Artist Lookback: The Allman Brothers’ First Two Albums, 1969-1970

unnamed.jpg

*Photo of the Allman Brothers’ First Two LPs On, Yes, Vinyl, By Your Intrepid Blogger

I was perusing the social media this weekend and saw that it had been two years to the day since the tragic loss of Gregg Allman. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I naturally reflected on Gregg’s passing, which we posted about when we heard the sad news, Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over. I also found myself reflecting on the Allman Brothers Band, a truly titanic force in rock and roll. Gregg’s passing didn’t signal the end of the Allman Brothers, they had hung it up as a band a few years earlier when guitarist Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks left the band, but Gregg’s passing certainly signaled there’d be no reunions in the future. You can’t be the Allman Brothers Band without any Allmans… Sad thoughts, indeed.

As I thought about the Allman Brothers, I began to reflect on those seminal, early albums – their first two albums – and what an impact they’d had on me as a listener and fan. As you know, here at B&V we like to look back at certain phases of a bands career, be it The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first two records (Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs) or Muddy’s last three, Johnny Winter’s produced records (Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records). At B&V there are just certain eras in a band’s history that we feel must be highlighted, and early Allman Brothers is no exception. And to be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t broached the subject of the Allman Brothers in these pages prior to this. While I’m focused on the early albums today because I’m feeling a tad sentimental, I do need to make a mental note to return to look at their latter day albums, both with Dickey Betts and the one they recorded without him, Hittin’ The Note. Those latter day albums are the type of music that B&V was created to talk about.

I was slow getting to the Allman Brothers. In high school, I was always aware of them, it was hard not to be, with “Ramblin’ Man” in high rotation on the rock stations. “Midnight Rider” was also ever present. However, some of the earlier, great tunes like “Dreams” and “Whipping Post” were tracks that we only rarely heard on our local rock radio. I had a vague notion that the Allman Brothers had sort of “invented” Southern Rock. I had kind of relegated them to the same space as (gads) Molly Hatchet (who actually covered “Dreams” as “Dreams I’ll Never See”), the Marshall Tucker Band or the Outlaws. At the time, I was big into Lynyrd Skynyrd who took the Allman’s twin lead guitar model and turned it up to “11” with three lead guitar players. I figured back then that Skynyrd was the only thing I needed to know about Southern Rock. Oh, youth, wasted on the young. Truly there is so much more to the Allmans than Southern Rock. Not that I mind Southern Rock, Salina’s Sunset Sinners are slowly bringing that genre back to life out there on the Great Plains.

By the time I got to college, my roommate Drew turned me onto the Allman Brothers’ live album, At Fillmore East. That was when I first began to realize the Allman Brothers were so much more than a southern rock band. Yes, they were from Florida, but that’s the only thing about them that I’d describe as southern. They played an intense version of the blues, but they did so with a virtuoso jazz ethos. They could also be considered a jam band, but there seemed to be more structure to their music. And the blues don’t spring to mind when you think of jam bands… The Allman Brothers, to me, had more in common with John Coltrane than the Grateful Dead. The Allman Brothers were really unique in whatever genre you tried and pigeonhole them in. The version of “Whipping Post” on that live album stretched out to 22 minutes and covers an entire side of an album. It was the heaviest blues jam I’d ever heard.

Despite that education, it wasn’t until I’d actually moved to the south, sadly to Arkansas, that I discovered the Allman Brothers’ studio albums. Now, I’ll be the first to admit Arkansas isn’t really the “deep south.” It wasn’t like I was living in Alabama. However, Arkansas is south enough and close enough to Memphis to count. It was my good friend Joel, who first said, “Man, if you live in Arkansas you need to listen to the Band (Levon Helm is from Arkansas, just outside Memphis) and you have to have some Allman Brothers Band.” True words, indeed. It was in that lonely outpost of Ft. Smith, Arkansas that I first purchased The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. Despite that being a rough time for me, I still look at those albums very fondly. I remember reading that when Belushi and Aykroyd first got famous they drove across America listening to blues and to the Allman Brothers. I taped both albums (one on each side of the cassette) and wore it out driving up and down Highway 71, from Shreveport to Kansas City. This music still conjures the road for me.

As time passes, I’ve noticed that much of the focus on the early Allman’s catalog tends to fall on their masterpiece, the aforementioned live LP At Fillmore East. Don’t get me wrong, that album deserves all the attention it gets but I’ve started to feel like it has come to overshadow the Allman’s first two studio albums. I hear more about Eat a Peach, which is a hybrid live/studio album and contains Duane Allman’s last studio contributions to the band, than I hear about the first two albums. Naturally Brothers And Sisters also gets a lot of attention because of “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.” I will always hold those first two albums in high esteem because before all the line up changes and all the great guitarists who came and went, there was never a more pure expression of the Allman Brothers’ vision than that original line up: Duane Allman & Dickey Betts both on lead guitar, Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboards, Barry Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks & Jai Johanny Johanson on drums/congas/maracas/timbales. Heavy on the bottom with two drummers and heavy on top with two twin lead guitarists. If this band could have just stayed away from motorcycles (we lost both Duane Allman and Barry Oakley to  crashes), God knows what they could have accomplished. When they lost Duane, they really lost their leader. He was the alpha-dog…but I digress. Let’s look at those seminal, first two albums now. They were both combined into one CD, entitled Beginnings, that features a Tom Dowd remix for you CD fans out there.

The Allman Brothers Band – 1969

 After the implosion of their earlier group, The Hour Glass, Duane split California and became a session player at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios. Gregg was left behind to fulfill their contractual obligations. Inevitably Duane had formed a band, The Allman Joys with Betts, Oakley, Jaimoe and Butch. It wasn’t long before he realized they needed Gregg on vocals. One of the first tracks they rehearsed was the Muddy Waters’ classic, “Trouble No More.” In the Allman’s hands it was a bluesy/soulful classic. Pretty soon they were all living in the same house and had changed their name to the Allman Brothers Band as they felt a kindred, brotherly spirit between the members. They had wanted legendary producer Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd) to produce the album but he was unavailable. Adrian Barber ended up producing this stunning first LP. The album jumps right out of the speakers with a jazzy version of Spencer Davis’ “Don’t Want You No More” that bled quickly into one of Gregg’s originals, “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” It was an amazing one-two punch announcing there was a new blues-rock band in town. Gregg ended up writing all the originals here. His “Black Hearted Woman” is another classic “my baby done me wrong” track on side one. Side two is where the genius is. It has only three songs but all of them are classics: “Every Hungry Woman,” “Dreams,” and the now standard “Whipping Post.” The live version of “Whipping Post” might be the definitive but I love the original. The bedrock drumming of Jaimoe/Trucks with Gregg’s soulful organ weaving around it, laid the foundation for Duane and Dickey’s guitars to soar. And soar they did. There’s nothing quite like this debut. Gregg sang with a despair usually reserved for a man three times his age. This is essential listening.

