BourbonAndVinyl: The Best of 2019, New LPs and Box Sets/Vault & Live LPs

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It was Bob Dylan in “You’re a Big Girl Now” who sang “Time is a jet plane it moves so fast, oh but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last.” There’s more poetry on Blood On the Tracks than in most freshman lit classes but I’m getting off topic. That line, “time is a jet plane” has been stuck in my head lately. It always seems to pop up around this time of year. That line and Jackson Browne’s “I’ve been aware of the time passing by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Each passing year seems to go by faster than the last. It seems like just yesterday I was moving to a new living space… but that was last January.

I can’t believe the NFL regular season is over already. I’ve only got about four or five more weeks before I have to go into sports hibernation until fall 2020. I really need to figure out hockey so I have something to do during the football off-season. At least I have rock and roll… And speaking of 2020, I can’t believe we’re up to 2020… when I was a kid I used to calculate how old I’d be in 2000… I never imagined adding the big 20 to it. All my trusty old concert t-shirts are getting even closer to being considered “vintage.” A guy at the car lot Saturday was fawning all over my Pearl Jam Vitalogy concert shirt.

If I have any regrets about 2019 it’s that I didn’t go to many concerts. I had foot surgery in May and that curtailed my concert going quite a bit. We missed the Cult’s Sonic Temple tour and the Rock Chick may never forgive me. I guess if I wanted to say it more positively, it’s my “New Year’s Resolution” to see more concerts next year. I’m not a big resolution guy… hence the bourbon part of this thing. It was a good year for me in terms of looking backward and expanding my musical horizons. I got into the Byrds and Modern Lovers (finally) this year. I went deeper into the Buffalo Springfield than I’d been previously. I continued to expand my working set of Tom Waits albums. The man is phenomenal. You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to the original version of “Jersey Girl” at three a.m. in New York city, drunk on gin.

I don’t know what to expect out of 2020 but we’ve already got a little bit of good news that John Frusciante has rejoined the Chili Peppers, a reunion I predicted would never happen (Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen), which made it inevitable. There’s a Netflix documentary on Linda Rondstadt coming that I’m sure you’ll be reading about in these pages. And while 2020 will likely be a politically charged one – I saw political flags at the Chiefs game yesterday which was a first – I choose to hope for the best. Hell, the Stones may finally release that record they’ve been polishing for a couple of years. So much to look forward to.

But of course, the purpose of this post is not to look forward, this is our annual look backward to 2019. I think I’ve dropped the Don Henley quote, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll,” into every annual recap I’ve done, but I’m not saying that this year. 2019 actually saw some really great music from some of our favorite B&V artists. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite new albums and then below, our favorite box sets, live albums and miscellaneous vault type releases.

I hope over the last year this blog has brought some good music into your lives out there. I truly hope that each of you have a great and truly happy New Year. This New Year’s Eve I’ll probably be home and in bed by 10… and not in a good way. New Year’s Eve used to be bloodsport for me but now I see it as Amateur Hour… not like St Patrick’s Day where the pros show us how to drink all day. Ahem… Have a great New Year out there everyone! Make it special – reach out to an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, put on an old LP you haven’t heard since way back when, pour a nice strong drink and lets make 2020 even better than 2019. A poet once said, people are like flowers. It’s been a pleasure sharing this garden with you…

2019 B&V Top New LPs 

  1. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars – Springsteen channels Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and early Glenn Campbell on this fabulous solo record. “Hello Sunshine” ranks amongst his greatest songs.
  2. The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock” –  The Keys triumphant return full of fuzzy guitar and stomping drums. Great, great garage rock.
  3. The Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger – Jack White returns to his first side project, the Raconteurs and delivers a more structured set of tracks. Another great garage rock album.
  4. Van Morrison, Three Chords And the Truth – Van delivers his first set of all originals for his sixth album in four years. Laid back, Celtic soul.
  5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado – Neil gets Crazy Horse back together, subs in Nils Lofgren for Frank Sampedro and delivers his best album in years.
  6. The Who, WHO – This might be my favorite album of the year. A truly spectacular return.
  7. Peter Frampton, All Blues – Frampton going back to his roots in Humble Pie to deliver a spectacular album of blues covers. My favorite track may be his Miles Davis cover, “All Blues.”
  8. Starcrawler, Devour You – Arrow de Wilde and the gang show up with a strong, strong sophomore LP. Go see these guys live wherever you are. They’re amazing.
  9. Liam Gallagher, Why Me? Why Not. – He’s a confounding man who once mocked my air-guitar skills, but damn if he doesn’t put out fabulous solo records.
  10. Norah Jones, Begin Again – At 7 tracks, more of an EP than an LP, but I just love this woman’s singing and songwriting. It’s on the mellow end, but we can’t all listen to “In-A-Gadda-Davida” every day.
  11. Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance – Beautifully produced by Cohen’s son based on notes the late singer left behind, this was a great posthumous release. His voice more haunting than ever… He’s not afraid to get political with “Puppets,” but its on the songs of heartbreak that he was most affecting.
  12. Iggy Pop, Free – I doubt my constant praise of Iggy is winning any converts but everyone should listen to “James Bond” and do the twist.

