Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”

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“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.” – Paul Simon, “Train In The Distance”

There’s just something about a train.

I spent my early years right out of college, after a brief summer in Boston, living in Northwest Arkansas. First in Fort Smith, then later in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I met a fetching young woman, full blooded-Thai with a southern accent, who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was a lovely woman, but as many of us do in our youth, I was chasing something I would never attain, which turned out to be a pattern but those sad records are sealed.

Almost every Friday while I lived in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, (aka Ft. Hell), I would leave, usually before work was over and head down the two-lane blacktop of Highway 71. It ran the length of Arkansas and eventually into Louisiana and to my goal of Shreveport. I would typically spend as much time as I could in Louisiana before I returned to the dreaded Arkansas so I usually left Shreveport after the sun had gone down…even the sun split before I did. Highway 71 cut through Texarkana, first on the Arkansas side and then the Texas side. My memories of those days are faulty but I can remember on some of those dark nights, the highway turning into surface streets in Texarkana and being stopped by a train crossing the train tracks. I distinctly remember getting out of my car to use a discarded napkin to wipe dirt off my headlights, so dim was my view. I’ve always treated my car like a golf cart so its perpetually filthy. I can remember sitting in my car, watching those trains roll by. I would wonder where they headed. I was wondering why I was out there on the lonesome road headed somewhere I didn’t want to go.

Years later, after a brief stint living with my parents in Kansas City (after returning from my Arkansas exile), I rented an apartment at the junction of I-35 and I-635. I was high on a hill in a top floor apartment. In the spring and summer, I’d open the windows (who could afford A/C back then) and listen to the trains roll by on the tracks that ran parallel to I-35. There was something about that sound. The train chug-chugging by and then they’d blow that whistle. Is there a more lonesome sound than a train whistle in the darkness? I was alone at that time of my life and it was if the train was accentuating the point. There was so much it evoked: travel, movement, goodbyes, leaving, distance…

I was driving out to my parents new house, which is way south of Kansas City and lo and behold, I was stopped by a train. I sat there at the tracks, frustrated because I was already running late, when all those memories of driving dark roads around the south came back to me. I found myself just sitting there, enjoying the sight and sound of a freight train passing my field of vision, a car at a time. My thoughts wandered to Johnny Cash. That guy wrote more great train songs than anybody.

It was then that it hit me – there are shit-ton of great train songs. It doesn’t matter what genre you look to – rock and roll, classic rock, blues, country, country-rock (the Eagles, naturally), heavy metal (even German heavy metal), reggae… Hell, I’m certain even Sinatra probably has a great train song or two. If the sound of train evokes so much emotion in me, with all these great songs out there, maybe I’m not alone. Over the next few weeks I started to compile a list of songs with train references or about trains. Again, I could have just listened to Johnny Cash’s entire catalog and been satisfied, but we like to mix it up here at B&V. Pretty soon I had over 100 songs, and this was just off the top of my head. I whittled it down to just 50 tracks. As usual, you will find this list out on Spotify, under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains.” While I quote the amazing Paul Simon track, “Trains In the Distance” above, it didn’t make the cut. It was too mellow. If you have suggestions for additional tracks, I missed, please recommend them in the comments. My thoughts on each track below.

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – About a hardheaded woman who “left me a mule to ride.” Its the background for the iconic beginning of their movie and I’ve always loved it and hardheaded women.
  2. Bob Seger, “Long Twin Silver Line” – A rocking deep track that takes us across America.
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Silver Train” – The Stones riding a Chuck Berry-esque riff like it’s an actual train. Johnny Winter did a great cover of this song.
  4. The Band with Paul Butterfield, “Mystery Train” – I love this live version of Leon Helm duetting with Paul Butterfield from The Last Waltz. Butterfield did the studio version on his band’s first album.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Slow Train” – Dylan bringing an apocalyptic train round the bend.
  6. Velvet Revolver, “Sucker Train Blues” – Ex-GnR members and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots on their most rocking tune.
  7. The Velvet Underground, “Train Round The Bend” – Lou Reed could even make a train song sound dirty.
  8. Crosby, Stills, Nash, “Marrakesh Express” – OK, it’s more of a drug song, but it works.
  9. Neil Young, “Boxcar” – Beautiful track from Chrome Dreams II.
  10. The Eagles, “Midnight Flyer” – Country rock from the band that made it famous.
  11. Steve Winwood, “Night Train” – I love this song. It’s long and so evocative. The production is “of its time,” but who cares.
  12. AC/DC, “Rock ‘N Roll Train” – One of AC/DC’s great late career jams.
  13. The Allman Brothers Band, “All Night Train” – A bluesy, stellar track from the Allman Brothers.
  14. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Comin'” – Any version of this blues epic will do.
  15. Rush, “A Passage To Bangkok” – Ok, like “Marrakesh Express” more of a drug song, but I wanted to show that even prog-rockers do train songs.
  16. Van Morrison, “Evening Train” – A jaunty train song from Van who even sounds like he’s having fun on this ride.
  17. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Runaway Trains” – “I’m down here changing lanes…” a song that still haunts me.
  18. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Two Trains Running” – Such a great song by such a great blues band.
  19. Bruce Springsteen, “Tucson Train” – One of the happier songs on Bruce’s latest album, Western Stars, which find our hero waiting on his woman whose coming in on the train from Tucson.
  20. Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D song… and one they never play live, alas.
  21. Scorpions, “Catch Your Train” – I had to go all the way back to Virgin Killers for this one.
  22. Grateful Dead, “Casey Jones” – “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”
  23. The Who, “5:15” – From the fabulous Quadrophenia. One of my all time Who favorites.
  24. John Fogerty, “Big Train From Memphis” – Great track about the loss of the King, Elvis Presley.
  25. The Rolling Stones, “Love In Vain” – I debated about whether to put the Faces cover of this Robert Johnson track, but ultimately, the Stones version is definitive for me.
  26. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart, “People Get Ready” – I wish these two would work together again in some capacity.
  27. The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line” – A track that should be on their greatest hits. Yes, there’s a lot of Stones here, but I love the Stones and they love trains.
  28. Little Feat, “Two Trains” – Lowell George was a genius.
  29. Robert Plant, “Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)” – Plant covering a track made famous by Muddy Waters. What’s not to love?
  30. Bob Dylan, “Duquesne Whistle” – This track from Tempest starts off old-timey but takes off a minute in. Benmont Tench does a nice cover version too.
  31. Rod Stewart, “Downtown Train” – I was tempted to go with Tom Waits’ original, but this is better known and I have a story about this song… The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS.
  32. Elton John, “Tell Me When The Whistle Blows” – Great Elton deep track, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks.
  33. R.E.M., “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” – From their mumble the lyrics phase…there’s a train song under here somewhere.
  34. Lenny Kravitz, “Freedom Train” – More of a riff than song, but irresistible for this playlist none the same.
  35. The Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Runnin'” – The Doobies don’t get the love they once did, but they used to be as big as the Eagles, in my opinion.
  36. Joe Walsh, “At The Station” – Joe Walsh is just so solid. This is such a great riff and great song.
  37. Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin'” – First done by Jimmy Page and his Yardbirds. I like this one.
  38. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – A great, “I’m leavin’ here” track. Gary gives me hope for the guitar.
  39. Johnny Cash, “Hey Porter” – I almost went with “Orange Blossom Special.” There are so many great Johnny train songs. I had to limit it or his music would take over the playlist.
  40. The Cult, “Medicine Train” – From their biggest record, Sonic Temple. They’re out touring playing this record in its entirety right now but I haven’t caught up with them yet. I will…mark my words.
  41. Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath” – My favorite Tull song.
  42. Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A railroad song from the perspective of someone working on the line… with a runaway train on its way…”gotta get the workers out of the way of the train.” The Stones, Bob Seger have both covered this track.
  43. Bob Marley, “Zion Train” – From his last studio album when alive. He was a giant.
  44. U2, “Zoo Station” – The opening track from Achtung Baby. 
  45. Guns N Roses, “Night Train” – More about the cheap wine of the same name, but I love these guys and this is one of my favorite songs by them.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train” – His signature song and an NFL stadium favorite.
  47. The Beatles, “One After 909” – A song they wrote in their early days but only went back to record during the jams around Let It Be. 
  48. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Stop That Train” – It says Bob Marley, but this is Peter Tosh on lead vocals.
  49. Sting, “Twenty-Five to Midnight” – A song I first heard after wandering into a bar in Amsterdam. It was a bonus track from Mercury Falling that wasn’t put out in the U.S. until it came out as a b-side.
  50. Bruce Springsteen, “Downbound Train” – Beautiful, haunting ballad from Bruce to end our proceedings.

