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!

Depeche Mode: “Where’s The Revolution,” The First Single From ‘Spirit’

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 “Who’s making your decisions, you or your religion, Your government, your country, you patriotic junkies” – “Where’s The Revolution” Depeche Mode

Finally a new album in 2017 I can get excited about, Depeche Mode’s upcoming March 17th release, ‘Spirit.’ I won’t lie, I was beginning to think no interesting music was going to be released this year. In my defense, it’s been pretty grim around here this year…

It was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode, like so many other bands. She really has phenomenal musical tastes. I was wandering the house one Saturday, early in the marriage, indentured like my step daughter, to clean the house. On Saturdays my wife is a lot like Strother Martin’s character in the movie Cool Hand Luke. She’d assemble us in the living room and force us to dust and vacuum things. I can still almost hear her instructing us, “What we have here, is a failure to clean up after yourselves…” 

The one caveat to all of this “cleaning” was that I was allowed to choose and play whatever music I wanted to. I wrote that into my wedding vows… The Rock Chick and her daughter went upstairs when I stumbled upon a double Depeche CD entitled, ‘The Singles, 1986-1998.’ Intrigued, I dropped the first disc into the stereo. Almost immediately, the Rock Chick came bounding down the stairs to veto my selection (which actually happened more times than I’d care to admit). “You have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” she exclaimed and then almost as suddenly disappeared.

After that I went back to ignoring them. A few years later, over some wine, my wife finally put the greatest hits package back on the stereo. I was surprised at how much I liked these guys. They’re definitely “alternative rock” and synth based, which is outside my blues-based template but they’re just great. The thing that jumped out at me initially was Dave Gahan’s voice. The guy is a top notch crooner. The lyrics are also great. Martin Gore, the principle song writer includes a lot of darkness, which appeals to me, especially late at night drinking bourbon.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought the Rock Chick the blu-ray, ‘Depeche Mode: Video Singles Collection’ and it spent the holiday season on high rotation. I was amazed that, like the Stones, Depeche has remained very close to a basic sound, but have been able to do so much, so differently with that sound. Watching their videos got me primed and ready for this new, upcoming album.

I’ll save my praise for their latter day LPs for my full album review, but needless to say, their last few albums, dating back to 2001’s ‘Exciter’ have been very strong LPs and if you’re a fan of their earlier work, I advise you to check those records out post haste. This is a band that unfolds for you like a flower… I will say, their latter day work is an example of why I started BourbonAndVinyl in the first place, to put a spotlight on veteran groups making outstanding music. You’re not likely to hear this great new music on any radio, so I need to spotlight it for you here…but I digress.

I had also been a huge fan of Gahan’s solo work with the Soulsavers (reviewed in an earlier post on B&V) but even so I was excited to read last year that Depeche were in the studio recording a new album. The results of that recording, as mentioned earlier, comes out next month. For now, we have the fantastic new single “Where’s the Revolution.”

I wondered if the current political climate was going to effect art and music in a similar way the turbulent late 60s and early 70s music was effected. For example, I had heard U2, who have mostly completed their new album, were heading back into the studio with some new songs inspired by the current political climate. I have to ask that question, whether today’s politics are going to effect music, no longer… “Where’s The Revolution” is a political broad side. I love the lyrics.

It starts off as mid tempo in the verse, Gahan’s voice over syncopated synth and percussion. The song has a galloping feel, almost like a march, as an underpinning.  When the chorus kicks in, with tortured guitar, the song gets louder. You can feel the call to arms when Gahan howls, “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down…” His vocal is urgent, slinky and sexy all at a the same time. All the elements of this song come together to make this a classic Depeche Mode tune. The Rock Chick has it on high rotation on the Sonos… This is the most political song I’ve heard Depeche ever do. When the song starts to wind down, they slow it down a bit and Gahan issues his invitation, “the train is coming, the train is coming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, yes this is a train I wanna be on.

Let the “Revolution” begin today people… “the engine is humming, the engine is humming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, I’m on board alright… All the way to the finish line.

I urge everyone to check this new single out. It gets a high B&V recommendation. I hope the rest of the album is this strong… If recent Depeche history is any indicator, I think listening to this new record when it comes out on St Patrick’s Day is going to be very special…

It’s dark out there people. Pour something strong, dark and murky, and “get on board.”

Cheers!

The B&V Inauguration Day Playlist… (Sorry, No Toby Keith)

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First and foremost, I must apologize to those few readers out there who might have seen my last attempt to put an iPod playlist together for Friday’s impending Inauguration. While I’ve been on my annual Bourbon fast, it hasn’t precluded me from drinking wine. And as occasionally happens when I’ve pulled the cork, I sat down at the keyboard. The resulting post was, shall we say to be generous, not “light.” Wine… what are you going to do, all that sugar?  I’m not an overtly political person. As I’ve said many times before, I see myself as a centrist, hedonistic moderate with a taste for fine bourbon and loud rock music. To the right I look like a “dirt-munching, tree hugging, druid.” To the left I look like the landed gentry although that could be because of my penchant for powdered wigs. The struggle is real, folks.

Anyway, BourbonAndVinyl, as I stated in my first post, my “Mission Statement,” is about the glorious pleasures of sipping fine, dark murky fluids and listening to loud rock and roll music. B&V is not the forum for a political manifesto and alas, my first attempt at an Inauguration Day playlist looked like it was torn from the pages of the Unabomber. Well, at least it did to some folks. While I stand behind every word, B&V is not the forum for such thoughts…

These are tense and dark times. The peaceful transition of power is set to take place on Friday, yet the tension is thicker than anything I’ve seen in my short life. It sure doesn’t feel like a “peaceful transition” to me. Half the nation appears ready to burst out into protest marches, boycotts and upheaval, while the other half of the nation appear ready to celebrate by firing guns in the air, yell something politically incorrect and, well I don’t know, burn some books (how does the Right celebrate?) Political discourse has become well, coarse. We apparently have elected a “Tweeter-In-Chief,” which isn’t helping reduce the tension. I’m hearing the name Putin a lot more than I ever wanted to. Golden Showers have even been drug through the muck (don’t knock anybody’s fetishes). Even my good friends in the GOP appear tense. I had more than one Republican friend tell me he didn’t vote for Trump. I had one friend tell me he wrote in Mookie Blaylock… clearly a Pearl Jam fan… It appears nobody really got what they wanted this time around.

