,’ 5-CD version of All The Rest the fifth disc, entitled Finding Wildflowers had 16 additional songs on it. And yes, for those of you keeping score, “Girl On L.S.D.” is on the fifth disc. So is “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” among others. I was so close, and yet I’d purchased the wrong version. I put the music in and let it soothe my rattled nerves over the experience. I really did love the disc of live tracks from All The Rest so I just turned that up loud.

This week, I’m slowly coming out of my Black Crowes (Review: The Black Crowes, ‘Shake Your Money Maker – 30th Anniversary’ – Revisiting Their Classic Debut) and Neil Young (Review: Neil Young, ‘Archives Vol. 2 (1972 – 1976)’ – An Epic Deep Dive Into The Ditch Trilogy And Beyond) immersive, addictive fog and discovered that the Petty camp has relented and is releasing the fifth disc as an album in its own right, Finding Wildflowers. It seemed at first to me to be a cash grab. But if its only $20 instead of the additional $100 the 5-CD version of All The Rest would have cost me, I figured, why argue with this? As part of this last bit of Wildflowers they’ve released a new song “You Saw Me Coming” and holy crap, after about 20 listens this afternoon, I felt compelled to write about this song immediately. It’s amazing.

I ran down and played this song for the Rock Chick and she looked over at me and said, “This song is amazing… how did they leave it off the original album?” I married well above my station folks, a truly brilliant woman. This song has an almost ethereal quality to it. The drums/bass drive the song forward. It’s not hard rocking, it’s not mellow… its just intense. There’s a guitar figure that Mike Campbell plays through out the song that bores into your ear and seemingly into your soul. “You saw me coming… then you watched me go…” Ben Tench’s piano insistently plays throughout the track. It’s a classic “good riddance” track. If you like Petty or you dug Wildflowers but did’t jump in on the box set, I urge you to check this track out. It comes with a beautiful video of landscapes – desert scenes, ocean scenes etc – but no images of Petty or the band. I’ll leave it here so you can take it in and hear the track:

It’s unclear to me why the label “alternative version” is slapped on each of the tracks on Finding Wildflowers as there are a handful of tracks that have never been released, but hey, who am I to quibble. The album comes out in early April but I hope you spend your beautiful early spring day with this tune cranked up.

Cheers!

Review: The Black Crowes, ‘Shake Your Money Maker – 30th Anniversary’ – Revisiting Their Classic Debut

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It’s no secret to folks who’ve read B&V before that most of our favorite rock bands here are strongly marinated in the blues. When I finally got into rock n roll in the late 70s/early 80s as a teenager, the bands I was into were the older bands – bands from the 60s and early 70s dominated my listening. By the time I got to college in the early 80s I was already a bit of a rock historian. I had a lot of great music to catch up on and most of that music had its roots in the blues. The Stones, my Alpha and Omega, started off as blues cover band if you boil it down. Hendrix was a blues master, it was his center. Whenever he was jamming in the studio, to warm up he’d play blues tunes. Cream, the Jeff Beck Group, and Zeppelin were all steeped in the blues. Even as late as their last album Zeppelin turned to the blues on “I’m Gonna Crawl.” These bands all rocked but they still did blues covers when they weren’t outright stealing stuff from the blues masters. Hell, Foghat even did Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Rather than listen to then current music, I was at the record store stocking up on Cream and Hendrix.

In the 80s when I really started seriously collecting albums, since my focus was backward, I missed out on a lot of new bands. While I was searching for used copies of Faces albums, hair metal took over. Somehow rock n roll’s deep connection to the blues was severed in the 80s while I was crawling through back catalogs. I guess it was inevitable. Zeppelin was copying the blues masters they loved and 80s rock bands tried to copy Zeppelin. Somewhere in there the printer ran out of blue ink. Don’t get me wrong, I love Motley Crue, the Cult and many of the bands that I missed in the 80s and I have gone back to devour those catalogs. It’s still rock n’ roll to me, but I do miss that bluesy/blues rock side of music. It didn’t help that I spent the late 80s in what I consider my exile years, like Dante expelled from Florence, living in northwestern Arkansas. It was the land that rock radio forgot. I was cut off from a lot of current music save for what I heard on, gads, MTV.

In February of 1990 after I’d repatriated myself to Kansas City, I remember driving home early one Saturday morning, I’d crashed on a friend’s couch after a night of drinking – don’t drink and drive folks, even I follow that rule. On the car radio some station played this great bluesy rock song that I immediately loved, “Jealous Again” by a new band, the Black Crowes. That riff hit my lower brain stem and I almost swerved off the road even though I was sober by that point. I hadn’t heard dirty blues rock music like that in a long time. This defied the late 80s heavy metal trends completely. The Black Crowes at the time were the Brothers Robinson, Chris on vocals/Rich on guitar with Steve Gorman on drums, Jeff Cease on guitar and Johnny Colt on bass. The Crowes faced the inevitable comparisons to the Stones or the Faces such was the nature of their “bloozy” music. I’d also heard the band themselves mention Aerosmith as an influence. Every band that comes along to play bluesy rock n roll now gets compared to past bands. Greta Van Fleet gets slagged for copying Zeppelin, Aerosmith was called “the poor man’s Stones,” and the Black Crowes got the same crap about the Stones/Faces. It wasn’t until I heard “Hard To Handle” a cover of an Otis Redding tune a few weeks later that I finally went out and bought the Black Crowes’ landmark debut album Shake Your Money Maker. I had this weird rule that I wouldn’t buy an album unless I heard at least two good tracks from it and often I waited to hear a third “good” song. Was I ever glad I purchased this one.

I knew immediately from the opening track, “Twice As Hard” that I was on this band’s wagon. Years later when I met the Rock Chick I found out that it was her favorite Crowes’ tune. The Rock Chick actually saw the Crowes on the tour for Shake Your Money Maker when they opened for Aerosmith and she has alway said she was more impressed with the Crowes than she was with Aerosmith that night… She was the Rock Chick long before she met me folks but I’m getting off topic here… Anyway there were so many great rock songs on this album – “Twice As Hard,” “Jealous Again,” and “Thick N Thin” just to name a few – but they did so much more. The acoustic-based ballad “She Talks To Angels” about a heroin addict lead singer Chris Robinson knew (B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin) was another huge favorite. You just didn’t hear that much acoustic guitar – outside of the Unplugged series (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs) – in late 80s/early 90s rock. Grunge had yet to grab me but the Crowes did. I loved, loved the song “Seeing Things.” It was pure blues and those heartbroken lyrics! Other than maybe Guns N Roses who came around a few years earlier, there was no one who rocked old-school like this. My friend and I used to say we were entering a new golden period or rock: GnR was our new Zeppelin, Soundgarden was our new Sabbath and the Crowes were going to be our new Stones.