You can easily shuffle this playlist, which is something I always advise. Again, I probably missed about a million songs that could have been on here… Please make your suggestions in the comments section. This might be a good playlist for the car, when you’re out on that open highway, chasing something you just can’t catch…but again, those files are sealed.

Thanks and as always, Cheers!

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B&V Goes Used Record Shopping: My Saturday Odyssey Through Used Vinyl Stores

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*Photo of last Saturday’s used vinyl haul taken by your intrepid blogger

Many of my fondest memories of my younger days are of the hours spent meandering through used record stores from Manhattan, Kansas to Boston, Massachusetts, without a care in the world. There was no place I felt more comfortable than in the familiar confines of a used record store. Hell, truth be told, if I was forced to go to the mall for any reason there was a good chance I’d make a stop at Penny Lane Records or any new record store that happened to be there. I just liked being in record stores. Often, if I was out album shopping, I’d hit both a new place and a used place. At 75th and Metcalf, there was a Peaches’ Records, which I remember as being huge (it’s a workout place now, so my memory must serve me well here) and I could spend forever in that place. But regardless of how long I was in Peaches and regardless of how many albums I’d have bought there, invariably I was going to cut across the parking lot, cross a side street to Exile Records, the smaller, hipper used vinyl place located in a strip center behind Peaches.

While you could always find the brand new stuff at the big record chains, I always dug the vibe of the used vinyl places. Many stores doubled as “head shops” and sold pipes or bongs. I was never an herbal enthusiast but I always liked those people… they were just more docile and happy. There was usually something obscure but great on the turntable. The walls were always covered with cooler posters than in the record chains. Incense was usually burning. The staff were usually pierced and tattooed. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you would ever find. I remember one guy in Exile with a crazy spiky hair cut arguing with no one in particular for over 45 minutes that Randy Rhoads was derivative of Eddie Van Halen. It was fascinating even if I didn’t particularly agree with all of it. It was like being at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The first thing I did when I moved to Boston for a brief summer was locate to the nearest used record store – In Your Ear Records – just down the street from the Commonwealth Avenue apartment I shared with my two friends. I found the Faces’ first three records in that place. I spent every dime I had at the time, and I didn’t have many, to procure those records. It was a great place to go to hide when I was tired of being around my roomies.

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I used to in record stores. On one of my first dates with the Rock Chick we went to Best Buy to browse and buy CDs, back when you could still buy CDs at Best Buy. She bought a stack of CDs almost as tall as she is. Lately if I’m hankering to do some vinyl spelunking I find myself in the same place every time, Josey’s Records down in the Crossroads District. The Crossroads area in KC is an urban hipster paradise with art galleries, craft beer joints and a lot of man buns and curious facial hair. I like to go down to this bar, the Brewery Imperial but before beer, I always poke my head into Josey’s. I was in there on Record Store Day a few months ago, Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t feel as comfortable in that place as I used to feel in used vinyl places. Maybe I’m just not as familiar with the vibe any more or maybe the vibe has changed?

Recently I was chatting on line with a friend of mine, who I’ll call Dr. Rock and we were musing about vinyl. He mentioned a number of used vinyl spots he had either already visited or was hoping to go check out. I suddenly had that itch to spend a Saturday, not working or doing anything productive, but fucking around in record stores. It was a beautiful spring day here in the American midwest and I haven’t really been outside of the house much since the foot surgery. A day of hitting these “off the beaten path” record stores and maybe a tavern or two was just too enticing. I was hoping to find some place I’d feel comfortable in… that the weird anxiety I feel if I’m at Josey’s or Records With Merritt (another groovy spot) would dissipate. I want that old care free vibe.

This past Saturday, somehow I was able to convince the Rock Chick to forgo the confines of “chores” and ride around the city to a few of these used record spots. As usual, because my wife is ultra cool, she was in with little to no cajoling. I had mentioned Exile Records to Dr. Rock, who naturally remembered the place and actually reminded me what the name of the place used to be…the memory fades, folks. He mentioned there was a new place near there, in a house no less, named Vinyl Heaven. It was just a few blocks south of where Peaches and Exile Records had been, back in the day. In a matter of no time, we were on a lonely side street, off the beaten path when the Rock Chick spotted a row of three, small houses. I had actually driven past the place before she’d spotted a sign stuck in the dirt on the corner, “Vinyl Heaven, Now Open.”