All that aside, the more I read about the Inauguration itself, the more I find myself thinking, “God, what shitty music they’re going to have.” 3 Doors Down? Lee Greenwood? I didn’t even know Lee Greenwood was still alive. Something called Jackie Evancho is performing? Is that a group like Jethro Tull or a person? I have no idea. I thought at least Kid Rock or Nugent would show up to lively up things. Maybe they are performing, but I haven’t heard about it. Toby Keith is set to play. Toby Keith? I have to keep reminding myself this is 2017 and not 1997. I would have assumed Toby Keith would have been trampled by mutinous cattle by now. Shit, even the despicable Beach Boys are on the fence, unable to decide to show up or not. I think they hit an all new low when a Springsteen cover band even dropped out, the B Street Band. Wow.

Well, as usual in these situations, I find myself needing rock and roll music more than ever. And the list of “artists” above isn’t doing much for me. I think we can all agree on that. Music has a way of lifting me up, getting me through the tough times or accentuating the good times. Whoever you are, you could probably use some rock music on Friday. So if you’re on the Right or Left, happy or mad about the election, do what I do. Head down to the tavern, talk a little treason and drop some money in the Juke Box. Remember folks, we’re all Americans here. And, as Bill Murray famously said in “Stripes,” being American means that our ancestors were all kicked out of every other decent country.

Here’s a little playlist to play over the muted television during the Inauguration ceremony for those of us who are concerned, no matter what your political persuasion. Pour something strong.

  1. Barry McGuire, “The Eve Of Destruction” – It seems to fit the mood of the country.
  2. The Rollins Band, “Liar” – Give me one honest politician…
  3. The Beatles, “Back In the USSR” – Oh, come on, this one is funny, unless it’s true…
  4. Green Day, “American Idiot” – Well, can you argue?
  5. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – It appears half of you are afraid of the other half and vice versa…
  6. Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” – “Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.”
  7. The Clash, “Know Your Rights” – “A public service announcement with guitars!”
  8. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Burnin’ And Lootin'” – Let’s have none of this on Friday…
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Long Walk Home” – This track also seems to fit everybody’s mood these days.
  10. The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – for all the folks who say they’re headed to Canada. My choice would have been the south of Spain.
  11. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime” – A song about insurgents in a post apocalyptic dictatorship that you can dance to…”this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco.”
  12. Elvis Costello, “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)” – Great question…
  13. Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” – Just because you’re feeling paranoid these days, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t after you.
  14. Beck, “Nausea” – Aren’t we all a little nauseous these days?
  15. Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street” – “…then you’ll know what a drag it is to see you…” Seems to be a lot of “Facebook friendships” ending lately.
  16. Bob Marley, “So Much Trouble In the World” – Reggae speaks the truth, baby.
  17. Green Day, “Know Your Enemy” – Let’s keep it straight who is on who’s team.
  18. The Eagles, “Frail Grasp Of The Big Picture” – I can see each side saying this about the other… ah, the divide.
  19. Bruce Springsteen (featuring Tom Morello), “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – “The highway is alive tonight, everybody knows where it’s headed.”
  20. U2, “Bullet The Blue Sky (Live)” – “Into the arms…. of America”
  21. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Take care of each other out there…
  22. David Bowie, “This Is Not America” – Nothing I’ve seen in the last year represents the country I grew up in.
  23. Jackson Browne, “Looking East” – Jackson stands on the West coast, looking East and isn’t thrilled with what he sees. Seems to fit the mood.
  24. Judas Priest, “Tyrant” – Ominous metal.
  25. The White Stripes, “Icky Thump” – The funkiest song ever written about immigration.
  26. Iron Maiden, “Run To The Hills” – Everyone seems poised for something bad to go down… best be ready to move.
  27. Bob Marley, “Small Axe” – More wisdom from the prophet Marley, “Oh evil men, playing smart and not being clever.”
  28. Bad Company, “Evil Wind” – An evil wind of division has blown across my country and I feel it’s cruel chill in my bones.
  29. The Faces, “Wicked Messenger” – The Faces putting an ominous spin on a Dylan song. Again, just fits the mood.
  30. Grace Potter, “Ah, Mary” – She’ll be the end of me and maybe everyone, oh, Mary, Mary, Mary, America.”

Well, I never said it was going to be a cheerful playlist. If you have any suggestions for additional songs, please feel free to add in the comments. Since I’m on my annual Bourbon fast, I hope someone pours a glass of Buffalo Trace on my behalf.

Cheers!

 

Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is the enormous amount of music she’s turned me onto over the years. Among other bands, early on she turned me onto an all female band, The Donnas. I had never even heard of the Donnas until the Rock Chick put on the LP “Spend The Night” one night and man, these chicks “rawked!” Their song “5 O’Clock In the Morning” was on high rotation at the house for quite some time and boasts one of the most hot-shit guitar solo’s you’re ever going to hear. All female bands were somewhat of a novelty for me when I was growing up. In fact, there wasn’t really any female band I paid much attention to when I was growing up. There was Heart (who had 2 women and 3 men), but after 1980 they went all slick pop and lost my interest. “Barracuda” by them was a descent track. Of course Heart had to suffer through spurious rumors of lesbian incest. Chicks never got their due back in the day. Most of us owned a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock albums and then one or two Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks albums and that was the extent of what we knew about “chicks who rock.”