I followed the Crowes obsessively after that. Their second album and second masterpiece, blew me away. The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion defied the “sophomore slump.” I will admit they lost me on Amorica but I was right back on the bandwagon on Three Snakes and a Charm. Due to friction in the band, mostly between the two Robinson brothers (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands) the Crowes split after the experimental sounding Lions. They’d largely grown out of the blues rock idiom they’d started with. They still rocked but they’d ventured into jam-band, Grateful Dead territory more and more over the years. I think a lot of people lost track of these guys but they did reconvene and put out two great rocking, rootsy albums, Warpaint and the double-disc Before the Frost…Until the Freeze new songs recorded live at Levon Helm’s barn. They also put out a number live records. I always loved the covers they did on those things. They’d gone from covering Humble Pie and and Otis Redding to Little Feat, the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Band which perfectly symbolized their musical evolution. Eventually that reunion crumbled for many of the same reasons they’d originally broken up.

Last year, which rung in the 30th anniversary of their landmark debut, the brothers Robinson began a detente of sorts. They began to communicate, as brothers not band members in an attempt to reconnect as humans. I applaud these guys for that. Feuding never got anybody anywhere… and I’m a guy who liked a good blood feud when I was younger… They were going to reunite the band only this time they were going to be the only original members. It was their intention to tour behind Shake Your Money Maker‘s 30th Anniversary. I think they even squeezed in a few acoustic shows, just the brothers, at the end of 2019 but then of course, Covid. While it was slightly delayed, yesterday the Black Crowes finally released the 30th Anniversary Edition of the debut and man, is it special. I’ve spent the last 36 hours doing nothing but drinking Templeton rye and cranking this album. If the Robinson brothers do manage to get this band back together and I certainly hope they do as I think of them as one of the most important rock bands around, this is a perfect way to re introduce themselves.

In the 30th Anniversary Edition you, naturally, have the original album in all its splendor. I have to admit I’ve been a little obsessed with the Black Crowes ever since reading about their attempted rapprochement in Classic Rock magazine. I’ve been listening to live albums like Wiser Time or just revisiting bonus tracks on the previously released albums. I have to admit, I found myself returning to the debut over and over. It is one of the all time great albums, let alone a great debut album (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). The question with these anniversary sets for me is, as always, is it worth it? I have to say, resoundingly, yes.

Disc 2 in the box is all bonus, b-side and un released stuff. They even throw in a few demos from an early incarnation of the band, Mr. Crowe’s Garden. The first bonus track is “Charming Mess,” which I reviewed a few weeks ago, Black Crowes: New Song “Charming Mess” From The 30th Anniversary ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ Expanded Edition. It’s got the Faces’ DNA all over it. I think I heard the Robinson brothers on SiriusXM the other day and I only got in on the tail end but I think they said they went to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the track before they released it to make sure he didn’t feel like he was being ripped off… Rod naturally gave his blessing. It’s a great tune and went from initially being slated as the first single to being left off the album. “Don’t Wake Me” is a rocking, slide guitar, southern rocky thing that I just love. “Waiting Guilty” is another great original that was left off the album, although I have heard a live version. Any of the three originals here could have been on the album in 1990 and they wouldn’t have taken a step backward. I’m sure bootleggers have all heard this stuff but it was all new to me.

There are also a few covers. I love the muscular version of “30 Days In the Hole” here. Chris Robinson’s vocal has all the swagger and joy de vie that Steve Marriott brought to the original. The other cover is probably my favorite, “Jealous Guy,” written and originally done by John Lennon but covered also by the Faces. The first note out of Chris Robinson’s mouth on “Jealous Guy” is the most ecstatic, rapturous moment in rock n roll that I’ve heard in a very long time. I actually yelled out loud, “God damn” which confused and concerned the Rock Chick… she thought something was wrong and came running. Actually, something was very right. There are interesting acoustic versions of “Jealous Again” and “She Talks To Angels.” There is a version of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle” done with horns that were omitted from the released version which draws a more direct line to the Stax, Redding original. The demos from Mr. Crowe’s Garden are interesting and frankly, “Front Porch Sermon” is a really great, rootsy song. It literally hints at the stuff they’d be doing 20 years later. All of this bonus stuff is fascinating and great rock n roll to listen to.

The final disc – and this usually where I feel the “is it worth it?” question gets answered – is a live disc from a December 1990 concert in their home town, Atlanta. Oh my god, they come out and grab you by the throat. Clearly tightened up by almost a year on the road and glad to be home the Crowes just rock out! The do the entire album during the course of the 14 tracks. “You’re Wrong” is a great track they never did in the studio. “Words You Throw Away” sounds more like a bridge from one song to the next, a little like Springsteen used to do “Drive All Night” in the middle of “Backstreets.” I love the muscular version of the Beatles’ “Get Back.” Listening to this live disc makes me envy the Rock Chick seeing these guys back then. This last disc is truly the cherry on the sundae here, making this 30th Anniversary edition well worth the price tag. It’s a great concert document of a very raucous and special time for the Crowes.

I hope that this Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary Edition is a reintroduction for the Black Crowes rather than a merely retrospective project. I would love to see these guys put a band together, write some blistering new rock songs and put an album out. If I squint I can imagine a world where I get to leave the attic and go to a concert and hear these guys play this album in its entirety. How fun to see the Black Crowes play this album with the Rock Chick who saw them on the original tour…

Cheers! Turn this one up loud… and please consider the rye, optional.

Sequel: Pleased To Meet You 2 – Our Epic List of Debut Solo Albums, “Let Me Re-introduce Myself”

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As long time readers know, a few weeks ago I posted about our B&V favorite debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. As I was compiling the list of all the great debut albums out there, well, the list began to get a little unwieldy. I was somewhere around 80 albums when I realized I needed to put some rules around the thing to thin it down to something manageable. How I settled on 40 albums and not 50, I’m unclear about. One of the first rules I laid out for myself was to exclude any solo debuts. If a singer or guitar player had been in a band, and was thus an established artist, it seemed like cheating to include them on the debut list. When Ozzy went solo and recorded Blizzard of Ozz he had already established himself as the Prince of “fucking Darkness” (his words, not mine) through his work with Black Sabbath. It seemed unfair to compare that album with say, R.E.M.’s Murmur. When Michael Stipe and company were recording that album they were a bunch of pimply faced kids and certainly no competition for the Dark Lord. 

The Rock Chick was the first person – since she’s always the first person to see what I write, despite her life long ban from reading B&V due to her unfair grammatical criticism, to cry foul on the rule barring solo debuts from the list. In her view a debut is a debut. As I sat staring out at the frozen tundra that is Kansas City in February watching dry, powdery snow flutter through the sky like some giant human had shaken my city like a snow globe, my thoughts as always turned to rock n roll. I had to admit the Rock Chick’s argument was persistently tugging at the edge of my mind. I had excluded a lot of really great solo debut albums from the list. Since the high temperatures this last week were in the single digits with -15 degree wind chills, I had a lot of time on my hands. I was already hiding in my attic from Covid… now bitter cold has me pinned in my attic as well. 

Going solo can be a dicey proposition. In the late 60s and early 70s audiences often struggled with the whole concept of doing a solo record. You were either in a band or you were on your own and apparently never the twain shall meet. If you did your own album it meant you were leaving the band. When Paul McCartney put out McCartney, his homespun, lo-fi debut it was considered the announcement that the Beatles were over… which perhaps contributed to the critical backlash at the time. It was Rod Stewart who was the first artist to juggle the whole solo vs band career when he was a member of the Faces. He’d do a Faces album and then six months later he’d do a solo record. I think his solo stuff ended up overshadowing one of the world’s greatest bands, the Faces, and that’s a shame. People thought the Faces were just his back up band, which utterly rankled the other guys, especially Ronnie Lane. Rod was the first to try the split career but based on the fact his solo albums sold so much better I can’t say it was a screaming success. There’s always the constant allegations that you’re saving your best stuff for the solo albums. 