2019 B&V Favorite Box Sets, Live & Vault LPs

  1. Prince, 1999 Super Deluxe Box Set – A deluxe treatment of a double-LP. There is so much great bonus material, it actually eclipses the deluxe treatment Purple Rain got.
  2. The Beatles, Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Box – Everything you’d ever want to hear out of the Abbey Road sessions. True collectors will find the original running order of the side 2 medley a must have.
  3. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Live At Woodstock – If this is CCR on bad night, where Fogerty is pissed, I can’t imagine what they were like on a good night. Essential for every CCR fan, and who isn’t a CCR fan?
  4. Paul McCartney, Amoeba Gig Live – A show McCartney did in a record store for a small crowd may just be favorite live album of his.
  5. Foreigner, Live Rainbow ’78 – Finishing up the tour for the first album with the second album in the can, these guys are on top of the world and you can hear it.
  6. Bob Dylan, Travelin’ Through ’67-’69 – Bootleg Series Vol 15 – Dylan with Johnny Cash. Need I say more?
  7. Neil Young & the Stray Gators, Tuscaloosa – Neil playing “Alabama” in Alabama in the 70s. He was a brave man.
  8. Keith Richards, Talk Is Cheap 30th Anniversary Box – A little light on bonus material, but what’s here is damn good. Plus it’s just a great, great rock and roll album.
  9. Gene Clark, No Other Box Set – The original masterpiece with two additional discs of alternate takes. I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered this album sooner.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archives – Passaic 9/19/78 and Winterland 12/15/78 & 12/16/78 – I love most of these concerts he’s been pulling out of the vaults but these two sets are must haves. Winterland and Passaic were widely bootlegged… the latter may be the best concert of Springsteen’s storied live career.
  11. Motley Crue, The Dirt, Soundtrack – Most of us have all the tracks that made the sound track to ‘The Dirt’ but I had to include this as they put 4 really nice new tracks on here… new Motley is always a cause for celebration.

There you have it. Check it out and let me know what you think. Cheers and Happy New Year.

Be safe!

LP Review: Ex-Byrd Gene Clark, ‘No Other (Deluxe Edition)’, Forgotten 1974 Masterpiece

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I’m alway surprised – and amused, I might add – when, all these years into my journey through rock and roll I find an artist or album that I know absolutely nothing about. Not that I’ve ever claimed to know everything, despite what my wife would tell you. There are artists I don’t like (the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues) that I’ve sort of ignored. There are some bands that I’m just not cool enough to listen to like say, King Crimson, the Smithereens or Elvis Costello that I’ve sort of turned a blind eye toward. I’ve always thought eventually I’d listen to them later down the road. I always seem to be listening to something else at the time. But it’s exceedingly rare (and getting more rare) that there’s someone I haven’t heard of at all. Since somewhere along the line I appointed myself rock n’ roll “Town Crier” I like to think I’ve got a broad view of things.

I watched the Jakob Dylan documentary about the music that came out of Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s a few weeks back, Echo In the Canyon (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67). I really enjoyed that documentary. It led me to start listening to some of the featured music in the film. I’ve always hated the Beach Boys but I found myself adding “In My Room” to my iPod. Somehow I ended up with their “Greatest Hits” (and I use that term loosely) so it was an easy song to add. I was already a fan of the Mamas and the Papas and I found myself listening to “Go Where You Wanna Go” which played a significant role in the movie along side “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday.” Michelle Phillips, we love you down here at B&V.

