RIP Malcolm Young, Rhythm Guitarist Extraordinaire of AC/DC

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Oh man, not another one. I awoke this morning to the sad news that Malcolm Young, the extraordinarily talented rhythm guitarist for AC/DC, one of the world’s (and one of my) favorite hard rock bands, had passed away. He had been suffering from dementia and had to retire from the band prior to the tumultuous recording of their last record, Rock Or Bust. Dementia claimed my maternal grandmother and it’s a tough way to go. By every account that I’ve read, statements from other musicians, Malcolm was described as being a “sweet” guy. Being that talented and that nice are some pretty great things to be remembered for. He was preceded in death by his older brother George Young, who was in the Easy Beats, an early Aussie rock band and who was later a producer for AC/DC. Tough couple of months for the Youngs.

It had to be somewhat difficult for Malcolm. He’s always been a bit overshadowed by his brother Angus on lead guitar who, in his school uniform, was the visual symbol of the band. He was also probably overshadowed by the lead singers – who wouldn’t be overshadowed by larger than life Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson. The front man always gets the attention and the chicks. Yet, Malcolm cowrote every song they did with Angus and Bon Scott and later with just Angus. I would say Malcolm was more important than anybody on the microphone to AC/DC. His riffs were the foundation of every tune they put out. Even though he retired prior to the recording of their last album, Rock or Bust, Angus said most of the song ideas and basic riffs were written by and demo’d by Malcolm. He was as important to rhythm guitar as Keith Richards. That bedrock rhythm guitar allowed his brother Angus to soar on so many great solos.

One of the first albums I remember buying was AC/DC’s Back In Black. I was working as a bus boy at a steak joint named York Steak House in Oak Park Mall out in the suburbs of Kansas City. The crew I worked with there was one of the funnest, most degenerate group of people I’ve ever met. And believe me, I know a lot of degenerates, but these guys took the cake. One of the managers had a big keg party for the employees, most of whom were underage for drinking, but why split hairs over silly rules. We were out at some lake in western Johnson County. Somebody dropped the Back In Black cassette into the boom box and it was like an explosion in my head. My life had changed. Listening to that album, and marveling at the monster guitar riffs, I thought it was some band’s greatest hits album. I remember we were so fiercely air-guitaring I fell and hit my head on a park bench… maybe that’s why I remember that party so clearly… it was literally jarring. Talk about your head banging, I lived it, baby.

It was shortly after almost wearing out Back In Black, that I started researching AC/DC. It was then that I realized that they had just replaced their lead singer Bon Scott with Brian Johnson. I thought it was Brian singing on Highway To Hell, their vocals were so similar. Now, I can hear the difference clearly. One of the reasons their sound stayed so consistent was Malcolm and Angus’ monster riffage. I remember going to the mall and for some inexplicable reason I bought Highway To Hell on cassette instead of vinyl. The mistakes of youth… I think I wanted to play it in the car. That album underscored to me, it doesn’t matter whose up front singing, it’s the guitars that power that band.

I saw AC/DC on the Ballbreaker tour with my buddy, The Accountant, and they were just so spectacular. A lot of that was due to Malcolm’s perfectionist tendencies. He was so committed to the fans. He even quit AC/DC in the 80s to go to rehab to quit drinking. He’d realized his playing was suffering and he loved guitar more than booze. That’s commitment.

I had drifted away from AC/DC, even after seeing that great Ballbreaker show. It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick and she turned me onto some of their great later albums, The Razor’s Edge, Stiff Upper Lip, that I reconnected with this great band. The Stiff Upper Lip tour was the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, chronicled on this very blog, AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick. I’m very glad I saw that show, and glad that Rock Chick reintroduced me to this wonderful band. AC/DC remains and will remain in high rotation here at the B&V home.

Today the rock and roll world has lost another foundational player. We down here at the B&V lab will be flying the rock flag at half mast. Me, I’m going to pour a tumbler full of something strong, brown and murky and turn on the Rock Chick’s fabulous AC/DC play list. RIP Malcolm!