Rod’s career does underscore the fact that chemistry matters. When an artist is in a band its a collective. There’s a give and take. The guys in the band interpret what you’ve written. When you go solo you’re captain of the ship. Where as in a band some of your worst instincts as an artist may be curbed by the members of the band when you go solo there’s no one to say, maybe you shouldn’t have a spoken-word interlude in the middle of a rock song, Mick. I think Lennon always made McCartney tougher and McCartney always made Lennon not softer but perhaps more melodic, less caustic. When you go solo you’re putting your reputation on the line. You’ve established a brand and going solo can really tarnish your reputation. I think about Sting in this realm. We all loved Sting until Dream of the Blue Turtles came out. Looking back it wasn’t that awful of an album but that jazz-lite stuff induced a lot “what the hell is this shit?” moments. His solo career has been largely a disappointment for a lot of people. If I never hear “Love Is The Seventh Wave,” it’ll be too soon. 

Sometimes though, the risk of going solo is worth it. In many cases the artists on this list were kicked out of their bands or the bands broke up. A solo project was thus inevitable. I remember Mick Jagger, when asked in the 80s whether he’d ever do a solo record, saying something about doing a solo album when he had enough material that the band thought was “too stupid” to record. Who knew he was actually telling the truth there. Some of the artists on my list below had great solo careers, some only had this one great debut album. This is in no means a commentary about the solo careers of these artists it’s merely about their debut album as a solo artist. For example, the aforementioned Mick Jagger’s solo debut was, by any stretch of the imagination bad, he has put out a few great records. 

For the purposes of this list, which is randomly laid out, I’ll list it like this: Solo Artist Name (Former Band Name), Debut Album Title. If there’s a great debut solo LP you’re into, let me know what that is and I’ll check it out. I hope there are a few gems on this list of 25 that if you haven’t come across them, you’ll discover something you like. 

  1. Gregg Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Laid Back – I just repurchased this one on vinyl! Frustrated with inter-band conflict, especially with Dickey Betts, Allman recorded this solo gem while also recording Brothers And Sisters with the band. More soulful and less guitar-centric, Allman even redid “Midnight Rider” and turned it on its head and into a classic on its own right. 
  2. Jeff Beck (The Jeff Beck Group), Blow By Blow – Tired of squabbling with lead singers, Beck pulled in George Martin of Beatles fame to produce and put out one of the only instrumental albums outside of jazz that I can listen to. There is such a rich and beautiful tone Jeff pulls out of his instrument. This is a fascinating listen. 
  3. Robbie Robertson (The Band), Robbie Robertson – It had been almost a decade since the Band had broken up and Richard Manuel had recently committed suicide when Robbie finally put out his solo debut. He had a lot of help from producer Daniel Lanois, U2, Peter Gabriel, and members of the Bodeans but the songwriting on this record is all Robertson. “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” is my favorite song here. “Testimony” is an epic statement of purpose. 
  4. Jack White (The White Stripes), Blunderbuss – Listening to the White Stripes’ greatest hits LP makes me miss that band and Meg White even more (Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career) but Jack White really comes through on his solo debut. He’s one of rock’s most important artists. 
  5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles), McCartney – Depressed as the Beatles imploded McCartney retreated to his home and invented DIY, indie rock. I love this little lo-fi gem. It’s heavy on instrumental jams but as usual with McCartney the melodies bore into my brain. He just released his second sequel to this one, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem, the perfect lockdown project. 
  6. Joe Walsh (The James Gang), Barnstorm – I know that Barnstorm was considered an actual band but I think of this as Joe’s solo debut anyway. I left Dio’s Holy Diver off the list because I actually did consider them a band not a solo artist so perhaps I’m bending the rules a bit. I had to include this album as the song “Turn To Stone” which is the greatest riff in the history of guitar makes it debut. It’s a surprisingly laid back affair which makes his joining the Eagles makes sense.
  7. Rod Stewart (The Jeff Beck Group), The Rod Stewart Album – With that title it’s pretty easy to see this as Rod introducing himself to the world post-Jeff Beck Group, pre-Faces. With his sidekick Ronnie Wood on guitar this album has always seemed like an interview for the job as Faces lead singer. He does some great interpretations on covers (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Street Fighting Man”) but the originals are just fantastic. The passionate “Blind Prayer” has always been a personal favorite. I think he should have stuck to the original title, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down.
  8. George Harrison (The Beatles), All Things Must Pass – The single greatest Beatles’ solo album. Harrison had been largely stifled as a songwriter in the Beatles – they typically gave him only 2 songs per album (if that) and he had a huge backlog of great material as evidenced by the original 3-vinyl LP package. (Yes, I’m ignoring his Wonderwall project). 
  9. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Blizzard of Ozz – Everybody thought Ozzy was finished after Sabbath fired him for being out of control on booze and drugs. Along came Randy Rhoads and the rest was history (Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?). 
  10. John Lennon (The Beatles), Plastic Ono Band – I tend to ignore those 2 awful records he did prior to this with Yoko. For me this is his first solo album. Fresh from primal scream therapy Lennon delivered this, his most raw, brutally honest album. “Mother” sears itself into your memory. He’s exercising every demon in his soul here. Riveting listen. 
  11. Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith), Eric Clapton – After playing in virtually every British blues-rock band ever, Clapton finally put his solo debut LP out. He recorded this with members of Delaney and Bonnie who he’d met when they opened for Blind Faith on their tour. “Bottle of Red Wine” is a personal fav. 
  12. Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Stephen Stills – Stills, alongside Neil Young, had established himself as a guitar hero but surprisingly he leaves the solo’ing to his guest stars – Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix on his last studio recording. This is just a great, great eclectic record. The rest of his solo career was up and down but he was on the money here. 
  13. Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), Paul Simon – Surprisingly, I don’t think this little gem of an album sold that well. “Mother And Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” hint at his world music influences that we’d eventually see blossom on Graceland. 
  14. Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Songs For Beginners – I considered David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name but left it out as I feared it sounded like too much of a hippy clambake for most people. Nash is probably my least favorite songwriter of the CSNY family (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums), but I love this album. Its informed largely by his recent searing heartbreak from his split with girlfriend Joni Mitchell which is what makes this one so poignant to me. As I’ve often admitted, I’m a sucker for recent searing heartbreak. Well, I was until I met the Rock Chick… but those records are sealed. 
  15. David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Eat ‘Em And Smile – Kicked out of Van Halen for making a solo EP and wanting to make a movie, Roth’s split with Eddie is probably one of rock’s ugliest divorces. He recruited some top notch musicians – Billy Sheehan on bass and most notably Steve Vai on guitar wizardry – and actually treated this like a band project. After this it looked like Roth would be the one with the long, more successful career, not his former band. Alas, on his next record his megalomania took over and he started indulging his worst instincts. 
  16. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – I love this album. Every man of a certain age has/had a crush on Stevie. Sure she had help from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley but this is a uniquely Stevie album. This thing was so big I’m still surprised she returned to Fleetwood Mac. The disappointing sales figures for Tusk is what drove her to record solo, not the break up with Buckingham which I always found fascinating. 
  17. Gram Parsons, (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers), G.P. – Gram never met a band he couldn’t quit. He bounced from band to band in an almost Clapton-esque fashion. This, his final LP before his death is a country-rock masterpiece. The Eagles were clearly listening…
  18. Peter Frampton (Humble Pie), Winds of Change – When compared to Humble Pie’s boogie rock classic Smokin’, which was their first album without Frampton and this largely acoustic album it’s easy to see that Peter was moving in a different direction than the band. I don’t know why his pre-Frampton Comes Alive studio albums aren’t more popular. This is a really engrossing listen. 
  19. Liam Gallagher (Oasis, Beady Eye), As You Were – When Liam’s band Beady Eye, which was basically a Noel-less Oasis, imploded I remember reading Noel saying, “Liam needs to put out a solo album, put his own name on something, put it all out there.” I guess Liam was listening. I described this album as a pleasant surprise from an unpleasant man. As much as I dislike Liam, I love his solo stuff, LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man
  20. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Pictures At 11 – We were all still pretty raw that John Bonham had passed and Led Zeppelin had broken up. I remember guys in my high school were renting a bus to see them in Chicago when the news of Bonham’s death broke. This was such a great album and it helped us all move on. Phil Collins showed up to play drums and help Plant figure out how to produce an album. Plant seems embarrassed by his early albums but this is a classic. “Burning Down One Side” is an absolutely fantastic track. 
  21. Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Tigerlilly – I hated the 10,000 Maniacs, they never made any sense to me. But this solo debut from Natalie Merchant was a stunner. A friend of mine described the guitar work on this record as “smokey.” I even saw her on the ensuing tour for this record. This, for me, is the lone gem in her solo catalog. 
  22. Van Morrison (Them), Astral Weeks – Brilliant, poetic, transcendent, Celtic mysticism. One of the greatest albums of all time. 
  23. Mike Ness (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – If you dig the “cow punk” of Social Distortion, you’ll love this record. The duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Misery Loves Company” is a classic. I remember texting the Rock Chick, who turned me onto Social D, “worlds collide, Springsteen/Ness together!” The whole record blows me away. 
  24. Iggy Pop (The Stooges), The Idiot – Iggy and Bowie on the loose in Europe recording Iggy’s classic first solo album. Some say Bowie’s influence is too pronounced here but that’s just crazy talk. Iggy comes through on classics like “China Girl” and “The Dum Dum Boys.” 
  25. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo record Keith never wanted to make. Tired of trying to get Mick interested in the Stones again, Keith put together a great band with Steve Jordan (drums) and Waddy Watchel (guitar) and put out a classic (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). 