As I approached this tiny shack, wondering if I was in the right place I spotted a giant, cardboard cut-out of Elvis in a bathing suit… I think it was a shot from ‘Blue Hawaii.” That was all I needed to see to know we’d found Vinyl Heaven. We walked into this very small room with mint condition vinyl hanging on the walls everywhere. I felt like I was in my old friend Steve’s basement rec-room… he always displayed his latest purchases on the walls. I was wearing a Stones t-shirt so the proprietor immediately warmed up to me. He was an old dude with bushy, curly hair. He quickly let me know he had a cooler of PBR, Pabst Blue Ribbon in back and was ready to share… now that’s a true B&V moment. It was noon somewhere so I jumped on the offer. I spent the next hour, pouring through the records he had in the place. I was surprised at some of the prices. He had a white-vinyl copy of The Beatles (the White Album) for $175. He had the first Buffalo Springfield album that looked brand new on sale for $200.

Since the Rock Chick was with me, I gravitated toward some 80s rock. I found a mint condition copy of the Power Station’s album. The Power Station had Robert Palmer on lead vocals and some of the guys from Duran Duran on bass and guitar. Our host quickly informed me that they’d played at Live Aid… I had to inform him yes, but without Robert Palmer… Michael Des Barres handled lead vocals that historic day… I knew this guy was a kindred musical nerd. I also picked up Billy Idol’s third record, Whiplash Smile, which I’d owned when it came out, but sold later as it was somewhat disappointing. But, the cover is cool and the Rock Chick wants to hang it in the music room. I ended up chatting with the owner about Ringo Starr until I could tell the Rock Chick was ready to get going… I was getting that old, used record store comfort zone vibe…

With our day off to such a successful start, we headed east over to Troost Avenue and a groovy place named 7th Heaven. It’s like a maze in that place. The first floor is chock full of CDs, mostly hip hop and t-shirts featuring marijuana leaves. If you go up half a floor, you’ll find the “head shop” room where the bongs, vapes and pipes are. They also have a small room featuring adult videos and paraphernalia. This place is a one stop shop for sin and I love it. I hobbled down to the basement to the used album room… and it’s huge down there. The clerk saw my Stones t-shirt and immediately wanted to talk about his first Stones show, back in the 60s in New York. The first guy in the house was a music nerd, this guy was a music hipster. Maybe that’s why I’m always nervous in these places, I don’t want to get bogged down in conversations about Brian Jones being an underrated guitarist. I quickly freed myself from the guy, but saw that most of the vinyl in this room was in pretty distressed condition. We did buy a poster, again for the music room, and the Rock Chick was pleased.

From there, we headed north on Troost, down to 31st street. This is kind of a no man’s land. The retail and businesses in that area of town have largely died. We stopped in the Sol Cantina for a couple of quick Modelos to steel ourselves for the search. We finally located the place we were looking for, Sister Anne’s Records and Coffee. I was surprised to find they serve a mean latte in this place. The guy working the place was nice enough… but he was quiet and was tattooed up to his chin. Even in my Stones t-shirt I looked like an off duty narcotics agent. I asked him a couple of questions but he seemed wary. I was starting to get uncomfortable when it hit me… this guy was a music snob. He was standing behind the counter, expecting me to come up to the counter with a Madonna record. He had taken one look at me and decided I was, what the kids used to call, a Square. I knew had to bring my A game to this purchase…

It was then that I found a mint condition Faces’ Long Player. It was the perfect start for the music snob. Then I found Big Star’s Radio City. Radio City is probably my least favorite of their three early records but this copy was in sealed package – never been opened. These two finds were indeed choice. When the Rock Chick signaled she was ready to go, I laid the two records down in front of the music snob and at last… he smiled. It was like that scene in ‘Indiana Jones And the Last Crusade’ where the old knight looks at Indy and says, “You have chosen well…” And oddly, the approval of the music snob made me feel comfortable once again. Don’t judge a book by his cover, music snob.

I may never find that carefree vibe I had when I was in high school or college, but you know, an afternoon cruising around the city looking for records got me pretty close. If you’re one of those folks out there who sometimes find yourself looking for something to do on a Saturday… google “used record stores” or “vinyl” and spend the day exploring your city and exploring some music. There’s treasure out there to be found…

Cheers!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Allman Brothers Band – 1969

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

 

Idlewild South, 1970

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

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

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

B&V Playlist: Happy 4:20 To All!

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I must admit, straight away, that I’ve never been a big fan of the hookah. I chose my poison long ago and it’s in the form of a dark and murky fluid, an elixir known as bourbon. However, while I’m not a fan of the hookah, I’ve always been a friend of the hookah. Call me, pot adjacent. I always liked the stoners in high school and enjoyed hanging out with them. They were generally more laid back than most teenagers. They were also typically more intelligent and quite frankly they had a better sense of humor. I can’t count the times those stoners turned me on to great music. It would have taken me years to find Pink Floyd without those guys. Those few attempts to be a groovy, turnt guy, smoking weed, ended in paranoia and fear. However, the Rock Chick is a big fan of 420. After all these years, I find myself again, pot-adjacent. Even her cat’s birthday is 4/20.

I feel like pot is pretty pervasive these days. It wasn’t always that way, or so it seemed. I remember watching the comic, David Steinberg, on Johnny Carson one night when I was a kid. He told a story about his only pot smoking experience without mentioning the words “pot” or “smoking” so fearful was he about being censored. It was a funny story. He was at a party where people were smoking pot so he partook in an attempt to look hip. He was a little paranoid so he jumped in his car to drive home. This was before Uber people, we all drove impaired, sadly. A cop pulls him over and asks Steinberg, “Do you know how fast you were driving?” A stoned Steinberg, gripped with the fear, responded, “I don’t, maybe 80 miles per hour?” The cop, now apparently amused, responded, “No sir, you were going 8.”

I remember David Lee Roth coming on Rockline, the weekly rock and roll interview show that was on back in the day. My roommate and I went up to the top floor of the building we lived in and rigged a home made antenna so we could hear the KC radio station, KY/102 since they didn’t have any rock stations in Manhattan, Kansas. Roth referred to a joint as a “behavior modification device” and smoking pot as “burning local herbs for strictly medicinal purposes.” Those immediately became part of our vernacular. Ah, Roth was cool, once upon a time.