The Rock Chick has been extolling me to write a post on “Chicks Who Rock” for quite a while now. I had to tell her, beside reminding her of her lifetime reading ban of B&V due to undue criticism of my sentence structure, that I don’t take requests at B&V even if you are sleeping with the writer. That said, the Donnas’ “5 O’Clock In the Morning” popped up on the iPod shuffle the other day and I started doing some reading about them on the inter-web. They cited a band called The Runaways as one of their major influences. I knew I’d heard of The Runaways but couldn’t quite place them. Suddenly it occurred to me that when Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, she mentioned that she’d got her start in The Runaways. I had always thought The Runaways were like Menudo, with interchangeable parts… perhaps I was wrong. Intrigued, I knew I had to do more musical spelunking.

Another great thing about being married to the Rock Chick is that she’s willing to dedicate an entire evening to listening to music. The same evening I put on Big Star’s “#1 Record” we listened to an assortment of new music including The Record Company, The Shelters and yes, The Runaways. I figured The Runaways’ music, since they were put together by skeezy producer Kim Fowley as a novelty act, would be awful. I was very pleasantly surprised. These chicks rocked hard with a punk sensibility that I had not expected. Even the Rock Chick dug The Runaways’ first album and she has very discerning taste. Clearly more research was necessary.

I was too young for The Runaways. They put out their first album in 1976 when I was still collecting baseball cards and only lasted through roughly 1979. They were formed around the core members of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and some lead vocals, Sandy West on drums and of all people, Lita Ford on lead guitar. When I found out Heavy Metal Maven Lita Ford was in this band with Joan Jett I knew I was onto something. They went through a number of bass players including a chick who ended up in the all female pop band The Bangles. I never had much use for the Bangles… so I consider that the one blight on the Runaways’ otherwise spotless pedigree. For their first two studio albums The Runaways also had Cherrie Currie on lead vocals. Apparently there have been documentaries and biographical movies made about these gals, but I’ve never seen any of them. I understand there was a lot of conflict and drama around the band – but what band doesn’t have conflict and drama. It sounds like this Kim Fowley guy who was their producer and manger was pretty rapey around these young teenage girls. The back story all sounds pretty awful. However, I’m not here to talk about all of that. I just like the music. They never really caught on in America but were, as the cliche goes, “big in Japan.”

The Runaways music is, as I mentioned, a blend of hard rock and punk. These are sleazy songs about misbehavior. These are the dirty girls my mother warned me about and I soooo loved from adolescence to my thirties. Oh, who am I kidding, I still love the bad girls. The debut album is probably the pick of the litter, simply titled “The Runaways.” “Cherry Bomb” was “the hit” that they are most remembered for. Its all dirty riffs and Lita Ford’s screaming leads. I’ll admit some of the lyrics are juvenile but that’s what I’ve always loved about rock and roll. “You Drive Me Wild” has a dirty riff with possibly Lita’s best guitar solo. “Is It Day Or Night” a question I’ve often asked myself when I wake up, is a big loping rocker. They even cover Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergrounds’ “Rock And Roll” with a lot of cowbell. Oh my God is that song so 70s. “American Nights” is an anthem that should have been played all summer in every small town in the U.S. The album ends with a baffling mini-opera kind of song, “Dead End Justice” which utterly lost me. Other than that misfire, “The Runaways” is dirty, rock and roll fun.

The second record, and Cherrie Currie’s last record with the band before going solo was “Queens Of Noise.” They start off right where they left off on the debut record, all hard rock and dirty girl lyrics. The title track comes from a lyric on “American Nights.” They sing in the chorus, “do whatever you want to me.” God, I love these girls. “Take It Or Leave It” is one of my favorite tracks on this record, sung by Joan Jett, and is cowritten by none other than Jagger/Richards. I have to assume Mick was sniffing around the girl band which makes me love the guy that much more. “Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin,” and “Born To Be Bad” continue the basic Runaways themes. I will say the song “Midnight Music” is a more sophisticated tune. “California Paradise” which boasts some interesting drumming and “Hollywood” are better “California sunshine” songs than anything those pussies the Beach Boys put out. “Johnny Guitar” the closing track has some of Lita Ford’s most epic guitar soloing of her career.

The third record, “Waiting For the Night,” I really enjoyed despite the exit of Cherrie Currie. I like “Waiting For the Night” almost better because Joan Jett does all the singing. I just dig her voice more. You could tell the band was pulling in two different directions, punk vs hard rock. Song like “Little Sister” and “Wasted” feel more punky to me than hard rockers. And, “Fantasies” and “Trash Can Murders” are more metalish music than punk. “Gotta Get Out Tonight” has a poignant urgency as does “Wait For Me.” This is all very solid rock and roll. “School Days” has a break neck riff that Aerosmith would be jealous of.

Although they did put out another studio album, by “Waiting For the Night” The Runaways were a spent musical force. Inter-band struggles finally tore these guys apart. Apparently Joan wanted to go more punk with Sandy West and Lita Ford lining up against her, pushing for a more heavy metal direction. They split ways for the oldest reason in the rock and roll books – “creative differences.” Lita went on to be an 80s Heavy Metal Chick. Sandy West had her own band but alas succumbed to cancer in 2006. Cherrie Currie, whoever everyone thought would soar as a solo artist, never really found success. And Joan Jett, well, everybody knows that story. Had I known about The Runaways when I wrote my post about bands who had members who went on to bigger fame, I’d have included these guys. The Runaways are more than a novelty band, they’re a guilty rock and roll pleasure. At the very least everyone should hear their debut album.

Chicks who Rock are very, very powerful… take my word for it. I married one.

Cheers!