Stay safe but more importantly stay warm if its cold where you are. I don’t think the son is going to shine again here until late next week. I’ll be gritting my teeth to get through it… Hopefully some of this classic rock and roll will help keep you warm! 

Cheers! 

Black Crowes: New Song “Charming Mess” From The 30th Anniversary ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ Expanded Edition

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“Singing, what a charming little mess…” – The Black Crowes, “Charming Mess”

It was last summer, in the early days of the lockdown that my boredom overcame my sense of security and I left the safety of my attic, where’d I’d been living like Boo Radley for months, to venture down to the Plaza area of Kansas City. I must have been squinting up at the sun, high in the sky as I left the dark and shadowy confines of the place I’m living these days. I looked like I was being drug from my spider hole, like a deposed despot. I’m not sure I’d been outside in awhile. It’s a wonder we don’t all have agoraphobia. My boredom had peaked during those mid summer days because I’d done all the binge watching I could stand. Once you finish ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ it’s all downhill from there. The stack of books I keep in my office had run out. I had decided to leave my Covid-bubble and head down to the bookstore to refresh the reading pile. While I was looking for a book to read, I was also hopeful to find a decent rock n roll magazine. Rolling Stone just doesn’t captivate me any more, which is too bad as I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber since I was in college.

Much to my surprise, there were quite a few magazines on the rack devoted to music… a lot devoted to only rock n roll music if I’m being specific. As I stood in the mostly deserted book store I couldn’t help but think, I need to get out more. There were copies of a magazine I was aware of, Mojo, that I think comes out of England. As I perused further through the plethora of magazines with my latex gloves on (of course), I found something called Uncut. I had never heard of that one but it came with a sampler CD so I was in. Uncut had dozens of music reviews. The magazine that I was really drawn to however, was called Classic Rock. I was like, hell yes, you’re calling my name. I purchased the issue of Classic Rock with Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes on the cover. I never thought I’d see those guys names mentioned in the same sentence, let alone in a picture together, such was the hostility of their last break up (well, who am I kidding, all of their breakups have been volatile). I had highlighted them on my cautionary post about forming a band with your sibling(s), The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands.

I had heard in 2019 that the brothers Robinson had gotten back together in a tentative way to test the waters on a reunion. They even did a few acoustic shows, just the two of them. The article was really interesting. It talked about how the brothers were attempting to rebuild their relationship as people vs trying to jump right into a band situation. They’d agreed to tentatively try to work together after they had begun to get along. Well, if not get along, maybe they’d just gotten to a place where they weren’t fighting. They had decided that any future configuration of the Black Crowes would have to be, beyond themselves, no one who had been involved in the band prior. The second guitar and bass players in the Black Crowes have been a bit of a revolving door. Original drummer Steve Gorman has been in and out and he wrote a rather scathing autobiography about the band so I doubt he’s gonna get that reunion invite. There was an interesting quote from Rich Robinson, that when the brothers were united, nothing could stop them. I think what drove this Robinson family reunion – other than human decency – was the looming 30th anniversary of their landmark debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. I had sort of lost track of the Crowes, although I have their two last LPs, and they’re both great additions to their catalog – Warpaint and Before the Frost…Until The Freeze. The Crowes changed their style and were more of a jam band toward the end but you wouldn’t know it listening to those two LPs. 

I was excited to read all of this as I’ve always loved the Black Crowes and have considered them an important rock band since 1990. I remember sitting in a tavern with a friend and we declared that the 90s were going to be a new golden era of rock n roll. We felt that Soundgarden were the new Black Sabbath, Guns N Roses were the new Zeppelin and finally, the Black Crowes were our new Stones. There may have been drink involved in that train of thought but I think you get my drift. Of course within months grunge had taken over the world and everything took a different direction. Sure, grunge still signaled a golden age for rock, but not like my drunken friend and I were thinking. Reading that the Crowes were trying to get it back together gave me reason to celebrate. Of course, all of that got put on hold because of the dreaded virus. Despite that setback I’d been keeping an eye out for new Crowes music. I was even excited enough to buy their Christmas single, “Back Door Santa” (Single: Black Crowes, ‘Back Door Santa’ – Finally, A Xmas Song I Can Get Behind). 