The first time I ever tried to be cool and smoke pot ended in disaster, at least emotionally.  A friend of mine, who I’ll call Nately procured a joint from his big brother. He and another friend of ours, who I’ll call Orr (names changed to protect the guilty) sat on Nately’s back porch and smoked it. We could see a family eating dinner like a Normal Rockwell painting, in the house behind Nately’s which we found hysterical for reasons, well, unclear. Suddenly, in the distance we heard a police siren. We joked that it was coming for us, that the Norman Rockwell family had called the cops. Oh, that was hysterical alright… until the siren got louder and louder and louder. We all reached the same conclusion at the exact same time – Jesus, the cops are coming for us. We all three scrambled in different directions. I remember Orr dove under the deck. I seem to recall punching Nately’s cat, who had snuck up on me, and diving into a bush. At some point I just panicked and ran the two miles to my parents house, where I promptly locked myself in my room and hid under the bed until my stoned friends showed up to retrieve me.

After that I just stuck to beer. Pot left me a mute, catatonic, fearful, drooling moron. But since I hung out with stoners I was always approached with different sales pitches on different types of pot that I should try. Edibles, that’s the answer to your weed anxiety, it’s a different high. My one pot eating experience resulted in me vomiting on the shoes of a sober person and yelling, “Eating pot sucks.” Hash, you’ve got to try hash, it’s a different high. Yes, hash is different, it’s more terrifying. I made the mistake of listening to the Velvet Underground after hash and again, I ended up under my bed, convinced Lou Reed’s voice was the voice of Satan. What you need is indica, that will relax you. Nope. Nowadays people always seem to recommend CBD, which is the non THC component of pot. I have bad news for you folks it’s all the same high. I haven’t touched a hookah in over 25 years. But I will drink and toast those who are getting toasted. Like sexual preference, practice that which makes you happy, just don’t try and convert me.

When I realized today was 4/20, I felt compelled to do something for our herbal enthusiasts out there. There are so many great songs about pot. I was thinking Neil Young’s “Roll Another Number” or Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” While I think I could have cobbled something enjoyable for our B&V stoner fans out there, I just felt I was out of my element. We’ve never had a guest contributor here at B&V but I turned to the foremost weed enthusiast I knew, the Rock Chick and asked her to compile some music for this, the National Holiday for Weed Smokers. Below, you will find her list. You can find it on Spotify under BourbonAndVinyl.net 420. Enjoy burning your local herbs for strictly medicinal purposes today and please, don’t get in your car and drive 8 miles an hour some place. And always… don’t bogart that thing, pass it around.

  1. “Legalize It” – Peter Tosh. I do think pot should be legal everywhere, not just a few states. Even if it’s just to allow medical experts to study it for help in PTSD, anxiety and depression.
  2. “Kaya” – Bob Marley. You knew Bob was going to be here and the name of this song, says it all.
  3. “Hits From the Bong” – Cypress Hill. This one, like many of the Rock Chick’s brilliant selections was new to me. This is hysterical.
  4. “Young, Wild And Free” – Snoop Dogg (with others) – Well, like Bob Marley, you knew Snoop would be here.
  5. “One Draw” – Rita Marley. I was glad to hear a little something from Bob’s wife.
  6. “Smoke Two Joints” – Sublime. When one is not enough and three is too many.
  7. “Officer” – Slighty Stoopid. This is a band I might have to do a lot more investigating into.
  8. “Indo Smoke” – Mista Grimm. This song is guaranteed to make even the most hard core pot smoker laugh his ass off.
  9. “Cheeba Cheeba” – Tone-Loc. This is a great song with a wonderful Stevie Wonder sample. To think I thought of Tone as a one hit wonder.
  10. “The Next Episode” – Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg. Dre and Snoop, together again. It’s money.
  11. “Smoke The Weed” – Snoop Lion, Collie Buddz. “Smoke the weed, not the seeds.” It seems like sound advice, but what do I know?
  12. “I’ve Been High” – Khia. I think we all have. Don’t trust anybody who hasn’t at least tried weed.
  13. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” – Sublime. I think Ray Charles has a song with the same title. I don’t think he’d fit in on this list, though.
  14. “Easy Skanking” – Bob Marley. Today I’ll be “Skanking it slow…”
  15. “Bowl For Two” – The Expendables. A track for all of you romantics. “I packed a bowl for two.” Share a bowl with the one you love?
  16. “Mile High” – The Movement. Having just been in Denver, where the smell of weed is pervasive, this song is perfect. And my beloved whiskey gets a shout out here too. Everybody wins.
  17. “Gin and Juice” – Snoop Dogg (with others) – A story as old as time… your mom is out, you’re  having a party with the ho’s and drinking gin. Your friend shows up with some “bubonic chronic” and “yeah, I’m fucked up now.”
  18. “Fat Spliffs” – Slightly Stoopid. The only way to roll one, I presume.
  19. “Blueberry Yum Yum” – Ludacris, Sleepy Brown. I’ve loved Luda since “One More Drink.”
  20. “Who’s Got the Herb” – 311. I’ve seen these guys in concert and they’re a great band.
  21. “I Got 5 On It” – Luniz, Micheal Marshall. I don’t know where she finds this music, but I’m glad the Rock Chick is out on that wall…
  22. “Smokin’ Love” – Stick Figure, Collie Buddz. This Collie Buddz keeps showing up on songs about weed… Could it be the name?
  23. “Legal Dub” – Sublime. I fear our next cat may be named “Legal Dub.”
  24. “Kush – Main” – Dr Dre and Snoop. Dre and Snoop are like peanut butter and jelly. They just belong together.
  25. “My Medicine” – Snoop Dogg. This is my favorite song on here. It’s Snoop doing a country track that he dedicates to Johnny Cash, a personal hero of mine. This is the funniest track on here.
  26. “This Joint” – Slightly Stoopid. Perhaps if they didn’t smoke so much weed, they’d be slightly smarter?
  27. “Burn By Myself” – The Dirty Heads. Where our hero laments the fact that he has to smoke his pot by himself.
  28. “Because I Got High” – Afroman. Is there a message in this song? I seem to remember my wife and daughter both being fans of this one back in the day… Hmmm.