Playlist: The B&V 20 Best Bowie Deep Tracks – You Won’t Hear These on the Radio

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Ah, January. With the turn of the calendar and a shiny new year and the prospects there of, everything seems so hopeful. However, for me January has been permanently altered by the loss of David Bowie. Now for me, early January isn’t for making lists of New Year’s Resolutions, although I am on a Bourbon fast this month (and yes, it’s awful). Early January has morphed into celebrating Bowie’s birthday and sadly, the anniversary of his passing a year ago. This has caused me to veer off my usual attitude of looking forward as the year begins to looking backward at the career of one of the greatest rock and roll legends of all time. Of course there have been a number of loving remembrances and tributes to Bowie this season which have also fueled my Bowie bender.

So instead of joining a gym, as many do in January, I sit around listening to the Berlin Trilogy trying to make sense of ‘Lodger.’ Why critics describe that LP as “more accessible” than the other two LPs, ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ is a mystery I can’t seem to solve. Another thing that has contributed to my January Bowie obsession (which, to be honest is really a year round thing) is that Bowie released some (relatively) new music this year again on his birthday. The EP ‘No Plan’ was reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V and it contains the last three songs he recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions. The music is superb and certainly worth a purchase and listen.

If you flip on your radio, ether terrestrial or satellite, you’re likely to hear the usual tracks from the Bowie canon, “Fame,” “Young Americans,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel.” For the more progressive minded you might hear some of the edgier works, “Heroes,” “Sound And Vision,” “DJ” or maybe “Ashes to Ashes.” Let’s not get into “Modern Love,” and “Let’s Dance.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I dig all of those songs as much as the next Bowie fanatic. But the man’s body of work is so much broader than the tunes that complete a 2-disc greatest hits compilation. It’s like with Springsteen,  they only play “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” on the radio. Stretch out radio guys, stretch out.

So as I’ve been listening to various Bowie albums this week, I couldn’t help but look up at the stereo periodically, as some deeper album track came on and mutter, “God damn that’s a great song… why don’t they play that on the radio?” As that continued to happen over the span of the last week or so, I began to scribble song names down on scraps of paper and deposit them on my desk. How I find anything on the surface of my desk is an organizational issue that plagues the Rock Chick and only makes sense to me. Trust me, I think I know where everything is on this desk… I think it was Einstein who said, “if a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, what does a clear desktop represent?”…but I digress.

I put 20 of these songs together on an iPod Playlist and I must admit, they cohere pretty nicely. Despite his diversity of sounds, styles and personas, at the heart of it is always Bowie’s fabulous voice and sense of melody. The man was a giant from beginning to end. And let’s not forget, the guy could rock. These tracks are album tracks, not singles (for the most part). These are songs you’re not likely to hear on the radio and perhaps may not even be familiar with. There will be, as with any list I put together, egregious omissions. It was difficult to narrow this just down to 20… I invite anyone with an opinion to add songs to the list in the Comments Section.

Without further adieu, here’s one man’s Bourbon deprived view of Bowie’s Best Deep Tracks.

  1. “Black Country Rock” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – The debut of guitarist Mick Ronson. I love this rocker. This LP may be Bowie’s hardest.
  2. “She Shook Me Cold” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – One of the hardest songs in Bowie’s catalog. Ronson’s guitar is Jeff Beck-esque.
  3. “Oh! You Pretty Things” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – Song starts off with just voice and piano but kicks in around the 1:21 point. Great vocal.
  4. “Kooks” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – There’s just something so catchy about this song. This is an old school, weird cabaret song. I just love the lyrics. Bowie revels in the joys of finding another eccentric.
  5. “Watch That Man” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – ‘Aladdin Sane’ is one of Bowie’s strangely overlooked, rocking classic LPs. The album art gets all the attention but the music within is great. This is the first track on the album and it grabs you by the throat…
  6. “Prettiest Star” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Great guitar work from Ronson, as usual. Piano, horns, great vocal from Bowie.
  7. “Lady Grinning Soul” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Hauntingly beautiful track.
  8. “Word On A Wing” from ‘Station To Station’ – I almost went with the epic, 10 minute title track from this album, but settled on this soulful ballad. I could have heard Sinatra do this tune and not be surprised.
  9. “Always Crashing In the Same Car” from ‘Low’ – Bowie lamenting how his career had, in his opinion, fizzled over spooky guitars and synths. Love the riff.
  10. “Joe The Lion” from “Heroes” – Bowie brings in Robert Fripp, his best guitar collaborator since Ronson. You could really pick any song from side one of “Heroes” (other than the title track) for inclusion here. Rocking guitar with an impassioned vocal.
  11. “Loving the Alien” from ‘Tonight’ – ‘Tonight’ was critically a much maligned record and after the smash hit of ‘Let’s Dance’ an utter commercial disappointment as well. But I think there are some great tracks on this record, especially this spacey album opener. Beautifully sung.
  12. “Neighborhood Threat” from ‘Tonight’ – Bowie goes back and recuts a tune he cowrote for Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” LP. I love both versions. albeit I’ll admit Bowie’s is a tad more compressed that Iggy’s. “Look at his eyes, did you see his crazy eyes?”
  13. “Thursday’s Child” from ‘Hours’ – ‘Hours’ is the LP where I reconnected with Bowie. This beautiful LP opener is a lush, gorgeous song.
  14. “Slow Burn” from ‘Heathen’ – While ‘Hours’ helped me reconnect with Bowie, ‘Heathen’ was where he completely returned to form. It’s a fantastic album. This rocker was actually the first single and should have been a huge hit.
  15. “Afraid” from ‘Heathen’ – Another rocker…”And I’m not afraid, any more.” Indeed!
  16. “Conversation Piece” released as a B-side and then later as bonus track on the rereleased ‘Heathen’ – This song was originally written in 1969 and Bowie re-recorded it in 2002 for the abandoned ‘Toy’ album, which I’m still hoping gets a release. I love the lyrics in this song and I was pretty much obsessed with it when it came out.
  17. “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” from ‘Reality’ – The follow up LP to ‘Heathen,’ ‘Reality’ was another great, overlooked record. This deep LP track has a great riff and a great weird Bowie lyric.
  18. “I’d Rather Be High” from ‘The Next Day’ – Well, wouldn’t anyone?
  19. “Dancing Out In Space” from ‘The Next Day’ – Another great song from Bowie’s surprise comeback, ‘The Next Day.’ Bowie always had his eyes turned upward to the stars… I like to think he’s out there dancing in space even as I type this…
  20. “No Plan” from the EP ‘No Plan’ – I love this soaring, epic ballad. Originally cut in the ‘Blackstar’ sessions.