The 30th Anniversary box of Shake Your Money Maker has finally been announced for release in mid February. It looks like we’ll have a newly remastered version of the debut LP, a disc with some outtakes and unreleased covers from the recording session and a full concert from December of 1990 on their home turf in Atlanta. The Crowes were kicked off their opening slot for ZZ Top back in ’90 when they criticized ZZ for allowing their songs to be used in beer commercials, so I’m guessing this concert was after that debacle. Looking at the track list it appears that this will be a lot like some of the box sets that came out last year where the live stuff is the real draw. The Black Crowes look like they’re following the pattern, much like U2’s Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’ or Lou Reed’s Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’ recent box sets have followed in commemorating an important album. I will say, there are a couple of covers that I am looking forward to on this box. The Crowes do a version of Humble Pie’s “30 Days In the Hole” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” so famously covered by Crowes’ influence the Faces. They certainly had a good nose for cover songs. 

Ahead of the box they’ve released one of those vault tracks that were meant for Shake Your Money Maker but for whatever reason didn’t make the cut, a song called “Charming Mess.” And as often happens when I hear tracks that are originally left off an album, I’m left to wonder out loud, how did this great rock song not make the cut? Upon some investigation, I found out that “Charming Mess” was originally intended to be the first single from the album. From first single to off the album… sounds like my professional career. “Charming Mess” is just a great, wide open rocker from the Crowes. It would have fit right in on the debut. I’ll admit, right off, that you can certainly hear the influences of the Faces (Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on guitar, Kenny Jones on drums, Ian McLagan on keys, and Ronnie Lane on bass who we’re on record as loving The Faces – Had Me a Real Good Time). When I first heard the riff I had to look up to see if this was a cover of the Faces’ “Stay With Me.” While it’s heavily influenced by the Faces, this still the Black Crowes. It’s a rollicking, riffing great tune and believe me when I say it’s fun to play extremely loud. The chorus has that sing-along quality and this would be great to  hear in an arena. The Crowes suffered from a lot of comparisons to the Stones when they first came out – not unlike Greta Van Fleet & Led Zeppelin – maybe they chose to leave this track off the album to avoid further comparisons to their influences. I like their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” but I can’t help but think this song would have been a hit and it been included instead. 

Let’s hope this is a great opening salvo to another great boxset, retrospective look at a classic album. I have heard one of the covers on the box, “Jealous Guy” and it doesn’t disappoint either. In the end I hope the Robinson brothers have found a way to put their past acrimony behind them. And really, I think we all hope this will bring a tour – remember concerts? – and maybe, if we all say our prayers, some new music from one of the most important rock bands to emerge from the 1990s. 

Cheers! Stay safe out there! 

 

Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’

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“I had a dream.”

I was surprised to find out only last week that for the first time since I started working for my corporate masters, the entire company was given MLK Day off as a day of vacation and remembrance to honor a truly great man. It was a long time coming but I consider it progress. I was doubly surprised when I saw that Roger Waters had released a version of he and his band playing a socially distanced version of an old Pink Floyd song, “The Gunner’s Dream.” He released the black and white video of the song in honor of Dr. King and the holiday but also in honor of a Russian Colonel, Stanislav Petrov. Petrov was in the Russian nuclear defense early detection program. In 1982 the early nuclear detection system in Russia indicated, falsely, that the U.S. had launched anywhere from one to several nuclear missiles toward Russia. Colonel Petrov realized it was a false alarm and prevented a Russian retaliatory strike which would have likely started WW III…by mistake. One might say the Colonel saved the world that day.  I don’t normally comment on YouTube videos here at B&V, but in this particular instance, “The Gunner’s Dream” happens to be one of my all time favorite Pink Floyd songs and I believe it merits comment. Hearing it again, freshly done, does take me back…

If you were listening to rock and roll in the 70s there was a virtual smorgasbord of styles and rock bands to choose from. Fads came and went but there were only two bands whose names were whispered with an almost Holy, quiet reverence: Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. These bands were seemingly immune from the churn of fads and fashion. They were simply put, the coolest bands out there. Those two bands had to have made a fortune on selling black-light posters, let alone for their music. By the end of the 70s Led Zeppelin had tragically lost their drummer and sadly, disbanded. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, released their magnum opus, The Wall in November of 1979. That album was huge. Everyone I know loved that record. It was only the second double-LP I ever purchased. You couldn’t claim to be a rock n roll fan and not own The Wall. We listened to that rock opera the way earlier generations listened to The Beatles (aka The White Album) looking for clues…”You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.” The album told the story of a rock star, the fictional Pink (based loosely on the lives of Syd Barrett and bassist/lyricist Roger Waters). Pink loses his father in the war, has a smothering mother, awful teachers but becomes a rock star only to lose his mind and build a metaphoric wall around himself. I know that’s a lot to take on, but it was the 70s, man, it just made sense. 

I was in my freshman year of college by the time Pink Floyd managed to release their next LP, The Final Cut in April of 1983. It came out during the one semester I spent away from my beloved Kansas State University. I was attending the University of Kansas – which I did for only one semester, which I refer to as “the dark semester” – when The Final Cut was released. While I wasn’t crazy about the first single, “Your Possible Past” I bought the album the day it came out. If David Gilmour was playing guitar I figured, sign me up, it’s Pink Floyd. There was bound to be a bit of a letdown after The Wall, and I was initially disappointed with The Final Cut. Bad things were happening in my life at KU and this was just another blow. I remember this guy from Chicago who lived in my friend Doug’s dorm saying, “this is the album where Roger Waters finally got to say everything he’s always wanted to say.” I’m not sure about that but the album did grow on me. 

The Final Cut had a difficult birth. Originally they had a bunch of songs left over from the sessions for The Wall that they were going to use for the film adaption of the album. They were also going to cut a few new songs for it as well. Then conservative Maggie Thatcher became Prime Minister and promptly went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Waters began to write protest music about the Falkland Islands war and the conservative government causing a lot of conflict within the band, especially Gilmour. It wasn’t about the politics, Gilmour just didn’t think the material was very good. Waters had already forced out original member/keyboardist Rick Wright after The Wall. It was clear his controlling ways were getting the best of him. The album was subtitled, “The Requiem For The Post War Dream by Roger Waters.” It felt to me like a Waters’ solo album – he sang almost every song – with Pink Floyd’s name on it to sell the thing. The story was, indeed, disjointed. The album is dedicated to Roger’s father who was lost in WW II and I think that story feeds some of the narrative. 

All of that said, there were moments on this album where that old Pink Floyd magic came through. There were a number of songs I really connected with almost immediately. The title track, which sounds like the sequel to The Wall, was an early favorite. I liked the final song, “Two Suns In the Sunset,” which Waters ended with at his performance of The Wall at the Berlin Wall (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990). There were two songs on side one that I felt were the heart of the album. It starts with “The Hero’s Return” that tells the story of a war veteran whose returned from the war and became a teacher. The former soldier clearly has PTSD and holds a memory that he can’t even talk with his wife about, “Sweetheart, sweetheart, are you fast asleep? Good, that’s the only time I can really speak to you.” He goes on to describe the memory that “is too painful to withstand the light of day.” His plane had been hit and the gunner fell to his death…he sings at the end of the song, “the memory smolders on of the gunner’s dying words on the intercom.” In my head I had this thought of the gunner falling through space, but still on the intercom and the narrator from the “The Hero’s Return” listens to what he has to say all the way down… all of that is prelude to what I think is one of Pink Floyd’s greatest songs, “The Gunner’s Dream.”  