More importantly I went back and rediscovered the Buffalo Springfield – Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay – what’s not to love? I say rediscover, but I really only previously owned Buffalo Springfield Again which I hadn’t listened to in a while. I had their greatest hits too, but it really doesn’t do them justice. I quickly bought their eponymous debut and their third and final album, Last Time Around and am absolutely in love with those albums. Everything those guys did was great. It’s a shame they didn’t get along better. Of course Stills and Young ended up working together in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young so alls well that ends well.

I thought perhaps that would be the end of the road, the musical vein I was mining based on the movie had run out… But something was bothering me… The Byrds played a prominent part in the movie and I’d never really checked them out. The folk-rock, country-rock they helped popularize played a big part of that Cali sound. David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were both in the movie. My brother had been into the Byrds when we were young. I mistakenly thought of them as only a Dylan cover band. I had to investigate these guys… I quickly bought Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn, their first two albums and was really blown away. Yes, they did a lot of Dylan covers while inventing folk rock, but they had a lot of great originals. The guy who wrote most of those originals wasn’t Roger McGuinn, but a guy named Gene Clark.

Gene Clark actually grew up in my hometown, Kansas City but migrated, like so many of his generation to California where he found himself forming the Byrds with McGuinn (guitar/vocal), Crosby (guitar/vocal), Chris Hillman (bass) and Micheal Clarke (drums). While in the Byrds, he wrote some of the best tracks, especially on their first two albums. The most popular of which was “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” eventually covered by Tom Petty. But there are other great tracks – “I Knew I’d Want You,” “Set You Free This Time,” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” just to name a few. Like Neil Young, Clark wrote a lot of the songs for this band but unlike him, they let Clark actually sing on most of them. Eventually, because he was making more money on the publishing the other guys came to resent him. When his fear of flying got too bad, they booted him from the band, likely because of that built up enmity. As Roger said to him, “If you can’t fly you can’t be a Byrd.” Which for some reason makes me think of the TV show ‘WKRP in Cincinnati quote, “my hand to god I thought turkeys could fly.”

Once booted from the Byrds, Gene Clark started a solo career that can only be described as “star-crossed.” Coincidentally while I was mining all this music from Laurel Canyon – the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds – the record company 4AD released a deluxe, three-CD version of Clark’s album No Other. The serendipity of my listening to the Byrds for the first time in a long, long time and Clark’s album being rereleased was irresistible to me. I listen to the deluxe version of No Other and was completely, utterly blown away. How in the world was this not a smash hit? The phrase, “overlooked masterpiece” or “forgotten masterpiece” is used a lot nowadays but it completely applies here. This is a stone cold classic record that until a month ago I’d never even heard of it let alone heard it. I had barely heard of Gene Clark… I knew there were two guys in the Byrds named Clark (or Clarke) but I thought they were just like Duran Duran where everybody had the last name Taylor.

I came to discover that Clark released a series of fabulous albums that nobody listened to or purchased. I’ve sampled Roadmaster and White Light (aka Gene Clark) and I can’t believe this guy’s name isn’t whispered in the same reverent tones as Neil Young or Gram Parsons (who later joined the Byrds after Clark’s departure before forming the Flying Burrito Brothers). Gram Parsons wanted to fuse country and rock and roll into a “new American music,” but Gene Clark was actually able to do so. I guess since Gram hung out with Keith Richards  he got more publicity. The Eagles, who Parsons hated, owe more of a debt to Clark, based on what I’ve heard. They even covered his song, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and Bernie Leadon played with Clark a little. I think I can say, unequivocally, that Gene Clark may be the most under appreciated man in rock and roll.

In 1974, after a brief Byrds reunion album, Clark signed to Asylum records, led by the notorious dick, David Geffen. Clark chose producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye who was notorious for cost overruns. They spent the then unheard of sum of $100k (over $500k in today’s dollars) to record No Other. When Geffen heard it, furious about the cost, he refused to promote it. The album was basically stillborn. Geffen also said, he couldn’t hear a single…kind of like the guy who rejected Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The people who played on this album are pretty impressive. The guys who later backed up Jackson Browne and Don Henley are here – Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Craig Doerge (piano), Russ Kunkel drums and Leland Sklar (bass). Jesse Ed Davis who sat in with Rod and the Faces plays some guitar. Pre-Eagles Timothy B. Schmidt shows up to sing back up vocals. Butch Trucks from the Allman’s plays drums on a track. Hell, ex-bandmate Chris Hillman plays on a track. Rumors were that Sly Stone was hanging out at some of the sessions… and there is a funk vibe on some of these tracks. It’s pretty damn impressive.