Sure, there are probably hundreds of 420 play lists out there but none of them have that touch of the Rock Chick’s magic. And I know that stoners probably don’t have the stick-to-it, gung-ho urge to search this stuff out, but before you light that bowl, dial up Spotify and enjoy!

Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…

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Life comes at you fast and furious anymore… I knew it was Record Store Day today but I was on the road all week for, yes, the dreaded work. I went out to the websites of two of my favorite local record stores to check their store hours. On the surface, you’d think they’d have posted that they had special hours for Record Store Day, it’s their national holiday after all. But when you think about it, the folks that work and own record stores are probably a tad more… casual… about updates to their website. Had I been in town, I’d have driven by each of the places and learned that they both opened at 7am, not the usual 11am today. By the time I got to the record stores today, any hope of picking up any of the exclusive releases that were available had long since faded… I felt, frankly, embarrassed. I even drug the Rock Chick out today, for the first time in quite a while, to join me at the record store. She’s the one who’s saved the day by picking out two great posters, pictured above (which represent the sum total of my haul), about which she said, “These will look great framed.” The woman has a sophisticated eye.

Ah, going to the record store. It was such a joyful ritual for me, really my entire life. I’m glad they have Record Store Day every year, and that so many artists participate by releasing rare or previously unreleased albums, but it’s also kind of sad they have to do so. I will admit, the crowds at both Records With Merritt and Josey’s Records were higher than usual today. In the old days, those crowds would have been there anyway. I had left with high hopes of finding Dylan’s vinyl release of the recreation of his original acetate recording of Blood On The Tracks (which he quickly withdrew) or perhaps, the first ever vinyl release of Robert Plant’s Fate Of Nations, but alas, on Record Store Day, the early bird gets the worm. I hate it when work interferes with great rock n roll, and especially great vinyl.

The first few albums I received as a child were gifts. They were comedy albums by Steve Martin and Robin Williams. When I first began my music collection, I had to save my allowance and/or lawn mowing money and beg a ride to the mall with my mother in order to buy a record. As soon as she needed some make up, or a blender, or a flouncy blouse or something I’d bum a ride and she’d stroll off through the mall and I’d hit one or both of the two record stores – Musicland or Camelot Music – located in the mall. One was on the top floor, the other was on the bottom. Oak Park Mall, our local mall, was big, but I’m still a tad staggered that it could support two record stores. I’d spend as much time as I could perusing the new vinyl, looking for the records I wanted to add to my collection. It was there that I bought Some Girls by the Stones, my first purchase. I had gone into the store that day with what can only be described as a grim, focused determination to come away with that album. Other trips were more exploratory in nature. Pouring over the album covers, looking at the songs listed on the back, trying to determine if the album I was holding was worthy of parting with the 9 bucks it would take to buy it. I could usually only buy 1 or 2 albums at a time. I was never so stressed out as when I had to decide if I wanted to invest in a double album… and yes, The Wall and The River were both worth it. Eventually, my mother would appear at the store front, tapping her watch, indicating it was time to go.

When I got my drivers license I was stoked, as most of us are. I could finally drive and didn’t have to depend on others for rides. I could drive to a friend or a girls’ place without having to ask my mother. Most importantly, no one knew where I was. For me, though, there was the added blessing of being able to drive to the record store and not have to hurry because mom was waiting. By then, while I still went to the mall – I had a job as a bus boy at York Steak House, it was hard to avoid – I realized there were other, larger record stores in the suburbs where I grew up. All during high school, I’d make the long trek up Metcalf Avenue, to Peaches Records. It was a virtual cornucopia of vinyl. I was so blown away by the expansive selection. That was where I bought my first album crates, emblazoned with the Peaches logo. I wish I still had those damn things. The Rock Chick tossed them, along with everything else I owned onto the bonfire of my past, when we moved in together. I also discovered there was an independent record store, closer to home, at the intersection of 95th and Antioch – Tiger’s Records. Tiger was supposedly mobbed up and the albums were purportedly stolen, but I still shopped there. It was said you could buy bootlegs there… but those records are sealed. I do know you could buy concert tickets there. I waited out for Van Halen tickets outside Tigers… they opened at midnight and let us into the store to buy our tickets early…some of the best seats I ever had for a show. “Someone shouted “fair warning!”…”

These bigger, or more independent record stores were to me, the coolest places on the planet. There were rows and rows of albums, music blaring on their turntable, and racks full of posters. They had everything from porn stars, to black velvet Elvis to rock star posters. I think that’s where I picked up the iconic Farrah Fawcett in an orange bikini poster. There was the smell of incense and perhaps pot emanating from the folks that worked there. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you were ever going to meet. I felt like I’d joined a very exclusive club that I was not cool enough to be a part of. I’d spend hours in these places, looking for records by the bands I heard on the radio.

When I went away to college, I found a kindred spirit in my buddy/roommate Drew. He and I would drive down to the heart of Aggieville in Manhattan, Kansas where we’d spend hours perusing the selection there. It was tucked in amongst all the restaurants and bars in the entertainment area, which we also frequented, but the record store was the place we spent most of our time. For us, the record store was a communal place where we would bond over great rock and roll. I can remember all of us who lived together going down there the day that Springsteen’s Live 1975 to 1985 box set came out and we each bought a copy. Going to the album store when a big record came out was an event! It was around that time that I discovered “used” record stores. Just behind the Peaches on Metcalf, was a little place next to the Roxy Bar that sold used records. That was a revelation to me as well… you could sell albums you didn’t connect with and still buy great albums at a reduced price. It’s where I found the Faces Oo La La. Used record stores are even cooler and stonier than the retail chains were. I felt like I was getting deeper and deeper into a secret society… The place behind the Roxy, whose name I can’t find on the internet, was where my buddy Drew found the rare copy of Time Fades Away. The summer I spent in Boston, I found a place called In Your Ear, a used record store and it was there I found the rest of the Faces’ catalog. I was in heaven.

Eventually I graduated from college and went into exile, living in Arkansas. I lived in both Ft. Smith and Fayetteville. Or as I called them, Ft Hell and Fayette-nam. Each one had but 1 record store, located on their respective main drags and at times of deep depression and loneliness, of which there were many, that’s where I would go. I made a new friend, Joel, and he and I would go and hang out at the record store. He turned me onto the Allman Brothers, the Band and U2. It was during that time I finally made the transition from vinyl to CD… it was tough, but bands just stopped issuing vinyl.

