New Single: Springsteen’s “Letter To You,” The 1st Track From New LP & A Look At His 1st Singles ’80-’20

*Image may be subject to copyright

As I’ve often documented in these pages, before I heard the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls the only time I turned on the radio was to hear a Royals’ baseball game. Then I heard “Miss You,” and later “Shattered” and then “Beast of Burden” and suddenly I wanted a stereo for Christmas. I consider that moment when I first heard the Stones on the car radio, riding with my mother no less, as my rock and roll awakening. It was late 1978 when all this happened and by then rock and roll was a good 20 years along. When you step into the middle of something, it’s really hard to catch up. 

Most of the rock and roll acts I dig (by 1978) were deep into their careers. There had been a lot of great music released in the previous 10 years, let alone the previous 20 years. I was newly into my teens and on a weekly allowance of $10 it’s really hard to purchase the entire back catalogs of rock bands/artists (especially with the constant refrain of, “You didn’t clean your room son, no allowance this week…”). In high school, my fledgling vinyl collection – and I was all vinyl, don’t give me those 8-tracks or cassettes – consisted of the albums that were being released at the time, the current stuff. My first Who album was Face Dances. My first Zeppelin album was In Through the Out Door. And while many of you rock aficionados may hold your nose for those records, they will always have a place in my heart (B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?). 

While Springsteen’s landmark album Darkness On The Edge Of Town also came out in 1978, some how I missed it. I lived in Kansas City and it was never a huge Springsteen town. I did hear “Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” on the radio but I’m not sure I even knew they were both by Springsteen. There was just so much to absorb it was hard to keep track. All of that changed in late 1980 with the release of The River. I remember the first single “Hungry Heart” caught my attention. It was pure ear candy. Bruce had originally written it for the Ramones but his manager told him he best keep that one. I didn’t rush out and buy The River however because its was a double-album. Twice the music but alas, at twice the price. That was a major financial commitment on my allowance. I hadn’t even bought The Wall yet due to similar financial constraints and it had been out a year by then… Plus I didn’t know much about Springsteen… was he cool? did he rock? You had to be sure you didn’t buy any lame artists and I was always cautious. I had seen too many of my friends buy Kiss albums and I considered them suspect at the time. I feared history would not treat them well… naturally I was wrong. I was 13, what did I know?

Luckily, the local rock radio station started playing more deep cuts from the album. After hearing the title track, “Point Blank” and “Out In the Street” I knew Springsteen delivered the goods. He was a special kind of artist. I plunked down the hard earned dough and bought it. I nervously dropped the needle on side 1 of the first album not knowing what to expect. I can still remember the rush I felt when “The Ties That Bind” burst out of the speakers. It hit me in my lower-brain stem and I knew I wanted more rock and roll… nay, I knew I needed more rock and roll. It was that moment I knew I was bonded with this artist. Sadly, he came to KC in February ’80 and played Kemper Arena. They say more people slept out in line for tickets than had seen him on the Darkness tour but how would they measure that?The Kansas City Star described it as “the concert of the year” and again… it was only February. My dear friend Brewster had also secretly gotten into Springsteen and assuming I wouldn’t like him, after buying two tickets… took someone else. After all these years… yes, I have forgiven him… I haven’t forgotten… some wounds don’t heal completely. 

Even though I was a newly minted Springsteen fan, I didn’t go crashing through his back catalog. I’d heard “Born To Run,” “Jungleland,” and “Rosalita” – those were about the only older tracks they played in KC – but I didn’t even know what albums to look for. I thought “Blinded By The Light” was a Manfred Mann tune. About a year after I bought The River a friend of mine and I met two older, senior girls in our Study Hall. Somehow these fetching young women ended up sitting with us and on the surface, seemed to enjoy our geeky-ness. They invited my friend and I to meet them at that year’s Senior Skip Day party. It was where all the seniors blew off school and someone had a keg of beer, insanity ensued. We weren’t seniors but oh yes, we were in. I remember drinking a beer and talking to one of these beautiful girls and it was going great, at least I think it was… when I heard over the speakers propped up on the back deck…”The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…” I was mesmerized…”Is this Springsteen?” Nothing happened with the girls and it may have been my utter distraction from hearing the masterpiece Born To Run for the first time. I was gobsmacked. I bought that record the next day. Who thought Springsteen could “cock block” me?

I’ve been a big Springsteen fan ever since. I’ve followed him from big, anthemic albums with the E-Street band to acoustic, introspective solo records to detours like Western Stars (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). I have live albums and official live bootlegs. I’ve seen him a number of times in concert. I’ve even gotten the Rock Chick slightly into him…she’ll never be counted amongst the converted but she does have a ‘Bruce’ playlist she likes to crank up. I was thrilled to hear during this awful year, that Springsteen had a brand new album coming out. God, how we need new music! I was even more thrilled to hear the E Street Band would be on the album. I figured the new LP, Letter To You, would probably come out around Christmas. Thankfully I was wrong. I was pumped to see that the first single dropped last Friday with the album coming October 23rd.

I have to admit to you, and this will be no surprise, I really like “Letter To You.” The E Street Band is such a sympathetic medium for Springsteen to bring his songs to life. The song finds Springsteen looking back and writing a letter to his first band, the Castiles. Living in isolation, who doesn’t welcome a letter or an email from an old friend. After all these years, the sound of Bruce and the E Street band still gives me chills. It’s like an unexpected call from someone you’d like hear from but haven’t. It’s an upbeat track but I might call it mid tempo. Springsteen’s vocal is particularly inspired. The entire album was recorded live in the studio over five days, supposedly without any overdubs. This is their classic sound, dripping with earnestness and strength. When the band kicks in during the early part of the song, goose bumps, baby. It only lacks a sax solo from the Big Man’s nephew, Jake Clemons. The song is catchy and it sticks with me. It’s not a big anthemic thing like “Born To Run” or “Dancing In the Dark” but it will seep into your brain. 

I reflected on what this might mean for the new album. As I did I found my mind wandering back to 1980 and “Hungry Heart.” Eventually I found myself mulling over every Springsteen first single since The River in an effort to predict what the new LP might be like. I thought I’d share my thoughts on this music travelogue through those singles and my experiences with them… what it means for the new album – probably nothing but it was a fun thing to keep me occupied in mind-numbing times…I skipped the Pete Seeger thing because I despise Pete Seeger and struggle to even acknowledge that Bruce recorded that thing. 