Clark, raised a Christian, had veered toward Zen and Buddhism and the lyrics here reflect that. I think the songs are deeply rich in meaning. There’s a soulfulness here that really drew me in. His singing throughout is plaintive. He’s got an amazing voice. The music veers from country to folk to borderline prog rock. The album starts out with the country weeper “Life’s Greatest Fool.” It’s a track with hard learned truths… “Children laugh and run away while others stare into the darkness of the day.” I’m surprised the Eagles didn’t take a crack at this one. The second track, “Silver Raven” is a beautiful acoustic track that literally, fucking soars. The title track is the one that borders on prog-rock and funk. It’s got a great keyboard/guitar riff that fuels the track. Clark’s voice is slightly distorted. The lyrics are the trippiest and most spiritual, “If the falling tide can turn and then recover, all alone we must be part of one another.” To my ears, “No Other” was the single. It comes with a great guitar solo. “Strength of Strings” is another soaring track. When Clark sings, “Fiery rain and rubies cooling in the sun,” it’s epic. There’s an almost Native American vibe, it’s incantatory.

What would have been side two starts with “From A Silver Phial.” It’s another beautiful, country-rock/folk-rock track. It’s just a wonderful ballad. It also could have been a single. “Some Misunderstanding” is a great mid tempo track that makes me think of Young’s “Out on the Weekend.” It’s plaintive and haunting. “True One” is an upbeat country rock tune. The album ends on another epic, “Lady of the North” written for Clark’s wife who’d stayed up in North California while he recorded and partied in L.A.

That’s the original album… the deluxe material is all interesting. It’s different versions of the tracks that ended up on the album. All of the tracks are complete. Some you hear Clark directing the band or calling out to band members. It’s a fascinating look into the man’s creative process. There are two versions “Train Leaves Here Tomorrow” on the deluxe version of the album. I can’t help but wonder, if he’d completed that one, maybe that could have been the single. This is all just fantastic music. There were rumors this was meant to be a double-album, but there’s nothing here that isn’t on the original record.

When Geffen pulled support and this album tanked, it hurt Clark, badly. He never recovered really. The booze and drugs took off. He lived until 1991, but things were never quite the same for him. Commerce was not his friend. I can’t help but again compare this guy to Neil Young. The writing and the music was all there but for Clark, no one listened. Thankfully we all have a chance to revisit his masterpiece, No Other. If you’ve heard Gene Clark, you know. If you haven’t, you need to check this guy out. Having just written about Leonard Cohen (LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy) and Iggy Pop (LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn) at least now I’m writing about someone who is a beautiful singer!

It’s a dark ride folks, be good to each other!

 

Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays

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Ah, the weekend. That wonderful two day respite from the slings and arrows of work and responsibility. I read somewhere that Europe is going to or has gone to a three-day weekend. Sign me up for that. I’ve always considered Thursday to be weekend-eve anyway. If a three day weekend is creeping socialism, then call me Che Guevara. It doesn’t matter if you travel like me or work in a factory or an office building, there’s nothing as sweet as Friday night.

Friday night, to me, was always the carrier of all the hopes and aspirations for the two days of utter freedom. Anything was possible on a Friday night. Sunday night, on the back end of the weekend, always brought the crushing anxiety and weight of what was going to happen Monday morning. “Monday, Monday can’t trust that day.” They couldn’t be different emotions, Friday vs Sunday nights. Saturday tended to be date night so the population of carousing, drunken people got cut in half. Friday was the night that was going to set the tone for the weekend. I met the Rock Chick on a Friday night, such is the import I give to this particular night of the week.