Finally, I’d had enough of fucking Arkansas and I moved home. After a brief stint living with my parents – every parents’ dream for their kids – I moved to Kansas City’s midtown. They had a big record store in the heart of Westport, a bar area down there. It was all CDs, but it still had that stoney, record store vibe. The basement was full of jazz and blues discs. I remember arguing with one of the guys who worked there about Randy Rhoads and his legacy as a guitarist. It was friendly but where else are you going to get to have that debate. I signed up for their frequent flier or frequent buyer club and when I filled out the form, as my salutation, instead of “Mr.” I checked “Reverend,” which only confused some drunk neighbors of mine who thought I could marry them. It was during this time period I started taking women on dates to record stores… it was fabulous being able to share a passion for music, go home, drink wine and share some, well, passion.

Alas, eventually all these places disappeared. Peaches turned into, I think, a bowling alley. The place by the Roxy, the used record store, became a futon store. The Penny Lane spot in Westport became a bar, the Ale House, catering to snotty college kids. I began to despair that the experience of going to the album store was over. Thank god, vinyl began to make a come back. I discovered a couple of really cool used vinyl places that helped keep the fire alive. Now, all these years later, these places sell used records and new vinyl by current artists. It appears we’re coming full circle. I just hope the experience, the sheer enjoyment of going and hanging out at a record store, perusing through vinyl albums comes back on the level I enjoyed when I was growing up. I certainly encourage as many people who read this to get to your local record store to pick up some vinyl and to just hang out. Support your local record stores folks!

I doubt we ever see a day when there are two record stores at your local mall. Hell, the way things are now, with everything on-line, I doubt we see your local malls any more. We’re trying to save coal miners’ jobs, how about saving retail jobs. Anyway, with a little luck and perhaps some better planning, maybe next year and the years beyond, just maybe, I’ll get up early enough to buy a Stones album in a special, orange-colored vinyl edition…

Long live Record Stores!

 

 

 

Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King

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My parents weren’t very musical. They didn’t even own a stereo until we moved to Kansas City when I was five. I don’t know why they even bought a stereo, they only owned a handful of albums. I never actually remember the stereo being turned on, other than once a year for Christmas music. Later, when I started collecting vinyl my father once asked me why I had so many different albums. Uh, there are different bands with different music on each record, dad. I don’t know what had happened to my father. When my dad was a kid, he collected a bunch of 45s that my brother, who was turned onto rock and roll long before I was, snatched up and probably still owns. There’s some cash in that little singles rack. But during my youth there was no evidence of my father’s early interest in music… sports had supplanted everything. My dad was one of those set-up-three-tv’s on New Years Day to watch every college Bowl game simultaneously kinda guy. Dad didn’t want to spring for cable.

My parents were very much a product of the 50s. My uncle who was three years younger and my aunt who was seven years younger than my father (I think), were very much a product of the 60s. Think of it this way: my parents were very Eisenhower, my aunt/uncle were very JFK. My parents are only moderately into music even now, despite having two music addicts as kids. Every once in a while they’ll add a Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison greatest hits album to their Christmas list. I shudder when I think about them dropping Roy in the CD player and attempting to dance and shuffle around in the basement on wobbly knees and bad ankles. At least no hospital has called me yet…”Sir, your parents have fallen victim to boogie fever.”

Of those handful of albums my parents owned (for their dusty and unused turntable), one of course, was Elvis. The thing that was mind boggling about it was that the lone Elvis album they had was Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, which, lets face it, isn’t Elvis’ greatest album. I mean, it was a live album. Don’t get me wrong, I still remember being huddled around the TV in 1973 to watch Elvis perform via satellite (which was unheard of technology back then) from Hawaii and being mesmerized…but an obscure live record for the King of Rock and Roll? No greatest hits album? They at least had the blue Beatles greatest hits album, entitled 1967 to 1970. I always preferred the red one, 1962 to 1966.

All that said, it’s clear my exposure to Elvis was fairly limited. It wasn’t until that fateful day in August of 1977 – when I was in the backseat of Coach Taylor’s car, on the way to football practice with two other guys on the team, when we heard Elvis had died – that I realized his impact. I remember Coach Taylor turning to us and saying, “He’s my age…” with tears in his eyes. NBC re-aired the original 1968 special, which had been dubbed “the Comeback” special and that’s when I was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the special broadcast was hosted by Ann Margaret. It was then that I circled back to my brother’s room and started listening to some of those early singles. “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and of course, my favorite, “Jailhouse Rock.” It was during that sad summer of ’77 that I realized we may all disagree on who the President should be, but we could at least all agree there is but one King. Elvis brought us together in our grief. What a tale his was…

Elvis’ life was an epic story, worthy of being written by a Greek tragedian like Sophocles or Euripides or perhaps by Shakespeare. There was our Hero, who rose from the Mississippi Delta town of Memphis, Tennessee, the walking embodiment of all the music that had come before him: rhythm and blues, soul, country and of course gospel. And of course every tragedy has to have a villain, in this case it was Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis’ career began at the famous Sun Studios after being discovered by producer Sam Phillips. Phillips sold his contract to RCA and Col Parker, a two-bit concert promoter who stepped forward to take Elvis as his only client. From then on it was Elvis the artist controlled by the Colonel (our Iago in this story) who was driven by nothing more than commerce.

Presley was becoming a phenomenon in the south when his contract was sold to RCA… it was then that he broke nationally. The world had never seen success like Elvis’. From 1956 to 1958 he absolutely dominated the new American art form known as rock and roll. No one sounded like Elvis. Strip away the image and just sit and listen to those early records… what a voice… the voice of the Delta with a dash of gospel. And when he performed live, nobody moved like Elvis. Of course that caused some backlash from the prudes and puritans of the era. Then, inexplicably, (although it was probably to control him), Elvis was drafted into the Army. Colonel Parker, rather than have Elvis record a bunch of material to keep him in the public eye, released music only sporadically during the two years Elvis was in the Army ’58-60… It was John Lennon who said, “that was the end of Elvis, when he went into the Army.”