  • The River, “Hungry Heart” – One of Bruce’s signature songs. It was very pop oriented but it heralded one of his greatest albums ever. It’s still a fun sing-a-long at concerts if you’re into that sort of thing. 
  • Nebraska, “Atlantic City” – I was home for Christmas break during my very awful freshman year of college. I was walking past the record store when I spotted a display with Nebraska albums stacked up to the ceiling. I left my then girlfriend standing there and went lunging into the store. I didn’t even know Springsteen had a new album out. I bought it and went home immediately. I was stunned at the difference between the sound of this dour album compared to The River. It’s one of the most grim listens ever (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). Even the video for “Atlantic City,” which does not feature Bruce is grainy and black and white. No sunshine to be found here… However, the single, “Atlantic City” will always be one of my favorite Bruce tracks. The Band did a nice little cover of it as well. 
  • Born In The U.S.A., “Dancing In the Dark” – The song that made Springsteen a superstar. I can still remember how starved, after the grim Nebraska, we all were for a new rock album from Bruce. We were all so thrilled that we might get to see an actual concert vs listening to bootlegs. I remember partying all night and sitting  up at dawn just to see the video. 
  • Tunnel of Love, “Brilliant Disguise” – By this time I was living in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I can remember the first time I heard this track, driving into the office on a cold, winter morning. I knew he’d gone back to the more introspective Nebraska style. This album featured more instrumentation and remains a favorite of mine. One of his greatest songs. 
  • Human Touch/Lucky Town, “Human Touch”/”Better Days” – Two Springsteen albums released on the same day. We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever. He’d disbanded the E Street Band and we didn’t know what to expect. “Human Touch,” at six and a half minutes is a big epic track. It’s much maligned but I still like it. “Better Days” is grittier, more immediate. It remains a favorite from a rather discounted period of Bruce’s career. 
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Another from Springsteen’s grim solo projects. This is my least favorite Springsteen album but the title track remains one of my favorites of his. Rage Against the Machine have redone this track as well. It’s a perfect song even today. 
  • The Rising, “The Rising” – The title track from the 911-centric album that saw the return of the E Street Band. I got tears in my eyes the first time I heard this epic title track. It ranks up there with “This Land Is Your Land” as a populist anthem. This song and the album it came from are American treasures. 
  • Devils And Dust, “Devils And Dust” – I’ve noticed that Springsteen likes to release the title track as the first single of most of his albums. Good marketing if you think about it. This album is ripped from the headlines. It sounds like an update from the front lines. One of Springsteen’s best solo tracks and albums. 
  • Magic, “Radio Nowhere” – One of the more rocking first singles of Springsteen’s career. I really liked Magic but I think many critics were divided on it. It’s a great, late-period E Street album. And who could argue with the theme on this song of radio slowly dying (Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio). 
  • Working On A Dream, “Working On A Dream” – Another title track! This song has an irresistible melody. It’s as catchy as the old Motown singles. While the album itself was uneven, this single ranks amongst Bruce’s best. 
  • Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care of Our Own” – Another great rocking song with a spectacular message. Springsteen is the quintessential American artist. I remember he played this song on the Grammys. That night I had an old friend who I’ll call, “The Bat Cat” who had dropped by with his family. His daughter wanted to watch the Grammys. When Springsteen came on, Bat Cat paused and said, “Hey, I like that, it sounds like Darkness. Indeed it does. Classic Springsteen. 
  • High Hopes, “High Hopes” – The only cover song Springsteen has released as a single. He’d done it once before on an EP but I like this version best. High Hopes was a reimagining of songs Springsteen had previously written for earlier projects. I think critics discounted it for that reason but there are great songs on this album and I include the title track in that number. 
  • Western Stars, “Hello Sunshine” – The rare ballad as a first single. It was a true harbinger of what the album was like. This beautiful song quickly became one of my all time favorites (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). 

What does this tell us about the new Bruce album? “Letter To You” is another title track as first single for Bruce, but other than that, we’ll just have to anxiously await late October. 

Be safe out there! 

 

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!

LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’

*Picture of my original vinyl of Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’ taken by your intrepid blogger

I like to think that I had to be drug onto social media. I am not nor will I ever be on Facebook even though I think it would help spread the word on B&V. A number of years ago my father called and asked if I remembered a girl I’d dated in college who I’ll call Tisha (name changed to protect the guilty, ie, me). “Why yes dad, of course I do, why?” He replied in the chilling words, “She hit my Facebook page.” At the time my father was 72. I don’t know what surprised me more, that Tisha would have reached out (it ended…poorly) or that my father would be on Facebook? A week later my father called me again and said, “Do you remember a woman from San Francisco named Karen (name changed to protect, well, me)?” I couldn’t help but reply,”Let me guess dad, Facebook?” Apparently the woman in question had left the message, “I only know one person with this name…” My father, ever the wit, replied, “Now you know two.” I think that sufficiently frightened the poor woman but I had to tell my father to either a) close this portal to my past, I’m married now or b) put a much clearer picture of yourself out there so these woman stop thinking I’m a 72 year old man. I mean I’ve lived hard, but not that hard…

All that was enough to keep me off Facebook forever… it’s a jungle out there. But when my daughter was old enough she started to dip her toe in the water on social media which, as night follows day, led my wife to a number of social media outlets. After a couple of hundred instances where my wife waived her phone in front of me to show me a picture of the Stones, I realized, ok maybe I should relent and get on a few of these things. So the actual reason I got on social media was to follow the bands I loved. It’s always rock n roll that drives me. Many bands would announce new music or new tour dates on Twitter or Instagram. It was just an alternative way to keep up with rock and roll now that terrestrial radio has all but died. As a side effect of being on social media, you can never really get away from the anniversaries of key events – birthdays, death anniversaries, album anniversaries, etc – of your favorite bands, albums, and rock stars. The month of August has been a momentous one: Springsteen’s Born To Run turned 45 last week and the anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tragic passing was this week (Lookback: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lost 30 Years Ago, Aug 27, 1990), all of which was duly noted, celebrated and memorialized on social media. I could have written something nice for Born To Run but the album whose release date was August 15th, a few weeks ago, is the one that caught my eye: Led Zeppelin’s final studio album In Through The Out Door. 

This blog is usually focused on new or vault releases from bands that have been around for a while. There are a lot of bands that I love who just haven’t released anything since I started this endeavor. Suffice it to say, I’ve never written anything about Led Zeppelin and I admit it might seem strange that I’d pick In Through The Out Door as a starting place, but this album will always hold a special place in my heart. I included it on my “Dirty Dozen” list of albums that only I seem to love, B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?. The album came out on August 15, 1979 just as I was beginning my rock and roll journey. I had only been buying albums for about a year. In Through The Out Door was the first Zeppelin album I ever bought. If that’s how I started my actual journey through Zeppelin’s catalog why shouldn’t it be my first Zeppelin post here? When I was 13 I didn’t have a big back catalog of albums. And Zeppelin were always kind of mysterious to me… I knew “Stairway to Heaven,” “Dazed And Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love” but not much else about them. A guy named Matt showed me a picture of Robert Plant in Biology class and I said, “Who’s that?” In Through The Out Door was the first record released after I’d started buying music so naturally it was my first Zeppelin purchase. I’m just happy I was alive when Zeppelin, the Who and so many other bands were still active. I wasn’t “all in” on Zeppelin yet, but in August of ’79 that was all about to change…

I remember in the summer of 1979 my parents got a new ‘Time’ magazine. I’d always flip through the pages. For once, that summer they had an actual rock and roll article and I was always starved for knowledge about this powerful new music that had changed my life. I remember the article cited a slump in album sales in ’79 and all the hopes of the record companies were pinned on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (which came out in Oct ’79) and Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door. It’s odd what I remember. Fleetwood Mac were coming off the mega-success of Rumors and expectations were running high. Tusk ended up being a somewhat bloated double album and Lindsey Buckingham took them in an experimental direction. The album was considered a bit of a disappointment (not to me, I love that flawed, brilliant album) but it sold 4 million copies which is amazing. Granted, it probably pales in comparison to Rumors’ sales of a kajillion records. 