 

Idlewild South, 1970

Many bands suffer from the “sophomore slump,” but not so for the Allman Brothers. I have always felt that Idlewild South was a big leap forward. Before JFK Airport in New York was named for the slain President in 1963, it was known as Idlewild Airport. The band had a little cabin out on a lake where they would go to drink, play and burn local herbs for medicinal purposes, outside the earshot of the local constables. There was so much traffic out there, they decided to name it “Idlewild South” after their home away from home’s airport. You can hear the leap forward when you drop the needle on that first track, “Revival.” It’s an acoustic riff that builds to a gospel type song with a lovely message, “love is everywhere.” It was the first Dickey Betts’ writing contribution in the ABB. He went on to write their classic, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” a long moody instrumental for this album. The development of this band on this second album can probably be traced to a number of things: Tom Dowd’s more sympathetic production, the band’s growing confidence as a live act, Dickey’s songwriting contributions, the introduction of acoustic elements to the music. This was truly the sound of a band expanding their musical palette. Gregg’s songwriting is still razor sharp. “Midnight Rider” was such an awesome song, Gregg even cut it again solo and it sounds completely different. The last two tracks on the album, both invoking home, are amongst my favorite Allman Brother tracks. “Please Call Home,” is a wonderful blues song that completely conjures the Delta. The album’s final track, “Leave My Blues At Home” is more of an up beat, jump-blues kind of number. It’s all about leaving your blues behind you… two sides of the same coin. Barry Oakley does his sole lead vocal with the band on the well done “Hoochie Coochie Man” one of my all time favorite blues covers. With Idlewild South the Allman Brothers proved they were only scratching the surface in terms of studio work.

The Allman Brothers Band went on, even after the tragic losses of Duane Allman and Barry Oakley, to a long and storied career. They continued to deliver great albums and tours through out the 70s. After breaking up the band reunited in the 90s and put out four of their best studio albums and numerous live albums. But there will always remain something special for me with these first two records done by the original line up. These albums are an essential part of anybody’s record collection.

“Think I’ll drink up a little more wine, to ease my worried mind. And walk down on the street, and leave my blues at home. All behind.” – “Leave My Blues At Home”

Advertisements

B&V Playlist: Rainy Day Songs (Or, All The Rain Songs)

 

IMG_1192

“Here comes the rain again…falling on my head like a memory.” – The Eurythmics

I think the weather has always had an effect on my mood. Perhaps too strong of an effect if I’m being completely honest. Years ago I had a job as a traveling salesman for this criminal outfit out of Chicago. I truly believe this company did most of their recruiting at local prisons. Theft on your record was considered an asset when selling their products. It was a tough gig. I drove around northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas traveling to every small town hospital in the vicinity. The company I worked for didn’t pay much and it’s a time in my life I consider a “low period.” I did learn a valuable lesson though – there’s no such thing as hot, naughty nurses. Quite the opposite in fact. I used to call on an older woman who ran the laundry at one of the local hospitals, she had a tall, teased bouffant that was circa 1950s and a thicker mustache than me. I never saw her out of her hospital uniform. I still wonder if she ever wore street clothes. She was as tough as nails and extremely perceptive. She once said to me, “I always know what the weather is like outside when you come in, I can read it in your mood.” I never sold her much and it was always discounted heavily. You couldn’t fool her.

It was certainly a pain in the ass doing that job when it was raining. I had a giant case in which I used to carry product samples and catalogs. I usually had stuff under each arm. Carrying an umbrella was difficult in that situation, fully laden if you will. I can still conjure the smell of the wet wool of my suits as I slogged through the pouring rain. It was worse when it snowed. I was living with my parents at the time, which is always a career highlight on anybody’s resume… and to think I was single, ladies. I came out of the house, fully laden with medical supplies, headed to my car when I noticed it had snowed. I saw all the little kiddos across the street, bundled up and waiting on the bus. What I hadn’t realized is that it had rained before it snowed, leaving a sheet of treacherous ice lurking underneath the fluffy powder. That fact dawned on me as I saw my wingtip shoes go flying past my face. I hit the driveway with a resounding thud…the catalogs I was carrying, along with my big sample case, slowly slid down my parents sloped, icy driveway. I laid there for a second hoping death would come. Alas, I only ended up with a pair of ripped suit pants. When I finally stood up to retrieve everything I’d dropped…I could hear the cackling laughs of the kids at the bus stop. Children can be so cruel, you know.

Rain is such an evocative thing. While it occasionally conjures memories of those awful medical supply days, it also brings other, more pleasant memories. I remember a girl I knew, not biblically, who used to love to jog in the rain. It was fun to watch… Rain brings to mind all kind of things. It can be considered a cleansing force, perhaps even redemptive in some ways, washing away the sins of the past. It doesn’t always have to be something wrathful. It’s restorative and brings forth life, especially in the spring. There’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and love is on your mind… Hell, there’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and sleep is on your mind… it’s utterly relaxing to lie and listen to the falling rain on the roof.

I began to think about all the different rock and roll bands/artists who had devoted a song to rain or storms. I will admit in the spirit of full disclosure, my thoughts have strayed in this direction for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been housebound the last two weeks since my foot surgery. I’ve only been outside to go to the doctor. I’ve been nursed slowly back to health by the Rock Chick… and while I’ve felt a little like James Caan in the movie Misery, I can report that the Rock Chick has been much nicer to me than Kathy Bates was, thank God. The other reason for my thoughts about rainy day songs is simple. This spring in the midwest has been one of unrelenting, heavy rains. I’m talking about all day precipitation events. I spent all day Saturday, when the shank of the afternoon was as dark as dusk listening to the steady, persistent rain falling. I’ve glanced at the forecast and it appears that the entire upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be a wet one.

What I like about all of these different songs and different artists are the different moods, tempos, styles that rain has evoked for each of them. I was also amazed at the sheer magnitude of the number of rain songs out there. When I first started this list I had over 80 songs and it ran for almost eight hours. I had to make some edits… Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” was a bit to epic and Springsteen’s “Lost In the Flood” a little too grim, so this is not an exhaustive list of rain songs, just a long one. As usual, I tried to mix the well-known with the obscure. As those of you who follow our playlists know, I try to keep my playlists limited to around 2 hours. However, like the constant rains of spring, I felt this list should be longer. It’s too dark to read, there’s nothing on TV now that Game of Thrones has stumbled to its inevitable conclusion. Why not spend the entire afternoon listening to music. The moods and tempos here are all over the place. It’s not a bad playlist to have in the background on those wet, dank days. With nothing else to do but drink, perhaps this will keep you in a better mood. Enjoy!

As always you can find this list on Spotify, just search on “BourbonAndVinyl.net Rainy Day Songs.” My thoughts on each track, below.