When he finally got back in early 1961, he apparently surrendered all control of his career to the Colonel. After the smash success of his first studio album, Elvis Is Back! the Colonel turned his eye to Hollywood. Why every rock star wants to be a movie star and vice versa is a mystery I’ll never unravel. Elvis even stopped doing live shows after 1961. From ’61 to ’68 Elvis was seemingly trapped in formulaic, crappy rom-com musicals. Each movie had the inevitable soundtrack. The movie drove people to buy the soundtrack and the soundtrack drove ticket sales for the flick… rinse and repeat. Eventually what had been a very profitable enterprise fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. When you think about ’61 to ’68, a lot of things happened in music. The Beatles and the British Invasion changed everything. Motown and soul had become very prominent. It appeared that the music scene had completely passed Elvis by. He was a has-been, marginalized. The King, it seems, had been dethroned.

It was then that NBC approached Elvis about doing a TV special. The Colonel wanted it to be a Christmas special. He wanted Elvis to do a Christmas album. Elvis steadfastly refused. TV producer Bob Finkel suggested to Elvis that the network would be willing to do whatever Elvis wanted to creatively… Suddenly, like in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf frees the King of Rohan from the evil machinations of Wormtongue, Elvis was freed from the Colonel, if only momentarily. He took complete control of the special, including the music. He did concede to the Colonel’s wishes to perform one Christmas song, “Blue Christmas,” which is one of the few Christmas songs I can actually listen to without screaming. The special was conceived as Elvis on a sound stage performing songs. While they were rehearsing and filming, the music producer on the special, Steve Binder went to Elvis’ dressing room where Elvis was sitting around with the musicians, goofing around and loosely jamming on some of his old stuff. It was so powerful and natural Binder realized, that a concert had to be a part of the show.

Immediately they decided to intersperse live concert footage of Elvis on a small, square stage surrounded by a small crowd in the special. The Colonel, who really was a fuckstain, was supposed to send out tickets to fans across the country but didn’t do so. There was a pretty small crowd lined up for the actual show, so the producers went across the street to a local diner and convinced some people to come over and watch Elvis perform. The Colonel was unhappy about it, but Elvis chose to wear fantastic, tight, black leather from head to toe. The Colonel always tried to down play Elvis’ powerful sexual charisma.  To make sure Elvis felt completely confident they brought back some of his early band, Scotty Moore on guitar and DJ Fontana on drums. The thought was to have Elvis come out and talk about the old days while he played in a real loose setting.

There was only one problem. Elvis wouldn’t come out of the dressing room. He wanted to cancel the concert scenes. He hadn’t been on a stage since 1961… his confidence was gone. The King had surrendered his throne. Binder insisted… Imagine being Elvis in that dressing room in that moment. He hadn’t performed live in 7 years, his confidence had been shaken. His last few records had flopped. The Beatles ruled the world now. He’d been hiding away in a Hollywood bubble… the self-doubt, the fear of failing. I wonder to this day what went through his mind. Finally, with a nod, Elvis agreed to Binder’s pleading and walked out on the stage… and something magical took place.

It’s a common trope in movies, especially bio pics, to have the hero rise, then fall and then rise again. This is that one uncommon case where it actually happened that way in real life. Elvis relaxed immediately upon taking the stage. He was sexy, he was powerful, he was self-deprecating (about his past, the Elvis the Pelvis stuff, about his movies) and it just worked. In one powerful performance, we as a nation witnessed not just rock and roll history, we witnessed a King retaking his throne. John, Paul, George and who? This was Elvis, baby, as big as America, as big as the fucking world.

The show was originally broadcast on NBC on December 3rd, 1968, exactly fifty years from tomorrow. While the concert footage is my favorite and the most powerful part of the show, the producers and writers had written a song specifically for Elvis to reflect how he felt about the world. America in 1968 was a tumultuous place… RFK and MLK had been assassinated. Elvis was particularly disturbed by MLK’s murder as it happened in his hometown of Memphis. Elvis was that rare breed of southerner who was completely color blind. He’d grown up listening to black musicians his whole life, including black church gospel. For me, the center-point of the special, beyond the concert stuff is the great, great track “If I Can Dream.” It’s a song meant to unify and bring people together and I believe it to be one of Elvis’ most towering achievements.

I heard Bruce Springsteen talk about the “Comeback Special,” as it has come to be known. He said the whole family was looking forward to watching it, but he confessed to being nervous. Could Elvis pull it off? Did he still have “it?” The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, on it’s 50th anniversary they’ve released The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition. It’s pretty spectacular. It’s everything. The original sound track is here. They even include the raw concert recordings. They even have the recordings of the rehearsals here. Everyone out there should own a copy of the Comeback Special in some format. It’s a really important chapter in the life of the King and in the story that is rock and roll.

After the success of the special, riding high, Elvis told the Colonel he wanted to get back on the road. He also decided to return to Memphis, his home to record there. The sessions from Memphis produced two landmark albums, From Elvis In Memphis and later Back In Memphis. It also produced the smash single, “Suspicious Minds.” You can easily find all the Memphis sessions combined on 1 or 2 CDs. I’ve always recommended The Memphis Record as the definitive one. After the special, the success of “Suspicious Minds,” and the album From Elvis In Memphis, the King had returned.

This new box set is likely the definitive version of the Comeback Special. I highly recommend it and the Memphis stuff recorded right after… I said earlier that we could all agree that Elvis was the undisputed King of rock and roll. When he was asked by a reporter at a press conference about being the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis shook his head and said, “I’m not the King, he is…” and pointed to Fats Domino who happened to be there. So I guess I can’t really say he was the undisputed King…

Long Live the King!

 

 

Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen

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*Image from a drawing I bought at an art fair that hangs in my office, artist’s name illegible

I think it was Lou Reed, on a song from his landmark late-80s album New York, who sang about the “duality of nature, human nature, godly nature splits the soul.” I’m not sure I knew what he was talking about when I was listening to that song in my car on cassette, driving around Northwest Arkansas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to piece that together a little better. For example, on a superficial level, I can tell you that autumn is my favorite time year (“autumn’s sweet, we call it fall” as the Chili Peppers sang). At the same time I can tell you that I hate this time of year. The faceless corporation I work for does most of it’s business in December so autumn and early winter are always insanely busy. My travel goes up, my time to listen to rock and roll goes down. The only thing that throws the balance of autumn to the positive is football and well, it is bourbon season.