The Zeppelin story is a bit more complicated. I remember the Chili Peppers’ video for “Scar Tissue” where it looked like someone had beaten the shit out of the band. It made for a great video, but in the case of Led Zeppelin, by the time In Through The Out Door came out, that was virtually their exact situation. By 1979 it had been three years since they’d put out an album, 76’s heavy rock album Presence. Prior to Presence, Zeppelin were riding high on 1975’s double-album Physical Graffiti. On hiatus before a second sold-out tour of America, Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were involved in a car crash in Greece and Plant broke his ankle (which inspired the lyrics for the epic “Achilles Last Stand”). The band, really frustrated they couldn’t return to the States and the adulation and groupies went headlong into the studio and recorded that pent-up frustration on what became their heaviest album, the aforementioned Presence. 

Finally back in America for a tour in support of Presence, the band got the tragic news that Robert Plant’s son Karac had died of some mysterious disease. That was a tough blow. The rest of the tour was cancelled and Plant returned home to grieve. The mighty Zeppelin went silent for three years which was a huge absence at the time. A lot changed in music from ’76 to ’79. Punk had come to the fore. The Punks singled out Zeppelin in particular as “bloated, dinosaurs.” People were actually wondering if Zeppelin would return at all. There were rumors that Page was going to replace Plant with Roy Harper, a singer who Page had produced an album for (and Plant sang about on “Hats Off To Roy Harper”). 

When Plant finally came out of seclusion he was keen on taking Zeppelin in a new direction. He was deeply effected by the criticism of the Punks. I should have included Zeppelin on my post about rock bands who reacted to punk (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s), because Zeppelin were a band who did react to Punk in a big way. Things within Zeppelin had also changed. Drummer extraordinaire John Bonham’s alcoholism had deepened to the point where it was becoming a problem. Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction had also gotten a lot worse. There had been a time of tax exile as well that had stressed the band. Cue up my “Scar Tissue,” video reference. This band was in a bad place. 

I tend to think about Presence and In Through the Out Door as the yen and yang of Led Zeppelin. Presence was heavy, hard rock, helmed by Page and Bonham. In Through The Out Door was lighter, experimental (almost art) rock, helmed by Plant and in a first, John Paul Jones. This was the first album where Jones had a writing credit on most of the songs. The sound had fundamentally changed as well on this record. In Through… didn’t sound like any of the previous Zeppelin albums. That’s partially because Plant was energized and pushing for a new direction but it’s mainly because neither Bonham or Page showed up very often in the studio, bogged down by their addictions. John Paul Jones had a new keyboard, the Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer and he and Plant sat around writing songs, playing with the synth. 

While long time Zeppelin fans were disappointed with this album it did single-handedly save the music industry in ’79. It sold 1.7 million copies right out of the gate and went on to sell six million copies. It was a number 1 album for Zeppelin. Despite all that, Bonham and Page had said that on the next album, they were going to take over again and the mighty Zeppelin would rock again… alas, that never came to be. 

The first track that ever got played in Kansas City from the album was the single, “All of My Love.” People may consider it lightweight but I always dug that ballad. Zeppelin didn’t do many ballads. I was always told that the person Plant was singing about wasn’t a woman but his late son, Karac. I don’t know if that’s true, but I bought that rumor. It made it a more poignant song for me. Yes, it’s synth washed but it’s a great ballad. I didn’t buy the record immediately though, when you’re 13 you have to buy macho albums with macho songs… I had to wait for the second single, “Fool In The Rain.” It had something Zeppelin rarely had – a sense of humor. This was Bonham’s shining moment on this album for me. Sure the small drum solo isn’t “Moby Dick,” but it showed for me that he could still be captivating. 

The track that makes this album a must-have for me is the epic opener, “In The Evening.” When I told the Rock Chick I was writing about this album she crinkled her nose and said, “Its an OK album but I do love “In the Evening.”” Indeed. It’s got a great riff and an infectious melody. Having started with a great track the album also ends on a great song, the bluesy “I’m Gonna Crawl.” I have to admit, “I’m Gonna Crawl” sounds like the only track Page was fully engaged on. He seems kind of checked out for the most part on the record, I’ll fully admit. But when he did show up he kills it. 

A lot of people don’t dig “Hot Dog” a rockabilly, country rock throw away but it always makes me smile (Playlist: Favorite Country Rock Songs – Rockers Going “Country-ish,” Hidden Rhinestone Gems). “South Bound Suarez” may not be “Rock And Roll” but it’s a solid a rock and roll tune. The only track on this album that leaves me slightly cold is “Carouselambra” but that’s probably because it’s such a long track. I can remember my buddy Matthew playing his cassette copy of the album at the drive-in theater at a “Row Party” we had out there and just cranking “Carouselambra.” It’s a fond memory… 

There were other great songs that came out of the sessions for In Through… that they held back and eventually came out on Coda. “Wearing And Tearing” was directly addressed to the Punks, “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” were all tracks that would have fit in well on the album. I remember reading in ‘Hammer of the Gods’ Plant wanted to release an EP with those three tracks prior to the actual album coming out. I think that’d would have been interesting. 

In Through the Out Door isn’t Zeppelin’s finest album. I think it can be seen as a transitional album. Zeppelin was leaving their blues rock past and heading in some new and exciting directions. It is a very forward looking album. The roots of Plant’s early solo work can be certainly heard here. The sad part of the story is we never got to hear where Zeppelin would have taken this next. During the rehearsals at Jimmy Page’s house for the American tour to support this album, John Bonham consumed a superhuman amount of vodka and died. The band couldn’t see a way forward without their mate. John would have been really hard to replace. 

While this album might not be anybody’s favorite Zeppelin album it’s still a worthy selection from their great, great catalog. I urge everyone to put this on and evaluate – or probably more accurately re-evaluate – this great album. 

Be safe out there. Cheers! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Showtime Documentary – ‘The Go-Go’s’… And How I Briefly Met Belinda Carlisle In 1984

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*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighed

I am not currently nor have I ever been a huge fan of the 1980’s girl group the Go-Gos. However, I think every woman who came of age in the early ’80s who likes music, loves the Go-Gos. I remember a girl I dated in high school who loved their debut album. It was one of the few albums she owned. Even now, all these years later, the Rock Chick digs the Go-Gos. I think she had their greatest hits CD when I met her. Every woman I’ve ever known loves that moment in “We’ve Got the Beat” when lead singer Belinda Carlisle yells, “Jump Back… Big Time!” I think it’s a chick thing. I have to admit, even though I’m not a die-hard fan of their music I was curious to see the new Showtime documentary creatively titled, The Go-Gos. When I hear their music these days, I admit I smile probably out of a hoary sense of nostalgia, but I smile nonetheless. Their music certainly evokes a specific time and place for me.