I’m sure there are an infinite number of songs I’ve left out here. “Station To Station,” “Cat People,” just to name a couple. But I was going for deep LP cuts… Again, you really can’t go wrong with just about any Bowie LP you choose to put on. I still miss Bowie. The world is less interesting with him gone.

Pour something murky, since I can’t, and get lost in these tunes! Cheers!

 

Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs

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 For the second time in as many years, David Bowie has surprised us with the release of new music on his birthday. Last year on January 8th, he released the outstanding “Blackstar,” reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V. Sadly, only one day later, the universe grew a bit smaller and darker when the Thin White Duke passed away which was perhaps an even bigger surprise than the new music. I truly can’t believe it’s been a year since we lost David Bowie. 2016 was such an awful year in so many ways.

This year, Bowie has released an EP with four tracks recorded in the same sessions that produced “Blackstar.” I call this new music, however I must admit these songs have been available on iTunes and on CD if you were willing to shell out the money for the original cast recording of Bowie’s play, “Lazarus.” I liked the show “Dexter” as much as anybody, but I’m not paying to hear Michael C. Hall sing Bowie tracks. And to be honest, the first track on this EP, “No Plan” is the same “Lazarus” that appeared on “Blackstar.” “Lazarus,” along with the title track was one of the highlights of “Blackstar” but clearly it too was available.

The song “No Plan,” from which the EP takes it’s name, is a simply gorgeous, lush ballad. Bowie’s singing is elegant, epic and ethereal all at the same time. If you liked the sonic palette that Bowie used on “Blackstar,” you will like these songs. “No Plan” (the song) is highlighted by a beautiful saxophone solo at the end by Donny McCaslin. This is the highlight track for me.

“Killing a Little Time” is driven by aggressive drums and a more snarling vocal from Bowie. I love the way he sings “fuck you over…” Sonically it reminds me of “Sue (In a Season Of Crime)” or “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.” It has similar percussive elements. I also like the tortured guitar on this song. This, to me, is the sound of Bowie raging against the dying of the light. “This rage in me, get away from me…” With the exception of Leonard Cohen, never has an artist written so intense of a good bye note. The song ends with the guitar crashing into a piano run… wow, what a great song.

Finally, the EP ends with “When I Met You.” It’s hard not to read this as a song directed to Bowie’s lovely wife, Iman. It’s a mid tempo affair with a lightly chugging guitar riff. “You opened my eyes, for I could not see, when I met you.” I wish I could write something as beautiful for the Rock Chick when that day comes… This is a beautiful love note.

This is Bowie at his most creative. These songs have the same experimental sound as “Blackstar” but these tunes are more conventionally structured. There’s no nine-minute plus, jazz influenced opus on this EP. These are just solid, heart-felt, well sung and performed tunes. If you’re a Bowie fan, this is a must have. Hell if you’re a music fan, these are must haves.

We’ll have to wait till next January 8th to see if Mr. Bowie held back any more gifts for us. How great is it that it’s his birthday and he’s the one giving us gifts. Bowie would have been 70 this year which is entirely too young for us to be writing about him the past tense.

I was so delighted to see that this had come out… I’ve been hoping to hear these songs without buying the entire cast recording and I knew if I waited long enough Bowie would put them out in some form. I’m hoping this is the first of a lot of great, classic rock, BourbonAndVinyl releases in the coming year.

Happy New Year and Cheers!

Ryan Adams: The First Two Songs From the Upcoming LP, “Prisoner”

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Prior to his big hit “New York, New York” I had never heard of Ryan Adams. I had never heard of his first band Whiskeytown either. In the aftermath of 911, “New York, New York” and it’s accompanying video were in high rotation around the U.S. I quickly purchased his album “Gold” and absolutely loved it. I suggested the song “Firecracker” from that record be played at our wedding, but the Rock Chick quickly shouted me down. I immediately went Sharky’s Machine on her so it turned out alright.

I’m not a big country or alt-country guy, but I dug Ryan Adams. I quickly went out and bought his best LP, 2000’s “Heartbreaker,” and loved it. There was something I could relate to on those early albums… I stuck with him through “Demolition,” which I actually thought was a strong, if disjointed album and the odd, simultaneously released “Love Is Hell” and “Rock N Roll” period. After that I purchased every LP he put out – including the awful, awful “29” (seriously, avoid that album) and the puzzling “III/IV”double LP.

There seems to be two styles Ryan veers between. There’s the acoustic, alt-country, heart broken balladeer, which as a man who dated as long as I did, I loved. “Oh My Sweet Caroline” with Emmy Lou Harris on the harmony is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. On the LP “Demolition,” the song “Dear Chicago” grabs me by the heart strings. The other direction, which I like less, is this new wavy, Smith’s sounding mope rock. It’s most represented by the LP’s “Rock N Roll” and to a lesser degree his eponymously titled LP from 2014. I tend to like Ryan best when he’s mixing the acoustic and the electric, the light and dark, like on the LP’s “Cold Roses,” the excellent “Easy Tiger” or “Cardinology.”