Being so busy this time of year has prevented me from my favorite past time – holing up in the B&V labs and scribbling about the music that shaped my life. I’m long overdue for a post, but enough about me. I got home from one of my interminable business trips this Friday, dropped my suitcases in an exhausted heap and learned that the Rock Chick had bought us tickets to see the new bio-pic about Freddy Mercury and Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.” This was quite a delightful surprise. She was not keen to go see this movie. Earlier in the week, there had been an intense negotiation around which flicks we would be seeing in the near term. In exchange for her going to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ I fear I may have committed to go to ‘A Star Is Born.’ Say what you want about Lady Gaga, (and while I think she’s talented, I’m not a fan…not my style), Kris Kristofferson and Streisand own that movie for me… Little known fact, Streisand originally asked Elvis to play the part of the druggy, burned-out rock star… He (or more likely, the Colonel) turned her down. They speculate that taking the role could have saved his life. He’d have had to sober up and get in shape. At least Baabs tried. What might have been…?

Last night, I finally got to do something other than work and we went to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ The movie stars Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon (or Deacon John as we knew him back in the day), and finally Gwilym Lee as Brian May. Gwilym? This kid’s parents must have been hippies or had a strange sense of humor. Not enough can be said about the performance of Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddy’s long time friend and briefly, his wife. I will be the first to admit, this movie is flawed. The timeline as to which songs or which albums were released was way off. Probably only an OCD rock fan with a blog would notice but I kept muttering about it to the Rock Chick. I think Freddy was probably a tortured soul and struggled with his own “duality of nature” if you will, and I think Rami Malek captures that well. However, I think there was a lot of joy in Freddy’s life and I don’t think they captured enough of that. Freddy always looked like he was having a great time to me. All of that aside, as a rock fan, I really liked this movie. But then, I really love Queen.

Queen were already international rock stars when my own rock and roll awakening took place in 7th or 8th grade. My parents weren’t musical, they never played the radio, but somehow there were just certain songs or groups that seemed to pierce my consciousness. I can distinctly remember going to the pool in the summer, which was literally my only exposure to pop music when I was a kid (except those rare times I went into my brother’s room, he was far more advanced musically than I was), and being aware of hearing “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac and “Killer Queen” by, of course, Queen. I was literally aware of Queen before I was aware of rock and roll.

My first vinyl Queen purchase was 1977’s News Of The World. It was one of the first rock albums I’d purchased. You couldn’t get away from the lead singles “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” The “Champions” part was Freddy’s snarky reply to the punks, and probably the best reply by a “classic” rock band other than “Who Are  You?” Who would have dreamed a band fronted by a gay man would pen a song that would be played in every arena and stadium at every macho sporting event for the rest of recorded time. I simply loved that album. It had a little bit of everything. People forget that Queen started as a hard rock band with prog rock influences. While they rocked, they could certainly roll too. Freddy, very early on, cited Robert Plant as a singing idol. Metallica has covered some of their early stuff… News Of the World had plenty of hard rock (“It’s Late” is my perennial favorite), but it also had piano ballads (“My Melancholy Blues”), disco (“Get Down Make Love”) and epic arena rock (“Spread Your Wings”).

After News, I was on the bandwagon. Queen was on top of the world at that time. 1978’s Jazz which was described in Rolling Stone magazine as “fascist,” and had nothing to do with the musical genre it’s named after. It was all rock and roll. That was followed by their oft overlooked live album, Live Killers that always seemed to be playing at keg parties I went to. It was always that album and Rush’s 2112 that somebody put on. Queen finally reached their second career zenith (the first being, of course, their masterpiece, A Night At the Opera) with 1980’s The Game. The lead single was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and it still knocks me out. I was too young to realize that Freddy was doing Elvis.

The Game always conjures a bit of a bittersweet reaction in me. Queen came to Kansas City on that tour. My friend Matthew and his hot girlfriend Debbie tried to talk me into going to the show. By then, I was a “Death Before Disco” guy and didn’t like “Another One Bites the Dust.” I hate to admit it, but I think there was more to it than that. For The Game Freddy had cut his hair short, grown a mustache and was dressed like a butch biker. All the time we’d been listening to Queen, we’d all say, “he’s not gay, he’s just English, they’re more flamboyant,” with all apologies to every Englishmen out there. I fear I was part of the backlash against Queen and I didn’t go the show. I wish I’d seen these guys, I blew it. My friend Matthew sadly passed out as they came on stage and only regained consciousness when they were saying goodnight. I think we’ve all had nights like that…mine was Neil Young and Crazy Horse… what happened?

It was then that Queen began to “lose” America. Their next album, Hot Space was their worst… I shudder when I think about the lead single, “Body Language.” Not even the presence of David Bowie and “Under Pressure” could save that record. There was more to it – I don’t know if it was gay backlash. I know at the time of The Game I was an adolescent kid who didn’t know much about the world. I was still forming. An in your face gay Freddy was more than we could handle. I’m ashamed of that now. Now I’d say it doesn’t matter who you’re fucking, what matters is the music… Despite all that, we all still made sure we were home when Queen were on Saturday Night Live. I can still remember being thrilled to see them perform “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Under Pressure.” That was back when SNL was “appointment” television. You’d make sure to get home to see the skits, and more importantly for me, the bands.

While it wasn’t until much later that I picked up 1984’s The Works, I certainly got back on the bandwagon for their album, A Kind of Magic, which was basically the soundtrack to one of my all time favorite movies, ‘Highlander.’ I can remember Matthew saying at the time, “Brian May needs to take control of this band,” which probably shows our lack of understanding as to how Queen operated. Queen went on to have a very strong late career. The highlight of which, and the climactic moment in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ was their performance at Live Aid. I remember watching them on TV and being blown away. Forget all the reunions – Zeppelin, CSNY, Mick and Tina Turner, Black Sabbath – Queen stole the show. The final scene in the movie, which is a spot-on recreation of Queen’s Live Aid set (slightly edited) put tears in my eyes. When I got home from the theater I had to pull up the YouTube video and marveled at how kick ass Queen was that day. Mercury was warned by doctors he could lose his voice if he sang that day, and he still went on. The fans at Wembley went certifiably nuts… As I watched the YouTube footage, again, tears welled for a friend lost too early, Freddy Mercury.

Fans of rock and roll, fans of Queen, fans of the human experience, the “duality of nature, human nature…”, all of you should go and see this movie. It’s not a perfect biography but it was a fun and enjoyable movie. The thing that you’ll enjoy the most is the power and majesty of the rock and roll Queen and Freddy made. It’s certainly better than that mess Oliver Stone made about the Doors. After you’ve seen it, run home and drop Sheer Heart Attack on the turntable, pour something dark and murky and marvel… Long Live the Queen!