The concept of the “Girl Group” is as old as rock and roll itself. You can go back to the 50s to the Shirelles who may have been the first ever Girl Group, as far as I know. They launched a whole Girl Group movement, which ended up being a huge influence on, of all people, the Beatles. Most of the early girl groups were merely vocal groups, they didn’t play their own instruments. There was usually some shadowy producer in the background. Barry Gordy had the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. Phil Spector had the Ronettes. The shadowy producer wrote the songs, hired the session musicians. The “girls” just had to show up and  sing. Oh and then go out on grueling tours to perform live.

The concept of an all female band, who played their own instruments came later. I’m sure it was also considered a bit of a novelty at the time as well. I just hear fans saying, “Look girls playing guitar and drums… it’s like a dancing bear.” I can’t help but think of the Runaways – with Cherrie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford – as an early example. They still had the shadowy producer/Svengali in the background, Kim Fowley who wrote much of their early stuff. I think in a lot of ways, punk rock helped take the novelty out of the girl group. Punk attracted and yes, welcomed all the outcasts. It didn’t matter who you were, you could pick up an instrument and play punk rock. There were bands with men and woman members like the Talking Heads or X.

The Go-Gos were, to my ears, always pop or pop-rock. One of the revelations of the documentary for me, was that they formed and grew out of the L.A. punk scene. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Jane Wiedlin, lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey all met at the same L.A. punk club, the Masque. After replacing original bassist Margo Olavarria and original drummer Elissa Bello with Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock respectively, the band’s line up crystallized.

The documentary follows the usual rise and fall narrative. I didn’t realize how quick and one might say, meteoric the Go-Gos rise to prominence was. After touring England they came back to the U.S. and recorded their debut, Beauty And the Beast in 1981 and it was, to put it mildly, a smash hit. I liked that they wrote and recorded their own stuff, no mysterious Producer lurking in the background. The Go-Gos were one of those bands whose rise coincided with that of MTV. The Go-Gos and MTV were made for each other. Many times girl groups were presented as “saintly” or “good girls.” I like that the Go-Gos were never like that. Or at least, I don’t remember them that way. The documentary talks a lot about their drinking and drug use. In my high school mentality, I never thought of these women as cheerleaders, I always thought they were the chicks smoking, drinking and making out in the parking lot.

Eventually the relentless touring, fights over song-writing royalties, and the drinking and drugs took its toll on the interpersonal relationships in the band. Charlotte Caffey’s deepening heroin addiction increasingly became a problem. I was amused to hear how many times reporters asking the group how they were getting along. You never heard people ask the Who that question and they didn’t really get on that well. Reporters always injecting drama. Jane Wiedlin eventually quit in a dispute over song writing credits. The band didn’t last too long after that.

The documentary interviews every member of the Go-Gos from their prime line-up. They also go back and interview the past members. Paula Jean Brown who replaced Wiedlin (although she played bass, Valentine moved to guitar, her first instrument), was also interviewed. Their first manager and their latter day manger Miles Copeland of I.R.S. records are both interviewed. Hell, even Stewart Copeland of the Police, who the Go-Gos opened for early in their career gets his 2 cents in. The documentary came off to me as an advertisement to get the Go-Gos into the Rock Hall of Fame. They do come across cooler than I remembered… hey, if you have a band member on heroin you gotta score some cool points somewhere. I thought it was an interesting and well done documentary. I think its definitely worth watching for any rock and roll fan.

As I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw the Go-Gos and actually went backstage, and met Belinda Carlisle. I wish this was a more salacious story, but alas, it’s pretty tame. In the fall of 1984 I had just moved back to Manhattan, Kansas to start my next year in college. The weekend after Labor Day, most of the people in the place where I lived had left for a big, organized road trip. I wasn’t allowed to go on the trip because I was on some  sort of “social probation” for debauched acts of some sort, I don’t recall. I was like anybody else in college, I had my clique or my gang. But on this particular weekend, I was sort of all by myself.

There was a guy we all knew, who was a few years older than I was, who I’ll call Dan (named changed to protect the guilty). Dan was a track & field athlete and was actually quite exceptional at his event. He had actually gone to an Olympics. Since he’d gone to the Olympics, his ego was through the roof. In short, he was a colossal asshole. He once came out and played a game of tackle football with us drinking schlubs. Trying to tackle him was like trying to tackle a horse. His knees came up to my chin and at one point his knees treated my skull like a boxer working the speed bag… There was never a weekend where I would have imagined I’d hang out with Dan the Olympian. But, I was on my own, which was never good in those days… there was always trouble lurking. Dan, who liked to say things like, “We’re going to the club tonight, I’ll probably have chicks all over me because I’m an Olympian, you guys will have to fend for yourselves,” burst into the living room where I lived. “Who wants to go to the Go-Gos tonight in Kansas City?” I had nothing else to do so I tepidly raised my hand. The next thing I knew, I was in a van hurtling toward Sandstone Theater – an outdoor venue, referred to in the trade as a “shed.”

I remember drinking a ton of beer in the ride up to KC. I was in the back of the van and wasn’t driving. Dan was driving which was good because he was really straight-laced. It was like going to a rock concert with a narcotics agent. He apparently had an Olympian friend who was romantically linked to Carlisle and she set him up with tickets. True to his word, there were tickets and to my surprise backstage passes waiting for us. We were down in the middle, some 20 rows back from the stage. This was September 7th, 1984 so the Go-Gos would have been touring in support of Talk Show, their third album. They had to be exhausted. I remember Belinda Carlisle danced maniacally. The place was probably 2/3’s full, so even I was dancing in the aisle, there was plenty of room… of course that may have been because we were surrounded by girls. It was a heavy female crowd… which was fine with me.

After the show we went backstage. There was one room that was full of adoring fans. Dan barged into a smaller, empty room where there was a food table – the supermarket trays of veggies and cheeses. I was too afraid to touch anything, thank God. I suddenly realized, we were in the Go-Gos dressing room. When the five band members came into the room, the looked at us with a combination of disdain and exhaustion. If Dan had been cooler maybe there might have been some partying to do here… but we were a bit of a band of misfits. Belinda, very diplomatically, introduced herself and asked us to give the band some space.

We quickly left the dressing room, to the delight of the rest of the band, (Jane Wiedlin, most notably, was aggressively pleased we were leaving), and probably secretly to the delight of Belinda Carlisle. We drove downtown to KC, as directed by Belinda to the Crown Center hotel, a posh spot in midtown. We hung around the bar. A couple hours later, cleaned up and looking lovely, Carlisle appeared. I remember thinking how classy she looked. She was so nice to us and we were nobody. Dan the Olympian was buying in order to impress Belinda so I started ordering Jack & Cokes 2 at a time. You gotta strike when the iron is hot, folks. Sitting there listening to Dan and Belinda chat about their mutual acquaintances who were in Europe somewhere I couldn’t help but think, I’m sitting here with this Rock Star… what should I say? What should I ask her?

I was barely 20. I was young and dumb. I wasn’t a huge Go-Gos fan so I had nothing to ask. All I could think to ask her was, “Do you know David Lee Roth?” That was the best I could come up with? Sheesh! She smiled politely but I think she had to be thinking, who is this moron? “Yes, he’s really intelligent.” She quickly turned back to Dan. I think that was all she said to me. Looking back, knowing what I know now, there’s so much I would have asked about touring, the grind of the road and the music business. But alas, all I could think to ask was a question about Van Halen’s lead singer. I blame the Jack & Cokes. There was no drugs or sex in this story, just stupidity.