 

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll

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I know I’m late to the game on mourning Chuck Berry… Unfortunately, my Corporate Overlords have had me sequestered in Las Vegas at a conference since Saturday when the news broke that the Rock’n’Roll Legend Chuck Berry had passed away at the age of 90 years old. I haven’t had a chance to come up for air to express the sadness I feel at his passing. I hate it when work interferes with music. When I go out to Vegas for these conferences it’s a bit like entering Biosphere… I don’t see the sky or the sun for seven or eight days. Likely everything I could say, will have already been said, but Hell, I don’t even know what’s been said. I’ve been under what feels like house arrest at a casino for a week….and I’ll admit, there are worse places to be under house arrest, but I digress.

If I were to sculpt the Early Rock Music Mount Rushmore, it would have Elvis (The King), Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and naturally, Chuck Berry. These artists are the foundation for everything that came after them. The influence of those acts is indescribable. As anyone who has read B&V before knows, in my opinion America has had many Presidents, but it’s only had one King… and that’s Elvis Presley. But, that said, the Vice President of Rock and Roll, for me has always been Chuck Berry. The thing I always loved about Chuck Berry besides the great songwriting, was that he was the first Guitar Hero rock star! Yes, Elvis had the moves and the voice… but Chuck not only sang and duck walked, he played a mean guitar.

And what a guitarist he was. He never gets the credit that is his due on the six string… So many people were influenced by Chuck Berry as a guitarist – there would be no Keith Richards without Chuck Berry – its difficult to overstate his influence. John Lennon once said, “if you want to find another name for rock ‘n’ roll just call it Chuck Berry.” Everyone who got big in the 60’s/70’s either covered Chuck or wrote a song like Chuck would….

The Beatles did “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “No More Monkey Business.” As solo artists John Lennon (“You Can’t Catch Me”), George Harrison (various tunes) and Paul McCartney (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”) each covered Berry either on record or in concert. The Stones most famously did “Carol,” a real gem of a cover and also “Around and Around” on ’12×5′ their second (and an essential) album. The Stones later did an original tune, “Star Star” that is as pure of a Chuck riff as I’ve ever heard. Berry was as much of an influence on the Stones as the Blues giants they imitated in their early days. As a solo artist Keith Richards covered “Run Rudolph Run” as a Christmas single and produced the fabulous documentary “Hail, Hail Rock N Roll” around a special Chuck Berry concert.

I’ll never forget a scene in “Hail, Hail…” where Berry is schooling Richards on a tune they’re playing in rehearsal. Keith plays the riff, and to these uneducated ears it sounds perfect. Chuck stops the band and says, “If you’re going to play it, play it right…” then lays the riff down again. Keith, clearly agitated, listens to Chuck replay the riff and realizes, yes, he got it wrong. Keith then dutifully replays the riff exactly as Chuck did. I fell out of my theater chair. The perfection was spectacular.

Artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and REO Speedwagon, yes REO, covered “Little Queenie.” Although you’ll have to find Springsteen’s version on a bootleg… you’re on your own there. The Stones covered it live as well. “Let It Rock,” which is a mammoth tune was covered most famously by Bob Seger and became his de facto concert ending/encore song. I saw Drew Abbott, Seger’s guitarist play that song at Kemper arena one time and it was mind blowing. Seger even name checks Berry on “Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” when he says “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his riffs…” If anybody has heard the early Seger tune “Get Out of Denver” I defy you to tell me that’s not a Chuck Berry influenced tune. The fast, galloping, nasty guitar riff is signature Berry. Hell, Jerry Garcia covered “Let It Rock,” and it was oddly wonderful.

One of my favorite covers of a Berry tune is, and yes, those of you who have read B&V will have already guessed, The Faces doing “Memphis.” Ronnie Wood plays a wonderfully distorted guitar line and Rod Stewart just nails the vocal. The only Berry cover by those guys I like as much or better might be “Sweet Little Rock N Roller” done on Rod’s under rated solo disc, ‘Smiler.’

The list of covers could go on and on… Let me just say that every band you love, if you love classic rock, was influenced by Chuck Berry. Hell, AC/DC did “School Days.” I can’t list the number of acts who’ve done “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Reelin and Rockin.” Linda Ronstadt even did “Back In the USA.” I mean, holy shit, Linda Ronstadt? What’s next, my wife’s cat doing “Maybellene?” If only….