 

  1. The Alarm, “Rain In The Summertime” – I saw the Alarm in a small club back in the late 80s/early 90s. Great, great band with a great great song.
  2. Peter Wolf, “It’s Raining” – A song written with the great Don Covay.
  3. Lowell George, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” – From Lowell’s only solo record.
  4. Warren Zevon, “Fistful of Rain” – Zevon’s characteristic fabulous lyrics.
  5. Blind Melon, “No Rain” – Perhaps the antithesis of our theme but a great track.
  6. Neil Young, “See The Sky About To Rain” – From On The Beach the third of the Ditch Trilogy.
  7. The Faces, “I Wish It Would Rain” – Great cover of the old Temptations track.
  8. R.E.M., “So Central Rain” – I love the album Reckoning. 
  9. Johnny Lang, “Still Raining” – I love this bluesy, rocker.
  10. John Mellencamp, “Rain On The Scarecrow” – Rocking, farm protest music, fuck yes!
  11. Jimi Hendrix, “In From the Storm” – Jimi conjures the storm with a guitar. The guy was really that good.
  12. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Great, political metaphor.
  13. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Naked In the Rain” – A state I’ve never been in, but I’ve had a few nightmares where I’m downtown, naked and need to get home.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Little Rain” – Sublime blues tune.
  15. Stevie Nicks, “Outside The Rain” – From her perfect first solo album, Bella Donna. 
  16. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – I always liked their country rock stuff better than that plunky, jammy stuff.
  17. The Runaways, “Thunder” – Ok, this track is about sex, but I like the Runaways and wanted to hear them.
  18. The Beatles, “Rain” – One of my favorite Lennon tunes.
  19. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – A tale of madness. Sting actually redid this song, and it’s one of the only redo’s that I actually like. It got a little jazzy in the end so I stuck with the original.
  20. AC/DC, “Stormy May Day” – Angus on a rare slide guitar. I hope they explore this sound more.
  21. Counting Crows, “Rain King” – I debated on this one. I run hot/cold on the Crows. But this is such a great song I added it.
  22. Billy Joel, “Storm Front” – Title track from his last, really great album.
  23. Silvertide, “Califronia Rain” – An obscure band the Rock Chick is into… Great rocking track.
  24. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – A wonderful, hysterical cowboy song with the Eagles singing back up vocals. Perhaps my favorite song on here.
  25. Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break” – Inspired by Katrina. Great, latter day Dylan.
  26. Eric Clapton, “Come On In My Kitchen” – The old Robert Johnson track, “come on in my kitchen, it’s gonna be rainin’ outside.”
  27. Sting, “Heavy Cloud, No Rain” – Another use of rain as a metaphor for sex, or lack there of.
  28. Lenny Kravitz, “I Love The Rain” – Great, overlooked Kravitz track.
  29. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” – ZZ laying down some great blues.
  30. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” – “…coming down, sunny days.”
  31. Jackson Browne, “You Love The Thunder” – “…and you love the rain.” So do I, if I’m being honest.
  32. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Louisiana Rain” – Deep track from Damn The Torpedoes. 
  33. Led Zeppelin, “Fool In the Rain” – Where our hero is waiting for his love on the wrong block.
  34. Prince, “Purple Rain” – One of the few, epic, long tracks that I left on here… you need a few of those for a long day of listening.
  35. The Rolling Stones, “Rain Fall Down” – From what appears to be the last LP of original stuff they’ll ever do, A Bigger Bang. 
  36. Led Zeppelin, “The Rain Song” – They wrote this song in response to George Harrison saying the only problem with Zeppelin was they didn’t have any ballads.
  37. U2, “Summer Rain” – Great B-side.
  38. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Tom Petty’s side project singing about Katrina.
  39. Jimi Hendrix, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” – Jazzy little groove from the guitar master.
  40. Bad Company, “Burnin’ Sky” – Not sure this track fits, but it has cool storm sounds at the beginning and at the end so I threw it on here.
  41. Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain” – I almost went with “Here Comes the Flood” but it was too downer.
  42. Guns N Roses, “November Rain” – The last real epic track I included. I always think of the video.
  43. Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” – Fabulous, Chicago-style blues.
  44. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “Mandolin Rain” – How about the Range!
  45. Fleetwood Mac, “Storms” – Trippy groovy track by Stevie.
  46. Van Morrison, “And It Stoned Me” – The opening track from Moondance. 
  47. Eurythmics, “Here Comes The Rain Again” – Written in a hotel room in New York city during a rainstorm.
  48. Triumph, “Tears In The Rain” – A little something from Canada’s second best power trio.
  49. Ozzy Osbourne, “Black Rain” – Title track from a late period B&V fav from Ozzy.
  50. John Hiatt, “Feels Like Rain” – The oft covered gem. I first heard this as I was climbing into a cab leaving the “A Taste of Chicago” festival. I could hear him singing from the cab and thought, why’d we leave?
  51. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Texas Flood” – Title track from his epic debut album.
  52. Eric Clapton, “Let It Rain” – One of Slowhand’s best tracks.
  53. Elvis Presley, “Kentucky Rain” – The King back in Memphis reclaiming the Throne.
  54. The Doors, “Riders On the Storm” – Some trippy acid-jazz. There really is “a killer on the road.”
  55. The Cult, “Rain” – From their fabulous 2nd album, Love. 
  56. Bob Dylan, “Buckets of Rain” – The saddest track here.
  57. The James Gang, “Ashes the Rain and I” – When I think of the James Gang, I think of Joe Walsh’s guitar freak outs. This is a quiet acoustic piece I’ve always loved.
  58. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” – A little something for those of you who hate the rain.
  59. The Who, “Love Reign O’er Me” – The epic conclusion of Quadrophenia.

There it is folks. 59 tracks and 4 and half hours. If I missed anything egregiously obvious, put the song name/artist in the comments section and I’ll add it! That should keep you entertained during the next deluge. Stay dry out there, pour something strong and enjoy!

Review: Beck’s New Track “Saw Lightning” From the Upcoming ‘Hyperspace’

beck-saw-lightning-1555344770-640x640

Many people are often surprised that I like Beck. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck. On the surface, he doesn’t really fit the blues/blues rock template that typically informs most of the rock and roll I listen to. But if you listen to a lot of his music, you’ll often hear some beautiful, bluesy slide guitar. A guitar player I knew once told me that “Loser” has the same guitar riff as the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” but you can’t always trust guitar players and the guy who told me that was famously unstable…it was probably all those jazz cigarettes, but I digress. Beck’s new track, co-produced by Pharrell of all people, “Saw Lightning” is no exception with respect to a bluesy, acoustic guitar riff. Apparently he’s got a new album coming, Hyperspace, that has yet to get a release date.

Beck (aka Beck Hansen), appeared in 1994, in the heart of the grunge era with his debut album Mellow Gold. While that album has always been hailed as a masterpiece, it never caught my ear. The first single “Loser” certainly did, but it caught everybody’s ear. I remember thinking that Beck was going to be one of those 1-hit wonders and we’d be listening to “Loser” in 20 years and Beck would be working in a record store somewhere in SoCal, cashing in on his distant celebrity with surfer chicks, like you do. Beck certainly surprised all of us. If you look at his early career it’s not unlike the Beastie Boys – not sonically, of course. The Beastie’s appeared in the middle 80s and we all thought “Fight For Your Right To Party” was a great party song. Nobody expected the drunken slobs on the video to do anything else of substance. They went away for 3 years, which was lifetime back then for a recording artist, and came back with the genius of Paul’s Boutique. Nobody expected that from the Beasties. Beck pulled a similar move after Mellow Gold. He went away for 2 years and then returned with arguably, his masterpiece Odelay which again, nobody expected.

Actually Beck released the all acoustic album, One Foot In The Grave, rather quickly after Mellow Gold (it had been recorded prior) so Beck didn’t disappear completely after his smash debut. One Foot In the Grave established what I like to call the dichotomy of Beck’s career. One side is the folky, acoustic strummer… although there’s plenty of blues in his folk… and then the other side of Beck, his electronic, upbeat side. For the latter, Beck typically spills seemingly nonsensical lyrics, dropping rhymes faster than an adolescent Dylan or not unlike Springsteen circa Greetings From Asbury Park. He kept bouncing back and forth between those styles even after Odelay, when he released the acoustic Mutations. Its been mostly like that ever since. Mutations begat the upbeat Midnight Vultures which begat the melancholy, acoustic Sea Change. 