You know, come to think of it… I probably would vote for the Go-Gos to get into the Rock Hall… they deserve it just for putting up with Dan, me and our band of rock and roll misfits in Kansas City on a hot September night in 1984.

Hats off to all of you, Ladies! And yes, God Bless the Go-Gos. Check out this Showtime documentary, its B&V approved!

Cheers!

 

 

LP Lookback: AC/DC’s Masterpiece, ‘Back In Black’ Turned 40 Yrs Old June 25, 2020

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*Original ‘Back in Black’ vinyl, purchased in 1980 by your intrepid blogger

I saw that AC/DC’s landmark album Back In Back turned forty last Saturday, June 25th. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years since that LP came out. Its old enough for a mid-life crisis although shows no signs of one. I knew I had to post about my experiences with that album and I couldn’t help but think, we’re talking about the good stuff now! Looking back at this LP feels like putting out the Christmas dishes for a Tuesday dinner.

1980 was a very important year in heavy metal/hard rock. It was the year the genre re-established its foothold and signified that metal was here to stay. Just to put the monumental achievement of AC/DC in perspective, here’s a list of ten momentous hard rock albums that came out in 1980:

  • AC/DC, Back In Black
  • Black Sabbath, Heaven And Hell – The first album post-Ozzy with Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals.
  • Def Leppard, On Through The Night – Their debut LP. I saw them open for the Scorpions and Nugent on the ensuing tour, my first ever concert.
  • Judas Priest, British Steel 
  • Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden – Another great debut LP.
  • Motorhead, Ace of Spades 
  • Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy’s solo debut with the intrepid Randy Rhoads on lead guitar. And they thought Ozzy would wither and die outside of Sabbath.
  • Rush, Permanent Waves – Rush is probably hard rock and not heavy metal like most bands on this list but this is a kick ass album. “The Spirit of the Radio,” and “Freewill” are worth the price of admission. I also dig “Jacob’s Ladder.”
  • Van Halen, Woman & Children First – A sloppy but great third LP from VH. This was to be my second VH album purchase… I had to circle back later for Van Halen II. 
  • Metallica, Kill ‘Em All – At the time, an overlooked (at least by me) debut album.

Thats an impressive list of albums and yet Back In Black still stands head and shoulders above the pack. That just shows how amazing Back In Black really is. The Motorhead and Iron Maiden are the only 2 albums on this list I don’t own.

As the 70s came to a close I found myself finishing up junior high school (7th, 8th and Freshman years) and starting high school (sophomore, junior & senior years). In the middle of all that my friends and I had discovered and gotten (what we considered) heavily into rock and roll. While early on we thought we knew all there was to know about rock and roll, in reality we had only scratched the surface. Sure, we were into the big bands – Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and the Who. We were also heavily into Bob Seger because we were from the midwest so the “Heartland Rocker” cast a rather wide shadow. Some of the harder rockers amongst us were into Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and especially Van Halen. AC/DC really hadn’t punctured our consciousness as of yet in say, 1979. I remember someone asking if AC/DC was “bi-sexual slang.” Naive as I was, I said something brilliant like, “Huh?”

Although I must admit they’d started to break onto the radio, even in Kansas City. The album and especially the title track to Highway To Hell was a song everybody liked. I’m sure many of us thought Highway To Hell was their debut LP, so little did we know about them.  Every once in a while if you stayed up late enough to hear Vonn Mack, the late night KY102 DJ, you’d hear “Whole Lotta Rosie” which was like “Freebird” after a fistful of black beauties. We just didn’t know a lot about AC/DC. Of course after that big breakthrough success of Highway To Hell (Album Lookback: AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ Turns 40 – Bon Scott’s Bon Voyage), tragedy struck AC/DC and original lead singer Bon Scott passed way from “death by misadventure.” He choked on his own vomit, the way the classic rocks stars went out. Looking back I can say that I’m a huge fan of the Bon Scott years of AC/DC (and my favorite LP may be Powerage, LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”). In 1980 I might not have been able to tell you who was singing an AC/DC song, Bon or his replacement, former singer for Geordie, Brian Johnson. The Rock Chick loves the Brian led AC/DC… I’m slowly getting her into the Bon stuff, starting with “Gone Shooting,” but that’s another story. Bon had a better sense of humor… and perhaps was a little more gravelly than Brian. I know the difference but can’t describe it.

After losing iconic, messianic lead singer Bon Scott, AC/DC – lead guitarist extraordinaire Angus Young, his brother rhythm guitarist and Riff Meister Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd – were at a crossroads. At first they considered breaking up. They held auditions and immediately discovered Brian Johnson, who I once heard Angus say in an interview Bon Scott had heard and liked. Of course Bon liked him… they sounded similar. They decamped to the Bahamas and recorded one of the best selling albums of all time, Back In Black. The entirely black album cover was to supposed to signify their grief over the loss of their comrade at arms, Bon Scott. Back In Black, like Highway To Hell was produced by (soon to be legendary) producer Mutt Lange. He had gotten them away from the blues-based stuff of the early records. Mutt always seems to have an ear for a hook and there are plenty on Back In Black. I don’t know if punk was an influence but the songs were shorter – no more long, long guitar solos, there were more economical solos – and for lack of a better word, the songs seemed punchier. After losing Bon just as they were ascending the world stage, AC/DC seamlessly found a new singer and were poised to break the entire planet wide open…

By the time Back In Black came out, I was in high school and had even gotten my driver’s license. How anybody thought it was a good idea to allow me to drive is a bit of a mystery. One thing that driving allowed me to do was to get a job. I went to Oak Park Mall, the closest shopping center to my house, and got a job at a place called York Steak House. York can only be described as “fast-food steak.” I was a busboy. Awful, filthy, mindless work but an honest wage. The guys who managed the place were all in their 20s. Rather than authority figures, these guys used to party with us. On break we’d all jump in the car and go get a 12 pack of beer and drink in the walk-in cooler. One of the managers, who I’ll call Ron, found a car stalled on the side of the highway and took the license plate and put it on his car. I can still remember the cops walking him out of the restaurant in handcuffs. Things were… loose at York Steak House. One might describe it as a den of thieves.

One warm, late-summer Saturday, one of these miscreant managers threw a keg party out at Lake Quivira, in western Shawnee, Kansas. Back in 1980, this was out in the boondocks. I seem to recall it was a gated-community so I have no idea how this guy got a bunch of drunken high school kids onto the property. I remember someone saying KC Royal George Brett lived out there… it was a wonder he didn’t come out and join us. I was likely one of the first to show up and I know I was one of the last to leave. But that night, out on that ritzy lake… on a little picnic area, someone put the cassette of Back In Black on the stereo and I was transfixed. Well, as transfixed as someone full of keg beers who kept falling down and hitting his head on the picnic table could be. It was not my finest hour. We just kept playing that tape over and over again until the beer ran out. The next day, at work, I remember asking the host of the party if that had been an AC/DC mix-tape or a greatest hits thing. There was no way every song on an ordinary album was that damn good…I heard that album at every single party I attended after that in high school. I remember it was playing when one of my friends vomited into the fire place at a guy named Kurt’s house. I’m sure his parents were thrilled. I went out my first chance and purchased the album pictured above. I’ve since also purchased it on CD. If you love rock and roll, you have to love AC/DC and Back In Black. Its the essence of rock… you don’t absorb the music through your ears, it comes in through your groin.