Chuck wasn’t perfect… a lot of rock and rollers and musicians also had a dark side. Elvis, James Brown… name anybody who made it big and they probably had demons they were wrestling with. But those demons fueled the artistry that created some of the greatest rock music ever heard.

Chuck Berry was a true American original. While he’s left us, his influence will always be felt when a guitarist steps to the front of the stage and lays down a nasty, beautiful, dirty, fast riff.

RIP Chuck! You are already missed!

Put on “Maybellene” this weekend and play the – “how many songs were based, in part, on this song” game – the list will be long…. Hail, Hail, baby!

Cheers!

Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return

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*image shamelessly stolen from the Internet

My apologies to my readers, that I haven’t been posting as much or as regularly lately. I was on vacation with the Rock Chick in the Dominican Republic all of last week. I hadn’t been on a vacation in 2 years and finally the Rock Chick laid down the law… the next thing I knew I was soaked in rum and sun screen. I will say the DR is beautiful and the people are warm and welcoming. If anything goes astray with the Rock Chick my next wife will certainly be Dominican… The weeks prior to my vacation my Corporate Overlords had me traveling all around the U.S. from Herndon, VA to San Francisco to Salt Lake City… the grind of the road, such is life. As a result, I haven’t had much time to devote to BourbonAndVinyl. And let’s admit it, it’s been a shitty year for music thus far in 2017.

As luck would have it, Joe Bonamassa brought his band to Kansas City last night. Let me be the first to say, WOW. I have converted to the church of Bonamassa.

It was my buddy Stormin’ who first turned me on to Bonamassa. Stormin’ and our mutual friend Matthew got heavily into the blues a number of years ago. Matthew tried to turn me onto Tab Benoit (sp?). He was ok… but then Storm told me to buy the Bonamassa album, ‘The Ballad of John Henry.’ I must say, Joe clicked for me a lot more so than Tab did. The last time I was in Denver, Storm played me another Bonamassa album, whose title escapes me and I was again blown away by Bonamassa’s virtuoso playing. Then I saw him on VH1 on a special from Red Rocks playing Muddy Waters tunes. That’s when I knew I was a fan. If you haven’t seen that concert film, I highly recommend it.

It was a few months ago, my friend Drummer Blake reached out and said, “Let’s go to Bonamassa.” I jumped at the chance. Once again, a little over year later, I found myself nursing a martini in the Drum Room awaiting the Four Horsemen… Although I must admit it was The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse – Slight Return, as not all 4 of them were present last night. There were six of us in total and we were drinking like escaped convicts before the show, which is always good concert prep. I always ask myself before a show, “What would Hendrix do?” It was truly great to be in the presence of the Salinapocalypse again. I must say, one of the Horsemen, Spalding (name obscured to protect the guilty) is a rather finicky food guy… even ordering drinks was an ordeal. As a result of all that we didn’t skip out of the Drum room until 15 minutes prior to the show.

The line to get into the beautiful Midland Theater – and not enough can be said about what a beautiful, old theater the Midland is – was around the block. Apparently the draconian security measures to get in the theater were causing unusual delays. If we have to stand out in the cold for 45 minutes to see the blues, the terrorists have already won, my friends. Instead of being 15 minutes early and being in our seats for the start of the show, to my surprise Bonmassa started promptly at 8pm. We missed the first 20 minutes of the show, standing in the cold waiting to get through the fucking metal detectors. A couple of us peeled off and ducked into a bar to miss the frenzy. I would have thought a stage hand would have leaned into the dressing room and told Joe, “Say man, you might wanna give it 30 minutes…” Que sera, que sera.

I quickly rushed through the darkened and packed theater to my seat in the 14th row… my thanks to the niece of one of the Salinapocalypse for getting us great seats… and spotted Joe on stage. I was taken aback by how much he looks like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies… I was ready for him to say, “What do you want to hear next Mr. Anderson…” He had a great backing band that included Anton Fig of Letterman fame on drums and Reese Wynans from Double Trouble on keyboards. He had a small (2) horn section, and 2 back up singers from Australia who moved continuously though the show, giving the players a nice visual counterpoint.