Clearly, I was a big Ryan Adams fan. But I don’t know what happened, my ardor for his music cooled. I saw Ryan in concert, the only concert I’ve ever attended by myself as the Rock Chick is not into Ryan Adams and she refused to attend. She drags an imaginary knife over her wrist whenever she catches me listening to Ryan. There are some bands who haven’t clicked for me until I see them live. The music just springs out at me and suddenly I get it. With Ryan it was the opposite. It was a short show. I’d been reading playlists on-line in anticipation and he cut the setlist short. It was clear Kansas City was not a priority stop for him, despite the theater being at capacity. His on stage presence was the opposite of charismatic, he was annoying. Then, in 2011 his “Ashes & Fire” LP, which was more in the acoustic mold left me cold as well. It was an OK album but I just couldn’t connect with anything past the first single.

When his 2014 self-titled LP came out, I didn’t even bother to buy it, which was a first. The first single was a rocker, “Gimme Something Good,” but it too left me unmoved. But then, Ryan committed what I considered an unforgivable sin… He did a start to finish cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album and actually released it. I had read Ryan did the same thing back in the day, when he’d recorded a cover of the Stroke’s debut LP. The Strokes I can understand but Taylor Swift? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s a name I never thought I’d be typing in the hallowed pages of BourbonAndVinyl. At that point, the man was dead to me. I did read recently he regrets it. He said it was supposed to be something fun, or maybe funny, and that the backlash has been harsh. I’d hope so.

Now, fresh on the heels of his break up/divorce with the attractive Mandy Moore, Ryan is set to release his next LP, “Prisoner.” The Rock Chick merely said, when I told her he had a new album coming, “Oh, great more suicide rock.” I thought to myself, well, Ryan is always best when he’s bummed out. Maybe, just maybe it’s time to check him out again. I’m not sure if I’ll even review his new LP or not… but I feel forced to comment on the first two songs that he’s released so far…

The first track, “Do You Still Love Me” is sonically very similar to “Gimme Something Good.” His vocal is extremely anguished Ryan Adams. It’s hard not to hear this as a plea to his ex-wife. It’s in the electric guitar rock vein of “Rock N Roll.” It rocks but let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t music you’re going to play at a party. On the surface I like the song, but I have to admit, I felt myself cringe a little bit. The Rock Chick, predictably, hated the tune. It’s like accidentally reading someone’s diary. I think it’s a solid tune, but for some reason I felt it hard to listen to. Obviously, I can’t say I recommend this tune. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

The second track released so far, “To Be Without You,” is an acoustic strummer. Light drums drive the song forward. The vocal is less tortured. I have to admit, despite my turning away from Ryan Adams, this is an excellent Ryan Adams song. It reminds of “Lucky Now” the excellent single from “Ashes & Fire.” For the first time in a long time a Ryan Adams song has grabbed me. I love the acoustic guitar figure he plays on this (I don’t think you can call anything acoustic a “riff” can you?) The lyric is more muted than “Do You Still Love Me,” and even though seems more personal is made less so by the lack of histrionics in the vocals. I’d actually say this one is worth checking out. But as with all things Ryan Adams any more, I’ll caveat it with, a) buyer beware and b) you really have to like Ryan Adams and his style of music to get into.

I don’t know if “Prisoner” will the be the LP that gets me back into Ryan Adams. As usual, I find myself confounded by the first two songs I’ve heard. I’m digging one of them, and luke warm on the other. Only time will tell….

Cheers!

Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs

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 It was kind of a weird Christmas for me. For the first time in years, there were no square, flat packages under the tree… no LPs? Sad way for a sad year to end. There weren’t even any box sets out this year that I could slip past the Rock Chick and onto my list. I kept hoping Neil Young would put out Archives II, but I guess we have to wait till next year. I couldn’t help but think of last year when I found Bob Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966” under the tree. It was the fabulous box set, reviewed on an earlier post here at BourbonAndVinyl, highlighting outtakes from “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” and “Blonde On Blonde.” One of the greatest things about that box set was the incendiary guitar work of overlooked, under appreciated guitar wizard Michael Bloomfield.

So this year, with no new shiny black vinyl under the tree, I found myself drifting back to Bloomfield’s first band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I don’t know why that band wasn’t huge but they never found the commercial success they deserved. The British Invasion bands like the Stones were always given credit for reintroducing black blues to the white American audiences, but the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was also critical in that process.

Lead singer, harmonica player Paul Butterfield was a blues enthusiast and student at the University of Chicago when he started hanging out at South Side Chicago blues joints. Eventually folks like Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf were inviting Paul up on stage to play with them. Coincidentally, Michael Bloomfield, son of a wealthy department store family in Chicago, had a similar experience, hanging out and jamming with the blues greats in Chicago. It’s a testament to those old blues giant’s enormous generosity that they’d mentor and encourage these white kids from the suburbs to further the blues. They say that the blues giants recognized Bloomfield’s virtuosity immediately…. Michael himself said, “black people suffer externally in America and Jewish people suffer internally, so we have a lot in common.” All that suffering translated into some amazing guitar solos. As a lapsed Catholic, I often wonder what kind of suffering I could have brought to the instrument, but it’s too late to start now.

Eventually, Butterfield met guitarist Elvin Bishop and they recruited Howlin Wolf’s rhythm section of Sam Lay on drums and Jerome Arnold on bass with Mark Naftalin on keyboards and the line up was set. At the recommendation of a manager/producer they added Bloomfield and the chemistry was incendiary. The dueling guitars of Bloomfield and Bishop is the thing of legend and what I believe every dual guitar band since has emulated – from the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica. That back and forth, solo vs solo thing was founded in the Butterfield Blues Band. It broke the mold of lead guitarist, rhythm guy.

They struggled to get their first album on tape. As they attempted to recreate their sound on an album, they continued to grow a cult following by playing live. They famously backed up Bob Dylan at his first public electric performance at Newport. On the version of “Maggie’s Farm” on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volume 7, Bloomfield melts the faces off the folky crowd with his lead guitar licks. It’s simply the greatest expression of the electric guitar outside of Hendrix that has been committed to tape.