That first track, “Hells Bells,” with the actual church bell ringing was so ominous. The tolling of the bell… the slow build of sawing guitars. It was really a great way to kick the LP off. It quickly shifts to “Shoot To Thrill,” who some say was about heroin, but I’m not so sure. That track is fast and hard-driving. Which led to the admittedly misogynistic “What You Do For Money.” I shouldn’t extoll that track but I just love it. The hard rock duo of “Givin The Dog A Bone,” and “Let Me Put My Love Into You” round out a perfect side one. Side two is even better. “Back In Black” kicks off side two like a punch from a righteous fist. On any album without “Hells Bells” the title track would have opened the album. The huge hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” that made “American thighs” famous is next. I never get tired of that song. One has to wonder if it’s still played in strip joints? One of the deep tracks that’s an unofficial theme song of B&V is the great, swinging “Have A Drink On Me,” with the great line, “with a glass I’m pretty handy.” “Shake A Leg” is another “race to the finish line” hard, fast rocker. I love the closer, “Rock N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” AC/DC fighting for the permanence of rock music and it was 1980. I think it was here to stay.

Phil Rudd’s drumming just swings on this record. He was such an important secret weapon. Angus’ lead guitar tangling with the great riffs coming from Malcolm… they’re just perfect. Like a hyped-up, Australian Keith and Ronnie from the Stones. Cliff Williams’ bass keeping everybody from completely descending into chaos… and Brian Johnson. He took the mantle from Bon Scott and kept the world-conquering momentum of AC/DC going. If they could reach a bunch of drunk high school kids in the boondocks suburbs of Kansas City, where could they not conquer? I think this record has been certified Platinum 25 times. Hearing that record right after it dropped is what people must have felt like in the early 70s when Zeppelin released a new album. I felt like I was a part of something.

Happy Birthday AC/DC’s Back In Black. It sounds just as good to me forty years on as it did that night at Lake Quivira. I guess it proves that you can take the rocker out of high school but you can’t get the high school out of my rock. Or something like that. I think you get what I’m talking about.

“Join me for a drink boys, we’re gonna make a big noise.” Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute: KC Public Radio DJ Bill Shapiro and His Saturday Show, Cyprus Avenue – Kept Me Company In My Bachelor Days

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*Photo taken from the internet, from KCUR’s website, and is likely copyrighted

**I usually address more general music topics here at B&V. Or perhaps better said, more universal topics. Today I’m bringing it home to Kansas City but I think the themes remain universal.**

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“Well, I’m caught one more time, up on Cyprus Avenue…” – Van Morrison, “Cyprus Avenue”

The Rock Chick put on a mask and slipped the confines of lockdown this weekend. She jumped solo into her car and headed for points West to see our daughter where they plan on an isolated, socially distanced weekend together. There will be hiking and sitting on the back patio but no shopping sprees in crowded malls or fancy dinners in small cafes on this trip…or so that’s what they’re telling me. Somehow this will still cost me a lot of money. While I’m happy for them this leaves me here at the house, “on my own…by myself” as Michael McDonald and Patti Labelle sang in a treacly way many years ago. Unfortunately the Rock Chick left me with an empty fridge, no ice, a full dishwasher and a hungry cat. Somehow I think this may have been by design… She did get me a bottle of Four Roses bourbon before she left… Mixed messages? Ah, marriage.

It didn’t take long after she left for me to start eating like a 13 year old. Dinner last night consisted of peanut butter and a bowl of Cheerios. As she was leaving I felt like quoting Bill Murray’s character in Stripes, “You can’t leave! All the plants will die.” I decided this weekend would be a clear-eyed, sober time for reading and reflection. In the past when the Rock Chick has left me she returned to find me slathered in bourbon, weeping while watching 1980 video of Springsteen and E Street Band muttering, “I can’t believe the Big Man is gone…” We don’t want another one of those. I hunkered down to read last night with the Royals’ game on but muted with the Stones on the stereo. Although I will admit, after a mere one chapter of a great new book I just started, I was at the fridge where I discovered the Rock Chick had left me a cold bottle of chardonnay… wine, that’s not really drinking, right? Of course the hungry cat woke me at 5 am this morning… He’s like my guilt, always lurking and making noise when I’m trying to sleep. I couldn’t help but think to myself, pull yourself together man you were a bachelor forever.

Although now it’s Saturday and I must admit, I’m at loose ends. I began to wonder what I used to do on weekends in my groovy, hipster bachelor days. Early on, there was always something happening on Saturdays. I had all these friends to hang out with. We were like a big, disorganized gang. But like the old song, “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Ol’ Gang of Mine,” all my buddies got married and many started pumping out children. Gone were those days of hanging in a bar all Saturday afternoon, watching sports, “probably playing poker, drinking,” as the Stones sang. While I like to romanticize my bachelor days, I was single until well into my 30s and there was a lot of “me” time, where I was just plain alone.

Oddly, those Saturdays puttering around by myself are the ones I tend to remember. I tried to inflict some sort of regimented routine that would help me kill the hours until I headed out for the usual Saturday night debauchery. On Saturday during the day I would run errands. I would go to the gym to sweat out Friday night’s poison. I’d go to the dry cleaners. I usually slept kinda late having been up most of the night prior so these “chores” occurred late morning or early afternoon. Somewhere along the line, I turned my radio down to the small numbered stations, to the public radio end of the dial. I discovered this radio show on KCUR 89.3 in Kansas City, hosted by Bill Shapiro, ‘Cyprus Avenue’ named after the Van Morrison track on Astral Weeks. I can’t remember, but it might have been my groovy hippy friend the Jean Genie who turned me onto ‘Cyprus Avenue’ but it was a long time ago.

While ‘Cyprus Avenue’ was a local KC show, I know at one time it was syndicated to at least 50 stations. Regardless, I think everyone can relate to a radio show or DJ that really hooked you. When I was growing up there weren’t many radio shows that were consistently on the air to tune into. I remember Sunday nights in high school listening to ‘The Dr. Demento Show.’ Every now and then a local station would broadcast ‘The King Biscuit Flour Hour,’ a live concert program. I remember hearing April Wine one night on that show but those broadcasts weren’t really consistent. I remember that whenever David Lee Roth was on ‘Rockline’ that was “appointment” radio. You had to hear Roth call a joint a “behavior modification device” to understand. Later as terrestrial radio faded from my life and satellite radio took over I did listen to Bob Dylan’s ‘Theme Time Radio’ and the late, great Tom Petty’s ‘Buried Treasure.’ Dylan once said on his show of Bob Seger, “many call him a poor man’s Springsteen, but I think of Springsteen as a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I don’t know why, but that just stuck with me.