On a video shoot for the overlooked gem of an album, Modern Guilt, Beck sustained a horrible back injury. No one was sure he’d ever record again. It took him six years between that album and his follow up, the brilliant acoustic Morning/Phase in 2014. Still people wondered if we’d ever hear from Beck’s upbeat, wise-cracking, rhyme dropping side ever again. Finally, he returned to that more upbeat sound on the 2017 album Colors. We weren’t too crazy about that album here at B&V so naturally it won a Grammy. I did really like all the singles he released in the run up to the album, “Wow,” “Dear Life,” and “Dreams.” Those were three of his all time best tracks. The album was just too glossy and poppy for me LP Review: Beck, ‘Colors,’ An Uneven, Disappointing Foray Into Sugar Sweet, Pure Pop. I got to see Beck open for U2 in support of Colors and liked it… I would have preferred he played longer… but that’s me.

Once again, Beck has dropped a great single as a precursor for an album. I don’t know what Hyperspace is going to be like… I’m a tad wary after Colors, but this first single, “Saw Lightning” is vintage Beck. I mentioned on an earlier post, I was in Florida with a couple who are the biggest blues fans I know. We drove from Key West to Miami, and “Saw Lightning” played several times… and even Kerry, the wife said, “God, I like this song, that guitar!” Indeed!

One of the first things you hear is a razor wire, slide acoustic guitar riff that continues through the entire track. The percussion is a cacophonous cascade of beats. The song picks up steam as it goes along. I love the bass-line here. The title conjures the old Howlin Wolf song “Smokestack Lightning,” not that they’re similar, that’s just how my brain is wired. The track has a great bridge, “Lord, won’t you take me and lead me into the light.” I just love Beck’s vocals. The lyrics are mostly Beck delivering what sounds like ominous news in an upbeat fashion. I really recommend this track to anybody who digs Beck, it’s going to be listed amongst his greatest tracks.

In related Beck news, he shows up on the great new track by Cage The Elephant, “Night Running.” I’ll take all the Beck I can get. I wouldn’t call it a duet, but Beck is more than harmony or back up vocalist here. He sings “we running” as a counter vocal to the lead vocalist of Cage. It’s a bit more pop than I usually get into, but it’s catchy as Hell. Not coincidentally Beck, Cage The Elephant and Spoon are touring together this summer, what a triple bill, and I’ll be sitting in the audience reporting on the rock and roll from Denver.

I urge everybody to check out both of these tracks. I’m going to have to cross my fingers for Beck’s new album, whenever it comes out. For now enjoy “Saw Lightning” and check out “Night Running,” you’ll thank me later!

Cheers!

Review: Springsteen’s New Solo Song, “Hello Sunshine” From The Upcoming LP ‘Western Stars’

0005053270

I took a little vacation down to the Florida Keys last week. It was good to get away. I was able to sit and roast in the sun (always use sunscreen folks, and don’t forget to slather your feet with it), put my headphones on and crank up the tunes… “Hello Sunshine,” indeed. The people the Rock Chick and I were traveling with, who live down there, are enormous music fans. Their principal interest remains classic rock and especially the blues. Every night ended with us sitting out on the lanai (a very fancy word for a screened-in deck/porch) cranking tunes on my little portable speaker and enjoying a nightcap, or two. I don’t think I’ve listened to that much Lynyrd Skynyrd since high school. Florida really is just Arkansas with coastline. Our traveling companions were laser-focused on finding live music every night which is always fun.

As part of an unplanned change-up during the trip, we left the Keys early and headed up to South Beach in Miami for that last night in the “Sunshine State.” At one point that evening, we ended up in a Salsa bar, which is a lot like ending up in marching band camp, all horns and noise…the horror, the horror. I was just trying to watch the Kentucky Derby and enjoy my bourbon. One might describe the week as a “musically immersive experience.” The best part of decamping early to Miami was the three hour drive up the Keys where my hosts played SiriusXM’s Spectrum station. The Spectrum plays classic and current rock. Over the course of the trip I heard the new Bruce Springsteen track, “Hello Sunshine” probably three times. It’s always better to first experience a new track in the car. There’s just something about driving and jamming.

Springsteen has been a busy man whilst on hiatus from the E Street Band. He had his very successful, one-man show on Broadway based on his autobiography, and won a Tony. He followed that up with a Netflix special of the show and the inevitable soundtrack there of, Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way. I’d been hearing about a solo project he’d recorded either prior to his Broadway show or during that time frame. The new music was described as “beautifully orchestrated.” Springsteen hinted that he was looking for a certain late-60s/early 70s sound on this new mystery solo project. I also just read yesterday, in a sudden burst of creativity he wrote an album’s worth of material for an E Street Band album. Which is really good news for those of you fearing we’d never see those guys together again. For now at least, we have the new solo album to look forward to in June, Western Stars. 

When describing the specific 60s/70s sound he was looking for, Springsteen mentioned singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb. I’ll be the first to admit that Webb is not a household name. I have been fortunate in my life that I’ve always surrounded myself with music nuts. After college, many of us eventually ended up in Kansas City. The guy I spent most of my time with in those days was an old roomie of mine, who I’ll call Stormin (name obscured to protect the guilty). Storm is like me, a huge music fan. When we weren’t drinking beer and eating stolen t-bones, we liked to go to the record store, spelunking for new stuff. He actually purchased a Jimmy Webb album back in those days and played it for me. It had all these great old tunes, mostly made famous by Glenn Campbell, like “Wichita County Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” I said, “Why is this guy doing all these covers?” Lo and behold, I found out that much to my embarrassment, Jimmy Webb wrote all those great songs and I’d had no idea.

Springsteen, of course, isn’t covering Jimmy Webb, he just wanted to capture that sound. The songs Webb wrote always had beautiful melodies and amazing orchestration. It’s easy to think that his stuff was made famous only by Glenn Campbell, meaning they are all country songs, but that would be wrong. His stuff was recorded by artists as diverse as Isaac Hayes, Waylon Jennings and the 5th Dimension. Disco queen Donna Summer even did “MacArthur Park.” Alas, Webb never found the success (commercially) as a recording artist that he did as a songwriter… the critics always seemed to like his records but not the fans in general.

On “Hello Sunshine,” Springsteen has indeed captured that beautiful orchestration that Webb was famous for. The influence is very strong. Frankly, I’m thrilled Springsteen is paying this much attention to the sound of his music. Sometimes he can get a little too focused on the lyrics and the message. His music has become ever more topical of late, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just nice to hear Bruce do more of a “pop” song (for lack of a better description). Over hushed drums and a wonderful bass line, Bruce sings in a slightly deeper register and manages to capture both the sadness and joy in the lyrics. It’s one of the most nuanced vocal performances I’ve heard from the Boss. The strings and piano kick in and the song takes off. There’s a beautiful pedal steel signature that plays throughout. The track does have an old-school country vibe, and I really, really love this song. Even the Rock Chick, who likes a fraction of Springsteen’s music said, “This could be a really great Springsteen album.” This song is almost an anachronism… it feels like it belongs in another time and place.