“The Gunner’s Dream” is simply what the gunner says as he’s falling to his death. The opening stanza gives me goosebumps…”Falling down, through the clouds… memories come rushing up to meet me now.” As the Gunner falls to his death, in that “space between the heavens and the corner of some foreign field,” he has a dream that he shares over the intercom. He imagines his mother and maybe a brother at his funeral service. Then he simply lays out a beautiful dream for everyone: “A place to stay, enough to eat, somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street.” It’s a world where no one is hungry, everyone has a home and war is a memory. In the Gunner’s dream no one is afraid to speak or scared to be free any more. “No one ever disappears, you never hear the standard issue (boot) kicking in your door.” A world where there isn’t authoritarianism or militarism. It’s a beautiful thought for this old hippy wannabe. It’s a perfect song for these times…”and no one kills the children any more.” 

If you haven’t checked out this performance yet, I urge you to do so. It’s an obscure, fantastic Pink Floyd song and this is a great performance of the song. “We cannot just write off his final scene, Take heed of the dream, Take heed.” Waters starts at the piano and the rest of the band kicks in…here’s the link:

Cheers! 

 

 

Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack-Only Songs

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I was musing in last week’s post regarding a local/regional band (Sunset Sinners: Poised For Big 2021, New Music On The Way) about how much I miss live music. I don’t just miss going to arenas and stadiums for big time shows, I also miss going to the local pub and hearing someone busking in the corner for tips. I haven’t checked out a lot of the stuff that artists are doing online via Zoom during lockdown, alas. I hear Sammy Hagar and the Circle did some cool covers (Who, Zeppelin) last year and are going to release a compilation album of those tracks this year. While all that online stuff sounds cool, nothing replaces the experience of being in a hot, sweaty room with a crowd of people in front of the altar of rock n’ roll, the stage. I don’t care if its Arrowhead Stadium or a dive bar, there’s just something about looking the artist in the eyes (even if it is on a big screen) and seeing them perform the music I love that hits my lower brain stem. Like Pavlov’s dogs you hit a guitar chord and I drool.

I know that live music is a luxury for many of us. I realize there are a lot of people who are suffering – they miss having a job, paying rent or having enough money to feed their families. My heart goes out to those people and I do not mean to make light of anything in these pages, we’re merely here as a distraction from the grim reality of this point in history. That said, there are many other things that I have missed in this interminable lockdown other than concerts. I miss seeing friends of mine especially the ones who have dispersed far and wide. I miss being able to travel to see people. Hell, you could say I just miss travel for travel’s sake. Road trips in the car seem like a remote memory. I used to love to look out the passenger window as the Rock Chick drove at her preferred excessive speed and watch the landscape fly by… it felt like I was leaving the ground, although that may be the bourbon flask talking… Hell, I’ve only driven out to see my sainted mother two or three times since last March. I will say, I don’t miss shaking hands – I’m not a germaphobe, its just archaic. I certainly miss having things to do on weekends. Even I have a limit to how long I can sit on the couch and watch TV… well, at least that’s what I’m telling the Rock Chick. During my annual Dry January, boredom seems to affect me more than it has in the past few months.

One of the things that I seem to miss most these days is the time honored tradition of driving down to the local  mall, wandering through the crowd to the cineplex and buying tickets to a movie. Before they started doing the whole “reserved” seats thing we would have to leave really early to be there to dash through the darkened aisles to get to that perfect seat – right in the middle, 2/3 of the way back from the screen – the Rock Chick has very…exact… coordinates for these things. I will admit that ever since the local theaters stopped selling my favorite go-to candy Hot Tamales, movies have lost a little bit of their luster. I typically had consumed the entire box before the “coming attractions” started. I don’t know why they stopped selling those, but if you work at a theater and are reading this, please do something about that. I don’t like Milk Duds, they stick to my teeth but I digress.

I’ve been a fan of movies since I was a little kid. When you went to the theater and they dimmed the lights you would be transported (if the movie was any good) anywhere from a “long time ago in a galaxy far away” to the gritty streets of New York or Paris or London. The movies could take you into the future or backward into some mysterious past. Only books have had more of an effect on my imagination and enjoyment of the world than the movies. You could see cowboys, astronauts, Jedi, spies, heroes, villains, wizards… anything you can think of, or as a kid, anything you wished you could be. I love those epic stories – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, anything that has multiple chapters. No matter how good, bad or indifferent life was, two hours in a dark theater was just the break your brain needed from the humdrum of day to day existence. I could be moved from laughter to tears to being anxiously perched on the edge of my seat all in the course of 2 hours. Ah, to be entertained.

My father is a big James Bond fan. I can still remember him loading my mother, my brother and me into the car and heading out to the Twin Drive-In, out off I-35 near Olathe. My brother and I were in our pj’s, since we’d likely fall asleep during the second movie of the double feature. We’d find our spot and pull the speaker into the car and watch James Bond foil the designs of bad guys like Goldfinger or Dr. No. These movies had probably been out for years at the time, but my dad would always attend a James Bond double-feature, no matter when or where. Of course, later in life the Drive-In became a den of iniquity for me and whoever I could miraculously talk into being my date. We’d swing by the liquor store to get some beer, maybe take a pizza out there… those records are sealed. I will say one summer I went to the movie Tron at the drive-in four times and to this day I have no idea what happens in that movie? I’ve never seen it. 

As I got older, besides the whole misbehavior at the drive-in thing, I discovered an entire subculture at the midnight movies! None of that PG stuff at midnight… we all wanted that rated R stuff, the “good” stuff. The first time I talked my parents into letting me attend a midnight movie I saw Blazing Saddles. I laughed so hard I almost had to leave the theater. There were other great, subversive flicks like Kentucky Fried Movie. Who can forget “Catholic High School Girls In Trouble?” It was at the midnight movies that I faced the seminal experience of my generation in the Rite of Passage that all rock n roll stoners, er I mean high school kids go through when I saw the epic Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Critics may have hated that movie but for high school kids it was high art…those fantasy sequences, simply mind blowing back then! There may have been drink or herbal remedies involved in that whole Zeppelin situation. There was all manner of cool shit at the midnight movies from (believe it or not) porn to rock n roll to comedy. My love of Monty Python movies stems from those midnight flicks. I loved the midnight movies and all the skeevy folks who were there… like me and my friends.