While I was rambling around Kansas City on those, let’s admit it, lonely Saturdays, Bill Shapiro’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’ kept me company. In Shapiro I found a kindred spirit. He came on at noon. The first hour was always a new show with the second hour was an encore presentation of a previous show. Often I’d find myself driving around on purpose, detouring downtown or through the River Market, just to keep listening to whatever music Bill was playing. The man knew more about music than I can ever dream of. He was a lawyer by trade, but wow he was a music aficionado. He had approached KCUR at a fund raising event and they gave him a show. He broadcast ‘Cyprus Avenue’ for 40 years. He knew, played and spoke about some of the most obscure stuff I’d ever heard. He played rock n roll, jazz, blue grass, folk, country rock… literally everything.

I learned a shit ton about music from listening to ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I’d heard about Sam Cooke but it wasn’t until I heard Shapiro play cuts from Sam’s The Man And His Music did I realize that all those hits were the same man. I only stopped my car after that show to stop at the record store and buy the album. The same could be said for Jimi Hendrix’s Live At the Fillmore East or Van Morrison’s vault collection The Philosopher’s Stone. I first heard both albums on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I first heard Neil Young’s Silver And Gold on the show and bought it the same day. Same goes for the Clash’s Sandanista! I can’t tell you which albums he played but I know he turned me onto some Dylan, Bob Marley and Buffalo Springfield. I’d never heard of Chuck Prophet until I heard him on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I knew who Gram Parsons was, but had never heard his music until I heard it on 89.3 KCUR on a Saturday afternoon.

Sadly, Bill Shapiro passed away in January of this year at the age of 82. A musical prophet slipped his mortal coil. The amount of musical knowledge that went with him is incalculable. I had heard the news – my friend the Jean Genie told me about it and said I should apply to replace him, high praise indeed – but with all the crazy stuff going on in 2020 I didn’t get around to saying anything in these pages, my bad. It had slipped my mind, which I’m embarrassed about until I realized that once again I was going to find myself alone on a Saturday afternoon. Only this time my old “friend” and radio companion wasn’t going to be around to turn me onto something new or something classic that I missed. And that is truly sad. I wanted to sit down and pay tribute to the man who turned me onto so much music. This post may not be read far and wide, but I felt it was an important one to do as Bill had such a big influence on me.

It’s a crazy world and things are nuts right now. I urge everyone to find those things that bring you joy and revel in them. Take care of each other out there. If you’re not driving, take a nip or two and turn up the stereo. I just wish today I could slip “one more time…up on Cyprus Avenue…”

RIP Bill Shapiro.

 

 

B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

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I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”

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“I think I need a blood transfusion…” – The Rolling Stones, “Criss Cross”

I knew coming into the lockdown that only rock and roll was going to keep me sane. However, if you’d told me it was going to be the Rolling Stones (who haven’t released a new album of original material in 15 years) who would be releasing tunes that would save me, I wouldn’t have believed you. Admittedly, Dylan and Neil Young have both helped with some new music (Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years) and a vault release (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years) respectively. But it was the Stones who released the very pandemic-centric brand new track “Living In A Ghost Town” that just blew me away the most, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”.

Last Thursday, while I was focused on and listening to Dirty Honey’s great, new, rocking EP, creatively titled Dirty Honey (Review: New Band – Dirty Honey’s EP, ‘Dirty Honey’ – Sweet, Filthy Rock N Roll), the Stones released a “new” song from the vaults, “Criss Cross.” “Criss Cross” was an outtake from the sessions for 1973’s Goats Head Soup. An outtake is basically a “leftover” track, one that was recorded for an album but for whatever reason didn’t make the final track list. “Criss Cross” has finally seen the “light of day” and gotten a proper release in advance of the Goats Head Soup deluxe edition that will becoming out in early September.

“Criss Cross” has apparently been widely bootlegged over the years. It was known as “Criss Cross Man” and in one spot I saw it described as “Criss Cross Mind.” I realize bootlegs are a bit taboo. I have admitted my past crimes in this area, and yes, I have some bootleg recordings. Most of my bootleg stuff was live recordings most notably by Springsteen. But I had some cassettes (God, remember cassettes?) of live stuff from Van Halen and a rough recording of the Stones’ concert in Hyde Park after Brian Jones died… Mick reading Shelley and releasing white butterflies. The 60s folks… I can’t make this stuff up, but I digress. Anyway, for years I’ve read about all these folks who had bootleg recordings of studio stuff. Either early versions of songs or outtakes and leftover tracks. I’ve never once held in my hand any studio bootlegs. I guess I really was a novice bootleg collector having never even seen a studio boot.

I love that all these great artists are clearing out their vaults. Dylan has his superb “Bootleg Series” (Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide). Neil Young has curated his entire history on his website, neilyoungarchives.com. Springsteen has released some of his vault stuff on Tracks and yes, all those old live Springsteen bootlegs I had… they’ve been released though his “First Friday” concert series. I have rectified my old outlaw ways and purchased many of them… well, around 10 of them… I may have a problem. At least I can sit up at 2 a.m. and debate the nuances of different performances of “Prove It All Night” over a glass of dark and murky spirits. I’m thrilled that slowly but surely the Stones – truly my all time favorite band – have started sharing some of their unreleased material as well. The Stones are like Neil Young in that they often return to their unreleased material, punch it up a little bit and release it years later as “new.”

I’d been reading about the rumors of the Goats Head Soup deluxe release for quite some time but I couldn’t find anything concrete on the inter-web. Then this week on the “social media” I started seeing clips from a video that seemed to indicate a new release was coming. I thought for a minute it might be their long awaited new studio album. While I’m bummed that we’ll have to keep waiting on that, I was thrilled to see this long rumored deluxe edition of Goats Head Soup is finally coming. I first heard “Criss Cross” on Thursday when I watched the video on YouTube… Mick must have directed this video… no band members are in it. It follows a fetching young lady who lives as we all should – mostly naked or topless. Here it is…

I played “Criss Cross” for the Rock Chick and she looked up at me and said, “This is a great song… why didn’t they release it for 50 years?” It’s a good question. Predictably, I love this song. It harkens back to the Stones’ sleazy rock of the early 70s, which is one of my favorite Stones’ eras. Mick certainly sounds like he’s having a really good time on this track. It starts off with some funky, way-wah guitar and keyboards by probably Billy Preston. I know Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart also played keyboards on the sessions but I think they play predominantly piano. The track rides a riff that reminds me of “Happy” or “All Down the Line.” You could have blind-folded me and I could have guessed it was from the Goats Head Soup – It’s Only Rock N Roll era.

I love when Mick sings, “Here comes a woman, givin’ me a criss cross mind…” The woman in question must be dangerous as Mick continues to sing “Save me” throughout the song. “Mama walkin’ around in the rain, she want you every night, an’ think I need a blood transfusion.” I think we’ve all been there… Goats Head Soup was recorded in Jamaica where the Stones set up for a number of weeks in a studio to write and record tracks. Most of the songs came out of jams and this track certainly sounds like it evolved out of a jam. It has that loose, sloppy feel that a lot of Stones tracks had back then. It’s more about feel than technique. The last part of the song devolves into the guys riding the riff to the finish line with Mick improvising over them. Surprisingly there is no guitar solo…odd when you’ve got Mick Taylor in the band but it still all works.