The lyrics are just great. The track is about a guy coming out of a dark time, perhaps a depression. The first lyric says it all, “Had enough of heartbreak and pain,
I had a little sweet spot for the rain.” Some of us get used to the darkness and come to be almost comfortable in it. It seems the “Sunshine” of the title may be a new love… “I’ve always liked my walking shoes, but you can get a little too fond of the blues.” I just think the lyrics perfectly fit the mood of the track. I love the sound and I love Bruce’s singing here. “Hello Sunshine, won’t you stay…” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

I don’t think this is Bruce’s “country” album. If “Hello Sunshine” is any indication, I think Western Stars has a chance of being a great, old-school, singer-songwriter type of album. You know, like Springsteen on his first album. This gives all of us at B&V something to look forward to this summer. I highly urge everybody check this track out!

Cheers!

 

Balancing A Band And Going Solo: The B&V Favorite Solo Albums

image

I’m not sure I ever truly “belonged” to any group in high school. I had friends in different places. I was a good student so I could hang with the nerds which is frankly where I probably belonged. I was a beer drinker so I tended to hang in drinking crowds. I wasn’t a hemp enthusiast but I could hang out with the stoners because they were generally a pretty docile group and they had great music recommendations. While I liked sports I tended to shun hanging out with the jocks, they just had too much testosterone for me. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I just sort of floated around, allowing the wind to push me in whatever direction it happened to be blowing… at least from a social perspective. Although admittedly, the same argument could be made for my career choices. I’m currently at the zenith of a very mediocre career.

I say all of this, as I sit here thinking about how hard it must be to be in a band. I always thought every band was like Rush, just a bunch of dudes who share a passion for music who met when they were young and were friends for life. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ original line up all met in the same high school. The guys in U2 all went to the same school and remain close friends to this day. When I first started listening to rock and roll in the late 80s, that’s how I thought bands worked. It was like joining a gang. You were part of something bigger than yourself with a bunch of friends, nay brothers, and it was you against “them.”

It didn’t take long to realize my utopian vision of rock bands, like my utopian vision of women, was built on a lot of false assumptions. One need look no farther than my favorite band, the Rolling Stones to see a group of guys who may have started as friends, but now are just work associates. The guys in Van Halen seem to have despised each other. At least the Van Halen Brothers hated Roth and Michael Anthony which is a shame. Eddie’s legacy will be that he was an enormous asshole and not a great guitarist. The Who never got along, although I think Pete and Roger do now. To be a successful band, you need that magic…which boils down to one basic thing – chemistry. Nobody may like like the bass player because he’s weird or he doesn’t bathe, but damn he plays perfectly with the rest of us. For three to five minutes the four or five guys in the room can lock into something that is mystical and magical and create a song.

Different bands operate in different ways. I guess every band is as unique as the individuals who make it up. While it’s probably true that in the Eagles, Henley was the creative genius, but it was Glenn Frey’s band. Glenn was the guy in charge. Glenn negotiated many of the contracts, set rehearsals, and ran the day to day stuff so Henley could focus on lyrics. Some friends of mine in Denver formed a blues band and one of them had to take that same role. Surprisingly I guess it’s hard to get musicians to get organized. But when you find that magic line up, you have to stick with it. Fame and fortune await just over the next hill.

As many bands have found, the chemistry between band members, while sometimes magical, is also a very fragile thing. It was Joe Strummer who said famously (and I tend to repeat endlessly), “Never estimate the chemistry between four guys in a room.” It’s dangerous to fuck with that. And let’s face it, nothing fucks with band chemistry more than the infamous “solo project.” In the 60s and even into the 70s “going solo” typically spelled the end of a band. If the lead singer or the principal songwriter decided to go off and do something on his or her own, it would typically piss off the rest of the band and speculation would begin on whether it was over for the band. Rolling Stone would run articles about the demise of whatever band was going through it. I guess everybody was supposed to keep the creativity in the gang.

I totally understand the desire to do something different. I feel that way every day at work. It’d be fun to work with a different set of musicians to see if they can spark something creatively within the artist. Maybe you’re in a metal outfit and you want to do an album of ballads, you know, just something completely different. Deep Purple’s ex guitarist Ritchie Blackmore is out there somewhere doing madrigals for god’s sake…probably at a Renaissance Fair somewhere. But for reasons unclear, perhaps loyalty, going solo was viewed dimly in rock band circles for a long time. Musicians are artists and I tend to think of bleeding hearts and artists as being fragile.

The guy who was a pioneer in being a solo artist and a member of a band was, of course, Rod Stewart. He had already put out his first solo album when he became a member of the Faces. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. That shit was unheard of back in the early 70s. Robert Plant didn’t do solo albums, he just worked on Zeppelin albums. Rod pulled it off until his solo stuff got so much more popular than the band stuff, it crumbled the Faces… something I’m still not over. In the 80s it was, dare I say, Phil Collins who mastered the solo/band thing best. He was huge solo and somehow was able to transfer that love to Genesis and they just got bigger. Of course, I feel like my friend Drew about Collins, that we were all conned in some way. I hide those records… Collins not only did his own thing and remained in Genesis, but he was also Plant’s drummer. He taught Plant how to produce his own music…he’d learned on a lot doing Face Value and Plant had a lot to learn.

Last week I wrote about Keith Richards’ first, reluctantly recorded, solo album, Talk Is Cheap and it got me thinking about solo albums. While the concept wasn’t popular in the respective bands, there have certainly been some great solo albums recorded over the years. I thought I would compile a list of our B&V favorites. Now, I’m not talking about solo careers here – like Lou Reed after the Velvet Underground or any Beatle after they broke up, those are solo, post-band careers – I’m talking about the guys who took a busman’s holiday and stepped away from the band, recorded a solo album and then returned refreshed and jazzed up to the band. I would urge everyone to check these albums out. I’ll list the artist and the band he was in when the solo album came out below.