And what a band they were. As Joe himself said, these guys were nominated for a Grammy. They were tight and amazing all night. I loved the constant interplay between the different instruments all night long. And what can I say about Joe’s guitar playing. The man is truly one of the best I’ve seen. He melted our faces off, in a good way. Drummer Blake claims he is the absolute best guitarist out there. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that yet, but the fact that Bonamassa played Clapton’s “Pretending” and just owned it, goes a long way toward making his case. They did a great version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” which I’ve always associated with B.B. King and it was scorching. The most impressive moment for me, personally, was a cover of Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” It takes some stones for a guitar player to rip through Clapton, B.B., and Jimmy Page covers and hold his own.

The guitar solo’ing was simply other worldly. Joe can bend a note around a corner. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the plethora of beautiful guitars the guy played, although even I have to admit the paisley one was funny looking. At one point after shredding through a guitar solo, Joe brought it way down and was quietly playing some slow, bendy notes, and someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you Joe!” It was a great moment. The rapport he has with his audience and their allegiance called to mind the crowd on B.B. King’s seminal live LP “Live at the Regal.” There is a genuine bond there you don’t see as much these days. The guy just killed it on guitar and he was able to do that for 2 and half hours… Just a fantastic show. I highly recommend anybody near a venue he’s playing at, get out to see him as this tour is winding down…

After the show, the Salinapocalypse and I slipped into a tavern across the street from the show to debrief. Everybody was impressed with the band. The conversation eventually turned toward the subject of whether Rock was dead. The concern is that there aren’t enough young kids out there playing the guitar, or learning any instruments. It’s all electronics now, DJs and rappers. I was moved at how much genuine concern and, yes, love of rock and roll was being expressed at that table. If you’re out there and you’re young, there’s still time. Pick up and instrument and as Ronnie Lane’s dad used to say, “then you’ll always have a friend.”

I’m not sure what Rock And Roll Fate brought me into the company of the Salinapocalypse crowd, but I can say, I’m sure glad it did. Without Drummer Blake I’d have missed the Joe Bonamassa show and that would have been missing out on something really special.

Until next time, Cheers!

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!

Recap: The Who, Live in KC 4/29/16

Who_Hits_50_Tour

I love to be pleasantly surprised. I have only seen the Who twice, once in ’89 and again at an exceptional show in 2000 in Denver with my buddy Stormin’. In ’89 they had a huge ensemble on stage with them and they were o.k. In 2000 it was just Daltrey/Townshend/Entwistle (RIP) with Zak Starkey on drums and a keyboard player. My general rule of thumb with the Who since that 2000 concert is simply, the less people they have on stage, the better the Who are. They are a primal force to be reckoned with.

I was supposed to see the Who in 1980 but due to some rather nefarious circumstances my father ended up confiscating my ticket and grounding me for a month. At the request of the guilty and my friend Brewster I can’t go into those details here. It has left a gaping hole in my concert-going experience that I will never be able to fill. Regardless of all that, I probably wouldn’t have attended this Who concert if a friend hadn’t given me two tickets on the floor. I love the Who but at this point, without Entwistle my expectations are pretty low. Couple that with Townshend’s continuing denunciations of touring and refusal to record any new music, and I just thought maybe it was time to cherish my memories of the Who but not invest the time in going to see them. As usual, I was wrong. Besides, free tickets, going with the Rock Chick and getting to see my pal SB and his brother Doctor Jimmy (names changed/obscured to protect the guilty) made this a no brainer.

I saw Bruce Springsteen interviewed a couple of years ago and he was talking about the guitar playing of Tom Morello. He said Morello, like Pete Townshend, could really create a “soundscape” with his guitar playing. That comment jumped out at me. I quickly put my iPod on shuffle and listened to the different stages of the Who’s career and damn if Springsteen wasn’t right. Townshend’s guitar playing is so distinctive I think we take it for granted. Before there was a Jack White, or an Eddie Van Halen or a Jimmy Page, there was Pete Townshend. The guy is simply masterful on his instrument. Yeah, the windmilling power chords are cool, but the guy bends the strings and pulls notes out of the guitar like a zen master. I had forgotten until seeing them last night what an amazing guitar player he is. He was playing up and down the neck of the guitar, dragging his pick over the strings and at one point used the mic stand to rub the guitar strings in a slide guitar solo. He put on a clinic. He alone was worth going to the show.