Finally after three false starts, in 1965 the Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their eponymous debut album. Not just because I was born there, but because it’s an amazing opening, “Born In Chicago” is one of my all time favorite songs. The album is a mix of new songs, written by band members, and covers of those blues greats who had mentored them. Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” and Muddy’s “I Got My Mojo Working” are stand outs. “Screamin'” and “Thank You Mr. Poobah” make Michael Bloomfield’s guitar felt in your bones. It was blues with a jazz sensibility. It was like “jump blues” was invented by these guys. It was the blues but it sounded all new and it sounded more rock and roll than anything that had come before. The Animals, The Yardbirds and The Zombies wanted to sound this good. These guys just had the chops. Their first album is about as perfect as you’re going to find in blues rock. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and pick it up immediately.

While it’s easy to think the first album was the peak, just to blow our minds, they followed up with their second album, a true masterpiece, “East-West.” The title track, which ends the album, is a 13 minute work of genius that Bach would envy. Influenced by Eastern, Indian raga and blended with Western blues, its simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever. The Stones even responded with their own epic blues jam “Going Home” which lasted 11 minutes. The Butterfield Blues Band had expanded the limits of what was possible. Jam bands like the Grateful Dead spun their heads around and thought, “hey, we can noodle on and on and get away with it.” The Butterfield Blues Band created the entire jam movement with one song. Bloomfield, Bishop and Butterfield all solo on the song, guitar, harmonica and guitar. It’s like a religious awakening hearing “East-West.” It’s the entire buddhist sixties ethos in a 13 minute song. There would be no Cream without “East-West.”

Other than the epic title track, the second album covers the waterfront of American roots music – from blues covers, Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” to R&B, Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” they prove they can do anything. The traditional blues song “I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living” is as mournful as the blues can get. Shit, they even cover Mike Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” This band was clicking on all cylinders at this point.

Alas, the incendiary talents in this band couldn’t hold the group together. After “East-West” Bloomfield split to form Electric Flag. Bishop soon followed to start his solo career. Bloomfield also did the seminal “Super Sessions” LP with Al Kooper, his old pal from the Dylan days. Bloomfield, like myself a life long insomniac, ran away from the early guitar hero fame and dissipated to the point of OD’ing on heroin. Butterfield made it to his 40’s but also succumbed to a heroin overdose. I like to think of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band like the stereotypical shooting star, bright and brilliant, but only burning for a short period.

Nobody talks about the Butterfield Blues Band and their two legendary albums, but it’s essential listening to anybody who loves blues, rock and blues rock. I can trace everything I like straight through The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Do yourself a favor and check these LPs out immediately.

Cheers and Happy New Year folks!

Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP

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“Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” – Neil Young, “Time Fades Away”

There are certain albums that for various reasons have taken on a certain “mystique” over the years. In most cases it’s albums that don’t get released. Prince had “The Black Album,” an album that was supposedly so perverse it couldn’t be released… we have to save the children from such sex talk in music (cue the PMRC). Years after the rumor of the album, Prince finally released it and it was, to be generous, meh. Ryan Adams’ record company rejected “Love Is Hell” because they thought it was a downer so he released “Rock N Roll” instead. The fact that his record company rejected “Love Is Hell” brought so much interest in this supposedly “dark” album, that the record company finally released it. It’s an ok Ryan Adams LP… I mean, dark is kind of his thing. You’ll never find Ryan Adams being played at a party here at the B&V house, that’s for sure. One could describe Ryan’s music as, “Music to Overdose to.”

Usually albums only carry this kind of heavy mystique if someone dies during or shortly after the albums release. “Blackstar” by David Bowie and “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen will always carry a little more weight because they can be read as an artistic farewell to the world and to their fans. Jimi Hendrix’ last recordings are always heralded as people wonder, what might have been. People point to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s final song on his final album, “Riviera Paradise” as a signal that he was headed into an all new creative direction that would have changed music and guitar as we know it… had he not passed away in that tragic helicopter crash. It’s like a painter whose paintings become more valuable after they’ve died. I’m surprised more rock stars don’t fake their death more often but that makes me sound like an agent hustling for coins.

Of all the artists around, other than maybe Bob Dylan, Neil Young has more than his share of “mysterious,” unreleased albums. “Chrome Dreams” is an oft bootlegged, amazing record that Neil chose not to release in 1977. It would have been as big as “Harvest” in my opinion, which may be why Neil chose not to put it out. That “fame thing” never worked out too well for Neil. He said in the liner notes of “Decade” that “Harvest” found him in the middle of the road and very popular so he chose to steer into the ditch, “It was a rougher ride, but you meet more interesting people there” (I believe is the direct quote). He’s put out most of the songs on other albums, but taken as a whole “Chrome Dreams” would have stood with some of his best work.

Of all of Neil Young’s unreleased and released albums, the one that always had the most intrigue for me, for some reason, was “Time Fades Away.” Part of the problem was you simply couldn’t find the record. I could never get my hands on it. After the initial release, Neil refused to release it on vinyl or any other format so copies of the album were really hard to find. Neil basically disavowed the record. My college roommate Drew was the only guy I know who could have been capable of even finding a copy such were his “completist” tendencies, but I don’t think even he had a copy. It was like you had to “know a guy” to even hear the thing, which I never did.

The backstory alone is enough to draw a rock and roll obsessive like me in… Neil Young, fresh from his twin triumphs of “After the Gold Rush,” and the even bigger success of “Harvest” was set to go on tour. It’s hard to overstate how popular Neil Young became after “Harvest.” I heard a story once, that Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” on the radio and thought it was one of his songs. When he realized it was Neil Young, he felt ripped off and wrote “Forever Young” as some sort of angry, “you ripped me off, you dick” kind of a song. Who knows if that’s true. Anyway, Neil gathered members of his “Harvest” band, the Stray Gators, and invited Danny Whitten from one of his other backing bands, Crazy Horse to New York to rehearse. Unfortunately Danny Whitten, a very talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right, was addicted to heroin. He’d already been kicked out of Crazy Horse, who were working on their own without Neil, because of his drug addictions. Whitten just couldn’t “hack it” at the rehearsals. He was taking a lot of Valium to help him kick the heroin habit and it was just destroying his timing. Finally Neil had to tell Danny he was fired and gave him $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very night, the night Neil Young fired Danny Whitten, Danny was found dead from mixing alcohol and $50 worth of Valium. Enter…. guilt and despair.