  1. Gregg Allman, (Allman Brothers), Laid Back – Laid Back is one of those great, seemingly forgotten albums that everyone should treat reverently. When he was on his own Gregg put a little more soul in the music. He redoes “Midnight Rider” in a completely different way than the band did it and it’s amazing. His version of his friend Jackson Browne’s oft covered “These Days” is the definitive version. This is a stone-cold classic album by a guy who also recorded Brothers And Sisters with his band the same year. Ah, the 70s.
  2. Stephen Stills, (CSN and/or CSNY), Stephen Stills – There were a lot of great solo albums to come out of the CSNY collective Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums… (I tend to treat Neil Young as a solo artist who dabbled in being in CSNY, so you won’t see him here.) The pick of the litter is Stills’ eponymously titled first solo album. Both Hendrix and Clapton show up to play lead guitar on different songs here. It was Hendrix’s last recorded stuff. Stills, dubbed “Captain Many Hands” by Graham Nash because he could play every instrument, save perhaps the tuba, does so here. He plays everything. “Love The One You’re With” is the hit, but there’s so much to love here. From gospel inflected tracks to gut bucket blues, this is Stills’ masterpiece.
  3. Joe Walsh, (The Eagles), But Seriously, Folks… – How do you follow up a smash like Hotel California? For the rest of the Eagles it was to hole up in a Miami studio, do a bunch of coke and do endless takes of “Those Shoes.” For the most likable Eagle, Joe Walsh, he merely snuck off and recorded his best solo album. Known mostly for “Life’s Been Good” there is so much more here. “Over and Over” and “At the Station” are two of my favorite tracks by Walsh. Sure, Joe was already a solo artist when he joined the Eagles which gave him some autonomy, but I thought he was done solo when this album surprised me.
  4. Rod Stewart, (the Faces), Every Picture Tells a Story – This was actually Rod’s third of five albums he’d record solo while in the Faces. This is his masterpiece. “Maggie May” is his signature tune, of course. “Mandolin Wind” is my absolute favorite Rod song. The cover tunes are all top shelf – Elvis’ “That’s All Right” and Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time” are both exceptional.
  5. Stevie Nicks, (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – Fleetwood Mac’s follow up to their life-changing smash, Rumours, was the momentous, double-LP, Tusk. Lindsey had taken over and pushed them into some really experimental directions. While I love that album, its sales of 4 million copies, yes 4 million!, was seen as a let down. It wasn’t all the break-ups in the band that caused the three principal songwriters to go solo after Tusk, it was the then perceived failure of the record that made them all go solo. Stevie has an all-star band behind her – Waddy Watchel, Roy Bittan, Ben Tench, and Jimmy Iovine as producer. This is an amazing album. She returned to Fleetwood Mac with so much confidence she made them do a country tune, “That’s Alright” on their next, play-it-safe album, Mirage. 
  6. Daryl Hall, (Hall & Oates), Sacred Songs – This may be the weirdest selection ever written about on B&V. I don’t like Hall & Oates. But let’s face it, everybody loves “Sara Smile.” I turned my daughter onto this song and she sent me a video of her and her friends singing along and dancing to this song. I deleted the video before the authorities could seize my phone… but I digress. To his credit, Hall stepped away from his Philly soul, balladeer role and teamed up with King Crimson’s lead guitarist Robert Fripp, fresh off his stint with Bowie on Heroes to record an amazing, guitar-forward, rock album. None of you have heard this record but you should. “Babs and Babs” is the stand out track. The title track and “Something In 4/4 Time” are rollicking rockers. This is an unexpected, unheard treasure.
  7. Mike Ness, (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – I love the tongue-in-cheek title of this record as Ness does have a lot of help on this solo record. The first time I heard “Misery Loves Company,” a duet with Springsteen from this record, I texted the Rock Chick and said “worlds collide.” I was a Bruce fan, she turned me onto Social D. Everyone should hear that song. It’s awesome. The rest of the album is a great selection of “cowpunk,” Ness’ combination of country inflected, punk rock. I can’t resist “Dope Fiend Blues.” He covers Dylan and Johnny Cash. This is another hidden gem of a record.
  8. Keith Richards, (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo album he never wanted to do… Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks.
  9. Mick Jagger, (The Rolling Stones), Wandering Spirit – Jagger’s solo stuff is so maligned, he’d already struck out twice so by the time 1993’s, Rick Rubin produced Wandering Spirit came out, people didn’t care. They should. Rubin got Mick focused on his strengths here. He does all the great things he does in the Stones, save perhaps the blues. The title track should be played at my funeral… “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul, I’m a wandering spirit, there’s no place that I can call my own.” “Wired All Night” is a balls to the wall rocker. “Sweet Thing” is a disco-y track that was the first single, which may have been a mistake, but I love it. “Don’t Tear Me Up” has shades of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” There’s not a bad tune on this record. Mick is the man! (Get well soon!).
  10. Bruce Springsteen, (The E Street Band), Nebraska – Sure Petty did albums that were “solo” but Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Ben Tench played a heavy role on those albums. Here Springsteen really goes solo in every sense of that word. Nebraska is a dark, spartan record that Springsteen recorded alone. It sounds like a demo. It’s him with an acoustic guitar, by himself, in a room. It’s a masterpiece and a very hard listen. It’s been rumored for years, and recently confirmed, that there’s a full-on E Street Band version of this record that I’m hoping is coming to a box set very soon.
  11. Pete Townshend, (The Who), Empty Glass – I made the horrific mistake of buying this album on cassette. I’m a vinyl guy… but I wanted to hear “Rough Boys” in my car. It’s a great, rocking tune. “Gonna Get Ya” is an epic, 6 minute jam. “Let My Love Open The Door” is here. This is a drunk and drug-addled Townshend making sense of punk rock and his and the Who’s place in rock and roll. It’s a breath-taking listen.

There are so many more solo records that deserve praise and listening. I’m going to stop at these 11. I would urge everyone to check out any of Little Steven’s early work, where he stepped away from the E Street Band while Bruce was brooding over Nebraska. While he’s no Steve Perry, Ronnie Woods’ first couple of solo records away from the Faces and the Stones are great as well. Start with these records and explore as deeply as you can. Rock and roll is the fucking tree of life!

Dedicated to Mick Jagger and his speedy recovery!

Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks

image

Truth be told, I don’t think Keith Richards ever wanted to do a solo album. His first and foremost love was always the Stones. That’s why we love Keith down here at B&V.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Mick and Keith were close friends… thick as thieves you might say. The seeds of discord were sown by many things: fame, fortune, who gets credit for being the genius in the band (something they should both share). I’ve always felt Mick pushes Keith to explore and Keith keeps Mick grounded in their roots… yin meet yang. I’m not sure which of them brought reggae into their repertoire but I’d like to think it was both of them. The mutual animosity is a little like the squabbling between Lennon and McCartney regarding the Beatles’ legacy. I think the thing that killed any true “friendship” between the two comes down to one woman… Anita Pallenberg.

Anita Pallenberg, model-actress and 60s “It”-girl entered the Stones’ orbit as the girlfriend of original lead guitarist Brian Jones. On an ill-fated trip to Morocco, Brian was eased aside and Keith and Anita were suddenly together. Eventually Brian spiraled out of the band. Jagger was cast as one of the lead roles in the movie ‘Performance’ in 1968 and coincidentally so was Pallenberg. Keith has always believed and went so far as to claim in his autobiography (the unreadable ‘Life’) that Mick and Anita “hooked up” on the set of the movie. Pallenberg denied that claim the rest of her life. Mick has denied it as well. If it happened, Mick probably saw her go from Brian to Keith and thought it was all fair game… it was the freewheeling 60s after all. What people don’t realize about Keith is that under the outlaw core, he’s really a softy. I think he writes a majority of the Stones’ ballads. Anita and Keith stayed together until 1980 and had three kids. Friends before chicks, Mick… you just never know whose going to stay together.

Anita and Keith were a toxic combination. They both got heavily into heroin. At first Mick and Keith were still able to work together and create magic. But as the 60s waned and the 70s dawned, Keith’s addiction kept getting worse. Once partners at the helm, suddenly Mick found himself without Keith. Mick had to take control of the Stones to keep them afloat. Unfortunately, I think Mick learned that he liked control.  Keith’s heroin addiction reached its low point in 1977 when Keith was arrested for possession and intent to traffic in Canada. The trafficking charge was leveled because of the sheer volume of heroin they found on Keith, so prodigious was his appetite for smack. Keith was facing some serious weight in terms of fines and prison time. It appeared the Stones’ very future was at stake.