It’s odd how my take on Friday night has changed since that momentous night, meeting the Rock Chick so many years ago. I used to suffer from “FOMO,” fear of missing out, most acutely on Friday. I needed to be somewhere doing something wrong. I was always trying to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I found it much more interesting than being in the right place at the right time… but perhaps it’s all just semantics. I couldn’t get out soon enough on Friday nights. My old pal, who I’ll call Tim (name changed to protect the guilty) and I cut a rather, ahem, wide swath through town. I was always in search of something… what? I’m not sure. And then, the way life does, I found it in the Rock Chick. That restless, gypsy gene was suddenly silent after a lifetime of wandering. I had come in from the cold, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I still look forward to Friday night with great anticipation. There just isn’t that burning need to be somewhere. I’m happy to meet my friends RJ, Doug or as I did this Friday, the Jean Genie for a drink or two at Happy Hour and then drift back to the house. More often than not these days I’ll just pull up the drawbridge, stock the moat with alligators, pour a strong and murky glass and turn up the stereo. As the rock and roll fills the room the stress and horrors of the week slide away… of course that could just be the bourbon. Most of my friends are out there still, somewhere, raising kids. The Rock Chick and I are all done with all that and the freedom is intoxicating.

Last Friday, we had nothing going on. I had been on the road and was pretty fried. The Rock Chick and I had actually gone out on Thursday night for the aforementioned “weekend-eve” (we’ve found our Thursday “hang!”) so we stayed home on Friday night. It was then the Rock Chick announced she’d done some musical spelunking and wanted to play some of her newly found music for me. There are few things in this world that make me happier than hearing those words… and since this is a PG-blog, I best not describe the things that do make me happier… ahem.

The first band she turned me onto, and I am very excited about this band, was the Blue Stones. These guys are a two-piece band in the tradition of the White Stripes or the Black Keys. They’re from Canada so we have to presume they’re nicer than those other bands. Lets hope Jack White doesn’t kick their ass. Tarek Jafar sings and plays the guitar with Justin Tessier manning the drum kit. When I listen to early records from the Stripes or the Keys, the sound was very primal or unvarnished. The Blue Stones’ first full length album Black Holes is a lot more polished than I expected. These guys sound like Cage the Elephant and the Black Keys had a baby. It’s a true meld of the sound of those two bands.

There is not a bad moment on this album. After an intro thing, without any singing, called “Airlock” the tunes come rocking out of the speakers. “The Drop,” “Black Holes (Solid Ground)” and “The Hard Part” are all great, catchy rock tunes. It’s refreshing to find a new rock and roll band to listen to! “Be My Fire,” which I believe was the single, is my favorite track. They mix it up a little bit with the last track, the more ethereal “Magic.” The track has an Edge/U2 kind of spidery guitar. It’s the longest track on the album and I found it almost haunting.

I don’t know where these guys are headed. I think they’ve got a new album coming out this year. They’ve released a track “Shakin’ Off the Rust.” I’m not as crazy about that as I was Black Holes but I look forward to hearing  more from this band. We need all the rock bands we can find. The Rock Chick really made a great discovery with these guys…

But she wasn’t done… the second band she turned me onto was the Blue Stingrays who released only one album, Surf-N-Burn. Now this album, was a huge surprise.

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This was an album of full-on surf music in the Dick Dale, Gidget-movie style. Heavy on guitar and riffing. When I saw the album art I assumed this was some lost artifact from the early 60s. “Yeah, Moondoggy, hang 10!” As usual, not content to know nothing about them, I used “the Google” to find out about this album. It wasn’t the 60s when this album was released, it was 1997. There was a whole fictional story behind this band shared on Wikipedia here:

My head snapped back when I found out who was actually in this band… It was quite a surprise. It turns out that this was a one-off album done by Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame. I had never heard of this side project. Campbell is obviously having a blast on guitar here. As Drummer Blake says, “many notes were played.” In the fake bio at the link above, it says Tench was at the session but he purportedly only called the pizza delivery guy. For this solo project Campbell recruited original Heartbreaker Ron Blair to play bass. This was five whole years prior to Blair’s rejoining the Heartbreakers and one has to wonder if this is what led Petty back to him. Also surprising for me is Mudcrutch drummer Randall Marsh plays in the Stingrays too. Again, this was years before Petty got Mudcrutch back together and I have to wonder if Campbell’s recruiting planted that seed with Petty as well.

The fictional biography in the liner notes, and quoted online, says that they recorded this legendary surf album in 1959 but the band, so intent on anonymity, wouldn’t tour or do any publicity for the album. They finally decamped to an island in Tahiti to perfect the surf sound. Obviously, that’s ridiculous. It’s like the Traveling Wilburys or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band… famous people pretending to be someone else and being liberated by doing so.