One of my fondest midnight movie experiences was the animated flick, Heavy Metal. It was a bizarre, fantasy rock and roll cartoon. I think it might have been based on a graphic novel-magazine (comic book) of the same name. There was so much music in that cartoon. They had not one but two acts do different theme songs – Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” and Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride).” Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick and believe it or not Grand Funk Railroad all have songs in this movie… for reasons unclear, even Stevie Nicks shows up with a solo track. I guess that movie would qualify as a musical – a movie format that I loathe. Perhaps because it was rock n roll I didn’t realize what was happening. Either way, I’m not sure if it was that movie that gave me an appreciation of great music in movies or if that appreciation was always there. Regardless, over the years I’ve always kept my ears keenly attuned to hear any rock and roll that might be included in a movie. I don’t buy soundtracks as a general rule, but every now and then you hear a song by an artist that isn’t on an LP that you know you’ve gotta have. It’s easier now with streaming and MP3s… but as a youngster, the struggle was real. Who wants to buy a whole soundtrack album for one song? I remember hearing Jackson Browne singing “Somebody’s Baby” in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and thinking, that’s a great song, what album is that on? Alas, it wasn’t on any Jackson Browne album at the time…

As I pondered the snowy, grey and cold expanse of January, my least favorite month, I started to put together a list of tracks in my head that I’ve always liked that debuted on soundtrack. If I can’t go to a movie I’ll listen to music from movies… I’m not talking about a great song used well in a movie. Yes, Say Anything had a great use of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” but that song had already been out for a while on Gabriel’s So. Who can forget the fabulous use of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead, when a cheeseburger plays guitar? But that song had already been out on Women And Children First prior to that. What I’m talking about are songs that were either written specifically for the movie (ie, the two Heavy Metal tracks above) or were originally used and heard in a movie. If a track an artist contributes to a movie becomes a hit, yes the track usually ends up on a Greatest Hits or compilation package, but for purposes of this playlist I’m talking songs that debuted, if you will, in a movie. What I like about artists doing movie tracks is they often take chances. They’ll do an odd cover song. It’s a one-off track and they seem to add a little extra to those songs. Sometimes the band is just inspired or moved by the story in the movie and they dig deeper. There have been a ton of good rock tracks in the James Bond series – and I’m not talking that Shirley Bassey, jazzy/horns stuff like “Goldfinger” or “Diamonds Are Forever.” Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I can often be heard belting out either of those tunes from the shower… For years I thought she sang “The Man With The Golden Gun” too, but I guess that was Lulu. I do have several Bond tracks on my list because hey man, BourbonAndVinyl is licensed to kill… with rock and roll. 

As I compiled this list I also included songs from movies that the bands filmed, which seems like cheating. The Beatles did two movies. Elvis did an infinite number of flicks, curse you Colonel Tom. I included some tracks that would have been hits by Prince anyway but they were in his movies. Queen did a couple of soundtracks. I think I even have a track from Motley Crue’s The Dirt on here. If there are other great tracks that made their debut in a film, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist, BourbonAndVinyl.net Missing The Movies: Favorite Soundtrack Songs, linked below. Like all of our playlists this isn’t meant to be exhaustive… it’s just our favorites. It’s always best to hit “shuffle” or “random” when playing these playlists, in my humble opinion. I will admit, fully, I’m disappointed that many of my choices for this – about half a dozen – were not available on Spotify and so I omitted them here. 

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – Such a great opening song from the movie. I love this blues song. 
  2. Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – The King… I could have chosen dozens of songs or just done a list of his movie songs, but I limited myself to only two…this one had to be one of them. 
  3. U2, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet – From the obscure flick, The Million Dollar Hotel. One of their all time great deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary ). 
  4. The Beatles, “Help!” – They did two films, one in color, one in black and white. This was the color film. 
  5. Queen, “Princes of the Universe” – From the great Highlander film that I watched 1000 times in college. 
  6. Joe Walsh, “In the City” – Before he recorded it with the Eagles Joe did a solo version of this track and it played over the opening sequence of Warriors during a shot of a ferris wheel lighting up on Coney Island. 
  7. Sammy Hagar, “Heavy Metal” – This was on Standing Hampton but I will always insist I heard it in the Heavy Metal midnight movie. 
  8. Motley Crue, “The Dirt (Est 1981)” – Title track from the biopic (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). 
  9. David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – You have to get the original version from the soundtrack, not the reworked version on Let’s Dance.  
  10. Prince, “Kiss” – From Under the Cherry Moon, the less successful follow up to Purple Rain
  11. Stevie Nicks, “Free Fallin'” – Never heard of this movie but fitting that Nicks, an honorary member of the Heartbreakers, would cover it. 
  12. Metallica, “I Disappear” – Great track from one of the twenty or thirty Mission Impossible movies. 
  13. The Donnas, “Dancing With Myself” – The all girl group tackles the Billy Idol classic. 
  14. Bruce Springsteen, “Missing” – This version is from a movie Sean Penn directed, The Crossing Guard and it shares a title with a similar song from The Rising. This is a different and fabulous track. 
  15. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Philadelphia” – The Boss won an Oscar for this track. 
  16. Pearl Jam, “Love Reign O’er Me” – Like I said, a lot of great covers on this list. 
  17. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed” – One of his great late career tracks. It has one of my favorite Dylan lines, “don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passing through…”
  18. Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” – Covered by ZZ Top and Springsteen among many others, still owned by the King.
  19. Paul Simon, “One Trick Pony” – Title track from the movie. I could have chosen “Late In the Evening” but this song has always appealed to me. 
  20. Lenny Kravitz, “American Woman” – Another Austin Powers highlight that ended up on later, expanded versions of Lenny’s LP, 5.
  21. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – Paging Batman… 
  22. Prince, “When Doves Cry” – The first hit from Purple Rain
  23. Duran Duran, “A Time To A Kill” – Finally some Bond action here! 
  24. Paul McCartney, “No More Lonely Nights” – Awful movie, awful soundtrack but I like David Gilmour’s lead guitar on this song. 
  25. Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – From Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Covered by GnR, Warren Zevon and Clapton to name but a few. 
  26. Blondie, “Call Me” – From American Gigolo, a movie I’m proud to admit I snuck into whilst underage. 
  27. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Apple’s understated yet supple version… can’t beat a Beatles’ cover. 
  28. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – I know nothing about the movie this came from but what a great Soundgarden song. 
  29. Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby” – Shamelessly pop, but I’ve always loved this track about the underdog asking the pretty girl on a date… maybe to the drive-in to see Tron? 
  30. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze” – Technically this was released as a B-side before its inclusion on The Coneheads soundtrack but that inclusion is what got it noticed. 
  31. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From an Ahnold Schwarzenegger film. 
  32. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For The Devil” – From Interview With A Vampire… I never thought Tom Cruise made a convincing Lestat, for the record. 
  33. Jon Bon Jovi, “Blaze Of Glory” – I’m not a huge Bon Jovi fan but I always liked this solo track from a western. 
  34. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all….” 
  35. Eddie Vedder, “Hard Sun” – From a soundtrack LP the Rock Chick gave me for my birthday one year. 
  36. Bob Seger, “Understanding” – Another great Seger track. 
  37. The Donnas, “Roll On Down The Highway” – Appropriate cover for the remake of Herbie (the love bug). 
  38. Greta Van Fleet, “Always There” – A track I wrote about, Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”
  39. The Beatles, “Hard Day’s Night” – From the black and white movie… 
  40. David Bowie, “As The World Falls Down” – A weird little track from Labyrinth that I always liked. 
  41. Don Felder, “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride)” – Ah, take me back to those midnight movies… 
  42. Starcrawler, “Pet Semetary” – Ramones cover from my favorite new band! 
  43. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Live And Let Die” – The greatest of all Bond film theme songs. 
  44. Mick Jagger, “Old Habits Die Hard” – From the Alfie remake. 
  45. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – Cornell could literally everything. From acoustic to metal to this… Can’t believe he’s gone. 

That’s my list folks. Again, if you have any adds, hit me in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist.