Keith and Anita went in for electro-acupuncture rehab therapy to kick heroin. The Stones decamped to Paris and recorded as much music as they could in the fear that Keith would be put away in a Canadian grey-bar hotel. The music they recorded made up not only the album Some Girls but most of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You as well. Luckily, the rehab “took” and the Canadians let Keith off with a fine and an agreement to play two charity shows to benefit the blind. As Keith tells it, at that point, he was ready to return and join Mick to help in the steering of the Stones. It appears Mick had grown too accustomed to driving the ship and didn’t feel he needed the help… the old animosities were refreshed and deepened.

By the 80s everybody was used to the two of them sniping at each other. While Tattoo You and the ensuing tour were seen as career highlight for the Stones, 1983’s Undercover was only met with lukewarm reviews and response from fans. An invigorated Keith wanted to tour behind the album, the man does love to take the Stones out on the road, but Mick refused. Mick committed the ultimate treason in Keith’s eyes, he had signed a solo contract and was going off to do his first album on his own. I remember when it came out in 1985, I was totally a Mick guy at the time, and I was really looking forward to it. To say that She’s The Boss was a disappointment is an understatement. I liked the first single,  the reggae tinged “Just Another Night” but the rest left me cold. I found “Lucky In Love” to be the most embarrassing moment, but most of the rest of the album was forgettable. Mick got the control he wanted in the studio, but lost the magic. He was trying too hard to be current vs doing what he did well, which was rock and roll.

When Keith corralled the Stones back together in 1986 to record again, the band was a mess. Ian Stewart, long time keyboardist and tour manager passed away. Keith was particularly shaken by that loss. Charlie Watts who had survived the 60s and 70s without  any major problems had become a heroin addict. And worst of all, Mick wasn’t terribly interested in doing another Stones album, let alone touring. He was working on his second solo album. Perhaps he felt some pressure to erase the failure of She’s The Boss. The resulting album Dirty Work has become a bit of an orphan. I still think its got some great stuff on it, but it stiffed with the public. The video for “One Hit To The Body” (a kick ass tune, by the way, one of many on that LP), showed Mick and Keith practically coming to blows. Keith has said that the band would work on the tracks and Mick would show up, not even remove his coat, rush through his vocals and leave. When Mick refused to tour, like he did for Undercover, it appeared the Stones might finally be over.

1987 found Mick putting out an even worse solo album than his debut in Primitive Cool. The video for “Let’s Work” is better left never seen… Keith was at loose ends so he assembled a band for a documentary celebrating one of his heroes, Chuck Berry, entitled ‘Hail, Hail Rock And Roll.’ Charlie started a jazz combo. Bill Wyman opened a London restaurant and Ronnie Wood opened a Miami nightclub. When Jagger decided to tour Asia and Australia for Primitive Cool, Keith finally decided to do the thing he had never wanted to do… he decided to record a solo album. He’d done a few one off singles and sat in with both the Faces and Ronnie Woods’ New Barbarians, but he’d never wanted to go solo.

Rather than go the Jagger route and assemble a bunch of session guys to back him up, Richards, the more natural musician vs Jagger, chose to put together a band. Although in Mick’s defense his back up band did have Joe Satriani at one point… Anyway, having met drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charlie Drayton during the Chuck Berry film, Keith quickly recruited them to join him in the band. They recruited Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, to play keyboards. Keith had found a bedrock rhythm section to go with his riffing rhythm guitar. All he needed was a lead guitarist to play against… Brilliantly he recruited Waddy Watchel, who had played with Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and at the time, Stevie Nicks. I remember seeing Keith interviewed and saying, “Yeah, Waddy had been playing with chicks for too long, he needed to come play with the boys.” Steve Jordan was not only a drummer, he was someone who could co-produce and more importantly write songs with Keith. Early in the recording process Keith caught the band hiding behind the drum riser, passing a bottle of Chateau Lafite. Richards immediately dubbed them, the Xpensive Winos, which I just love.

Most people, I think, kind of groaned when they heard that Keith was putting out a solo album. I’m a rare breed of guy. I’m one of the few folks that when a Stones album came out, I’d drop the needle on it and peruse the liner notes looking for the Keith song. I always seemed to love the tracks he sang. Whether it was “Before They Make Me Run,” “Coming Down Again,” or even his brief bit in “Memory Motel,” I just loved it when Keith was at the microphone. I was thrilled when I heard that Talk Is Cheap had finally come out. However, in 1988 I was in my self-imposed Arkansas exile. It wasn’t until the video for the first single, “Take It So Hard” came out that I got to hear any of it. As soon as I heard that riff, and then the band kicked in, I knew this album was something special. To the record store I went.

When I dropped my new copy of Talk Is Cheap on the turntable in my lonely, hovel of an apartment in Ft Smith, Arkansas those many years ago, I realized I was hearing something special and also suddenly realized I was dancing around. This was the raw sound and grit of the Stones that I’d been missing. When the first song, “Big Enough” blared through the speakers I realized this was going to be a groove album, heavy on riffs and sloppy on structure. That’s what Keith brings to the Stones. It’s hard not to hear many of the songs on this album, “Take It So Hard,” “Big Enough,” and especially “You Don’t Move Me” as being specifically addressed to his old bandmate and friend, Mick. I remember years later dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy Kurt – a man who can still drink more martinis than I ever could – and Kurt saying, “This is fucking rock and roll!”

There’s an old boogie woogie number, “I Could Have Stood You Up” that features Chuck Berry’s original pianist Johnnie Johnson. Sarah Dash comes on to do a lovely duet on “Make No Mistake,” a clear eyed ballad that manages not to be mushy or sentimental. There are a few other guests – Maceo Parker does some sax, Bootsy Collins plays bass on a track, even old Stone Mick Taylor shows up on a cut – but the bulk of this album was just Keith and the Xpensive Winos. Every track grooves or moves and the album is a triumph. This is an album every rock and roll fan should own… In some ways, I think Keith’s solo success forced Mick back toward the band.

Now we have the 30th Anniversary “Deluxe” edition out. And what a great celebration it is. It is, as you would expect, newly remastered. More importantly for us at B&V, it has a handful of bonus tracks. The thing the bonus tracks does for me, more than anything, is show the mood of the recording sessions. You can tell Keith and the band are having a great time. There are a couple of instrumental jams, “Blues Jam,” and the 10-minute “Slim” that showcase what a great band this really was. The best new tracks from those sessions are “My Babe” and “Big Town Playboy” a couple of old blues covers Keith puts his heart into. “Mark On Me” sounds more like a true outtake as does the other instrumental “Brute Force,” as opposed to the band jamming or playing around on some old covers. There’s not a ton of bonus material here but what there is is high quality. The instrumental stuff is probably more for fans only but I’d recommend the covers highly.

This is a great celebration for a 30th anniversary of an important solo work of one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time. Cheers!

 

Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack

image-1

There was a lot of anticipation here at B&V for the new Netflix biopic/movie about 80s hard rock heroes Motley Crue, entitled ‘The Dirt.’ I watched the movie last night and all I can say about the experience is that it was two hours of my life that I will never get back. While I loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ despite its flaws (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen), ‘The Dirt’ makes the Freddy Mercury movie look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Thank God there’s some new Crue music on the soundtrack, which I’ll get to later.