So after releasing his biggest album, with thousands of adoring fans waiting to hear the soft rock troubadour of “Harvest” come out and sing “Heart of Gold,” Neil plugs in his electric guitar and attempted to conquer his demons. Oh, and he brought along the 8-track mobile recording machine to document the whole thing. At the time, one of his band members turned him onto tequila. Ah, tequila. As I used to say in my younger days, the authorities knew which drug to legalize. When I drink tequila, which I rarely do, if I drink too much of it, I’m either going to fight you or fuck you, and quite possibly, both at the same time. Add tequila to a depressed, fragile mental state like Neil Young was in and God knows what can happen. Apparently the fans were not impressed. Part of the problem with concert audiences is that it’s hard to play new, unheard music for a crowd. They want to hear the hits, songs they’re familiar with. This was especially true in 1973 when the crowds were not that sophisticated.

At long last, I discovered this “lost” live album on iTunes. I had always heard that the music on this album was all loud, screaming guitar. It was going to be all noise like “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black).” That is not exactly the case. The band did not get along well and Neil’s vocals were so fried he brought in Crosby and Nash to help sing harmonies, although, this wasn’t an album big on harmony. I will say, this is a very, very good Neil Young album, although I prefer the even darker music found on “Tonight’s the Night.” One might see this as a companion piece to “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach” which are some of Neil’s darker works.

The album starts off with the raucous title track, which is one of the best here but I’ve always liked my Neil Young a little ragged. “Yonder Stands the Sinner” is another ragged rocker that jumps out at me and it’s followed by the great song “L.A.” (“city in the smog…”). But interspersed with those rockers are a couple of delicate, beautiful piano ballads, “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind.” I never expected this kind of balladry from a guy on tequila. The crowd claps politely at the end of “Love In Mind” but you kind of feel they’re not thrilled.

The centerpiece of the album for me, is the beginning of what would be side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts, “Don’t Be Denied.” It’s a a better autobiography than Neil’s book “Shakey.”It’s a long, mid tempo song about Neil’s love of and dedication to music. It tells his life story from being a bullied kid at school, to forming a band. It’s one of his best songs and coincidentally was recently covered beautifully by Norah Jones. It’s really the only hopeful bit of light in an otherwise dark album.

After the ballad, “The Bridge,” another lovely piano and harmonica song, Neil and the band launch into the epic, eight-minute “Last Dance.” I really like the ragged guitar riff in this song. Although, it’s so bleak that it wouldn’t have been out of place on “Tonight’s the Night.” At the end of the song, Neil just howls, “no, no, no…” When Neil sings, “Wake up, it’s time to go to work,” it’s with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

“Time Fades Away” is a portrait of an artist who is really suffering. And by sharing that pain with us through his art, he let’s we who are also suffering know we are not alone. That’s the power of an album like this. And powerful is the word I would use to describe this record. For anybody out there who likes to explore the musical backwaters of an artist’s catalog, like I do, this is must have music. Although, I wouldn’t recommend putting this on at Christmas… not a lot of Yule time joy here….

It’s a dark ride, folks. Stick together and take care of each other. Cheers!

Happy Keithmas Everyone – Keith Richards’ Birthday

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I spent a very cold December winter day watching my Chiefs once again fumble away a winnable game against the Tennessee Titans… Needless to say I found myself sulking around the house, as adult men do when their sports teams lose. I was thinking that this dark funk of a mood was something that even a tumbler of Buffalo Trace wasn’t going to help… Although I will admit, with the Rock Chick making her dangerous egg nog, the bourbon was quite available…

Suddenly I realized that today is one of the 12 days of Christmas… It’s Keithmas…. Keith Richards’ birthday. While that may not help my hapless Chiefs playoff chances, it’s a great thing that Keith is even alive at 73. How long was this guy number one on the famous people’s “Death Pool” during the 70s and 80s. The fact that this man, with all the drugs, booze, arrests and alas, his head injury has survived into his 70’s is a cause for hope for all of us out here. If this guy can persevere, can’t we all. I often find myself thinking, “What would Keith do?” And when I do that, things turn out all right.

If his last album, “Crosseyed Heart” is any indication there’s still a lot of life in rock and roll’s original pirate, outlaw, renegade. I’ve always loved Keith Richards. When I was a teenager, and I was first turned onto the Stones, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As I got older and the realities of life began to settle in on me, I realized I wanted to be Keith. He was the outlaw, living outside of society. Never one to give into the conventions of “straight” society, the man has lived, as Sinatra sang, “my way.”

So many rock stars have tried to imitate the style and the sneer of Keith Richards… but he was truly an original and remains so to this day. I love this picture of Keith I used for this post – it’s not the young 70s superstar, it’s the rocker in repose, aged like a fine wine. Hat cocked to the side, taking a drag of a cigarette, skull ring on the right hand, staring right at you – perhaps right through you. Keith, 73, and still the man!

So, Happy Birthday Keith Richards and here’s to wishing you many more. In Keith’s honor today, I poured my bourbon over a skull-shaped ice cube that the Rock Chick produced from the freezer. It seemed only appropriate. And while I’m still stinging from the horrific offense the Chiefs put on the field today… Buffalo Trace, a skull-shaped cube and “Crosseyed Heart” on the stereo…. Yeah, it’s going to be ok… As Keith would sing, “You shouldn’t take it so haaaaard…”

Cheers!