This is probably not your every day listen but I love this album. Its completely instrumental and Campbell’s guitar tone is something to behold. They play straight-up Dick Dale surf music. They also do a fabulous cover of “Goldfinger” from the James Bond film of the same name. It’s my favorite track on here. I always wondered why Petty & the Heartbreakers did that song on their Live Anthology box set, now I know. It was a nod to legendary surf band, the Blue Stingrays. This music is played with such sincerity and skill it’s hard not to get addicted to this album.

I urge all of you to seek the Blue Stingrays out. If you’re a fan of guitar, or just good time music, this is the ticket. It’s great background music for a summer party…because let’s face it, no one except me really pays attention to the music you play at a party. And, I’ll admit, I not only pay attention, I judge you on your musical tastes… (heh heh). Just kidding.

Check out these two great bands, you’ll thank me later!

 

 

 

 

LP Review: ‘Colorado’ the Return of Neil Young & Crazy Horse With Nils Lofgren!

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When I heard that Neil Young was reuniting with Crazy Horse to record an album, I’ll admit, I got excited. It was the most interest I’ve had in something new from Neil since, well, his last album with Crazy Horse, the epic Psychedelic Pill in 2012. When I heard that Nils Lofgren was going to be stepping in as the other guitarist I was doubly excited. Nils first played with Neil on After the Gold Rush, although for reasons unclear Neil had the then 17-year old guitarist play piano instead of his chosen instrument. This was clearly a reunion and album to be excited about. While I’m sure those Promise of the Real kids who have been playing with Neil of late (they’re Willie Nelson’s sons) are great guys, they ain’t Crazy Horse.

I have to admit up front, it wasn’t until college that I got into Neil Young. My college roommate Drew was into Young and I ended up buying the three-album greatest hits package, Decade (a huge investment in those days). That purchase led me to a lifetime appreciation of Neil Young and the great music he’s put out. Neil is a bit like Clapton in that he’s played with a lot of different bands. He started with Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, went solo, recruited Crazy Horse as a backing band, joined Crosby Stills Nash, put together another back-up band called the Stray Gators and then went solo again. He even briefly joined Stills’ band for one album as the Stills-Young Band, Long May You Run. The grass doesn’t grow under Neil’s feet.

I was in a bar recently (shocking) and someone asked me if Crazy Horse was Neil’s version of Wings, McCartney’s backing band from the 70s. “Christ no,” I exclaimed with perhaps a bit too much passion. Who else is going to teach the children about rock and roll? Crazy Horse, or more accurately the musicians who make up Crazy Horse, began as an L.A. band known as the Rockets. After the mixed reaction to his first solo album, post-Buffalo Springfield, and after jamming with the Rockets, Neil recruited members Danny Whitten (guitar/vocals), Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbot (bass) to back him on his second album, the jammy Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. He renamed them, Crazy Horse. There were other members of the Rockets who I guess didn’t seem to realize that Neil had coopted the band, but with a song entitled “Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)” you can’t say he didn’t warn them.

They toured to support the album and the guitar solo’ing was epic. I advise everyone to check out Live At the Fillmore East from Neil’s archive series as documented proof. But then Neil jumped into CSNY. On his next solo album, After The Gold Rush, Young kind of combined Crazy Horse and the CSNY backing band. Greg Reeves played bass (from CSNY) with Ralph Molina on drums (from Crazy Horse). Throw in Lofgren on piano and you’ve got Neil’s first masterpiece. It couldn’t have been more different than the long, extended jams on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. That album had long, guitar workouts like “Cowgirl In the Sand” and “Down By the River.” Gold Rush had the epic “Southern Man” but it was mostly acoustic/piano ballads.

After that Young recorded Harvest and suddenly our idiosyncratic singer/songwriter was a Superstar. His subsequent record, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP), was seen as a repudiation of that superstardom. During the rehearsals for that tour, Young was trying to enlist Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse to play second guitar, but Whitten was struggling too much with heroin addiction. Neil eventually had to fire Whitten, who was found dead later that night of a valium/alcohol mix that has claimed so many.