It’s been a crazy start to 2021, but I’m hoping things mellow out and I see you all at concerts and record stores in the near future. Cheers! 

Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”

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While I could – on a very personal level – argue that 1994-1995 were my worst years, I believe I’m safe in saying that on a more universal level 2020 has been the worst year of all our lives. With all the general suck-iness and downright awful shit that has happened in 2020 I have to admit… and I don’t say this about many years… it’s been a great year for rock and roll. I looked back at some of my old “best of” lists for past years and more than once I fell into quoting Don Henley, “it was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll.” I certainly can’t say that about 2020. Unable to tour, many bands from AC/DC to Springsteen & the E Street Band put together new albums. If there wasn’t new music, many artists from Neil Young to the Stones put out great stuff from the archives. I’ve been so awash in new music (or vault stuff) that I’ve found myself writing twice a week this fall… which is probably better for me than the folks who actually read B&V… 😉

Lately, one vault release I find myself returning to most often is Tom Petty’s box set for his landmark album Wildflowers, entitled All The Rest, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited. It’s an easy box to get caught up in. While Wildflowers was a Petty “solo” album, just like all his other “solo” stuff, Petty’s “co-pilot” and main collaborator was guitarist Mike Campbell. Campbell can play pretty much any stringed instrument he chooses to pick up. I remember the first time I got to see Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert. It was June 26th of 1985 on the Southern Accents tour and man was I blown away. In retrospect the Confederate flag as a back drop was an awful mistake… I’m not sure we all understood the bad symbolic importance of that particularly odious flag. Also, Petty had those awful lamb chop sideburns. I heard his wife at the time offered to donate money at Live-Aid if he’d shave those off. I’m with her on that, I promised my sainted grandmother I’d never grow facial hair, but I digress. That hot June night in 1985 I was mesmerized by not only Petty but the tall, skinny guy with the curly hair standing to his right, Mike Campbell. When Campbell played the guitar solo on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” I almost swooned and I’m a pretty rugged guy or at least I like to think so.

That concert was the first time Campbell’s greatness really crystalized for me. I recognized him from, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, watching videos on MTV. I had most of Petty’s back catalog at the time and saw that Campbell co-wrote a lot of the best songs but I’m not sure I realized what a force of nature he was until actually seeing him “light the sky on fire” as my friend Stormin’ says. I quickly realized that night, all those great riffs (like on “You Got Lucky” a synth laden track where the guitar is the star) were courtesy of Mike Campbell. People talk about the great collaborators in rock and roll: Paul McCartney and John Lennon or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but people ought to speak more about Petty and Campbell. I don’t think you could find two people with more synergy than those two guys. I’m not sure Petty realized what a truly valuable collaborator Campbell was until Mike co wrote “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. It was a bigger hit than anything off of Southern Accents and at that point I think Petty decided to expand Campbell’s creative input. I’m just guessing on that. Rolling Stone magazine has Campbell at number 79 on their list of 100 best guitarists and frankly I think that’s low. Way low.

I wondered what would happen to Mike Campbell after the tragic death of Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Mike is truly one of the most talented, important guys in rock and roll and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s an “unsung” hero, he should be getting more attention than he does. It was with some surprise that I heard that Campbell joined Fleetwood Mac after they’d cut ties with Lindsey Buckingham (Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way). Campbell’s long association with Stevie Nicks probably made that a no brainer. I was excited to hear Campbell talk about playing some of that old Peter Green stuff from the Mac. Alas, it doesn’t look like this latest configuration of Fleetwood Mac will be doing any recording. Instead, Campbell has released a new album with a band he’s had as a side project for quite a while, the Dirty Knobs. I love the name. This isn’t Campbell’s first band on the side… The Rock Chick discovered and played me the great LP by the Blue Stingrays. It’s a surf rock gem, Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays, although Campbell and the rest of the Heartbreakers chose to remain anonymous on that album.

In the run up to the release of the Dirty Knobs’ new album, Wreckless Abandon, Campbell had said that this was a heavier, more raw-boned album than the Heartbreakers stuff. While that is mostly true, so alike were Campbell and Petty in their style and approach that it’s hard not to listen to this and hear an echo of the Heartbreakers. Well, the Heartbreakers without the keyboards, this is a guitar record. It would be easy to think of this as a recording of stuff that Campbell would turn over to Petty as a demo tape, not that there is any sort of an unfinished aspect to any of this great music. Even the Rock Chick said, upon playing this album, “Wow, he really sounds like Petty.” The Dirty Knobs, besides Campbell on vocals/guitar are guitarist Jason Sinay, drummer Matt Laug, and bassist Lance Morrison. One of them sings with Campbell on “Loaded Gun,” but I’m not sure who.

The album begins with the first single and title track, “Wreckless Abandon.” The track starts with a sitar and then the band kicks in with a great rocking groove. I will admit up-front that Campbell’s voice is a little thin and perhaps even reedy in a few places. I still like the vocals on this record. I know a lot of people get nervous when the guitar player steps up to the microphone. A lot of people head for the beer line when Keith Richards gets to the mic, but his tracks are always my favorites on Stones’ albums. I know that only I feel that way… well, me and my old roommate Drew. “Wreckless Abandon” is the kind of great rock and roll you just don’t hear anymore, sadly.

The band quickly goes country-rock for the duet with Chris Stapleton on “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” It’s a down home bunch of fun. It’s right back to the rock and roll for “Sugar.” “Sugar” is probably the heaviest song on this album. It reminds me a touch of “Honey Bee” by Petty. I love the lascivious chorus, “She’s got the sugar, oh yes she does…” As I tell the Rock Chick, I didn’t marry you because you could cook… ahem. “Southern Boy” is another great rocker. I’m considering adding it to our playlist about trains (Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”). “I Still Love You” is another heavy rocking track with some big riffs. I’ll say it again for emphasis, this is a guitar album!

Perhaps my favorite song on the record is, perhaps not surprisingly, the ballad “Irish Girl.” I love the acoustic guitar and harmonica. I had a girlfriend in college who told me one time that I was always drawn to ballads because I was a basically sad person but you can’t always trust your girlfriends. Certainly not that woman… Another personal favorite is a song that runs through my head every day at work – “Fuck That Guy.” Sure it’s funny and Campbell mostly speaks the lyrics vs singing them, but it’s just such an appropriate song for these days when civility has died. The world weary manner that Campbell says the title…”yeah fuck that guy” is priceless. “Don’t Knock The Boogie” is another spoken word track and is a bluesy tribute to John Lee Hooker. It’s really just an excuse to let Campbell riff and I’m ok with that. “Ana Lee” is another sweet, acoustic ballad. “Loaded” is another heavy rocker. This album is just loaded with guitar, as you would expect from Campbell.

If you’re like me and you’re missing Tom Petty, Wreckless Abandon may just scratch that itch. But more broadly than that, if you like guitar, riff-rock this is your album. There’s a lot of rock and roll but there’s also some blues, ballads and a little bit of country rock. It’s basically all the things Mike Campbell does well which turns out to be everything. Enjoy this one with the volume turned up to 11.

Cheers, and as always be safe out there folks. It’s a dark ride, take care of each other this holiday season, which for me is a season to be endured.