Townshend was in a funny and feisty mood last night. He did most of the in-between song patter with the audience. He made some pointed, humorous remarks about North Carolina’s ridiculous bathroom laws. He said, you never know which bathroom he might use, but if you were to come into said bathroom while he was in there, “you’d get to see the “Real Me,” well, depending on what you look like.” Funny stuff, Pete. Townshend reminds me of the odd uncle at the family reunion who the adults scorn but all the kids crowd around to listen to and hear in the hopes that he might say “fuck” in front of grandma again.

Daltrey was in fine voice and it was nice to see him fully recovered from the meningitis that sidelined him for the original date of this show, back in the fall. When Pete announced Daltrey during the band intro’s at the end of the show, he seemed to show some genuine affection for his old band mate and sincere relief that he’s fully recovered. Daltrey’s biggest vocal moment was during a powerful, emotional “Love Reign O’er Me.” Daltrey just nailed the vocal on that song. The rest of the band was fleshed out by the amazing drummer Zak Starkey, Pete’s brother Simon on guitar/vocals, groovy bassist Pino Palladino (who has the Entwistle “still as a statue” act down pat) and three keyboardist/backing vocalists. They utilized a lot of backing vocals which really enhanced the earlier Who material.

The show started with “I Can’t Explain” a favorite of mine but they were a tad sluggish. Things improved a little during the second song, “Who Are You.” It wasn’t until “The Seeker” that they seemed to click into gear. When they got into “The Kids Are Alright” the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “why would they play this one, it’s too pop…it’s not rocking’?” What does the Rock Chick not know about music. I thought things went up a notch a few tunes later when after a few misfires starting, Pete finally got the opening notes of “5:15” down. That song got the crowd really going.

Things continued to get better with a double dose from “Who’s Next,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Bargain.” They followed those tunes with an all time favorite of mine, “Join Together” and after that they were just on fire. They followed that up with a great version of “You Better You Bet” from my first ever Who LP purchase, “Face Dances,” an album I still love. Pete then announced they were going to do 3 songs in a row from their best rock opera, “Quadrophenia” and that trio of songs was the emotional center of the show. It began with “I’m One” during which Pete mentioned he noticed the “pensioners and older members of the crowd are sitting down.” Who knew Townshend was such a wise ass. The next “Quadrophenia” song was an instrumental “The Rock” that was powerful musically but made more so with the political imagery on the video screens behind them. That song led into the aforementioned “Love Reign O’er Me” that Daltrey just crushed. I let out an audible, “wow” after that.

They followed that up with a very muscular version of “Eminence Front” another fan favorite. The whole band kicked it into another gear on that song. “Dress yourself to kill” Townshend kept intoning passionately. He’s spoken in the past of his disdain for that song, but he sure looked like he was having a ball singing it. That led to a handful of “Tommy” tunes which were amazing to behold. They finished things up with “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” where Daltrey again nailed the loud scream at the end… the chick in front of me, who despite being older than I am danced her ass off all night, turned to me after Daltrey’s scream and said, “He nailed it!” Indeed. I have to agree with SB when we spoke after the show that “Won’t Get Fooled Again” just seems to get more relevant and more true with each passing year. It’s a shame nothing has changed in the 45 years since the Who recorded it.

After the show, SB and Doctor Jimmy, the Rock Chick and I convened at our favorite post-concert bar, the Drum Room and over martini’s discussed what we’d just seen. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “shit, I almost skipped this.” If you’re out there and you’re on the fence about going to see a band, any band, always make the effort and go. Especially make that effort if it’s a legend like the Who. There’s a reason these people are legends. They continue to put on exceptional live shows. I can only hope that Townshend relents and takes the fire he showed on stage into a studio with Daltrey. I think they’ve got some songs left to sing and some more things to say.

If the Who come to your town, do yourself a favor and get out and see them. Short of that, get to a bar tonight and catch a live band, it’ll get your heart pumping.

Cheers!