Despite that, Neil carried on with Crazy Horse on Tonight’s the Night. Nils stepped in on guitar. Jack Nitzsche joined on piano. And really, Neil has been playing with Crazy Horse, off and on, ever since. There have been various members over the year, but the guys who played with Young the most were Molina, Talbot, and guitarist Frank Sampedro, who Young supposedly hired because he had good weed. Regardless of why he hired Sampedro, he’s been one of Neil’s greatest guitar foils over the years. The chemistry those guys have is amazing. These four guys have put out some amazing albums over the years: Ragged Glory (a must-have, classic from 1990), Sleeps With Angels (94), and their last outing, 2012’s Psychedelic Pill. 

I loved Psychedelic Pill. I remember seeing Neil interviewed around that time and he said something like, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” I give credit to Sampedro. The songs on Psychedelic Pill evolved out of long, extended jams. There are three songs that run, 27:36, 16:49 and 16:27 respectively. Damn. Listening to those long guitar workouts evokes listening to classical music as much as rock and roll… well classical music played by really loud instruments. When I heard that Sampedro had retired, I wondered if that was the end of Crazy Horse… Enter Nils Lofgren, guitar virtuoso. I thought, well this album is going to be another jamming, guitar-fest. As with everything with Neil, I was in for a surprise.

Colorado, the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album isn’t anything at all like Psychedelic Pill. This is, for the most part, a collection of tight songs, with only one long jam. The tracks run from 2:45 to around 6 minutes, save for “She Showed Me Love,” which runs over 13 minutes. The album was recorded up in the mountains, in Colorado, hence the name. Molina, Talbot and Neil Young are, as mentioned joined by Nils Lofgren on guitar, piano and vocals. I’ll admit again, this album was nothing of what I expected. It’s muted and somewhat somber. The theme is pretty obvious – Neil has turned his concerns to the environment (long a concern of his) and climate change. I don’t hear any current bands taking up the mantle of writing protest songs so it’s left up to the man who wrote the greatest protest song ever, “Ohio,” to step up and do it. Nobody else is writing lines like, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own…” And folks, we are definitely on our own when it comes to climate change.

I’ll be the first to tell you this album is no masterpiece. But I’ll say it’s a strong Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. It’s the strongest thing he’s done since their last outing. I’m not trying to knock Promise of the Real, and I hear they’re great live, but I just haven’t connected with any of Neil’s work with them. Like Joe Strummer once said, and I’m obviously fond of repeating, “Never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.”

The first track I heard on XM Radio in my car was “Rainbow of Colors.” Like most of the reactions I’ve seen, I did not react well. It comes off as an anthem, much like “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” from Ragged Glory. It comes off as more of a hymn than a song. I have to suspect that played live with people singing along, it’s much more effective. It’s really the only song on here that I would call a “clunker.” Neil’s voice has aged and it creaks a bit here and there, but if you’re complaining about Neil’s vocals at this stage in the game, you’re probably on the wrong train.

The best moments on this album are the acoustic ones. “Think of Me” is the opener, and it’s an upbeat acoustic track that competes for the best track on the album. The other track that I think is a standout is “Green Is Blue” a heartfelt ballad which serves as requiem for the environment. Those two tracks are worth the price of admission here. “Milky Way” is an acoustic-based love song and it’s another great track. Album closer “I Do” is another affecting, stripped-down, quiet ballad and is a perfect end. I like “Eternity” until the backing vocals start singing “clickety-clack” to sound like a train. We get it from the drums, it’s about a train. “Olden Days” is a great mid tempo thing led by Neil’s guitar while he sings about seeing an old friend (or perhaps a lover).

The rocking songs are bit of a mixed bag. “She Showed Me Love” is the 13-minute epic. The she of the title is, of course, Mother Nature. I can’t tell if lines like “I saw Mother Nature pushing Earth in a baby carriage” are Neil joking about how old he is, or just awkward. The guitar work stretches the tune and makes it interesting to me. “Help Me Lose My Mind” is a track that sounds like a grunge rocker from the 90s, something Nirvana might have done. I like the line from that one, “I have to get a new television…to make the sky look like the Earth is flat.”  “Shut It Down” is a glorious noise, it almost sounds like Punk rock. Neil sings that track with an urgency.

Again, this album is not a Neil Young & Crazy Horse masterpiece, but it’s a damn good album from these guys. Fifty years removed from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, its nice to see Neil turn back to Crazy Horse and record such a strong record. The chemistry between them and with Nils is still something to behold.

And lets face it, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to “shut the whole system” down every now and again…

 

 

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!

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”