This is a great addition to the Stones’ catalog and just a great song by the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world. The deluxe box set of Goats Head Soup has a pretty hefty price tag and I wasn’t going to buy it. It was the Rock Chick who said, “What do you mean, you’re not going to buy it? You have everything else, you have to buy it. I’ll buy it for you if you don’t… with your money.” Marriage is all about teamwork folks… when I stumble the Rock Chick picks me up. So, yes, I have the box on order. While pricey it has the first official release of the concert known in bootleg circles as The Brussels Affair. I actually have that boot, but I’m somehow two songs short of the full recording. There are only two other completed outtakes – one track “Scarlet” has Jimmy Page playing on it so I’m pretty excited about that. Only three new tracks and a heavily bootlegged concert comes with a pretty steep price tag… but don’t worry your intrepid blogger at the urging of the Rock Chick will take one for the team and buy the thing, dissect it and report back to you, our faithful readers.

Stay safe out there… and during this crazy time you might want to avoid being “cheek to cheek, oh yeah, tongue to tongue” with anybody you don’t already know…

Cheers!

 

Review: New Band – Dirty Honey’s EP, ‘Dirty Honey’ – Sweet, Filthy Rock N Roll

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It’s sometimes an odd trip I take to find a new band…

I recently let my subscription to Rolling Stone magazine lapse. That isn’t news that will get anybody to scream “stop the press” anytime soon but for me personally, it was kind of a big deal. I was always aware of Rolling Stone, even as a kid. As I got older I’d see the iconic covers in record stores (especially used record stores). There was of course the cheesy Dr Hook & the Medicine Show song, “Cover Of the Rolling Stone” that came out when I was a little, little kid. I seem to remember my folks “grooving” to that song but I’m getting off track here and only I should have to re-live that horrifying memory. I actually started reading Rolling Stone when I got to college. I found one in a stack of Playboys where I lived and thought, “Wow, what’s this…” Odd that in my late teens, I’d page past the nude women for the rock and roll but some of us are just wired differently. Well, who am I kidding, I probably read the Playboys too… or more accurately, looked at the pictures. I’m human, folks.

I loved what I read in Rolling Stone that first time I picked it up. By the time I got out of college and had been fully exiled to Arkansas with my first corporate job, I had a subscription. I’ve literally had a subscription to Rolling Stone ever since… from the late 80’s to now. That’s a long time. I’ve even had a letter published in Rolling Stone. I used to think of Rolling Stone as a magazine “about” rock and roll. Sadly, it’s really just a magazine about current “popular” music and sadly, that doesn’t seem to be rock n roll any more. I have nothing against Hip Hop, but I don’t care enough to read about those artists. The bands that pass for rock now all have that gauzy, synthesizer washed, Coldplay thing going on. Give me some guitar, man. I want somebody to play rock music like they feel it in their bones. I think I may have finally found somebody like that…

A few weeks ago, I was going stir crazy in this self-imposed isolation I find myself in. I needed something to read and I didn’t want a book. The Rock Chick and I put our protective masks on and went down to a book store in midtown. I perused the magazines in a socially distanced way and I found one I’d never heard of but sounded perfect for me, Classic Rock magazine. I remember thinking, “Hello Classic Rock, where have you been all my life?” This particular issue had Chris and Rich Robinson on the cover and an in-depth article about the Black Crowes on the inside. I’ve loved those guys since the beginning so I was in. As I read Classic Rock cover-to-cover, I saw a one-page article, very brief about the “new” band Dirty Honey. The lead singer Marc Labelle talked about meeting Steven Tyler at a radio station and wondered in the article, “Why isn’t there a present-day AC/DC or Aerosmith?” Indeed, why not?

I was extremely intrigued. This band looked cool, all long hair and shades. They looked the part… I was going to check them out immediately but once I read the Black Crowes article I fell down a rabbit hole of listening to their entire, amazing catalog. Lions still leaves me a little cold, but that is one amazing catalog. I’m thrilled they’re back together and more importantly Chris and Rich’s relationship is much better now. Anyway, I was in that Black Crowes fog for quite a bit. Then Neil Young released an album from his vaunted vaults (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years) and Bob Dylan released his first album of all-originals in 8 years (Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years). Needless to say, I’ve been busy down in the B&V labs.

I was drinking rye whiskey and playing cards with the Rock Chick a few Fridays ago. We were taking turns picking out an album. Suddenly, Dirty Honey popped into my head. When my turn at the music came, I put them on. When Dirty Honey’s old school rock n roll burst out of my speakers I was transported! Fuck yeah, these guys Rawk! I quickly texted my friend, Drummer Blake and said, are you aware of Dirty Honey? Naturally he’d discovered their debut EP, Dirty Honey when it came out in 2019. If I hadn’t let my subscription to Rolling Stone run out, I would have never even heard of these guys…

Dirty Honey, who formed in L.A. back in 2017 are: Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their name was inspired by Robert Plant’s side project, The Honeydrippers. Like Greta Van Fleet a few years ago, I’m delighted to hear a young band play rock and roll like this. And like that aforementioned band, you can definitely hear the influences here. I hear shades of Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and yes, Aerosmith in these guys. I even hear some Black Crowes in here, but then again, I’ve been listening to them a lot lately. When I say I hear their influences – I don’t mean that they’re derivative or ripping anybody off – I’m just trying to provide a frame of reference most fans can relate to. These guys definitely have the chops to play loud, nasty rock and roll. It’s great guitar rock with loud vocals. It’s nice to give the speakers a bit of workout!

The EP is only six tracks long but Dirty Honey make the most of them. The opener, “When I’m Gone” is some great AC/DC-style “riffage.” Marc has a real cigarette smoke texture to his vocals on this track. I hear a touch of GnR, Axl Rose scream on this song too. It’s a great song with a soaring chorus. “Rolling 7s” is just a great, dirty boogie. It’s the most 1974-Aerosmith thing you’ll find here. The line from the song, “When I need a little lovin’, all night long…” is just stuck in my head. When I walked this morning I kept mumbling it over and over again… people on the trail tend to avoid me. “Heartbreaker” is another great, melodic rock track. I felt like I was riding in my Camaro, up and down the main drag listening to KY/102, with the t-tops out… OK my Camaro didn’t have t-tops but roll with me here. That track has an infectious riff.

“Down the Road” is a slow burning blues track. I really dig it when a rock band plays something so blues-based. All the great bands have a track like this, a “goodbye to the woman who treated me wrong” song. The EP ends with two rock tracks. “Scars,” a loping hard rocker and “Break You” which brings the tempo back up with a very AC/DC or GnR type tempo.

I’m embarrassed it took me almost a year to stumble upon these guys. Sometimes I just gotta get out of the rut I’m in and look in a few different places to find new rock and roll or a new band. I think Dirty Honey is definitely a band you want to keep your eyes and ears on. When I hear a band like this I begin to think maybe, just maybe, rock and roll ain’t dead yet! Straight up guitar-vocals-bass-drums four-piece rock and roll… yes, please!  I look forward to a new, full LP from this band.

Cheers!