I know every generation thinks they invented sex, drugs and rock and roll but the 80s was an era where everything got blown up to a level that we’ll hopefully never see again. Everything was bigger – enormous teased hair, copious drugs and booze, bad behavior bordering on nihilism and luckily, loud heavy metal. The 80s had to be the best-selling decade for hairspray, bar none. And I’m not just talking about the chicks here, I’m talking about the heavy metal musician’s hair. The 70s was known as “the Me Generation.” The 80s should have been the “More Generation,” as in give me more, more, more. Greed was, apparently, good. At least that’s what people seemed to think in those days.

No one epitomizes that excess to me more than Motley Crue. These guys drank everything, snorted everything, fucked everyone they could get their hands on and was seemingly one endless rolling wreck of a party. They did it all. There were car wrecks involving vehicular manslaughter, overdoses and even Pamela Anderson (the Sex Goddess of the 80s). Tragically Vince Neil lost his daughter Skylar to cancer. That’s a pretty interesting resume. In 2001, the boys in Motley Crue, Tommy Lee (drums), Vince Neil (singer), Mick Mars (guitar) and Nikki Sixx (bass, songwriter and mastermind) sat down with writer Neil Strauss and put their “confessions” down on paper which resulted in the book, ‘The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.’ It was basically a transcription of Strauss’ interviews with the band members. The book revived interest in Motley Crue and their music. Notoriety sells, baby.

Personally I always felt the best thing about that book was that it got the band back together for a series of concert tours and eventually a great comeback album Saints Of Los Angeles. Every Crue fan should own that record. Not content with all of that success, Motley mastermind Nikki Sixx decided to follow in Queen’s footsteps and bring ‘The Dirt’ to the big screen. After watching the movie last night with the Rock Chick, who really expanded my love of the Crue, I couldn’t help but say (paraphrasing Bill Murray in ‘Tootsie’), “I saw the Motley Crue movie just now, what happened?” Even the Rock Chick, who saw the Crue on the Theater of Pain tour and whose love of Motley predates mine said, “What the fuck? That was just terrible.”

I guess they wanted to capture the vibe of the book, so many of the scenes get “narration” from the different characters in the band. In one particularly garish scene, the guy playing Mick Mars breaks the fourth wall (he speaks directly into the camera at the audience, for all you non-theater people out there) and says, “Yeah, basically none of this shit actually happened.” That was probably the greatest “WTF” moment for me. The Crue had a great story to begin with but for reasons unclear they decided to change a lot of known facts about their history. None of the changes added any dramatic effect for me. Frankly the real story is far more compelling than what they came up with for the movie. How do you do a movie about the 80s and Motley Crue and not even mention Pamela Anderson? The section covering John Corabi, Vince’s replacement after he quit, doesn’t feature any of that music. The guy playing Corabi doesn’t even speak. Clearly Vince must not be over that… They would have been better served by replacing the “actors” chosen to play the band members (who were chosen apparently for merely resembling the band) with mannequins. I’m no thespian but to describe these actors as “stiff” is an insult to concrete.

Fortunately, the movie comes with a soundtrack. My recommendation is to skip the damn movie and move straight to the music.

As I’ve often mentioned, I missed out on a lot of the better 80s music during that decade because I was still building my back catalog of vinyl. I was more interested in the music of the late 60s and early 70s than I was in the music actually playing on the radio. There was a lot of metal on MTV and all the bands and videos sort of looked alike. Eventually though, Motley Crue quickly jumped to the top of the heap and actually punctured the backward looking musical fog I was in. I never owned any Crue until I bought their first greatest hits package, Decade of Decadence. It was novel merely for containing “Primal Scream” and a Sex Pistols’ cover “Anarchy In the U.K.” which was the first appearance of those tracks. When I met the Rock Chick she only had 1998’s Greate$t Hit$. On one of our first dates, we went to the record store and she picked up a couple of Crue albums, Dr. Feelgood and Girls, Girls, Girls. After that I was hooked. We quickly snapped up and devoured all of their first five albums. It’s one of the most impressive blocks of work in any catalog.

When I heard they were making a movie, I assumed the soundtrack would be another “greatest hits” package, something akin to Red, White and Crue, which for me, is the definitive greatest hits package for the band. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Sixx had written some new stuff and the band had gotten back together and recorded some new music for the first time in a long time. Now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack I must say I’m extremely impressed. Instead of the standard idea of using just the big hits, the soundtrack is chalk full of deeper album tracks. Sure, “Dr Feelgood,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” are all here, but there are deeper tracks too. Alongside the hits you get early tracks, “Red Hot,” “Merry-Go-Round” and “On With the Show.” These are all great tracks and highlight their story as much as the hits do. Hell, “On With the Show” and “Take Me To the Top” are on this soundtrack. I’m surprised they didn’t put “Bastard” on here. So rather than the standard hits soundtrack, if you’re a casual Crue fan, this would be a nice primer in some of their more raw, earlier tracks.

For those of us who own all the older tracks already, we have the pleasure of four new Crue songs, one of which is a cover. I have to say, the guy that never gets enough credit on “best of” lists is Mick Mars. Nikki Sixx may be the principal songwriter and mastermind behind the Crue, but Mick Mars’ guitar playing is as nasty and forceful as ever. He’s a true riff meister with big nasty rhythm guitar and screaming, tortuous leads that just melt my face off. His guitar playing is what first drew me to the band. The next important ingredient to these guys’ success was the amazing drumming of Tommy Lee. He and Mars drive the music and always have. I must say even Vince Neil is in strong voice here, which is something I never thought I’d say again.

The first new track, which kicks off the soundtrack is “The Dirt, (Est. 1981)” which I wrote about a few weeks ago, Motley Crue: “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” The New Single From the Upcoming Movie). While the song is slightly marred by a couple of raps from Machine Gun Kelly, the track is really growing on me. Mick Mars’ guitar solo just shreds. “Ride With The Devil” is a slightly slower paced heavy track. I like it, but the better track, and perhaps my favorite is “Crash And Burn.” Its got Mars’ nasty riffs but Vince’s vocals are more of that 80s soaring, arena sing along style. Hey, it worked in the 80s, why fuck up a good thing. The words “the dirt” are repeated in all three of the new tracks, so they were certainly careful to stay on brand. The final new track, which was perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole project was a cover of another 80s icon, Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. When I heard Motley Crue was covering her song “Like A Virgin” I just groaned. I hated it before hearing it. I hated the very idea of it. Then I heard it and I have to admit, I was wrong. For some reason, it just works. They perform it with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek, smirking, winking irony. Another tip of the hat to Vince on that one. For the record, the Rock Chick does not share my amusement.

While the movie is nothing short of a disaster, it’s nice to hear the lads in the Crue this energized and playing great music together again. I know they were inspired by making the movie, but hopefully they can bury the old animosities and see their way forward to recording some more new stuff. I know they’ve retired from the road but that doesn’t mean they can’t go into the studio. Motley Crue is an important chapter in rock and roll. Sadly, they failed to tell the story in a compelling fashion cinematically but perhaps we were all better served by putting Shout At The Devil on the turntable anyway.

Devil Horns to all of you!